In regard to the question I asked in the title of this post, I'd say "No." For one thing, how could someone know that they are conscious without an extra something-or-other besides supposedly pure consciousness?
I talked about this in "My (only) big problem with Sam Harris' 'Waking Up' book."
Let's be clear: Sam Harris considers that the brain produces consciousness. He doesn't show any sign of believing in a transcendent non-physical consciousness (like soul or spirit) which exists apart from the brain. So I have no problem with this aspect of Harris' view of consciousness.
But as I said in the previous post, I can't grasp what Harris is getting at when he writes about what he experienced while meditating:
There were periods during which all thought subsided, and any sense of having a body disappeared. What remained was a blissful expanse of conscious peace that had no reference point in any of the usual sensory channels.
Many scientists and philosophers believe that consciousness is always tied to one of the five senses -- and that the idea of a "pure consciousness" apart from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching is a category error and a spiritual fantasy. I am confident that they are mistaken.
Hmmmm. I'm just as confident that they are not mistaken. It seems obvious that everyday consciousness isn't limited to sense experiences. Dreaming is a conscious act. It doesn't involve seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching via the five senses.
Likewise, I can believe that in a state of deep meditation, Sam Harris did indeed lose any sense of having a body, and wasn't thinking in any ordinary sense. But Harris was still conscious of something, right? He speaks of this as "a blissful expanse of conscious peace."
That doesn't sound like "pure consciousness." It sounds like consciousness of a blissful expanse of conscious peace. No thought. No sensory impressions. But there were contents within Harris' consciousness: bliss, an expanse, peace.
A letter in the September 22, 2018 issue of New Scientist rings true to me.
From Ed Subitzky
New York, US
I much enjoy the ongoing discussion of consciousness in your pages (for exampled, Letters, 21 July). It seems to me that one cannot just be conscious: you have to be conscious of something, whether it is the scent of a rose, the internal feeling of being happy or sad, or the words you are reading now.
Consciousness, whatever it is, must have content in order to exist. Substituting the phrase "consciousness" with the phrase "consciousness of" makes the entire issue seem more tractable.
Good point. This still leaves open the possibility that consciousness is an actual thing, distinct from what consciousness is aware of.
However, it also opens the door to consciousness being awareness of something, not a self-existent entity. It's sort of like saying that there is something termed "life" that is separate from every living thing.
What would this "life" be like? Similarly, what would consciousness absent being conscious of something be like? Even if someone is only aware that they are conscious, that awareness is something, not pure consciousness devoid of any conscious content.
So it isn't all that crazy to say that consciousness doesn't exist in and of itself. Only consciousness of some content exists.