My Issues with Daniel Dennett

Dennett has been absent from philosophy of mind conferences for some time now. In fact I seem to remember being at an Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness meeting in Pasadena in 2005 and overhearing him say that he was passing on the torch to the younger generation (I forget who he was talking to at that time, and in fact it may have been at the Neurophilosophy conference held at CalTech that same weekend). At any rate he was true to his word and was absent from the scene for a period of time. He came back to participate in a few conferences, including the Online Consciousness Conference in 2013, now with his new book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, he is back in full swing.

There has been a lot of discussion of his new book, including by himself, by Thomas Nagel in the New York Review of Books, and an extensive profile in The New Yorker, as well as a bunch of other places. I don’t know him personally, though we did email bunch as I co-ordinated the online consciousness conference and I did review a book that was devoted to his work and which had a response from him. Anyway, he seems like a really nice guy and he is certainly very smart but his philosophical views, and his way of doing philosophy in general, have always really bothered me.

I first encountered his work in a philosophy of mind course that I had with Kent Bach. This was at San Francisco State University and we were using the newly released The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. We must have read three of Dennett’s papers in that class and I remember being very irritated with Dennett’s Quining Qualia and Time and the Observer papers. At the time I was a staunch supporter of Ned Block in his opposition to Dennett and I remember I wrote a lot about how I thought that Dennett was a verificationalist about consciousness. I remember I was in my modern philosophy class and the professor was talking about Descartes and how ‘radical’ his doubt was and he asked us if we could think of anything that Descartes hadn’t doubted and I said that he hadn’t doubted his own consciousness. He never asked the question, “am I a zombie, with no conscious experience (even though I believe that I have it)?” and so his method of doubt was not as radical as he thought. Dennett, on the other hand, had a truly radical kind of doubt. One that seemed impossibly absurd to me but even so it was struggling with Dennett’s arguments and ideas that really drew me into the philosophy of mind.

I had to re-read a lot of Dennett’s work to write the review of Content and Consciousness Reconsidered (linked to above) and now I have read his latest book (and watched his Talk at Google) and I can say I am as frustrated as ever with his work. I understand that he has a view (and that it is an interesting and clever one) and that he has been at this for a long time but it is astonishing to me that there is absolutely no engagement with the literature on this stuff. He does cite a lot of work but it is mostly people that Dennett is sympathetic to (or vice versa) or past students of his. He makes almost no attempt to engage with anything like a serious version of the arguments that people who don’t share his views have. And one starts to get the feeling that this is because he hasn’t read anything in the philosophy of mind during his absence.

For instance, in setting up his polemic he trots out the usual Cartesian Strawman to beg the question in effigy. He says,

The problem with Dualism, ever since Descartes, is that nobody has ever been able to offer a convincing account of how these postulated interactive transactions between mind and body could occur without violating the laws of physics. The candidates on display today offer us a choice between a revolution in science so radical that it can’t be described (which is convenient, since critics are standing by, ready to pounce) or a declaration that some things are just Mysteries, beyond human understanding (which is also convenient if you don’t have any ideas and want to exit swiftly).

I am not much of a supporter of Caresian Dualism but I am a supporter of taking one’s opponents seriously, and this doesn’t even come close!

Later he goes on to say,

Doggedly pursuing the idea that qualia are both the causes and the intentional objects (the existing intentional objects) of introspective beliefs leads to further artifactual fantasies, the most extravagant of which is the idea that unlike our knowledge of all other kinds of causation, our knowledge of mental causation is infallible and direct: we can’t be wrong when we declare that our subjective beliefs about the elements of our conscious experience are caused by those very elements. We have “privileged access” to the causes or sources of our introspective convictions. No logical room for any tricksters intervening here! We couldn’t be victimized by any illusions here! You might be a zombie, unwittingly taking yourself to have real consciousness with real qualia, but I know that I am not a zombie! No, you don’t. The only support for that conviction is the vehemence of the conviction itself, and as soon as you allow the theoretical possibility that there could be zombies, you have to give up your papal authority about your own nonzombiehood. I cannot prove this, yet, but I can encourage would-be consciousness theorists to recognize the chasm created by this move and recognize that they can’t have it both ways.

