I am not the first to ask that question. There is at least the article written by William James with that very same title in:

The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 1, No. 18 (Sep. 1, 1904), 477-491.

I will not regurgitate his entire argument here, but very briefly, James rejects "consciousness" as an entity, and acknowledges it as a function, more commonly the function known as knowing.

Building on from that foundation, I want to ask a very simple question:

Is there any difference between consciousness of red (knowing red) and red? In other words is there any unknown red? Isn't consciousness entirely redundant?

  • Concsiousness is not the same as possibility to know. At least not everyone will agree with it. And it is possible for different people to experience colors differently.
    – rus9384
    Jun 3, 2018 at 11:27
  • Aren't you proving consciousness exists by simply reading this? Also, if you're looking for a difference in "Red" and "Knowing Red", the former is the existing object whereas the latter is your brain's interpretation of said object. Jun 4, 2018 at 0:04
  • @SydneySleeper You are saying that consciousness is the explanation for red. That does not add to the description of red, does it?
    – Baby Boy
    Jun 4, 2018 at 2:16
  • Your question says that 'red' depends on consciousness, which seems correct. So how can consciousness be redundant? If you can see red then you have proved consiousness. (James' view is common. Various sages say that 'knowing' is fundamental).
    – user20253
    Jun 4, 2018 at 9:55
  • We fall into the idea of 'atomic' experiences, of simple quales and only then processing and interpretation. But interpretation shapes perception eg pnas.org/content/114/52/13840 We project expectations, and fit perceptions to.
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 4, 2018 at 10:14

5 Answers 5


There is a kind of epistemological ‘duality’ to our thinking about consciousness.

In 'The Puzzle of Conscious Experience', the philosopher David Chalmers describes the 'Easy Problem of Consciousness' as the question of how a cognitive agent is able to perceive things and be aware of things. This would also include awareness of self: self-awareness. This 'easy' problem seems perfectly solvable through the normal scientific methods: it is indeed conceivable that future cognitive science and neuroscience theories will provide a very good, if not complete, explanation as to how it is that such an agent perceives things in its environment, react to it, think about it, etc. Indeed, notice that this is all about functionality and causality: how, for example, the brain mediates between sensory input and motor output; how information is represented and processed, etc. And functionality is the bread and butter of science. And, reading your post, apparently James looks at consciousness from this perspective as well, when he sees consciousness as a function.

However, what David Chalmers calls the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' is why all this functionality is accompanied by the qualitative subjective experience of consciousness. Indeed, imagine a robot driven by some algorithm and equipped with sensory devices and actuators that allows it to perceive objects in its environment, track them, react to them, plan things about them, etc. Clearly they are aware in the 'easy' sense of awareness ... but are they consciously experiencing anything? Do they have a sensation of 'red' the way we do? Or do they just react in just the 'right' ways? And if they are conscious ... why? Where does it come from? Another 'hard' question: What purpose does consciousness serve? Why do we have subjective qualitative experiences, if the 'wirings' of the brain provides us with the functionality to ensure that we can react to our environment in all the 'appropriate ways'? And note, our brains process all kinds of information unconsciously ... and we act on the results of those processes ... so what does being conscious do for us?

At this point I would like to mention the bizarre phenomenon of 'blindsight': humans who have the condition of blindsight .... are blind ... and have sight! What?! Well, they have 'sight' in all the respects of vision that we can 'easily' explain: they can react to objects and movement in their visual field in all the 'right' ways. But, at the same time they have no conscious awareness of what they see: they are 'blind'. And this really raises the 'hard' question: why are they not conscious of that particular perception? So again, why is there even consciousness, when a phenomenon like blindsight seems to demonstrate you don't need it?

It is here, I think, that we can start to address some of your questions: 'What is the difference between a conscious experience and an experience?'; Why 'add consciousness?'; 'Isn't consciousness redundant?'. Well, I think the case of blindsight, and indeed the general duality between 'easy' accounts of experience, and 'hard' accounts of experience, comes into play. For example, we can talk about blindsight people having an experience, in the sense that they 'know' that something is there. But, clearly do not have a conscious experience. Indeed, when we talk about ‘experience’, we can do this from the ‘easy’ point of view by talking about functionality, but we can also talk about the ‘conscious experience’ from the ‘hard’ point of view, which refers to the subjective, qualitative sensations that accompany that functionality.

