Ned Block — whose views on consciousness and the mind-body problem are, like those of David Chalmers, close to my own (and far from those of Daniel C. Dennett) — is not impressed with Antonio Damasio’s new book Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain.Damasio makes the same sorts of desperate moves typical of those determined to jerry-rig a scientific solution to a philosophical problem: he makes consciousness dependent on self-consciousness (and seems by implication to deny it to animals, despite other claims to the contrary); and rejects the scientific evidence that consciousness does not depend in any way on behavioral manifestations. Unfortunately, it’s just a brief review; for a full dose of Block, see his excellent critique of Jerry Fodor’s What Darwin Got Wrong.
As far as I’m concerned, attributing “consciousness” to the brain as a property — as Damasio does in his subtitle — is the kind of category mistake that would simply prevent me from picking up a book on the subject in the first place. Damasio is (sometimes) conscious. His brain is white and gray, weighs a few pounds, and is composed of neurons. While Damasio’s consciousness depends importantly on Damasio’s brain, calling this a property of the brain in some typical sense simply seems wrong to me. Calling the brain “consciousness-causing” I think would be closer to the truth; better still would be to talk about a relation — such as supervenience — between two sets of properties. But then again all of this goes for identity theories of mind as well: for such theories mental states are at least token identical with brain states. Regardless of my theory, I would never say the brain processes involved in looking at a red apple are themselves conscious of a red apple. This may all seem like a quibble, but I think calling the brain conscious leads the sorts of confusions that pervade popular books on this subject and popular talk about it — including the idea that the brain “makes decisions.”