Consciousness, Relational Properties, and Higher-Order Theories

Greetings from Kennebunkport!

Jen and I went whale watching yesterday (saw a few Hump-backs and a couple of Fin-backs)…but all I could think about was consciousness! That is, aside from trying not to get sea-sick 🙂

In an earlier post (The Function of Consciousness in Higher-Order Theories) I argued that higher-order theories were committed to saying that consciousness had very little function, but not, as Uriah suggested, to saying that consciousness was epiphenomenal. This was found to be puzzling by some, and today I was thinking about why this is.

Intuitively, what people think that higher-order theories construe a mental state’s being conscious as a relational property of the first-order state. This is not suprising, sunce Rosenthal has said in numerous places that on his view consciousness is a relational property. But this is actually not right.

In Sensory Qualities, Consciousness, and Perception he is very clear that consciousness is not a relational property of the first-order state (I do not have my copy of Consciousness and Mind with me, but the passage is in section 5). This is because, on his view, the higher-order state can occur ibn the absence of the first-order state.

So, a state’s being conscious is not an intrinsic property of the state, nor is it strictly speaking a relational property of the state. It simply isn’t a property that the first-order state has at all. Any given first-order state is conscious when a suitable higher-order state represents the creature as being in that state.

Now, I agree that this is odd sounding, but this is what Rosentyhal’s view is…this is yet another reason to prefer K-HOTs to Q-HOTs. On this view the first-order state does come to have the relational property of being conscious in virtue of causing a K-HOT that represents the creature as being in that state, and since there is no real difference between representing a state that does not exist and misrepresenting a state that does exist (on Rosenthal’s view) then the K-HOT account captures everything that Rosenthal wants to say without the odd sounding results.

OK, so back to the pool for me!

On Hallucinating Pain

OK, so one more for the rode…

I was recently re-reading one of Ned Block’s papers (‘Bodily Sensations as an Obstacle for representationism’) where he denies that there is an appearance/reality distinction when it comes to pain. This is a commn view to have about pain (had for instance by Kripke in his argument against the Identity Theory). Here is what he says

 My color experience represents colors, or colorlike properties. (In speaking of colorlike properties, I am alluding to Sydney Shoemaker’s “phenomenal properties”  or “appearance properties” or Michael Thau’s nameless properties.) But, according to me, there is no obvious candidate for an objectively assessable property that bears to pain experience the same relation that color bears to color experience. But first, let us ask a prior question: what in the domain of pain corresponds to the tomato, namely, the thing that is red? Is it the chair leg on which I stub my toe (yet again), which could be said to have a painish or painy quality to it in virtue of its tendency to cause pain–experience in certain circumstances, just as the tomato causes the sensation of red in certain circumstances? Is it the stubbed toe itself, which we experience as aching, just as we experience the tomato as red? Or, given the fact of phantom-limb pain, is it the toeish part of the body image rather than the toe itself? None of these seems obviously better than the others.

Now if one has adopted a higher-order theory of consciousness one will think that there is indeed an appearance/reality distinction to be made here. Since it is the higher-order state, and only the higher-order state, that accounts for there being something that it is like to have a conscious pain it follows that there is the real possibility that one may misrepresent oneself as being in pain when one is not, or as not being in pain when one is.

So it is no suprise to find David Rosenthal saying stuff like this

Just as perceptual sensations make us aware of various physical objects and processes, so pains and other bodily sensations make us aware of certain conditions of our own bodies. In standard cases of feeling pain, we are aware of a bodily condition located where the pain seems phenomenologically to be located. It is, we say, the foot that hurts when we have the relevant pain. and in standard cases we describe teh bodily condition using qualitative words, such as painful, burning, stabbing, and so forth. Descartes’s famous Sixth Meditation appeal to phantom pains reminds us that pains are purely mental statess. But we need not, on that account, detach them from the bodily conditions they reveal in the standard, nonhallucinatory cases. (from Sensory Quality and the Relocation Story)

 So Rosenthal seems to be saying that it is bodily conditions that play the role that the tomatoe does and it is first-order states which constitute an awareness of those conditions which play the role that Block calls ‘representing color or colorlike properties’. If these are all distinct states, then we should expect for them to come apart.

