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Consciousness

TagLast edit: 9 Dec 2020 1:53 UTC by Rob Bensinger

The word “consciousness” is used in a variety of different ways, and there are large disagreements about the reality and nature (and even coherence) of some of the things people profess to mean by “consciousness.”

Colloquially, the word “conscious” is used to pick out a few different things:

Reasonably mainstream academic overviews of “consciousness” can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences.

This tag is tentatively and provisionally about the “having experiences” meaning(s) of “consciousness.” For wakefulness and dreaming, see sleep. For knowledge, perception, and attention, see attention and cognitive science. And for reflective awareness and self-awareness, see identity, personal identity, and reflective reasoning.

This tag’s focus is tentative and provisional because it is not altogether clear that “consciousness in the sense of having experiences” is a coherent idea, or one that’s distinct from the other categories above. This tag is a practical tool for organizing discussion on a family of related topics, and isn’t intended as a strong statement “this is the right way of carving nature at its joints.”

Suffice to say that (as of December 8, 2020) enough LessWrongers find consciousness confusing enough, and disagree enough about what’s going on here, for it to make sense to use this page to organize discussion of those disagreements, rather than “picking a winner” immediately and running with it.

“Having experiences”: Practical implications

Beyond sheer curiosity about how the mind works, there are several sub-questions that have caused thinkers to take a special interest in the question “what is ‘having an experience’?”:

LessWrong writers have typically been strongly on board with physicalism (3.1), and on board with the idea that an emulation of me is “me” (and conscious) in every sense that matters (2.1). Beyond that, however, views vary. (By comparison, ~74% of Anglophone philosophers of mind endorsed “physicalism” as opposed to “non-physicalism” in 2009.)

“Having experiences”: Pre-LessWrong discussion

How does this “having experiences” thing work, then? Well, this wiki page’s editors haven’t agreed on an answer yet. As a cop-out, we instead provide a list of highlights from the history of other people thinking about this.

For concreteness, we’ll list particular years, authors, and texts, even though this makes some choices of what to highlight more arbitrary. Philosophy also shows up much more than psychology or neuroscience proper, not because philosophy is necessarily the right way to make progress here, but because the philosophy highlights are more “meta” and therefore choosing what to include relies less on a LessWrong consensus about consciousness itself.

Highlights:

“Having experiences”: Recent discussion

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