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Stevens, R. (2000). Analyzing First-Person Experience: The Value of Phenomenal Reflection in Providing Signposts for Investigating Its Neural Correlates: Commentary by Richard Stevens. Neuropsychoanalysis, 2(1):45-48.

(2000). Neuropsychoanalysis, 2(1):45-48

Analyzing First-Person Experience: The Value of Phenomenal Reflection in Providing Signposts for Investigating Its Neural Correlates: Commentary by Richard Stevens

Richard Stevens

What I find particularly valuable about Crick and Koch's paper is the rich and lucid discussion of issues relating to our understanding of consciousness. Let me take up three core issues the authors raise and then conclude with brief comments on two others.

The Importance of Developing a Phenomenal Description of Consciousness

While Crick and Koch may be correct that it would be premature to advance a definition of consciousness, I appreciate their realization of how crucial it is, in the search for neural correlates of consciousness, to try to be clear about what precisely constitutes phenomenal consciousness. Although, as they state, we may all have a rough idea of what is meant by being conscious, this is not enough for effective investigation of the topic. Too often the term consciousness is used loosely to cover any cognitive functions of sufficient complexity or personal significance.

How we move to a clearer and more effective description of phenomenal consciousness is of course problematic. This is an empirical (in the broad sense of the term) though not a logical or philosophical problem. Finding rigorous ways of exploring and articulating what we are consciously aware of is at the heart of the problem. I am reluctant here to use the term introspection. Usually when philosophers talk about introspecting, they refer to examples they derive from thinking about experience in retrospect. Unfortunately, this is not an adequate basis for claims about the nature of phenomenological experience and is likely to be readily influenced by preconceptions. I know this from my own experience. I had initially assumed, for example, that there is a phenomenal distinctiveness between conscious experience and reflexive or self-consciousness. (Such a distinction I note is also assumed by the authors of this paper.) However, systematic phenomenal reflection convinced me that there is no such distinction in the quality of phenomenal experience itself. It is a conceptual rather than phenomenological distinction—to do with implicit meanings (see below) attached to experiencing rather than conscious experience itself.

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