The end of the behaviorist dogma nearly half a century ago was
accompanied by a renewed interest in consciousness both as a method
of investigation and as an object of study for scientific psychology.
Introspection in the first person is again a legitimate method and
conscious phenomena (subjective experiences of emotions, dreams,
mental images, inner speech, meta cognition, attentional neglect, brain
divided, altered states of consciousness, etc.) are objects of study to
the same extent as observation in the third person of the impact of
environmental or internal changes on the behavioral and physiological
reactions of the individuaL Despite some resistance, psychology can
again be considered as one of the sciences of consciousness. Renewed
interest in consciousness has been bolstered by the emergence of
new technologies for the measurement of brain activity (e.g., f-MRI,
PET-SCAN, new generation of EEG). These innovations have made
it possible to objectify the individual's introspective reports, thus
adding some validity to introspective methods or insights, which in
turn has to some extent validated the psychological interpretation of
brain activity (e.g., Bayne et al., 2009; Blackmore, 2010; Block, 2007;
Carter, 2010; Chalmers, 2010; Pons and Doudin, 2007; Velmans and
Schneider, 2006, for recent reviews).
Despite this revival, and also perhaps because of it, it is clear that
it is still difficult today to have a coherent understanding of the realities
to which consciousness refers to within psychological sciences.
A reading of this literature sometimes gives the impression that
every scholar has a different understanding; understandings that are sometimes difficult to grasp, even when they are explained, which is
not always the case! Despite this conceptual confusion, in this chapter
we ask whether it is possible today to present a coherent picture of the
nature, origins, and functions of consciousness. In order to achieve
this, we will attempt to answer the following three questions: "What
is consciousness?" "What are the functional origins of consciousness?"
"What are the functions of consciousness?"
Our answers to these questions will always be presented in
two stages. First, we analyze the answers provided in the work of
Jean Piaget. Indeed, Piaget, along with Freud, is one of few scholars
in psychology who provided a framework for understanding
conscious experience as well as answers to these three questions.
Second, we will discuss Piaget's answers in light of contemporary
research on consciousness in the cognitive and affective sciences, including ours. Such an approach should allow us to present
the relatively little-known conceptualization that Piaget had of consciousness,
to assess its worth in light of contemporary investigations,
and to measure its influence on contemporary research of consciousness
The chapter is divided into five sections. We begin by briefly situating
the concept of consciousness within Piaget's work. We then present
Piaget's answers to the three questions concerning the nature, functional
origins, and functions of consciousness, and we examine each
time how these are treated in contemporary research. We conclude
with a synthesis of our answers to these three questions and discuss
implications for future research.