Bridgeman's plan unpacking hypothesis is attractive as an explanation of consciousness but does not clearly address issues of intent, development, and altered states of consciousness. An elaboration focussing on these issues is needed.
2. Definitions are crucial in this context. Bridgeman uses the pivotal concept of planning and plan-execution to develop the view that the experience of consciousness is an effect of the process of unpacking ideas from a conceptual to an executable form. How much does this planning involve intent? If intent is seen as a necessary part of planning or plan execution, this is not apparent in section 3.4, where cereal genetic homologues are given as an example of the process of planning. If different levels of planning are being invoked, care needs to be made in separating intentional from nonintentional planning.
3. Intent seems to be a necessary component of the plans invoked by Bridgeman to illustrate this theoretical standpoint (the next bite of food; graduation). Hence plan-unpacking would seem either to involve intent, or to imply that intent is (a) limited to certain classes of plans or (b) an effect similar to consciousness, arising from the process of unpacking.
4. It is difficult to argue that the behaviour of neonates is intentional in the same way that the behaviour of adults is. Indeed, Bridgeman makes the point that cries and laughter do not meet the criteria of plan execution but are instead emotionally linked activities. These seem to be considered more primitive features of experience. If neonates do not behave intentionally, or do not unpack plans (which seems to amount to the same thing), this raises the question of whether they are in fact conscious. Whereas it is generally accepted that neonates are probably not self-aware, few would suggest that they are not conscious. It may be argued that the quality of such consciousness is meaningless to the neonate and therefore cannot be utilized in any effective manner until a basic organisation is imposed through the incorporation of experience (i.e. the Vygotskian view). But there remains perceptual activity and motor activity beginning prior to birth (about 20 weeks post conception for motor activity). This activity is probably not intentional. If this activity does constitute a plan, then the question becomes: How conscious are neonates? and Does the amount or quality of consciousness increase over the life span?
5. Inconsistencies are also apparent if we consider the case of sleep and dreaming. Are dreams conscious experience (the unpacking of plans) or are they something else? The awareness of dreams suggests they are conscious events and indeed they may represent a "purer" form of unpacking (or a simplified or restricted kind). One major problem with dreams is the lack of intent (although lucid dreaming contradicts this point of view). However, the problem raised by dreams is the presence of different (types/qualities/quantities of) experiences we know as consciousness. These different forms of consciousness are very appealing intuitively and fit well with universal subjective accounts of changes in consciousness. How do they fit with the plan hypothesis?
6. In summary, the plan unpacking hypothesis is attractive as an explanation of consciousness but does not clearly address issues of intent, development, and altered states of consciousness. An elaboration focussing on these issues is needed.
Bridgeman, Bruce (1992) On the Evolution of Consciousness and Language. PSYCOLOQUY 3(15) consciousness.1