Is Subjectless Consciousness Possible?

Christian Coseru[1]


An Outline of the Contributions

In ‘The Impossibility of Subjectless Experience’, Galen Strawson sets the scope for the special issue by clarifying the key concepts of subject and subjectivity, the difference between metaphysical and phenomenological conceptions of the subject, and whether the subject of experience can be conceived as something distinct from the experi­ence. He starts by showcasing some of the difficulties that beset the present enquiry. Few, if any, would dispute that being conscious is an experiential state, but for some the move from being an experiential state to being an experiencer or a subject of that state is not obvious. Certainly, there are those who ‘don’t think experience exists at all’ or, if they do, ‘might choose to understand the word “experience” in such a way that it would be natural for us to describe their view as the view that there is experienceless experience’. Strawson doesn’t think such positions, in so far as they purport to provide an explanatory account of conscious experience, are coherent. But he grants that ‘experience’ is a capacious concept, and that talk of non-dual experience, that is, of experience lacking the subject–object duality, is both legitimate and well-documented. Here he simply revisits a thesis — that experience necessarily entails an experiencer — he has defended at length elsewhere (Strawson, 2010/2017).

First, he clarifies that this experiencer or subject of experience is to be conceived neither as existing ‘over and above that which consti­tutes the existence of the experience of which it is the subject’ nor as involving ‘some sort of explicit sense on the part of the subject of itself specifically as the subject of the experience’. Second, he endorses the descriptive claim that conscious experience exhibits the ‘dative of manifestation’ — that is, that conscious experience presents as an experience for (or given to) someone (Prufer, 1975). And lastly, he argues that if the thesis that experience entails an experiencer holds true, then so does the thesis that subjectivity entails a subject. But the subject so entailed need be neither the thick conception of the subject that most philosophers have in mind when they use the term (viz. human beings or other animals considered as a whole), nor that of a ‘persisting, inner, mentally propertied entity or presence’. Rather, the conception of subject Strawson has in mind is a thin one, one according to which ‘the experiencing… and the subject of experience are the same thing’. Strawson thinks that such a conception of the subject of experience ought to, at least in principle, be compatible with Buddhist views of consciousness as ultimately reducible to momentary flickers or flashes of luminosity or luminous self-awareness.

In a similar vein, Matthew MacKenzie’s ‘Minimal Subjectivity and Reflexive Awareness’ unpacks the guiding question of this special issue by introducing a distinction between two aspects of the question: (i) the phenomenological-structural issue of the relationship between consciousness and subjectivity and (ii) the ontological issue of the existence and nature of the subject. The first concerns whether phenomenal consciousness is necessarily or even paradigmatically a subjective phenomenon, and if it is, what this subjectivity consists of. The second concerns the subject of experience, its nature, persistence, relation to the body, etc. MacKenzie thinks the phenomenological and ontological aspects are in fact orthogonal since it could be the case ‘that an enduring, substantial subject exists, even if there are phenom­enally non-subjective episodes of experience’. But his main concern is with the first aspect, which demands a phenomenology-first approach.

Following Strawson (2019), he identifies three relevant aspects of the phenomenological analysis, which he calls the local, the general, and the conditional aspects: ‘The local aspect concerns the nature of the phenomena in “normal” or typical human experience. Is typical human consciousness subjective? The general aspect concerns other possibilities or variations regarding the phenomena. Are there clear cases of non-subjective consciousness (or significant variations in the subjective aspect of consciousness)? The conditional aspect concerns grounds or preconditions of the phenomena. What are the basic con­ditions of (human) subjectivity?’

Drawing a clear line between subjectivity and selfhood is not only explanatorily relevant in showing, for instance, how ‘alterations to these functions can give rise to significant alterations in self-experience’. MacKenzie thinks that it is also conceptually important if variations in self-experience (involving both pathology cases and meditative experiences) can be shown to track a different dimension of consciousness than its subjective givenness or for-me-ness. Its importance is evident in efforts to understand whether pathologies of self-awareness and meditative experiences that result in alterations of the sense of self or a loss of boundary (Ataria, Dor-Ziderman and Berkovich-Ohana, 2015; Dor-Ziderman et al., 2013; Lindahl et al., 2017; Canby et al., 2024) can be interpreted as providing evidence for subjectless consciousness. MacKenzie expresses doubts, proposing that these states should instead be understood along the lines of what Blanke and Metzinger (2009) call ‘minimal phenomenal selfhood’ (MPS) and, following Windt (2015), what Metzinger (2020) calls ‘minimal phenomenal experience’ (MPE). However, unlike Metzinger, he does not think these non-egological states lack a mini­mal level of self-experience. Even if modified or diminished in form, these minimally experiential states are still lived through.

