HOT Damn it’s a HO Down-Showdown

I have not been too good keeping up with the NYU Mind and Language Seminar like I had originally planned. Part of the problem was the Online Consciousness Conference (about which more later) the other part of the problem has been that I teach until 3:30 and the sessions start at 4:00. At any rate I managed to make it down yesterday for David Rosenthal’s session on his “Sensory Qualities, Consciousness and Perception” which was very interesting.

The commentary by Ned Block focused on the usual issues that he has with HOTheads (i.e. eitology ad hoc, the mismatch problem, etc) though there was an interesting new objection (at least I hadn’t heard Ned give it before). The mismatch problem (red first-order state/green HOT) presents the HOThead with a dilemma. Either what it is like for the person is like seeing red in which case HOT is false or it is like seeing green in which case there is no difference between having an experience and thinking that one has the experience. It is not clear why the second horn of the dilemma is supposed to be bad. If HOT theory is right then having the conscious experience os seeing blue will consist in having the appropriate HOT so the horn just restates the theory.

But building on this Block quotes this passage from pages 185 in Consciousness and Mind:

HOTs do no transfer the property of being conscious from themselves to their targets; indeed, they don’t induce any change whatever in those targets. Rather, they make their targets conscious because a state’s being conscious consists simply in one’s being conscious of oneself as being in that state, and having a HOT is the right way of being conscious of oneself as being in a state.

Block then argued that in the case of the empty HOT –that is where one has a HOT that one is seeing green but has no first-order state at all– there is a conscious mental state that one is not conscious of and so we have a counter-example to the transitivity principle. Block seemed to be suggesting that if we take the above quote seriously then the HOT itself is the conscious mental state and since there is no 3rd-order thought about the HOT it is itself is a counter-example to the transitivity principle or he would need to adopt the same-order view. Rosenthal replied that the HOT was not the conscious state; it was the seeing of blue that was the conscious mental state even though it was a notional state (a lot of this came up at the online conference in Pete’s excellent session). Jesse asked what the NCC of the conscious state would be in this case. It surely doesn’t seem like one can have a NCC for a notional state! This prompted Stephen Stich to exclaim that David was “worse than a dualist”. Uriah interjected that it was a commonplace of predicate calculus that if A is F then it follows that there is a x such that x is F and this entails that if one has a conscious mental state then there is a state that has that property. David objected to this because he thinks that the conscious mental states are states of the person not individual metal states. During the discussion I asked David to return to Ned’s objection because I wasn’t sure what his answer to it was. If the quoted passage is correct then a conscious mental state is identical to having the suitable HOT. What reason does David have to deny that the HOT is thereby the conscious mental state? His answer was that he did not stand by the quoted passage, which seemed really odd to me. I hope to follow up with him about this…

Another very interesting theme of the discussion of how repression works. Someone in teh audience (a nyu student named Lisa, I think) pointed to cases of repression as a possible counter-example to the transitivity principle. When one represses some thought one has to have (unconscious) knowledge of the thought that one is suppressing, which sounds like a HOT, yet the repressed thought is not thereby made conscious. David objected that this was not the way he understood repression to work. Rather than having a HOT usually what happens is that one has unconscious guilt about the repressed thought that leads to repressing it. Ned and David argued a bit about the right way that actual Fruedians talk about repression…no consensus was reached except in so far as David acknowledge that if repression worked in the way that Ned and Lisa suggested then that would be a counter-example to the transitivity principle.

Another audience member (Eric) tried to press this line of attack using the implicit racism test. The idea was supposed to be that after one has taken this test and discovered that one has unconscious racist attitudes one can have the thought that one is having a racist thought with the thought not thereby becoming conscious. David at first denied this and maintained that the thought would be conscious but then he reconsidered and said that attitudes were dispositions and those aren’t mental states.

The session ended with a discussion of the relation between Jesse’s AIR theory and HOT theory (it was pointed out that Dave Chalmers is now calling CUNY the HOT AIR department). David gave his signature argument against attention being necessary for consciousness. in parafoveal vision the percepts at the periphery are conscious even if one is fixating and attending to some central point. This is a case of conscious experience without attention. Jesse’s trademarked response is that attention can be spread over the entire scene to which David responds that at that point he doesn’t know what attention is anymore. At that point the session ended.

