Papers on Consciousness (David Chalmers).

This page contains pointers to some papers on consciousness. Many of the papers here (especially those in the first two categories) should be accessible to people without a background in philosophy. Philosophers might be interested in the more technical papers in the third category, and also those under papers on meaning and modality. A separate page has information on my book The Conscious Mind.

The Problems of Consciousness

Consciousness and its Place in Nature

This is an overview paper on the the metaphysics of consciousness. It summarizes arguments against materialism, and uses these to give a detailed taxonomy of reductive and nonreductive views (three each). It covers some of the same ground as the first two papers below (although it's oriented more toward metaphysics than toward science), while also covering some of the more technical material in my book and some new things. It appears in The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind, edited by Stephen Stich and Fritz Warfield (Blackwell, 2003), and is "reprinted" in my anthology Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (Oxford, 2002). Delays in the Blackwell volume, not backward causation!

Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (PS)

This paper gives a nontechnical overview of the problems of consciousness and my approach to them. In it I distinguish between the easy problems and the hard problem of consciousness, and argue that the hard problem eludes conventional methods of explanation. I argue that we need a new form of nonreductive explanation, and make some moves toward a detailed nonreductive theory. This paper, based on a talk I gave at the 1994 Tucson conference on consciousness, appeared in a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1995, and also in the 1996 collection Toward a Science of Consciousness, edited by Hameroff, Kaszniak, and Scott (MIT Press, 1996).

Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness

After "Facing Up..." was published, about 25 articles commenting on it or on other aspects of the "hard problem" appeared in JCS (links to some of these papers are contained in the article). My (lengthy) reply, "Moving Forward...", appeared in JCS vol. 4, pp. 3-46, 1997. All the papers and my reply have been collected in the book, Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem (edited by Jonathan Shear), published by MIT Press in July 1997.

The Puzzle of Conscious Experience

This paper appeared in Scientific American in December 1995. It is essentially an even less technical version of the first article above, with some pretty pictures. As with most Scientific American articles, much of this article was heavily revised by the editors, and there are a few passages that I cringe at. But it's not a bad introduction.

Consciousness and Cognition (PS)

This is an older paper on consciousness, written when I was a graduate student at Indiana. It talks about the odd fact that even if consciousness is not reductively explainable, our claims about consciousness should be, and discusses various ways in which this tension might be resolved, eventually proposing a proto-theory of consciousness based on the notions of pattern and information. I no longer agree with everything in this paper, and it gets a bit wild toward the end, but it covers some interesting issues. I've never tried to publish it, but for some reason it is still my favorite among the papers I've written on the subject.

The Science of Consciousness

How Can We Construct a Science of Consciousness?

This paper discusses the agenda for a science of consciousness. I characterize the central task as the systematic integration of first-person data and third-person data, and lay out various concrete projects, discussing recent work in psychology and cognitive science along the way. I also discussed some obstacles, especially those tied to the methods for gathering first-person data. The paper appears in The Cognitive Neurosciences III, edited by Michael Gazzaniga (MIT Press, 2004).

On the Search for the Neural Correlate of Consciousness

This is a constructive analysis of the search for the "neural correlate of consciousness" (or the NCC, as it's sometimes called). I argue that because we don't have any way of detecting consciousness directly (i.e., we have no "consciousness meter"), the search is driven by pre-empirical bridging principles instead. I discuss some of these principles and draw some conclusions about the shape of the search. This paper is largely a transcript of my talk at the 1996 Tucson conference on consciousness, although some fun and games have been omitted (here are some visuals from the talk). It was published in Toward a Science of Consciousness II, edited by Hameroff, Kaszniak, and Scott (MIT Press, 1998).

What is a Neural Correlate of Consciousness?

This more recent and longer paper deals with some different aspects of the NCC issue, with reference to recent empirical work in the field (e.g. work in visual neuroscience by Logothetis, Milner and Goodale, and others). In particular it addresses what it means to be a neural correlate of consciousness, distinguishes different sorts of NCCs, and discusses the methodology of the search. It raises some questions about the conclusions that can be drawn from lesion studies. This paper was given at the 1998 ASSC conference on Neural Correlates of Consciousness, and appeared in Neural Correlates of Consciousness: Conceptual and Empirical Questions, edited by Thomas Metzinger (MIT Press, 2000).

First-Person Methods in the Science of Consciousness

In this short paper I argue that the task of a science of consciousness is to connect third-person data about brain and behavior to first-person data about conscious experience, and I discuss the difficult question of how we might investigate and represent first-person data. I also discuss some specific issues about emotion. This paper was written for a Tucson online workshop on emotion and consciousness, and appeared in the Fall 1999 Consciousness Bulletin from the Center for Consciousness Studies.

