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Date: Tue, 24 Mar 1998
Matter and Consciousness
Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
This is going to sound very strange at first, but the answer to
the dilemma (on a deeper level than has already been replied) is
that consciousness is neither an entity nor an action. So,
expecting it to conform to the nature of entities or their
actions is to misconstrue the nature of consciousness.
I'm tempted to say the nature of consciousness can only be
arrived at through introspection, but this isn't starting the
inquiry at the right level. Consciousness, most fundamentally,
is awareness of existence -- and one is not aware of existence
through an act of introspection. One is simply aware.
Awareness *is* -- and this inescapable, fundamental fact is
This is why "consciousness" is an axiomatic concept.
One can call it an existent, but it is not an entity or an action.
Focus on your awareness of awareness, and you will be aware that
awareness is not a thing you are perceiving that gives rise to
the awareness of existence (like watching a TV). And you will
also find that it is not the action of an entity that gives rise
to awareness of existence (like the mechanics that make the TV
This last point, that consciousness is not an action, may seem
to contradict the Objectivist view that a rational man has an
active consciousness. But in that formulation, it is not the
action of something that is awareness (or consciousness), but
rather it is *awareness itself* that acts (or changes). That is,
thinking, remembering, deciding, and such are *acts of
consciousness* -- and it can only act according to its nature,
so the concept of causality applies to it.
One might think that awareness is an act of oneself -- something
one does -- but the basic fact of awareness, per se, is simply
not experienced that way. That is, one is not aware of any doing
on one's part that gives rise to awareness at the most basic
level -- one is simply aware.
One can say awareness is a "state of being," but only if
consciousness is conceptualized as a state of being aware of
Any attempt to conceptualize consciousness as an action *of
something* or a state *of something,* would mean that the
something is more fundamental than consciousness. That is, that
something would be the axiomatic concept, not consciousness.
Qua experience, we are simply aware, can shift or focus that
awareness, and can make choices regarding what we are aware of.
So, trying to explain consciousness (awareness) in terms of
physical entities or their actions, is to try to explain it in
terms of qualities that it does not posses.
Whatever the "mechanics" of perception (sensory organs, nerves,
neurons, etc.) and whatever the "mechanics" of introspection,
these are *completely* transparent to us qua experience (if that
is even the way to put it). And this aspect of existence is
Even if it were possible to make a machine that would keep track
of everything your body is doing -- right down to the
sub-quantum level -- and display it to you in some manner while
you were being aware of existence, it would not show you what
consciousness *is*. You would still be aware of your awareness
as being neither an entity nor its action, so the proposed
machine -- as awesome as it would be -- wouldn't give you any
insights into the nature of consciousness.
That is knowledge you already get directly.