Home

Life Coaching

Communication Coaching

Coach Bios

 

Library

 

 

 For more information, contact:

   Gary Schouborg, PhD

   (925) 932-1982

   gary@garynini.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schouborg, Gary (1997). "A Methodology for the Science of Consciousness". Karl Jaspers Forum, Target Article 2, 17 July 1997. Online journal

 

A Methodology for the Science of Consciousness

 

Gary Schouborg

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] ABSTRACT: The Science of Consciousness (SOC) is continuous with everyday thinking and with other scientific specialities in beginning inevitably with the inquiring subject's own conscious experiencing. This does not lead to solipsism, because the hypothesis of an independently existing world is the best hypothesis to explain the facts of subjective experience. SOC is unique among all ways of knowing in needing to be fully critical, not simply as academic philosophy is by conceptualizing the structure of conscious inquiry, but by being reflectively aware of consciousness as such, the womb from which inquiry is born. Therefore, in SOC the scientist and the philosopher merge. Initially, this reflective awareness means being open to experiencing non-naturalistic as well as naturalistic claims, altered states of consciousness as well as ordinary ones. It is an empirical issue, not to be decided a priori by some empiricist commitment, whether such non-naturalistic claims and altered states actually exist and what their relevance is to understanding consciousness.

 

KEYWORDS: consciousness, subjectivity, objectivity, epistemology, concentration, mindfulness, science, altered states, empiricism, scientific methodology, non-empirical knowledge, critique, pragmatic naturalism

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[2] This article began with the title, "A Methodology for the 1st-Person Science of Consciousness." However, I soon realized that the methodology I was formulating was no different from that used in science generally. Whether inquiring into neural, behavioral, cognitive, or social systems, or consciousness itself, scientists inevitably begin with their personal experiencing (n 1) and make

 

--------------

(n 1) Throughout this article, 'experiencing,' as well as the verb 'experience,' refers to the activity or process of conscious awareness and the noun 'experience' refers to the object or content of the experiencing. By reflecting on my experiencing, I experience my experiencing and thereby turn it also into an experience, which perhaps more than anything makes discussion of consciousness so slippery.

--------------

 

factual claims (n 2) (hereafter, claims) about experience which have

 

--------------

(n 2) For convenience, I am using 'claims' to refer to judgments or beliefs, conscious or unconscious, as well as explicit claims that are publicly accountable.

--------------

 

implications beyond it and which are tested against certain constraints. Specific differences in perceptual discrimination, conceptualization, and experimental manipulation arise as inquiries become increasingly sophisticated and specialized. This article therefore formulates a methodology for the science of consciousness (hereafter, SOC) by first placing it within a general methodology of science and then identifying the specialized skills and techniques required to explore 1st-person consciousness or experiencing.

 

[3] The general argument is this. We must first distinguish between our experiencing, our experience (what we are experiencing), and our claims about it (knowledge)(n 3), so we can understand the

 

--------------

(n 3) For convenience, I am using 'knowledge' to refer to naturalistic knowledge, which involves claims about experience. We do not inquire far into consciousness before we encounter claims that are not about experience, but about other realms of reality. Sometimes these are claims about unusual experiences; but sometimes they are claims about something "just known" to exist. I'll refer to this sort of claim as non-naturalistic.

--------------

 

ground on which science builds. Then we can see how science involves experiencing and knowing that are only different in degree from our ordinary, daily experiencing and knowing. From that perspective, we can flesh out the specific experiential (1st-person) skills the inquirer into consciousness needs to generate and identify relevant data, the specific conceptual skills needed to hypothesize about the data, and the specific evaluation skills needed to test hypotheses. My aim is to formulate a general framework sufficiently plausible and useful that a critical mass of consciousness scientists will use it to move their inquiries forward rather than endlessly debate fundamentals. In fact, a partially explicit framework is already operating. My aim here is to render it more explicit and to provide some support for its feasibility.

 

I. Experiencing, Experience, and Knowledge

 

[4] Science, like the rest of our knowledge, begins with experiencing (the conscious awareness of) something (experience), taken as broadly as possible (n 4). Though this triadic formulation is

 

--------------

(n 4) We will see below how this includes pure conscious awareness as the limiting case.

--------------

 

awkward compared to the traditional one of stating simply that knowledge begins with experience, by including experiencing it has the virtue of calling to our attention that what is known is known through activity of the knowing subject. The traditional formulation, on the other hand, lends itself to the objectivist illusion that somehow we know things in a way that is unaffected by our experiencing it, things as they are "already out there."

 

[5] Experience is therefore immediate; it is given in our experiencing. However, it is not some fundamental given about which we cannot be mistaken and upon which knowledge is built as upon an unshakable foundation. It is not necessarily "pure" experience devoid of any claim. It is merely a humble starting point. It may be as simple as a visual field completely filled with undifferentiated redness, as complex as parents' feelings on the birth of their first child, or as sophisticated as reading *The Waste Land*. In other words, an experience may itself be composed of claims - for example, my conscious belief that I am typing into a computer disk that exists independently of me can itself be an experience, if by reflection I make it an object of my awareness (as I am doing in the very act of writing this sentence). 'Experience' is therefore not an absolute term, but is correlative to 'experiencing.' It is also correlative to 'claim' insofar as it is that about which a claim is made.

