I'm aware there are a number of ways of defining if something is conscious or sentient. Such as the ability to experience qualia, or the ability to be aware you're experiencing qualia. Another theory I came across was to measure it on the ability to deal with counterfactuals, because (the theory goes), humans are the only animals to show the ability to deal with 'what-ifs' whereas other animals only deal with the facts as they are. I want to read further into this for an upcoming essay, but I've been unable to locate anything else on this idea. Please can someone direct me to papers/writers on the subject?

  • 2
    You could not locate it because counterfactuals are used to explain the content of mental states, not "consciousness" as in experience and qualia. It is a way to write off "consciousness" as an illusion while explaining how the mental can be functional in behavior, see Mental Causation: Counterfactual Dependence.
    – Conifold
    Jan 29 '20 at 13:08
  • That comment about animals is strictly not true. Many animals display clear problem-solving capacities that imply an understanding of counterfactuals. My favorite experiment involves crows, where if you put water in a long, narrow tube, out of reach of the crow's beak, the crow will pick up pebbles and drop them in the tube until the water level rises enough so it can drink. One might define higher reasoning by the capacity for counterfactuals, but not base consciousness. Jan 29 '20 at 17:00
  • Thank you Ted, but whether or not the theory and its supporting arguments are true, I'm still trying to find a source/citation for it.
    – Simon K
    Jan 29 '20 at 19:32

Your Answer

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

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.