Dual-aspect reflexivist models of consciousness, such as we find in the Indian Buddhist tradition of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, seek to capture the structure of these states by putting forth a model in which conscious cognitive episodes present both themselves and their intentional object at once. The difference between the subjective and objective modes of presentation is that the latter appears as distinct from the experience that presents it while the former does not. MacKenzie makes it obvious that while ‘some philosophers in India and the West have deployed this kind of distinction to support the existence of an independent self… in the Buddhist context the subject is clearly the individual cognitive episode, not a self’.

The case of blindsight has often been invoked against arguments for dual-aspect reflexivism such as we find in Dharmakīrti, who predicates the apprehension of objects on the apprehension itself being established as an instance of awareness. MacKenzie is clear that while such pathologies may weaken the argument, they do not defeat it given that, ‘according to Dharmakīrti, without consciousness’s funda­mental self-presence, no other phenomenal contents could be present’.

In ‘Can There Be Something it is Like to Be No One’, Christian Coseru frames the topic of the special issue in terms of a dilemma about the character of non-ordinary and pathological states of con­sciousness such as non-dual awareness, ego dissolution, and full absorption: either these states display subjective features, in which case there needs to be some way to account for them in phenomenal terms, or they do not, in which case there is nothing it is like to be in them. Coseru argues that this dilemma only arises if we assume that opacity rather than phenomenality is a pervasive feature of non-ordinary and pathological states. As he explains, non-ordinary con­scious states are deemed phenomenally opaque only by overly restrictive standards of conceivability that: (i) fail to account for the variety of non-ordinary and pathological experience in non-arbitrary ways; (ii) sidestep the problem of the attribution and location of mental content (given intelligibility requirements for experience) or relegate them to illusory constructs; (iii) assume an unproblematic appeal to testimonial evidence.

Coseru takes conscious states to be constitutively phenomenal, and phenomenality to exhibit a distinctively self-presenting character. That is, conscious states by their very nature manifest a particular kind of experiential structure that individuates them in some fundamental way. One problem with the view that pure or non-dual consciousness is subjectless or undifferentiated, he argues, lies in overdetermined conceptions of phenomenal content as prone to ‘dualistic distortion’, typically associated with lower-level cognitive states or, alternatively, with a transparent self-model generated by the brain (Metzinger, 2003). In addressing the problem, he considers both the metaphysical constraint, specifically about the very possibility of subjectless con­scious states, and interpretive concerns about how such presumably unmediated experiential states could somehow be accounted for in epistemically relevant terms.

One key issue in the debate about the possibility of subjectless experience is how to understand the subject of experience in relation to the experience itself (an issue that Strawson and MacKenzie also address). As Coseru explains, those (e.g. Howell and Thompson, 2017) who take subjectivity to stand for the question of how first-person knowledge is obtained, that is, knowledge that one is the sub­ject of one’s conscious states, are more likely to endorse the (Humean) view that many, if not most (all?), conscious states lack such sub­jective reference. Coseru finds common ground with those (e.g. Zahavi, 2005; Kriegel, 2009) who think the constitutively subjective character that gives an experience its distinctive for-me-ness is a universal feature of all conscious mental states.

Coseru considers, inter alia, Metzinger’s (2020; 2024) theoretical strategy, which seek to model experiences of reduced or minimal phenomenal content along a set of specific constraints (e.g. wakeful­ness, low complexity, self-luminosity, epistemicity) as one way to settle the debate about whether phenomenality as such has a distinct experiential character. But he thinks that in so far as such strategies reduce or eliminate the experiential dimension in the case of minimal phenomenal experience, they fail to challenge the deep-seated philo­sophical intuition about the inconceivability of a conscious state lacking any self-intimation. Coseru also argues that relational (that is, higher order, access-mediated, or self-representational) conceptions of subjectivity are in principle compatible with the view that sub­jectivity or subjective character could vanish in certain conscious states. However, those grounded in conceptions of consciousness as reflexive rule out the possibility of a subjectless awareness, and he motivates the latter by modelling reflexive presence as a fundamental dimension of conscious experience. In doing so he draws on a rich debate in Buddhist philosophy about whether the cessation of all mental activity (nirodhsāmapatti) can bring all traces of consciousness to a halt. He finds in this debate evidence for the view that only the intentional and conceptual dimensions of consciousness are absent in such states, which are best understood as states of cognitive attenua­tion (Coseru, 2022). As he explains, ‘the requirement that the last mind moment before cessation and the first mind moment following emergence from cessation are experienced as belonging to the same causal series means that conscious mental states must always retain a dimension that is intrinsic to them, that does not depend on the presence of any intentional or conceptual content. Such a dimension would be necessary if we are to explain how cessation itself could be recognized as having even occurred, let alone occurred for someone’.

