Das Eigentum des Einziges

Many people seem to believe that the major question in the study of consciousness is how inanimate matter could give rise to it, the ability to be aware of oneself and one’s environment. But would it not be equally valid to ask why consciousness, which is after all a quality possessed by the only being that we really know from the inside, should not be common to all things? I would not claim that all objects actually possess consciousness, but all knowledge comes through the filter of one’s own subjective point of view. Until very recently, pretty much the only decisive evidence of the consciousness of other things came from commication with them, and hence was almost entirely limited to our own species. Since consciousness is an interior experience and we can only see the outside, the surfaces of others, it seems not very hard to imagine that we might underestimate their capacity for conscious awareness.

John Searle is right: since the whole question of consciousness arises from the dichotomy between the simple movement of matter and the existence of subjective impressions of it in the mind, the attempt to somehow reduce the latter to or equate it with the former seems to defy everyday experience, even if mental impressions do correspond with objective physical events. But I don’t think even the causal link between them, i.e. how matter should give rise to consciousness (if it does), need be so problematic. Even if one granted that matter lies at the root and cause of all consciousness, the subjectivity of consciousness pretty much guarantees that, outside of oneself, one would only see part of what exists in the universe, i.e. the matter, that which is not consciousness. Even of other presumably conscious people we can only see the outward manifestations, not directly perceive the interior awareness, and therefore it is no wonder that consciousness should seem a little anomalous, since it can only truly be perceived in one single being in the universe. Therefore, we, like materialists, might suspect it, as the only foam in a clear blue sea, of being just an illusion. Alternatively, as the gate through which all knowledge of the world must pass, we might idealistically take consciousness to be more central than matter, or maybe even to be the only reality. The polarity arises from the inability to perceive viscerally the combination of matter and consciousness in other things, which would probably make the phenomenon seem more normal.

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