I'm going to try briefly to intervene in a debate between Daniel Dennett and Thomas Nagel on consciousness, spurred by Nagel's review of Dennett's From Bacteria to Bach and Back in the March 9 New York Review of Books. Dennett maintains (putting it simplistically) that human consciousness is an illusion, or some kind of misinterpretation of neural processes. Nagel holds that the reality of subjective experience ought not to be or cannot be denied (setting up this whole thing this simply is unfair to the full-blown philosophies).
Nagel says (over and over) that his position is the 'natural' one, by which he means it's the obvious intuitive pre-theoretical position that we all have. He expresses the natural, intuitive position like this: "When I look at an American flag, it seems to me that there are red stripes in my subjective visual field." This is wacky, I believe, more or less the most 'unnatural' or theoretically-laden sentence ever produced. Next time you're at a high school football game or something and they play the national anthem, elbow the soccer mom next to you and ask her whether it seems to her that there are red stripes in her subjective visual field. The response is, or ought to be, 'What's wrong with you? Are you okay?' Or ask her to point to the red stripes, and see if she points to her forehead, or indeed to her subjective visual field, floating on an exoplanet somewhere, maybe. No, Tom, the red stripes are out there, on that piece of cloth, located in the visible real-world football field not the subjective visual field. Then no doubt Mom pops up with 'Look they just apparently tackled sense-datum Bobby in my subjective visual field!' In my view, the football field, out there in the world, is also her subjective visual field.
For Nagel, what will happen is this: it will be as though an apparent finger will seem to her to rise into her subjective field, and will seem to extend in the apparent direction of the apparent red stripes in her subjective visual field. Of course, this is what we'd naturally say in a case like this, if there were any cases like this. Oh no! There's a mental image of truck in my sensorium bearing down on the mental image I'm having of my own body. It's going to be hard to jump out of the way, if that's what you think is happening. Fortunately, an image of a truck can't really do any harm to anything, so you'll be okay.
What appears 'natural' to philosophers is what they learned in grad school, and in this case what seems natural is classical rationalist and empiricist philosophy; I swear, Descartes' Meditations and Hume's Treatise of Human Nature are, for Thomas Nagel, nature; they are in fact the source for the inevitable, natural interpretation of everything (everything). Pretty soon, 'I am being appeared to redly,' or 'I am having a red patch in the upper left quadrant of my visual field' sound to you like things people could say, or would say, under prodding, or are simple statements of the only, the inevitable way we experience the world. I say J.L. Austin blew that up in 1955, and I say it was was a complete dead end in the history of philosophy: it explained nothing, and just ended you as a solipsistic consciousness camping out in your own visual field.
But, I also think Dennett is haunted by the same spooks, though trying for an exorcism. He thinks the consciousness is or must be or would be the sort of thing Nagel or Descartes thinks it is. He does well to notice that it does not exist or that, if it does, it explains nothing, etc. So he bites the bullet. I think the beginning of a way out, is 'content externalism' or the 'extended mind thesis.' But I try to develop full-scale alternatives to this miserable apparent dilemma in Entanglements.
Cutting to the chase, what Dennett and Nagel share, what produces this fantastical dilemma (which we might just call 'modern philosophy') is the representational theory of mind, or the idea that we experience the world through the pictures in our head, which might then have to be conceived as neuron-firings or something to get anywhere in the vicinity of modern science. It is an optional view. It is a false view. It's the least natural, and the least naturalistic view that could be imagined. And it is a disastrous centuries-long philosophical mistake.