Mandik seems to think that if he deletes my arguments and threatens to ban me from his blog then he doesn’t have to address the issues…that’s fine. But there is an issue to address that I think is worth spelling out, as I think it generalizes a bit.
So, then what exactly is the disagreement?
In some other posts (Implementing the Transitivity Principle, and Is There Such a Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness?) I have been arguing that theories like Mandik’s (which include, I think, people like Churchland and Prinz as well) must really be implementing some actual theory about what conscious states are rather than actually giving a distinctly new kind of theory. The notion of what a conscious state is seems to be somehow theoretically/copnceptually prior to neural investigation.
So take Mandik’s version of the theory. On his view you have a sensory state which carries information about the outside world and which triggers an ‘egocentric conceptul’ state. An egocentric conceptual state is a state that has two kinds of content. It has objectively third person concepts and concepts that single out the thinker as the one having the experience. When these two states start to causally interact a conscious state is born. So, as an example take me having a conscious experience of seeing a red ball. Then I have a sensory state which carries information about the red ball (whatever that means…it probably means something like ‘there are properties that the objects in the world have and there are there cells in the retina, LGN, and V1, etc, which are ‘tuned’ to those properties’ and then there is a causal story about how those physical objects cause those things that are tuned to them to operate) and that sensory state triggers a egocentric conceptual state, perhaps something like ‘there is a red ball in that direction from me’ or perhaps more simply, ‘red ball in front of me’. These two states start to causally interact (whatever that means) and then, for some unexplained reason, there is a conscious seeing of a red ball.
Now when one hears this, one naturally sees a lot of parrellels with Rosenthal’s version of higher-order thought theory. On that theory there is a first-order state which has qualitative properties, these properties represent the perceptible properties of physical objects. So on both views we have some states and those states are in the business of representing physcial properties. Rosenthal wants to call the properties of the sensory states ‘sensory qualities’ or ‘qualitative properties’ and Mandik doesn’t, but other than that purely terminological point there is no difference at this point. Ok, so then the first-order sensory state ‘triggers’ (not really for Rosenthal, but let’s let that slide since Pete and I can both agree on it) a higher-order thought. The higher-order thought is something like ‘I am, myself, seeing a red ball’. The person is now conscious of themselves as seeing a red ball and so is consciously seeing a red ball.
So then one might be tempted to say ‘so, Mandik, you’re conceptualized egocentric states sound a lot like higher-order thoughts’ since they are basically states that conceptually characterize the sensory state. So, though it is not exacly Rosenthal’s higher-order theory, it is a theory that implements the transitivity principle and that takes care of the mystery about why having these states causally interact results in a conscious state. To which Mandik responds, ‘no, if they were higher-order thoughts then I would be conscious of the first-order sensory state, but on my theory I am only conscious of the red ball’. Mandik seems to think that that constitutes an argument that his view doesn’t implement transitivity (well, to be fair, I guess you need the premise ‘and I am only conscious of the red ball’ to make it an argument). I claim that it is something that itself needs an argument; it is the thing that you need to establish via an argument and so is not an argument that his view doesn’t implement transitivity, for the following reasons.
First, according to Rosenthal’s version of the theory it will in fact seem to you as though all you are aware of is the red ball because the higher-order thought conceptualizes the first-order state as having properties that belong to the tomatoe. But you become so conscious by being conscious of the first-order state. For it is the properties of the first-order state that you are conceptualizing! How could we conceptualize the object itself? We would not be conscious of the object if we did not have some first-order state that represented it. So to simply say ‘oh, on my view I am only conscious of the tomatoe, so it is not a higher-order view’ is to beg the question at hand. One needs to explain how it is that the egocentric ceonceptual state gets to be about the red ball without utilizing the sensory state. This is what I meant when I said that Mandik had not given an argument. He has not given an account of how it is that his ‘but I am only conscious of the tomatoe’ is true in a way that isn’t the above way.
And we do sometimes have the kinds of higher-order thoughts that Rosenthal affirms and Mandik denies. So for instance, I might think ‘I am having a really bad migrane right now’ (I am thinking about my experience) or ‘I felt really nausaus last night’ (I am thinking about when the experience occurred) or looking at a stick in some water ‘the way that stick looks is not the way that it is’ (I am thinking about the experience as different from reality)…We do think about vehicular properties of the experience (in Mandik’s terms). The claim that Rosenthal makes is that we are actually doing it all the time, though we are not conscious of doing it. So again Mandik needs to spell out how his view isn’t the above kind of view, which he hasn’t done.
When you point out that his evidence isn’t really evidence and whithout it he is simply insisting that his view is different without justification (again how else could it work if not in the way talked about above?) so it would be nice if he could be explicit and give an argument as to why it is different (that is, answer the above question), he refuses to answer. Now, I didn’t think that was such a big deal…in fact I was hoping that he would just give me an argument that showed me how I was wrong…But he didn’t…instead he deleted the post where I made the case just as I did above and threatened to ban me. Surely this is Cyber Sophistry!