mind, matter, meaning and information


Even though the attribution of sexual attractiveness is subjective, a matter of opinion and not one of fact, people very often agree upon it. The same applies to the attribution of consciousness. The term “intersubjectivity” is often used for this sort of agreement. It does not occur by chance, of course; it is based on what we have in common: on the capacities and predispositions that we all inherit, and on the experiences we share (at least in outline). Intersubjectivity in this sense is similar to objectivity, in that both require perceptions to be consistent, though what is being perceived must be “out there,” in the case of objectivity, while intersubjectivity can be about feelings, such as sexuality.

The legitimate use of “intersubjectivity” is just a little wider than agreement on perceptions, though. It can signify the recognition of one subject by another—in line with its literal meaning (between subjects)—so it is a general term, covering empathy, sympathy, identifying with another, and so on.

An example of intersubjectivity in action is where a performer of some sort, whether a professional on a stage or someone telling stories in a bar, finds new life injected into their act by the reaction of the audience—and of course the audience responds to the freshness of the performance. A joke being retold for the thousandth time can seem funny even to the teller, with a “good” audience. What that probably means is that the performer/audience relationship is good. It may even be that sometimes no particular reaction is required, the performer gaining the boost just by putting himself in the shoes of someone to whom the routine is new.

The attribution of consciousness is rather special, regarding intersubjectivity, in that consciousness has to be attributed to something before we have anyone with whom to agree. This is where intersubjectivity goes beyond mere agreement. It was suggested that consciousness is not merely in the eye of the beholder, because in the case of legitimate attribution, the attributee is also a beholder, whose feelings are as important as those of the attributor. What this means is that consciousness is not merely a subjective quality—and it should be quite clear that neither is it an objective one—its “reality status” is, in fact, intersubjective—the utility of the concept lies entirely in the interaction of subjects—its only use is when consciousness is attributed by one subject to another. Which is not to say that without interaction there would be no consciousness. There would certainly be no concept of it, but to say either that consciousness would still exist where there was no interaction and no concept of it, or that it would not, is meaningless. Only objective phenomena can with validity be said either to exist or not to do so. To ask whether an individual or a species is really, objectively conscious (and therefore not “zombie-like”, i.e. fully automatic) is meaningless—but it is perfectly realistic to believe, think and act as if other people, just like oneself, enjoy pleasure and suffer pain (and that goes for members of other species, too).

Intersubjectivity is the sharing of subjective information.

Copyright © 1998--2005 by Robin Faichney. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v1.0 or later (the latest version is presently available at http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/). Distribution of substantively modified versions of this document is prohibited without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. Distribution of the work or derivative of the work in any standard (paper) book form is prohibited unless prior permission is obtained from the copyright holder.
Last modified 23-Feb-2005 14:36:17 by Robin Faichney .