Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 February 2010
One of the major challenges facing neuroscience today is to provide an explanatory framework that accounts for both the subjectivity and neurobiology of consciousness. Although neuroscientists have supplied neural models of various aspects of consciousness, and have uncovered evidence about the neural correlates of consciousness (or NCCs), there nonetheless remains an ‘explanatory gap’ in our understanding of how to relate neurobiological and phenomenological features of consciousness. This explanatory gap is conceptual, epistemological, and methodological:
An adequate conceptual framework is still needed to account for phenomena that (ⅰ) have a first-person, subjective-experiential or phenomenal character; (ⅱ) are (usually) reportable and describable (in humans); and (ⅲ) are neurobiologically realized.
The conscious subject plays an unavoidable epistemological role in characterizing the explanandum of consciousness through first-person descriptive reports. The experimentalist is then able to link first-person data and third-person data. Yet the generation of first-person data raises difficult epistemological issues about the relation of second-order awareness or meta-awareness to first-order experience (e.g., whether second-order attention to first-order experience inevitably affects the intentional content and/or phenomenal character of first-order experience).
The need for first-person data also raises methodological issues (e.g., whether subjects should be naïve or phenomenologically trained).
Neurophenomenology is a neuroscientific research program whose aim is to make progress on these issues associated with the explanatory gap. In this chapter we give an overview of the neurophenomenological approach to the study of consciousness.