Implementing the Transitivity Principle

A conscious mental state, for Pete, is a complex state made up of two interacting states. One a first-order sensory state that carries information about the world and the other a higher-representation that characterizes the first-order state in terms of the concepts available to the creature and that also has ‘egocentric’ content, which is content to the effect that the state in question belongs to the creature in question. Recently I have been arguing that theories of consciousness like Pete’s and Prinz’s, and Churchland’s are really just implementations of the transitivity principle (even though and in spite of the fact that they do not think that they are implemting it (Is There Such a Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness?)).

 In Ch. 5 of Pete’s book-in-progress The subjective Brain he address this concern by saying the following.

Aren’t mental representations with conceptualized egocentric contents automatically implementations of the Transitivity Principle?

Nope. According to Transitivity, a state is conscious only if one is conscious of it. However, according to the theory to be further fleshed out in the next chapter, one set of mental representations that would suffice for consciousness would include the following. I have a sensational state that carries the information that, among other things, there is a coffee cup to my left which triggers the conceptualization that there is a coffee cup to my left which in turn (the conceptualization) exerts (yet to be specified) causal influences on the sensational state. What I would be conscious of, on this view, is a coffee cup as being to my left. I would not be conscious of either the sensational state or the conceptual state or their mutual causal interaction. I need not be conscious of any mental state of me. (There being a coffee cup to my left is arguably a state of me, but it is pretty clearly not one of my mental states.) Therefore, the conceptual egocentric representations that suffice for consciousness need not implement Transitivity.

Now one way of responding to this claim, and the way that is currently being debated over at Bran Hammer (Contents, Vehicles, and Transitive Consciousness and more here), is to argue, as Robert Lurz does, that I can be conscious of my mental states by being conscious of what those states represent. If this is true then it is obvious that Pete and company are just offering an alternative way of implementing the transitivity principle. I do not want to talk about this issue here, as it is being debated at Brain Hammer and I am content to let it continue there.

What I do want to talk about is the claim that I have made that everything that Pete says is something that Rosenthal can agree with and so nothing that he has said shows that there is anything wrong with transitivity or that his theory doesn’t implement it. (A Tale of Two T’s). So, I was reading Ch. 4 of Conscious and Mind entitled ‘Introspection and Self-Interpretation’ while following up on my Introspective HOT Zombie of the previous post (more on that later) when I found this nice passage.

When one has a thought that one’s own experience visually represents a red physical object, that thought need not be in any way consciously inferential or based on theory; it might well be independent of any inference of which one is conscious. From a first person point of view, any such thought would seem unmediated and spontaneous. And it is the having of just such thoughts that makes one conscious of one’s experiences. Such a thought, morover, by representing the experience as itself visually representing a red physical object, makes one conscious of the experience as being of the type that qualitatively represents red objects. And being an experience of that type simply is having the relevant mental quality. So, being conscious of oneself as having a sensation of that type is automatically being consciousof oneself as having a sensation with the quality of mental red, and thus of the mental quality itself. (p. 119)

This is interesting because Rosenthal seems to be arguing, in the reverse of Lurz, that being conscious of my self as being in a certain mental state just is being conscious of what the state represents.

So for Rosenthal it will be true that when we introspect we will be conscious of the tomatoe. That is from the first person point of veiw it will seem to us that we are conscious only of the properties of the tomatoe. How is this possible? he makes this a little cearer on the next page where he says,

When one shifts one’s attention from the tomatoe to one’s visual experience of it, it does not seem, subjectively, that some new qualities arise in ones stream of consciousness. This may well seem to underwrite Harman’s insistence that the only quality one is aware of in either case is that of the tomatoe. But that is too quick. As noted earlier, we can be conscious of a particular thing in particular ways. When one see a red tomatoe consciously but unreflectively, one conceptualizes the quality one is aware of as a property of the tomatoe. So that is how one is conscious of that qulity.

So again, we conceptualize the mental quality as a property of the tomatoe when the state is conscious and so we are concious of it as a property of the tomatoe; to us it will seem as though all we are conscious of is the property of the tomatoe. When we introspect we conceptualize the quality as a property of the experience, not of the tomatoe. So Rosenthal can agree that what we are conscious of is the coffee cup or the tomatoe and yet all the while this is just an implementation of the transitivity principle.

Varieties of Higher-Order Zombie

A philosophical zombie is supposed to be a creature that is functionally/physically identical to you but which lacks qualitative consciousness. Although there is something that it is like for you to drink orange juice just after brushing your teeth, there is nothing that it is like for your zombie twin to do the same thing. Of course there is a huge debate over whether these things are really possible or not and if so what they show about consciousness. I don’t really want to get into this traditional problem (my own view is that the answers are ‘no’ and ‘nothing’), but rather want to discuss some kinds of higher-order zombies.

Disregarding the ‘functionally/physically identical’ bit, a zombie on the higher-order theory of consciousness is a creature that has all of my first-order states but none of my higher-order states. There will be nothing that it is like for this creature to have any of its mental states, even though he and I will be pretty much behaviorally indistinguishable (since conscious mental states have very little function on the higher-order theory (but not ‘no function’, as I argued in The Function of Consciousness in Higher-Order Theories)).

I was recently reading Rosenthal’s Metacognition and Higher-Order Thoughts, which is a response to several commentaries on his 2000 Consciousness & Cognition piece. In it Rosenthal addresses the possibility of a HOT zombie, which is a creature “whose inner life is subjectively indistinguishable from ours despite the lack of sensory states.” A HOT zombie is a creature who has all of my higher-order states but none of my first-order states. This is, of course, a radical version of the objection from the ’empty HOT’ and while it is wildly implausible, it is a theoretical possibility and so something must be said about it.

Now some may find the possibility of a HOT zombie to be paradoxical (in fact one of the commentors does). Rosenthal’s response to this is his usual one. He says,

[T]he intuitive paradox rests on an ambiguity in ‘sensory state.’ The sensory states the HOT zombie would lack are only nonconscious states. Since conscious states are states one is conscious of oneself as being in, notional states are allthat matter for the purposes of consciousness.

So me and my HOT zombie twin will have indistinguishable conscious experience but, as Rosenthal notes, we will behave in very different ways. This is because the first-order states that the HOT zombie lacks are the states that have most of the causal efficacy.

Now this is all very interesting in its own right (but I don’t want to discuss it now…Pete and I have argued over this stuff beofre, like here), but last night, as I was introspecting while listening to some live jazz music, I started thinking about another kind of higher-order zombie; an introspective HOT zombie. Introspection, on the higher-order theory, is the occurance of a suitable higher-order state that is about one’s higher-order states. A conscious experience occurs when one is conscious of oneself as being in a certain first-order state and in introspection one becomes conscious of oneself as being conscious of a certain higher-order state. Since introspection is simply the occurance of some third-order state about my second-order states all of the issues about misrepresentation come up again at this higher level.

So we could (theoretically) have 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 states. This is the introspective HOT zombie. This creature has no conscious states even though it seems to him 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. What will it be like for this ceature? It will be like consciously and introspectively seeing red.

As if this wasn’t bizzare enough we could (again theoretically) have a case of 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 accidently gets things right). What will it be like for this creature? Are we to say that this creature is conscious of itself as seeing red and not conscious of itself as seeing red? That what it is like for this creature is like seeing red and not seeing red?

I will have to think about this some more…