The Semester Begins

So the semester is starting up at the Graduate Center again (though not at LaGuardia, which though a CUNY school, is on a different schedule. Our semester starts March 1st…don’t ask). If everything goes according to plan this will technically be my last semester of graduate school! That is a very exciting prospect…though I am just begining to see how difficult it is to coordinate all of the people involved…I hope to defend in the first two weeks of September and I can see already that though it is nine months away it will br a challenge to get everyone that needs to be there there…not to mention finishing the actual dissertation and defending it!!!

The Colloquium series looks very interesting. I may go and check out Brandom’s talk talk tomorrow…though I am not sure…if anyone is interested the paper that the talk is based on is posted at the GC site I linked to above. These talks are open to the public and anyone who is the NYC area should come down, there is usually quite a turn out!

 Also interesting is Kripke’s class on philosophy of mathematics. It lookslike he will be talking about Quine’s indispensability argument which claims that mathematics is only interesting because it is useful (indispensable) to science and so its justification is ultimately empirical. There is a lot of support for that thesis at the GC (Rosenthal and Devitt spring to mind) and so it would be interesting to hear Kripke’s arguments on it. I may sit in on it here and there and if I do I will post some stuff about it. Sadly I will not be able to sit in on all of the other really interesting classes they are offering (like Devitt’s animal cognition one, or Armstrong’s ’empiricists metaphysics’ one…)

 Finally I want to also remind you of the CUNY CogSci symposium. The first talk is as follows

February 1: Michela Tacca
Philosophy and Social Sciences, Università di Siena
“The Structure of Vision: Systematicity of Visual Feature Binding”

All talks are Fridays 1-3 at the Graduate Center…drinks afterwards!!

And Another One…

Some of you may know about my penchant for writing utterly ridiculous philo-gangsta rap tunes…some of you may even have heard that I have been working on a new one on Descartes…well, it’s finally here! Go and check it out, if you dare…

In my previous attempts I have written the music myself and I was doing the same for this one, but then I realized that I had all of these Logical Form instrumentals lying around…Sorry guys 🙂

New Virtual Presentation!!

So, I just got a recording of my What is a Brain State? talk which I gave at the 2006 Towards a Science of Consciousness conference. I used that to record the narration to the powerpoint slides, and voila! A new virtual presentation. The conference uses a service called ‘conference recordings’ and it was easy to get the recording, but I think in the future I am going to try and record the narration as I am giving the talk…I think my mac laptop has a built in microphone…

This was by far the largest audience for a talk that I have had, and I was extremely nervous! So, I apologise in advance for all of the ‘um’s

More Good News!!!

 (Moving to the front; see update)

I just found out that it looks like I will be presenting my paper Language, Thought, Logic, and Existence at the APA Pacific Division meeting in March! Sweet! I say ‘looks like’ because I have not recieved my official letter of acceptance yet, but I have seen the preliminary program, and I am on it!! Remember, you can see the virtual version here, it’s almost like being there! Holy crap! That’s just three weeks before my consciousness presentation in Tucson! Looks like a busy spring ahead for me!!!

I remember as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University going to the APA meetings and thinking that there was no way I could do what they did…I guess that just goes to show what shape the APA is in, letting me present!!!!!! 🙂

UPDATE: Now they are playing with my emotions! They are saying that the official program will be delayed because of some “critical late changes to the program”…uh oh, they must have noticed that they included my paper by mistake!!!

UPDATE UPDATE: OK. They have the program up at the APA website now and I am still on it! Still no acceptance letter though…I wonder if I can use powerpoint? Did I get a student travel stipend? Oh well, back to celebrating…

The Connectome

Researchers at Harvard have develped a device that allows them to slice brain tissue ultra-thin and then scan it with an electron microscope in order to create a complete mapping of the cell kinds and connections in a mouse brain (wired story here). The resulting map is called a connectome…very cool. This kind of research is exactly what we need in order to move forward in our quest to fill in the theoretical place-holder term ‘brain state’.

On a related note it also brings us one step closer to being able to end our relience on real animals to do chemical manipulations/lesions in. If these can be simulated a lot of animal suffering could be stoped.

Music is Good

Ever wonder what I do what I am not teaching, writing, grading, or flitting about pedaling my philosophical wares? Mostly I like to play the drums…no, not in Rock Band; actual drums! 🙂 Anyways, I just updated some music stuff and so I thought I would share…

For a while I was playing with a group of NYC area philosophers called The Neural Correletes of David Chalmers, or NC/DC and The Devestating Objections as we were known when we had more than 5 guitarists!! Sadly, people graduated, got jobs, and NC/DC seems to have gone the way of the dinosour…It is immortalized in its myspace page…though there may be a possible NC/DC reunion in Tucson in April… or at least there is one is a close possible world 🙂

Lately I have been playing with a couple of NC/DC vets and Graduate Center cohorts going by the name of Logical Form or The CUNY Philoso-Funk All-Stars or some such; whatever you call it, we have been making some funky music! Check it out here (and strangely also here) and at my personal myspace page (disregard the pics of me from back when I was in college…:) ). Please keep in mind, these were all recorded in Dan’s living room without rehersal…hopefully more to come!!!!

