I'm aware that there are differences in usage for 'sentience', 'consciousness', and 'awareness' as broadly covered (PhilSE)


  1. This question considers 'sentience' as the ability to have sensual perception.
  2. This question considers the mind as the mind part of the mind-body problem.


The first assumption of this question comes from Erwin Schödinger:

"So while the direct sensual perception phenomenon tell us nothing as to its objective physical nature (or what we usually call so) and has to be yet discarded from the outset as a source of information, yet the theorical picture we obtain eventually rests entirely on a complicated array of various informations, all obtained by direct sensual perception." - Schrödinger, 1967, p. 102

I take Schrödinger to mean that sensual perception cannot come from physical phenomena (which seems reasonable it is related to the explanation of emergence, at least this question supposes it). Thus, it seems this question takes Schödinger's thoughts for granted. Also, given the broader discussion over the mind-body relation, this question seems to assume that the mind exists, is not reducible to lesser things, has a causal effect, and is not a physical phenomenon.


What I'd like answered is specifically about what philosophy has to say about the relationship between 'sentience', in the modern philosophical sense, and the received notions of 'mind'. If any individual has a mind does it imply that he has sentience and vice versa?

Schrödinger, E. (1967). What is life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell. Cambridge: University Press


2 Answers 2


Sentience, capable of sensing.

Consciousness, awareness of things. Often implied is self-consciousness or self awareness.

Studies on coma patients show some of their brains can respond to sounds, and this helps indicate which are more likely to wake up - it suggests at least less damage. So there is a degree of sentience there, sensing, reactivity, but not consciousness.

We aren't conscious when sleeping, but continue to be able to sense - we can be woken by noise or shaking. Anaesthesia can stop sensing and consciousness temporarily, without ceasing the capacity for these.

I would look to Global Workspace Theory to understand how the difference is one of architecture. Most of what our brain does happens autonomously, out of awareness. It is the unexpected, disruptions, surprises, that typically enter awareness, for action, greater awareness, and reconciling through attention of higher functions. To become conscious of them.

I like the Buddhist view, that mind arises at the 'gates', between world and mind. The external senses and the internal experience arise together. And other forms of awareness and mental process arise from there.

We can look to evolution to understand development of higher functions, like the connectome of c. elegans which has a specialised neuron for sensing self-other, builds towards proprioception, and a bicammeral mind with hemispheric specialisation of one half towards self one towards other, visual learning from mirror neurons to neocortex for social landscape as indicated by Dunbar number.

So, sentience can happen without integration - like dinosaurs with multiple brains. But for there to be a subject, a consciousness, that involves integration, and higher processing.

  • "So, sentience can happen without integration - like dinosaurs with multiple brains.", What about octopi? Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 12:02
  • Also, even you answer is interesting, I was thinking more about a individual that is sentient/concience in a atemporal sense. Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 12:05
  • @ErdelvonMises: Yes I nearly mentioned octopuses (it's Greek root not latin) who's tentacles do act autonomously - but clearly they integrate, & are highly coordinated. Humans have additional nerve-centres too, like the solar plexus, & the gut-brain axis is proving significant in medicine of mood-disorders. Snails would be a better example, with separate clusters of ganglia newscientist.com/article/… Atemporal..? What, souls or something? How can a dynamic activity, sensing & reacting, happen without time
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 13:15
  • I am refering in a no physicalist/materialist sense of Consciousness. Commented Oct 23, 2021 at 3:17
  • @ErdelvonMises: If consciousness is metaphysical, how does it affect matter? Do you think minds can violate entropy, like Maxwell's demon?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 23, 2021 at 13:14

This answer has several parts.

First, you are misinterpreting Schrodinger. He is not denying that perception can come from matter, he explicitly leaves that open (nothing can be "discarded" yet, and no inference as to its ultimate source is yet valid either). Instead, he is just outlining the starting point for all our worldview IS our first-person and immediately experienced perceptions. The buildup of a "theory of the world" and "theory of other minds" is a complex inferential process, resting on this perceptual foundation. Whether identity theory, delusionism, or some other materialist view of mind can explain this process, or not, is still open.

