Philosophy of mind, in general, is the field of study focusing on all topics concerning mentality and what is going on within the mind. The mind is one of the most complex and misunderstood things about us humans- even though there is nothing more familiar to us than our own experiences.
In the past, many philosophers took a dualistic approach to the mind, meaning that the mind is something separate from our own bodies. However, most philosophers now take a physicalist approach, where the mind is a physical part of our bodies and its composition.
To many today, the mind is the thing that separates us humans from animals. The mind is at the forefront of what makes us human. But with so many different theories of what makes up the mind, it is hard to draw any kind of consensus on human nature.
Consciousness is currently one of the most central issues within philosophy of the mind. Our own consciousness and awareness seems to be incredibly familiar to each of us individually, but is still highly misunderstood on what it is. In order to understand human nature, we must understand our own mentality and consciousness. Different theories of consciousness attempt to explain the difference between conscious and unconscious mentality in order to understand our minds. Here is an incredibly generalized summary of some of the most common theories of consciousness and how each of them can be used to study human nature:
- Neural Theories of Consciousness– Neural theories claim that there are “neural correlates of consciousness” or NCCs. These NCCs are neural processes occurring in the brain that are necessary for consciousness. Neural theories analyze neural activity and processes to understand how they can correlate to consciousness. Thus, consciousness is neural activity that can be monitored and studied directly.
- Higher-Order-Thought Theory (HOT)– A mental state M is conscious just in case one is aware of being in M via a suitable higher-order-thought (HOT). A HOT is a thought about another thought. One can have a thought about their hunger, but becomes conscious when one has a HOT about their hunger.
- Global Workspace Theory (GWT)– one is conscious if information in the brain is sufficiently available to other areas of the brain, so that information is readily available to other parts of the mind. The brain can ‘broadcast’ information to other parts of the brain for access.
- Information Integration Theory (IIT)– IIT claims that consciousness is identical to information being integrated. Mathematical equations can measure the degree of information integration (phi) within a system. Consciousness can be quantified through the phi metric. This can apply to humans, animals, and AI alike, determined by their relevant systems (brain, computer, etc.).
Many of these theories directly observe how our brain systems work in order to determine consciousness. But many still believe that consciousness and mentality cannot be directly observed in neural activity.
Do you think that we must adhere to one single theory of consciousness in order to understand our mentality completely? Is this a necessary stepping stone into understanding human nature?