Consciousness Itself

Mark Solms, Neuroscience Institute, University of Cape Town


David Chalmers questions the conventional cognitive (functionalist) approach to consciousness. What is consciousness if not a cognitive function? My answer starts from the observation that most cognitive functions – like visual perception, which has been the model example in consciousness studies -- are not intrinsically conscious. They readily go on 'in the dark'. Might we make more progress if we consider affect, rather than vision, as our model example? How can one generate a feeling without feeling it? The functional mechanism of affect must explain how and why it feels like something. Therefore, it is of the utmost interest to note that consciousness as a whole is obliterated by tiny lesions in the brainstem regions that generate affect. This suggests that affect is the foundational form of consciousness. If it is, then consciousness itself (as opposed to consciousness of cognition) might be generated by a relatively simple mechanism.