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Michael Egnor: From a medical perspective, “consciousness” adds nothing to the description of mental states

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In his view, “ “Consciousness ” is a meaningless term that too often misleads us, and it shouldn’t be used in medicine, neuroscience, or philosophy:

“Consciousness” is a very vague term and, ultimately, I don’t think it has any useful meaning at all, apart from other categories such as sensation, perception, imagination, reason etc. Aristotle had no distinct term for it. Nor do I think did any of the ancient or medieval philosophers. Consciousness is a modern term that seems to subsume all of the sensate powers of the soul — sensation, perception, sensus communis, imagination, memory, sensory appetite, etc. …

The difficulty in defining “consciousness” is well recognized in medicine. For example, I ask medical students and residents who report to me that a patient is “unconscious” to explain exactly what they mean. Do they mean “sleeping,” “not moving,” “eyes are closed,” or “not answering questions”? After all, patients who are in coma often move and even brain-dead patients usually have reflexes. If a patient is unconscious while sleeping, he may still be dreaming, in which case he is quite aware of his dream, and thus “unconscious while asleep” doesn’t really mean unaware of everything, it just means unaware of some things.

Michael Egnor, “Does the ability to think depend on consciousness?” at Mind Matters News

You may also enjoy this article by Michael Egnor: Why critical theory might shape your life, going forward. Critical Theory has begun to rule the public square and we need to understand it.

5 Replies to “Michael Egnor: From a medical perspective, “consciousness” adds nothing to the description of mental states

  1. 1
    Belfast says:

    One of these days, his student will answer, “Patient is behaving as though he can’t hear, or if he can, he either cannot respond, or chooses not to. He is motionless, either from choice or inability to move. His eyes are fixed and glassy. He has no skin tone. He has a heartbeat, so he is not dead, something which might have been a short alternative answer to the question..
    As Sheephead, CJ, in Little Egypt vs Allied Salami co., remarked, I may not be able to comprehensively define a sausage, but I know one when I see one.”

  2. 2
    AaronS1978 says:

    https://neurosciencenews.com/decision-making-brain-real-time-17620/?fbclid=IwAR1WrPQ44HtFpbMIR-lSos3WAB0j6hwgmdS9_sVUdEdodqCJi1EbJHwaePI

    I would like to know Michael Egnor’s opinion
    On this recent study and how it pertains to consciousness, freewill, and decision making

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    Not vague at all. Everyone knows the difference between conscious, unconscious, and dreaming. Three sharply defined states. If “medicine” has trouble with these definitions, I’m not surprised. “Medicine” has abandoned all logic and science in 2020, and devoted itself to mass murder.

  4. 4
    Steve Alten2 says:

    Polistra “Not vague at all. Everyone knows the difference between conscious, unconscious, and dreaming.

    I’m not sure if this is exactly true. Obviously, when someone is wide awake or sound asleep, we can make the distinction. But I don’t believe there is a clear dividing line between the two. Hence the adjectives “wide” and “sound”.

  5. 5
    doubter says:

    “Consciousness” has no useful meaning? I disagree.

    First, it seems to me there are plenty of common-sense indicators of whether someone (or something) is conscious or not. Consciousness is immaterial and physically and directly unmeasurable other than through physical movements and spoken words or physiological measurements, all indirect indications of something real but immateral. These are elements or properties or qualities of something ineffable and real, qualities that are commonly associated with consciousness – awareness of the environment, perception including perception of colors for instance, the associated subjectivity of being aware of what it is like to see or be something, being aware of and experiencing pain, it goes on.

    Maybe consciousness is not medically, directly, physiologically measurable, but still it is supremely important. It’s what we really are – “I think therefore I am”.

    One obvious area of great practical medical importance is the feeling, the experiencing, of pain, which depends on being conscious. A very important problem in medicine is finding ways to accurately determine whether a patient is conscious and feeling pain or not, to for instance prevent patients experiencing the horrific phenomenon of anesthesia awareness of pain, where the anesthetic component of the drug mixture isn’t working whereas the paralyzing component is working, so the patient can be in agony while being totally unable to move and signal the anesthesiologist and surgeons to increase the dosage or cease the operation. Obviously consciousness is a very important factor in this medical situation.

    Another area in medicine where consciousness is important would be being able through some form of instrumentation to determine whether a patient is conscious, in end-of-life treatment and treatment of neurologic injuries and disorders.

    All of these are practical areas of the importance of being able to accurately determine whether a person is conscious or not, whether or not consciousness is really understood. Of course as a matter of fact consciousness is still a mystery with no breakthrough in sight, as witness the existence of the so-called “Hard Problem” in the philosophy of mind.

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