In ‘Selfless Minds, Unlimited Bodies? Homeostatic Bodily Self-Regulation in Meditative Experiences’, Anna Ciaunica broadens the scope of the present enquiry by asking what it means for humans — as self-organizing biological systems designed to ensure the sort of opti­mal balance necessary for survival — to experience ‘selfless’ states. Focusing on the somatosensory attenuation of bodily signals as a core mechanism underlying the phenomenon of ‘losing’ one’s sense of self in meditation, Ciaunica argues that such attenuation ‘does not make the bodily self “disappear” experientially’. Indeed, in so far as the ‘self-loss’ pertains to the attenuated bodily signals, talk of losing the self or experiencing selflessness may be misleading. What is lost, she argues, is a mental model ‘of oneself in relation to the body and the world’, while the self-related bodily processing provides ‘the implicit experiential backdrop against which all subjective experiences — including the experience of having no self — necessarily manifest to our explicit self-awareness’.

Ciaunica is clear that while the possibility of altering this mental model through meditative practice is well documented in both the contemplative and clinical literature (e.g. Ataria, Dor-Ziderman and Berkovich-Ohana, 2015; Millière et al., 2018; Ciaunica, Charlton and Farmer, 2021), there is some debate about whether so-called ‘pure’ or selfless states lack any subjective or experiential phenomenality. One way to break the impasse over this debate is to recognize that self-experience does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it is given to us through our bodies (Damasio, 2000; Gallagher, 2000; Legrand, 2006). Ciaunica endorses the embodied cognition paradigm, which states that ‘subjective experiences are thus fundamentally and necessarily embodied experiences’ (Varela, Thompson and Rosch, 1991; Damasio, 2000). And she finds the predictive processing (PP) para­digm in cognitive science particularly helpful in explaining how self-experience may result from ongoing inferential processes ‘based on a generative model centred onto the bodily self’ (e.g. Apps and Tsakiris, 2013; Limanowski and Blankenburg, 2013; Ciaunica, Charlton and Farmer, 2021; Limanowski and Friston, 2020).

The PP and active inference frameworks can be useful in mapping the neural correlates of self-experience and its alteration through meditative practice. The key issue, however, is explaining how the sensory information from multiple sensory modalities is represented while maintaining ‘a fine balance between external and internal components of the somatosensory information, in order to establish where the self ends, and the world begins’. Since ‘the information that a self-organizing system such as the human body is the most intimately acquainted with is, of course, self-related information’, Ciaunica proposes that we understand this self-related information as part of a transparent self-model (she agrees with Limanowski and Friston, 2020, that the sense of self in its minimally pre-reflective form is fundamentally transparent and ‘cannot be rendered opaque’). As a result, pure or so-called subjectless experiences may be best understood as experiences of being ‘a transparent, living, “unlimited body”’. As she clarifies, ‘selfless experiences occurring during deep meditative states do happen to an organismic living body which does not disappear in the process, to magically reappear when the indi­vidual is out of the selfless contemplative states. The practitioner’s lungs, for example, never cease to dynamically process the oxygen vital for breathing’. The seemingly subjectless conscious state is in effect ‘not experientially empty, but rather experientially transparent, i.e. implicit and taken for granted’.

In ‘Selves Beyond the Skin: Watsuji, “Betweenness”, and Self-Loss in Solitary Confinement and Dementia’, Joel Krueger frames the question of this special issue by showing ‘what happens when the support and regulative grounding of this lifeworld’ that underrides our subjectivity ‘is restricted or taken away’. Krueger uses as his case study a perspective associated with the Kyoto School of philosophy, specifically with Watsuji, which links analyses of the sense of place — as captured by the concepts of fūdo (‘geocultural environment’) and aidagara (‘betweenness’) — to the experience of the body as the medium for the expression of life. The positive aspects of this relational view of selfhood are similar to Western accounts of the phenomenology of embodied subjectivity such as we find in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Krueger, however, turns his attention to what he calls the ‘dark side’ of betweenness, and to what happens when selves are deprived of the relational contexts that they need in order to maintain their orientation and sense of agency in the world.

