Bridgeman's (1992) linkage of consciousness with planning may be grouped with similar proposals by Popper (1972) and Mandler (1975). But which, if any, of these proposals are correct? Before an evaluation can be undertaken it is necessary to specify the relationship of consciousness to any given candidate process unambiguously. Bridgeman's thesis is that consciousness has some special link with planning, however, the nature of this link is not explicit. Only when this conceptual clarification has been achieved will it be appropriate to turn to the question of whether consciousness relates more closely to planning than to perception, volition, choosing, remembering, responding, and so on.
1.2 As I have argued elsewhere (Velmans, 1991a) there is a sense in which each of these proposals seems correct. After all, how could one analyze complex, novel stimuli without being aware of those stimuli? Or how could one engage in complex, novel interactions with the world without awareness of the world? -- And without consciousness how could one choose, create, communicate, or plan effectively?
1.3 Yet there is another sense in which each of these proposals seems incorrect. If one views the brain from the outside, neural causal chains appear to operate without the benefit of any "subjective awareness"; nor do information processing operations such as encoding, storage, retrieval, transformation and output appear to require awareness. So from an external perspective, awareness seems unnecessary to functioning. To understand the relation of consciousness to the brain one has to resolve this paradox (Velmans, 1991b).
1.4 Even if, for the sake of empirical progress, one decides to live with this paradox, it is necessary to specify the relationship of consciousness to any given candidate process unambiguously. Bridgeman's thesis is that consciousness has some special link with planning. But what is this link? Does he mean to suggest that we are conscious OF planning, that planning RESULTS in a conscious experience, or that consciousness ENTERS INTO planning? (cf. Velmans, 1991a, section 9.1). These three proposals have very different implications for cognitive architecture, let alone the mind/body problem. In fact, Bridgeman's proposal is far from being unambiguous. In his Abstract he suggests: "Consciousness IS the operation of the plan-executing mechanism, enabling behavior to be driven by plans." This is a form of philosophical functionalism, in which consciousness clearly DOES something. But in section 2.8 Bridgeman suggests that consciousness "appears IN the plan currently being executed" and he then goes on to state that consciousness (of events, actions and ideas) "is nothing more or less than a RESULT of the operation of this mechanism" and "emerges from the planning process." Consciousness cannot, however, at one and the same time BE the operation of the plan executing mechanism, be IN the plan, and EMERGE FROM that operation.
1.5 Later, in section 2.9, the confusion continues: Consciousness, Bridgeman writes, "is an active process, not a passive state." At the same time, "Because it is an effect, not a cause, there is no sense in looking for its functions" (a form of epiphenomenalism). But if consciousness is not a cause, in what sense can it be an "active" process?
1.6 In sum, before one can even begin to evaluate Bridgeman's claimed relationship between consciousness and planning, some conceptual clarification is required. Only then will it be appropriate to turn to the question of whether consciousness relates more closely to planning than to perception, volition, choosing, remembering, responding, and so on.
Bridgeman, Bruce (1992) On the Evolution of Consciousness and Language. PSYCOLOQUY 3(15) consciousness.1
Mandler, G. (1975) Mind and Emotion. Wiley.
Popper, K.R. (1972) Objective Knowledge: an evolutionary approach. Clarendon.
Velmans, M. (1991a) Is human information processing conscious? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 14(4):651-669.
Velmans, M. (1991b) Consciousness from a first-person perspective. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 14(4):702-726.