The notion of consciousness reopens that age-old contest between philosophy, psychology, and biology. Does consciousness arise from mere physical processes from the brain (Koch and Greenfield seem to think so) or is it more of a spiritual entity, closely related to views of the soul (advocated by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes – I talk more about these views here).
In the debate about consciousness, what goes hand in hand with it is the unconscious. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious argues that it harbours repressed and traumatic feelings and memories from our early childhoods, as well as socially unacceptable desires. However, the general view about the unconscious mind is that it is responsible for implicit knowledge (automatic skills and habits). It is believed that the unconscious presents itself in our dreams. Rosalind Cartwright argues that there is a degree of continuity between conscious life and the unconscious representations which we find in dreams. It is believed that they serve the purpose of compartmentalizing and regulating the emotions we experience from conflicts in real life. Dreams offer the chance to work out our problems and make better sense of the world. Perhaps this is why we feel better about something after we’ve gone to sleep.
Some of the most famous work on consciousness comes from the Libet experiments in the 1980s. Benjamin Libet produced some of the most fascinating findings, and has since been heavily cited in discussions about free will as well. Read More »