Are there philosophers who argue for a close connection between consciousness and existence?



(I'm not entirely satisfied with this question because I can't quite express it clearly, but a personal experience has moved me to ask it. I know it may be too vague or general.)

The consciousness my question is about is the "controversial" consciousness that is felt "from the inside", the first person viewpoint, the what-it's-like-to-be-something, that which gives rise to the hard problem, that thin ethereal quality that would distinguish us from an otherwise indiscernible zombie. My question is not about consciousness as a scientific phenomenon measured and quantified by neuroscience, or individual mental states.

Are there philosophers who argue that there is a close connection (maybe even an identification) between being conscious and existing? I don't mean that only we exist, because only we are conscious; I mean that other things (rocks, tables, particles) definitely do exist, and so they too must have consciousness (but obviously they don't have nervous systems, brains, and memories, so their consciousness would be radically phenomenologically different than ours). Or, that consciousness is the "stuff" reality is made out of, the stuff which takes on forms and properties and structural relations, but when stripped of these, the matter "underneath" is bare consciousness?

I have heard of a few theories that might fit this description:

  1. There is panpsychism/panexperientialism in contemporary philosophy of mind. Though I believe, to panpsychists/panexperientialists, the relationship between consciousness and existence is a contingent one since they typically believe that zombies are possible. I think I'm interested in a necessary relation between the two (I'm not sure though).
  2. There is Berkeley's "to be is to be perceived". Though strictly speaking, the thing being perceived needn't be conscious.
  3. I don't know much about this, but based on some conversations I've had with a Hindu mystic, I think Hindu philosophy might say something like this. That through meditation, one can experience a state of pure consciousness which is indiscernible from a state of pure being (which is our "true nature"). Though my understanding is Hindus emphasize direct experience of this state over intellectual musings.

Is there anything else? I'm especially interested in any analytic philosophers who might have said something about this (it's my personal bias) but anything from continental or Eastern philosophy is welcome too, as long as there are arguments and not just assertions.

Adam Sharpe

Posted 2019-05-30T20:47:39.397

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Are there philosophers, in other words, who? I do not see how you can avoid studying Husserl here (by the way, my Lukacs comment largely concerned his consideration of Husserl. "Husserl is indulging in Metaphysics when he affirms pure consciousness is the fundamental reality." J. Marias, History of Philosophy Philosophy, p. 411. There are reprints it's the Chapter on Husserl. – Gordon – 2019-05-31T16:11:08.737

Who reintroduced Metaphysics, answer Bretano. Julian Marias covers both very well. If you have never considered Bretano, I think he would interest you. As I am sure you know, Thomas Nagel did not just pop up out of the blue. Here is an article concerning Husserl and Nagel.

– Gordon – 2019-05-31T16:14:30.317

You can also do searches for qualia and Husserl and so on. I am trying to take your question and anchor it in the history of philosophy. If anyone else has a better idea, why don't they answer (like Craig did) instead of deleting my comments? – Gordon – 2019-05-31T16:17:08.603

@Gordon Thanks for all the info you provided. BTW I did see your comments yesterday re Lukacs and Bloch, before they were deleted. I saved the links and will take a look (I skimmed the Lukacs article on my morning work commute today). – Adam Sharpe – 2019-05-31T16:36:48.383

Thanks, maybe you have already studied Bretano, but I can still highly recommend the approach that Julian Marias takes in his History of Philosophy and the way he introduces Husserl is excellent. Lukacs can definitely add something too. That article (Existentialism) shows just what a good philosopher Lukacs was, though obviously on a different track than Marias. – Gordon – 2019-05-31T16:44:17.560

When you cast aside the vulgar Marxism that Lukacs sometimes indulges in, his abilities do stand out, and it is interesting to get his take on things. – Gordon – 2019-05-31T16:47:00.043

Consciousness is not the right word, "what-it-is-like" feels are termed qualia, and one does need something as complex as consciousness to have them. Presumably, lower animals and plants have them non-controversially. The closest thing I can think of is Whitehead's metaphysics: "each actual entity is a throb of experience... apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness... consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness".

– Conifold – 2019-05-31T17:47:44.857

@Conifold Thanks for the Whitehead suggestion. It looks very interesting, maybe exactly what I'm looking for. I think I do mean "consciousness", but it may just be semantics. What's the difference between consciousness and just the capacity to feel qualia? I thought consciousness is what zombies lack. – Adam Sharpe – 2019-05-31T19:48:38.873

Consciousness is characterized as a "state of awareness", and is usually associated with some sort of reflective capacity. But one can feel pain without being aware of anything (mind being "blank"), or reflecting on it, or report feeling things while being "unconscious" (e.g. sleeping). Presumably, even simple stimulus-reaction (mechanical) reflex involves feels, but not consciousness. Consciousness is usually dragged in because it is hard to see how one would report feels without reflecting on them at some point, or how they can be ascertained without that. – Conifold – 2019-05-31T20:04:18.933

I'd recommend Having no head by Douglas Harding

– Rusi-packing-up – 2019-06-02T01:49:46.880



Are there philosophers who argue that there is a close connection (maybe even an identification) between being conscious and existing?

It seems to me that Descartes' cogito ergo sum is right up your alley. first person experience entails existence, and as I personally read into it: experience is existence.

However in contemporary non-continental philosophy of mind I don't recall any notable philosophers digging in that area.

It seems to me that Advaita Vedanta Hinduism and other mystical traditions such as Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism, correspond better to your questions than contemporary western philosophy. However I would like to submit a few notes about the view that you ascribed to the Hindu mystic you met:

a) according to the two eastern traditions I have mentioned consciousness transcends all concepts, and in particular it cannot be said to exists or to not exist. that is, it transcends the (dual) concepts of existence and non-existence as well.

b) if you have personally found and recognized that impossible to define "magical" nature of consciousness, you have found that which concerns all mystical traditions. contrary to what the mystic you have met suggested, there is no further "magical" experience for you to find in the depth of some "exalted" and rare and transient state of mind.

Here is how this point is made in the Dzogchen song The Flight of the Garuda as translated by Erik Pema:

If you want to find something greater than this in another place, It is like going off searching for footprints although the elephant is right there. You may scan the entire three-thousandfold universe, But it is impossible that you will find more than the mere name of Buddha.

c) Most people and in particular philosophers including in particular philosophers of mind appear to be stubbornly blind to it - blind as bats (pun intended). this is why functional, computational, and material accounts of consciousness are so popular.

This claim is repeated in many mystical traditions. Here it is made in The Flight of the Garuda:

Not knowing that this state is within oneself, How amazing that one searches for it elsewhere. Although it is clearly manifest, like the radiant disc of the sun, How amazing that so few see it.


Posted 2019-05-30T20:47:39.397

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I would say qualia is a candidate, because while other things are considered to have intersubjective reality, mind experiences and subjectivity are considered entirely dependent on and identified with qualia, which ontically precede the external world. You might want to look into OrchOR for qualia meeting pansychism.

You might find the It From Bit doctrine relevant also:

"It from bit symbolises the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe." - JA Wheeler in his classic paper introducing the doctrine

The relevant Buddhist philosophy is probably the 'mind only' yogacara perspective that underlies Tibetan and Zen philosophy (among other schools).


Posted 2019-05-30T20:47:39.397

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