It is passages like this that drive me up the wall. I am not a dualist and I have spent a lot of time arguing that zombie are not actually conceivable but it is absolutely not the case that once you allow the possibility of zombies you loose knowledge that you aren’t a zombie. To even try to conceive of zombies requires first acknowledging that consciousness is real. My conviction that it is real comes from my own experience of it. It is a perfectly coherent view to say that I know that I am conscious and yet there could be creatures who had ‘beliefs’ like mine and yet lacked consciousness. I don’t hold that view but Dennett is much too glib here!

This is a general problem with Dennett’s work. He may be (re-)presenting his world view but there is very little effort to engage with the other side in a serious way. It is as though it is still 1965 and the main bad guy is Descartes-as-Ryle-understood-him and that doesn’t seem true. In addition Dennett’s discussion is so vague that it could fit with any number of actual theories of consciousness, including dualist ones! And there is almost no discussion of what is probably his actual view on consciousness which is almost certainly Global Workspace Theory (with some special Dennett-spice added in).

Here is his big argument against dualism:

Let’s suppose then that there is a subjective property of some kind that “explains” your current introspective convictions and abilities. Let’s suppose, that is, that when you experience what seems to be a horizontal red stripe, there really is, somewhere, a horizontal-shaped red quale (whatever that is) and it is somehow the cause or source of your conviction that you are experiencing a horizontal red stripe, and that this rendering in some unknown medium is caused or triggered by the confirmation (the absence of disconfirmation) of all the expectations generated by the normal operation of your visual system. Just to make the supposition as clear as possible, here is a somewhat expanded version of the purported explanation of the red afterimage effect:

Fixating on the real green stripes in front of you for a few seconds fatigues the relevant neural circuits in the complementary color system, which then generate a false signal (red, not green), which does not get disconfirmed so long as the fatigue lasts, so somewhere fairly high in the process betwixt retina and, um … the philosophical conviction center, a red stripe-shaped quale is rendered, and it is the appreciation of this quale that grounds, fuels, informs, causes, underwrites the philosophical conviction that right now you are enjoying a stripe-shaped red quale.

This spells out the idea behind the rhetorical question: We need something like this— don’t we?— to explain the undeniable fact that it sure seems to you there’s a red stripe right now. You’re not just saying this (the way a robot might, if programed to be a model of complementary color afterimages); you believe it with all your heart and soul. Fine. So now we have qualia installed in our sketchy model of the process. What next? Something would have to have access to the rendering in that medium (otherwise, the rendered qualia would be wasted, unwitnessed, and unappreciated, like a beautiful painting locked in an empty room). Call whatever it is that has this access the inner observer. Now what do you suppose an appropriate reaction to this rendering by this inner observer would be? What else but the judgment that there sure seems to be a red stripe out there, part of an apparent American flag? But that conclusion had already been arrived at in the course of the nondisconfirmed expectations. A red stripe in a particular location in visual space had already been identified by the system; that conclusion was the information that informed the inner rendering (the way a bitmap informs the rendering of colors on your computer screen). The postulation of qualia is just doubling up the cognitive work to be done. There is no more work (or play) for consciousness to do.

Now again, I am no fan of dualism but this is not fair at all. To name just one thing, for the dualist conscious experience is a datum and a theory needs to account for that. This is a point I am in agreement with them on. We start from the first-person knowledge that we are conscious. Hypothetical zombies, were they really conceivable (instead of just seemingly so), would not start from the position of first-person knowledge (by stipulation we differ from them in this respect). In addition I would add that from the panpsychist or panprotopsychist position there is a role for consciousness to play as the fundamental basis of the causal powers manifested by physical objects but to know that you might have to read something that has been written in the last 10 years and Dennett seems not to have done that!

