Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 523–537 | Cite as

The Location and Boundaries of Consciousness: a Structural Realist Approach

  • Kristjan Loorits


Despite the remarkable progress made in consciousness research during recent decades, there is still no sign of a general agreement about the location of its object. According to internalists, consciousness resides inside the brain. According to externalists, consciousness is partly constituted by elements or aspects of the environment. Internalism comports better with the existence of dreams, hallucinations and sensory imaging. Externalism seems to provide a more promising basis for understanding how we can experience the world and refer to the content of our consciousness. I argue that the framework of structural realism supports internalism and helps to reveal the reasons behind the apparent explanatory success of the externalist approach. More specifically, structural realism supports the view that the structure of our consciousness is always present in our neural processes and only sometimes (additionally) in an extended system that includes elements of the environment.



This research has been supported by a scholarship from the Finnish Cultural Foundation.


  1. Amedi, A., R. Malach, and A. Pascual-Leone. 2005. Negative BOLD differentiates visual imagery and perception. Neuron 48: 859–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bauby, J.D. 1997. The diving-bell and the butterfly: a memoir of life in death. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  3. Beaton, M. 2013. Phenomenology and embodied action. Constructivist Foundations 8 (3): 298–313.Google Scholar
  4. Buchel, C., C. Price, R.S. Frackowiak, and K. Friston. 1998. Different activation patterns in the visual cortex of late and congenitally blind subjects. Brain 121 (3): 409–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chalmers, D. 1995. Facing up to the problem of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 200–219.Google Scholar
  6. Chalmers, D. 2003. Consciousness and its place in nature. In The Blackwell guide to philosophy of mind, ed. S. Stich and F. Warfield, 247–272. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, A. 2009. Spreading the joy? Why the machinery of consciousness is (Probably) still in the head. Mind 118: 963–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Conway, B.R., and D.Y. Tsao. 2009. Color-tuned neurons are spatially clustered according to color preference within alert macaque posterior inferior temporal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA 106: 18034–18039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Craver, C.F. 2007. Explaining the brain. Oxford: New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crick, F., and C. Koch. 1998. Consciousness and neuroscience. Cerebral Cortex 8: 97–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cruse, D., S. Chennu, C. Chatelle, T.A. Bekinschtein, D. Fernández-Espejo, et al. 2011. Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study. Lancet 378: 2088–2094.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dennett, D. 1991. Real patterns. Journal of Philosophy 88: 27–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dretske, F. 1995. Naturalizing the mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hobson, J.A., E.F. Pace-Schott, and R. Stickgold. 2000. Dreaming and the brain: toward a cognitive neuroscience of conscious states. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23: 793–842 discussion pp. 904–1121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hollins, M. 1985. Styles of mental imagery in blind adults. Neuropsychologia 23: 561–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Horikawa, T., M. Tamaki, Y. Miyawaki, and Y. Kamitani. 2013. Neural decoding of visual imagery during sleep. Science 340: 639–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hurley, S. 2010. Varieties of externalism. In The extended mind, ed. R. Menary, 101–154. Aldershot: MIT.Google Scholar
  18. Koch, C. 2004. The quest for consciousness: a neurobiological approach. Englewood: Roberts and Co..Google Scholar
  19. Kosslyn, S.M., G. Ganis, and W.L. Thompson. 2001. Neural foundations of imagery. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2: 635–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. LaBerge, S. 2000. Lucid dreaming: evidence and methodology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23: 962–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ladyman, J. 2014. Structural realism. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, E. N. Zalta. Available via DIALOG. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017.
