A Reflexive Science of Consciousness

  1. Gregory R. Bock Organizer and
  2. Joan Marsh
  1. Max Velmans

Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

DOI: 10.1002/9780470514412.ch5

Ciba Foundation Symposium 174 - Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness

Ciba Foundation Symposium 174 - Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness

How to Cite

Velmans, M. (2007) A Reflexive Science of Consciousness, in Ciba Foundation Symposium 174 - Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness (eds G. R. Bock and J. Marsh), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470514412.ch5

Author Information

  1. Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths' College, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780471938668

Online ISBN: 9780470514412

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Keywords:

  • reflexive science;
  • consciousness;
  • reflexively projecting experiences;
  • reductionist model;
  • methodological difficulties

Summary

Classical theories of consciousness make it difficult to see how it can be a subject of scientific study. In contrast to physical events, it seems to be private, subjective and viewable only from a subject's first-person perspective. But much of psychology does investigate conscious experience, which suggests that classical theories must be wrong. An alternative, ‘reflexive’ model is proposed in which the external phenomenal world is viewed as part of consciousness rather than apart from it. Observed events are ‘public’ only in the sense of ‘private experience shared’. Scientific observations are ‘objective’ only in the sense of ‘intersubjective’. Observed phenomena are ‘repeatable’ only in that they are sufficiently similar to be taken for ‘tokens’ of the same event ‘type’. This closes the gap between physical and psychological phenomena. Studies of consciousness face methodological difficulties. An experimenter E and a subject S may have ‘symmetrical access’ to events in the outside world in so far as they perceive those events (from a third-person perspective) using similar exteroceptive systems; but their access to the subject's body, brain and experience is ‘asymmetrical’ (E's third-person perspective versus S's first-person perspective). In so far as E and S each have partial access to such events, their perspectives are complementary. Systematic investigation of experience requires merely that experiences are potentially shareable, intersubjective and repeatable. In this the conditions for a science of consciousness are no different to those for a science of physics.