The Character of Consciousness

The Representational Character of Experience

This paper concerns the relationship between the phenomenal character and representational content of perceptual experience, and the status of representationalism. I argue for a sort of nonreductive, narrow, Fregean representationalism, contrasting with the more common reductive, wide, Russellian representationalism. This paper is forthcoming in The Future for Philosophy, edited by Brian Leiter (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Perception and the Fall from Eden

This is a sequel to the previous paper. I argue that the phenomenology of perceptual experience grounds not just a sort of Fregean content, but also a more fundamental "Edenic" content, involving the representation of primitive properties that may not be instantiated in the world. Much of the paper concerns the relationship between these two sorts of content. It is forthcoming in Perceptual Experience, edited by Tamar Gendler and John Hawthorne (Oxford University Press, 2005).

What is the Unity of Consciousness?

This paper is co-authored with Tim Bayne. We distinguish a number of different senses in which it might be said that a subject's conscious experiences are unified, and isolate a central notion for which the claim that consciousness is necessarily unified is tenable without being trivial. We then discuss potential counterexamples to this unity thesis, and will consider the implications of the unity thesis for theories of consciousness more generally. This paper appears in The Unity of Consciousness: Binding, Integration, Dissociation (Oxford University Press, 2003) edited by Axel Cleeremans.

The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief

This long paper has two halves. The first half gives an account of phenomenal concepts and phenomenal beliefs, on which their content is partly constituted by the quality of an experience. The second half applies this account to epistemological issues: e.g. arguing for a limited incorrigibility thesis, defending a sort of foundationalism about phenomenal knowledge, defending the phenomenal realist from certain epistemological problems, and addressing the "Myth of the Given". The paper was published in Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, edited by Quentin Smith and Alexandr Jokic (Oxford, 2003).

Phenomenal Concepts and the Knowledge Argument

This paper applies the analysis of phenomenal concepts above to the knowledge argument against materialism. Most of this paper is drawn from with material in other papers, but there is a bit of new material in the second half on replies to the knowledge argument. It is forthcoming in There's Something About Mary, an anthology of paprs on the knowledge argument, edited by Peter Ludlow, Yujin Nagasawa, and Daniel Stoljar (MIT Press, 2004).

Phenomenal Concepts and the Explanatory Gap

This paper discusses materialist attempts (by e.g. Hill, Loar, Papineau, Tye, and others) to appeal to phenomenal concepts to explain away the explanatory gap and other epistemic gaps. I argue that no such account can work: either the account does not explain the epistemic gap, or the relevant features of phenmenal concepts are themselves not explainable in physical terms. Forthcoming in Torin Alter and Sven Walter, Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism (OUP, 2006).

Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia (PS)

In this paper I use thought-experiments to argue that functional organization fully determines conscious experience. These thought-experiments involve the gradual replacement of neurons by silicon chips, and similar scenarios. I argue that if "absent qualia" or "inverted qualia" are possible, then phenomena I call "fading qualia" and "dancing qualia" will be possible; but I argue that it is very implausible that fading or dancing qualia are possible. The resulting position is a sort of "nonreductive functionalism". This paper appears in the collection Conscious Experience from Ferdinand Schöningh (1995), edited by Thomas Metzinger. (There is also a German version entitled "Fehlende Qualia, schwindende Qualia, tanzende Qualia" (!), but it is not available on the net.)

Commentaries and Reviews

Imagination, Indexicality, and Intensions

This is a commentary on John Perry's book Knowledge, Possibility, and Consciousness (MIT Press, 2001), which defends a materialist view against a number of arguments (the zombie argument, the knowledge argument, the modal argument), and addresses the discussion in my book. The commentary appears in a 2004 symposium on Perry's book in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Availability: The Cognitive Basis of Experience?

Here I argue that the cognitive correlate of conscious experience is direct availability for global control, and use this to shed light on a few vexing questions. This was written as a commentary on Ned Block's paper "On A Confusion about a Function of Consciousness"; Block's reply is here. The commentary appeared in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and also in the collection The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates from MIT Press, edited by Block, Flanagan, and Guzeldere. This paper overlaps to some extent with "On the search for a neural correlate of consciousness".

Self-Ascription Without Qualia: A Case-Study

This is a commentary on Alvin Goldman's piece "The Psychology of Folk Psychology", in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (June 1993). The paper contains a zombie thought-experiment or two, for people who like that sort of thing.

Review of Journal of Consciousness Studies

This is a review of the first issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. It appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in November 1994.


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