Second sense: A theory of sensory consciousness

Date of Completion

January 2001






A major obstacle to the acceptance of materialist theories of the mind is the problem of sensory consciousness. How could a physical brain produce conscious sensory states that exhibit the rich and luxurious qualities of red velvet, a Mozart concerto or fresh-brewed coffee? A full answer to this question requires two different sorts of theory. The first sort considers what all these conscious sensory states have in common, by virtue of being conscious as opposed to unconscious states. The second sort considers what distinguishes conscious sensory-states from each other, for example, how the qualities in a conscious sensory state of red velvet differ from those of a Mozart concerto. I propose a theory of the first sort, that is, an explanation of the distinction between conscious and unconscious sensory states. ^ According to the second sense theory, conscious sensory states are coordinated sensory representations of the present moment produced by a second sense. Three elements are necessary and jointly sufficient for sensory consciousness. (1) Sensory representations must be coordinated toward action in the world. The representations included in the content of a conscious sensory state are those that will aid the creature in assessing current environmental conditions according to the task at hand. (2) Conscious sensory states represent states of affairs as occurring at the present moment. In other words, sensory consciousness is constituted by the coordination of sensory representations into a representation of what is happening ‘now.’ (3) The mechanism responsible for coordinating sensory representations into conscious sensory states is the second sense. A second sense mechanism explains how some sensory representations become coordinated into a conscious sensory state while others remain unconscious. ^ In addition to providing an explanation of sensory consciousness, the second sense theory is nicely suited to a Gibsonian account of subjectivity, whereby information about the subject is specified simultaneously in perception with information about the object. I argue that the subject, at its most bare, is the locus of an egocentric map, the zero point of a coordinate system which specifies objects according to here. ^