Possibilities of Phenomena

What is the connection between consciousness and experience? This is a difficult question, not only because ‘consciousness’, like ‘mental’, is an exceedingly slippery term meaning different things to different people, but also because even if we manage to settle on one meaning of the term there are still radically divergent opinions about the nature of consciousness, given the univocal meaning in question. If a being is conscious, in one common sense of the term ‘conscious’, then it must be having some kind of (sensory or cognitive) experience with a distinctive phenomenology. To be a conscious being is necessarily to be an experiencing being. After all, it does not seem possible for one to be conscious but to be experiencing nothing. The converse may not hold, however: it may be possible to be experiencing something when one is not conscious. Herein may lie the beginnings of an answer to our earlier conundrum about dreaming: perhaps dreams are experiences we have when we are not conscious. Just what we need to add to bare experience to get consciousness is a deep and difficult question that we cannot pursue here. It is important, however, to distinguish consciousness from self-consciousness. As the term suggests, ‘self-consciousness’ is, roughly speaking, one’s consciousness of one’s own experience or of one’s own self, or the ability to become so conscious. Thus, when I am self-conscious, I attend to my own experiences and think about myself. I may notice that my eyesight is getting worse or I may wonder whether I am really any good at philosophy. The distinction between consciousness and self-consciousness allows us to say, plausibly, that some animals are conscious but not self-conscious; that is, they have experiences, whether of their own bodily states or external goings-on, but cannot reflect upon their own experiences.