As Krueger explains, what sets Watsuji’s phenomenological analysis of space apart is his insistence that space is subjective or exhibits an existential character such that, for instance, our position relative to the presence of others acquires a subjective rather than an objective dimension (consider, for instance, the image of early infant caregiving as an illustration of how space is lived intersubjectively long before humans acquire an understanding of space as a physical structure). Living bodies do not merely occupy space like tables and trees. Rather, they live it in such a way that space becomes ‘funda­mental to our experience of self and world’. For Krueger, the conception of betweenness does not only shape the character of our embodied agency but also the deep structure of consciousness and intentionality. All forms of subjectivity, just like all forms of intentionality, exhibit the dynamics of betweenness.

If betweenness is as central as philosophers of the Kyoto school such as Watsuji claim, then its loss or alteration would in principle affect more than the bodily subjectivity. Krueger considers solitary confinement and dementia as two paradigmatic case studies where loss of betweenness may be understood as stripping individuals affected by these conditions not only of their social status or standing, but effectively of their humanity. Drawing on recent studies on the phenomenology of solitary confinement (Guenther, 2011; 2013; 2015; Gallagher, 2014; Smith, 2006), he argues that the ‘cumulative effects of various cognitive impairments, perceptual distortions, and affective strain’ associated with prolonged periods of isolation can ‘lead to a breakdown of the self’. Such a breakdown can range from milder forms of cognitive impairment associated with difficulty of thought, attention, and memory to more severe symptoms suggestive of dissociation and depersonalization. Seen through the lens of Watsuji’s phenomenological account of betweenness, the disintegration of ‘spatial possibilities’ inmates experience in solitary leads to ‘a near-total inability to live outside their skin’.

Unlike solitary confinement, where the constraints on betweenness are external, in the case of dementia, a condition associated with the sense that one is losing one’s grip on the world and no longer feels real (Hughes, 2011, p. 86), the ‘self-loss’ is brought by internal factors associated with neurodegenerative disease or brain injury. But Krueger insists that on an embodied account of cognition, which grounds selfhood in the pre-reflective body (e.g. Hughes, 2011; Hydén, Lindemann and Brockmeier, 2014; Petherbridge, 2019; Tewes, 2021), the kind of self-loss that occurs due to internal factors such as memory loss and aphasia is only partial: ‘while an individual with dementia may suffer severe memory loss and have difficulty speaking, many aspects of their bodily-spatial self remain intact.’ Indeed, people with dementia continue to exhibit forms of bodily expression (e.g. idiosyncratic gesturing, smiling), habits of selfpresentation (e.g. garment or jewellery adjustment), and patterns of social etiquette (e.g. thanking caregivers). Krueger’s analysis makes the case that an approach that emphasizes the everyday context of betweenness and relational citizenship is central to sustaining the forms of bodily subjectivity that mitigate against these disorders of the self.

In ‘Depersonalization, Meditation, and the Experience of (No-)Self’, Monima Chadha and Manuela Kirberg bring the classical Buddhist no-self view to bear on understanding what precisely goes missing in meditation experiences that report the loss of a sense of self and in cases of depersonalization disorder. Most of the literature on contem­plative practice has until recently focused on the benefits of these practices, specifically on their role in undoing deeply ingrained habits of thought and behaviour associated with self-grasping tendencies. But, as Chadha and Kirberg note, research on their potential psychol­ogical drawbacks dating back half a century (e.g. Lazarus, 1976; Walsh and Roche, 1979) is seeing renewed interest, particularly when adverse meditative experience shows similarities to various pathol­ogies such as depersonalization disorder. Chadha and Kirberg do not dispute the potentially adverse effects of meditation and acknowledge the presence of a long tradition within Buddhism itself of cautioning adepts about the consequences of improper meditation practice. They also review recent empirical work (e.g. Cebolla et al., 2017; Schlosser et al., 2019; Lindahl and Britton, 2019; Farias et al., 2020) that offers strong evidence for the occurrence of adverse experience during medi­tative practice (e.g. from anxiety and depression associated with nega­tive rumination to derealization and even psychotic symptoms). And they agree that ‘the detached perspective on the self pursued in these meditation practices is strongly associated with negative and adverse meditation effects related to changes in the sense of self’ (cf. Hölzel et al., 2011). More importantly, Chadha and Kirberg argue that this detached perspective on the self is also well-documented in the litera­ture on depersonalization disorder, where patients routinely report feelings of disembodiment, de-ideation, de-affectualization, and derealization (Gerrans, 2019).

