Closer to Consciousness, by Alexander Durig, tackles a thorny academic problem, namely outlining a theory of how consciousness develops and functions in the human mind. Durig meets this challenge by integrating aspects of psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy in a novel and fruitful way.
Contemporary philosophers posit that understanding the mental world of another person is impossible, much less identifying its constitutive components and correlating them to neurological structures. This is, in large part, due to Wittgenstein’s “Linguistic Turn” in analytic philosophy which divorced meaning from logic, consequently closing the door on numerous paths of inquiry within the field of philosophy of mind.
Durig regards that event as a critical error, and sides instead with earlier philosophers from the pragmatist school, such as C.S. Pierce. He views many traditional inquiries into the nature of consciousness as fundamentally misguided because they treat consciousness as a thing born of analytical/intellectual events rather than a relation of feelings or “affects.” In other words, consciousness might be better understood as a verb than a noun.
Durig’s own academic background is varied; he has a doctorate in social psychology, a theoretical orientation in symbolic interactionism, and a special research interest in autism. The multi-disciplinary knowledge on display pays dividends when he makes a convincing case that philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists are at odds with one another on consciousness and perception, in part because of dogmatic biases within certain disciplines. Consequently, consciousness is a neglected topic that provides little theoretical underpinning for genuine scientific inquiry.
Closer to Consciousness is a serious but accessible work of scholarly substance. While it may face challenges from academics entrenched in their own schools of thoughts, it will prove valuable to open-minded students, providing a reset switch in the thinking about the most human characteristics of our interior experiences.
Has Durig settled the debate? No, but with Closer to Consciousness he’s re-legitimized the study of consciousness in a way that could ground meaningful scientific innovation.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.