Consciousness study a manic depressive cycle

After the contributions of Husserlian phenomenologists in Europe and William James in the United States, there was a period of relative silence. Then, interest in consciousness came back again strongly in the 1970s. In an interview for an Italian radio programme, neuroscientist Francisco Varela defined this process as a sort of 'manic depressive cycle' (Varela 2001). He commented:

In the 70's the centre of the scientific interest was cognition and we were not allowed, and I repeat, allowed, to talk about consciousness. Consciousness was something mystical, of pertinence to the philosophers more than a scientific argument . . . and then suddenly was born what today is called the science of consciousness and it is very important to talk about it and to ask what part of our brain makes possible the existence of experience, the existence of a phenomenological world.8

This renewed interest in the study of consciousness becomes very strong when we once again start asking 'What is it like to be a bat?', in the words of Thomas Nagel (1974), or right to the point 'What does it mean to be someone?', 'What does it mean to have an experience?', 'What is it like to be' a bat or a human being and how do things look when one is a bat or a human being? The 'what it is like to be' issue expresses, in other words, the subjective character of an experience. The fact that an organism has a 'conscious' experience means basically that there is some quality of being of that organism. As Nagel puts it, when we say that another organism is conscious, we mean that 'there is something it is like to be that organism . . . something it is like to be for the organism' (1974: 436); 'the essence of the belief that bats have experience is that there is something that is like to be a bat' (ibid.: 438).

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