This is why it has been nice to see philosophers like Keith Frankish defending illusionism with actual arguments. In fact one might wonder if the HOROR theory that I sometimes defend should count as a kind of illusionism. On the HOROR theory phenomenal consciousness consists in having a suitable higher-order representation of oneself as being in a mental state. I was originally going to write something for the Illusionism special issue but the newly acquired duties of parenthood (not to mention a 6/3-6/3 teaching load) overwhelmed me.

But I like to think that if I had managed to write that paper I would have suggested that the HOROR theory is compatible with illusionism but I myself do not see it as a version of it.

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One Wild and Crazy (and Endless) Summer: The Summer of 1997

It may be the warm weather and some wishful thinking but I have been thinking about the summer of 1997. In the last post I focused mainly on thinking about January-March of 1997. But actually the spring 1997 semester would have ended May 21st and I would have been back from spring break in early April so that left about a month and a half of the spring semester left out of the last post. So before getting to the summer let me back up a bit.

I wish I had more specific information on the dates of the events in question but as I mentioned in my previous post I think it must have been in March of 1997 that I found out about my storage space. I had put everything into storage except a backpack full of clothes, which I had brought up to SF with me. My naive plan was to go up and find a place to live and then come back for my stuff but after the fiasco that ensued, I became much more focused on surviving the day. Truth be told I forgot all about my storage space for a bit there and I was just trying to figure out how to sneak into the ‘mess hall’ of the dorms. But it was devastating to find out that I had lost all of that stuff. Sure it was bad loosing all of the big-item stuff. I had a snowboard at that point, and some nice furniture including a piece that my mom had refinished and given to me as a house warming present (if she only knew what happened at that house!), and a lot of music. It was all cassette tapes but I had a lot of them. That was bad but what was worse was that I had lost all of my clothes and all of my books from my classes at Cuesta Community College. I was one of those who liked to keep their books after the classes ended and those books had been paid for by the Private Industry Council with their book voucher program. I had even bought books for classes I did not take but that had interesting looking books. I used to love to go to the bookstore with the book voucher in hand and stroll down every aisle, looking at every class being offered and checking to see if any of the books looked interesting. So I had acquired a lot of books. All gone.

But the worst of all was that I lost all of my personal memorabilia. I had scrap books with lots of pictures. I really did not like to have my picture taken so I avoided it like the plague but I had a lot of pictures of other people and of my bands playing various gigs. I had recordings of all that stuff and some video, I had letters that I had written to various people, etc. I also had some very valuable artwork that my mom had done when she was she took her one art class at Cuesta College when I was young.That stuff was irreplaceable and when I asked about it they told me they had sold what they could and the rest had been thrown away. That was a real blow and at the time I remember thinking, ‘ah well, it’s like a fresh start without any baggage’. In a sense I had been born anew and I gradually convinced myself that letting go of all the anger and pain of my past was the best thing to do anyway. I still had my financial aid money for the fall yet to come and now I had a place to stay in the dorms so I decided to go back to SF State.

Right before I decided to go back up I was partying one night with some people and one of them told me they were a piercer. At that point all I had pierced was my tongue, I hadn’t put in any earrings (though I had had my ears pierced well before, and my nipple, and my belly button). I forget how it happened but somehow I ended up getting the skin between my eyes pierced. I guess this is sometimes called the ‘third-eye’ piercing, but I had a little horseshoe in and I thought it looked ok. I forget how long I had that in, I eventually took it out because it was hard to wear sunglasses with it in, but I know that it was in when I went back to SF and into the dorms. I had already taken the Greyhound bus once, with unsuccessful results, and I was still very broke, so I think this is when I decided to take the Green Tortoise back to SF (honestly it may have been a different time but whatever). This was a pretty laid back bus/hostel and people were actually smoking weed on the busride on the way up. It drove all the way up the coast and dropped me off at the green tortoise hostel. From there I went downtown to the bus station to check on my backpack and they had it! After that I made my way back to campus and checked into the dorms.

