Phenomenal Consciousness: An Alternative Healing Method for Mental Illnesses

By Taye, Oyelakin Richard | Journal of Pan African Studies, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Phenomenal Consciousness: An Alternative Healing Method for Mental Illnesses


Taye, Oyelakin Richard, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

The mind-body problem remains a puzzle to the metaphysicians, epistemologists, psychologists, and scientists. Several attempts have been made by those theorists to proffer possible solutions to the problem. Currently, attention has been focused on consciousness as an alternative means of getting through the problem. Current debates on the problem of mind-body center on understanding the nature and property of consciousness, and how such an understanding could be used to solve the mind-body puzzle. Prominent in the debate are the physicalists (i.e., people who hold the view that all phenomena can be described in terms of space) and the anti-physicalists. The physicalists argue that the property of consciousness can be completely explained empirically, for example, by the physical or the neurological processes of the brain, while the anti-physicalists argue that there are some properties of consciousness, which physical explanation cannot capture, such as qualia or phenomenal consciousness.

In this paper, some of the various arguments of the physicalists that contend that consciousness is nothing over and above physical and neural processes of the body shall be examined. I wish to make my submission that consciousness and qualia are as puzzling as the mind-body problem, and then support the anti-physicalists to argue that physicalists' explanations fail to adequately explain the nature and property of consciousness without leaving something out. Then, I will substantiate my argument in the persistent case of mental and related illness in Nigeria, and claim that the understanding of the nature of qualia or the phenomenal aspect of consciousness may qualitatively assist the psychological and medical experts to solve the mind-body puzzle.

Positioning

The causal characterization of consciousness has been argued to be explainable by physicalist theory. Consider Chalmers as explained by Guzeldere. He argues that causal consciousness concerns all explanations about various cognitive functions such as discriminatory abilities, reportability of mental states, the focus of attention, and the control of behaviour, which he claimed are explainable scientifically (Guzeldere, 1997, p 29). However, some arguments adduced by the physicalists, i.e., Paul and Patricia Churchland, Gulick and others, against qualia or phenomenal consciousness are insufficient to explain phenomenal consciousness without leaving something out. Thus, I will take some of the physicalists' core arguments and attempt to show their weaknesses.

Before I proceed to the argument proper, it is expedient that I make myself clear on what I mean by the concept 'qualia', 'raw feels' or 'phenomenal consciousness'. Guven Guzeldere presented the concept 'qualia' as "experiences have phenomena and thus non-causal, non-representational, non-functional, and perhaps non-physical properties"(Guzeldere, 1997, p. 37). And Michael Tye defines 'phenomenal character' as the "immediate subjective 'feel' of experience" (Tye, 2003, p 619).

However, to make the properties of qualia capture its central point, I include 'non-intentional', because a complete and healthy person must unintentionally and involuntarily feel or experience pain when pinched. Besides, some phenomena feels are representational in the sense that a certain image may accompany the experience such as what a person experiences after receiving a very violent slap on the face, or in the experience of mental-picturing.

Hence, the physicalists objected in various ways to the popular 'knowledge argument' by Frank Jackson (Jackson, 1995, pp 185-189) to show that physicalists' explanation will leave something out of consciousness, unexplained and then unreduced. Thus, the hypothetical Mary was brought up in an enclosed black and white environment where she, for whatever reason, learns everything (neurobiological and neurophysiological) there is to know about the nature of human mental processes.

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