 

[6] *Knowledge* is sometimes predicated of experiencing, sometimes of reports (in this article, 1st-person unless explicitly stated otherwise) about experience, and sometimes of true claims (in this article, 3rd-person unless explicitly stated otherwise) based on experience. Thus, we say we have known pain, meaning that we have experienced pain. Or we report to others that we are experiencing pain, and we characterize the basis of our report as privileged knowledge because only we can feel our own pain. Or we claim that someone else is in pain, saying we know it from their (n 5) behavior. The differences between these kinds of knowledge are crucial to develop a valid and useful methodology for SOC.

 

------------

(n 5) Foertsch and Gernsbacher (1997) not only review the reasons why grammarians increasingly favor using 'they' as a gender-neutral singular, they also provide empirical studies suggesting that we process this option more efficiently than other gender-neutral options.

------------

 

[7] Consider my experiencing pain. I cannot be mistaken about either the experiencing or the experience themselves, because they are simply what they are; no claim is yet being made about them (n 6). Therefore, to say that my experiencing is knowledge is simply to

 

------------

(n 6) Since experience is relative, it can involve a mistake. For example, if I am wrong about my computer disk's existing independently of me, then in experiencing my belief that it does, I am experiencing a mistake. But as experience, my experience is not mistaken. For, though this experience involves a claim, no claim is yet made about the experience itself.

------------

 

equate the two words. Before I can be mistaken, I must claim something, which I do only in a report or in a 3rd-person claim. I can *express* my pain by grimace, gesture, or word. And I can do so untruthfully if I simulate being in pain when I'm not; or I can do so ineptly, if I am an insufficiently skilled actor. But I cannot be mistaken in my expression, since it is not a claim.

[8] Now consider my report to others that I am in pain. Like experiencing, it exists in a 1st-person perspective; for I'm reporting on my own experiencing. Like experiencing, it is privileged knowledge, since for the same reason that no one else can have my pain, neither can they give a report of my pain (n 7). Unlike

 

-----------

(n 7) They can, of course, replicate my pain. For example, if my pain comes from hitting myself on the head with a hammer, they can hammer their own heads and experience presumably the same sort of pain. But they can never experience my pain, nor I theirs.

-----------

 

experiencing, however, and also unlike an expression, my report can be false, since it is a claim (1st-person) about a state of affairs - namely, that I am in pain. Unlike a claim, a report is about an experience to which others in principle cannot have access - that is, they cannot experience my pain. For that reason, a report cannot be mistaken, except incidentally. Perhaps I think the correct English word is 'rain' and tell you that I am in rain. Or, through a slip of the tongue, I tell you that I am in Spain. And there are odd feelings I may have which I am unsure whether to call painful or not. In all these cases, my mistake is not about the experience itself, but only what to call it. Finally, I can report a false memory - for example, that I had a toothache last Monday. In that case, however, I'm not mistaken that I recall having a toothache last Monday; that is simply my memory-experience. Rather, what is mistaken is my 1st-person claim that is part of this particular memory that I am experiencing. In short, my memory may be mistaken, but not my experiencing of that memory.

 

[9] In contrast to experiencing and reports, *claims* go beyond my experience to assert some state of affairs distinct from the experience itself. For example, based on my experiencing you bent over, grimacing, and groaning, I claim that you are experiencing pain. Or, based on my feeling forced to move out of the way or of forcing other objects out of the way, I claim that whenever anything moves, some force made it do so. It is precisely this gap between experience and claims about it that allows claims to be mistaken. From this perspective, the "hard" problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1995, 1997) is first the *epistemological* one of what justification there is for making (3rd-person) claims based on (1st-person) experiencing. The *ontological* "hard" problem of how conscious things (processes, events, agents, activities, functions, etc.) emerge from unconscious things is a separate issue which this article will not address.

 

II. Three Kinds of Claim

 

[10] *Naturalistic claims* (hereafter, claims) are, as already indicated, about experience taken very broadly. The preceding section has distinguished them from experiencing itself and reports about experience. *Non-naturalistic claims* (hereafter, n-claims) are especially likely to be found in moral and religious discourse. An example of a moral n-claim might be that killing is wrong, where the predicate 'wrong' is not based on any experience (for example, the unwanted consequences of killing), but on a uniquely moral intuition. Similarly, an example of a religious n-claim might be that a personal, loving God exists, an assertion not based on experience (for example, motion or conditional existents, or some mystical union), but on a uniquely religious, spiritual, or mystical insight or intuition. *Equivocal claims* (hereafter, e-claims) are assertions whose meaning is unclear. An example of an e-claim is that I dissolved into oneness with the universe (hereafter, DO). Perhaps the e-claim is an assertion expressed poetically by default, as the best I could do to express my experience. In that case, it may be relatively easy to determine what was originally intended (I was aware of nothing but being conscious; or, I felt no emotional distance between me and the universe - it was a feeling of complete rapport). On the other hand, the e-claim may not be primarily an assertion at all, but a purely poetic expression of a particular experience. In this case, a report or claim may be culled from the expression, not as if it were originally intended, but as a report or claim that is consistent with it. Thus, in making the e-claim DO, I may have been expressing a poetic intuition which brings together numerous experiences and claims about which I am, as a poet, unconcernedly unaware. In that case, it is meaningless to ask what I originally intended, though we could argue certain claims are consistent with my poetic expression (that I felt complete rapport with the universe is consistent with DO).