After I returned to SF I picked up where I had left off, class-wise, and moved into the dorms (i.e. located myself and my backpack there) but I had missed a week of classes. Some of my professors did not care but in others I had missed an exam, or a paper, or some combination of them both. In the English class I had especially missed some work that was important for my grade. I did not now how to get out of this so I lied and told the professor that my mom died. I could even produce a fake death certificate if I needed to since I had access to the paper work at the mortuary. As it was the professor immediately forgave all of my work, which was great, but then I had to see them for the rest of the semester, and sometimes even afterwards, and then I would have to pretend I was still sad over the whole thing. Looking back on this I am again amazed at how unnecessary all of this was. I am sure this person would have let me make up the assignments, or that it would not have been a big deal to fail, but at the time this was the only way I knew how to navigate an institution.

That would have been in early April. Later in April, but when I don’t exactly know, I also remember going to see the local band T. J. Kirk with a girl I had met in the dorms. One of my roommates from the mortuary, Ethan (remember I am not using anyone’s real name), had introduced me to Medeski, Martin, and Wood and I really liked them. In fact one of my early email addresses was ‘medeski’ or something like that. I ended up seeing them play quite a bit but at the time I was excited to see T.J. Kirk. Their drummer was amazing and Charlie Hunter is a musical phenom who plays the bass and guitar on the same instrument (seriously).

Speaking of email, and as a bit of a digression, I remember the reason I had to get a new email address was because the one I had chosen as my SFSU email address was really inappropriate. It was bustanut@sfsu.edu…at the time that I thought of it, believe it or not, it did not dawn on me that this phrase had sexual connotations.

It is a bit of a long story but there was a band that I really liked called Weapon of Choice. They were a freaky funky group that were obsessed with nutmeg. They sang about it a lot, and we even tried it at the mortuary because we heard it really messed you up, but it never really worked. It did make it hard for me to ever eat nutmeg again! Even in small doses it reminds me of the tea we made. Anyway, the point is this band talked about nuts a lot. The singer called himself meganut and all their songs were about nutmeg (‘highperspice’, ‘nutty nutmeg fantasy’, and such). I saw these guys open for Primus the night I had my tongue pierced on mushrooms (that is a story for another occasion but it was May 4th 1996…actually by the time this happened it may have been May 5th :)) and they really made an impression on me. At any rate the point is that at the time I moved into the dorms I listened to these guys a lot and I picked bustanut because of that. But no one else had ever heard of this band and everyone thought it was a reference to sex so I had to change it. I am not sure when I changed it, it may not have been until I was starting to teach at SF State as a graduate student in 2000…but I am not sure about that…either way luckily I did not have to use that email address very often! Then when I changed it to medeski1@excite.com people thought my name was Medeski and that’s when I came up with ‘onemorebrown’.

But getting back to the T.J. Kirk show, I actually forget the name of the girl I went with, someone from the dorms, but she had some good acid. We took the acid and I remember we went to the venue, I am not sure where it was but I have a feeling it may have been the Maritime Hall, but we went in and no one was there. We sat in the floor by the front of the stage and we were talking and starting to trip. I remember being pretty nervous because this was the first time I had really tripped since The Incident (a story for another time, but The Incident took place in June of 1996 (at the Free Tibet concert in Golden Gate Park) and at the time I swore it would be the last time I ever took LSD in my life).  But then it felt like I turned around and whereas a moment ago there was just a few people now there were many people and the place was in fact packed! I turned back around but the band was playing and I was tuning in to them. They were not nearly as tight as they were on their album and the night was a bit of a disappointment. I vaguely remember that I did not enjoy taking the acid. I explained to people that it just felt like I skipped the fun part and went straight to the brain-fried feeling I had had at the end of The Incident. But it wasn’t as bad. Still, I wasn’t looking to do it again.

