Is the function of consciousness to act as an interface?
The mind-body problem – how conscious experience can arise from a physical system – is commonly taken to be the problem of how phenomenal properties could come to accompany psychological or behavioural functions, which, being functional and attainable by non-conscious entities in virtue of their physical features, are not viewed as part of the ‘hard problem’. This implies that there is a relation between the system constituted by the physical body negotiating the external world on the one hand, and conscious experience on the other, in which psychological features, such as beliefs and desires leading to action, are situated, conceptually and functionally, somewhere between these two realms. The alternative approach I will discuss takes the view that conscious experience, rather than being conceptualised as one step beyond psychological functions, in relation to the physical self, should be situated at the interface between the physical body and cognitive processes. Work in the field of experimental psychology, by Balleine and Dickinson (1998), provides empirical evidence consistent with this view. Dickinson and Balleine’s hypothesis is that the function of consciousness is to act as an interface, providing a means of interaction between bodily states and affordances in the external world, enabling rational, goal-directed action. My philosophical work on grounding rationality draws the same conclusion, providing support for Dickinson’s interface theory, Hedonic Interface Theory (HIT). Keywords: interface theory; consciousness; goal-directed action