Christopher asked:

This question is for Shaun Williamson:

You said in an answer to my question about ‘intelligence in evolution’ that, ‘Being conscious means having sensory awareness of the world and to have sensory awareness of the world you need sense organs and a nervous system.’ Doesn’t being aware of yourself also count as being conscious? Let’s say hypothetically that I have no way of sensing/perceiving the outside world, wouldn’t I still be conscious even without any awareness of anything except myself? Although, I can’t really imagine how I would perceive/ conceive without the external world to relate/ compare myself to.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

No, our idea of consciousness does not include just awareness of yourself. If it did we would all know that it did and you wouldn’t even have to ask the question.

Suppose the doctor says to the nurse ‘Is the patient conscious?’ and the nurse replies ‘He has no sensory awareness but still he might be aware of himself’. How is the doctor supposed to understand that. Suppose we say that a pebble on the beach has no brain and no senses but still it might have an inner awareness of itself. What can we make of that idea? It paints a picture but its not a picture we can do anything with.

You must remember that language (and therefore thought) was not invented by God. It was invented by men so that they could talk to each other about things that interest them. Now people can be self aware but they must also be conscious i.e. have awareness of the outside world before it makes sense to talk of them being self aware. If we say something like ‘He slowly became aware that he no longer loved his wife’ then we imagine that this dawning awareness could only happen when he was conscious (in the ordinary sense of that word). You can’t become aware of something when you are unconscious or asleep. You can dream that you have become aware of something but that is not the same as being aware of something.

Wittgenstein pointed out that when we are philosophizing our language has no context so we invent one for it and then it can sometimes seem that we can extend language is all sorts of interesting ways. ‘Philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday’.