Afterwards I asked Jesse if he thought that when we attended to something we became conscious of that thing. He said that he did. I then said that if that was the case AIR theory is an implementation of the transitivity principle and so is not really in competition with David’s view. Jesse agreed that this was the case. I then suggested that we could think of the situation like this: David has argued that there are only two ways that we can become conscious of something: we either sense it or we think about it in the right way. He therefore sees only HOT and HOP. We can then see a lot of Jesse’s work as arguing that there is a third way that we become conscious of something; by attending to it. He agreed…I knew it!

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9 thoughts on “HOT Damn it’s a HO Down-Showdown

  1. Howdy!

    A quickie thought about Jesse’s stuff.

    I assume the following: attending to x would be a third way of being conscious of x (besides perceiving x and thinking about x) only if one can attend to x without either perceiving it or thinking about it.

    So: If Jesse really is granting that attending to x is a third way, he must think you can attend to things that are neither perceived nor thought about.

    And now I wonder what sort of thing x is supposed to be. If x is an external object, like an apple, it sounds pretty weird to say that you can attend to an apple without perceiving it.

    Is x supposed to itself be a mental state? So, for instance it’s the *perception* of an apple that’s a attended? If so, then plausibly that’s not perceived or thought about. But now I think you have a point against Jesse: it does look a whole lot like the transitivity principle.

    I think what Jesse ought to say at this point (and pretty much has said on other occasions) is that attending to intermediate level representations is NOT a way of being conscious of those representations. Instead, it changes something about those representations that makes you conscious of what those representations are representations of. But then what you are conscious of here is just the apple afterall: what you perceive.

    So, he’s still FO, not HO.

    • Hey Pete,

      First, even if you are right my main point goes through, which is that there is nothing distinctively neurophilosophical about theories of consciousness. They are always the usual first/higher-order views that come from psychological level theorizing not neuroscientific level theorizing.

      But it isn’t clear to me that the alternative option makes sense. When I am unconsciously seeing red, and show priming for red, etc, I am not conscious of the red? It seems intuitively clear that I am in some sense conscious of or aware of the red. Then, according to Jesse, when I attend the representation and it is available for encoding in working memory the seeing of red is conscious. It is true that I am now consciously aware of the red but that doesn’t make it FO, since that is exactly the case for the HOTies.

      Finally, why should Jesse say something like this? He seemed perfectly happy to say that his view offers a novel implementation of the transitivity principle. His view still differs significantly from the standard HO views in that he doesn’t posit any higher-order content and this is enough to estrange him from the Rosenthal camp (for instance Daivid considers Uriah’s view to be a notional variant of the HOT account (where the variation is in how one individuates mental states)). So at the level of content he is all FO but in that he accepts the transitivity principle he is HO…so he is a HO FO Sho ;0)

  2. I want to go as the topic sounds really interesting (HOT and type-F physicalism) but it is so rainy out and I just got FInal Fantasy XIII…

    Anyway, about TP. TP says that a conscious mental state is one that I am conscious of myself as being in.

    When I attend to a state I am conscious of myself as being in it

    So attending to a state implements TP. How does attending to a state make me conscious of myself as being in it? I take it that Jesse’s basic answer is that attending to the state makes the state available for encoding in working memory so instead of having a HO state with HO content that represents the FO state he has the FO state being available to some further system…is that coherent? I dunno…it ain’t my view!

  3. Just a brief thought about attention and consciousness. There’s now a lot of pretty uncontroversial evidence that attention occurs without the relevant states’ being conscious–some with GY in blindsight, some with normals. So I do not see how it could be that attending to anything, whether a mental state or anything else, could by itself be a way of being conscious of that thing.

  4. Hi David thanks very much for the comment!

    As far as I can recall Jesse tries to explain away these data. He argues that eye saccades can result in finer-detail representations without attention and that we may be able to make sense of a more primitive notion of ‘receptive field shrinking’ that is co-extensive with put not constitutive of attending. Either of these could explain the data in GY and normals. I don’t think this is decisive but it does show, I think, that the GY stuff is not enough by itself to refute Jesse.

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