That’s Not an Argument

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!

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18 thoughts on “That’s Not an Argument

  1. The notion of what a conscious state is seems to be somehow theoretically/copnceptually prior to neural investigation.

    Can we have a trustworthy notion of what a conscious state is before such investigations?

  2. Hi Eric,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Things have been crazy around here with the begining of the new semester!

    That’s a good question. It seems to me that we can have as reliable a notion as any that we have before we begin to investigate any of the phenomena we encounter in our lives. The situation usually begins by identifying something as warenting further explanation, conscious estates don’t seem any different to me. So we may start our investigation of conscious states simply by saying ‘I want to find out more about those things’ where one is attending to ones conscious experience. This will single out what we want to know more about and our initial idea may underego changes as we investigate it. But knowing how the brain works will never be able to explain why some states are conscious and other are not. TO answer that question we need a theory that tells us the difference between these kinds of states already in hand. Compare the question of whether the brain manipulates symbols or not (that is whether it is an (evolved) classical computer or not). Learning how the brain works can only tell us how it implements its symbol crunching not whether it does or not. To answer that question we have to have, independently and prior to neural investigation, a theory of computation. There is no ‘neurophilosophical’ theory of what computation is. WHy should be expect it to be otherwise for conscious states?

  3. I don’t see why neuroscience won’t explain why some states are and aren’t conscious. I think it will provide such an explanation, and it will probably not look a lot like what people theorize in the absence of such data (and psychological data of course).

    Computation is well defined by Turing and others. Consciousness is not. The target of theories of consciousness is nowhere near as well defined. Since consciousness is likely some biological feature of the brain (including functional features), I expect our study of consciousness to proceed much like our study of digestion, a case where it seems your argument doesn’t work. We knew in general terms that we digested (e.g., inputs, outputs, energetic considerations), but the nature of digestion wasn’t revealed until we started to get the biology right.

  4. Thanks for the response.

    I don’t see how the digestion case helps you out. We did not discover what digestion was by looking at the biology. We had a theory of digestion well before then. What happened when we looked at the biology was that we discovered something about digestion, that it was a chemical processes. As far as I can see this took the normal route I described earlier. We identify something we are interested in, in this case ‘the process by which food is converted into energy,’ we learn ‘usually happens in the stomach’ we focus on the stomach, we discover ‘chemical process involving enzymes breaking down food into sugars’. So, though you are right that in one sense we did discovery ‘the nature of digestion’ (in that we discoivered that it is a chemical process) in another sense we already knew the neature of digestion. We had a theoretical term that was defined in such a way so as to ‘fix the reference’ of the thing in question.

    So, I agree with you that work from neuroscience will constrain which theories of consciousness turn out to be plausable candidates for the truth. And I also agree with you that the end result may look very different from current theories. The way I interpret findings from currect neuroscience and physcology is as showing that some mental states occur unconsciously. We then need a theory that tells us the difference between the two. Looking at the brain can’t help us with that. How could it? What would we be looking for?

  5. We then need a theory that tells us the difference between the two. Looking at the brain can’t help us with that. How could it? What would we be looking for?

    Any host of studies of which bits of the brain toggle with consciousness and which are locked to the stimulus. Obviously this is all done with an eye to the functional role being played by the two types of representations. Also, there are plenty of psychological studies of such things that don’t presuppose a thoroughly analyzed concept of consciousness.

    Ultimately all that we need is a minimal initial understanding, an extension-fixing pointer, which we use to get good prototypical instances to study, good model systems to get under the hood both neural and psychological (of course I don’t see these as separate but coevolving stories). So in that sense I agree with what you are saying. How could we study language without having some idea what we were referring to? Similarly with consciousness. But this ability to identify an instance of X is not the same as having a good understanding of X, or even an understanding worth preserving once the science marches on.

    My worry is about people who spend their time thinking about the concept rather than doing the empirical work to understand particular instances via extensive experiments, which is the best route to understanding.

    With consciousness we aren’t as far along as your tendentious take on our initial view of digestion–if you look far enough back with digestion, before people had the concept of energy, you may have a more apt analogy with present studies of consciousness. People eat food, and this bears some relationship to waste products, and this is required to stay alive. Let’s study how all this works.

    I don’t understand why you think neuroscience won’t help us understand what consciousness is, just as physics and biology led us to understand the nature and proper definition of digestion.

