A relational approach to consciousness: Categories of level and contents of consciousness

Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Hayato Saigo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Characterizing consciousness in and of itself is notoriously difficult. Here, we propose an alternative approach to characterize, and eventually define, consciousness through exhaustive descriptions of consciousness' relationships to all other consciousness. This approach is founded in category theory. Indeed, category theory can prove that two objects A and B in a category can be equivalent if and only if all the relationships that A holds with others in the category are the same as those of B; this proof is called the Yoneda lemma. To introduce the Yoneda lemma, we gradually introduce key concepts of category theory to consciousness researchers. Along the way, we propose several possible definitions of categories of consciousness, both in terms of level and contents, through the usage of simple examples. We propose to use the categorical structure of consciousness as a gold standard to formalize empirical research (e.g. color qualia structure at fovea and periphery) and, especially, the empirical testing of theories of consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberniab034
Number of pages13
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • category theory
  • Consciousness
  • contents of consciousness
  • functor
  • level of consciousness
  • natural transformation
  • qualia
  • yoneda lemma

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