Apr 13

The right question is: which came first, consciousness or the thought/concept of consciousness?

As explained in Part 1, consciousness is a derived subordinate concept to the self-thinking Idea or Absolute.

Consciousness is a concept and concepts are formed by thinking. We could not refer to the word “consciousness” and what it means or represents unless we had first formulated the idea by thinking it. But what must be a surprising fact for the modern thinker, is that the idea of consciousness does not come from within us – solipsistically as it were. The idea of consciousness comes to us from experience of others who exhibit whom we theorize to have consciousness.

This is explained in a very simple but extraordinary way by three prominent child psychologists, Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl who argue that children are not simply passive vessels to be filled with knowledge, but act in a way that is similar to scientific investigators who make and test theories.

[Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl, The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains and How Children Learn (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1999).] They explain that for a child –

“All that really reaches us from the outside world is a play of colours and shapes, light and sound. . . what we really see are bags of skin stuffed into pieces of cloth and draped over chairs. There are small restless black spots that move at the top of the bags of skin, and a hole underneath that irregularly makes noises. The bags move in unpredictable ways, and sometimes one of them will touch us. The holes change shape, and occasionally salty liquid pours from the two spots.

This is, of course, a madman’s view of other people, a nightmare. The problem of Other Minds is how we somehow get from this mad view to our ordinary experience of people.”
Perception only gives us bags of skin, and other minds are something more than bags of skin. To encounter other minds we need something more than perception. Gopnik argues that the something more is a theory. The infant is a theoretician who comprehends her world, and other minds appear in that world as the explanation of phenomena.

In other words, to understand other persons as having consciousness we need something more than perception. Gopnik explains that ‘something more’ as a theory. The infant must be a theoretician in order to make sense of its phenomenal experiences.

In this way we come to understand ourselves as having consciousness by recognizing that others consist of a consciousness that is aware of myself as having consciousness. This is how we come to understand that I must have a consciousness. In other words it is a socially constructed and shared concept. This explains why the word consciousness is derived from the Latin root con-scio, or knowing with others.

Reason is beyond consciousness

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