Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Short Communication

Editorial commentary

Stevan Harnad a1
a1 Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Journals Department, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 10011 [email protected]


Let us simplify the problem of “consciousness” or “visual consciousness”: Seeing is feeling. The difference between an optical transducer/effector that merely interacts with optical input, and a conscious system that sees, is that there is something it feels like for that conscious system to see, and that system feels that feeling. All talk about “internal representations” and internal or external difference registration or detection, and so on, is beside the point. The point is that what is seen is felt, not merely registered, processed, and acted upon. To explain consciousness in terms of sensorimotor action, one has to explain why and how any of that processing is felt; otherwise one is merely giving an optokinetic explanation of I/O (Input/Ouput) capacities (and of whether those capacities are actually or optimally generated by sensorimotor contingency processors, analog representations, symbolic representations, or other forms of internal structure/process), not of the fact that they are felt. Nor will it do to say “qualia are illusions.” Qualia are feelings. Am I under the illusion that I am seeing (i.e., feeling) something right now? What is the truth then? That I am not feeling, but merely acting? No, I'm afraid Descartes had it right. Certain things are not open to doubt. They either need to be explained, or passed over in silence, in favor of the unfelt correlated functions that we can explain (Harnad 1995; 2000; 2001).