4 Sept 2013

Ch.4 of Dainton’s Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience, “Transitivity”, summary

by Corry Shores
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[All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own.]

Summary of

Barry Dainton

Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience

Chapter 4: 


Brief Summary: Dainton explains and defends his position that all synchronic phenomenal contents are co-conscious.



4.1 Co-consciousness as a relation

Co-consciuosness is a relation and we will discuss what kind of relation it is.

Dainton distinguishes material from formal relations.

1) Material relations: “consist of a tangible concrete relationship between particular things.” “Examples of material relations are ‘having the same mass as’ or ‘being in spatio-temporal contact’.” (88)

2) Formal relations: “consist of relationships that can exist between abstract as well as concrete things, or alternatively, between only abstract things;” for example “‘being larger than’, or ‘having the same number of vertices’.” (88)

Dainton says that co-consciousness is a material relation; for,

The relata of co-consciousness are experiences, which are not abstract (even if some people think they are immaterial). Co-consciousness is an experienced relationship between experiences, and as such is a concrete relation between concrete particulars; it is not a relation that can hold between anything other than experiences, and so it is not a relation that can hold between abstract entities. (88)

There is no limit to how many phenomenal contents can be co-conscious with one another, and it could perhaps be said that one phenomenal content is conscious with itself, since its component parts are co-conscious with each other [and thus the act as a whole is co-conscious with its parts. Dainton does not here address the issue of atomic contents and if they can be co-conscious with themselves.]

Dainton now wonders if we that there can be different degrees of co-consciousness. He does not think so. (89)

He also thinks 1) that because co-consciousness is co-conscious with itself, it is reflexive; 2) that because when experience e1 is co-conscious with e2, likewise e2 is co-conscious with e1, co-consciousness is symmetrical, and 3) it is possible co-consciousness is not transitive, because diachronically, experience e1 at one moment can be co-conscious with experience e2 at the next moment, and e2 with the next e3, but e1 need not be co-conscious with e3. And with regard to simultaneous contents, it seems that in most every case for humans that there is this transitivity, but untypical humans and non-humans could conceivably have non-transitive co-consciousnesses. [For Merleau-Ponty however, all temporally diverse acts of consciousness are by default co-conscious.]

Transitivity is a more difficult issue. Could there be three experiences, e1, e2 and e3, such that although e1 is co-conscious with e2, and e2 is co-conscious with e3, e1 is not co-conscious with e3? This is | certainly possible diachronically—as we shall see—but what of simultaneous experiences? In this connection the transitivity question is harder to answer. There seems no reason to doubt that our synchronic coconsciousness is usually transitive. My current visual experience, considered as a single experience, can be divided into regions, and all these regions are all co-conscious with one another. Similarly for my auditory or bodily experience, and across modalities: my visual, auditory and bodily experiences are mutually co-conscious. But for co-consciousness to count as a transitive relation, co-consciousness must always be transitive. Might there be certain cases where synchronic transitivity breaks down? It is certainly not easy to think of any. The faint sensations at the periphery of consciousness, such as the nagging back-pain that floats in and out of one’s attentive awareness, are a possibility. Perhaps the back-pain continues to exist when we are not paying attention to it, and does so detached (experientially) from the rest of our experience. But as we have seen, sensations and experiential relations do not have to be noticed to exist; the fact that the phenomenal background seems to consist of a unified ensemble of experiences suggests that peripheral sensations usually are co-conscious with the remainder of our experience. However, even if most people’s simultaneous experiences are mutually co-conscious, we cannot conclude that simultaneous consubjective experiences are necessarily fully coconscious. Perhaps there are non-human subjects whose typical experience is only partly co-conscious; perhaps the same holds of untypical human subjects. Since these possibilities cannot simply be dismissed, we need to take a closer look at the whole issue of synchronic transitivity. (90)

4.2 Streams and their parts

Dainton now addresses the possibility that some might argue he is wrong to assume that experiences can be divided into parts. He says they have several possibly options for making their argument.

They could take entire streams of consciousness to be the fundamental units of experience, or they could ascribe this status to brief temporally extended experiences that are experienced as wholes, or even momentary streamal cross-sections. But as will become clearer later, given the temporal characteristics of consciousness—the way one phase of our overall experience flows into another—there are no obvious or natural temporal boundaries between stream-phases, so the first option looks | to be the most plausible of the three: entire streams are the basic experiential units. Let us call this doctrine primitivism. (90)

Primitivism does not say that streams of consciousness are homogeneous wholes, for indeed they have distinct regions distinguishable in accordance with their phenomenal traits. However primitivists would say that these regions are not independent but are rather modes or features of the wholes they are a part of. If we adopted this position we could still say that the parts of the stream are connected by co-consciousness. However

the question of whether or not synchronic co-consciousness is transitive would still arise; as would the issue of whether experiential items linked by co-consciousness are in some way affected by being so related. The most significant change would be with respect to the status of stream-parts: it would no longer be an option to regard these as independent experiential particulars which just happen to be co-conscious with certain other experiential particulars. (91)

Carnap for example takes a primitivist temporal position. He thinks that we can take momentary cross-sections of the unified stream; for him “the parts of experience are nothing more than distinguishable features of essentially unitary wholes, and these wholes are the ontologically primitive units of experience.” (91)

To distinguish parts in the stream, like seeing a book, requires convention learned with language. “This is why Carnap holds that streams ‘in their totality and undivided unity’ are ‘epistemically primary’.” (92)

But why think that the earliest perspective we have on experience is the truest and most revealing? Later on in life, when experience has long been world-presenting, it is quite natural to suppose hearing a nearby conversation while staring through the window opposite involves two distinct experiences, one visual and one auditory, and there is no obvious reason to suppose this auditory experience could not have occurred without the visual, or vice-versa. This line of thinking can now be extended: we can regard our visual field as a composite of various lesser phenomenal items, and wonder whether each of these could have occurred without the others. Of course, thinking of experience in this way does not come ‘naturally,’ since the ability to regard what happens when we open our eyes as involving the occurrence of experience at all requires some intellectual sophistication. From the perspective of the natural attitude, world-presenting experience seems to consist of an unmediated access to the surrounding environment, and as such entirely experience-free, if by ‘experience’ we mean something akin to a thought or sensation, an inner mental production. But the point remains: once we manage to suspend the natural attitude, is there any reason to think a total experience does not consist of logically detachable parts? This sophisticated ‘atomistic’ conception of experience might be wrong, but the fact that this conception only becomes available at a relatively advanced stage in our intellectual development does not in itself provide a good reason for thinking it is. (92)

Carnap’s conclusion comes also from constraints placed in his broader system, and we are not necessarily committed to those constraints too (92)

Phenomenal manifolds

Dainton then addresses another defense of primitivism. He has us consider if physics came to conceive the physical world as consisting only of “a four-dimensional space-time continuum and a distribution of physical qualities over this continuum. The only physical object in this scheme is the space-time manifold. Consequently, macroscopic physical objects are merely field-time quality distributions when viewed from the ontological perspective of the fundamental theory. A more reasonable course would be to hold that macroscopic objects exist, but have the status of ontologically derivative entities, entities that have no place in the ontology of the theory which reveals the underlying character of the physical realm.” (93)

By extension we might think that our phenomenal objects are not primary but rather derived from the stream. “By analogy with the physical case, could we not take this entire ‘field of co-consciousness’ to be a quasi-spatial arena in which experiential items are located? As for the experiential items, could we not take these to be composed of field-time distributions of minute phenomenal qualities?” (93) However “it seems unlikely that the analogy would ever yield a persuasive case for primitivism.” (94) For:

how could we justify positing an underlying experiential manifold, a field of consciousness or coconsciousness? There is no direct phenomenological evidence for the existence of an underlying field of consciousness; the Humean point that all we find in experience are particular experiences has as much validity in this connection as it does with that of the Pure Ego. (94)

Dainton also explains why we cannot see phenomena from the different perceptual senses as composed of the same substance so to speak.

although it may well be possible to turn a refrigerator into an experiencing human being by reconfiguring its constituent physical constituents, it does not follow that you could turn an auditory experience into a visual experience by reconfiguring the former’s experiential constituents. […] The phenomenal constituents of a visual field seem to be wholly different in intrinsic nature from those of an auditory sense-field (and the same goes for other pairings of experiential tokens of different sensory-modal types). Hence, from a phenomenological perspective, the division of a total experience into auditory, visual, somatic, etc. components is rooted in the intrinsic nature of the phenomena themselves, and to this extent is well-founded, unlike, say, the purely conventional boundaries that demarcate certain desert nations. (95)

4.3 Unity and transitivity

To further discuss transitivity of synchronic phenomena, Dainton

will use the expression total experience to refer to groups of experiences which are mutually co-conscious. To be more precise, a total experience is a group of experiences which are all co-conscious with one another, and which are not parts of a larger group of experiences which are all co-conscious with one another. So for example, suppose e1, e2, e3 and e4 are each co-conscious with one other. Although S={el, e2, e3} is a group of experiences that are mutually co-conscious, S does not constitute a total experience, since e4 is also co-conscious with all the members of S, without | itself being a member of S. I have been assuming that the simultaneous parts of a stream of consciousness are total experiences. Since this assumption may turn out to be false, we need a more neutral term to refer to the complete contents of a stream of consciousness at a given time: maximal experience will serve. (95-96)

Dainton then has us consider the notion of equivalence relation. [Note: in this chapter when Dainton refers to ‘co-consciousness he is only talking about synchronic co-consciousness.]