  6. Hi Eric,

    I’m not sure what we are disagreeing about here. I am not arguing that “neuroscience won’t help us understand what consciousness is’. What I am arguing is that without some prior theoretical understanding of the process looking at the brain won’t do us any good at all. In particular there won’t be an explanation of what consciousness is that is ‘neurophilosophical’ in the sense that Mandik has in mind. The same is also true about digestion. Knowing that the stomach secretes this chemical or that chemicals useless unless we are looking for the mechanism by which the body breaks down food. I don’t see how modernscience helped to show us the proper definition f digestion. What we found out was how the body digests. We didn’t learn anything about digestion itself (apart from how it is down n us)…

  7. Before getting to digestion, I’ll take another tack as we don’t have as good an understanding of consciousness as the cavemen had of digestion.

    You seem to think we have a solid concept of what a conscious state is, that is “prior” to neuroscience. What is this concept? Something it is like? Raw feels? A state of which we are conscious? All of these are controversial. If there were some kind of universal agreement amongst reasonable people about the concept, you would be on much surer footing.

    So, to put things back on your end, what is the definition of consciousness that you have that neuroscience will not help to clarify? (And I should also ask whether psychology can help to clarify it.)

    If consciousness were an observable like trees and food, things would be much easier.

    Luckily, science doesn’t wait for philosopehrs to be clear on what they mean by X before they start studying instances of X.

    For an example that might be a wee bit closer to consciousness than digestion is, I’d say ‘life.’ We still don’t have a very good concept of life, but would you want to say that biology hasn’t helped clarify it (say, because the Greeks could easily pick out clear instances of the term)?

    What about the Krebs Cycle? Obviously there was no good folksy definition of that before biology really got rolling. It could we turn out that consciousness is like the Krebs Cycle, that until a bunch of other conceptual pieces of the puzzle are in place (provided by science), philosophers’ attempts to clearly conceptualize the problem of consciousness is in vain. So even if I grant your point about digestion (I discuss that below but I am more interested in what you think about what I’ve said above the fold so to speak), there are still plenty of ways for you to be mistaken, ways that it seems you are likely mistaken (unless you can provide a nice conceptualization of consciousness).

    I don’t see how modernscience helped to show us the proper definition [o]f digestion

    OK, if we define digestion as the breaking down of ingested substances for use by living things, then I will grant you the point (though initially you defined it using the term ‘energy’, which makes digestion more like the Krebs Cycle, where we needed some pieces of the puzzle from science before we could even define it correctly).

    So rather than argue about how we should define digestion, I’ll give you the win on that one, but am curious what you think about my above claims.

    To be clear I’m only granting the digestion point for the purposes of argument. The reason I am indeed still doubtful about your claim with digestion is because of what is required to answer certain questions. E.g., do creatures without digestive systems digest, such as bacteria. What about my cactus? Venus fly traps? To answer these questions we need to know a lot about digestion (in a more fine-grained generalizable way than you get from merely pointing at canonical instances with your initial folk understanding), so that suggests we indeed do learn something about the concept of digestion from studying the mechanisms. But rather than get bogged down with this, I think my above points get at the crux of the disagreement more clearly.

  8. Thanks again for the comments Eric! This is quite helpful.

    “You seem to think we have a solid concept of what a conscious state is that is ‘prior to neuroscience’. What is this concept?…all of these are controversial”

    I agree that all of those listed are controversial. They are the kinds of theories that neuroscientific data can help decide. Neuroscience can help us figure out which of the proposed analyses of consciousness is the right one. I think the evidence points to a higher-order theory. I don’t mean to be saying that we need to know what theory of consciousness is right before brain science will help us…that would be strange! I only mean that we need to look at neuro data as evidence for or against a given theory of consciousness. It would be weird for neuro data to tell us what conscious was (other than telling us which way the brain does it, and which theory is correct).

    The life question is a good one. But it seems to support my case. Looking at the biology hasn’t helped us get a good handle on what life is. What we need is a good theory of what it means to be alive, and we don’t have that yet. Again, I am not sure what we are really disagreeing over. I grant that science is important and that we need to pay attention to experiments. All I have been arguingis that there is no distinctive theory of cnsciousness that we could call ‘neurophilosophical’ in Mandik’s sense and which is opposed to any traditional theories of consciousness. No such theory will be able to explain why some states are conscious and others are not (just like without a theory of digestion we can’t answer your proposed questions about digestion).

    Of course all of this could be settled with just one counter-example. Can you name a theory of consciousness that is neurophilosophical and distinct from the usual theories of consciousness?