 

1. Naturalistic Claims

 

[11] A clear and correct understanding of two characteristics of claims are critical for SOC: (1) they go beyond experience, yet (2) are constrained by it. Thus, if I see a red apple, I go beyond that particular experience by tying it through memory to other experiences and supposing that the apple is of a particular structure that exists independently of me. What is problematic is my going beyond the original perception at all. The justification for doing so cannot be in terms of formal logic, since, by definition, claims assert facts not entailed by experience itself. Nor will appeals to inductive logic help, since the latter does not try to justify going beyond experience as such, but at best only identifies constraints within which doing so should occur. The justification is pragmatic: it works. Yes, it is theoretically possible that my experience is the result of a deceptive demon, but mankind has survived and in some ways progressed by moving from experiences to claims about them that assume an independently existing world. In addition, though theoretical alternatives to realism, such as the deceptive demon, have been proposed, there are no verified instances of anyone actually living and thinking according to their dictates.

 

[12] The second characteristic of claims that is critical to understand in what sense they are constrained by experience, not by an independently existing reality. Consider, for example, my conviction that I am now seeing and feeling an apple that would continue to exist if I dropped dead this second. Epistemologically, my experience of the apple is given within my consciousness as a constraint on my claim. That is, I experience the apple as something any claim must "match" in order to be correct. This experience is composed of my current perception combined through memory with a host of past experiences. It is to account for and make use of this complex, subjective experience that I claim this apple exists independently of me. Once I have accepted that claim of an independently existing apple, I can argue ontologically that the apple constrains my claim by causing those experiences in the first place. In short, claims are constrained epistemologically by my experience and ontologically by the causes of my experience.

 

2. Non-naturalistic Claims

 

[13] N-claims pose at least two problems for SOC, epistemological and ontological. Epistemologically, since n-claims are not claims about experience, they cannot be directly criticized by any science that is about experience. For science as so defined can only pit one claim about experience against another. Still, since those who make n-claims are conscious of them, science can study them as another experience. In other words, though science cannot epistemologically evaluate n-claims, it can study their ontology. Thus, it might be able to establish non-epistemological criteria for determining whether they are delusions, wishful thinking, conjectures, knowledge, etc. Of course, it must be careful not to argue circularly that n-claims are in some way pathological because they are not based on experience. Instead, it must tie them, if possible, to behavior assessed as pathological on independent grounds. For example, my n-claim that I am Napoleon could be assessed as delusional, not because I refuse to accept counter-evidence (for example, that Napoleon died a while back), but because of the counter-evidence itself. In other words, the facts about Napoleon indicate that I am at least mistaken, and further facts about my behavior (and perhaps in the future, neural processes) indicate that I am more than simply mistaken, but delusional. A really critical (in the Kantian sense) SOC will be careful to articulate just what assumptions help create that evidence so as to avoid ethnocentric question-begging from the perspective of ordinary consciousness.

 

3. Equivocal Claims

 

[14] E-claims pose problems for SOC similar to n-claims. Like the latter, they exist in some people's minds and are therefore experiences whose ontology can be studied by SOC. Epistemologically, they are more complex than n-claims. Let's return to DO (my saying that I dissolved into oneness with the universe). We can try to understand this as text and through my own report. As text, we can look at the context in which DO exists: the immediate context, through the more remote context of my Collected Sayings, to the most remote context of my era and culture. We can compare its form with other e-claims to see if perhaps we can determine if DO is poetic expression only, a poetic expression with imbedded assertion, or an out-and-out claim or n-claim. Using my own report, the SOC investigator can ask me what I meant by DO. Perhaps I can straightforwardly and less ambiguously express my original intention. For example, I might report that when I said DO I was just expressing how I felt; or that I meant that literally the universe and I were one; or that I meant that I felt a wonderful rapport with everything while simultaneously being conscious of being distinguishable from everything else. On the other hand, perhaps I myself do not know what I meant and must join with the investigator in treating DO as text for both of us to understand.

 

[15] Because of the unique fact that reflecting on consciousness changes it, reports are peculiarly difficult to use as data. For example, suppose the SOC researcher asks me what I meant by DO and I reply that I meant the universe and I were literally one. Then the researcher , seeking clarification, says, "By that, do you mean something different from saying that you felt a wonderful rapport with the universe?" I might reply that I didn't mean that at all. I might also reply, "Oh yes, that's exactly what I meant!", in a way that makes it seem likely that the researcher really helped me explain myself. But I might also agree with their prodding in a way that raises the question of whether the researcher's suggestion has just distorted the evidence. Clearly, getting me to clarify my report in a way that does not alter the nature of the original report is a tricky enterprise. Yet it seems equally clear that a conceptually sophisticated subject might report their experience differently from a naive one.

 

III. The Science of Consciousness

 

[16] It seems generally accepted that, in rough outline, we know how to make and test claims about mental activity. That is the "easy" problem (Chalmers 1995, 1996, 1997), to which this article contributes nothing except the perspective introduced above. Neither will it address the ontological hard problem of how conscious mental activities emerge from unconscious realities. Instead, I will spend the rest of the time on the middle problem of phenomenology, by which I mean a study of the structure of consciousness (conscious awareness), as opposed to the contents of consciousness. The difficulties that destroyed introspectionism at the turn of the century (Güzeldere 1995) stemmed from its trying to map the contents of consciousness like entomologists trying to identify every species of insect. By now, however, it is crystal clear, if it wasn't then, that the contents of consciousness are unlimited, created as they are by the interaction of environment, psychophysiological structures, conceptualization, and reflective awareness. In short, the introspective project of mapping all possible conscious states is even worse that trying to identify all insect species; it is more like a cartographer trying to map all the constantly shifting grains of sand on earth. Therefore, the more feasible path for SOC to follow is to search for invariants within consciousness, three of which are attention, conceptualization, and reflection.

