The Introspective HOT Zombie Problem

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Usually you will find me defending Rosenthal’s version of the higher-order thought theory of consciousness but today I want to raise what might be a problem. In an earlier post (Varieties of Higher-Order Zombie) I introduced what I call an Introspective HOT Zombie, which is

a creature who lacked all of my first-order states and all of my second-order states but which had all of my third-order [i.e. introspective] states. This is the introspective HOT zombie. This creature has no conscious states even though it seems to him [introspectively] as though he does. When I see red I will be conscious of the red and conscious of myself as seeing red and were I to introspect I would be conscious of myself as being conscious of myself as seeing red, but the introspective HOT zombie is just conscious of itself as being conscious of itself as seeing red.

So what is it like for the Introspective HOT Zombie? The answer,according to higher-order theory, must be that it is like consciously seeing red. Why? Here is a relevant passage from Rosenthal’s “Introspection and Self-Interpretation”

When we introspect a state, we are conscious of it in a way that seems attentive, focused, deliberate, and reflective. When a state is conscious but not introspectively conscious, by contrast, we are conscious of it in a way that is relatively fleeting, diffuse, casual, and inattentive. Introspective and introspective consciousness do not seem to differ in any other ways. There is no phenomenological or subjective difference, and no theoretical reason to posit any difference. (p. 110 in Consciousness and Mind)

Since there is no phenomenological or subjective difference between having a conscious state and introspecting that state what it is like for a creature to have a conscious mental state and what it is like for that creature to introspect its conscious mental state will be the same, albeit with the caveat that in introspection we will be conscious of the first-order state in a way that is attentive, focused, etc. So the Introspective HOT Zombie will seemingly have a conscious experience that it does not in fact have.

Now, this in and of itself is not necessarily a problem for Rosenthal’s account, though it does show that he has some explaining to do. But whatever his explanation is of how the Introspective HOT Zombie is possible it immediately leads us to what we might call an Introspective Intra-subjective Qualia Inversion Problem. In the previous post that I mentioned, I posed the problem as follows. Imagine

a creature who had a first-order state that was a seeing of red and that had a HOT misrepresenting this first-order state as a seeing of green. What it is like for this creature to have the first-order state will be like seeing green so it will be like seeing green for this creature. Now suppose that this creature introspects its conscious mental states and (for some reason) has a third-order state that represents the second-order state as a seeing of red (that is it accidentally gets things right). What will it be like for this creature?

According to the argument above Rosenthal is committed to saying that it will be like seeing red for this creature since being conscious of myself as being conscious of myself as seeing red just is like seeing red for me. But, as I point out, Rosenthal is also committed to saying that it will be like seeing green for this creature since what it is like to have the first-order state is determined by the HOT. So it looks like we have to say that what it is like for this creature is simultaneously like seeing red and seeing green.

But that would mean that the creature represents some object or area of space as both red and green at the same time. Does this mean that it is then like seeing the object as yellow for the creature? Or are we to say that somehow the object both looks red and green (but not yellow) at the same time? How can one object both appear to be green and appear to be red at the same time? This seems absurd. What’s worse it seems like we could run the same argument on any experiences we want, so it might be the case that something looks both like a square and like a circle at the same time in virtue of having ones HOT represent some object as a square and then having an introspective 3rd order HOT that represents the second-order HOT as an experience as of a circle…

It is starting to look like the Introspective HOT Zombie is a real problem for Rosenthal’s view…


6 thoughts on “The Introspective HOT Zombie Problem

  1. Not sure if this fact has some importance here, but number-color synaesthesists (people who see different numerals as being in different color, e.g. 4 is red, 5 is blue, etc…), can apparently see something which is both green and red in same time (though not yellow). I think I heard Ramachandran giving the example in one lecture (it is in the list of videos on Brood Comb) where to those synaesthesits a big numeral (e.g. 5) was shown “painted” by using little numerals (e.g. 3) as some kind of pixels. Something like this: (not sure it will come out right)

    3 3 3
    3 3 3

    Anyway, those people if I remember right said that there are both colors, but I think they saw that it depends on “how they look at it”.

  2. Thanks Tanasije,

    I am aware of the Ramachandran stuff on synesthesia (I saw him give that talk at a Cognitive Neuroscience Society Meeting a while back in San Francisco)…I will have to re-watch it, but I thought that these people saw either red or green (but not both) depending on whether they focused on the global features (the 5) or local features (the 3’s)…

  3. BTW, can’t HOT supporters avoid the problem by claiming that the higher order representation that is connected to the introspection is infallible, and hence that those situations can’t happen?

  4. I don’t think so, since it is usually held that part of what it means to represent something is that there is the possibility of misrepresentation. It would be very hard, if not impossible, to have a higher-order thought theory that respected the infallibility of introspection…

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