Phenomenally HOT

The Spring semester is getting off to a start here in NYC. Yesterday I attended the first session of Ned Block and David Carmel’s seminar on Conceptual and Empirical Issues about Perception, Attention and Consciousness at NYU. This first session dealt with Block’s recent paper The Higher-Order Theory is Defunct.

One of the major points that Block wants to make is that there is a distinction to be made between what he calls modest and ambitious higher-order theories. Modest views aim only at explicating the notion of state consciousness. Thus the modest view can say, as Block does, that sensations that are not state conscious are none the less phenomenally conscious. The ambitious view not only tries to explain state consciousness but also aims to explain phenomenal consciousness. The problem that Block sees is for the ambitious view. Put simply the idea is that in a case of a higher-order thought without a target we have a conscious state that is not the target of a higher-order thought and so we have a counter-example to the higher-order theory. My response to this is to use the distinction between phenomenal consciousness and state consciousness to defuse the objection. For a state to be conscious is for me to be conscious of myself as being in that state. For a state to be phenomenally conscious is for there to be something that it is like for me to have the state. These two properties do not, prima facie, seem to have anything to do with each other. It is then an open question whether or not having the appropriate higher-order thought explains phenomenal consciousness. The ambitious higher-order theory need only claim that phenomenal consciousness is instantiated in the empty higher-order thought scenario. In fact, there is no reason that one might not claim that there is no state consciousness instantiated. Sure, it seems to one as though one has a conscious state, but one doesn’t. Another way to put the point; there is no state that has the property of being state conscious, though there is a state that has the property of being phenomenally conscious (the HOT itself). This is because phenomenal consciousness simply consists in having the appropriate HOT, whereas state consciousness involves being the target of the appropriate HOT. This defuses the objection since there is no non-existent phenomenology. My conscious pains matter phenomenologically because they are phenomenally conscious.

In the presentation Block seemed to  offer an objection to my response. He claimed that one who took this path would in effect be adopting the same-order view and so would be giving up a higher-order view. This seemed to be the case because he thought that the claim was that the HOT itself was somehow targeted by the HOT itself in the empty case, but that is not the claim that I am making. Phenomenal consciousness –what it is like to have an experience– just is having an appropriate HOT. You do not have to be conscious of yourself as having the HOT in order to be phenomenally conscious; that is to confuse state consciousness with phenomenal consciousness.

In conversation afterwards Jake Berger pressed me a bit on my view. His worry seemed to be that there was something odd about  calling the HOT phenomenally conscious. He appealed to a metaphor offered by David Rosenthal. When an umpire calls a runner out the umpire makes it the case that the runner is out and the umpire is not thereby out himself. So too the HOT makes a first-order state conscious but does not thereby become conscious itself. Of course, I absolutely agree, as long as we are talking about state consciousness. No one is claiming that the HOT is state conscious (or that the umpire is out). But this metaphor does not relate to phenomenal consciousness. When we consider which state is phenomenally conscious we ask the question “which state is there something that it is like to be in?” and the only answer to that question is “the HOT”. Of course WHAT it is like to be in that state is determined by the content of the state and so it will be like being in the first-order state but all of that is besides the point being made here.

There are other interesting things I would like to explore that came up but I have to go to the DMV : (

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16 thoughts on “Phenomenally HOT

  1. Hi Roblin, thanks for the question!

    Strictly speaking, I don’t think it is the result of transitivity. If it were then some kind of first-order view would be in the offing. But I do take your meaning. I think that in a sense it is the result of our being conscious of ourselves as being in various first-order states. So I do not think that I am articulating a different theory than David’s. Rather I see myself as someone who takes the intuition that phenomenal consciousness is a kind of consciousness seriously and then wonders where it is in David’s theory. I claim that it just is the HOT.

    What I think is that there are two different questions. On the one hand we have the question “which state is there something that it is like for this creature to be in?” on the other hand we can ask “which state is this creature conscious of themselves as being in?” The first question clearly deals with phenomenal consciousness where as the second deals with state consciousness. These two questions have different answers; The HOT and the relevant first-order state, respectively.

  2. You say that the answer to “which state is there something that it is like for this creature to be in?” is the HOT. But I think the theory would say that it’s not the HOT, but the state the HOT represents there as being (the conscious state). There’s nothing that it’s like to be in the HOT because it’s nonconscious. And, since HOTs are purely intentional (and there’s no cognitive phenomenology), even if the HOT were
    conscious in introspection there wouldn’t be anything that it’s like to be in it.

