Online Consciousness Conference in its Second Week

The online consciousness conference lasts until March 5th so there is plenty of time to get in on the action. This year’s conference has been very active. So far in just the first week of the conference we have had as many hits as we did for the entire two weeks of last year’s conference! The individual sessions have so far been very active as well with over 200 comments posted thus far. It’s not too late to get in on thh action!

Consciousness, Consciousness & More Consciousness!!

I have talked about the higher-order thought theory of consciousness and introspection before (here). Yesterday I attended a talk by David Rosenthal and he briefly mentioned something about introspection that got me thinking anew about these issues.

Rosenthal was going through the basics of the higher-order theory and was at the part where he explains why it is that we do not find higher-order thoughts in our conscious experience. The higher-order thoughts are seldom themselves conscious. That is to say that usually it is the case that we just have the higher-order thoughts but not third-order thought about that 2nd order higher-order thought. This is what happens in introspection according to Rosenthal. It is difficult, but with training/practice we can become conscious of the HOTS. Which we can represent as follows;

(1) [RED*]

Here [X*] is used to stand for the first-order sensory qualities that represent the perceptible properties (non-intentionally) and via which we become conscious of those perceptible properties. {X} is used to stand for the higher-order intentional states that represent the first-order sensory states (and N-order intentional state of course) and via which we become conscious of the first-order sensory states. So when (2) occurs I am conscious of myself as seeing red and so I will be consciously seeing red. In the rare cases where (3) occurs I will be introspecting my conscious experience, which is a peculiar and unnatural thing to do. Now I have always wondered what it is supposed to be like for the person who has (3) according to the HOTT theory. Rosenthal himself says that when we introspect there is no new quality that enters into our experience so that when we introspect we just become conscious of the first-order state in an attentive, reflexive way. This is what led to my Introspective HOT Zombie problem which I previously talked about.

So, yesterday I asked whether he thought we could ever introspect the higher-order thought itself. Is it possible for us to become introspectively aware of the higher-order thought? He said no because we would then need to have a fourth-order thought like (4)


This surprised me a bit because I had been thinking that when (3) occurred one was introspecting the higher-order thought. What came out of the conversation was that when one has (3) when is unconsciously conscious of the higher-order thought. Just like when I am consciously seeing red (i.e. when I have (2)) my HOT is not conscious so too when I introspect my introspecting HOT is not conscious. His response seems to be that in this case I am not consciously introspecting (consciously introspecting means having (4) which Rosenthal denies that we can do).

But this doesn’t seem right to me. When I have (2) what it is like for me is how the HOT specifies it; i.e. it is like seeing red for me. So when I have (3) shouldn’t it also be the case that the what it is like for me is how the HOT specifies it? If so then it would seem to be the case that it should be like thinking that I am conscious of red. If so then I should be able to have a version of (3) that “focuses” on the thinking part in which case I would be introspecting the HOT itself. This fits more with what Rosenthal actually says about introspection (see the above linked post).

Oh yeah, and the Online Consciousness Conference has begun!!