  • @Bram1290 What is the difference between a conscious experience and an experience? Why add conscious? That is the whole gist of my question.
    – Baby Boy
    Jun 4, 2018 at 7:21
  • @BabyBoy Updated my post ...
    – Bram28
    Jun 4, 2018 at 12:45
  • @BabyBoy OK, I think I finally understood what you were asking ... I did a major edit of my post, leaving out much what was actually not relevant to your question.
    – Bram28
    Jun 4, 2018 at 16:05

You are asking several questions:

1 Does consciousness exist? Yes, it is a "process" that exists, at different levels, in the brains of animals.
2 Is there any difference between consciousness of red and red? Yes, consciousness of red requires a brain, red - does not.
3 Is there any unknown red? Yes, Blind at birth persons do not know red.
4 Isn't consciousness entirely redundant? No, it is the "process" that allows you to be aware of and interact with your surroundings!

  • where does red exist outside of a brain?
    – nir
    Jun 5, 2018 at 7:54
  • 3
    Red as a quale is not distinguishable from the consciousness of red. And scientific descriptions of "red" are correlations, but not definitions, of 'external' redness. You should read up on Quine and The Myth of the Given of Sellars'. Only then, Putnam, Brandom, and MacDowell can be the next step. After having read them, you will become aware that point two is very dubious at best. Regarding the rest, although completely missing any explanation and reference and thus being a bad fit for the site in the current form, I can concede.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 5, 2018 at 9:17
  • 1
    consciousness of red requires a brain.... Brain requires bread (to function), bread requires wheat. How far can you go to suspend philosophy on natural science or agriculture?
    – ttnphns
    Jun 5, 2018 at 15:09

Wow, you blew my mind. You got straight to the point:

Is there any difference between consciousness of red (knowing red) and red?

No there isn't any difference between consciousness of red and red. This idea is called non-duality in Buddhism and in Advaita Vedanta philosophy.

There is no watcher watching a red perception, the watching and the "watched" perception are one in consciousness.

ordinary mind that is reified as a subject does not exist, and so phenomena are resolved within original purity. The nonduality of objects and mind is realized to be the basic space of the naturally manifest display of awakened mind. - The Precious Treasury of The Way of Abiding p.215, by Longchen Rabjam, circa 1350 A.D.

This is also why in Tibetan Buddhism consciousness is often called self-knowing awareness. in a way, the red color in consciousness knowing itself.

This is typically a hard pill to swallow for rational people, since it throws out of the window the intuition of dividing reality into objects and subjects - in this case demanding the existence of a watcher.

Rang rig or rang gi rig pa can mean literally one’s own awareness or intrinsic awareness, but in most cases in this context it indicates the distinctive feature of innate awareness, which is that it knows itself, not dualistically as a subject knowing an object, but as knowing itself by itself. This can only happen in the state beyond concepts, as conceptual mind always requires an object for cognition to occur. - The Royal Seal of Mahamudra p.301, by Kunga Tenzin, circa 1700 A.D., note by Gerardo Abboud

However in my opinion the term "knowing" used in this context is not really definable. It is used in a sense akin to watching or directly witnessing, and not the sense of the word as when one says he knows English or a particular tune, or that he knows he should be back home before midnight, and the term knowing is problematic even in its day to day ordinary use.

Isn't consciousness entirely redundant?

No, consciousness is not redundant since it is the entire "movie", not the "redundant" watcher of the movie.

There is nothing but consciousness.

Hang on to that problem, the mysterious non-duality of red and the watching of red. Keep at it again and again and again. This is the miracle all mystic traditions point to.

Does consciousness exist?

Once you realize the mysteriousness of it, you will come to see that it transcends any attempt to conceptualize it. this is why in Hindu Advaita Vedanta, and in Tibetan Buddhism it is said that consciousness cannot even be said to exist or to not exist.

