The problem of consciousness is, notoriously, Hard.  However, it seems to me that much of the hardness is a result of the nature of the word itself.  “Consciousness” is a noun, an abstract noun, derived from an adjective: “conscious”.  And that adjective describes either a state (a person can be “conscious” or “unconscious” or even “barely conscious”) or a status (a person, or an animal, is said to be a “conscious” entity, unlike, for example, a rock).

But what must an entity be like to merit the adjective “conscious”?  What, properties must it possess?  Merriam-Webster gives as its first definition: “perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation doing, or be capable of doing”.  In other words, the properties of a conscious thing refer to its capacity to do something.  And, indeed, it is derived from a latin verb: the verb scire, to know.   In other words, “consciousness” may be better thought of as an abstract noun derived not from an adjective that describes some static attribute of an entity, but from one that implies that that entity is an agent capable of action.

And so, I will coin a new verb: to conch.  And I will coin it as a transitive verb: an entity conches something, i.e. is conscious of something.

Armed with that verb, I suggest, the Hard Problem becomes tractable, and dualism no more of an issue than the dualism that distinguishes legs and running.

And it allows us, crucially, to see that an animal capable of conching itself, and conching others as other selves, is going to be something rather special.  What is more, to be an animal capable of conching itself and others as selves will not only experience the world, but will experience itself experiencing the world.

It will, in a sense, have a soul, in Hofstadter’s sense, and even a measure of life beyond death in the conchings of other conchers.


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