 

1. Attention

 

[17] The most obvious form of attention is focusing one's awareness on some content or another. Thus, with my eyes on this computer screen, I can focus on the screen or I can turn my attention to the sound of the car starting up outside my window. Or, I can focus on the color of the type or on the shape of the letters. Similarly, I can focus on a musical phrase, on a single note, on pitch, loudness, timbre, etc. This sort of attention is characteristic of ordinary practical living and science. Describing our experience in this way is sometimes called phenomenology, which in this sense is synonymous with description.

[18] On the other hand, I can focus on the process of focusing itself, reflective attention. Thus, instead of focusing on the screen before me, I focus on my seeing of the screen. This is not the same as noticing that my eyes are directed toward the screen, my neck bent toward it, etc. All those things are contents of various awarenesses I have; focusing on them would be ordinary attention. Reflective attention shifts my focus from the content to the seeing itself (n 8).

 

------------

(n 8) Since this turns the seeing itself into the content of my reflection, we can refer to it as reflective or 2nd-level content, to distinguish it from the ordinary or 1st-level content of our ordinary, non-reflective experiencing.

------------

 

Notice that it *shifts* my focus, it does not withdraw it. I am still aware of the screen, but now at the periphery. Reflective attention is characteristic of phenomenology in its technical, philosophical sense, which is how this article uses the term.

 

2. Conceptualization

 

[19] Before we claim something about our experience, we must conceptualize it, since it is the conceptualization of our experience that we assert when we make a claim. As mentioned above, this does not assume that experience is a pure given, unadulterated by human categories. Experience and conceptualization are correlative. Whatever the experience, however complex and filled with conceptualizations it may be, it must be further conceptualized before we can claim something about it. Thus, I may conceptualize a particular rendition of Beethoven's Eroica as dynamic and claim that it is the most dynamic rendition I have heard. The experience referred to may itself involve an incredible cluster of conceptualizations and claims, to which is added the conceptualization of the performance as more dynamic than any other and the claim that that is so. My experience is then changed: it is one thing to listen to dynamic music and another to listen to it while thinking of it as the most dynamic I have ever heard. The reverse can also occur: I can be initially excited by a hyped-up event and then come down when I realize the degree to which I was responding to the hype. In short, experiencing can be constructed or deconstructed.

 

[20] Like attention, conceptualization can be unreflective or reflective. The example of conceptualizing Beethoven's Eroica as dynamic was unreflective. Discussing the experience, making an example of it, was reflective.

 

3. Reflection

 

[21] The self-reflective nature of the phenomenology of consciousness is found in reflective attention and reflective conceptualization. I must not just be conscious. I must not just be conscious of something. I must be conscious of consciousness itself (reflective attention). Similarly, I must not just think. I must not just think about something. And I must not just think about my own thinking (meta-theory). I must be aware of as well as think about my thinking process (phenomenology of consciousness: reflective attention combined with reflective conceptualization).

 

4. A Conceptual Map of the Science of Consciousness

 

[22] The following map does not intend to be exhaustive, but identifies the major methodologies of SOC and their interrelationships.

 

Phenomenology: a reflective study of the conscious processes, states, or events from which all knowing emerges.

 

Science: the set of all claims, along with their attendant methodologies, about the contents of experience. Thus broadly conceived, science includes ordinary claims, which differ only in degree of sophistication.

 

Everyday Science: our ordinary, relatively naive way of thinking about our world. This includes Folk Psychology: our ordinary, relatively naive way of thinking about our thinking.

 

Neuroscience: the systematic study of the physical and biological, especially the neural, contributions to mental operations, both conscious and unconscious.

 

Behavioral Science: the systematic study of human behaviors.

Cognitive Science: the systematic study of mental functions, both conscious and unconscious.

 

Social Science: the systematic study of human interactions.

SOC is, then, composed of the phenomenology of consciousness plus the sciences insofar as they tell us something about consciousness.

 

[23] The more sophisticated the inquirer, the more aware they are of their processes of inquiry. Therefore, the more sophisticated the science, the more phenomenologically grounded, culminating in SOC. At an elemental level, phenomenology and science can pretty much go their separate ways. For example, I can know a lot about apples without reflecting on my consciousness of apples. However, we are at a point in history where the two are intimately entwined. In physics, quantum mechanics raises the question of the relationship between observer and observed, an issue even more obvious in the social sciences. In biotechnology, we are developing the ability to affect our consciousness in ways we do not yet understand - and not through mind-altering drugs only, but perhaps more profoundly through genetically reengineering the ground of our consciousness.

 

[24] Beyond the yin and yang dance of phenomenology and the ordinary claims of science lie n-claims and e-claims. They are related to SOC both causally and epistemologically. They are related causally in that, for all we know at this stage, an increasingly realized SOC may be used to induce certain n-claims and e-claims as part of altered states of consciousness. They are related epistemologically in that an increasingly realized SOC may enable us indirectly to assess their veridicality. Consider two hypothetical scenarios.

