Max Velmans’ Reflexive Monism

My messages to the everything list

26.05.2012 17:57:

I have just finished reading Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness and below there are a couple of comments to the book.

The book is similar to Jeffrey Gray’s Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem in a sense that it takes phenomenal consciousness seriously. Let me give an example. Imagine that you watch yourself in the mirror. Your image that you observe in the mirror is an example of phenomenal consciousness.

The difference with Jeffrey Gray is in the question where the image that you see in the mirror is located. If we take a conventional way of thinking, that is,

1) photons are reflected by the mirror
2) neurons in retina are excited
3) natural neural nets starts information processing

then the answer should be that this image is in your brain. It seems to be logical as, after all, we know that there is nothing after the mirror.

However, it immediately follows that not only your image in the mirror is in your brain but rather everything that your see is also in your brain. This is exactly what one finds in Gray’s book “The world is inside the head”.

Velmans takes a different position that he calls reflexive model of perception. According to him, what we consciously experience is located exactly where we experience it. In other words, the image that you see in the mirror is located after the mirror and not in your brain. A nice picture that explains Velmans’ idea is at

Velmans introduces perceptual projection but this remains as the Hard Problem in his book, how exactly perceptual projection happens.

Velmans contrast his model with reductionism (physicalism) and dualism and interestingly enough he finds many common features between reductionism and dualism. For example, the image in the mirror will be in the brain according to both reductionism and dualism. This part could be interesting for Stephen.

First I thought that perceptual projection could be interpreted similar to Craig’s senses but it is not the case. Velmans’ reflexive monism is based on a statement that first- and third-person views cannot be combined (this is what Bruno says). From a third-person view, one observes neural correlates of consciousness but not the first-person view. Now I understand such a position much better.

Anyway the the last chapter in the book is “Self-consciousness in a reflexive universe”.

27.05.2012 22:07:

Yes, the third-person view belongs to another observer and Velmans plays this fact out. He means that at his picture when a person looks at the cat, the third-person view means another person who looks at that cat and simultaneously look at the first person. This way, two person can change their first-person view to third-person view. However, it is still impossible to directly observe the first-person view of another observer. Everything that is possible in this respect are neural correlates of consciousness.

28.05.2012 21:09:

As for Aristotle, recently I have read Feyerabend where he has compared Aristotle’s ‘Natural is what occurs always or almost always‘ with Galileo’s inexorable laws. Somehow I like ‘occurs always or almost always‘. I find it more human.