Lord of the gods, you are the abode of the universe. Changeless, you are what is and what is not, and beyond the duality of existence and nonexistence. - The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaran, p.199

Note that in the quote above Prince Arjuna speaks to Krishna that represents God, Brahaman, and the essence of consciousness, the soul, Atman, that are considered to be one and the same in Advaita Vedanta.

For me personally, I would tend to say that consciousness is the origin of the concept of "existence" - its "definition" by one example.

EDIT: Added a few references.

  • Just FYI; I'm interested in seeing the references you mentioned.
    – H Walters
    Jun 12, 2018 at 2:11
  • Added a few references.
    – nir
    Jun 13, 2018 at 19:08
  • and cheers for the vic20 ready screen!
    – nir
    Jun 13, 2018 at 19:53

Consciousness is a confusing term and has different meanings for different people (please see Consciousness – Zeman A).

In your case, I think you probably mean conscious experience/awareness of the color red. If so, there is a difference between the conscious experience/awareness of the color red and the color red (or the color red quale).

The color red (to be exact, the color red quale) in your mind is created by the color perception neural process, while the conscious experience/awareness of the color red is created by the re-entrant and synchronization between the consciousness neural process and the color perception neural processes that create the red color (please see section 3.3 quale and conscious experience).

Disturbances in the color perception neural process can affect the color red (such as make it loss of color [achromatopsia] or make it a complete defect [scotoma]), while disturbances in the consciousness neural process will not affect the color red per se but affect the overall perception of the color red [such as make one intensely aware or minimally aware of the color red).

  • Conscious experiences (and awareness) are not redundant phenomena. They have physical effects. For example, normally, you don’t have conscious experiences of the level of sodium, O2, hormones, etc. in your blood. If you need to have conscious experiences of these blood levels, you need additional neural processes to do this. Having additional neural processes unavoidably have some effects. Thus conscious experiences of something always have additional effects when compared with not having them (please see section 6.4 Effects of consciousness).
    – user287279
    Jun 3, 2018 at 13:51
  • You are telling me about some beliefs you have around the experience of red. However, experienced red is not dependent on any beliefs. The beliefs are redundant.
    – Baby Boy
    Jun 4, 2018 at 7:16
  • What I told you are evidence-based scientific findings. There are a lot of studies on this matter. You can easily search them in the net, for example, ref 1 and ref 2.
    – user287279
    Jun 4, 2018 at 7:53

I don't know. I'm guessing consciousness works something like this which I don't quite know how to explain. The axiom of choice states that for ever set of nonempty sets, there is a function that assigns to each of those sets one of its members. It turns out the axiom of choice is not a theorem of ZF. I have a feel for how it's possible that it's not true. Similarly, I also have a small bit of feel for other abstract thinking. Some properties the normal usual intuitive theories that there are no objects that have. However, I sometimes have a small bit of abstract thinking in another theory and feel like I'm conceiving of one specifically. Of course, on paper, you can work in the formal system of a usual intuitive theory where you can prove that no object satisfying that property exists. You can of course also create a different formal system that lets you invent the sentence "This is an object satisfying those properties."

Of course, you feel like the formal system of a usual intuitive theory is distinct from its meaning. However, when you report your experience, you find reporting your experience is a computable process. When you are reporting that you feel the meaning of the formal system, your brain is really working in a stronger formal system and making a calculation in the stronger system. What properties do you claim the meaning of the formal system has? I think what your brain is really doing is copying the actions of a stronger formal system and just inventing the sentence "This object has those properties." without actually conceiving of one specifically.

I have a small bit of actually thinking in other systems. You of course can define my consciousness according to which formal system it doe calculations in. But I feel like I'm actually conceiving of one specifically. You can define that the formal system the brain is doing calculations in is the consciousness. Then what do you find that the formal system itself can do? It can invent the sentence "This object has those properties." And then it can show that the object itself is a real existing strange and wierd entity distinct from any Godel numbers of any statements describable in its formal representation.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .