Unconscious Introspection and Higher-Order Thoughts

As I noted previously, I haven’t been all that good at keeping up with the NYU Mind and Language seminar, and I am going to have to miss this one coming up because of committee meetings :(, which is too bad since this week’s speaker is Alvin Goldman. The paper is a very long defense of simulation theory, which should come as no surprise. I must confess that I have never found the debate between theory-theory and simulation theory to be very interesting but one of the interesting things that I learned from Goldman’s paper is his views about unconscious introspection and in the appendix to the paper where he defends this notion he concludes by presenting a nice puzzle for those of us who like higher-order theories of consciousness.

To put it simply Goldman argues that there is empirical evidence which suggests that in order for me to be able to attribute a mental state, say digust, to you I have to internally simulate, or mirror, the state and then I use that state to attribute the state to you and that this can happen even though the mirrored state is unconscious. In order for me to introspect the mirrored mental state I would presumably token a higher-order state of the kind which would –if the higher-order theory is right– make the first-order state conscious. But we know that the state is not conscious. What are we to say about this given that the empirical evidence is as Goldman suggests?

One thing we could do, as he notes, is to take this as an argument against the higher-order theory. Goldman does not seem to want to do this; nor do I. What are we to do then? He glosses a couple of different suggestions but concludes by saying that he isn’t sure what the right answer to this puzzle is. On reading this it occurred to me that the puzzle could be solved by denying that the higher-order thoughts that one has when one attributes the state to others doesn’t have the same content as the one that attributes the state to oneself. When one has a suitable higher-order thought to the effect that one is in a mental state the HOT represents the state as the one that you, yourself, are actually in now; it represents that state as present. However when one is introspecting an unconscious mental state for the purpose of attributing it to someone else one is arguably conscious of the state not as being present but rather as the state that one is attributing. Being conscious of a mental state in this way does not make the state one is conscious of a conscious mental state. In short we have many thoughts about first-order states that do not make those states conscious. This is because it is only a certain kind of thought that makes us conscious of the mental states in the appropriate way. This, it seems to me, solves the puzzle.

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