International Lectures on Nature and Human Ecology

Nick Humphrey
Consciousness as Art

Wad's views about the nature of consciousness were much influenced by the philosopher A. N. Whitehead. In Wad's Gifford Lectures he embraced a form of panpsychic realism. "I think you have to add to the definition of atoms something to do with consciousness. I am definitely not ruling out that there is some sort of thing allied to consciousness all through the world".

Though philosophers can still be found who think this way, notably David Chalmers, I have argued over the years that "realism" about consciousness is a very bad idea. In my talk I discuss an alternative approach, "illusionism", suggesting that the eery qualitative features of consciousness are a kind of magical trick played by the brain. Wad might have considered this idea depressingly reductionist. However I'll try to frame it in a way I hope a 21st century Wad might have found congenial after all, by suggesting we go beyond illusionism and think of consciousness as art.

Wad may have been wrong about consciousness but he was right about art. In his brilliant book Behind Appearances he discussed how art – like science – can be a means of revealing the deeper structure of the world we live in. I argue that consciousness plays a similar role, revealing – or at any rate seeming to reveal – what the world is really like. Thus our subjective experience of the world is like a visit to a gallery where the artist is our own brain.

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