The question is whether the corroborating evidence from these studies makes a compelling case for the view that what goes missing in these instances is precisely their subjective givenness or for-me-ness that many philosophers regard as an ineliminable dimension of conscious experience. Chadha and Kirberg acknowledge that defenders of the view that for-me-ness is ‘a “formal” feature of experiential life as such’ (Zahavi and Kriegel, 2016, p. 38) have argued that pathologies of the self such as depersonalization disorder (DPD), schizophrenia, and Cotard’s syndrome do not count as evidence against the universality of this formal feature of experience. They note that even proponents of the idea that selfhood may vanish in certain pathological cases (e.g. Metzinger, 2003) recognize that experiential mineness is nonetheless an integral aspect of non-pathological conscious experience. And they even cite proposals that take DPD patients to show only alterations in the transparency of the pre-reflective embodied mode of self-consciousness, not in the first-person mode of givenness that makes the reportability of such pathol­ogical states possible (e.g. Ciaunica, Charlton and Farmer, 2021). But they suggest that Buddhist accounts of the mind could be read in such a way as to suggest that no conscious states, not even ordinary, non-pathological ones, ‘come with mineness’. Chadha and Kirberg’s radical claim is that ‘Buddhists are nihilists in this sense: they deny the experiential view’. Readers will have to judge for themselves whether Chadha and Kirberg succeed in making a good case for whether Buddhist accounts of the mind yield any support for this radical position, given compelling evidence and arguments to the contrary (including by some contributors to this special issue).

In ‘Pure Consciousness as the Ground of the Given: Or, Why There is No Perception Without Background Reception’, Itay Shani takes a critical and clarificatory stance on a prevailing norm in the study of consciousness that overemphasizes the intentional dimension of con­sciousness at the expense of the ‘receptive ground to whom things are given and in whom they are disclosed’. This dimension, which pertains to the dative of experience, namely, that to whom intentional objects are given (as opposed to the accusative, or what experience is of), captures the endogenously sentient character of consciousness as the ‘medium of presence-making’. Shani’s critical stance on this distortive lens is also a plea for course correction: ‘if a conscious disclosure of intentional objects requires grounding in a subsistent medium of indwelling sentience (or sentient awareness)… it follows that theories of consciousness that ignore the dative mode are funda­mentally incomplete.’ To that end he defends the background receptivity hypothesis according to which ‘the capacity of the con­scious mind to grasp its objects, and take notice of things, is predica­ted upon an intrinsically-sentient medium of manifestation’.

Shani recognizes that theories which explore the close link between consciousness and attention (e.g. Watzl, 2017; Ganeri, 2017) have sought in recent years to address the problem, by showing that attention (variously associated with arousal, alertness, and sensory apprehension) can function as a structuring principle of mindedness. While this structuring principle can function as a subject-level mental action, he thinks the mechanisms of attention merely ‘bring things into light, that is, into the pre-existent light of consciousness; they do not generate phenomenal consciousness where none existed before’. The most promising evidence for the background receptivity hypothesis, Shani thinks, is to be found in the affect-based paradigm for the study of mind and consciousness (Damasio, 1999; Panksepp, 1998; Solms, 2021) and in studies that look to the brain’s intrinsic, spontaneous, resting-state activity for understanding the interrelations between con­sciousness, cognition, and the self (Buckner, 2012; Northoff, 2018; Raichle et al., 2001). These studies suggest ‘the existence of stable brain structures and patterns which, allegedly, serve as a backdrop against which meaningful perception of the external world is rendered possible’. But he does not think the evidence these studies provide is sufficient. The background hypothesis requires ‘the existence of a ground state of baseline sentience and subjectivity against which all conscious perceptions are individually discerned’. Neither the resting-state activity nor the affect-based paradigm can deliver ‘a receptive ground [that] must be conceptually and ontologically prior to any act of perception or stimulation’. For that, Shani turns to accounts of pure consciousness, specifically as articulated in Indian and Buddhist philosophy, where we find both robust articulations and defences of a conception of self-luminous awareness that ‘gives pride of place to the inherent receptivity of an immanently sentient dative of experience’.