Equivalence relations partition their relata into distinct non-overlapping groups, where each member of any group bears the relation in question to every other member of the same group. For example, ‘being of the same age’ is an equivalence relation. If we were to divide the people in a large crowd into groups on the basis of their age, we would end up with a collection of different non-overlapping groups, and everyone in the crowd would belong to one, and only one, of these groups. If co-consciousness is an equivalence relation, the totality of experiences at any given time will be divided, without exception, into discrete non-overlapping total experiences. (96)

Dainton then supposes that we cannot have at one time two separate maximal experiences, and maximal experience again means that the experiences happen together but are not necessarily co-conscious. [Transitivity would say that component A is co-conscious with B, and B with C, thus A with C. This means that under these assumptions, all the parts will be co-conscious, which would make it a total experience, which recall he defines as groups of mutually co-conscious contents.] Thus

If co-consciousness is transitive, and hence an equivalence relation, every maximal experience will be a total experience, and vice-versa. In short, every part of every subject’s consciousness at a given time will be mutually co-conscious. We can call a consciousness of this type fully or strongly unified. Since a total experience is a fully unified experience that is not a part of any larger fully unified experience, each (momentary) total experience will belong to a different subject, and will comprise everything that subject is experiencing at the relevant time. This is a conveniently tidy situation, but it depends on the transitivity of co-consciousness. If it were the case that co-consciousness is non-transitive, i.e. not always or necessarily transitive, there are actual or possible subjects whose maximal experiences at a given time consist of distinct but overlapping momentary total experiences. (These consubjective total experiences must overlap, since we are working on the assumption that a single subject cannot, at a given time, have two wholly separate streams of consciousness.) We can call a consciousness of this type partially or weakly unified. (96)

In partial or weakly unified consciousness, the parts are co-conscious only indirectly [A is co-conscious with C not directly but indirectly by sharing a third common content B]. This conception however leads to a disjunctive sort of consciousness that is unlike our own. (97)

4.4 Transitivity: the case against

Dainton thinks that partial unity of consciousness is unimaginable, that we cannot think of experiences we have when our consciousness is not unified.

Since our own experience seems for the most part to be fully unified, we cannot hope to make much progress on the transitivity issue by appealing to introspection. This might not seem to matter, since we are concerned with ways experience might possibly be, rather than with how it actually is. (97)

He then has us consider a thought experiment that has two cases, in both of which we just awake from brain surgery.

a) Case 1: “Before the surgery your visual field was fully co-conscious. Even while focusing your attention on (say) the extreme periphery of the right-hand side, you had a passive awareness of the central and left-hand portions. Now it is very different: the left-hand side of your visual field is co-conscious with the central portion, and the latter is co-conscious with the right-hand side, but the left and right sides are not co-conscious with each other at all.” (98)

b) Case 2: “On awakening you find that your consciousness is, in effect, divided into three portions. Your ‘inner’ consciousness, consisting of your thoughts, mental images, emotions, etc., is co-conscious with your bodily and tactile experiences, and your smell and taste sensations. You also have visual and auditory experiences, just as before. But there is a difference: your visual and auditory experiences are no longer co-conscious with each other.” (98)

It is very difficult to imagine such situations, but perhaps co-consciousness is not as transitive as we think. (98)

One reason we cannot imagine the separations is because when we try to they all become co-conscious with our own imaginations. Thus just because it is unimaginable does not mean it is impossible. (98)

Perhaps like Michael Lockwood we can pursue this line of thinking by examining split brains. Such people develop two separate streams of consciousness, but it is not clear from the research how disunified these subjects’ minds are.

Lockwood has us suppose that a patient has his brain sides severed gradually and slowly all while remaining conscious. We wonder if this means that there would come a phase when the patient’s consciousness is partly unified and partly disunified. (100).

Dainton considers a variety of possible outcomes of this situation. (101-102) And he says that even if in these exceptional cases there is partial unity, for the rest of us  it seems an unlikely condition. (102-103)

4.5 Transitivity: the case for

Dainton then has us call to mind some of the previously rejected accounts of co-consciousness. “if the I-thesis were true, partial unity would be impossible. But the I-thesis is false;” “if the S-thesis were true, synchronic co-consciousness would necessarily be transitive. But the S-thesis is also false.;  (104) and if the A-thesis were true, then “If e1 is co-conscious with e2, and e2 with e3, then each of these experiences must fall under the same awareness, and all are therefore automatically co-conscious with each other. But this only applies if phenomenal items can only fall under a single awareness, as a matter of necessity. We call the doctrine that this is the case the confinement thesis;” yet “Since we have found reason to reject the A-thesis, in all its forms, we do not need to consider further whether there is any reason to reject or accept the confinement thesis.” (104)

“In rejecting the I-theses, the S-thesis and A-thesis, I reached the conclusion that co-consciousness is a basic experiential relation.” (104) Dainton now wonders that while assuming this, what can we say about the possibility of a partially or weakly unified consciousness (104).

We do know what it is like for experiences to be related by co-consciousness, so we wonder if this unity could be weak. He traces out this argument:

When an experience e1 is co-conscious with a simultaneous experience e2, these two experiences are in effect fused into a single unit of experience, each part of which is co-conscious with every other part. The two experiences are not mixed or blended together, they retain their own distinctive phenomenal characteristics, but all the same their relationship is of a very intimate nature: every part or aspect of e1 is co-conscious with every other part or aspect of e1, and with every part or aspect of e2, and vice-versa. In a manner of speaking, the two are wholly joined, there is no ‘distance’ separating them at all. Since e1 and e2 are parts of a single experience in this way, how could it be possible for another experience e3 to be co-conscious with e2 without also being co-conscious with e1? Given that e1 and e2 are fused, any experience that is co-conscious with e2 will automatically and necessarily be co-conscious with e1 as well. Since the same applies to any combination of simultaneous experiences, partial unity is an impossibility. (105)

Instead of the term co-conscious, Dainton will refer to experiences that are experienced together as co-presence or compresence, in accordance with the terminologies of other writers. Dainton then has us consider this situation and diagram.

dainton time book fig 4.4

Think of a patch of phenomenal colour, such as would result from looking at a large circular expanse of grey on a white wall. This expanse is a single experience; it is sensed as a whole, and each part of it is co-conscious—or co-present—with every other part. Now, it is natural to think of the co-presence of this experience’s parts in the way depicted in Figure 4.4.

Because we see the coloured expanse on a wall several feet away, it is easy to assume that because all its parts are co-conscious they are all observed from a single point of view, a point of view which is separate and distant from the wall itself. However, if we take the expanse to be a region of our visual field, this way of thinking is wrong. We do not observe our own visual field from some distance away; the visual field is a part of our overall consciousness. The co-presence of the expanse’s parts does not consist in their being presented to | a single point of awareness that is distant and distinct from the visual field: this is the awareness-content picture of the A-thesis, which we have rejected. The co-presence of the parts is a consequence of the fact that the parts themselves are related to one another by co-consciousness, as I stressed in §3.7. Hence, if we imagine the expanse as being divided into four, we can represent the relationships of co-consciousness between the regions in the way shown in Figure 4.5. (105-106)

dainton time book fig 4.5

We can further imagine each region divided up and so on, with all being co-conscious in the depicted manner.