    Moreover, the fact that there’s something that it’s like for one in empty cases isn’t evidence the answer to that question is the HOT. In
    empty cases, the state that there’s something that it’s like to be in is still the first-order state, though that state is notional. If that were a problem, then I think you should also say that all the properties of the conscious state (i.e., its mental qualities) are also properties of the HOT–but that’s not right. So I think phenomenal consciousness just is qualitative state consciousness.

    It seems, rather, that the question you’re interested in is: “What is it in virtue of which there is something that it’s like for the creature to be in that state?” And the answer to that is, of course, the HOT. But that doesn’t yield that the HOT is phenomenally conscious, I think. Assuming phenomenal consciousness is the property of there being something that it is like for the creature, your conclusion that the HOT is phenomenally conscious would only follow if the ‘in virtue of’ relation were identity, but it isn’t. If your eating your greens is the thing in virtue of which you’re tall, it doesn’t follow that you’re being tall is the same property as your eating of your
    greens.

  3. Thanks for this follow-up Jake!

    I have to say though that I am a little confused by your response here. But before I set out what i find puzzling let me first repeat that I am interested in a particular project. I agree with Ned when he says that David’s and Josh’s move is a kind of eliminativism about phenomenal consciousness and I also agree with him that this is a mistaken move. if one has those feelings then I recommend my strategy, if not then not.

    But to your worries;

    1. “There’s nothing that it’s like to be in the HOT because it’s nonconscious.”
    Does ‘nonconscious’ just mean not state conscious? If so then I don’t see why you say this. The HOT is not state conscious, I agree. In order for that to be the case you would need a third-order thought and everyone agrees there is no such thought in this case. But what the claim I am making boils down to, in effect, is that there can be phenomenally conscious states that are not state conscious. Thus we get a theoretical re-interpretation of the common sense platitude that there can be phenomenal consciousness without my being conscious of it and in a way that preserves the higher-order theory to boot!

    2. “And, since HOTs are purely intentional (and there’s no cognitive phenomenology), even if the HOT were conscious in introspection there wouldn’t be anything that it’s like to be in it.”

    Well, we are going to have to table the cog phenom issue, since you know that I think that thoughts do have phenomenology…en passant I will just mention that the more that David and Josh resist Block’s argument in the way that they do the more it becomes mysterious why HOTs can perform this magic trick for sensations and yet do not do so for thoughts, but that is another issue.

    3. ” In empty cases, the state that there’s something that it’s like to be in is still the first-order state, though that state is notional.”

    This strikes me as a very strange thing to say. How can there be something that it is like for me to be IN a state if I am in fact NOT in it? I agree that it can seem to me as if I am in it and there can be something that it is like for that to occur (exactly like it is when the state is actually there) but that is very different than saying that I am in a notional state! But again, as I started out saying, one can say that if one wants, I just find that to be a very unsatisfying way of talking.

    4. “If that were a problem, then I think you should also say that all the properties of the conscious state (i.e., its mental qualities) are also properties of the HOT–but that’s not right. ”

    Again, I find this odd. In one sense it is obvious that all of the properties of the conscious state are properties of the HOT. It is David himself who says “being a conscious mental state consists in having the suitable HOT”. If that is true then it is also true that all of the properties of the conscious state (the HOT) are properties of the HOT. But of course what this way of thinking trades on is the idea that the conscious mental state is the target of the HOT. But Davis has again and again denied that the first-order states really come to have the property of being conscious mental states. rather they are conscious simply because their being conscious consists in the having of the HOT. But that does not mean that the first-order mental qualities are properties of the HOT. Those are properties via which the concepts that figure in HOTs are acquired. There is nothing that it is like for me to be in those states when they are unconscious. There is something that it is like for me to have these states when they are conscious. So when I have an unconscious sensation of red it is not like seeing red for me. When that sensation is conscious I have an appropriate HOT and it is then like having a conscious sensation of red.

    5. I agree that ‘in virtue of’ doesn’t automatically entail identity…sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

  4. Sure thing, Richard. And thanks for your replies too. I should say that I don’t have a lot more to add–I think I’m either just going to end up repeating myself or detailing elements of HOT theory that you clearly understand 😉

    That said, I’ll say a few little things.

