THE METAPHYSICS OF EMBODIMENT
International Journal of Machine Consciousness
Shanahan's eloquently argued version of the global workspace theory fits well into the emerging understanding of consciousness as a computational phenomenon. His disinclination toward metaphysics notwithstanding, Shanahan's book can also be seen as supportive of a particular metaphysical stance on consciousness -the computational identity theory. In Embodiment and the Inner Life, Shanahan (2010) sets out to introduce and motivate a comprehensive approach to the understanding of consciousness,
... the intuitive, pre-analytical sense of the word, as in "Having written the opening sentence of this review, I am now consciously weighing my options with regard to the directions in which I could make it go." Shanahan's self-avowed aversion to metaphysics makes him adopt a methodological stance similar to that of Crick and Koch (1990) , whose bid to understand the neurobiology of consciousness famously limited itself to asking about the difference between those neurons whose activity correlate with the subject's phenomenal report and those whose activity does not. Accordingly, instead of aiming at a plausible definition of consciousness, Shanahan focuses on identifying the differences between conscious and unconscious modes of perceiving, thinking, and acting. The book's approach is commendably comprehensive because it deals with this question on multiple levels: functional, computational, and neural-implementational. On the functional level, where the issues at stake have to do with evolutionary reasons and behavioral utility, Shanahan cites the mind's role in the organism's survival and reproduction and posits that the conscious mode of operation has evolved as a particularly effective way of dealing with emergencies. For much of the time, relatively compartmentalized, automatic processing suffices, but if something unexpected happens or if the going just gets tough, the whole of the embodied mind gets mobilized and is brought to bear on the problem at hand.