Is it also in the view that it is illusion that I am conscious?

Is it possible that one is in illusion that he is conscious, but actually he is not conscious?

Can consciousness be illusion as some philosopher, in more details hold a position, and explain it?

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    In a sense, having an illusion présupposés being conscious. So consciousness being an illusion is meant in a different sense than hallucinating, let's say.
    – Nikos M.
    Sep 24, 2022 at 20:30
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    Indeed consciousness could be illusion termed as "hyperbolic thought" position by pragmatist Pierce in western philosophical tradition such as the famous Descartes' "evil demon conjecture": I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth...all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things... This is reminiscent of Shankara's poem: I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self... Sep 24, 2022 at 22:23
  • @DoubleKnot I would appreciate seeing an answer from you about this.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 13:02
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    @ScottRowe if you replace "conscious" with "exist" then the answer immediately becomes the famous Descartes' dictum Sep 26, 2022 at 1:12

6 Answers 6


In a view that consciousness is illusion, what does statement "I am conscious" mean?

To say that consciousness is an illusion presumably mean that being conscious is illusory and that therefore it is never true that we are conscious.

Now, given that I am conscious of my own mind and that I know that I am conscious of my own mind, I can safety deduce that consciousness is not an illusion. So, from the ventage point of my own consciousness, the view that consciousness is an illusion is absurd.

The word "conscious" can be used and is often used to mean "conscious of the real world". Thus, we could perhaps explain the argument that consciousness is illusory by saying that it is based on confusing the statement "I am conscious" with the statement "I am conscious of the real world". Our belief that we are conscious of the real world is certainly illusory, at the very least to a large extent, but this does in no way make the knowledge that we are conscious of our own mind illusory.

Thus, people who argue that consciousness is illusory probably understand the statement "I am conscious" as meaning "I am conscious of the real world".

This seems to be the only way to make sense of the view that consciousness is illusory.

  • 1
    You should read Dennett's Consciousness Explained, or the much quicker and more straightforward Blackmore's, A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness, before answering. They argue that we are not conscious, and your belief that you are is not trustworthy, but is a delusion. I agree with you they are wrong, but the questioner did not ask that, only what the statement means in their framework.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 14, 2022 at 12:52
  • @Dcleve "only what the statement means in their framework" See my edited answer. Oct 14, 2022 at 17:23
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    @Dcleve I think that the assertion that we are not conscious is a result of definitional drift. "I have this experience, let's call it consciousness." "Okay, what do you think that consciousness is." "Well, it's like X, Y, and Z." "Okay, well testing suggests it's less like Z and more like A." "Oh, well I guess I'm not conscious then." At the beginning, we assigned the word to the thing, but when the thing no longer looked like our early post-naming inferences, we say that the thing isn't real, instead of saying we mis-defined it somewhere along the line. See Free Will.
    – Jedediah
    Oct 19, 2022 at 16:19
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    Why would we accept the testimony of someone who asserts that he himself is not conscious? A ouija board is as authoritative, or a computer program like Eliza. Disavowing that we exist is not a convincing strategy.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 20, 2022 at 0:52
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    @Dcleve "you explicitly claim that you KNOW with CERTAINTY" This is patently false. I said "I know Dennett's view is false", not I knew with certainty that Dennett's view is false. 2. "the data cited by the delusionists demonstrates that You CANNOT have valid certainty of first person evidence." You don't understand first-person experience. 3. You still haven't answered my question: What does Dennett say that deluded people think consciousness is? I have to guess Dennett doesn't say. He doesn't because he is not talking about consciousness. He talking about a strawman. Oct 21, 2022 at 10:09

Your confusion is understandable

That we are conscious, appears to be innately true. If one wants to build a model of our world, then one needs to start with experiences and perceptions, and build out from there. This is the basic foundationalist approach to understanding our world, and the undeniability of consciousness is intrinsic to this methodology.

But philosophy is often complex, and subtle

HOWEVER, philosophers of science have realized that "Theory is always underdetermined by evidence", IE every theory can in principle accommodate all apparently refuting evidence, if one constructs a sufficiently complex rationale or justification for doing so. And this is also the case for consciousness.

There are two categories of thinkers I have encountered who reject the reality of consciousness and selfhood. Both start with a worldview, and the dismissal of consciousness as a delusion is based on the assumption that the worldview is correct, and the dismissal of the APPARENT evidence of consciousness is fully justified by the necessary "truth" of the world view.

Non-duality asserts delusionism

The more venerable of these views is that of non-duality, in the Vedic tradition. The most common version of this view holds that reality is consciousness, and that there is a single consciousness that creates everything in the universe. And while we think we are different consciousnesses than the Mind at Large, we are mistaken -- we actually spawned off of MAL, and when we overcome our delusion of separateness, duality, we will re-merge into MAL.

