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!!

4 thoughts on “Consciousness, Consciousness & More Consciousness!!

  1. I want to see if I understand what is meant by a “higher order thought”. First, thoughts: “That’s my phone,” “There’s the keyboard,” “My stomach hurts,” are all thoughts. (What thoughts they are may be difficult to specify; “Two and two are four,” is easier to specify.) Am I right in supposing you would call all of them “thoughts of the first order”? I would want to say that a “higher-order thought”, for instance, a thought “of the second order”, is something like, “I think it’s raining,” (“I think that’s red,”) — not *uttered*, since to say, “I think it’s raining”, is not normally to express that one thinks one thinks it’s raining, but rather to express that one thinks it’s raining. So if I think to myself, “I am thinking” — I would be inclined to call that a second-order thought — the thought that one is thinking. (So when Descartes says, “I think therefore I am,” he expresses a second-order thought.)

    What would distinguish higher-order thoughts from normal thoughts would be that a higher order thought has a thought as its content — whatever it means to say that a thought is about something. (One is not inclined to deny that, “This table is red,” is about this table — but is it also about redness — or being red?)

    And then I can distinguish two types of higher order thoughts, if this is the right distinction — a thought might be about another thought (a thought might have as an object something of the same kind) — and then again, a thought might be about that very thought — about itself. Then you would have a reflexive higher-order thought. (And then the question arises, if a higher-order thought is reflexive, what order it will be. It must be of at least the second order, if it is a higher order thought; but if it is about itself, and it is of the second order, then it must be of the third order. And the same will hold if you say it is of any order, since, if it is to be about itself, then it must be of the next order. Then someone will want to say that a higher order thought must be of a higher order than itself! Is this related to your own problem?)

    Now I want to see if I’m clear about your representation. You have (in descending order):

    (3) {I think that I think that I see red.}
    (2) {I think that I see red.}
    (1) [Red*.]

    What does [Red.] mean? You say it stands for a “first-order sensory quality”. And what is a “first-order quality”? I can only infer, from context, that a first-order quality is something possessed by things of the first-order, where things of the first-order are the object of first-order thoughts (and, in point of fact, objects, entities, things — with the proviso, that here a thought is not to be considered an entity). So I want to say that [Red*.] means the quality of redness. Or does it mean being red? — It can’t mean either of these things, since [Red*.] is the first-order quality “that represent[s] the perceptible properties”. (I am not sure what a “non-intentional” representation is. It cannot mean a representation without an object, I suppose.) But we would want to make a distinction between *redness* itself and the *appearance* of redness (“phenomenon” is ambiguous between these two). Now in what sense is it that the *appearance* of redness is the object of a first-order thought? Isn’t the object of the thought, not the appearance of the quality, but the quality itself? Or perhas the object of thought is the quality as it appears. (But this must be the object of consciousness, and perhaps not the object of the thought.) (You can see I’ve confused myself.)

    We want to say that there is this appearance of redness or of being red, and that is [Red*]. (Again, is it the appearance as an ideal type that is signified by [Red*] or is it the event which instantiates that type, if that is the right way of putting it? I take it you mean the latter.)

    Now something of the form {I think that…} signifies (as per my assumption) the state of my thinking that… This would be a higher-order intentional state whereby we become conscious of the object of that state. So when I say [Red*], I refer to that whereby I become conscious of something’s being red, and when I say {I think that there is red,}, I refer to that whereby I become conscious of — well what? Something’s being red? There’s a danger of redundancy. So it must be that I am referring to that whereby I become conscious of the *appearance* of something’s being red. But the whole thing puzzles me. I don’t see the connection between the thought and its content, on the one hand, and the state of affairs signified by [Red*]. It seems as if the content of the second-order representation should be first-order phenomenon, [Red*]. I would like to understand how the “I think that I see…” gets in there. If we say, {[Red*]}, then I think I understand what that refers to: that refers to the state of affairs which represents the state of affairs which represents the quality of being red — the appearance of the appearance of redness (or of being red). And so on for the higher orders: {{[Red*]}} would signify the appearance of the appearance of the appearance of redness.

  2. […] HOT Qualia Realism 9. Am I a Type-Q Materialist? 8. Why I am not a Type-Z Materialist 7. Consciousness, Consciousness, and More Consciousness 6. More on Identity 5. The Singularity, Again 4. HOT Damn! It’s a HO Down-Showdown 3. […]

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