Do squid feel pain?

Peter Godfrey-Smith

  • BuyConsciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts by Stanislas Dehaene
    Penguin, 336 pp, £11.00, December 2014, ISBN 978 0 14 312626 3

The problem of explaining consciousness is the joint property of philosophy, psychology and neurobiology, though there have been times when none of these fields much wanted it. In philosophy, the mood in the middle years of the 20th century was to deny or dissolve the problem: if we just talked about everything more clearly, Wittgenstein and Ryle believed, we’d see there was no issue. That moment having finally passed, say forty years ago, philosophy took the problem of consciousness as one of the three major challenges faced by anyone attempting a theory of the relation between mind and body. The others were the problem of ‘qualia’, explaining how the subjective feel of the mind could be a feature of a physical system; and ‘intentionality’, the fact that thoughts can be about things, and can represent objects and events, including those far removed from us. Consciousness was seen as an aspect of certain sophisticated forms of experience that have both a distinctive feel and a role in intelligent thought. Conscious thought might involve an ability to think about one’s own mental states, to perceive them as thoughts and feelings.

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