Variations of Buddhism take this thinking even further and declare that consciousness/non-consciousness is another false duality, and the fundamental nature of our universe is nothingness, not consciousness.

WHY we have these delusions -- why they are stable and seem to be useful -- is not something I have never seen a good explanation for from non-dualists. The thinking is, instead, that mystics have discovered the true non-dual reality, and THAT we are deluded is a fact. Explanations for why that fact may happen to be stubbornly denied by people, are not as important as that it is "real".

There are also materialist delusionists

The second set of delusionists I have encountered are much more recent. They are a set of materialists who have realized that the "hard problem of consciousness" has resisted over a century and a half of materialist efforts to resolve it, because it cannot be resolved. Their approach is:

  • Materialism has been shown to be true of our world
  • The hard problem of consciousness cannot be resolved in a materialist model
  • Therefore, the reality of the data of consciousness must not be valid, because materialism is more trustworthy than consciousness

There are at least four good references for this POV. The dean of the movement is Daniel Dennett, and his very dense "Consciousness Explained". A second leader is Daniel Wegener, with "The Illusion of Conscious Will". A less dogmatic summary, that doesn't offer a worldview, but implies one, is David Eagleman's "Incognito". The absolute best of this set is the last, and shortest: Blackmore's "A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness". Blackmore explains the empirical data that refutes all of the materialist models of mind, and explicitly (rather than implicitly, like Dennett and the others) argues that because materialism is certain, that must be dismissed. I review Blackmore here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1C1TJFIWBZ8ZQ/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0198794738

While this may strike many of us as a very implausible argument, the Delusionists cite a fair amount of evidence to show that we are often very WRONG about how our consciousness works, and that illusions, delusions, fill-in, back dating, and flat out lies are features of what we tell ourselves about our consciousness. The inference that ALL of consciousness is a delusion, rather than just subsets of it, is a leap well beyond their data. But the argument that subsets of it are delusions DOES thoroughly savage any "we MUST trust the truth of conscious experience/claims" arguments. NO we can't trust our consciousness!!!

Dennett's model is that we are basically unconscious meat machines, and that the illusion of consciousness is created as an accidental byproduct when our self-machine writes its short-term memory into long-term memory. I.E. we have a created, and backdated MEMORY of being conscious, but never actually were. He holds that our meat-machine selves use that memory for interpreting the past and planning for the future, so the backdating and illusion are important to our algorithmic self to maintain a time-valid model of our past, to project into the future. This is a complex model and is an example of how ANY theory can be reconciled in principle to any facts with a complex enough kluge.

However, Dennett's model leaves out a major question -- "WHY would the backdating etc. involve the creation of qualia and experience, when they never happened in reality?". This is a slightly different restating of the Hard Problem of Consciousness, and Dennett does not have an answer, which actually leaves him too, unable to address the Hard Problem. Blackmore's simpler solution "we aren't conscious" is the cleaner approach for materialist Delusionists.

Now to answer your questions

So much for the background, now to your questions:

  • What does the statement "I am conscious" mean?

Its meaning, for delusionists, is that one is still enmeshed in the delusion, and the statement is simply false, but the speaker does not realize this.

  • Is it also in the view that it is illusion that I am conscious?

Yes, all of these views would hold that selfhood, "I", is an illusion. And all but the Mind at Large thinking would hold that not only is your consciousness an illusion, but so is all consciousness.

  • Is it possible that one is in illusion that he is conscious, but actually he is not conscious?

Yes, for the Buddhists. They hold that we are not conscious, because nothing is. The other Vedic hold that "he" is the illusion.

Yes also for the Delusionist materialists.

  • Can consciousness be illusion as some philosopher, in more details hold a position, and explain it?

I tried to summarize the explanations. They are coherent. They may not be convincing if one does not accept that their assumed worldview is correct.