As the title of his contribution suggests, in ‘Being You — Or Not: A Challenge for Garfield and Seth’, Dan Zahavi calls into question relational accounts of self-consciousness that emphasize the role of the second-person perspective while appearing to deny the existence of an experiential sense of self that grounds the first-person per­spective. Specifically, he challenges Garfield’s defence of the Buddhist no-self view and Seth’s endorsement of a radical form of representationalism that ‘declares the world of experience a neuronal fantasy’. As Zahavi observes, Garfield (2022), in his most recent defence of the Buddhist no-self view, claims that the notions of pre-reflective self-consciousness, first-personal givenness, for-me-ness, and phenomenal consciousness do not relate to anything real. Yet these are precisely the notions that philosophers appeal to in grounding not only a minimal sense of self, but also conceptions of agency and personhood. Garfield appears to accept the reality of the latter (albeit as social constructs) while denying the existence of the former. Indeed, he is clear that second persons are ‘primordial and constitutive of first-person subjectivity’ (Garfield, 2019, p. 59) while at the same time denying that second-personal address involves reflexive self-consciousness, qualitative experience, interiority, autonomy, or ‘any of the other properties associated with selves’ (Garfield, 2022, p. 166). While calling into question the coherence of Garfield’s position, Zahavi points to alternative accounts that stress the importance of role-taking for social interaction (Berger and Luckmann, 1991), contending that there will always be ‘elements of subjective reality that aren’t products of socialization’.

Like many neuroscientists, Seth is a proponent of the predictive processing theory (or prediction error minimization theory) that con­ceives of the brain as a prediction machine or hypothesis-testing organ. Zahavi interprets Seth’s (2021, p. 115) claim that ‘top-down predictions do not merely bias our perception’ but that effectively they ‘are what we perceive’ as suggesting that we never experience ‘the sensory signals themselves (let alone the objects that might have caused them), but only our interpretations of them’. Indeed, Seth goes so far as to claim that, if the predictive processing theory is suffici­ently accurate, then what we actually perceive is merely a ‘neuronal fantasy’ (Seth, 2021, p. 83); perception, in effect, is ‘controlled hallucination’ (ibid., p. 76). The roots of this account go back to efforts among certain nineteenth- and earlier twentieth-century neo-Kantians (e.g. Helmholtz, Lange) to find a physiological basis for the idea that ‘the world of experience must consequently be seen as a product of our constitution’.[2] If the brain’s cognitive processing is as informationally secluded from the external world as predictive pro­cessing theorists claim, then it is hard to explain how one can become empirically acquainted with actual brains in the first place. As Zahavi pointedly asks, ‘How do we at all know that there really is a brain’ if our observations are ‘nothing but brain-generated constructions’? Indeed, one needs ‘a real brain in order to qualify the world of experience as a brain-generated fantasy’. Zahavi’s challenge is that we recognize (with Husserl) the circularity of any co-constitutive account of subjectivity, which claims ‘that we owe our very individuation to each other’. As he clarifies, first, there is an asymmetry in the I–you relationship such that the first-person perspective (or mode of givenness) is not exhausted by second person. And second, the ‘I–you relation isn’t simply a dyadic subject–subject relation, but one that also involves a shared world’.

In his ‘Is it Possible to Imagine Being No One?’, Jonardon Ganeri considers the guiding question of this special issue not in terms of metaphysical possibility, but in terms of conceivability or rather imaginability: that is, can one ‘imagine de se being subjectlessly conscious’? Can one imagine being no one? One may begin by figuring out whether one can imagine oneself as someone else, and see if this thought experiment reveals anything significant about the structure of de se imagination. Here Ganeri finds Recanati’s (2007) distinction between ‘imagining doing or experiencing something’ and ‘imagining that one does or experiences something’ helpful. Recanati calls the former case, in which the imagining subject does not enter the picture, quasi-de se imagination, an instance of imagination with­out self-attribution. The question is whether there can be genuine de se imagining without implicit forms of self-attribution. If, in quasi-de se imagining perceiving something, perception lacks self-attribution, then, argues Ganeri, it may well be possible to render the idea of imagining being no one intelligible if such imagining amounts to something like having an experience subjectlessly. Drawing on a variety of sources, including Simone Weil (1970), the contemporary Japanese conceptual artist Yuyai Kusama, and the Upaniṣads, Ganeri entertains the possibility that certain forms of self-effacement, aesthetic self-abandon, and seemingly aperspectival or impersonal cosmopsychism could be interpreted as making a credible case for the possibility of imagining being no one.

[1]      Department of Philosophy, College of Charleston, SC, USA.

[2]      On Kant’s influential role in the development of various paradigms in cognitive science such as functionalism, enactivism, and predictive processing, see Northoff (2018), Schlicht and Newen (2015), Schlicht (2022)


  1. Joshua on 8th June 2024 at 5:01 pm


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