  9. It isn’t clear either of us would advocate different methods. Psychologists and neuroscientists need to study conscious systems, come up with theories that explain consciousness, and eventually (if it is possible) some good explanations will come of it. Where we may differ is in how much we care about whether the theories they discover map neatly onto pre-existing philosophers’ categories. I don’t care at all, and you do seem to care.

    So you would grant that consciousness could turn out to be analagous to the Kreb’s Cycle? So we needed some biology to have an understanding of ‘what it means to be the Krebs’ Cycle’?

    Similarly, with the digestion thing, you may be missing some of the point of my last paragraph. We don’t even get a good theory of what digestion is before doing the biology and getting under the hood. That was my point, and it undermines your thesis.

    Looking at the biology hasn’t helped us get a good handle on what life is.

    So are you suggesting that to get a good handle on what life is, we don’t need biology?

    You are saying you don’t see where we disagree, but you are saying things that seem absurd about the development of concepts such as ‘life’ and ‘digestion’ in biology, so we obviously disagree. Progress in biology (and physics) yields qualitatively new definiens, resources that were unavailable previously.

    While we don’t have a great definition of ‘life’ clearly biology has helped move us in the right direction, and many of the aspects that are now taken as criterial of ‘life’ are things that have been discovered in the past 200 years of biology. The same will likely happen with consciousness.

  10. I know that since you studied with Churchland you are more likely to be critical of folk psychology, and you know that since I studied with Fodor and Rosenthal I am likely to more friendly to folk psychology; but I don’t think that that is what at at issue here (as you seem to suggest in the first paragraph). My claim is that you have to have a theory of what the difference is between conscious and unconscious mental states before you look at the brain. I claim that looking at the brain, by itself, won’t ever give you a theory of what this difference is. What looking at the brain will do is confirm or disconfirm a given theory. It may also make us modify our theory in certain ways, ways that even may perhaps suggest a revision of our folk psychology (for instance, in my opinion, this is what has happened with respect to the existence of unconscious pains. If the idea of a pain that isn’t felt by the creature who’s pain it is lys n the face of philosophers” intuitions about pain, too bad for them and their intuitions. The evidence is pretty much in on this issue (I think)).

    Nor do I think that this theory must be one of the pre-existing ones that we have now.

    I just think you are wrong about the digestion thing. We had a fairly good idea of what digestion was well before anyone ever heard of the Kreb cycle! Look at this book on digestion from 1840. There was lively debate about whether digestion was accomplished by putrafication, attrition, or dissolving via solvent. What we have here is just what I have been talking about. We have several theories of digestion and looking at the biology will ultimately decide which one is correct/how we will have to modify them. I don’t see why this is absurd.

    Let me try a slightly different tact. Can there be a neurophilosophical theory of mentality? That is, do you think that we could a theory of what a mental state is solely in terms of how the brain works? No. Suppose we tried your line. Here is a no doubt all too brief summary: We identify the mental states via old school philosophers and their intuitions. We investigate and are led to the brain. We then start to investigate the brain in depth. But then we find out that there are states of the brain which are not mental states (say, for instance, states in the pons. How did we discover this? Because we have a well-worked out theory of what a mental state is which is independent of our theory of how the brain works (that is as a state with intentional or qualitative properties).

  11. We are likely to not agree here, and I’m just gonna start repeating myself at this point, so to just sum up some points as my last post.

    1. You missed my point about the Krebs cycle, which I explicitly brought up independently of digestion. It was a separate example of something that we just didn’t even have the right kinds of data or ideas to have a theory of until we had more biology. Science introduces new definiens all the time, ones that armchair thinkers could never think of. Consciousness could turn out like that, that we just need more concepts, to be supplied by psychology and neuroscience, before it is even clearly conceptualized as a target.

    2. I like my previous comment about ‘life.’

    3. Sure there were arguments about the mechanisms of digestion going back many centuries. From what I’ve been told, the midevils thought that digestion didn’t involve the incorporation of matter from the food into our bodies (something about how it would sully the purity of the self or something).

    But can someone who doesn’t have the concept of energy, of any of the molecular biology, answer my questions about whether plants, bacteria, and the like digest? Would you take the word of someone in 1848 in such a question over what a biologist in today’s world would say?

    This gets at my fineness of grain argument came from in the last para of my second to last comment. While older theories of digestion based on creatures with stomachs (as in that book you cite) are interesting, they don’t bear on the point. (And that is relatively late in theories of digestion, as it had already been established that stuff in the stomach could break down meat even when pulled out of the stomach). Is it a conceptual truth that digestion is something that only creatures with stomachs do? Or, since 1848, has molecular biology revealed homologies that merit saying that venus fly traps digest?

