The Relationship Between Phenomenal Consciousness and Intentionality

The Relationship Between Phenomenal Consciousness and Intentionality -min

Phenomenal consciousness and intentionality are two different ways of understanding consciousness.1 The way you understand these two concepts could have dramatic effects on your understanding of your life in general.

In this way, philosophy can have a profound effect on your life. The key is coming to your own understanding of what feels true to you. Highlighted in this article is an outline of what the concepts of consciousness, phenomenal consciousness, and intentionality are, as well as arguments that support their existence. With this information, you can come to your own conclusions about the relationship between phenomenal consciousness and intentionality.

artificial intelligence abstractConsciousness

Consciousness is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? The truth is, it is difficult to define consciousness in a scientific or philosophical way. There are a number of philosophical debates raging about what truly constitutes consciousness at all. These debates have implications as technological advances continue to refine artificial intelligence.

Those that define consciousness as purely an experience manifested through material reality with material causes fear that, eventually, artificially intelligent machines will become sentient and ultimately seek to have power over humans. In essence, they believe that it is possible to create such a machine because all of the functions of the human brain can ultimately be mimicked through advanced computer programming.


Individuals who see consciousness through this lens tend to define consciousness as intentionality, meaning consciousness is the experience of having thoughts or mental states about or of something.2 In a practical sense, this describes the experience of the “narrator” of your thoughts, a unified sense of “I.”

Another way to describe this kind of consciousness is to use a term invented by the philosopher Ned Block. He contended that there were two types of consciousness: A-consciousness and P-consciousness. A-consciousness stood for access consciousness, and it is closely related to the idea of intentionality.

P-consciousness stands for phenomenal consciousness. This is a type of consciousness that some philosophers insist upon but others deny. The core of the debate hinges on a serious philosophical problem that arises if you insist that all consciousness arises from material causes. In fact, it is called “the hard problem of consciousness.”

woman with intention to do something-minBasically, the problem is that if consciousness arises from physical matter, where does consciousness come from exactly? How do the same basic chemicals in atoms go from unconscious, when found in a rock, to conscious, when found in our blood?

The concept of phenomenal consciousness, as separate from intentionality, can be understood as an attempt to bridge that gap. They suggest that while the narrator and thoughts are a part of the conscious experience, there also exists phenomenal consciousness.

This is more closely related to the concept of qualia or what it is like or feels like to be an individual at any given moment. Those who argue for the existence of phenomenal consciousness provide examples like feeling joy or seeing their favorite color. These are experiences that are not necessarily based on some kind of intentional thought about or of something.

man dreamingUnderstanding Consciousness

Phenomenal consciousness and intentionality are just two terms when it comes to the philosophy around consciousness. There are many philosophers and cognitive scientists who have written hundreds of pages trying to define and understand consciousness.3 As an individual, you don’t necessarily have to read a long book to come to your own understanding of what consciousness means, however.

Developing a deeper understanding of what you believe to be true about consciousness can be a very powerful way of relating to the world. Humans tend to take their most fundamental conscious experiences for granted, but it is actually a very rich area of exploration that every human being has access to in some form or another.

Another powerful way to continue your exploration of consciousness is through paying attention to your dreams. Your dreams can help you explore alternative states of consciousness which can expand your understanding of yourself and the world around you. The more deeply you connect to these truths within yourself, the easier it becomes to feel well in your life.

Photo credits: areebarbar/, WAYHOMEstudio/,  FerGregory/,  Microgen/

Savannah W.

By Savannah Wilson

Savannah is an aromatherapy enthusiast who takes pride in knowing everything about essential oils, from ylang-ylang to chamomile. When taking a break from learning more about essential oils, Savannah likes to spend her time reading books or working out.

Favorite MONQ blend: Private: Old Sexy

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