Richard Marshall interviews Thomas K. Metzinger over at 3:AM Magazine:
3:AM: You’re interested in the philosophy of consciousness and the self.
TM: Yes, it is true that I have had a long-standing interest in consciousness. In 1994 I founded the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness together with Bernard Baars, the late William Banks, George Buckner, David Chalmers, Stanley Klein, Bruce Mangan, David Rosenthal, and Patrick Wilken. I hung around in the Executive Committee and various committees of the ASSC for much too long, even acted as president in 2010, but a couple of thousand e-mails and 19 conferences later it is satisfying to see how a bunch of idealists actually managed to create an established research community out of the blue. The consciousness community is now running perfectly, it has anew journal, brilliant young people are joining it all the time and my personal prediction is that we will have isolated the global neural correlate of consciousness by 2050. I also tried to support the overall process by editing two collections, one for philosophers and one of an interdisciplinary kind: Conscious Experience (1995, Imprint Academic) and Neural Correlates of Consciousness (2000, MIT Press)
In the beginning of the ASSC, foundational conceptual work by philosophers was very important, followed by a phase in which the neuroscientists moved in with their own research programs and contributions. Observing the field for more than a quarter century now, my impression is that what we increasingly need is not so much gifted young philosophers who are empirically informed in neuroscience or psychology, but more junior researchers who can combine philosophical metatheory with a solid training in mathematics. The first formal models of conscious experience have already appeared on the horizon, and as we incrementally move forward towards the first unified model of subjective experience there are challenges on the conceptual frontier that can only be met by researchers who understand the mathematics. We now need open minded young philosophers of mind who can see through the competing formal models in order to extract what is conceptually problematic – and what is really relevant from a philosophical perspective.
In the early Sixties it was Hilary Putnam who, in a short series of seminal papers, took Turing’s inspiration and transposed concepts from the mathematical theory of automata – for example the idea that a system’s “psychology” would be given by the machine table it physically realizes – into analytical philosophy of mind, laying the foundations for the explosive development of early functionalism and classical cognitive science. One major criticism was that some mysterious and simple “intrinsic” qualities of phenomenal experience exist (people at the time called them “qualia”) and that they couldn’t be dissolved into a network of relational properties. The idea was that there are irreducible and context-invariant phenomenal atoms, subjective universals in the sense of Clarence Irving Lewis (1929:121-131), that is, maximally simple forms of conscious content, for which introspectively we possess transtemporal identity criteria. But the claim was shown to be empirically false and nobody could really say what “intrinsicality” actually was.