In short, all the distinguishable parts of the expanse are co-conscious with one another. Indeed, not only are all the parts co-conscious with one another, they are equally co-conscious with one another: parts which are spatially distant are no less co-conscious than parts which are closer together. The same applies across the modalities: if I hear a sound to my right simultaneously with a sound to my left, both auditory contents are co-present to just the same extent as the spatially adjacent tactile sensations I have when I tap my hand with two fingers, or my visual experiences of the horizontal and vertical components of the letter T. For the sake of having a convenient label, let us say that an experience is maximally connected if all its distinguishable parts are mutually and equally coconscious. (107)

Dainton does not think that there could be another part of this above experience E that is not co-conscious with the rest. “By virtue of being maximally connected, the parts of E are enmeshed in a pervasive web of coconsciousness, and hence fused into a single unitary experiential whole, with the result that an experience cannot be co-conscious with just one part of E without also being co-conscious with the rest of it.” (107)

Dainton continues this discussion by considering non-transitive relationships of other kinds. (107-108) Afterwards he addresses the objection that “since we already know that our imaginative abilities are limited in this regard, surely it is illegitimate to go on to say that non-transitive coconsciousness is impossible” and another objection regarding split brain cases. (108)

4.6 A question of interpretation

Perhaps someone else (S) could convince us that their own consciousness is partially unified. But

S’s claim cannot be a phenomenal judgment about the character of his experience. Since his visual and auditory experience are no longer coconscious, he cannot possibly attend to both simultaneously. This means he cannot have an introspective awareness of the fact (assuming it is one) that he is usually having both auditory and visual experiences at any given time. Whenever he is introspectively aware of seeing something, he will have no introspective awareness of hearing anything, and whenever he is | introspectively aware of hearing something, he will have no introspective awareness of seeing anything; and this applies irrespective of whether the introspection is active or passive. (110-111)

Dainton continues by considering if S’s awareness were impaired and for that reason partially unified (111-112). He later concludes: “Given the strength of the purely phenomenological case against the possibility of partial unity, I will tentatively conclude that synchronic coconsciousness is a transitive relation.” (112)

Barry Dainton. Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.


3 Sept 2013

Ch.3 of Dainton’s Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience, “Phenomenal Space”, summary

by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]
[Central Entry Directory]

[All boldface and underlining are my own]

Summary of

Barry Dainton

Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience

Chapter 3: 
Phenomenal Space

Brief Summary: Dainton shows in various ways how spatial phenomena are unified by co-consciousness.


3.1 Consciousness, co-consciousness and space

We can in a sense think of consciousness happening within space.
Normal perceptual experience is world-presenting, the world presented to us is spatial, and the space in question seems to be physical space. But other kinds of experience seem to be located within this space too. If I focus on my own conscious thinking, it apparently occurs somewhere within my head—between my ears, behind my eyes. Although I cannot usually see my head, the latter is part of my body, most of which I can both see and touch, and sometimes hear. When viewed in this way, my body is just one object among many others in a common spatial world, a world we can see, hear, | smell, taste, touch and move about in. (61-62)
Dainton then has us consider the S-thesis, which says that “simultaneous experiences are co-conscious solely by virtue of occurring at the same time within a single unified three-dimensional phenomenal space; being thus spatially connected is both sufficient and necessary for co-consciousness.”  (62) We might also call it the K-thesis for Kantian thesis, as he is known for saying that our experience has a three dimensional spatial form. (62d)
Because of the spatial integration of our experience, there seems to be an intuitive rational for the S-thesis.
There is no denying that the S-thesis has a certain intuitive rationale. Being located in a common space is one way for things to be together—it is a way in which diverse things can co-exist. Since our (normal) experience is spatially distributed and integrated, it seems natural to suppose that this spatial integration is responsible for the mode of co-existence that is coconsciousness. Moreover, since the occupants of a single phenomenal space would necessarily be co-conscious, it seems that the notion of a phenomenal space is doing useful explanatory work: it is telling us how and why diverse phenomenal contents can be co-conscious. (62)

3.2 Non-spatial consciousness?

We might imagine what it would be like if our brains were removed from our body and we lose all sense of physical sensation. Our pure mental life would not carry with it any spatial properties, as it does when our bodily senses produce a sense that our awareness inhabits the spatial field of our bodily apparatus. This would be a problem for the S thesis. (63-65)

3.3 Dis-integration

Dainton then wonders if there can be another objection to the S thesis, and he asks
can we conceive of ordinary experiences, experiences which have spatial characteristics, being co-conscious but not spatially connected? I have already granted that our normal experience is spatially integrated. Can we imagine a | subject’s experiences being or becoming spatially dis-integrated while remaining co-conscious? (65-66)
Dainton then recounts a thought experiment by Dennet, who has us imagine his brain is removed from his body but still in control of it by radio link, then his body sees his brain in a vat. He is unable to feel his thoughts as if happening in the brain he sees; he is only able to feel them as if they sprung from his now empty head. (66-67)
Dainton proceeds with his own thought experiment also involving one’s detached brain. First you suddenly come to visual and auditory awareness alone at a rock concert by means of a robot head that is present there to be your eyes and ears. Secondly you control and sense your body underwater but without vision, hearing, smell, and taste. Thirdly in addition to controlling and feeling your swimming body, your robotic head is placed on the top of a mountain and now what your body feels (the water) and what it sees and hears from the mountain top are concurrent yet completely disjunct. Then you feel an octopus grabbing your leg. Finally it turns out the robotic head is attached to an airplane and now flies off. (68-70)

Dainton evaluates these cases.
returning to the third scenario, it does not seem too implausible to suppose that if one were to concentrate on one’s bodily experience, one would have the impression that one’s thinking was going on underwater, and if one were to concentrate on one’s audio-visual experience, one would have the impression that one’s thinking was taking place up on a mountain top. But perhaps it would take time and practice to be able to focus one’s attention in this way. In any event, this is a side issue. The main purpose of the scenarios will doubtless be evident. (71)
He continues:
In each of the first two scenarios you are provided with a single unified phenomenal space: in the first case audio-visual, in the second case bodily. In the third scenario, these phenomenal ‘worlds’ are both present at the same time. Your overall experience comprises a full range of bodily experience and a full range of auditory and visual experience; these experiences are all mutually co-conscious, all the time. But they are not integrated so as to constitute a common phenomenal space. Rather, they are split into two disjoint spaces: one wholly bodily, one formed by a fusion of sound and vision. The octopus that you feel attaching itself to your leg is not something you can see or hear; the bird you can see and hear circling over a nearby tree is manifestly not something you could approach and touch—your body is underwater on the ocean floor. It is true that all your perceptions, bodily and audio-visual, are of events occurring within physical space, and so these events are spatially related. But these physical spatial relations have no phenomenal reality for you. Not only are you unable to see any ocean from your mountain-top vantage point, you have no idea of how far away or in which direction your body lies; likewise, from your bodily point of view, you have no idea how far you would have to swim, or in which direction, to move closer to the site of your auditory and visual viewpoint. There are no experienced spatial relations between your bodily experiences and your audio-visual experiences. Yet both sets of experiences are nonetheless co-conscious. (71)
Then fourthly instead of being at the concert while swimming somewhere else, an audio-video recording of the concert is piped into your brain while your body swims. This experience would be no different than if you were at the concert live. “you have no sense at all that your bodily and audio-visual experiences are taking place within a common space, whether phenomenal or physical. Yet both sets of experiences are co-conscious.” (71)

3.4 Phenomenal spaces

So these are counter examples to the S thesis, which says that co-consciousness requires spatial coordination of the components of the experience. To further support this, and also to add clarity to these terms, he will now discuss phenomenal space and sensory field. He begins by discussing two basic positions, substantivalism (holding that space is ontologically basic) and relationism (holding that space is not ontologically basic):

What are the most basic constituents of the physical world? Assuming a realistic attitude to the physical world per se, there are three options. Physical space could be ontologically basic, with physical objects possessing an ontologically derivative status. Or physical objects could be basic, with physical space possessing an ontologically derivative status. Or physical space and physical things could both be ontologically basic physical items. Anyone who adopts either the first or the third of these options is committed to the view that physical space is an ontologically basic particular in its own right. This view goes by a variety of names: spatial realism, absolutism, or substantivalism. Anyone who adopts the second option is committed to the view that physical space is not an | ontologically basic particular. This view is commonly known as spatial antirealism, relationism, or relationalism. To minimize terminological confusion I will talk of substantivalism and relationism. (73)

Substantivism says that: “Space exists, as a concrete (i.e. non-abstract) thing. Space is just as real as any material object. Since the space we are concerned with at the moment is physical space, this space is a physical object in its own right.” (73) There are two strengths for this position.
Standard-strength substantivalism is the view that space is just as real as its material occupants (i.e. physical particles or bodies), while accepting that the latter are just as real as the space they exist within. This position corresponds with the third option outlined above. The strong or super-substantivalist holds that space is ontologically more fundamental than the objects it contains. On this view, physical bodies are adjectival on space; physical bodies exist when space takes on certain qualities; a physical body is nothing more than a region of space endowed with certain properties. For the super-substantivalist, there is, strictly speaking, only one physical particular, space itself.”(73)