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    I'm all for: "we don't understand our consciousness", but going on from there to make any statements about it seems the most basic sort of error. If I said I don't understand a jet engine, I'm in no position to say it doesn't exist, or is a delusion. People seem to routinely overreach in their frantic attempts to know things. Saying "I don't know" is not knowledge. Nonduality at least accepts an inability to know as a starting point.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 20, 2022 at 0:44
  • @Dcleve "the Delusionists cite a fair amount of evidence to show that we are often very WRONG about how our consciousness works," How is that relevant? We are often very wrong about how reality works. Should that be taken to imply that the reality is an illusion? Oct 20, 2022 at 17:04
  • @Dcleve "the illusion of consciousness is created as an accidental byproduct when our self-machine writes its short-term memory into long-term memory. I.E. we have a created, and backdated MEMORY of being conscious, but never actually were." I don't understand. Do you? A memory of being conscious?! How is that supposed to work? You seem to have understood... But can you explain? Oct 20, 2022 at 17:11
  • @Dcleve "he second set of delusionists I have encountered" If we are delusional about consciousness according to Dennett and Co., what does Dennett say that deluded people think is consciousness? If we are deluded about something, we take it for something else. But what? In a mirage in the desert, we mistake light (reflecting on layers of warm air) for water. Yet, water does exist. It seems that Dennett doesn't even know what supposedly deluded humans mistake their "backdated memory" for. Do you? You claim to "know something" about Dennett's worldview. So, go on, explain. Oct 20, 2022 at 17:24
  • @Speakpigeon -- many thinkers about consciousness consider our experiences to be directly accessible to us, and undeniable. Delusionists cite lots of data showing this is not the case -- our experiences are NOT trustworthy, they are instead crafted stories presented from our unconscious "meat machine" neural processors to our conscious selves. Delusionists would not accept this description, as they deny consciousness, and are hostile to this dualist approach. But their data shows that much of what we think is happening in our experience is "deliberately" misleading.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 20, 2022 at 17:25

To answer such a question we have to begin by trying to build a systematic theory of how to assign meaning to propositions in general, in a materialist world.

To do that, we need to look at the brain itself that is making the statement. There is a certain pattern of neural activity in the brain corresponding to a thought such as "I am conscious." The brain began the "I am conscious" pattern of activity because it first had another pattern of activity, which we may analyze as several smaller patterns coming together, which caused the second one.

If we could understand how the smaller patterns of activity come together to form the "I am conscious" pattern of activity, then we could understand why (causally) the brain is thinking, "I am conscious."

Then we can ask about what else the brain may think, as a result of initially having the "I am conscious" pattern of activity. If we understand this, we understand how thinking "I am conscious" influences the rest of our thinking.

There are essentially two types of meaning to think about in this context.

  • The "upstream" meaning of a thought X, is the way that other thoughts can combine and lead us to think X. In other words, the upstream meaning is how we can derive X. In formal logic, it would correspond to an introduction rule for X.
  • The "downstream" meaning of a thought X, is the way that X can combine with other thoughts to lead us to still other thoughts. In other words, the downstream meaning is what can be derived from X. In formal logic, it would correspond to an elimination rule for X.

If we can understand both how we derive X, and how other thoughts can be derived from X, then we understand the causal relationships of X to all the other possible thoughts. And certainly the meaning of X depends entirely on these causal relationships.

So, what is the upstream meaning of, "I am conscious"? These would be states of mind or ideas - patterns of neural activity - and the ways they combine to lead a person to make the assertion that they are conscious.

Any specific perception the person experiences leads them to think they are conscious. For example, if they are looking at a toothbrush, the pattern of neural activity that means, "I am looking at a toothbrush" can help lead to the pattern of neural activity that means, "I am conscious." Aside from toothbrushes, "I smell something rotten," "I am happy," "There's a blue circle," and so on, all have the same effect of leading the person to conclude they are conscious.

So, we could summarize the upstream meaning of "I am conscious" in the following way: a person judges they are conscious if they first judge they have any sort of perceptual experience. This is the logical "introduction rule" for being conscious.

We might want to look a step farther upstream; what leads a brain to judge it has some perceptual experience? For this we can look at how photons strike the photoreceptors in the eye, activating the retina to process basic visual features, and sending those features down the optic nerve to the visual cortex, where the signals are processed to progressively higher-level features so they can be integrated into the brain's decision making process. The brain judges it has a perceptual experience if there is a pattern of activity, resulting from sensory stimulation, which the brain can use to guide its high-level decision-making.

What about the downstream meaning of "I am conscious"? Well, if a person thinks they are conscious, then as a result they would think they are capable of responding to new information and making decisions. They may also think that they have moral worth as a result of being conscious. These are logical "elimination rules" for being conscious.