 

[25] The first scenario involves my n-claim DO (I dissolved into oneness with the universe). By definition, an n-claim asserts some sort of insight into reality, but is not a claim based on experience. Since I am not basing my assertion on experience, science cannot directly disconfirm it. That, however, is not the end of the story. Behavioral science can run me through various assessments to determine if there are independent grounds for thinking that I am delusional, prone to wishful thinking, prone to unfounded speculation, or usually realistic in my assertions. The results can provide some grounds for estimating under which one of those possibilities my n-claim may fall. *Cognitive Science* can try to determine if n-claims are inconsistent with what we know about mental functioning, at least compatible with it, or perhaps even serving some specific function. Neuroscience may someday identify the brain-site of my n-claim and on that basis draw some conclusions about its nature. For example, it might find that in spite of my report that this is truly an n-claim that has no reference to experience, in fact the neural processes that constitute my n-claim function in a network that includes experience-related processes, such that it is reasonable to assume that I am simply not aware of the experiential roots of my claim and that the alleged n-claim it not really an n-claim at all. On the other hand, neuroscience may be unable to find any neural site for n-claims, with its inability of such a nature that suggests that my n-claim is indeed a conscious event independent of ordinary experience and even of the brain. Finally, social science may similarly employ its particular expertise to determine possible sociocultural factors that could explain my n-claim.

 

[26] The second scenario involves my e-claim DO. By definition, an e-claim is associated with some experience, but is unclear as to whether it is purely poetic expression or poetic expression by default, as the best I could do to articulate my experience. From the viewpoint of SOC, purely poetic expression is a prolific womb from which many claims can be delivered. The strength of poetry is its ability to use language to express an intuition whose constitutive experiences and claims can only be guessed, since the poet was never aware of them, nor cared to be, in the first place. Its weakness for SOC purposes is that the precise nature of the embedded experiences and claims can therefore never be completely articulated. Indeed, it is questionable whether SOC can really say that any particular interpretation is part of a poetic expression's meaning, only that the expression brings to mind this or that experience or claim. Thus, as stated earlier, the best we can say of DO as purely poetic expression is that my feeling complete rapport with the universe is one meaning that is consistent with DO.

 

[27] On the other hand, it is possible that DO is a poetic expression by default, that it was simply the best I could do. In that case, it may be possible to identify whatever claims I originally intended to make. Perhaps I can upon reflection be certain that I did not mean that the universe and I are literally one and the same. What then did I mean? Perhaps it is now clear to me that I meant to say that I felt a complete rapport with the universe. Or perhaps I still can't say just what I meant, in which case the best we can do may be to treat DO as purely poetic expression and limit ourselves to articulating possible meanings that are consistent with it.

 

5. Altered States of Consciousness

 

[28] I'm contrasting altered states of consciousness (hereafter, ACS) with normal or ordinary states (hereafter, OCS) in a descriptive sense only: the latter are normal only in being the most usual; nothing is assumed ahead of time as to the relative superiority of one state over another. Thus, ordinary waking is OCS, whereas dreaming and DO are ACS. Ontologically, SOC inquires as to the nature, cause, and effects of ACS. Epistemologically, SOC inquires as to their veridicality, and must do so in a way that begs no questions, as we have already seen with regard to n-claims. The challenge to SOC is that ACS may involve experiences inaccessible to OCS, not only in that the researcher in OCS may not have the experience and therefore have no 1st-person empathy for it, but those who are in ACS may be unable to convey the nature of their experience in language that is intelligible to the researcher in OCS. The even greater challenge is that ACS may involve special knowledge that is inaccessible to OCS.

 

[29] In other words, state-specific sciences (hereafter, SSS) may be possible (Tart 1972), sciences with both experiences and methodologies peculiar to particular conscious states (hereafter, CS). From this perspective, SOC is a SSS peculiar to OCS. In his article, Tart was intent on expanding the notion of empirical science so that it included ACS experiences and methodologies. He never entertained the possibility of n-claims or knowledge not based on experience of any kind. But just as Tart correctly argues that we cannot arbitrarily restrict science to OCS, so too do I take that logic to its limit and argue that we cannot arbitrarily restrict knowledge to claims based on experience.

 

[30] Does this open the door to irrationalism? Not at all. Researchers in OCS are not reduced to helplessly wringing their hands while alleged ACS gurus seemingly jabber on. We have already seen there are indirect, but non-question-begging ways, to evaluate n-claims and e-claims made from within OCS. In principle, we can extend these methods to claims of any kind made from within ACS. However, we cannot know a priori the extent to which we will come to satisfactory conclusions. There may be instances where, unless we get in it ourselves, we will simply not know what to make of a particular CS and the claims made about it. Of course, this leaves the door slightly ajar for the irrationalist to operate with impunity. But we cannot anticipate closing the door completely, unless we are dogmatic empiricists who insist that no dogmatism but ours is to be countenanced.

 

[31] My own bias is that there is nothing to be learned from n-claims, that all knowledge is about experience of some sort. However, SOC above all sciences cannot foreclose this possibility at the outset. For being concerned with consciousness itself, SOC must be open not only to its assumptions, but also to its possible experiences, one of which is knowledge that is not experience-based. My further bias is that there are no SSS other than SOC, which is why I made this article about the SOC, rather than a SOC. Nevertheless, SOC above all sciences cannot foreclose this possibility at the outset.

