The Internal Structure of Consciousness

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Andrew Routledge


Our understanding of the physical world has evolved drastically over the last century and the microstructure described by subatomic physics has been found to be far stranger than we could previously have envisaged. However, our corresponding model of experience and its structure has remained largely untouched. The orthodox view conceives of our experience as made up of a number of different simpler experiences that are largely independent of one another. This traditional atomistic picture is deeply entrenched. But I argue that it is wrong.Our experience is extraordinarily rich and complex. In just a few seconds we may see, hear and smell a variety of things, feel the position and movement of our body, experience a blend of emotions, and undergo a series of conscious thoughts. This very familiar fact generates three puzzling questions. The first question concerns the way in which all these different things are experienced together. What we see, for example, is experienced alongside what we hear. Our visual experience does not occur in isolation from our auditory experience, sealed off and separate. It is fused together in some sense. It is co-conscious. We may then ask the Unity Question: What does the unity of consciousness consist in? The second question is the Counting Question: How many experiences does a unified region of consciousness involve? Should we think of our experience at a time as consisting in just one very rich experience, in a handful of sense-specific experiences, or in many very simple experiences? How should we go about counting experiences? Is there any principled way to do so?The third and final question, the Dependency Question, concerns the degree of autonomy of the various different aspects of our unified experience. For example, would one's visual experience be the same if one's emotional experience differed? Is the apparent colour of a sunset affected by the emotional state that we are in at the time? I offer a new answer to the Unity Question and argue that it has striking implications for the way that we address the Counting Question and the Dependency Question. In particular, it supports the view that our experience at a time consists in just one very rich experience in which all of the different aspects are heavily interdependent.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015