    If, in 1848, people thought digestion was only something creatures with stomachs did, if a philosopher said it was a ‘conceptual’ truth that this was part of the concept of digestion, is that definition sacrosanct, or flexible and able to evolve with new results? In this case, clearly, I am not advocating eliminativism about digestion, but also not a smooth reduction of what someone in 1848 may have said to modern physiology of digestive processes. The idea of what digestion is has been much more elastic than all that in biology.

    So, in modern biology, to answer what the nature of X is, we need to know more than just folksy theories. There are molecular homologies that are quite surprising when you look superficially at the phenotype which reveal that things that look superficially different are actually the same thing.

    4. For reasons stated in 2 and 3, I just don’t buy these conceptual “priorities.” Things in biology are messier than all that. Higher-level theories coevolve with lower-level theories, the concepts are in a frequent state of flux until they become relatively stable because they mutually reinforce each other.

    5. I’m not saying it can’t be helpful to have a prior notion of consciousness before looking at the brain basis of consciousness (see my comments on language above), but to say we need a kind of conceptual clarity beforehand is just not necessary, and is not how things work. As I said, a rough extension-fixing pointer is all we need to get started, and we are lucky, as there is no good conceptualization of consciousness right now.

    6. You are right that I don’t take folk theories seriously, and I am frankly surprised that anybody does. They are largely wrong in every domain where we know the ‘right’ answer. However, it is admittedly an empirical question whether folk psychology by some interesting coincidence will be vindicated by neuroscience and scientific psychology. I have no investment in eliminativism or reductionism or any philosophical -ism, but only in getting the science right, and luckily one of the best ways to do that is to ignore the philosophers.

  12. On your last paragraph, which says we need a well worked out theory of what the mental is before we can see mental states in brains, I agree and disagree. What we end up with, after a couple of centuries of studying these things in tandem (the coevolutionary strategy), the concept of the mental will likely have little resemblance to the one that you started with before the science was well-developed.

    So in that weak sense I agree, as I’ve said many times using life, language, and the like as examples (things we had a very poor conception of before the science began), we need to have some minimal pointer to what we are studying. But the best new ideas come from the data you get from poking and prodding at the phenomenon, not from thinking about it before the data comes in.

  13. We are likely to not agree here, and I’m just gonna start repeating myself at this point, so to just sum up some points as my last post.

    This is probably true, but I do appreciate the orderliness of the points! 🙂

    1. You missed my point about the Krebs cycle, which I explicitly brought up independently of digestion. It was a separate example of something that we just didn’t even have the right kinds of data or ideas to have a theory of until we had more biology. Science introduces new definiens all the time, ones that armchair thinkers could never think of. Consciousness could turn out like that, that we just need more concepts, to be supplied by psychology and neuroscience, before it is even clearly conceptualized as a target.

    I think you missed the point of my response. Sure we get new concepts from science, but I have never denied that. Kreb’s cycle is a theory of how digestion in humans is done, not a theory of what digestion is. But leaving that aside, I don’t disagree with anything that you say about it. I expect conscious to be the same, just as you say. We will not ever learn how the brain generates conscious states without looking at the brain. Therefore we will not ever truely know what conscious states are until we learn how they are implmented in the brain; I completly agree with this. But how is it supposed to contradict anything that I have said?

    2. I like my previous comment about ‘life.’

    I guess I thought I answered that en passant, but let me spell it out. I never said that we don’t need to look at biology in order to get a handle on what life is. What I said was that looking at the biology, by itself, was not enough. I do not deny that knowledge of biology is a necessary condition for a good theory of life, I deny that it is a sufficient condition.

    3. Sure there were arguments about the mechanisms of digestion going back many centuries. From what I’ve been told, the midevils thought that digestion didn’t involve the incorporation of matter from the food into our bodies (something about how it would sully the purity of the self or something). But can someone who doesn’t have the concept of energy, of any of the molecular biology, answer my questions about whether plants, bacteria, and the like digest? Would you take the word of someone in 1848 in such a question over what a biologist in today’s world would say? This gets at my fineness of grain argument came from in the last para of my second to last comment. While older theories of digestion based on creatures with stomachs (as in that book you cite) are interesting, they don’t bear on the point. (And that is relatively late in theories of digestion, as it had already been established that stuff in the stomach could break down meat even when pulled out of the stomach). Is it a conceptual truth that digestion is something that only creatures with stomachs do? Or, since 1848, has molecular biology revealed homologies that merit saying that venus fly traps digest? If, in 1848, people thought digestion was only something creatures with stomachs did, if a philosopher said it was a ‘conceptual’ truth that this was part of the concept of digestion, is that definition sacrosanct, or flexible and able to evolve with new results? In this case, clearly, I am not advocating eliminativism about digestion, but also not a smooth reduction of what someone in 1848 may have said to modern physiology of digestive processes. The idea of what digestion is has been much more elastic than all that in biology.So, in modern biology, to answer what the nature of X is, we need to know more than just folksy theories. There are molecular homologies that are quite surprising when you look superficially at the phenotype which reveal that things that look superficially different are actually the same thing.

