3. Consciousness, Culture, and Significance
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3  Consciousness, Culture, and Significance This chapter offers a new view on the relation between consciousness and culture by investigating their intertwinement with significance. I argue that consciousness discloses aspects of significance, while culture encompasses shared significance, as well as the forms of behavior that enact significance. Significance is linguistic or nonlinguistic meaning that is (partly) understood in intersubjective engagement and constantly reinstantiated in new contexts of relevance rather than belonging to single individuals (cf. Gallagher, this vol.). Significance is embedded in the shared world to which we relate through cultural forms of thinking and sense-making. As in other chapters, several of which will be taken up here, the discussion that follows is inspired by thoughts from Edmund Husserl, without relying on his terminology. Furthermore , it integrates studies from two authors who would otherwise be underrepresented in this book—Gilbert Ryle and Ludwig Wittgenstein—and considers the implications of their thoughts for contemporary discussions of consciousness and culture. In spite of the fundamental differences between these three authors, they provide complementary insights into how consciousness and cultural forms of behavior accomplish significance. Consciousness and culture are often defined in ways that obscure their relation to significance . Consciousness tends to be reduced to a limited concept of experience, such as in the debates around “phenomenal consciousness.” Reflective aspects of consciousness are construed by what Ryle calls “thin description” (Ryle [1968] 2009, 501). Culture, by contrast, tends to be defined in very thick terms at the expense of thinner forms of cultural behavior. I will explain this by reference to Clifford Geertz, who made thick description the defining characteristic of culture, and argue that this definition neglects the foundational role of “thinner” cultural behaviors. Significance is accomplished in embodied processes. At a basic level, these processes include the forms of behavior shared by most or all humans. Behavior is to be understood not thinly as lacking significance but thickly as itself resting on different levels of significance . At higher levels, forms of behavior become more complex, as well as more specific to groups of people, and allow for more complex manifestations of significance. The forms of behavior common to some or all people are cultural; culture accomplishes significance. Christoph Durt 66 C. Durt The claim that consciousness encompasses different levels of significance gives rise to the question of their connection. “Hybrid” concepts of cognition propose that there are two distinct parts of the mind, such as a motor-perceptual and a reflective part. Di Paolo and De Jaegher (this vol.) worry that hybrid concepts of cognition perpetuate dualism by seeing only “direct action-based mechanisms” as embodied and those involved in “more reflective tasks” as disembodied. Here I argue, with regard to Merlin Donald’s concept of the “hybrid mind” (Donald 2001, 164), that the underlying issue should not be framed in terms of embodied versus disembodied systems of production; even computers are in some sense “embodied.” Rather, there is a categorical difference between different levels of significance. Embodied consciousness not only accomplishes but also integrates different levels of significance. 1  Phenomenal and Reflective Consciousness and Significance This section takes its departure from standard definitions of consciousness as phenomenal experience and argues that they do not suffice to explain reflective forms of consciousness such as understanding and thinking. These acts accomplish forms of significance that need to be accounted for by “thick description” (Ryle [1967] 2009, 489). While definitions of consciousness in experiential terms attempt to describe consciousness rather thinly, much of consciousness involves thicker levels that cannot be reduced to thin description. 1.1  Phenomenal and Reflective Consciousness Since the early modern formulations of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities , philosophers have tried to come to terms with the paradox caused by (1) the assumption that ideas of secondary qualities must be produced by primary qualities, and (2) the claim that we cannot even conceive how this is possible. In Locke’s words, we “can by no means conceive how any size, figure, or motion of any particles, can possibly produce in us the idea of any colour, taste, or sound whatsoever; there is no conceivable connexion between the one and the other” (Locke [1689] 1836, 419; cf. Durt 2012, 2–3). Today the distinction between ideas of primary qualities and ideas of secondary qualities tends to be glossed over,1 and all are subsumed under the terms “phenomenal character,” “phenomenal consciousness ,” “qualia,” “phenomenal experience,” or simply “experience.” But the paradox lives on, now framed by the question of...