 I have addressed the issue of unconscious pains in some previous posts. An unconscious pain, for Rosenthal and those like him, is a state that makes us conscious of some bodily condition and which will resemble and differ other pains states in ways that are homomorphic to the resembelances and differences between these bodily states. But what about the other case mentioned? Is it even possible to think that one is in pain and be wrong?

Rosenthal cites what he calls ‘the dental fear phenomenon’ as evidence for this claim. Here is what he says (in the same article as before)

Dental patients occasionally report pain when physiological factors make it clear that no pain could occur. The usual explanation is that fear and the non-painful sensation of vibration cause the patient to confabulate pain. When the patient learns this explanation, what it’s like for the patient no longer involves anything painful. But the patient’s memory of what it was like before learning the explanation remains unchanged. Even when what it’s like results from confabulation, it may be no less vivid and convincing than a nonconfabulatory case.

Now, I have always felt that this dental fear stuff was a really convincing way of showing that there really is a reality/appearance distinction for pains, but when I have tried to research this I have not been able to find very much on it (and Rosenthal offers no citations), but it does seem to be a reletively common phenomenon. Here is an excerpt from a paper on dental fear in children that tells a dentists how to deal with this

Problems that a dentist is convinced are associated with misinterpretation of pain may be addressed by explaining the gate theory of pain. A very basic explanation which is suitable for children as young as five is as follows. ‘You have lots of different types of telephone wires called nerves going from your mouth to your brain (touch appropriate body parts). Some of them carry “ouch!” messages and the others carry messages about touch (demonstrate) and hot and cold. The sleeping potion stops the ouch messages being sent, but not the touch and the hot and cold messages. So you will still know that I am touching the tooth and you will still feel the cold of the water. Your brain looks out for messages all the time. If you are convinced that it will hurt, it will. This is because if I make the ouch nerves go off to sleep and I touch you, a touch message gets sent. But your brain is looking for ouch messages and it says to itself, ‘There’s a message coming. It must be an ouch message.’ So you go ‘ouch’ and it hurts, but all I did was to touch you. It’s just that your brain was confused.’ (The language may, of course, be adjusted for older children.) If this fails to work, then active treatment should be stopped. (from Dental Fear in Children)

This is clearly a pain hallucination, as evidenced by the fact that the way they treat it is not with more medication, but with an explanation, pitched at the kids level, of why what they are fealing is not pain.

Now this is very different from what is called neuropathic pain, which is pain that is caused by a misinterpretation of an innocuous stimuli, like touch, or pains like phantom limb pain. This is the result of one kind of stimuli, for one reason or another, causing the bodily state that gives rise to the perception of pain.

Peripheral nociceptive fibers located in tissues and possibly in the nervi nervorum can become hyperexcitable by at least by 4 major mechanisms: a) nociceptor sensitization (“irritable nociceptors”); b) spontaneous ectopic activity; c) abnormal connections between peripheral fibers; and d) hypersensibility to catecholamines. This peripheral sensitization results in increased pain responses from noxious stimuli (primary hyperalgesia) and previously innocuous stimuli elicits pain (peripheral allodynia). Central nociceptive second order neurons in the spinal cord dorsal horn can also be sensitized when higher frequency inputs activate spinal interneurons. This results in the release of neuromodulators that activate glutamate receptors and voltage-gated calcium channels with a net effect of an increase of intracellular calcium that windup action potential discharges. Degeneration of peripheral nociceptive neurons may trigger changes in the properties of low-threshold sensitive neurons and axonal sprouting of the central processes of thesefibers that connect with central nociceptive interneurons. (from Neuropathic Pain Treatment: The Challenge

So it does look like we can distinguish the three states and that we do in fact find cases on one without the other.

Shesh! that turned out to be longer than i expected…but what the hell? I’m Outa Here!

I’m Outa Here!

My girl friend and I are going to drive up the coast to Cape Cod and Kennebunkport and then we will make our way over to Toronto for the SPP, maybe I’ll see you there!