To 10 Posts of 2007

 –Runner-Up– Reason and The Nature of Obligation

10. Does God Know about Quantuum Mechanics?

9. Bah Humbug!

8. Priming, Change Blindness, and the Function of Consciousness

7. Freedom and Evil

6. Stop your Quining!

5. A Simple Argument for Moral Realism

4. Why Must we Worship God?

3. There is No Santa

2. Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck

1. Why Does 1+1=2?


Top 10 Least Popular Posts of 2007

 –Runner-Up– That’s Not an Argument

10. Truth, Justification, and the Quasi-Realist Way 

9. Consciousness, Relational Properties, and Higher-Order Theories

8. 09/19/07 –Devitt on Meaning

7. Back to the Grind and Meta-Metaethics

6. Kripke, Consciousness, and the ‘Corn

5. HOT Fun in the Summertime I

4. Varities of Higher-Order Zombie

3. Applying Frigidity

2. 09/05– Devitt

1. 09/05 Devitt II

OK, OK! I’ll go grade papers now!!! 😉

There’s Something about Jerry

 Here is how I describe Jerry in the earlier post

Given that we think that there could be unconscious beliefs, consider the following super-scientist Jerry. Imagine that Jerry has been raised in a special room, much like Mary and Gary, but instead of never seeing red (Mary) or never having a desire (Gary), Jerry has never had a conscious belief. He has had plenty of unconscious beliefs, but none of them have been conscious. Let us imagine that we have finally discovered the difference between conscious and unconscious beliefs and that we have fitted Jerry with a special implant that keeps all of his beliefs unconscious, no matter how much he introspects. Let us also imagine that this device is selective enough so that it wipes out only the beliefs and so Jerry has plenty of other conscious experiences. He consciously sees red, has pain, wants food, fears that he will be let out of his room one day, wonders what the molecular structure of Einsteinium is, etc.

Now imagine that one of Jerry’s occurrent, unconscious, beliefs suddenly becomes a conscious belief. For the first time in Jerry’s life he has a conscious belief.

Now, I can use Jerry as a way of motivating the intuition behind my HOT implies PAM argument. Let’s call ‘T1’ the time just before Jerry’s belief becomes conscious and ‘T2’ the moment when his belief becomes conscious. According to Rosenthal there is no difference in what it is like for Jerry. What it is like for Jerry at T1 is exactly the same as what it is like for him at T2 even though at T2 he has a conscious mental state he did not have before. 

Now, in the case of a pain we get a very different story. If the pain is unconscious at T1 then there is, according to Rosenthal, nothing that it is like for Jerry to have that pain but at T2 there is something that it is like for Jerry; it is painful for him.  Does this seem right to you?

It doesn’t to me, but this is just an intuition. Luckily, I have an argument which supports the intuition. Rosenthal claims that when we are conscious of ourselves as being in an intentional state (a mental state with intentional properties) there isn’t anything that it is like for us to have that intentional state, but when we are conscious of ourselves as being in a qualitative state (a state with qualitative properties) then there is something that it is like for us to have the qualitative state. But a qualitative property for Rosenthal is just a property that plays a certain functional role for the creature. It is the property in virtue of which the creature is conscious of the physical property that the mental property is homomorphic to. So, the mental qualitative property ‘red’ is the property in virtue of which the creature is conscious of physical red. When we are conscious of ourselves as being in a state with that kind of property it will be like seeing red for us.

So, what then is a belief for Rosenthal? It is a mental state that consists of two parts; a distinctive mental attitude (in this case, an ‘assertive’ one) that is held towards some propositional (a.k.a. intentional) content. So my (occurant) belief that it is Sunday is composed of an assertive mental attitude towards the intentional content ‘today is Sunday’. Mental states are mental because they make us conscious of something, so what does this make me conscious of? It makes me conscious of the fact, proposition, state of affairs, or what ever you want to call it, that the intentional content of the belief represents. So what reason, that flows from the theory as opposed to independent intuitions about what SHOULD be the case, dictates that there should be something that it is like for Jerry in one case (the qualitative one) and nothing that it is like for Jerry in the other (the cognitive one)?

Remember, what drew us to the higher-order theory in the first place was a desire to explain qualitative consciousness in a way that is compatible with physicalism and at the same time is philosophically non-mysterious. The purpoted explanation, viz that we are conscious of ourselves in a subjectively unmediated way as being in those states, now appears to be inadequate. So to retain the explanatory power of the theory we need to say that there being something that it is like for an organism to have a mental state just is that organism being conscious of itself in a subjectively unmediated way as being in that mental state. Why is there something that it is like? Because we are conscious of ourselves as being in that state. This is the only way that the theory can deliver on its promise of explaining consciousness.

