Cartesian materialism, Zen,
The most common view of consciousness entails the
idea that things can come into or out of consciousness and that at any
time each person has “contents of consciousness”, as though
consciousness were some kind of container or space. This is Cartesian
materialism, “the view that nobody espouses but almost everybody
tends to think in terms of” (Dennett 1991 p 144). It can be seen in
such common phrases as “the contents of consciousness”,
“entering consciousness”, “the moment of awareness” and many
phrases are popular because consciousness seems like that. But
if people really think it is that way they should admit to being
Cartesian materialists and defend their position. Alternatively they
should stop using such misleading phrases and drop the idea that
anything can be said to be “in” consciousness “now”.
is difficult to drop because it seems so natural, but there are two
ways to do it. 1. The purely intellectual route (such as that taken by
Dennett) and 2. The route of personal transformation.
discuss this second route using the example of Zen. The practice of
Zen meditation and mindfulness leads to experience without a self who
has it, and without a time, now, at which it happens. Experience like
this makes it easy to drop Cartesian materialism and to explore
first-person science is not possible, but this example suggests that
first-person practice may have an important role to play in any
third-person science of consciousness.
Dennett, D.C. (1991) Consciousness
Explained. Boston and London; Little, Brown and Co.
Page created 10 November 2003
Last updated: Monday, 02 January 2017 16:30