Contribution à la Théorie de la Conscience, Conçue comme Activite du Cerveau

Dissertation, Université Paris 7 (1998)
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This thesis explores the possibility of theoretically conceiving consciousness as an activity of the brain. Objections, based on the concept of qualia, to the identification of consciousness with a brain activity are refuted. Phenomenal consciousness is identified with access-consciousness. Consciousness is conceived as a higher order processing of informational states of the brain. The state of consciousness represents an integration of prior nonconscious states. Libet’s research on the timing of conscious experience is reviewed and analyzed. His hypothesis of backward referral is rejected. Since specific brain activity (the readiness potential) precedes the conscious intention, the implications of this fact on the concepts of volition and free will are discussed. Non-deliberate voluntary acts are performed without a prior consciousness of the intention to perform them. Conversely, the decision to perform a deliberate act is influenced by consciousness of the intention. Free will is viewed as compatible with the causal determination of mental processes. The theory is successfully applied to the different contents of consciousness: consciousness of perceptions, of bodily sensations, of actions, of memories, of ideas, of thoughts, of language, of affective states, of beliefs, of desires, of oneself and consciousness of being conscious. The relation between the theory of consciousness and psychoanalysis is also explored. Psychoanalysis is seen as compatible with the proposed theory, which is able to enlighten some aspects of the process of becoming conscious in psychoanalytic treatment. The general approach is interdisciplinary : the theory must take into account constraints derived from philosophy, neurophysiology, psychology, neuropsychology, etc. Consciousness is conceived, not as a property of some mental states, but as a specific higher-order activity, based on lower-order nonconscious activities.

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