Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

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

Conscious machines: Memory, melody and muscular imagination

  • Susan A. J. StuartEmail author


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 


  1. Aleksander, I., & Dunmall, B. (2003). Axioms and tests for the presence of minimal consciousness in agents. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10(4–5), 7–18.Google Scholar
  2. Aleksander, I. (2005). The world in my mind, my mind in the world: Key mechanisms of consciousness in humans, animals and machines. Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  3. Asimov, I. (1950). I, Robot. Greenwich: Fawcett.Google Scholar
  4. Bauby, J.-D. (1997). The diving-bell and the butterfly. London: Fourth Estate, Harper Perennial 2004.Google Scholar
  5. Brewer, B. (1992). Self-location and agency. Mind, 101, 17–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chella, A., & Manzotti, R. (2007). Artificial consciousness. Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  7. Chiel, H. J., & Beer, R. D. (1997). The brain has a body: Adaptive behavior emerges from interactions of nervous system, body and environment. Trends in Neurosciences, 20, 553–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark, A. (1997). Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  9. Cole, J. (1995). Pride and a daily marathon. Cambridge: MIT (orig. 1991 London: Duckworth).Google Scholar
  10. Cole, J. (2005). Imagination after neurological losses of movement and sensation: The experience of spinal cord injury. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4(2), 183–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cotterill, R. M. J. (1995). On the unity of conscious experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies (Imprint Academic), 2(4), 290–311.Google Scholar
  12. Cotterill, R. M. J. (1998). Enchanted looms: Conscious networks in brains and computers. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  13. Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain, New York: Grosset/Putnam.Google Scholar
  14. Damasio, A. R. (1999). The feeling of what happens: Body, emotion and the making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  15. Damasio, A. R. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain. London: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  16. Damasio, A. R., Grabowski, T. J., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Ponto, L. L. B., Parvizi, J., et al. (2000). Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. Nature Neuroscience, 3(10), 1049–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Damasio, H., Grabowski, T., Frank, R., Galaburda, A. M., & Damasio, A. R. (1994). The return of Phineas Gage: Clues about the brain from the skull of a famous patient. Science, 264(5162), 1102–1105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Damasio, A. R., Tranel, D., & Damasio, H. (1991). Somatic markers and the guidance of behaviour: Theory and preliminary testing. In H. S. Levin, H. M. Eisenberg, & A. L. Benton (Eds.), Frontal lobe function and dysfunction (pp. 217–229). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Dobbyn, C., & Stuart, S. A. J. (2003). The self as an embedded agent. Minds and Machines, 13(2), 187–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dreyfus, H. (1972/1979). What computers can’t do: A critique of artificial reason. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  21. Dreyfus, H. (1992). What computers “still” can’t do: A critique of artificial reason (revised ed.). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  22. Dreyfus, H. (1998). Response to my critics. In T. W. Bynum (Ed.), The digital phoenix. Cambridge: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  23. Ekman, P. (1992). Facial expressions of emotions: New findings, new questions. Psychological Science, 3(1), 34–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Flanagan, O. (1992). Consciousness reconsidered. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  25. Gallagher, S. (1986). Body image and body schema: A conceptual clarification. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 7(4), 541–554.Google Scholar
  26. Gallagher, S. (2007). Moral agency, self-consciousness ,and practical wisdom. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14(5–6), 199–223.Google Scholar
  27. Gallagher, S., & Cole, J. D. (1995). Body schema and body image in a deafferented subject. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 16, 369–390.Google Scholar
  28. Gibson, J. J. (1968). The senses considered as perceptual systems. London, George Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  29. Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  30. Haikonen, P. (2003). The cognitive approach to conscious machines. Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  31. Harlow, J. M. (1848). Passage of an iron rod through the head. Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 39, 389–393. (Republished: Intro. by T.C. Neylan, Frontal lobe function: Mr Phineas Gage’s famous injury, Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 11(2), 281–283 (1999)).Google Scholar
  32. Harnad, S. (2003). Can a machine be conscious? How? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10(45), 67–75.Google Scholar
  33. Head, H., & Holmes, G. M. (1911). Sensory disturbances from cerebral lesions. Brain (Oxford), 34, 102–254.Google Scholar
  34. Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. Trans. by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. London: SCM.Google Scholar
  35. Holland, O. (2003). Machine consciousness. New York: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  36. Holland, O., & Knight, R. (2006). The anthropomimetic principle. Department of Computer Science, University of Essex.Google Scholar
  37. Ings, S. (2007). The eye: A natural history. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  38. Johnson, M. (1990). The body in the mind: The bodily basis of meaning, imagination, and reason. London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, New York: Basic.Google Scholar
  40. Legrand, D. (2006). The bodily self: The sensori-motor roots of pre-reflexive self-consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 5(1), 89–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Luria, A. R. (1973). The working brain: An introduction to neuropsychology. Trans. by Basil Haigh. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  42. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  43. Meijsing, M. (2000). Self-consciousness and the body. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7(6), 34–52.Google Scholar
  44. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception. Trans. by Colin Smith. London Routledge & Kegan Paul; Humanities.Google Scholar
  45. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Paillard, J. (2005). Vectorial versus configural encoding of body space, a neural basis for a distinction between body schema and body image. In V. Knockaert, & H. De Preester (Eds.), Body image and body schema: Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 89–109). Amsterdam: John Benjamin.Google Scholar
  47. Peterson, S. (2007). The ethics of robot servitude. Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 19(1), 43–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sacks, O. (1984). A leg to stand on. New York: Perennial Library; Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  49. Schwoebel, J., Friedman, R., Duda, N., & Coslet, H. B. (2001). Pain and the body schema: Evidence for peripheral effects on mental representations of movement. Brain, 124(10), 2098–2104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Searle, J. (1980). Minds, brains and programs. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(3), 417–457.Google Scholar
  51. Seitz, J. A. (2000). The bodily basis of thought. New Ideas in Psychology: An International Journal of Innovative Theory in Psychology, 18(1), 23–40.Google Scholar
  52. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1998). ‘Consciousness: A natural history’. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5(3), 260–294.Google Scholar
  53. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1999). The primacy of movement. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.Google Scholar
  54. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2000). Kinetic tactile-kinesthetic bodies: Ontogenetical foundations of apprenticeship learning. Human Studies, 23, 343–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2003). Kinesthetic memory. Theoria et Historia Scientiarum, 7, 69–92.Google Scholar
  56. Sloman, A. (2004) Varieties of affect and learning in a complete human-like architecture. Retrieved July 2004.
  57. Sloman, A. (2005). What are information-processing machines? What are information-processing vitual machines. Retrieved January 2005.
  58. Stern, D. (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant: A view from psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  59. Sternberg, E. J. (2007). Are you a machine? Tha brain the mind and what it means to be human. Amherst: Prometheus.Google Scholar
  60. Stuart, S. (2007). Machine consciousness: cognitive and kinaesthetic imagination. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14(7), 141–153.Google Scholar
  61. Torrance, S. (2008). Ethics and consciousness in artificial agents. ArtificiaI Intelligence & Society, 22, 495–521.Google Scholar
  62. Varela, F., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (2003). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  63. Whitehead, A. N. (1929). Process and reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Ziemke, T. (2003). What’s that thing called embodiment? In Proceedings of the 25th annual meeting of the cognitive science society. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  65. Ziemke, T. (2007a). What’s life got to do with it? In A. Chella & R. Manzotti (Eds.), Artificial consciousness (pp. 48–66), Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  66. Ziemke, T. (2007b). The embodied self: Theories, hunches and robot models. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14(7), 167–179.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowUK

Personalised recommendations