Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 37–51 | Cite as

Conscious machines: Memory, melody and muscular imagination



A great deal of effort has been, and continues to be, devoted to developing consciousness artificially (A small selection of the many authors writing in this area includes: Cotterill (J Conscious Stud 2:290–311, 1995, 1998), Haikonen (2003), Aleksander and Dunmall (J Conscious Stud 10:7–18, 2003), Sloman (2004, 2005), Aleksander (2005), Holland and Knight (2006), and Chella and Manzotti (2007)), and yet a similar amount of effort has gone in to demonstrating the infeasibility of the whole enterprise (Most notably: Dreyfus (1972/1979, 1992, 1998), Searle (1980), Harnad (J Conscious Stud 10:67–75, 2003), and Sternberg (2007), but there are a great many others). My concern in this paper is to steer some navigable channel between the two positions, laying out the necessary pre-conditions for consciousness in an artificial system, and concentrating on what needs to hold for the system to perform as a human being or other phenomenally conscious agent in an intersubjectively-demanding social and moral environment. By adopting a thick notion of embodiment—one that is bound up with the concepts of the lived body and autopoiesis (Maturana and Varela 1980; Varela et al. 2003; and Ziemke 2003, 2007a, J Conscious Stud 14(7):167–179, 2007b)—I will argue that machine phenomenology is only possible within an embodied distributed system that possesses a richly affective musculature and a nervous system such that it can, through action and repetition, develop its tactile-kinaesthetic memory, individual kinaesthetic melodies pertaining to habitual practices, and an anticipatory enactive kinaesthetic imagination. Without these capacities the system would remain unconscious, unaware of itself embodied within a world. Finally, and following on from Damasio’s (1991, 1994, 1999, 2003) claims for the necessity of pre-reflective conscious, emotional, bodily responses for the development of an organism’s core and extended consciousness, I will argue that without these capacities any agent would be incapable of developing the sorts of somatic markers or saliency tags that enable affective reactions, and which are indispensable for effective decision-making and subsequent survival. My position, as presented here, remains agnostic about whether or not the creation of artificial consciousness is an attainable goal.


Machine consciousness Conscious essentialism Embodiment Memory Kinaesthetic imagination Muscular memory Somatic marker hypothesis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowUK

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