What this means is that for the next week or so I may be slow in responding to comments/posting new stuff, so please hang in there.

The Function of Consciousness in Higher-Order Theories

I was recently reading through a new paper of Uriah Kriegel’s called The Same-Order Monitoring Theory of Consciousness where he says this

If consciousness were indeed a relational property, M’s being conscious would fail to contribute anything to M’s fund of causal powers. And this would make the property of being conscious epiphenomenal (see Dretske 1995: 117 for an argument along these lines).

This is, by all appearances, a serious problem for HOMT [higher-order monitoring theory a.k.a. Higher-order thought theory]. Why have philosophers failed to press this problem more consistently? My guess is that we are tempted to slide into a causal reading of HOMT, according to which M* produces the consciousness of M, by impressing upon M a certain modification. Such a reading does make sense of the causal efficacy of consciousness: after M* modifies M, this intrinsic modification alters M’s causal powers. But of course, this is a misreading of HOMT. It is important to keep in mind that HOMT is a metaphysical, not causal, thesis. Its claim is not that the presence of an appropriate higher-order representation yields, or gives rise to, or produces, M’s being conscious. Rather, the claim is that the presence of an appropriate higher-order representation constitutes M’s being conscious. It is not that by representing M, M* modifies M in such a way as to make M conscious. Rather, M’s being conscious simply consists in its being represented by M*.

So far this is all right (notice how Uriah has Rosenthal’s account correctly formulated in such a way as to be immune from certain unicorn arguments). I have also pointed out how this implicit assumption about what the higher-order thought theory is keeps people from thinking the theory is anti-Cartesian in certain important respects.

But Uriah goes on to say that

When proponents of HOMT have taken this problem into account, they have responded by downplaying the causal efficacy of consciousness. But if the intention is to bite the bullet, downplaying the causal efficacy is insufficient – what is needed is nullifying the efficacy. The charge at hand is not that HOMT may turn out to assign consciousness too small a fund of causal powers, but that it may deny it any causal powers. To bite the bullet, proponents of HOMT must embrace epiphenomenalism. Such epiphenomenalism can be rejected, however, both on commonsense grounds and on the grounds that it violates what has come to be called Alexander’s dictum: to be is to be causally effective. Surely HOMT would be better off if it could legitimately assign some causal powers to consciousness. But its construal of consciousness as a relational property makes it unclear how it might do so.

Now Rosenthal will be speaking about this issue at the ASSC, and Uriah is right that Rosenthal does not think that there is much, if any, function to consciousness qua consciousness, so I don’t want to get into that stuff. What I want to question is whether or not anyone who agrees with Rosenthal is committed, in the way that Uriah seems to think that they are, to saying that consciousness is epiphenomenal.  

The brunt of the challenge seems to come from the claim that our being conscious of a mental state, and hence that mental state being conscious, does not change, or modify the first-order state in any way and so its causal powers are unaffected by being conscious. I think that this is right; in fact I use this as a premise in my argument that higher-order theories are committed to there being something that it is like for a creature to have a conscious thought. But does this claim entail that consciousness is epiphenomenal? I am not sure that it does.

I think that someone who like the higher-order theory could say that, while the first-order state does not come to have any new causal properties when it become conscious, the creature in which the state occurs does. So, at the very least, even by Rosenthal’s lights, we get the ability to report (as opposed to express) our mental states when they are conscious, and we get the ability to introspect our mental states and thereby come to know what it is like for us to have them.

Now whether they can say there is more to the function of consciousness than this is another question, but at the very least, one does not have to dine on the bullet that Uriah has prepared.



Meaning and Justification

So, I am finally done working on my paper ‘Consciousness, Higher-Order Thoughts, and What It’s Like‘. It has been converted into both PowerPoint and Poster format and I am looking forward to presenting it in the upcoming Weeks…but before I do I want to start what will be a series of posts on Emotive Realism, the metaethical view that I defend.

