I have been working on my paper ‘Consciousness, Higher-Order Thoughts, and What It’s Like’ which I will be presenting in a couple of weeks, parts of which have appeared here and over at Brains. I was reading through it today and something interesting occurred to me. It has been a project of mine for a while now to show that all and only mental states have qualitative properties, and so that the qualitative is the mark of the mental. To that end I have been developing a model of the propositional attitudes that treats the mental attitudes as a distinctive way of feeling about some represented proposition (I give an introduction to the account in my award winning 😉 paper The Mark of the Mental).
In this current paper I am trying to show that one prominent theory of consciousness requires that thoughts be modeled as qualitative states, and that this view that I have independantly worked out fits very nicely with the higher-order account but I am also interested in ways of trying to get people to see that they already think that the attitude of belief has a distintive qualitative feel. I point out what I think are good ways of seeing that in the paper, one of which is a intuition pump that Alvin Goldman came up with in his 1993 paper “The Psychology of Folk Psychology”. Here is what I say.
Goldman offers us a nice intuition pump. Imagine a Mary-like thought experiment with a super-scientist called Gary. Gary has never had a desire, now imagine that he suddenly does have one. Won’t he have learned something new? Namely won’t he now know what it is like for him to have a desire? It seems to me that this suggests that there is a qualitative aspect to this mental attitude. But what about beliefs?
What occurred to me was a way to extend Goldman’s intuition pump to the case of beliefs. Given that we think that there coul be unconscious beliefs, consider the following super-scientist Jerry. Imagine that Jerry has been raised in a special room, much like Mary and Gary, but instead of never seeing red (Mary) or never having a desire (Gary), Jerry has never had a conscious belief. He has had plenty of unconscious beliefs, but none of them have been conscious. Let us imagine that we have finally discovered the difference between conscious and unconscious beliefs and that we have fitted Jerry with a special implant that keeps all of his beliefs unconscious, no matter how much he introspects. Let us also imagine that this device is selective enough so that it wipes out only the beliefs and so Jerry has plenty of other conscious experiences. He consciously sees red, has pain, wants food, fears that he will be let out of his room one day, wonders what the molecular structure of Einsteinium is, etc.
Now imagine that one of Jerry’s occurrent, unconscious, beliefs suddenly becomes a conscious belief. For the first time in Jerry’s life he has a conscious belief. Won’t he learn something new? Won’t he learn what it is like for him to have the belief that he has always had? Doesn’t this suggest that it is part of what we ordinarily think about beliefs that they are qualitative states? Consider a Jerry-like Mary experiment. Let us suppose that Mary has never had a conscious experience of red, though she has had all kinds of unconscious red experiences and all kinds of other conscious experiences (perhaps, though, no conscious color experiences?). Now imagine that an unconscious, occurrent, experience of red suddenly becomes conscious…it seems to me that these two cases are identical.