, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 103-106
Date: 04 Feb 2011

Michael Tye, Consciousness Revisited: Materialism Without Phenomenal Concepts

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Philosophers raise a dust and then complain that they cannot see—so groused Irish philosopher George Berkeley. He was complaining about the problems of starting with the phenomenal mental representations (“ideas”) of our conscious experience and trying to infer and explain the material world. The dust has not settled. But now philosophers start with the world and wonder how conscious experience can be explained. The main problem is trying to provide a physical account of sensations (a.k.a. qualia, or phenomenal states) such as pain or vivid red. There appears to be a large and possibly unbridgeable gap between neural activity and such subjective conscious states. The gap is highlighted by thought experiments such as the Inverted Spectrum, Qualia-less “Zombies”, and Mary the talented neurophysiologist who nevertheless learns something new when she experiences color for the first time.

One way to try to reconcile consciousness with materialism, explored by Michael Tye (University of Texas ...