Second -- YES, Schrodinger assumes that mind exists in this quote. For there to be "perception" there has to be a "perceiver". However, before running with this insight, hold for a bit. Thinking on the philosophy of mind has advanced a bit since Schrodinger's book, and so has the process of neurology, and its insights into our unconscious minds. It is better now to distinguish between experiencing, and perceiving. Perceiving is of SELECTED information, ORGANIZED and HIGHLIGHTED for our consciousness, by our unconscious minds. Our vision, for example, is not of the pixels that our eyes receive, but those pixels are grouped, using edge detection algorithms, and clumped into recognizable objects, and those objects are prioritized if they are moving, and particularly if they twig the "face" category, etc. For hearing -- continual background sounds are zeroed out for us, so that we can hear subtle changes, and baby/infant crying immediately catches our attention, etc. Here are two philosophic references that discusses the details of how our neural networked brains do information digestion for us. (See The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul and Astonishing Hypothesis The Scientific Search for the Soul.) These are both eliminative materialists, who try to dismiss the reality of consciousness, but their info on the nature of the UNconscious processing our brains do, prior to perceptions entering our conscious awareness, is highly relevant. As perceptions are highly post-processed, they have a higher theoretical, interpretive, and inferential content, and perceptions are not what you should be focusing on, as they are neither simple nor direct. Quales, in contrast, are what we experience. They are basically how our unconsciousness presents these digested perceptions to our consciousness. Some quales are experiential, others are organizational.

What this discussion shows is that perception, mind, and consciousness are not simple or non-equivocable terms. And doing reasoning with these sorts of unclarified terms, will likely lead to invalid reasoning. One should instead focus on quales and experience, as they explicitly require an experiencer. And also look at the creation of a theater by our unconscious mind, for our consciousness. These are the two clarified terms which can do some of the work you are hoping for to make an anti-physicalist argument.

Neither quales, nor this theater-producer/viewer relation between unconsciousness and consciousness, are comfortable concepts for materialist views of consciousness. And they are easily accommodated with an interactive dualist view. BUT -- this quote DOES NOT preclude that a physicalist model could be found that could work. As Quine noted, theory is ALWAYS underdetermined by evidence! So no it does not presume anti-physicalism. Nor does it presume causation for mind, nor irreducibility for quales.

However, according to Jaegwon Kim, the 50 years of philosophic investigation of reductionism and quales subsequent to Schrodinger's book have shown them to be irreducibly non-physical. (See Physicalism, or Something Near Enough) And evolutionarily thinking about consciousness readily shows that it must be causal. (See "William James and the Evolution of Consciousness".) But these are arguments which must be constructed, they are not obvious upon inspection from the quote. Combine then with the theater construction, and the experiencer, and you can make some progress in your project.

  • But how I know that I have qualia? Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 14:14
  • That we have qualia, is an exception to the indirect realism that Schrodinger assumes for most of the world. We have direct realism access to the reality of qualia. We also have direct realism access to basic reasoning. We use qualia, and basic reasoning, to infer everything else, the "theoretical picture we obtain eventually". I distinguish between qualia and perception, because some of that inference is being done unconsciously, and is embedded in what we "perceive".
    – Dcleve
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 17:28
  • So, If any individual has a mind does it imply that he has qualia and vice versa? Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 18:07
  • Awareness of qualia seems to be central to consciousness. Mind -- is a broader term, and we can do lots and lots of our "mind" activities unconsciously, which seems to mean "without qualia". Thinking Fast and Slow has a good discussion of the massive amount of "mind" activity we do unconsciously, with system 1.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 18:50
  • 1
    @JD That should be the default presumption for almost any empirical questions in areas which are not settled consensus. To clarify, I was speaking of what Schrodinger said, not my own beliefs. I consider functionalism, delusionism, and identity theory all to be refuted by test -- and the less widely held materialist models of consciousness to be increasingly implausible -- as they are symptoms of the desperation of an increasingly regressive Physicalist Research Programme (to use Lakatos's terms). If physicalism is to be credible, it must somehow incorporate pluralism and emergence.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 7:25

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