There are certain facts that are the beginning place for psychological study. Impressions are typically the most frequently considered facts. But there is also the fact that there is an awareness of such impressions, such that we can reflect upon our having of impressions. We can consider not only the impression itself, but also the fact that we entertain such an impression.

For example, we are not only aware of 'that/this blue' but we are also aware that 'there is blue'. In the first we experience blue, but in the second we affirm that blue obtains (at least in our experience). The latter is an awareness of blue as existing, as obtaining in the mind. As such, the latter necessitates that the blue we are aware of in the first case engenders a condition or state that is reviewable upon reflection.

However, does the fact of a 'state of awareness' necessitate the existence of a 'subject', or 'that which IS aware of an object/impression'? Does the state of awareness, in other words, contain explicit reference to an immanent subject that simply is aware?

  • 1
    Have you ever considered paragraphs? You can split the premises you maintain and the question you are asking...
    – virmaior
    Feb 21, 2016 at 23:53

3 Answers 3


The Bundle Theory of Self is one model where it is possible to have awareness without there being a subject. In the Bundle theory the self or the mind is not a unified entity, but just a collection of memories and perceptions which together give the mere illusion of there being a central subject, but without there being any real unified self.

The Bundle Theory was first proposed in Buddhist philosophy, with the concept of the five Skandhas: A person is made of 5 aggregates - material form, feelings, perception, volition, and sensory consciousnessn - and there is no central "I".

The modern formulation of the Bundle theory comes from David Hume and the Empiricists. Derek Parfit and Daniel Dennett are contemporary philosophers who subscribe to the bundle theory.

Douglas Hofstadter, has an interesting variation on the bundle theory, which he calls "Strange Loop". Instead of awareness necessitating a subject, it is the other way around: It is when a bundle of sensations and memories becomes complex enough to start perceiving itself that the subject emerges.


Yes, you need a subject for awareness to work. The exact mechanism is unknown and may involve more than impression from the 5 physical senses. Awareness is an act of focus and retrieval of information. The interpretation of that information is usually biased to the observer's past. To observe without bias is extremely hard and a form of dassana.


From a Hegelian pantheistic point of view, I would say that no subject is necessary. If information is an innate aspect of matter, and awareness is simply the ability to process information, then awareness precedes the subject by quite a distance. The subject itself must coalesce and evolve.

To ground this physically, we can say that a colony of bacteria responds to a stimulus, and therefore has some kind of awareness, without having to consider any of the bacteria to be a conscious subject or to consider the collection of them a separate organism from the group of cells.

From a phenomenological/evolutionary point of view built on that observation, the subject does not truly exist until it encounters an 'Other', another source of logic than its own. If the flow of logic were unimpeded, and there were no tension between minds, there would be no need to concentrate observation and precipitate a subject.

Identity is only necessary in contrast with the 'All', and would not exist if there were only perfect mental harmony in the world, unimpeded by nonmental matter or the influence of other minds. Such a world could be aware but never contain subjects.

As it is, we can look back to a time when our own world would have shown awareness without yet having subjects.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.