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Re-Reading The Problem of Consciousness

Rachel E. Schneebaum
Senior Thesis. Williams College, May 25, 2009.


Most of the philosophical and scientific theorizing surrounding consciousness seems to be rooted in a particular set of intuitions - the same intuitions that led Descartes to draw a distinction between the mind and the body, and the same intuitions that gave us a rich canon of science fiction and philosophy of mind scenarios involving body swapping and brains in vats. These are the intuitions that suggest that there is something epistemically and ontologically special about the me-ness of my own experiences, something distinct from a scientific explanation of the world. The philosophical and empirical work on consciousness is full of arguments and thought experiments that appeal to this sort of intuition, to the extent that it is difficult if not impossible to think about consciousness at all without invoking similar assumptions. Many would argue that this is no accident, that the seemingly inescapable prevalence of our intuitions demonstrates something fundamental about the way things are.