The relationist position does not necessarily reject the ideas that materials objects are separated by space or that there can be places in space without any material objects [empty space of a sort, perhaps]. “What relationists do want to deny is the thesis that space exists as something separate from and independent of material objects. To achieve this, the relationist will try to show that the truth of propositions about distances, movements and locations depends exclusively on facts concerning actual and (nomologically) possible spatial relations between material objects.” (73)

Fields of presence

Dainton makes the following assumption: “for a phenomenal space to merit the label ‘substantival’, the space in question should possess some phenomenal reality—the space in question must possess some intrinsic phenomenal characteristics of its own.” (73d) There is a certain kind of sense-field that qualifies as substantival.
I will call the relevant types of sense-field P-fields; the ‘P’ is for presence or plenum. By way of an example, imagine a subject whose sensory experience is wholly visual, and whose visual experience resembles what we experience when looking at a slightly misted stained glass window: flat, lacking any depth, a mosaic of translucent coloured shapes appearing within a medium possessing inherent luminosity. Our imaginary subject’s visual field, when empty, is a luminous, pale white expanse. Phenomenal objects, i.e. coloured shapes, are literally parts of the sense-field—parts of the field which happen to be endowed with certain distinctive visual qualities. The sense-field itself possesses an intrinsic phenomenal character: it is a field of two-dimensional luminosity, two-dimensional visual presence. This sort of sense-field is the sort of thing I mean by a P-field. A P-field is spatially extended (hence a ‘field’), possessing a certain dimensionality and size (not necessarily constant), and possesses its own intrinsic phenomenal character. If we take a P-field to be a phenomenal space—call it a P-space—the size and structure of the space is fixed by the intrinsic phenomenal characteristics of the corresponding sense-field. It is clear that a P-space possesses the sort of properties one would expect a substantival phenomenal space to have. It is intrinsically spatial, and possesses an intrinsic phenomenal character throughout. The existence and structure of this spatial medium is independent of any objects located within it. (74)
[So the colored glass parts of the mosaic are like modifications of the phenomenal space they are a part of.]

This P-field then is super-substantive space, because “Phenomenal objects are adjectival on the space, since they consist of a spatial medium taking on certain qualitative features, of a visual sort, at certain locations within it.” (74) As an example of weak P-space would be hearing sounds coming from different parts of the space. Because they are audio, the do not modify the space like visual things do, but have locations in it.

Phenomenal voids

Another sort of P-field that has contents that while they “are typically spatial and spatially located, they are not located within a three-dimensional spatial medium possessing an intrinsic phenomenal character.” (75) For example, “Consider the contents of our own experience, phenomenal particulars such as itches, sounds, and the immediate objects of visual experience.” (75) He explains, “We do not find ourselves immersed within a phenomenological plenum of any kind—for the most part, the space we find ourselves in, the space our experiences appear to be located within, is a phenomenal vacuum, empty of intrinsic phenomenal characteristics” (75). Consider how we can hear various sounds, which come from different places, but between them is a void of sorts.
Imagine you are in bed, in a house in the country, in the dead of night. No matter how hard you strain your ears you can hear nothing at all; you are surrounded by silence. You then hear a dog emit a single howl, some distance away—a couple of hundred yards at least. This noise might seem to echo around for a short while, but does it fill your auditory field? Does it seem to be coming from all directions and from all distances? Of course not—most of your auditory field is still filled with silence, auditory nothingness. The same holds under more normal circumstances, when we can hear several sounds coming from different directions and distances— even when the auditory field is quite busy, it is rarely full (in the way it is when one is wearing a pair of headphones emitting loud white noise). Unlike the imagined two-dimensional visual field, the auditory field seems to have no intrinsic phenomenal qualities; it is a phenomenological void or vacuum. Call sense-fields with this nature V-fields, and the phenomenal spaces they constitute V-spaces. (75)

The phenomenal character of empty space is important when distinguishing P and V spaces.
In the case of a P-space, we do not merely sense objects as occurring in space, we sense the space between objects, and this empty space possesses intrinsic phenomenal characteristics. Imagine looking at two black circles on an otherwise white wall—you can see the whiteness surrounding and filling the circles. The entire visual expanse can be regarded as a P-field, and within this field there are no regions that are empty of visual content. In a V-space, on the other hand, we experience objects as occurring at various spatial locations, but we do not experience the space between them as having any intrinsic phenomenal character. Imagine hearing a dog bark to your left, and a door shut to your right—and nothing else; in this case there is no auditory experience of the space in between—the space is an auditory void. This is quite unlike the two-dimensional visual case, in which there is a luminous expanse between any two co-existing visual objects. (76)

V-spaces are naturally conceived as relational but Dainton discusses how they can be thought substantival as well (76-77) along with other issues with regard to V-spaces (77-78).

3.5 The S-thesis reconsidered

Dainton will now show that the S-thesis’s claim that phenomeno-spatial connectedness is necessary for co-consciousness is implausible.
Our own experience is, typically, multi-modal and spatially unified. The deliverances of our senses are combined with bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions and imaginings in a single V-space. But is there any reason whatsoever to suppose that V-spaces must be unified in this way? I cannot see that there is. The structure of a V-space depends ultimately upon the constraints governing the sorts of experience a subject can have. There is no a priori reason to suppose these constraints can take only one form. As I noted earlier, although our experience is confined to three spatial dimensions, we can conceive of subjects whose experience is confined to two spatial dimensions, as well as subjects capable of experiences possessing more than three spatial dimensions, e.g. subjects who can perceive or imagine 4-D hyperspheres. Dimensionality is one way spacerelevant experiential constraints can differ; there are indefinitely many others. Some of these variations will generate V-spaces with unfamiliar geometries. There are possible beings whose auditory experience is confined to a circular region in front of them (like our field of vision) and whose visual field extends for a full 360 degrees (they have several spherical eyes, and their bodies are translucent). There are possible beings whose audiovisual field is shaped like a torus, and like a familiar mint is holed in the middle. There are possible beings whose bodily experience is spatially disjointed. One such species is a type of sentient plant. Each plant comprises several bulbs, connected to one another by underground nerves; the plants can feel the warmth of the sun on their leaves and petals, but have no awareness of the space separating ‘their scattered stalks and shoots. And then there are possible beings with multiple sense-fields, each of a different modality, each of which generates a separate V-space; yet despite this spatial disunity, these separate V-spaces are mutually co-conscious. There is no need to describe such beings: this is precisely the possibility already explored in our earlier thought experiment. (79)

In V-space, experienced objects can have phenomeno-spatial relations without any background spatial medium. (79-80)

it seems quite conceivable that types of content which are experienced as spatially related could also be experienced in the absence of these relations, and hence as co-conscious but spatially unconnected. Hence it is plausible to think that in the absence of a P-field, co-consciousness itself places no spatial constraints on phenomenal contents. Given that experience is not confined to P-fields, and there is no reason to think the phenomeno-spatial relations among co-conscious experiences will necessarily warrant the postulation of a single unified V-field within which all the subject’s experience can be located, there is no reason to accept the S-thesis. (80)

3.6 V-spaces: further issues

Dainton continues by discussing whether spatial relations in a V-space are absolute or relative (80-81), and he also discusses his distinction between real and imaginary V-spaces and how this supports his claim that we can have spatially unconnected but co-conscious contents of our phenomenal experiences (81-83)

3.7 Co-consciousness

We can conclude from the foregoing that
diverse experiences can occur together, as co-conscious. That different and diverse experiences are experienced together as co-conscious is a basic fact about the experiential realm. Co-consciousness is a basic experiential relationship, one about which there is nothing more to be said, at least while we confine ourselves to describing how things seem.
In adopting this view, I am, in effect, defending a version of the view that our experiences at any given moment are simply bundles of phenomenal items, items which are not properties of any substance, or at least not of any substance which could be regarded as being experiential in nature. Bundle theories are faced with a problem: what is it that binds the bundled items together? In the phenomenal case we can now see that this is not really a problem at all. A suitable binding agent is available: co-consciousness, conceived as a simple experiential relation between phenomenal contents. This proposal has two merits. It is more economical ontologically, since there is no need for any unifying substance over and above experiences and interexperiential relations. It is also phenomenologically justified, for there is no denying that phenomenal contents do occur together as co-conscious—they are experienced as occurring together—so there is no need to postulate an undetectable unifying agent (such as a featureless substrate). (84)