    1. I think calling the kind of response I’m (or David is) giving eliminativist is just to dismiss it. I don’t know what phenomenal consciousness is beyond qualitative state consciousness–and so, since there’s a theory of that, I don’t think I’m eliminating anything.

    2. I agree that, if you’re right there’s a fourth kind of consciousness (phenomenal, in addition to state, creature, and transitive), then my saying that HOTs are nonconscious doesn’t cut any ice because it could mean they’re not state, but they are phenomenally, conscious.

    3. But, speaking of first-order states, you say “There is nothing that it is like for me to be in those states when they are unconscious.” And I suppose you mean not state conscious. In which case, why is there nothing that it’s like to be in them when they are not state conscious, but there is something that it’s like to be in a HOT when it is not state conscious? See, again, what I think you mean is that, when one is in a HOT, there is something that it’s like for the person–but all that implies is that the person is qualitatively state conscious (phenomenally conscious) in virtue of the HOT, not that the HOT is itself qualitatively state conscious (phenomenally conscious). But I’m afraid I’m just repeating myself.

    4. You ask, “How can there be something that it is like for me to be IN a state if I am in fact NOT in it?” Well, there being something that it’s like for one is just for one to be aware of oneself as being in a qualitative state. So I’m happy to retract the claim that phenomenal/qualitative-state consciousness is, strictly speaking, a property of the first-order state. It’s, as I said in Ned’s class, a property of the creature. But we can speak loosely as though it’s a property of the state, as we do in the case of state consciousness.

    4. In that vein, you write, “In one sense it is obvious that all of the properties of the conscious state are properties of the HOT.” I didn’t really understand your following remarks, but I don’t see how this is true. Suppose the HOT represents there as being state with red*. Red* isn’t a property of the HOT, but a property the HOT represents there as being. Just as a painting of a round apple needn’t itself be round, we shouldn’t confuse properties of what’s represented with properties of the representation (cf. Harman 1990). So, again, even if it’s the HOT in virtue of which one is aware of oneself as being in a red* state and in virtue of which there’s something it’s like for one, it doesn’t follow it’s got those properties. Perhaps further argument could be given, but it’s not obvious yet that’s the case.

  5. “I don’t know what phenomenal consciousness is beyond qualitative state consciousness”

    I’m sorry but I can’t help but feel that this is disingenuous! We all have a common-sense pre-theoretic grasp of what phenomenal consciousness is that is independent of whatever “qualitative state consciousness” is supposed to be. If you didn’t then you would not even be able to understand the debate between David and Ned about unconscious pains, but we do understand that debate.

    “why is there nothing that it’s like to be in them when they are not state conscious, but there is something that it’s like to be in a HOT when it is not state conscious?”

    The answer to this is the boring one that any ambitious higher-order theorist will give. It is because of the unique properties of the HOT (i.e. immediate, non-inferential, etc) + it’s content.

    See, again, what I think you mean is that, when one is in a HOT, there is something that it’s like for the person–but all that implies is that the person is qualitatively state conscious (phenomenally conscious) in virtue of the HOT, not that the HOT is itself qualitatively state conscious (phenomenally conscious). But I’m afraid I’m just repeating myself.

    To be phenomenally conscious is for there to be something that it is like for one. This is the case when one has a (state) conscious (qualitative) mental state. One has a conscious mental state when one has an appropriate HOT, so to be phenomenally conscious is for one to have an appropriate HOT, right? We agree on this, correct? So then what do we disagree on? Whether we we say that the HOt or the notional first-order state has the property of being phenomenally conscious? What is the answer? Well, it depends on your views about properties, and phenomenal consciousness. You have your views, I have mine so depending on which is which we will answer the question differently but as I see it the burden is really on your side since the notion of phenomenal conscious as a property of mental states is something like bedrock common sense wise. So we would need some powerful arguments to dislodge it and no one has given those. A pain is phenomenally conscious when there is something that it is like for me to have that very pain. It turns out , according to me, that it is possible that that very property is in fact just the HOT. It turns out according to you that, strictly speaking, there is no mental state that has that property. This is why it is eliminative from our point if view, and it seems to me that you don’t deny being eliminative in this sense either…

    “Suppose the HOT represents there as being state with red*. Red* isn’t a property of the HOT, but a property the HOT represents there as being”

    Of course, this is obvious. But what you seem to be missing is that Red* is NOT a property of the conscious mental state either.