As a side note I should say that I stopped taking these kinds of drugs back in 1997 but from about 1990 or so until 1997 I experimented heavily with drugs. Mostly LSD and mushrooms but also some other stuff here and there. I have resolved to try to be as open and honest about this as possible but it may not reflect well one me all the time and I certainly do not endorse all of my previous actions from the vantage point of old age. It is strange to think that there was a time when I felt more like myself when I was on LSD than I did when I was sober. But there it is. I will discuss all of this at a later point.

At some point I found out that a girl I had known from back in SLO had gone up to UC Davis and I went up there to hangout with her a couple of times. She was really smart and I liked her a lot but things got complicated. I will leave out the details but I will just say that I regret the way things went. Even so, going up to Davis was really cool. This town has a nice small college town vibe about it.

Finals would have been done sometime towards the of May. My first semester at a four year college! Part of me couldn’t believe that I had finished it. I wondered how I did in my classes but did not know. Back then you could call a number and get your grades but you had to wait a couple of months before you could do so. In the meantime all you could do was to call and wait to see if it said ‘no update’. So, what was I going to do over the summer?

Somehow I had met another girl in the dorms who said that I could come with her to her home in Riverside after the semester ended and crash for a bit. We got along really well, but it was strictly Platonic. She had a really intense boyfriend who had even cut off the tip of his finger to impress her with how devoted to her she was, and I was not interested in getting caught up in, or between, anything like that. Her name was Hillary (remember I am not using any real names) and, as I said, we got along great. I had nothing else to do until the Fall semester started and so I figured I would bum around for the summer. I did not officially have a place to live that summer but I thought I could hang for a while in Riverside then head over to Redondo where I knew still another girl who was working in a coffee shop for the summer.

I didn’t have anything with me except a backpack full of clothes and some books so it was easy for me to move. The dorm room was furnished and everything else I had was lost in the great storage place fiasco, so I was good to go. We headed down to Riverside and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We got there and I found out that she was staying at her parents house and it was big. I mean huge. I don’t think her parents were there or if there were I don’t think I ever met them. And there was a guest house out back where I could crash. This was living in style, which was good because I had very limited money until my financial aid check came in for the Fall.

The guest house was nice. It had two stories, a big TV and a fully stocked bar. I met her boyfriend and his friends. They were all younger than me but pretty cool. They were into the local punk scene and some played in a band together. I cannot remember the name of the band but they liked that I used to play in a death metal band. Hillary kept saying that her friends usually didn’t like anyone, but they really liked me. I had that line before but I was having fun and things seemed to be going well. That is until a couple of major incidents.

The first of these happened at a big party that Hillary and company took me to. This was a very large house party and it was fun. We were partying and everything was going great until all of a sudden we heard gun shots. I don’t recall all of the details but I did recently find an article in the LA times about the incident. I was in the courtyard in the back, as far as I remember, and the shooting took place outside. I was not injured and no one I was with was either. It turned out that one of Hillary’s friends had their car shot up by the police in the exchange. The police kept us in the court yard and were letting people out one-by-one and questioning them. Meanwhile we were just kept waiting, and with nothing to drink or smoke (or eat)!

Eventually it was my turn to get out and I remember talking to the police. I had no ID, and no money in my wallet. Nothing but sand actually. I remember the policeman looking at the sand and jokingly asking me if it was crystal meth. It wasn’t. It was sand. They let me go without incident but the whole thing shook me up. I saw the bodies in their body bags and the blood on the street and it reminded me of being in the mortuary. It wasn’t long ago, I thought to myself as I looked at the zipped body bag in the street, that I would have been pulling up in my van, with my nice suit on, ready to pick up these bodies and take them away.

