Does it make sense to say that consciousness does not exist or there is no such thing? I've not taken any classes in reductionism, but it seems reductionst.

How would philosophy of mind and metaphysics look like if there was no such thing as consciousness? I don't mean "me", which I tend to think of as my body in time. Obviously "I" seem to have consciousness, but could that be a mistake?

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    It wouldn't look like anything. There would be nobody to see it. On zombie-world there would be no philosophy of mind. Nobody would know they had one.
    – user20253
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 10:55
  • ahh maybe @PeterJ
    – user35983
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 12:13
  • consciousness is just an awareness of thought. Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 15:31
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    Possible duplicate of How can consciousness be an illusion?
    – nwr
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 17:01
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    @PhilipKlöcking I can accept just about any argument about what conscioysness is.. Simulation.. shared ripples of the electromagnetic field, dualism ... even solipsism. but for a consciousness to deny its own existance is absurd. It follows also that since consciousness requires causality... It is absurd to deny that.. even the strongest idealists cannot deny the existence of consciousness.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 23:10

4 Answers 4


Those who deny consciousness, generally do so in the name of a science/empirical epistemological framework. This is a self-contradictory view.

In science, and it parent methodological naturalism, evidence is king. Evidence takes precedence over theory, and theories which conflict with evidence are to be tossed, not the evidence.

The most clear-cut of the Delusionist texts I have found is Blackmore's A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness. In it, she cites a variety of experiments on consciousness, that refute every materialist theory of mind that have been conceived. She also assumes that physics has proven materialism to be true, which then leaves her in a quandary. The way out she seizes is that many of the psych experiments she cites, not only bring materialist consciousness into question, they also bring the validity of our direct experience of consciousness into question as well. Her evidence for this second point is solid -- our internal understanding of our experiences can be and is sometimes in significant error.

So -- Blackmore's argument -- materialism is true, materialism cannot explain consciousness, and we are often confused about consciousness, therefore consciousness is not real -- is actually a credible piece of reasoning.

There are three serious problems with it. 1) Conscious experience is MORE fundamental as a datum than any other evidence we ever have. Dismissing the source of all data -- vitiates the entire data-based methodology that the delusionists supposedly ascribe to. 2) Delusionists must come up with a highly credible explanation for why we would have developed a delusion of consciousness. The first such suggestion was from Julien Jaynes, and he proposed consciousness was a parasitic memeplex that infected our brain hardware ~2000 BC, displacing a prior bi-cameral mind operating system. These explanations come across -- not as highly credible -- but as kooky conspiracy theory rantings ... David Chalmers considers this to be a major shortcoming of delusionists, and has dedicated an upcoming volume of the Journal of Consciousness Studies to this subject: https://philevents.org/event/show/64626 3) The initial assumption by Blackmore -- that materialism has been proven, is false. Materialism has actually been DISPROVEN. Energy has been shown to be more fundamental than matter, and information is an independent feature of the universe from both, and math appears to be even more fundamental than any elementary particles (fundamental physics is basically just math), and physics has been shown to be fundamentally open (all laws are only regularities, and are breakable gauge symmetries).

Sooo -- it is not IMPOSSIBE to make a valid case for delusionism relative to consciousness, BUT the cases made to date are woefully insufficient relative to the burden of evidence they carry to repudiate our basic source of data.

  • +1 but with a quibble. If you're right about this Blackmore is making a schoolgirl error. Empirical science has not and cannot prove materialism. It is an empirically-untestable metaphysical conjecture. She should know this so I wonder if you're right to say she doesn't. Mind you, given the state of scientific consciousness studies and philosophy of mind it wouldn't surprise me if she does make this mistake.
    – user20253
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 13:25
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    Blackmore is most impressed by the "proof" of causal closure of physics. Dennett cites conservation of energy. Churchland cites the consensus of serious philosophers. Their justificaiton for delusionism basically agrees with non-materialists that materialism cannot explain mind, then they reject the alternatives to materialism based on invalid rationales. As you note, this is a common failing in the field. I encountered it with ~30 different authors in this compilation: amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/…
    – Dcleve
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 13:54
  • Objection 2 is exaggerated. Dennet does give a credible reason for why we have what we perceive as consciousness that basically restates Jaynes without the distortion -- we are such social beings that we need to perceive our environment as if it were a story, so that when we relate to others we can put our experience in a transferrable form. Our interdependence causes us to record our experience in narratives. And the unifying narrative about the construction of narratives is the experience of consciousness.
    – user9166
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 18:03
  • Objection 1 begs the question. If you assume there is a most basic level of experience, instead of just multiple interlocking levels, you have decided consciousness exists without actually pursuing the question.
    – user9166
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 18:09
  • Objection 3 is irrelevant. Whether something is material, is not the criterion for deciding whether it exists, and your counter proof is an empty assertion, Relativity makes energy material, so the objection that energy is more basic makes no sense.
    – user9166
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 18:10

Dennett lays out such a philosophy of mind in 'Consciousness, Explained'. Consciousness is just memory, and memory is not formed immediately, nor is it fixed. So what we imagine consciousness to be: our actual experience of the present moment, does not exist. The data has gone into memory already before we can be aware of it, and it has been filtered extensively and altered already in being recorded. We never know how many times it has changed before we reference it. So it never represents 'now' and our experience of 'now' is not well-determined anyway.