  • It is interesting to see the "information processing" sense of it, with generating options, then pruning / selecting. I hadn't thought of it quite like that before. Maybe there is hope for AI?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 20:21
  • Is this an argument for epiphenomenalism? That thoughts of being conscious spawn the experience of consciousness, but consciousness is causally irrelevant, because the only causal actors are neurons? If so, epiphenomenalism is not generally treated as a “delusionist” view about consciousness existing, only delusionist about its effectiveness.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 20, 2022 at 5:22
  • @Dcleve It is not an argument for epiphenomenalism, although it may be compatible with epiphenomenalism. I'd say that minds are to the neurons in the brain as computer programs are to the voltage levels in the computer. Whether you say the minds or the programs "really" exist as physical objects with causal power, or whether you say they have only a dependent existence without causal power, or whether you say they are illusory and don't actually exist at all, it doesn't change the relationship minds:neurons::programs:voltages.
    – causative
    Oct 20, 2022 at 16:19
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    "Scientific realism", the idea that reduction to neurons is the "reality" of our world, and if one understands that, one can ignore our high level approximations like "consciousness", is considered "eliminative reductionism", not delusionism. Eliminative reductionism was considered refuted by multiple realizability by most philosophers of mind, back in the 70s. We have neurons die, reconnect, etc all the time, yet our selves stay stable. Instead, FUNCTIONS are what seems to matter, and functions can be realized by all sorts of different substrates, both neural, electronic, or mechanical.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 20, 2022 at 17:08
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    In 1994 Francis Crick published The Astonishing Hypothesis, and concurrently recruited a generation of neuroscientists with the vision of eliminative reductionism. There has been 3 decades of reductive neuroscience since, seeking the "neural correlates of consciousness". Note, this is not delusionism. The consequences of those three decades have been a LOT of progress understanding our neurology, but little or no progress in understanding consciousness. Neural reductionism seems to do a good job characterizing UNconscious processing, but consciousness has so far resisted the method.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 20, 2022 at 17:15

You are mixing up two states -- One is consciousness (non-dual state -- the real state) and the other is dual state of words or verbal forms of some great men after recollecting that/their experience. In pure consciousness, since it is ‘the one without a second’, one cannot even say anything about it while experiencing it (or when one realizes that the realizer is consciousness). Expressions (in verbal forms) are possible only in dual state.

Is it also in the view that it is illusion that I am conscious?

Yes. One can only make such a statement when in a illusion; even if he knows the truth.

  • I have had this experience. It is true that it can't be conveyed in words.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 12:33

These sort of questions always fascinate me, as perhaps abstract ways of finding the limits of what our awareness can reach. But they are not very practical.

A valuable way of thinking of illusion and the illusoryness of our experience is that it is hard to really grasp being. We should then understand and respect that our vision has limits, blind spots and so on, and instead work on getting around these and still accomplishing useful work.

When the Buddha, for example, was asked about impractical things, he would tend to not answer, or say that such discussion does not further serious matters. One thing I can say about you for certain is that your lifespan is finite, and you should give consideration to what you really want to accomplish with it.

Tackling hard mental problems can be part of that, but beware not to have it consume too much. It doesn't lead anywhere.

  • Another way of getting at this is to see your consciousness as the ability to simulate (and thus predict) other minds. If you can simulate another mind, you can simulate (give rise to) your own. It is an 'illusion', but a useful one.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 1:40
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    "When the Buddha, for example, was asked about impractical things, he would tend to not answer, or say that such discussion does not further serious matters" - If this is true it makes me think less of the Buddha, because it means his ego was too big to just say "I don't know."
    – causative
    Sep 25, 2022 at 6:46
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    @causative Knowing is often not the most important thing. Knowing what is worth knowing is always more important, and knowing how to avoid getting caught up in pointless, time wasting conversation is pretty important too. If one is an educator, part of what is taught are these two things, but at the least, spending more time on people who have more useful questions is better. Are there things on SE that you skip over?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 12:27
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    Scott, did the Buddha ever say "I don't know"? That would also avoid spending time on possibly pointless conversation, while demonstrating the virtue of humility.
    – causative
    Sep 25, 2022 at 17:17
  • @causative I don't know. Ba dum bum ba! Psh!
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 20:16

There's only one ultimate consciousness upon gradations of itself. If you can understand that every action is predestined "layed" and you can pre-appoint that data exactly without having a or being causality of such (i.e.study third party), than you can overcome some of such dressed up in a more desirable way if intents align. On the other hand also understanding that the "aimed" can not always be subjected for the fullest to the exact knowing of the layed when being actor because of a stressor upon eventhow when motivation is aligned one needs to carefully address the right stressors to achieve a desired outcome. Without outcome, you can't be aware of the flux between and are "free" to create versus to annotate/redirect when subjected to the layed of the objected subject(couldbeyourself). Having a better aim with the layed as wingman, annotate better with the layed as referee, consciousness with thee. In other words when knowing what have has odd to be and acknowledging with an alternative both conjunctioned for one outcome, one upper because of rebranched "if" "when" and "else" when no other metaphysical data could syntax upon the new acknowledgment which will be the new prime. Don't be sure that you get this. Something between hugging a Tree and writing a really long pyautogui.

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