Dainton explains that his bundle view does not imply that “there are two distinct kinds of unity within experience: a unity which exists between distinct phenomenal objects, and a unity within or amid phenomenal objects themselves.” [Dainton seems to be saying that co-conscious is just one unity that unites all parts regardless, because the whole field over a temporal stream can be divided any way you like.]
If this were the case, then co-consciousness would only hold between contents, it would not be responsible for the unity of the contents themselves. This does not seem to be the case. I pointed out in §1.7 that any phase of a stream of consciousness can be divided into parts in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way to divide a subject’s overall experience over a given interval into parts. As is plain, no matter which division is considered, all the relevant parts are related by co-consciousness, and this fact alone suggests that it is a mistake to think one unifying relationship holds between contents while another is responsible for the unity of the contents themselves. But there is a more direct way of bringing this point out. Take any phenomenal | object you like, a patch of colour, an expanse of sound, a combination of a bodily feeling and a mental image. No matter what the object, if it has discernible parts these are all co-conscious. Every part of a coloured expanse is co-conscious; every part of a spatially extended sound is co-conscious, and likewise for the constituent elements of a bodily feeling and a mental image. Co-consciousness is not limited to binding distinct phenomenal contents, it binds together the contents themselves; it operates both between and within contents. In short, if we confine our attention to the simultaneous contents of a stream of consciousness, co-consciousness is all-pervasive. (84-85)
Dainton continues by defending his position against the charge that there is some mysterious element that glues the parts of our phenomenal bundle. He notes that there is nothing mysterious about co-consciousness.
in what sense is co-consciousness mysterious? If it were transcendental in nature, being neither a physical relationship nor a relationship which exists within consciousness itself, then it would be mysterious in a damaging sense, as we would have no idea at all of the nature of the relationship; we would be positing a unknown quantity, a deus ex machina, to solve a problem we could not solve in any other way. However, co-consciousness is not like this at all. It is a relationship that exists in and between experiences; we know what it is like for experiences to be co-conscious.  (86)

Dainton ends by drawing the following two conclusions:
synchronic co-consciousness is a basic experiential relation, and the Simple Conception of experience is preferable to the alternatives. These conclusions are not independent; the claim that co-consciousness is basic is supported by the rejection of the A-thesis that in turn supports the Simple Conception. Indeed, it seems likely that the two conclusions stand or fall together. (86)

Barry Dainton. Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.


2 Sept 2013

Ch.2 of Dainton’s Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience, “Unity, Introspection and Awareness”, summary

by Corry Shores
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[All boldface and underlining are my own]

Summary of

Barry Dainton

Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience

Chapter 2: 
Unity, Introspection and Awareness



Brief Summary: Dainton will examine the synchronic unity of co-conscious experiences. There is a sort of ‘glue’ that binds all diverse acts of awareness; it is a passive and non-introspective awareness of the concurrence of these different acts.



2.1 Awareness

In this chapter Dainton will “be concerned only with synchronic unity, with the way simultaneous experiences are related to one another within a stream of consciousness.” (28)

Dainton distinguishes some uses of the term awareness. Awareness as:

1) not directly concerned with experience: “I wasn’t aware that Britain has so few high mountains.”

2) indicating simply the presence of experience in any form: “Consciousness first appeared on the scene with simple organic lifeforms, previously the universe was wholly devoid of awareness”. This use is virtually synonymous with Dainton’s use of the terms ‘consciousness’ and ‘experience.’

3) recognition / paying attention: “I watched a dog stroll across the street, but I wasn’t aware it was Seamus.” “‘It had been getting dark for some time, but I only became aware of it when I started to read the newspaper”. Sometimes but not always recognition requires we have a concept for the recognized thing.  (28-29)

4) introspection: “When we want to find out about our current experience, we introspect: we deliberately focus our attention and see what we find. Think of what you do when you wonder whether your toothache is getting better or worse. As you scrutinize your toothache, you become introspectively aware of it.” (29)

5) purely philosophical uses, for example, “According to one influential doctrine, consciousness has a two-level structure: all experiencing consists of an awareness of some content.” (29)

Regarding unity of consciousness, we are concerned primarily with the last two uses of ‘awareness’.

So far as the unity of consciousness is concerned, only the last two uses of ‘awareness’ are of direct relevance. If all experiencing consists of an awareness of some content, then presumably the unity of consciousness is a product of different experiential contents falling within the scope of a single centre of awareness. (29)

2.2 The phenomenal background

We might not be able to remember everything that we perceive or notice explicitly, but these marginal phenomena still contribute to the phenomenal experience we have. (29-30) Also we need not recognize everything we perceive in order for things to contribute phenomenally; “content of our experience at a given moment is not restricted to whatever it is we are paying attention to at the time in question.” (30)

This is an example of marginal awareness. We are not noticing things directly, but we would take notice if they for some reason called for more of our attention.

I will call this sphere of experience the phenomenal background. The phenomenal background goes largely unnoticed because it is constantly present for as long as we are awake (and often while we dream). Most experiences that go on long enough for us to become habituated to them (but which do not cease altogether) will sink into this background, for example the sound of a refrigerator, or the noise of a car engine. (31)

The phenomenal background has three main components:

1) The diverse range of bodily experience

2) The world-presenting perceptual experience, “what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. The content of this experience is nothing less than the surrounding world: the ground underfoot, rooms, walls and furniture, streets, fields and trees, animals and people, the sky above—these are all parts of the phenomenal background, they all feature in our experience, for the most part unnoticed, as we go about our ordinary business.” (31)

3) Our overall mood, our sense of self, what it feels like to be the conscious being we are. It is the most elusive component.
For example, we do not notice our body or familiar parts of our daily lives and routines. Also our stream of consciousness itself lies in the background, and as well the ‘what it feels like to be ones own self’.

This reveals a further flexibility in the notion of ‘awareness’: we can be inattentively aware of things, ourselves and our surroundings. Switching to the informed phenomenological mode, this means we can be inattentively aware of our experience. I will refer to this mode of consciousness as passive awareness. (32)

Exploring the phenomenal background

There are ways to make phenomenal judgments about “the peripheral regions of our experience.” (33a) We can use short term memory to reply the experiences. Or we can maintain our central focus to a slightly lesser degree, still hoding it front and center, while making judgments about peripheral phenomena. Dainton calls this procedure passive introspection.

On this basis Dainton distinguishes primary from secondary attention:

Primary attention is what we ordinarily mean by attention. The objects of secondary attention are the parts of the phenomenal background we choose to register or make a judgment about while deliberately keeping our (primary) attention fixed elsewhere. (33)

2.3 Unity and introspection

Dainton discusses the way that introspection and unity are intertwined, offering Strong and Weak I-theses.

[…] experiences are co-conscious when or because they could be introspected. On the face of it, although the vast majority of our experiences go by without being the objects of introspective scrutiny, all these nonintrospected experiences were available to introspection as they occurred, they were all introspectible. What is the connection between unity and introspectibility? I will call the claim that synchronic co-consciousness and | introspectibility are essentially bound up with one another the I-thesis. The I-thesis comes in two forms:

Strong I-thesis Co-consciousness is constituted by introspectibility: experiences are co-conscious because they are introspected or introspectible. A group of token experiences are co-conscious if and only if they are either the actual or potential objects of a single introspective awareness.

Weak I-thesis Co-consciousness is not constituted by introspectibility, but the two are correlated: if a group of experiences are co-conscious they are all actual or potential objects of a single introspective awareness.

