It has been suggested (Rabinowitz) that people who are strict materialists about
consciousness are themselves not conscious in the same way as those who believe
there exists a 'hard problem' of consciousness (Chalmers).
We believe that (at least in those people who are conscious) the degree of consciousness
can vary e.g. when asleep, and that this probably has a biological basis (e.g. it can be
affected by drugs). Therefore it is entirely plausible to me that there is natural
biological variation in humans, in the degree to which they experience consciousness.
But on the other hand, it could be argued that subjective consciousness is entirely yoked to
certain cognitive processes. If this is the case, there could be no dissociation
between cognitive and subjective processes - i.e. if you're thinking, and possess
language, emotion and memory, then you are always subjectively conscious. However,
the only window we currently have into subjective consciousess is by verbal report.
Therefore this argument does not explain the fact that, by merit of their verbal
report, certain 'cognitively normal' individuals are, in fact, not conscious!
Consciousness and introspection seem to be perfectly made for each other, since the
nature of pure consciousness cannot (by definition) be accessed through any other
means, and consciousness is the only thing that can soley be explored by
introspection. This questionnaire is an empirical elaboration of introspection.
However it is true that a being with our all cognitive abilities, but without awareness
(a 'zombie') would be able to introspect too - it could never 'find out' that it was
unconscious - so this may well be a false lead.
According to a kind of 'private language argument', such individuals would believe
and report that they were consciousness, despite some very-hard-to-measure paucity of
I proceed by (perhaps falsely) assuming that although
zombies don't know that they are, we can somehow find out by careful questioning about
how they interpret consciousness-related terms.
If there is in fact a variation in the amount or quality of consciousness between
individuals, we could attribute it to cultural, social, genetic, or physiological
differences. But at present it is very difficult to dissociate these factors,
i.e. how much of our attitudes and beliefs towards consciousness are actually nurture
rather than nature.
This questionnaire aims to separate out our beliefs and ideas about consciousness
(that is, the cultural and conditioned component) from our actual, qualitative
experience of what it is like to be conscious.
These questions use the word 'consciousness' to mean subjective experience,
being-there, i.e. something common to everything you feel.
Some of the questions are deliberately vague, and you will probably find that your
answers severely misrepresent your beliefs! But please, don't be put off.