 

[32] Anchored as it is in phenomenology, SOC must be aware not only of its assumptions, but of the consciousness from which all assumptions arise. Such awareness takes the SOC researcher beyond critically knowing that all claims rest on assumptions, to dynamically experiencing the difference between consciousness itself and the process of making assumptions. In its furthest reaches, SOC takes us beyond an analytical understanding of knowledge - a theory about thinking - to a richer experience of our own consciousness of which thinking and doing is only a part. In other words, SOC ultimately transforms us so that we experience our environment and ourselves differently, no longer identified with and clinging to the particular ways in which we think and act.

 

6. Objectivity

 

[33] Because objectivity is so often identified with the 3rd-person perspective, we must be very clear what sort of objectivity is required and possible in the 1st-person phenomenology of SOC. We can take our cue from 3rd-person claims, since we have seen that they are built on 1st-person experience. Few seriously hold that absolute objectivity is possible. Instead, most reflective writers today hold a position on objectivity that is roughly like this. We have objective knowledge when certain conditions of observation are satisfied. Anyone meeting those conditions will make the same claims that we do. Thus, you and I can agree that this type is black even though I am listening to the hum of my computer and you are listening to voices in the background. The relevant conditions have nothing to do with our hearing, but are that your and my seeing apparatuses are functional and that there is sufficient light for each of us. In short, objective knowledge is relative to the conditions of observation, but objective in that when those conditions are met we can agree on certain claims. Our knowledge is not only objective, but critical, when we not only satisfy the conditions of observation but know what they are. Thus, naive subjects in normal conditions can have objective knowledge of apples, but only reflective subjects who know what those normal conditions are have critical objective knowledge. That is, their claims not only happen to be correct, but their knowledge of the conditions that enable those claims to be made correctly enable them to assess the likelihood that those claims are indeed true.

 

[34] Applying this principle to (1st-person) phenomenology is straightforward though more subtle. Since claims are built on experience, the conditions that enable them to be made are never exclusively 3rd-person. Certain conditions within consciousness itself (1st-person conditions) must also obtain. Thus, in the example just above, not only must your and my seeing apparatuses be functional and there be sufficient light for each of us (3rd-person conditions); we must each be paying sufficient attention to, and thinking clearly about, what is before our eyes (two 1st-person conditions). In other words, the first two invariants of consciousness, attention and conceptualization, must be operative. In our unreflective consciousness, we trust they are operating adequately, since we usually get things right. However, in cases of uncertainty we resort to reflection, the third invariant of consciousness, to check whether the necessary conditions (1st-person as well as 3rd-person) for objective knowledge are truly met. Of course, this opens up a house of mirrors, since we can ask if our reflection is adequate, and thus reflect on our reflection. Logically, this can go on forever. Personally, however, I find that I can only go to two levels; that is, I can only reflect on my reflection; after that, it is only words. Scientifically, we can determine how far humans can actually go. In any case, there is no epistemological stopping point at which we can be assured that the conditions for objective knowledge have been satisfied. Reflection only reduces the possibility of error, never eliminates it.

 

[35] The preceding reveals why it is a mistake to confuse objectivity with non-belief or non-participation, as in arguing that researchers cannot be objective students of a religion they believe in, or of their own culture, with the absurd conclusion that only non-believers can really know about religion or non-participants can really know about a group's culture. Objectivity depends on conditions being satisfied such that correct claims can be made. Researchers who are believers and participants in the group they are studying can determine as well as anyone else whether 3rd-person conditions are satisfied. Of course, they are biased in their examination of those conditions; but non-believers and non-participants are not unbiased, only biased in different ways. The fact that they are all biased, whether in the group or out, does not condemn them to wanton subjectiveness. Through their interaction, and through each researcher's reflection on their own inquiry, they can reduce bias.

 

[36] The error that objectivity requires non-belief and non-participation stems from the notion of an objectivity which is exclusive of subjectivity, of an objectivity which excludes the activity of the inquiring subject. This is a psychological illusion, because knowledge does not occur independently of knowing subjects. It is also an epistemological illusion, because it unrealistically demands that objectivity be free of all possibility of error. This was Descartes' mistake, not that he began with consciousness, for where else can any of us begin, but that he sought a foundation free of all doubt. In contrast, the human fact is that we generally get our claims right, at least enough of them that the human race has survived and in some ways progressed up to this point. We do not require infallibility, only sufficient correctness to keep the system going. We achieve this correctness on two levels: naively, we are constructed in relation to our environment such that the conditions are sufficiently met for making correct claims; reflectively, we become aware of those conditions and improve our performance, reducing our errors and learning more.

 

7. The Skills of the Scientist of Consciousness

 

[37] Scientists of consciousness will have to have the skills of their particular specialty. Since the skills required of behavioral, cognitive, neural, and social scientists are relatively straightforward (being involved in the "easy" problem), I'll dwell only on the phenomenological skills required of SOC: attentional, conceptual, and reflective.

 

[38] *Attentionally*, scientists of consciousness cannot remain satisfied with a scientific study of processes, states, or events that is limited to 3rd-person claims, even if those claims can explain how consciousness arises. For we have seen that those claims are based on 1st-person experience, so that a fully critical, a fully reflective - indeed, a fully conscious - SOC must understand the structure of experience in order to understand fully the nature of any claim made about consciousness. Since an understanding of experience requires a reflective experiencing of experience, scientists of consciousness must have the skills required for r-attention, which must extend from OCS to ACS (n 9).