Since for both theses the sort of introspectibility at issue can be active or passive, there are really four distinct theses to consider. The Strong I-thesis, in either form, is not a plausible one, but is nonetheless worth considering. For in coming to understand exactly why the Strong I-thesis is false, a significant aspect of the unity of consciousness comes into clearer focus. (34-35)

The Strong I-thesis

The unity of the background, and hence co-consciousness, is a feature of our experience that seems to be more basic than any sort of introspection. (35)

The phenomenal background is not just a constant presence in ordinary experience, it is a unified presence. (36)

the overall unity of consciousness is independent of both passive and active introspection. (36)

Dainton gives this example to show that the unity of consciousness is independent of both passive and active introspection:

Imagine walking through a park. As you stroll along, various things and happenings attract your attention. You see a shrub that you do not recognize in the border; you stare at it for a minute or two, trying to identify it. As you do so a child a few yards ahead starts to cry. A little while later you hear a birdcall which may have been a cuckoo; you pause to listen to it more carefully. Now imagine what your experience would be like, as a whole, on these two occasions. When you pause to concentrate on the mysterious shrub, what happens to the various plants surrounding the shrub, the ground underfoot, the | sky above? Well, nothing happens to them; they do not vanish as your attention becomes focused on the shrub; you see the shrub and you also see whatever surrounds it, even if only in a blurred fashion. While this is going on the child starts to cry; after an initial moment of annoyance, you manage to return your attention to the shrub. But the child’s crying does not disappear; you continue to hear it, even though you have succeeded in not paying attention to it. Similarly, when you strain your ears trying to identify the birdcall, you continue to see the park all about you: the trees, the path, the fields, the sky—they do not all suddenly vanish into thin air. What of bodily experience, does this vanish when you pay attention to what you are seeing or hearing? Of course not. You are standing upright, weighted to the ground as you always are, perhaps leaning forward slightly to get a better look—it feels like something to be in this condition, and you continue to have these feelings. Then there is what you are thinking—‘What sort of shrub is it? I think I’ve seen that shape of leaf before’—and your overall mood. But I shall not go on. We all know what it is like to walk through a park and pause to look at something. The point I want to get across is that the overall experience here is unified. As your attention flits from one thing to another, you perceive more than you attend to, you continue to have thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations, and you have these while feeling situated in your environment. The phenomenal background is not just a constant presence in ordinary experience, it is a unified presence. (35-36)

From the naive standpoint, the unity of your experience is a consequence of the fact that you are part of a unified world. The things you see, hear and touch are things in your environment; they are all things in the space surrounding you, the space within which you are situated. From the informed standpoint, this unity is in the first instance a feature of your experience: you are having a variety of co-conscious experiences. Your bodily experiences are co-conscious with your perceptual experience, and these are both co-conscious with your conscious thoughts, decisions, imaginings, memories and emotions. The co-consciousness of these various experiences registers only in passive awareness.  (36)

As this example makes clear, the overall unity of consciousness is independent of both passive and active introspection. (36)

Yet when we introspect our current experience either actively or passively, the introspected experience remains co-conscious with much of the rest of our experience. But it cannot be introspection that brings the unity of the introspected with the non-introspected experiences, because introspecting on a background will mean taking out of introspection what is in the foreground:

When you focus your active attention onto the shrub your thoughts, bodily feelings and auditory experiences all remain co-conscious with your visual experience. These experiential relationships cannot be explained in terms of introspectibility, for they are not even potential objects of introspection. If you were to try to actively introspect these relationships you would have to stop introspecting your experience of the shrub. As this example makes plain, the co-consciousness of experiences which are not being actively introspected with experiences which are, is not something which can be actively introspected. (37)

The Weak I-thesis

According to the Weak I-thesis, introspectibility and co-consciousness are correlated: any experiences that are co-conscious could be introspected. We have just seen that in one case at least, this is not true. (37)

Dainton goes on to discuss attention-dependent phenomena, active and passive introspection, and concludes: “in the case of passive introspection, the Weak I-thesis may well be largely true—for beings whose minds are like ours.” (39)

The unspeakable

Dainton now uses the term wholly passive awareness (WP-awareness) “to refer to the sort of non-attentive and nonselective awareness that we have of the unity of the phenomenal background.” (39) The awareness of the relationship between foreground and passive awareness cannot itself be introspected and is thus WP-awareness. But so long as we have this mode of awareness, any other sorts of awareness are able to be co-conscious, as it is like the glue between them, or the common consciousness to diverse awarenesses.

WP-awareness is more closely bound up with co-consciousness than any other form of awareness: not only is the awareness we have of the phenomenal background when we are not interrogating it of the wholly passive kind, as we have already noted, but when we do interrogate our experience, either by actively or passively introspecting some part of it, the introspected experience typically remains co-conscious with non-introspected experiences. This experiential relationship cannot possibly be introspected, passively or actively, since attention (whether primary or secondary) is directed elsewhere, hence the awareness we have of the unity of introspected and non-introspected contents is of the wholly passive kind. If anything could be said to constitute co-consciousness, it is WP-awareness. This sort of awareness seems both sufficient and necessary for co-consciousness. (39)

Dainton concludes:

it seems that all versions of the I-thesis are false. Neither active nor passive introspection or introspectibility are constitutive of co-consciousness, so the Strong I-thesis is false. Since there is a general limitation on introspectibility—due to the impossibility of introspecting the unity of introspected and non-introspected experiences—the Weak I-thesis is also false. This general limitation aside, the phenomenon of attention-dependence means that a good part of our experience is not actively introspectible, even if most of it is passively introspectible. As for co-consciousness itself, it is independent of introspection in all its forms. | If co-consciousness is correlated with or constituted by anything, it is WP-awareness. But since the latter is wholly independent of introspection and attention, nothing said so far takes us closer to a positive understanding of what this sort of awareness involves. (39-40)

2.4 Pure awareness

Dainton writes:

Any conscious episode, whether a single token sensation or a cross-section of an entire stream of consciousness, consists of the sensing of some experiential content, where the sensing and the content are distinct (or at least clearly distinguishable) aspects of the episode as a whole.  The passage below (Deikman 1996:351) is a clear exposition of the doctrine:

[block quoting Deikman] Awareness cannot itself be observed, it is not an object, not a thing. Indeed, it is featureless, lacking form, texture, colour, spatial dimensions. These characteristics indicate that awareness is of a different nature than the contents of the mind; it goes beyond sensations, emotions, ideation, memory. Awareness is at a different level, it is prior to contents, more fundamental. Awareness has no intrinsic content, no form, no surface characteristics—it is unlike everything else we experience, unlike objects, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or memories. Thus experience is dualistic, not the dualism of mind and matter, but the dualism of awareness and the contents of awareness. To put it another way, experience consists of the observer and the observed. Our sensations, our images, our thoughts—the mental activity by which we engage and define the world—all are part of the observed. In contrast, the observer— the ‘I’—is prior to everything else; without it there is no experience of existence. If awareness did not exist in its own right there would be no ‘I’…no transparent centre of my being.” (41)

Dainton in this section will be referring to this sense of awareness.

If two or more phenomenal objects are presented to a single | awareness these objects will automatically be co-conscious—they will be experienced together. Moreover, if we take it that there is no other way for phenomenal contents to be experienced together, falling under a single awareness turns out to be both sufficient and necessary for co-consciousness. I will call the doctrine that consciousness has an awareness-content (or act-object) structure, and that the unity of consciousness consists of diverse contents falling under a single awareness, the awareness- or A-thesis. (41-42)

The A-theorist need not take the view that the awareness is
owned by some agent.

The A-theorist is not obliged to take the view that the posited awareness is an entity which has the experience, or which the experience is for, or alternatively, that the awareness in question is owned by a something whose awareness it is. The A-thesis, considered as a doctrine concerning the nature and unity of consciousness, is ontologically neutral on the topic of the subject/experience relationship. (42)


there is an obvious kinship between the A-thesis and the ownership doctrine. Given the plausibility of the ownership doctrine, it would be quite natural for the A-theorist to ascribe the posited awareness to a subject, conceived as something over and above any phenomenal content. (42)

One objection to the A-thesis is that because awareness has no phenomenal features of its own, we seem unable to detect such a thing in our experiences.

2.5 The A-thesis and common sense

Some of the intuitive appeal the A-thesis has may derive from a natural but mistaken way of thinking about how we are aware of our experiences when we notice them or pay them attention. (44)
We can turn our attention from phenomenon to phenomenon, moving from one of the 5 senses to another, and it seems as if we have one inner eye that looks around at the different things.
This inner ‘eye’ is quite unlike the other sensory faculties, since it can apprehend experiences of different kinds—it is not restricted to sound, vision or touch. Just like the ordinary eye, the field of ‘vision’ of the inner eye has a centre or focus and a periphery. Unlike the ordinary eye, the inner eye’s focus can be any kind of experience, and the periphery consists of the remainder of our experience—the entire phenomenal background. So when I focus my attention on the bodily feelings in my ankle, my auditory and visual experiences retreat to the periphery of my awareness, the periphery of my inner eye’s field of vision. (45)

But regarding introspection as a form of sensory perception on par with ordinary sense perception leads to absurdities. “We have experiences, we can direct our attention onto them, and we can form beliefs about them; it is wrong, however, to think that in directing our attention at experiences we are turning a multi-modal sensory organ onto them. There is no such thing.” (45)

Dainton continues with a discussion of the A-thesis and naïve realism. (46-47) He notes how we might come to think that there is an awareness-content dualism in our phenomenal experiences.

