Neural correlates and the scientific study of consciousness
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This dissertation is largely about a particular episode in the conceptual (but also to some extent scientific) history of the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs). This episode can be dubbed “the enactivist intervention”. Although such an expression can have a broader meaning, I use it in a particular sense to refer to Noë and Thompson´s (2004) (Hereafter NT) paper Are there neural correlates of Consciousness? My general hypothesis is that this intervention has been mostly harmless regarding NCC, although not irrelevant. Consequently, although this dissertation is not directly about enactivism or sensorimotor theories of experience, I will consider them in so far as they are involved in Noë and Thompson´s treatment of NCCs. The general framework of this dissertation is the philosophy of the scientific study of consciousness, and within this context the question will be addressed whether there might be neural correlates of consciousness and what they could be like. A general thought underlying NT is that the brain (alone) is insufficient to account for (conscious) experience -in particular for perceptual experience-, given the features of that experience, and that a wider approach is, instead, needed. This new approach involves the brain, the body, and the environment. In so far as the NCC research program and the notion of NCC were committed to the narrower internalist approach, the NCC approach turns out to be an unsatisfactory way to account for experience. The problem, I argue, is that NT construe the NCC notion, to a large extent, in a poor way, and therefore the conclusion about the internalist approach has a limited scope; hence, NT´s argument has not enough weight to displace internalism. The conception of NCC on which NT focus is characterized in terms of the matching-content doctrine; in which, in order to count as an NCC, the neural component and the conscious component have to match in content. I suggest that this target should be interpreted as a straw man and that the key notion of matching content as isomorphic requirement, on which the NT argument rests, is inadequate, involving an excessive and unrealistic requirement. So, I suggest a different and more realistic approach to NCCs avoiding such inadequacy, that is, an approach freed from the matching isomorphic requirement. I will favour a sort of embodied approach to the mind, including consciousness, which recognizes the relevance of the body and the environment but is compatible with internalism, for this relevance might be conceived in terms of interactions or causal (non-constitutive) relations (embodied internalism).