 

-------------

(n 9) I'm not suggesting that any one scientist must experience all possible CS, but only the community of scientists of consciousness. Similarly, no one geologist must explore the whole earth, but the community of geologists must do so.

-------------

[39] Conceptually, scientists of consciousness must understand (r-conceptualize) the difference between experience and knowledge, between what is presented and what is claimed about it. This involves understanding the tricky contrast between the subjective and the objective, which derives from classical errors of perception. Thus, I see a stick partly immersed in water as bent and discover on pulling it out of the water that it is really straight. I conclude that the bent stick is "merely my subjective impression," whereas in fact the stick is "objectively straight." The traditional model (OM = objectivity model) that accounts for this supposes we correct our errors by measuring our subjective impressions against objective reality. The problem, of course, is that doing that is a subjective activity, and activity of the experiencing subject. One response has gravitated to SM (a subjectivity model), arguing that subjectivity is prior to objectivity. We begin with our own subjective impressions. The problem here has been that there is no logical necessity that subjective impressions have to be caused by an objective reality. This competition has led to the impasse that OM is unable to explain adequately how we correct error, while SM is unable to explain adequately our ineradicable belief in an independently existing reality that acts as a constraint on our beliefs.

 

[40] The resolution to this dilemma is DM (a dialectical model, or model of self-correcting rational processes). According to DM, the original subjective perception of the bent stick is corrected by both previous and subsequent subjective impressions of the straight stick when out of water, a correction reinforced by a theory of light refraction, which itself is developed on the basis of a whole complex of subjective experiences by the community of physicists. From this perspective, objectivity is found not in a reality outside the subjective, but in a self-correcting process within consciousness. For it is within consciousness itself that I experience the world as a constraint on my beliefs, such that those beliefs are correct when they "match" the world and false when they do not. It is within consciousness that I find others who aid me in finding out facts about the world. And it is within consciousness that I identify conditions of logic and of observation under which it is likely that others will make the same claims as I do. It is a further question whether that world, including other subjects, is a product of my unconscious mind or exists independently of me. As we have seen in section 6. Objectivity, an independently existing world is an ontological hypothesis to account for my subjective experiencing. Again, the final judge here is pragmatism, not formal logic. Rational inquiry cannot lift itself by its own bootstraps and ensure its success. We follow it and improve upon it because it supports practical, daily living and what scientific progress we have achieved. And again, there has been found no one who denies an independently existing world who has actually based their action and thinking on the dictates of that denial.

 

[41] In sum, in OM 'subjective' is pejorative in that its role is simply to be lectured to by objective reality; in SM, 'subjective' is fundamental, but at the expense of independently existing reality; in DM, although some subjective perceptions are wrong, it is only other subjective processes that reveal error and correct it - that is, the final judge of truth is unavoidably subjective judgment, always fallible but also always capable of reducing error by the self-correcting process of pragmatically rational (not rationalistic) inquiry.

 

[42] Reflectively, scientists of consciousness must do more than believe the preceding theory as a hypothesis. They must confirm it from within their own reflective self-awareness. For there are at least four ways they might adopt DM. The first is to employ DM as a useful model. The second is to believe it is true, because others believe it. The third is to believe it is true, because their own reflective conceptualization tells them it is more feasible that its competitors. The fourth is to reflect on their own conscious inquiring and see for themselves whether they have any epistemological rock on which they can stand with absolute sureness; whether or not all their thinking emerges from an undefined, unlimited source within their own consciousness; and whether or not their personal world is an essentially temporary structure constructed by their own minds out of the materials given them in an independently existing reality. Therefore, at the heart of their inquiry is a practical wisdom by which they decide the feasibility of holding their current beliefs or inquiring further, given the resources - material, human, and personal - that are available. In other words, at the core of inquiry, the science and the applied technology of consciousness merge - or, more accurately, dialectically embrace. The scientist and the philosopher become one.

 

IV. The Applied Technology of Consciousness (TOC)

 

[43] Perhaps more than any other science, SOC is driven by technology or application. The gulf in motivation between the theoretical and the applied mathematician, and the theoretical physicist and the engineer, is wide indeed. Even the behavioral scientist might be fascinated to understand human behavior without necessarily wishing to apply it. However, since it is within consciousness itself that we experience the felt quality of our lives, it is unlikely that our motivations for understanding it and for using it to enhance our quality of life are ever dynamically very far apart, though they are conceptually distinct. SOC and TOC are intertwined in at least three ways:, in the practice of concentration, in the practice of mindfulness, and in answering questions at the heart of human existence.

 

1. The Practice of Concentration

 

[44] In meditation practices, concentration develops our ability to choose that to which we give our attention. Typically, meditation practices direct our attention to sense objects - for example, the feeling of breath on our upper lip or visual focus on a mandala or visual design. Though the goal of these practices is usually to quiet one's experiencing or prepare for mindfulness (see below), they might also be employed to help a researcher develop more control in detailed sense observation. Similarly, this control of attention could be extended to conceptualizing, to reduce distractions and clarify thinking. Finally, this control could be extended to consciousness itself, to make the conscious activity of the researcher more mindful.

