Stephen Downes’s big article “Consciousness” is an incredibly rich resource. I have not yet understood everything, but I need to organize my notes. Inspired by Heylighen’s glossary which can be organized into a nice picture, I tried to arrange some quotations (and a bit of glue text in italics) in a similar way, see below.

The greatest takeaway so far was the explanation of the mysterious ‘suddenness’ through recognition, see the last entry of my list.


“Consciousness seems to be mysterious to most people.” (01)

Absolute qualitative difference:

It is difficult “‘to explain away an absolute qualitative difference — such as that between third-person physical events and first-person consciousness'” (19, quoting Hart) This contributes to the mysteriousnness.

First person vantage:

“what might be called the ‘first person vantage‘ is pretty much an irreducible. It is not something I derive or infer from other things; it is something of which I have an immediate awareness. … ‘willing to deny … the actual existence, of the first-person vantage.’ … seems to fly in the face of our everyday experience.” (28) This difference from a Third Person view seems to be an Absolute qualitative difference.


An outstanding example of the First Person Vantage is the following: “There is a notion of what it feels like to perceive something. The phenomenon of pain offers a great example. When we are in pain, it hurts, but when we observe someone else in pain, no matter how closely, it does not hurt (though the activity of mirror neurons may make us flinch a little). So clearly there is something different about the subjective experience of pain that is not observable as the physical experience of pain. These subjective experiences … are known as qualia.” (13)

The ‘other’:

“There are two senses of ‘intentionality'” … ” All of these focus on the relation between ourselves and the ‘other’.” (15) Which is an Absolute qualitative difference


“First, there is intensionality, which is the ‘aboutness’ of our thoughts.” (15). “the ‘aboutness‘ of something from the inner or mental state seems to require, or at the very least, presuppose, an outer or external state” (23) “All of these [senses of intentionality] focus on the relation between ourselves and the ‘other’“. (15)

Outside vs. Inside:

First person vantage and interactions with ‘The other’ have accustomed us to a seemingly absolute qualitative difference between Outside and Inside.

Objective pull:

“The supposition that mental states (or representations) are governed by the same principles as physical states is what Pylyshyn calls ‘the objective pull‘, ‘the tendency to view the cognitive process in terms of properties of the represented objects'” (17).
I think, a similar tendency or habituation may lead us to try and view our consciousness too much like an outside object, with our usual approach of distancing, isolating, fixing, aboutness and representation (which McGilchrist calls the ’emissary’) ?


“Second, there is intentionality, which is understood in the common sense of our ‘intending‘ to do something.” (23) “All of these [senses of intentionality] focus on the relation between ourselves and the ‘other’“. (15)

Distinctively human

Whatdistinguishes humans from rocks, plants and lizards” (19), and is it an Absolute qualitative difference ?

Free will:

“In philosophy, and in particular in the context of the problem of consciousness, it [intentionality] has to do with the idea of free will versus determinism.” (15) Free will also seems like distinctively human.


“Humans speak – and think – in language. This might be one of the more remarkable stages of evolution. It is certainly one that distinguishes humans from rocks, plants and lizards.” (21)


“‘For Dennett, language must have arisen out of social practices of communication, rooted in basic animal gestures and sounds in an initially accidental association with features of the environment. Only afterward could these elements have become words, spreading and combining and developing into complex structures of reference.'” (21, quoting Hart)


“[S]emantics has to do with what we call the ‘aboutness‘ of a word, sentence or sequence of sentences”. (23) Words may refer to the outside, physical world.

Physical vs. Non-physical:

References (words, thoughts) to the outside physical world let the Outside vs. Inside difference appear as a difference between a Physical and a Non-physical realm. Not everybody realizes that “there is not, in human nature, a separate mental realm that reasons abstractly about the physical realm.” (06)


Concepts are often viewed as a non-physical representation of something in the physical world. But: “Our thoughts about objects are not representations of the external world, they are not inferred from experience, they are sensations of the external world (which J.J. Gibson would call direct perception), and are experienced directly.” (03)


(Ideas expressed by words)


“There’s a large body of thought that views not just ideas but other content such as ‘concepts‘ and ‘information’ as irreducibly and necessarily non-physical.” (25) And a concept is viewed as a non-physical representation of something from the physical world. “In truth, there is nothing more mysterious about ideas, concepts and information than there is about categories (and, arguably, ideas, concepts and information are no more than the modern instantiation of categories).” (25)


“We [humans] didn’t suddenly come into being, consciousness didn’t suddenly come into being, and nor either does an idea in our head suddenly come into being.” (11) “The argument that there is some mystical non-natural aspect to languages is rapidly being proven false in the domain of natural language processing today.” (22) But the appearance of human competencies, language and ideas seems sudden and mystical. Like an “‘evolutionary saltation between pre-linguistic and linguistic abilities'” (21, quoting Hart) , like “evolutionary short cuts such as an innate capacity for language” (21) , like a “‘gap’ in evolutionary history” (11) , like “‘a discontinuity'” “‘between mere accidental associations and intentional signs'” (24, quoting Hart).

Recognition and Emergence:

“There are two ways of talking about ’emergent results’ … One way is to think of it as an outcome. … The other way of thinking of emergent is to see it as a pattern. Mess around with some ingredients and eventually they take the form of something you recognize as a chocolate cake. Or evolve from one form of biological life to another to another and eventually you end up with something you recognize as a rabbit. That’s what I think Dennett means. It’s important to understand this distinction, I think, because it helps us understand the ‘suddenness’ of the emergence of language (or consciousness, or any of the other phenomena we are discussing). When you are manipulating a pattern of entities, order may ‘suddenly’ appear out of chaos, but what changed suddenly was not the pattern of entities but rather our perception of them.” (12)

The numbers refer to the sections of the article:

01 Consciousness
11 Suddenness
15 Intentionality Again
17 Rationality
19 Absolute Qualitative Difference
21 Language
22 Grammatical Constraints and Powers
23 Semantics, Again
24 Conventions and Physicality
25 Memes
28 The First-Person Vantage

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