Pain Asymbolia and Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness

I was reading this NDPR review of  Feeling Pain and Being in Pain (reviewed by Murat Ayede, who wrote the pain entry at SEP). It is a nice review and actually convinced me to buy the book. This is mostly because it reminded me of something I had heard about a long time ago but forgotton. That is a condition called pain asymbolia where a patient is able to report that they are in pain, even saying what kind of pain it is (i.e. burning vs. piercing, etc) and yet they do not find it to be unpleasent, nor are they extremely motivated to have it stop. In fact they are completely indifferent to it. Some even laugh or giggle when they are exposed to pain-inducing stimuli (like being pricked with a needle or shocked)!

I started to think about this condition from the point of view of the higher-order theory of consciousness, as I tend to do. On Rosenthal’s version of the higher-order theory a conscious pain is a pain that I am conscious of having. Pain states are first-order representational states that represent some property in the world in virtue of having a distinctive sensory quality, just like all sensory mental states. The words for the sensory qualities (e.g. ‘red’ ‘green’ ‘hot’ ‘cold’ ‘burning’ ‘shooting’, etc) have their extensions fixed via the conscious occurences of the the states. We use this as a way to single out some set of states for further examination, so there is a role for introspection to play. But then we investigate these states using the third-person tools of science and we learn things about them that might be suprising to the ordinary person. One of these is that they can occur unconsciously. They occur even though the subject denies that they occur. So, in the priming studies I talked about earlier, people deny that they see anything, but none the less we cans how that they did see it and that it has an effect that is predicable and noticable. This confirms a prediction that higher-order theories make and so counts as empirical evidence in support of these kinds of theories.

But what then does it mean to have a sensory quality on Rosenthal’s account? As I have shown before this is where Rosenthal invokes his homomorphism theory. A state represents red if it has a properety which is homomorphic to the property that physical objects have in virtue of which they cause that kind of experience in us. The physical color properties form a family of properties that vary from each other in sytematic ways. So physical red is more similar to physical pink than it is to physical green, etc. ‘physical red’ etc pick out some physical property (probably wavelength of light reflected, or something). The mental color properties form a family that preserves the homomorphisms found between the physical color properties. So, the property that is the mental representation of red (the red sensory quality) is a physical property that is more like mental pink than it is to mental blue, etc. These mental properties have the function of making the organism conscious of the physical color properties.

But all of these states can occur unconsciously. When they do there is nothing that it is like for the organism to have those states. So, a creature who is is a mental state with a red sensroy quality will be conscious of the physical color property. It will respond in all the normal ways it has in its reprotaire vis a vis the physical property of red. When the creature is in addition conscious of itself as being in that state (i.e. the state with the red sensory quality, i.e. the state with the property that is more like mental pink than mental blue, etc) it will then be like seeing red for the creature.

The same story is told in the case of pain. There is a family of physical properties which we have homomorphic mental qualities that represent them. The physical properties are bodily conditions. So, the mental sensory quality ‘stabbing pain’ is homomorphic to the physical damage prduced by stabbing injuries. ‘Burning pain’ homomorphic to tissue damage produced by burning damage, etc.  So a mental state has a painful sensory quality if it is a mental state that has a proprty that is more like sharp stabbing pain than it is like dull throbbing pain, etc. These states can occur unconsciously and when they do they are bad for the organism. They have all of their regular causes and effects. So, an unconscious pain will produce wincing and shrieks and crys and will interupt concentration and etc. All the while though, there will be nothing that it is like for the creature that has this pain. It will not feel painful to the creature, even though it is acting like it is in pain. When the creature becomes conscious of the mental state with the painful quality it will then become painful for the creature.

At first glance it might seem like pain asymbolia is a counter-example to an account like Rosenthal’s (in fact I think the author of the book and Ayede agree on this, though neither mentions higher-order theories explicitly, or at least Ayede doesn’t…I will have to wait to get the book to find out about the author (whose name escapes me right now). The reason is as follows. The subjects with pain asymbolia report that they are in pain and can indentify the particular sensory quality that the pain has. This is good evidence that the pain is a conscious pain. This means, according to what we have been saying so far, that they must be conscious of themselves as being in a state that is more like pinching than it is like breaking, etc. They have he requisite higher-order thought (ex hypothesi) but lack the painful what it’s like for them to have the conscious pain.

But this is too quick. In the first place it is not the case that the subjects report that there is nothing that it is like for them to have the conscious pain. It is, presumably, like something for them to percieve the bodily damage, no? It is presuambly like being stuck with a needle, but not in a a bad way for these subjects. Now there is no mystery as to why this happens to these people. They have a specific type of brain damage and so are clearly lacking a certain kind of information. So Rosenthal can say that the subject is conscious of the first-order pain state as a state that is more like piercing than burning, etc, but not conscious of it in respect of its negative affect.

But now notice that he can no longer have his objection to my argument that beliefs must be qualitative as well…or so I’ll argue in the next post….I have to go and wash some dishes 😦