Research Topic

Philosophical and Ethical Aspects of a Science of Consciousness and the Self

About this Research Topic

Consciousness is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the mind. On the one hand, we seem to be intimately familiar with it. On the other, many of its features remain mysterious, and we struggle to adequately describe what it is like to enjoy conscious experiences of various sorts. The mystery of consciousness is even increased by the apparent epistemic asymmetry between first-person and third-person approaches to consciousness. At least pre-theoretically, it seems I have direct access to my own conscious states (or their contents), whereas my access to the conscious states of others always seems to be mediated by inferences (based on observable behavior), or by analyses and interpretations of scientific data (obtained by, e.g., EEG or fMRI measurements).

Regardless of whether this epistemic asymmetry is as fundamental as it may seem, we can emphasize that the ongoing science of consciousness has increased our knowledge of its neural basis, its connections to body and cognition, its function, and its place in nature. This neuroscientific project has implications for philosophical theories that take bottom-up constraints seriously, e.g., theories concerning conscious will, rationality, the self, authenticity, self-determination, self-knowledge, and others. Furthermore, researching consciousness (with its dependency on animal models or patients with specific pathologies) and the technical manipulability of conscious experiences (e.g., via pharmaceutics, virtual reality, the implementation of consciousness in machines) not only have to be monitored from an ethical perspective, but are also ethically relevant themselves:

Firstly, insights into consciousness can expand the basis for informed decisions in ethical context (e.g., how to treat vegetative state patients, how to treat non-human animals, etc.).

Secondly, progress in consciousness research enables novel applications, which can raise completely new ethical concerns (e.g., how to assess possible long-term effects of immersive virtual reality on consciousness of one’s own body and the world, or how to assess the impact of various media environments on our mental autonomy).

Thomas Metzinger has followed up on some of these issues over the course of his professional career, and presented a complex tapestry in his Being No One and numerous articles, where such empirical, conceptual and ethical strands interweave. This Research Topic gathers articles that connect aspects of Thomas Metzinger’s work with investigations (from a theoretical or empirical perspective) of different facets of consciousness with the goal of promoting progress on the resulting problems and challenges.

Possible topics for contributions include (but are not limited to):
• Theories of consciousness
• Subjectivity and phenomenal selfhood
• Mental autonomy and mind wandering
• Mindfulness and meditation
• Mental action
• Applied Ethics, especially for neurotechnology and virtual reality

We welcome contributions that further deepen our understanding of these problems and discuss possible solutions. Interdisciplinary contributions are particularly welcome.


Keywords: consciousness, phenomenal selfhood, ethics of consciousness, mental autonomy, mindfulness


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Consciousness is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the mind. On the one hand, we seem to be intimately familiar with it. On the other, many of its features remain mysterious, and we struggle to adequately describe what it is like to enjoy conscious experiences of various sorts. The mystery of consciousness is even increased by the apparent epistemic asymmetry between first-person and third-person approaches to consciousness. At least pre-theoretically, it seems I have direct access to my own conscious states (or their contents), whereas my access to the conscious states of others always seems to be mediated by inferences (based on observable behavior), or by analyses and interpretations of scientific data (obtained by, e.g., EEG or fMRI measurements).

Regardless of whether this epistemic asymmetry is as fundamental as it may seem, we can emphasize that the ongoing science of consciousness has increased our knowledge of its neural basis, its connections to body and cognition, its function, and its place in nature. This neuroscientific project has implications for philosophical theories that take bottom-up constraints seriously, e.g., theories concerning conscious will, rationality, the self, authenticity, self-determination, self-knowledge, and others. Furthermore, researching consciousness (with its dependency on animal models or patients with specific pathologies) and the technical manipulability of conscious experiences (e.g., via pharmaceutics, virtual reality, the implementation of consciousness in machines) not only have to be monitored from an ethical perspective, but are also ethically relevant themselves:

Firstly, insights into consciousness can expand the basis for informed decisions in ethical context (e.g., how to treat vegetative state patients, how to treat non-human animals, etc.).

Secondly, progress in consciousness research enables novel applications, which can raise completely new ethical concerns (e.g., how to assess possible long-term effects of immersive virtual reality on consciousness of one’s own body and the world, or how to assess the impact of various media environments on our mental autonomy).

Thomas Metzinger has followed up on some of these issues over the course of his professional career, and presented a complex tapestry in his Being No One and numerous articles, where such empirical, conceptual and ethical strands interweave. This Research Topic gathers articles that connect aspects of Thomas Metzinger’s work with investigations (from a theoretical or empirical perspective) of different facets of consciousness with the goal of promoting progress on the resulting problems and challenges.

Possible topics for contributions include (but are not limited to):
• Theories of consciousness
• Subjectivity and phenomenal selfhood
• Mental autonomy and mind wandering
• Mindfulness and meditation
• Mental action
• Applied Ethics, especially for neurotechnology and virtual reality

We welcome contributions that further deepen our understanding of these problems and discuss possible solutions. Interdisciplinary contributions are particularly welcome.


Keywords: consciousness, phenomenal selfhood, ethics of consciousness, mental autonomy, mindfulness


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

15 January 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

15 January 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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