DOI: 10.14704/nq.2005.3.3.70

A Natural Account of Phenomenal Consciousness

Max Velmans


Physicalists commonly argue that conscious experiences are nothing more than states of the brain, and that conscious qualia are observer-independent, physical properties of the external world. Although this assumes the ‘mantle of science,’ it routinely ignores the findings of science, for example in sensory physiology, perception, psychophysics, neuropsychology and comparative psychology. Consequently, although physicalism aims to naturalise consciousness, it gives an unnatural account of it. It is possible, however, to develop a natural, nonreductive, reflexive model of how consciousness relates to the brain and the physical world. This paper introduces such a model and how it construes the nature of conscious experience. Within this model the physical world as perceived (the phenomenal world) is viewed as part of conscious experience not apart from it. While in everyday life we treat this phenomenal world as if it is the "physical world", it is really just one biologically useful representation of what the world is like that may differ in many respects from the world described by physics. How the world as perceived relates to the world as described by physics can be investigated by normal science (e.g. through the study of sensory physiology, psychophysics and so on). This model of consciousness appears to be consistent with both third-person evidence of how the brain works and with first-person evidence of what it is like to have a given experience. According to the reflexive model, conscious experiences are really how they seem.


Phenomenal consciousness, consciousness, reflexive model, qualia, neuropsychology

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