    Again, I have agreed with everything you say here so I am not sure why you think that this is a point against me.

    4. For reasons stated in 2 and 3, I just don’t buy these conceptual “priorities.” Things in biology are messier than all that. Higher-level theories coevolve with lower-level theories, the concepts are in a frequent state of flux until they become relatively stable because they mutually reinforce each other.

    Again, given 2 and 3 I don’t see how you can’t. What eveidence is there that our theory of what a conscious state is has been influenced by biology? You accuse me of thinking that science WON’T change our concept of what a conscious state is, but where is the evidence that it WILL? Surely it is a possibility that one of our previous theories of conscious could turn out to be right, isn’t it? I mean we could find out that (say) the higher-order theory is right, we may find out that it is false as well, but this is something that we have to look to the data for, no? I mean perhaps 1,000 years from now we will think of consciousness in some way that is fundamentally different than any of our current ways of thinking about it (i.e. as states that there is something that it is like for a creature, or states that we are conscious of, or states that we are conscious with), but it may be the case that what we know 1,000 years from now is that one of those theories is right.

    6. You are right that I don’t take folk theories seriously, and I am frankly surprised that anybody does. They are largely wrong in every domain where we know the ‘right’ answer. However, it is admittedly an empirical question whether folk psychology by some interesting coincidence will be vindicated by neuroscience and scientific psychology. I have no investment in eliminativism or reductionism or any philosophical -ism, but only in getting the science right, and luckily one of the best ways to do that is to ignore the philosophers.

    This seems to assume that there is some relevant difference between philosophers and scientists. Care to share what that is? What you probably mean is that we should ignore a certain kind of philospher, which is a different matter.

    What you seem to ignore is that you haven’t avoided all of the ‘isms’…because in order to ‘get the science right’ you need to assume a whole hell of a lot of isms!! Scientists are ‘natural philosophers’ whether they like it or not.

    But anyway, so it seems we agree on the point I was making earlier. The question is an empirical one and so far the science has not produced a theory of conscious states that is different from the ordinary ones that have been around for centuries. So you may be right that ‘the best new ideas come from poking and prodding at the phenomenon, not from thinking about it beofre the data comes in’ but it is also important to realize that the poking and prodding only makes sense if you are testing a theory.

  14. As an empirical matter, ignoring philosophers makes for better science. The converse doesn’t hold. In fact, I would be a better scientists if I weren’t here arguing about this crap.

    Poking and prodding doesn’t only make sense if it is to test a theory. Exploratory research is crucial, and normally the best ideas come after acquiring data using a new technique, or are suggested by the data, not the theory you thought you were actually testing. Data drive conceptual innovations. This is especially true in non-physics.

    For the record, I am pretty sure we don’t agree, in pretty major ways, but I’ll let historians of the “That’s not an argument” page on your blog determine that as I’ve had enough of the word ninja.

  15. As long as you have a section on whay is wrong with that brainch of natural philosophy now called ‘neuroscience’ I agree! 😉

    But seriously, scientists ignore philosophers at their peril, and vice versa. When (contemporary) scientists ignore philosophers they just end up doing the philosophy on their own (and usually poorly to boot). Of course the same is true for philosophers. You are rightly critical of one kind of philosopher (one that is around less and lesss often these days…and even their decedents (i.e. Chalmers) have a healthy respect for science).

    And let me just say one more time that I am not denying that data drive conceptual innovations. What I deny is that you can get an explanation of the difference between conscious mental states and unconscious mental states at the explanatory level of brain function. So if it turns out that you are right and those categories are bunk then we won’t have an issue. But then again it may turn out that we discover that the difference is, say, what the higher-order theory of consciousness says it is, and if we do find this out it will be partly because we have a well worked out theory that is capable of being confirmed or disconfirmed.

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