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Are we explaining consciousness yet?: A philosophical and empirical consideration of the central theories of consciousness


Fernandez Cruz,  AL
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Fernandez Cruz, A. (2010). Are we explaining consciousness yet?: A philosophical and empirical consideration of the central theories of consciousness. Talk presented at 11th Conference of Junior Neuroscientists of Tübingen (NeNa 2010). Heiligkreuztal, Germany.

Vegetative state (VS) patients are awake but are not aware of themselves or their environment. By definition they lack the capability of thinking and having sensations of any kind. Given that VS patients are awake and have reflexes that are difficult to dissociate from voluntary actions e.g. crying, smiling, moving extremities, it is a challenge for physicians and neuroscientists to determine the degree of awareness of these patients. Hence, the main difficulty that pose disorders of consciousness such as VS, is whether it is possible to define a state of neural activity that needs to be reached by a person in order to be considered as (un)conscious? Studies on this topic have shown that establishing an objective neuroscientific definition of a conscious mental state is not as easy as people commonly think. How should we then approach the problem of consciousness? This talk aims to highlight the limitations and possibilities that we have when approaching the problem of consciousness with empirical methods and to expose which difficulties can be theoretically overcome so as the reasons why others resist to be elucidated. Specifically the hard and easy problems of consciousness and the problem of the subjective character of consciousness will be described. Afterwards, two leading theories of consciousness and the way they deal with enigmatic experimental results will be presented. Finally, the general discussion will suggest that we currently don't have the adequate sets of concepts required to understand how a physical objective event can give rise to the subjective experience of consciousness.