 

2. The Practice of Mindfulness

 

[45] Unlike concentration, which is concerned with developing control, mindfulness is concerned with liberation, with freedom from control. It is therefore initially paradoxical that concentration is often practiced as a preparation for developing mindfulness. Yet the paradox disappears once we understand that mindfulness involves a letting go that in effect is a deeper form of control. (Those who lose their life will find it. No ego, no problem.) To begin with, concentration and mindfulness both work to overcome reactive experiencing, in which the subject is the passive recipient of whatever comes to mind. With concentration, the subject brings their experiencing under some degree of voluntary control. Formal concentration practices are often required, but may not always be necessary, to exercise such control. That is why concentration is often, but not necessarily, practiced before mindfulness is practiced. In any case, with sufficient voluntary control the subject can begin to be mindful, to not concentrate on any particular thing, but just to notice what experiencing involves. Mindfulness, then, lets go of concentration in order to become reflectively aware of just what experiencing is really like. This also undermines reactive experiencing, since the latter's compulsive and clinging character stems from the subject's being unaware of the experiencing itself.

 

[46] For example, suppose that I am angry because of something you said. If I am unaware of my own experiencing, and therefore unmindful of my own contribution to my anger, I will probably focus on my experience rather than my experiencing and feel simply that "you made me angry." On the other hand, if I am mindful of my experiencing, and therefore aware of my own contribution to my anger, I will probably focus on my experiencing and be aware that I am responding angrily to what you said. I am then free to be further mindful of my response and evaluate it experientially as clinging or not and intellectually as justified or unjustified. If I am aware of it as a clinging, reactive response, I may be able to let go of it, in which case the anger may disappear. On the other hand, it may emerge as a non-reactive expression of something deeper in me. In that case, my intellectual evaluation becomes appropriate. I may determine that the anger is justified and be able to act constructively on my righteous anger; or I may decide the anger is unjustified and thus allow it to wither away. Notice that it will wither away. It is only reactive, clinging anger that remains stuck in consciousness even when the subject believes it is unjustified.

 

[47] If I wish, I can carry this process to the point of letting go of particular experiences to such an extent that my focus shifts to consciousness itself. Just as I can focus on a single letter of this paragraph so that the rest of the letters on the screen are at the periphery of my awareness, so I can focus on consciousness itself so that the contents and structure of that consciousness are at the periphery of my awareness. This is what I take some mystics to mean when they refer to pure consciousness, which explains in what sense we can speak of consciousness which is not consciousness of something (n 10).

 

----------------

(n 10) Some references to pure consciousness seem instead to refer to a hypnotic state from which one awakes. This seems inconsistent with pure consciousness that is associated with mindfulness.

----------------

 

[48] Mindfulness serves SOC by providing a lived confirmation of the critical theory of inquiry articulated in this article. However, this does not mean that mindfulness is a substitute for theory. Mindfulness makes us aware, as it were, of the womb from which all our consciousness arises. It is an epistemological issue, toward which mindfulness is neutral, whether from that womb there ever arise either ACS or n-claims that provide special insight into reality which is not available to OCS and our ordinary practical and scientific methods, and which can provide a rock-solid ground for a particular religion, ethics, or ontology. Any such special insight must compete with a naturalistic pragmatism in just those ways indicated in section II.2. Non-naturalistic Claims. Mindfulness, however, by reducing our identification with, and clinging to, any particular viewpoint, enables us to employ the appropriate epistemological methods to optimally assess the validity of any claim. In other words, mindfulness allows all the resources of consciousness to be available for whatever the task at hand may be; it does not perform the task itself.

 

3. Wisdom

 

[49] Wisdom, at least the wisdom of which I am aware or the wisdom that, extrapolating from my current understanding I can reasonably believe in, is not omniscience. Nor is it special knowledge. It is what in sports is called playing within one's abilities, acting appropriately to circumstances and one's own resources, not trying to be something one is not. In other words, it is mindfulness of one's own experiencing, letting go of clinging, defensive reactions that constrict one's own inner resources. By identifying the neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and social roots of consciousness, SOC helps us understand the roots of those clinging, defensive reactions. By applying that knowledge, TOC helps us transform ourselves into conscious subjects living from deep within ourselves.

[50] We have seen that we cannot decide ahead of time whether ACS and SSS will add anything to neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and social sciences. Even if they do, however, it is crucial to understand that, like those sciences, they are peripheral to wisdom no matter how exotic they may be. Every spiritual tradition emphasizes that "special gifts," depending on whether they are used wisely or reactively, can either enhance or detract from the essential goal, which is a liberating wisdom. Only this radical wisdom is incapable of being adulterated, since it is beyond clinging and emerges only to the extent that clinging is eradicated.

 

References

 

Chalmers, David J. (1995), 'Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), pp. 200-219

Chalmers, David J. (1997), 'Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4 (1), pp. 3-46

Foertsch, Julie, & Gernsbacher, Morton Ann (1997), 'In Search of Gender Neutrality: Is Singular They a Cognitively Efficient Substitute for Generic He?', Psychological Science, 8 (2), pp. 106-111

Tart, Charles T. (1972), 'States of Consciousness and State-Specific Sciences', Science, 176, pp. 1203-1210

 

Author

 

Gary Schouborg, Ph.D., Philosophical Psychology, is partner of GaryNini.com, Life and Communication coaches. He has published in philosophy, religious studies, poetry, and business. Walnut Creek, CA.