An account of consciousness in physical and functional terms: A target for research in the neurosciences

  • Gerd SommerhoffEmail author
  • Karl MacDormanEmail author


The neurophysiology of mental events cannot be fully understood unless that of consciousness is understood. As the first step in a top-down approach to that problem, one needs to find an account of consciousness as a property of the biological organism that can be clearly defined as such. However, if it is to deliver what must be expected of it, it should address what is commonly meant by the wordconsciousness. Unless the last condition is satisfied, the theory will fail to deliver what must ultimately be expected of it.

Although current interest lies mainly in the higher functions of consciousness, such as its role in language and social relationships, the common usage of the word relates to modes of awareness that are not denied to creatures lacking language or social relationships. The basic features to be covered include awareness of the surrounding world, of the self, and of one’s thoughts and feelings; the subjective qualities of phenomenal experience (qualia); the conditions a brain event must satisfy to enter consciousness; and the main divisions of mental events, such as sensations, feelings, perceptions, desires, volitions, and mental images.

In the first four chapters we argue that these basic features of consciousness can all be accounted for in terms of just three categories of internal representations, each supported by the empirical evidence and each accurately definable in physical and functional terms. In the fifth, and last, chapter we take a closer look at two of the categories and what these in particular suggest as the most relevant lines of research in the contemporary spectrum of the neurosciences.

Key Words

Consciousness mental models mind-brain qualia representation self-awareness vision 


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Copyright information

© Springer 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Wolfson CollegeCambridgeUK

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