I don’t remember too much after that. Only that I had not slept and then when I finally got back to Hillary’s I was too wired to sleep. I sat on the big couch and turned on the big TV. Independence Day was on so I decided to watch it. For some reason I became very emotional while it was playing. So much violence, so pointless. Does it really go on and on forever? Throughout the galaxy, the universe, is it just one crushing nightmare after the next? Looking back on it I was probably in some kind of shock or something but it was not fun.

That would have been in June of 1997. I don’t know how long after that but one night we were partying with the whole crew. There was a lot of drinking. A LOT. Towards the end of the night Hillary’s boyfriend gets into her parents private bar, where the good stuff is. She objects but he is drunk and not having it. He wants to do shots with me and I remember we get into this macho shot-taking space. We were going through all the different bottles: a shot of this, a shot of that. Slam it back! Next one! I don’t know how many I had or what happened but the next thing I remember I am being hit in the head. it was like a lightning strike and suddenly I was like what is going on here, why did you hit me?!! It was a mess. Everyone was shit faced.

The next morning I had a hangover like you could not believe plus I had a big black eye. Hillary came up to the room at some point and gave me a vallium and some water. I think I was out for the entire next day. at some point I got up and Hillary started to tell me what had happened. Apparently everything was fine and then I started yelling at her boyfriend telling him that the kind of music they listen to wasn’t really punk and that they didn’t know shit about the real world out here in Riverside. I had absolutely no memory of this but apparently he did and he still wanted to kick my ass. But, due to the fact that they all really liked me he had decided not to fight me but to just exile me from Riverside! I felt bad but I had already by that time adopted my policy that if I had said something when I was drunk then I must have really meant it. Hillary told me I had to get out right now. So I left.

I was still feeling really hungover but I decided to just speed up my plan and head over to Redondo beach. So I started to hitchhike. I don’t remember how long I waited but I did eventually get picked up by someone. Th traffic was bad but this guy had a nice car, which was a convertible and he was drinking beer from a can. He offered me one and made small talk while cruising down the 10 freeway. I made it to Redondo that day but it turns out that my other friend, Chrissy, was not in town. The people at her work said she had gone on a camping trip and would be back the next day. Ok, I thought, so I’ll wait.

It was warm out and we were at the beach so decided to sleep on the beach. I had a book with me. I don’t exactly remember which one it was but I do remember that at the time I was reading a lot of Anne Rice. I had read the vampire series and it wasn’t in that series. I think it may have been Lasher, but I don’t know. What I do remember is that it was a beautiful moonlit night and I was virtually alone on the beach. I used my backpack as a pillow and had a blanket I had brought with me. I was out there curled up in a remote part of the beach, well past midnight reading my Anne Rice book and it was creeping me the fuck out. I did not sleep a wink that night. Every noise I jumped, every wave I flinched. Great book!

The next day I get up and bum around the beach. Shower in the ocean and then off to hook up with Chrissy. And I am in luck. She is there but she is planning on heading back to SF the next day for some family stuff and then to go see the House of Smoking Grooves tour at Shoreline. This has P-Funk and Cypress Hill and Erika Badu and sounds like fun so I tag along.  I think we even got into a fender bender in SF in her truck while trying to find a 7/11 (one I would later live by and frequent all the time!) but I am not 100% sure this was on that trip. At any rate the concert is awesome and she has to drive back down to Redondo and then do some family stuff but she offers to drop me in San Luis on her way back down to LA, which is good for me.

I don’t know all of the details of this bit either but I end up back in San Luis and planning an epic adventure with Ethan from the mortuary and a bunch of other people from the old group. We start with a trip to Ventura to see Phish at the Ventura Fairgrounds. The plan was to make a quick/short tip into Mexico to go down to Rosorito, and then head up to Northern California to go to Reggae on the River. I can’t remember if we went to Mexico before Phish or not, but that seems likely. However I don’t think we were there for all three days of reggae on the River either.  Phish was playing July 30th and Reggae on the River was happening August 1-3 so it was tight but doable! We decided to not waste money on hotels and we brought a tent. Our plan was to crash on the beach as much as possible.

