Empirical Support for the Higher-Order Theory of Consciousness

I think that the Higher-Order theory of consciousness is a well worked out naturalistic theory of consciousness that has a decent shot at actually being true. This is not to say that I actually think it is true, or which version of it is, but it seems to me that it has the advantage over every other kind of theory out there. The best part about higher-order theories, though, is that they are worked out in enough detail so that we can begin to evalutate it for empirical adequacy. I have previously argued that there is empirical evidence that points in this way (On Hallucinating Pain, HOT Block, Swimming Vegetables? Fish, Pain, and Consciousness)

Via David Rosenthal my attention was brought to a recent NY Times article, Go Ahead, Rationalize. Monkeys Do It, Too where they discuss research that suggests that rationalizing ones choices is an unconscious, automatic process. The research on animals is fascinating, but perhaps the most convincing is the data on amnesiacs. These people showed the same rationalizing patterns as control subjects even though they did not remember choosing the object (which they now rated higher). This suggests that there are unconscious mental states at play in the amnesiac’s rationalization process. Furthermore, given that people tend to confabulate when asked why they made the rankings that they did this suggests that we are conscious of the process in a way that differs from the actual nature of the (then) unconscious mental state. How else could this be explained if not by a theory of consciousness that depends on the transitivity principle?


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