ESI Lecture by Thomas Metzinger

Minimal Phenomenal Experience: A new theory about pure consciousness “as such”

One classical approach to explaining a complex target phenomenon is to define a minimal model - for example, of conscious experience as such. Is “pure awareness” a form of phenomenal character sui generis, which cannot be reductively defined or subsumed under a higher-order concept, a distinct class of conscious experiences? Does it exist? In the spirit of Blanke and Metzinger (2009), who introduced the concept of “Minimal Phenomenal Selfhood” (MPS; TICS 13(1): 7-13) I am currently developing a research program targeting the notion of “Minimal Phenomenal Experience” (MPE; originally introduced by Windt 2015), which brings together philosophy of mind, the phenomenology of meditation, and a neurocomputational model of “pure consciousness”. The talk will sketch a predictive processing model of MPE, derive some testable predictions, and present selected building blocks of what is very much a work in progress. One idea is that MPE exists, but it is not “pure”, because it actually has an intentional object – namely, tonic alertness. It is a predictive model the organism uses to control its own level of cortical arousal. This creates an implicit kind of phenomenal character sui generis, which can at times be made explicit and which possibly underlies all other forms of phenomenal experience and which has long been known by humankind’s contemplative traditions. If the model proposed is correct, then it can perhaps serve as a basis for theoretical unification within consciousness research.