In some earlier posts (The Meaning and Use of ‘is True’, and ‘Truth, Justification and the Quasi-Realist Way‘) I argued against Simon Blackburn’s Quasi-Realism by showing that the deflationary account of truth that he relies on is unmotivated and cannot be support a satisfying account of justification. Ultimately what I want to do is to argue for a view that is emotive but that is also a kind of realism and which does nto hide behind the smoke and mirrors of deflationsim.

In this post I want show that Emotivism, and views like it, are actually two claims that can come apart; one about the meaning of ethical terms, the other about the justification of moral judgments. Emotivism is so often thought of as an anti-realist view mostly as a matter of the historical accident that its earliest defenders happened to be irrealists. If this is true then they is no principled reason why an emotive theory could’t also be a kind of realism. Along the way I wantto say something about what moral realism is.

The claim that these two issues (i.e. of th meaning of moral words and the justification of moral judgements) are seperate is not a popular view. In fact it is often thought that your views on one force your views on the other. In particular it is often argued that a philosopher’s theory of justification determines her theory of semantics and that this semantic theory is the only way to tell the difference between someone who is a ‘real-realist’ and quasi-realists like Simon Blackburn.  

David Copp (Copp 2001) is a nice example of this. He says that the distinctive doctrine of moral realism is that the moral realist thinks that the moral predicates refer to robust moral properties. So to say that suicide bombing is morally wrong is to assert that suicide bombing has the robust moral property of being wrong. To say that moral properties are ‘robust’ is to say that “[they] have the same basic metaphysical status as ordinary non-moral properties,” (p 4). It is of course a matter of some controversy just what the status of ordinary non-moral properties is. But in moral contexts there are, broadly speaking, two candidates and an ethical realist like Copp is committed to one of them. On the one hand we might think that there are non-natural properties and that ‘good’ and other moral words pick some of those properties out, or we might think that non-natural properties don’t exist and insist that moral properties must be natural properties and ‘good’ and other moral words pick some of those out.

The irrealist, on this view, is one who denies that the moral predicates refer to robust moral properties of either variety. It is, in fact, a huge mistake according to the irrealists to think that moral predicates act like non-moral predicates and refer to, or denote, or whatever, some kind of property. Moral predicates are in a different kind of business all-together and only look as though they stand for properties. What they really do is serve to express our moral sentiments, in much the same way that ‘ouch!’ express pain.

Notice though that even though we are told that we can differentiate these views by their semantics this is really supposed to be diagnostic of their views about the justification of moral judgments. The robust moral properties that moral predicates refer to are supposed to be the truthmakers for moral judgments in exactly the same way that non-moral properties are supposed to be the truthmakers for non-moral judgments. The irrealist denies that there are such properties and instead claims that moral judgments are justified by the emotional, conative, or motivational states of people. This leads us to the real distinction between realism and irrealism: If two people disagree over some fundamental moral claim, like whether unjustified killing is morally permissible, can, in some sense, both be right? A realist will claim that only one of them can be right, whereas an irrealist will claim that they can both be right. One way to secure this is by appealing to the kind of semantics already talked about, that is, by appealing to moral properties and claiming that the task of the moral predicates is to refer or denote those properties.

But there are really two questions that have been so far unaddressed in the meaning side of the question. Since we want to seperate meaning from use it then becomes important to assess whether the meaning claim that the emotivists made was really a claim about the meaning of the words or whether it was a claim about how the word was used independently of its meaning. It seems to me to be hostorically correct to say the latter, but even if it weren’t it is clearly possible to modernize the theory by saying that moral utterances are used to express our moral sentiments independently of their meaning, in much the same way that ‘I feel like a burrito’ (said in response to ‘what do you want for lunch? or something) expresses my desire to have a burrito for lunch independently of its meaning.

This could be the case even if the sentence that we said was literally false (as is the case when I say, of a talkitive friend, “he never shuts up”) This means that the issue of the meaning of the sentence that I say and the issue of the justification of the moral judgment I thereby express are completely seperate. There is no reason to think that in order to be a moral realist you must be committed to moral properties and to a semantics of moral words that has them referring to thos moral properties.