Suppose now that I take hold of the vase, in a slow deliberate way; I feel my fingers gradually closing in, until the vase’s narrow neck is completely encircled. It now seems as though this part of the vase is contained within my field of bodily awareness. But as soon as I actually touch the surface of the vase this changes: I now feel something which seems completely external to me, for my bodily awareness does not extend into the vase, it stops at the surface. When we look at things in this way it can seem quite natural to think that consciousness as a whole has an awareness-content structure: the awareness component consists of everything that seems inner, i.e. thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, whereas the corresponding contents are those outer things we perceive through sight, hearing and touch. (47)

2.6 Variations on a theme

Dainton continues the discussion of the idea that consciousness has a bi-polar awareness-content structure. He begins by considering how to assign components of experience on either side of the divide. He first considers how “seemingly inner items such as thoughts, decisions, memories and emotions, to be just as separate from awareness as the immediate objects of perceptual experience. The resulting awareness is divested of all ordinary phenomenal characteristics; it is the pure contentless awareness* that we have already encountered”. (48) The leads to four positions to evaluate:

S1 awareness* cannot exist independently of content, and content cannot exist independently of awareness*

S2 awareness* cannot exist independently of content, but content can exist independently of awareness*

S3 awareness* can exist independently of content, and content can exist independently of awareness*

S4 awareness* can exist independently of content, but content cannot exist independently of awareness* (48)

Dainton continues with an evaluation of these positions. First he finds reason to reject S1 and S2. (48-53) While evaluating S3 and S4, he discusses the Buddhist concept of ‘cessation’. (54-55) He then addresses the possibility that the content-awareness distinction can be collapsed by considering awareness as the substance and phenomenal objects and properties as modifications of that substance. (55-57)

2.7 Simplicity

Since “no version of the A-thesis looks to be viable, we should reject the idea that consciousness harbours a dualism of awareness and content.” (57) He now considers alternatives.

Whenever phenomenal properties are realized, or phenomenal objects come into existence, conscious experience occurs. I shall call this non-dualistic model of consciousness the Simple Conception of experience. (57)

Dainton continues by evaluating this conception, and concludes:

there are limits on how simple a subject’s experience can be. Whenever pains or patches of blue occur, they do so as components of a more complex experience.

However, while the Simple Conception may look viable in the light of the discussion thus far, there are considerations, notably concerning temporal awareness, which may alter the picture, and we have not yet exhausted the topic of synchronic unity. (59a)

Barry Dainton. Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.


Ch.1 of Dainton’s Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience, “Introduction”, summary

Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]

[The Dainton – Gallagher Phenomenal Time Debate, entry directory]

[Dainton’s Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience, entry directory]

Summary of

Barry Dainton

Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience

Chapter 1: 


Brief Summary: Dainton will examine the phenomenal character of time. His primary concern is how different acts of consciousness go together (are co-conscious) in a unified way in the temporalized stream of consciousness.



1.1 The phenomenal

Dainton will examine the phenomenal character of time. He defines an experience as something with a phenomenal character, and phenomenal character he defines as the distinctive feel that the experience has, the 'what it is like'-ness of the experience, if you will.

By ‘consciousness’ I mean phenomenal consciousness; by ‘experiences’ I mean states or items with a phenomenal character. The ‘phenomenal character’ of an experience refers to the distinctive feel the experience has. A state has a phenomenal character when there is something that it is like to have or undergo that state. A sudden severe stomach cramp that causes one to bend over double feels very different from a gentle tickle; the cramp and the tickle are sensations with a different phenomenal character. There is ‘something it is like’ to feel a raging anger, to see a magnolia coloured wall, to hear a cello tone, to struggle with a piece of mental arithmetic, to remember one’s first day at school, to smell a roasting chicken, to imagine the flavour of ginger. These are all experiences, they all have different phenomenal characters. (Dainton p.2)

Moments of consciousness normally are not isolated from one another, as they are unified in some way.

[...] experiences do not typically occur in isolation from one another. A stream of consciousness is an ensemble of experiences that is unified both at and over time, both synchronically and diachronically. The expression ‘the unity of consciousness’ is occasionally used to refer to the unity of the mind as a whole. Taken in this way, the topic is the way in which mental states of all kinds, experiential and non-experiential, are inter-related when they belong to the same mind. Since by ‘consciousness’ I mean phenomenal consciousness, by the ‘unity of consciousness’ I mean the unity of experience. (2)

Dainton regards this unity of consciousness as a matter of elements of our phenomenal experience being integrated; at any one moment their are different senses and thoughts that are integrated, and across moments our awareness is integrated, for otherwise there would be no developmental focus and every instant we would not know how we came upon our situation nor how anything in that situation fits together. He calls this integration "co-consciousness" and he offers the illustration of a blindfold guessing game:

Imagine a party game: participants are blindfolded and handed an object, and they have to work out what the object is relying on touch alone. It is your turn, and panic is starting to set in; your three minutes are nearly up and you still have no idea what your object is; the taunts and laughter from your audience are starting to annoy. The thing you are handling is quite small, made of plastic, and obviously a contraption of some kind, it has several moveable parts, some hinged. You suspect there is a way to get the whole thing to fold | up, but the various extremities can move in a bewildering number of directions, and you have been unable to manoeuvre them into any recognizable shape. Your best guess is that it is some sort of puzzle, an executive toy or some such thing. But too late: jeers erupt, your time has run out. Tearing off the blindfold you look at the mysterious object, only to find that you are still no wiser. Anger now surges—how could you hope to identify by touch an object you don’t recognize when you see it? Consider a few snapshots of your stream of consciousness during these few minutes; each snapshot consists of your experience over a brief interval.

1 As you start to manipulate the object you have tactile sensations in your hands and fingers. These do not occur by themselves, but are continuous with the rest of your bodily experience (e.g. your body-image: sitting hunched in a chair). You are also having some thoughts—‘What is this damned thing?’—emotional feelings (mounting frustration), and mental images (you are trying to find an image to fit the feel). These thoughts and images do not occur in isolation from one another, they are experienced together—they are co-conscious—both with one another (thought +emotional feeling+mental image) and your various bodily experiences.

2 The audience was silent at first, but has now started to make its presence felt; you try not to pay attention to the racket they are making, but can hear them nonetheless. So now there are auditory experiences which are co-conscious with your thoughts, mental images, emotional feelings and bodily sensations.

3 You have just removed the blindfold, so visual experiences now enter the mix; these are co-conscious with all your other experience: what you hear and feel in your body, what you are thinking and feeling emotionally (a mixture of anger, frustration and puzzlement). (2-3)


experience is also unified over time, at least over fairly brief intervals, of the duration of the so-called specious present. Handling the contraption while blindfolded produced a sequence of tactile sensations. As you trace a contour with a finger you feel a continuous sensation of smoothness, not a succession of discrete bursts of sensation. As you try to visualize what you are holding you imagine one object after another; each image lasts a short while, and when one object replaces another the transition itself is experienced. When the audience becomes restless you hear a rumbling of muttering and murmuring, a flow of sound which as it runs on is continually renewed. And | all the while, there is the constant presence of bodily feeling and emotion: these too constitute a continuous presence. This constant flow or turnover of experience is one reason the ‘stream’ metaphor seems apt. A stream of consciousness is a continuous succession of experiences, and what gives the stream its unity from one moment to the next is the fact that this succession is itself experienced. (3-4)

Dainton's "main concern in this book is co-consciousness, in both its synchronic and diachronic forms."

There is also the question of the relation between the physical and the phenomenal with regard to time.

So far as I can see, at the present time this relationship remains as mysterious as ever, but we do not need to resolve this mystery in order to describe and try to make sense of our experience. (4)

1.2 The phenomenal and the physical

Dainton notes how very long ago before matter collapsed into stars there were just simple particles bouncing around in space. There was not consciousness then, but after a while it evolved, so how could it arise?

Since the universe at this time consisted of simple particles randomly scattered through vast reaches of space, it seems unlikely that there was experience anywhere to be found. If the universe in this condition was wholly experience-free, how can simply re-arranging the same elementary particles have given birth to something fundamentally new and different: consciousness? How can the bringing together of nonexperiential things ever produce an experience? [...] Yet, if the evolutionary story is to be believed, this is precisely what did happen: consciousness (of a rudimentary kind) abruptly emerged on the scene as soon as matter achieved a certain type of organization. (5)

One option for conceiving this is dualism.