For an overall theory of mind, we are better off looking very closely at how memory changes. He proposes a metaphor of evolving drafts of collections of stories as a more productive way of interpreting our overall experience, which contains the illusion of consciousness as a special case.

(The book gets trashed a lot. It is overly complicated because it is so highly contentious. And it therefore gets really dry. But the overall idea is worthwhile.)

  • I think... Like his aquaintance, Dawkins.. Dennett is misunderstood. Dennett is most certainly a monist.. a scientist and a pragmatic empiricist. He doesn't argue that consciousness doesn't exist... Only that what our brains cause us to perceive is very far removed from an ideal picture of reality.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 23:16
  • When I say monist... He does hold the belief that there are elements of reality which are made of literally nothing... Memes for example.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 23:19
  • @Richard 1) What you said does not disagree with what I said. So this is not a misunderstanding, you just don't like how I put it. 2) monist means absolutely nothing like what you are using it to mean.
    – user9166
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 23:27
  • I wasn't really criticising your answer.. more I thought.. adding context. I think we'll each have to look up the definition of monism... It has different meanings in different branches of philosophy.,
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 23:36
  • @Jobemark -- yes, Dennett, the Churchlands, and Blackmore all hold to a delusionist view of consciousness. They also all hold by both materialism, and memes. The role of memes in their worldview is both central, AND confused, as memes are causal -- yet they are not material. I did not address this in my reply, as it is somewhat tangential to the question. Blackmore is most explicit in laying out the argument for delusionism, so it was her approach, not Dennett's that I addressed in my reply.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 14:53

Reductionists that are denying consciousness without leaving any slight room for reinterpretation (which is what philosophy is all about) are either trying to be pretentious or are trying to map out the very corners of what is a logical conclusion of a materialist world view. The latter is fine and should be respected, because that way we can construct a better model of consciousness. Why that? Because we can all agree on one thing: We don't understand it consciousness very well.

That said, I believe there is much to be gained from looking at the purpose or context any one author or speaker arguing for a reductionist stance is referring to. The very construction of our language and thought is presumably way too much on the side of intentions and beliefs, which is interesting when we talk about punishment by law for instance. Meanwhile in social theory I tend to think there is too much reliance on cognition as a mechanism: Assume there is no consciousness and you run the risk of carrying over a reductionist axiom into any intellectual endeavour of social matters.

So in short: I think there is much to be gained in trying to construct a "language without action". There can be no doubt that wo often have a very naive view of our own intentions, and motives, that presumes far too much agency. But the denial of the observer of thought is mostly fruitless, I think.

As a slight footnote I find that Sartres Being and Nothingness can act as a well structured and concise version of Descartes Idealism and what it logically implies. That would be the hard counterpoint to materialism.


I believe a reductionist analyzes and describes a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents. But how do they know the thing they take as the fundamental constituents is actually fundamental? Without anything how do they understand it? Without consciousness does anything nothing work? There is no problem if you say that there is no such thing. But he who knows the Truth ONLY knows what it is and what the difference between knowledge and the realization of Truth is (which is nothing but Consciousness itself)

I believe a reductionist analyzes and describes a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents. But how do they know the thing they take as the fundamental constituents is actually utmost fundamental? Without anything how do they understand it? What must be stayed active before the reductionist tries to think of analyzing the fundamental constituents? Without consciousness does anything work? And who knows it? Don't you perceive this world with your sense organs. How is it possible to coordinate your sense organs and feel as you feel now. Would all the different aspects and coordination be possible with those myriads of fundamental constituents?

There is no problem at all if you say that there is no such thing. It is just because of misconceptions and the number of the realized are rare. Actually, he who realized the Truth ONLY knows what it is and what the difference between 'knowledge' and 'realization' of the Truth is (Truth, which is nothing but Consciousness itself). IMHO, we actually don't know what real existence is. It is because we are completely ignorant about such things, we are helplessly compelled to say so. (Watch the video for more details.)


I request you to watch this 13 mts' video and try to understand what Vivekananda announced about the 'significance of experience' after his own enlightenment experience. In this video you will also find the pure relation between the Guru and the disciple. Then you will be able to mull over consciousness which is 'the sole subject behind thought'. Since proofs for the words of those great men are available, we can't say that this is nonsense.


You may read this and confirm whether it is about a nothingness.


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