Symbolic Conscious Experience

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Tattva Journal of Philosophy, Volume 9, Issue 1, p.1-12 (2017)



Brain; Language; Measurement; Plasticity; Reality; Syntax


Inspired by the eminently successful physical theories and informed by commonplace experiences such as seeing a cat upon looking at a cat, conscious experience is thought of as a measurement or photocopy of given stimulus. Recognizing the symbolic nature of reasoning as the nature of conscious experience in general, here we put forward symbolic conception of conscious experience as a refinement of the photocopy model of conscious experience. Conscious experience, unlike a photocopy, is symbolic—like language—in that the relation between conscious experience and physical stimulus is analogous to that of the word "cat" and its meaning, i.e. arbitrary and yet systematic. We present arguments against the photocopy model and arguments for a symbolic conception of conscious experience. Learning and the corresponding plasticity of the brain make a strong case for the symbolic conception of conscious experience, while many extra-ordinary conscious experiences argue against the formalization of consciousness as a measuring device. The notions of place-value notation and grammar, which organize quantitative measurements and conscious experiences in the medium of numbers and language, respectively, are suggested as model systems for putting together a comprehensive theory of conscious experience