    But look, this whole debate is all very weird to me since I don’t see the argument I have been making as impacting or changing the higher-order thought theory in any way. I am merely offering a way of assimilating all of the common-sense intuitions about phenomenal consciousness into the higher-order theory. This should be a welcome emendation, especially since none of the actual machinery has changed. But if you choose to force yourself to talk in avery limited and alien way that is up to you.

  6. Hey Richard. I do think we’re largely in agreement, but there are some fine points of disagreement. But, as I said, I think I’m just going to end up repeating myself, so I’ll just close with this summary:

    I think a person is phenomenally conscious when they are qualitatively state conscious because that’s what (as I understand it) HOT theory theorizes that being phenomenally conscious is. The theory doesn’t eliminate phenomenal consciousness, it’s giving a theory of it.

    It thus turns out that phenomenal consciousness isn’t a property of states, but of creatures, and so I dispute that it’s bedrock that it’s a property of states. If you want to say I’m slightly revising the folk notion, fine–that happens in theory building. Though I doubt it’s part of the folk theory to begin with.

    If you want to say there’s some other property, phenomenal consciousness*, that’s a property of the HOT, so be it.

  7. Jake, last attempt.

    “The theory doesn’t eliminate phenomenal consciousness, it’s giving a theory of it.”

    The theory that you are advocating does eliminate phenomenal consciousness as a property of mental states. Call it whatever you want that is undeniable on your view.

    Of course I agree that phenomenal consciousness is a property of creatures. A creature has that property by having a HOT. So IF we were to identify a mental state as having the property of being phenomenally consciousness we would have to pick the HOT. Many people think we need to pick such a state, myself included. On your view you have to say “no state is phenomenally conscious” or “a notional state is phenomenally conscious” those are costs to the theory and suggest that it is you who are employing some strange starred notion of consciousness.

    I mean, the mere fact that you have to say ‘qualitatively state conscious’ should be evidence that you are just smuggling in the notion that I am employing…

  8. Sorry, this is the last attempt (maybe : ) )

    What I want to say is that there is a notion of phenomenal consciousness that just is the what it is like-ness of experience. It is the painfulness of the pain, the redishness of red, etc. That what phenomenal consciousness is. It is whatever those things are. According to the higher-order thought theory those things, ontologically, turn out to be HOTs. So phenomenal conscious just is the having of the appropriate HOTs.

    Now you don’t want to say that those things doesn’t exist do you? No, you want to say that those things just are qualitative state consciousness. But qualitative state consciousness just is the having of an appropriate HOT, so it would follow that phenomenal consciousness (in the above sense) just is the having of the HOT and therefore we should ultimately be agreeing here. It is the HOT that is painful (in the phenomenal sense) but it is not painful because I am conscious of myself as being in it.

  9. Yep, you’re right that I, strictly speaking, don’t think consciousness of any kind is a property of states (though saying it is can be useful shorthand). I don’t think that’s eliminativism, though–I think that the idea that it’s a property of creatures fits comfortably both with how the folk talk and empirical research.

    But I don’t know what to make of your conditional that, if we had to say consciousness is a property of states, it’d be a property of the HOT. It isn’t a property of states, so it isn’t a property of the HOT. And I say that for the reasons given above.

  10. Sure Jake, let’s have dinner some time.

    I think you do know what to make of the conditional (btw deny the antecedent much?) the point is simple: which state is it painful to be in? I answer the HOT, you answer the notional state (loosely). Which is the better answer will depend on overall theoretical considerations. It would be a flaw, I think, to be so immersed in a theoretical point of view that one can’t even see what the alternatives were…

    I will say though that all of this retreating to “property of the person” talk is totally at odds with your speech act metaphor. When the umpire calls the runner out, “being out” is not a property of the umpire, nor is it a property of her utterance. It is a property of the runner.

    Just for fun, consider the analogous case of the empty runner. Suppose that during the course of a game the umpire yells “you’re out” but not at anyone. Is a notional runner made out?

  11. Yah, I agree that umpire analogy is not perfect because it’s not a case of representation 😉

    Let me think more about a more suitable analogy. And let’s continue this neat conversation sometime.

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