Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness

Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness

Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness

Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness


Conscious experience presents a deep puzzle. On the one hand, a fairly robust materialism must be true in order to explain how it is that conscious events causally interact with non-conscious, physical events. On the other hand, we cannot explain how physical phenomena give rise to conscious experience. In this wide-ranging study, Joseph Levine explores both sides of the mind-body dilemma, presenting the first book-length treatment of his highly influential ideas on the "explanatory gap," the fact that we can't explain the nature of phenomenal experience in terms of its physical realization. He presents a careful argument that there is such a gap, and, after providing intriguing analyses of virtually all existing theories of consciousness, shows that recent attempts to close it fall short of the mark. Levine concludes that in the foreseeable future consciousness will remain a mystery.


Why is there a mind-body problem? This book is an attempt to answer that question. It is not my intention to present a solution to the problem. On the contrary, I hope to demonstrate that there really is a problem here, and that we are far short of the conceptual resources required for its solution. In this chapter I will briefly, and without much argument, present my case. In the chapters that follow I will try to convince you of its merit.

When I think of what's distinctive of mental phenomena, of my mental life, three features stand out. First, I am a rational, intelligent creature. I do not merely react to my environment in a reflexive, mindness way, but rather I plan, deliberate (at least on occasion), and generally try to act in a way that is rationally connected to the attainment of my goals. We might add, as a part of this feature, the very fact that I have goals. Objects that clearly lack minds, such as tables and chairs, or even plants and sufficiently lower animals, do not, I presume, share this feature. Their behavior, if such it could be called, is totally governed by--is predictable and explicable in terms of-mindless laws of nature. They do not set goals and then deliberate how to achieve them.

The second distinctive feature is actually included in the first, but it deserves special notice. In order to conceive a plan and act on it, one must be able, of course, to conceive in the first place. That is, one must have the capacity to represent the situation one is in, to represent possible courses of action, and then to intelligently manipulate these representations so as to derive a representation of the course of action to be pursued. Rationality thus has two crucial aspects: the ability to represent, and the ability to intelligently manipulate representations in the light of their contents, what it is they represent. There is presumably nothing in a table or chair that means anything, that is about anything. It just is. But in me there are states, or entities, that have meaning; they are about the chair, for instance.

The third feature that seems distinctive about mental phenomena is that much of mental life involves conscious experience. I don't just react to the world, nor even do I just act on it; I experience it. When I look about my study as I work I see the green leaves of the avocado plant, the red diskette case next to my computer, I feel the breeze from the heating vent and the hard back of my desk chair. To use Thomas Nagel's (1974) much-worn . . .

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