  22. Ladyman, J., and D. Ross. 2013. The world in the data. In Scientific metaphysics, ed. D. Ross, J. Ladyman, and H. Kincaid, 108–150. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ladyman, J., D. Ross, D. Spurrett, and J. Collier. 2007. Every thing must go: metaphysics naturalised. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Laureys, S., F. Pellas, P. Van Eeckhout, S. Ghorbel, C. Schnakers, et al. 2005. The locked-in syndrome: what is it like to be conscious but paralyzed and voiceless? Progress in Brain Research 150: 495–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Li, M., F. Liu, M. Juusola, and S. Tang. 2014. Perceptual color map in Macaque visual area V4. The Journal of Neuroscience 34 (1): 202–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Loorits, K. 2014. Structural qualia: a solution to the hard problem of consciousness. Frontiers in Psychology 5: 237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maquet, P., J. Péters, J. Aerts, G. Delfiore, C. Degueldre, et al. 1996. Functional neuroanatomy of human rapid-eye-movement sleep and dreaming. Nature 383: 163–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mason, M.F., M.I. Norton, J.D. Van Horn, D.M. Wegner, S.T. Grafton, et al. 2007. Wandering minds: the default network and stimulus-independent thought. Science 315: 393–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Monti, M.M., A. Vanhaudenhuyse, M.R. Coleman, M. Boly, J.D. Pickard, L. Tshibanda, et al. 2010. Willful modulation of brain activity in disorders of consciousness. The New England Journal of Medicine 362: 579–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Myin, E. 2016. Perception as something we do. Journal of Consciousness Studies 23 (5–6): 80–104.Google Scholar
  31. Naci, L., and A.M. Owen. 2013. Making every word count for nonresponsive patients. JAMA Neurology 70 (10): 1235–1241.Google Scholar
  32. Ney, A. 2015. A physicalist critique of Russellian Monism. In Consciousness in the physical world: essays on Russellian Monism, ed. T. Alter and Y. Nagasawa, 346–369. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Noë, A. 2004. Action in perception. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  34. Noë, A. 2009. Out of our heads. New York: Hill & Wang.Google Scholar
  35. Noë, A., and E. Thompson. 2004. Are there neural correlates of consciousness? Journal of Consciousness Studies 11 (1): 3–28.Google Scholar
  36. O’Regan, K. 2011. Why red doesn’t sound like a bell: explaining the feel of consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. O’Regan, J.K., and N. Block. 2012. Discussion of J. Kevin O’Regan’s “Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness”. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3: 89–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Owen, A.M., M.R. Coleman, M. Boly, M.H. Davis, S. Laureys, et al. 2006. Detecting awareness in the vegetative state. Science 313: 1402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pereboom, D. 2011. Consciousness and the prospects of physicalism. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Putnam, H. 1975. Mathematics, matter and method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Revonsuo, A. 2006. Inner presence: consciousness as a biological phenomenon. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  42. Revonsuo, A. 2015. Hard to see the problem? Journal of Consciousness Studies 22 (3–4): 52–67.Google Scholar
  43. Ross, D. 2000. Rainforest realism: A Dennettian theory of existence. In Dennett’s philosophy: a comprehensive assessment, ed. D. Ross, A. Brook, and D. Thompson, 147–168. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  44. Russell, B. 1927. The analysis of matter. London: Kegan Paul. Reprinted 1954, London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  45. Searle, J. 2000. Consciousness. Annual Review of Neuroscience 23: 557–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Siclari, F., B. Baird, L. Perogamvros, G. Bernardi, J.J. LaRocque, et al. 2017. The neural correlates of dreaming. Nature Neuroscience 20 (6): 872–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tononi, G., and C. Koch. 2008. The neural correlates of consciousness - an update. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1124: 239–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tye, M. 1995. Ten problems of consciousness: a representational theory of the phenomenal mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  49. Unger, P. 2001. Why there are no people. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4: 177–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Von Wright, G.H. 1998. In the shadow of Descartes. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ward, D. 2012. Enjoying the spread: conscious externalism reconsidered. Mind 121: 731–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Worrall, J. 1989. Structural realism: the best of both worlds? Dialectica 43: 99–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, History and Art StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.HelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations