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We recently put forward an argument, the Unfolding Argument (UA), that integrated information theory (IIT) and other causal structure theories are either already falsified or unfalsifiable, which provoked significant criticism. It seems that we and the critics agree that the main question in this debate is whether first-person experience, independent of third-person data, is a sufficient foundation for theories of consciousness. Here, we argue that pure first-person experience cannot be a scientific foundation for IIT because science relies on taking measurements, and pure first-person experience is not measurable except through reports, brain activity, and the relationship between them. We also argue that pure first-person experience cannot be taken as ground truth because science is about backing up theories with data, not about asserting that we have ground truth independent of data. Lastly, we explain why no experiment based on third-person data can test IIT as a theory of consciousness. IIT may be a good theory of something, but not of consciousness. We conclude by exposing a deeper reason for the above conclusions: IIT’s consciousness is by construction fully dissociated from any measurable thing and, for this reason, IIT implies that both the level and content of consciousness are epiphenomenal, with no causal power. IIT and other causal structure theories end up in a form of dissociative epiphenomenalism, in which we cannot even trust reports about first-person experiences. But reports about first-person experiences are taken as ground truth and the foundation for IIT’s axioms. Therefore, accepting IIT leads to rejecting its own axioms. We also respond to several other criticisms against the UA.


This article was originally published in Consciousness and Cognition, volume 98, in 2022.


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