The assertion that consciousness is a property of certain individuals and not others--rather than of the entire universe--implies a very special moment in the ontogeny of those individuals. This is the moment of individual consciousness origination, before which the individual (e.g., a gestating human) is not conscious, and after which it is. Would anyone disagree that this moment is implied by most theories of mind given merit in academia? By consciousness I mean nothing vague but quite simply "the subjective character of experience," a no-nonsense definition as worded by Thomas Nagel. In light of that implication, a physical theory of consciousness must either: (a) address the nature of that moment, describing a physical arrangement that gives rise spontaneously to consciousness; or (b) deny such a moment's existence and ascribe consciousness to the entire universe (some sort of pan-psychism). While (b) is typically considered the mystical and unacceptable stance, as a naturalist I find (a) to seem quite magical and have no prospect for ever finding basis in theoretical physics. Nonetheless, that special moment is implied by most philosophies of mind that I have encountered. Is there a third explanation (c) that I have not considered? Is (b) not so magical as it seems to me, and if so where is its published defense? P.S. (not necessary to post) I have very little access to philosophical resources, am only an amateur, and have searched for my answers for over a decade, so thank you for considering this problem. Please don't dodge the question with a Dan Dennettist assertion that the problem doesn't exists. There clearly is something it is like to be me, and most philosophers would assert that there is not something it is like to be a rock. Anyone who believes those two assertions DOES imply said special moment, and so the problem of explaining that moment exists. With all due respect, explain yourself, philosophy! Thank you very much, Regards, Andy

This is a very important and difficult question: how do we get from no consciousness to (our) consciousness? You've put the question in terms of ontogeny (or development), but the same sort of question arises in terms of phylogeny (or evolution)--which animals are conscious and which are not, and how did the latter evolve from the former?

The panpsychist alternative (b) may help, and it is advanced by contemporary philosophers such as Galen Strawson (and more tentatively, by David Chalmers). Despite that answer having to assert the seemingly weird claim that rocks have some sort of proto-conscious capacities, it is also unclear if panpsychism helps to answer the problem you raise, since we still need to know what organization of the proto-conscious material parts allows for the more complex consciousness we recognize in some animals and in humans. How do we get from paramecium (or blastocysts) made up of parts that have both physical and conscious properties to monkeys (or babies) that are made up of the same parts but organized in a way that clearly allows a sort of consciousness not shared by the paramecium and blastocysts?

There is no good answer to these questions yet, since we still lack a physicalist theory of consciousness--but when we have such a theory, the questions about development and evolution should become much less mysterious. For now, I think the best way to think about it is to recognize that consciousness comes in degrees and the jump from none to a very tiny bit may be no more mysterious than the vague jump from a non-heap to a heap, or the (less vague) state transitions from gas to liquid to solid or the transitions among species during evolution.

One reason the jump may look so radical may be a sort of illusion imposed by memory and/or self-awareness. When we transition from sleep state to conscious waking state (or from conscious to anesthetized unconsciousness), we don't notice a fuzzy boundary, but we may still go through one gradual transitions and simply be unable to be aware of them, remember them, or report on them. (Sorry if this bit sounds like a Dennettian evasion, but I think it's on the right track). Similarly, we can't easily get information from a newborn or fetus (or grasshopper?) about what it is like to be just a tiny bit conscious.

I hope this helps at least a tiny bit.

Read another response by Eddy Nahmias
Read another response about Consciousness