Substance dualism is the doctrine that experiences are states of objects which are non-physical or immaterial; property dualism, in one common form, is the doctrine that experiences are immaterial particulars which are generated by (or at least correlated) with physical occurrences. Both versions of dualism hold that experiences are non-physical; the divergence occurs over whether or not experiences are attributes or modes of a nonphysical substance. (5)

Dainton rejects Cartisian style substance dualism because he wants "to see what can be said about the unity of consciousness without committing myself to any particular view of the matter-consciousness relationship." (6)

Dainton then has us consider the possibility that there is an intrinsic phenomenal character to to some physical items, for example the nervous system. He calls this position phenomenalized materialism (P-materialism). This position solves many problems regarding this matter-phenomena relation, but it also presents difficulties, for example, we might be led to think that rocks and puddles are very slightly conscious.

P-materialism accepts our current conception of matter, but another position, liberalized materialism (L-materialism), holds that we cannot solve the matter-phenomena relation because our understanding of matter is far too limited. (8)

Because we do not know now "whether any form of materialism will prove viable," he will for the most part remain neural with regard to the details of the matter-consciousness relationship. He calls this position moderate naturalism. (10)

1.3 Understanding

Outer experiences are sense experience. Inner ones are either bodily experiences like "warmth, pain, hunger, nausea, kinaesthetic sensations and our sense of balance. (There is a case for including smell and taste in this list.)" (11). Or inner experiences are ones happening in our head or mind, for example "memories, mental images, emotional feelings, such as fear or regret, and conscious thinking," and also understanding, as when we understand the meaning of a symbol we read, hear, or think. (11) "In talking about ‘experience’ I mean to refer to both sensory and non-sensory consciousness." (14)

1.4 Perception and projection

Perception can be thought of as opening doors to let the outer world in or as projecting consciousness into the world. We can hallucinate for example, and perception involves processing of the sense material, so our consciousness contributes more than mere reception. (14-17)

1.5 Phenomenology

Perceptual experience is world-presenting. By which I mean: the things we see (or seem to see in realistic hallucinations) seem to be out there in the world; the world seems to be directly revealing itself to us as soon as we open our eyes. (18)

But if perceptual experience is world presenting, then phenomenology would not seem to lend itself to projectivism.

On the one hand there is naive or pre-critical phenomenology, on the other there is informed or critical phenomenology. Someone engaged in pre-critical phenomenology tries to describe the character of their experience without making any explicit assumptions of a broadly philosophical sort about what ‘experience’ is. Someone engaged in critical phenomenology also tries to describe the character of their experience, but does so while allowing philosophical (or scientific) doctrines to influence what ‘experience’ is taken to be. (18)

Dainton pursues critical phenomenology. (19a)

Some might be skeptical with phenomenology and say that we cannot know that descriptions of our own consciousness resemble those of others. But our everyday interactions continually suggest that in fact our consciousnesses are similar enough that we may assume that basic properties of our own consciousness is shared by most others.

the fact that phenomenology can be difficult does not mean that it is impossible. For the most part I will be concerned only with the most general structural characteristics of streams of consciousness. On the assumption, which I think (and here assume) is justified, that everyone’s consciousness shares the same general structural traits, when presented with competing descriptions of these it is reasonable to suppose that we should be able to recognize, compare and finally agree on the description which does most justice to the most basic facts concerning our experience. (20)

1.6 Reality, appearance and phenomenal truths

Experience is more than just the appearing of the world to us "Because from the standpoint of moderate naturalism, experience itself is an unreduced and irreducible component of reality" (21).

This means our introspective knowledge of the character of our experience provides us with knowledge about how some small portion of reality really is—experience itself is a part or aspect of the real, not merely an appearance of the real. (21)

Unger overlooks this. He thinks that when we reflect on our own experience, certain propositions about consciousness might seem necessarily true. However when we consider these propositions from a sort of epistemological scepticism having a 'robust sense of reality' we find that "the relevant propositions do not express deep metaphysical truths, indeed, it becomes hard to see how they could be true at all." (21) Unger thinks we should not sacrifice an objective and rigorously tested approach to doctrines about experience. (21cd)

Dainton will challenge Unger's assumption that "truths about ‘main aspects of | concrete reality’ cannot be discovered using the tools available to phenomenology, but only by the sorts of observation and experiment that are used in the natural sciences." (21-22) Dainton has us suppose there are phenomenal truths, ones that can be established solely through introspection and third-order phenomenal judgments (judgments about experience in general and not just one's own). Moderate naturalism (moderate realism) says that "experience is itself an ingredient of concrete reality;" thus, "it is clearly a mistake to think phenomenal truths are anything other than truths about concrete reality." (22) Unger seems to doubt then that phenomenal truths are suspect, thus they cannot tell us about concrete reality. Dainton defends the project of phenomenological investigations in the face of the standards of rigorous science by noting that science too finds many truths that are simple to discover, like things fall on account of gravity, and also that unlike the hard sciences, it is not part of the phenomenological project to do much more than description.

Also Unger thinks that the fact that the world is wholly physical implies that there are limitations to what we can say about the character of our existence. Dainton observes that if the hard sciences paint a picture of reality in conflict with our phenomenological findings, we can also use that as grounds to question the scientific picture rather than the phenomenological one.

For if P-materialism is true, phenomenology is our only mode of access to the intrinsic nature of the material world; if truths | about the phenomenal are truths about the physical, such truths can properly be regarded as data to which scientific theories are answerable. (22-23)

1.7 Questions of demarcation and individuation

Dainton has a flexible sense for what counts as an experience. For the most part it is anything that happens during a portion of the stream of consciousness.

I will regard any experiential component of a stream of consciousness as ‘an experience’. A complete momentary cross-section of a stream is an experience, the complete content of a stream over a given interval is an experience, any combination of co-occurring contents within a stream is an experience, e.g. the sensations of pressure on my back, and the right-hand side of my visual field together count as an experience. A typical stream of consciousness can be divided into particular experiences in many different ways. Although some divisions are more well founded than others, I will not assume that there is any one best way of dividing a given stream into its constituent parts. (23)

Dainton then defines phenomenal objects, properties, and content:

For the sake of variety as much as convenience, as well as referring to experiences and their phenomenal characters I will sometimes refer to ‘phenomenal objects’ and ‘phenomenal properties’. By ‘object’ here I mean any part of an experience; a phenomenal ‘property’ is any feature of a phenomenal object. So a pain I feel in my leg is a phenomenal object, and the felt quality of this pain is a phenomenal property. I shall use ‘phenomenal content’ to refer to both phenomenal objects and properties. (24a)

Dainton continues with a discussion of how the type-token distinction can be applied in these phenomenological matters. (24-25) He concludes:

So, in order to accommodate the possibility of numerically distinct experiences which are both qualitatively indistinguishable and simultaneous, we need to introduce an alternative third ingredient. If we assume some form of materialism is true, we can treat experiences like any other physical occurrence and individuate them in terms of their spatial location—or, possibly, their sub-spatial material ingredients. If some form of property dualism is true, we can individuate in terms of physical causes and effects, or—more radically—take token experiences to be primitive particulars. Hence my policy. I will assume that token experiences owe their individuality to three factors: their exact phenomenal character, their time of occurrence, and their physical basis. In keeping with my stance of moderate naturalism, I will not speculate exactly what form this physical basis takes. If token experiences should prove to be primitive particulars, nothing I have to say will be affected. (25)

1.8 A look ahead

Dainton then outlines his text. In chapter one he deals with the synchronic unity of consciousness, namely, when simultaneous experiences are co-conscious. In chapter two he examines two similar accounts of co-consciousness. The third chapter discusses the possibility that co-conscious phenomenal experiences happen within a unified space and yet in another sense co-consciousness does not necessarily take a spatial form. Dainton’s description then skips to chapter five, which is about the diachronic unity of co-consciousness. (26)

Dainton notes that it might seem phenomenologically unrealistic to simply the matter by first analyzing synchronic unity before moving to diachronic.

Consciousness, it could be objected, is temporal through and through: our thoughts and experiences are never static, but constantly and continually flowing. While this seems true, there is no denying that we are aware of experiences happening simultaneously as well as successively. Experience may always be flowing, but we can nonetheless distinguish between the unity which cuts across a stream, and holds between simultaneously occurring experiences, and the unity which runs through a stream and binds non-simultaneous successive experiences. Since the unity of consciousness has these two dimensions, there is no reason why we should not deal with them separately, although we will only have a full understanding of the phenomenon when we have investigated both. (26c.d)

Chapter five (also) gives an overview of some problems posed by phenomenal temporality. Chapter six focuses on C.D. Broad and Edmund Husserl. Chapter seven discusses a solution to their problem. Chapter four discusses other questions regarding multiple co-consciousnesses. In chapter eight he discusses forms of phenomenal interdependence, and in chapter nine he suggests co-consciousness is responsible for a form of holism within experience.

Barry Dainton. Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.