Overall the trip was a blast but when we tried to sleep on the beach in Mexico we ended up getting robbed. Luckily we had buried most of our valuables (i.e. drugs) at a rest stop before crossing the border but it was still not fun. We were sleeping and then someone was tapping me in between the eyes with a gun. When I woke up they told me to give them all of our money and we did. They left but we were scared they would come back and so we did not sleep well at all. the next day we headed back across the boarder.

Once across the boarder we saw Phish and the slept on the beach. This time we found a nice secluded place and slept in a tent. I am assuming someone we met at the Phish show had the tent but really it is a blur. We woke up in the morning and there was a massive swarm of insects. We were all dirty and stinky and I suggested we go to the local school and use the showers in their gym. I had learned the hard way that there were all kinds of things one could find on a campus. We ended up finding Santa Barbara Community College and we all took a shower there. I think I have a vague memory of someone catching us or something like that. But everyone escaped and was a lot cleaner!

I don’t remember much about how we got up north or what happened at the river but I do have a vague memory of camping and swimming and having a blast. I also feel like for some reason they wanted to leave before I did. I was with someone, but I forget who but I think it was Patrick, and we decided to stay and hitchhike back. Patrick was a local boy from San Luis or thereabouts and he was a bit wild. As a bit of a digression Patrick was famous in the Morro Bay area because he partied really hard and one night, while he was passed out, his friends put him in the back of a pick up truck and were going to drive him hime. He woke up back there and, confused about his whereabouts, stood up to see what was going on, and flew out of the back of the truck while they were doing about 65 or 70. He survived!

Anyway, Patrick and I got picked up by some people heading out of the concert and they had some nice black diamond gel tabs and shared some with us. We took it because we were drunk and high and in a car. Once we got to SF we realized these guys were not going back to San Luis. They dropped us off in SF and then there we were, a long way from anyone we knew, and the acid was starting to kick in good, plus it was getting dark. I remember standing there in downtown SF, a place I would later know very well, but which at the time seems very dark and menacing. The streets were very dirty, with newspapers flying around and the shadows were starting to creep. In the back of my mind I could begin to hear the eerie music familiar from The Incident. I was starting to lose it…

…when I suddenly remembered that I had the phone number of someone I knew from the dorms. As I remember it the number was written on a scrap of paper in my backpack and we had to dig it out and use a public payphone (remember those?) to make the call. It was getting dark and the numbers were moving and breathing on the scrap of paper but I could read them! I had to hurry and dial and hope someone was there! This was a long shot as Noah was the drug dealer on our floor and he always had good weed. We weren’t really friends at that point but I had seen him and bought things from him. I called him up and said we were here in SF. He said that he and his friends had their own apartment and we should come by. They gave us directions and we made it over there. I am sure they must have thought we were weird because we were frying balls, but they were also partying and no one seemed to notice (or at least I don’t remember them noticing!). Noah let us crash there and I think we ended up staying a couple of days with them. They were in the Stonestown Galleria, which was an apartment complex right by SF state. I don’t remember how long I stayed in SF that time but I do know that classes began August 27 so I had about a month to kill before having to be back. And I had no place to live.

I seem to remember that Patrick and I hitchhiked back to San Luis. At least I remember that we panhandled a lot and made some actual money for food. In fact I seem to recall that at some point a gay couple picked us up. They said they had seen us there an hour before and then came back to see if we were still there. We were. They said they could take us to half-moon Bay and we thanked them. Then the said they would take us to Denny’s and feed us, which they did. Finally they decided to just drive us all the way back to San Luis Obispo! One thing hitchhiking will teach you is that everything is hopeless until it isn’t! By that time I had begun to think of hitchhiking a bit like fishing. You sit in one spot and cast a line and, if you are patient and wait long enough, you will eventually get a bite. And if you’re lucky you might meet someone interesting!

I don’t remember exactly how it happened but some girls I knew from the dorms had an apartment and needed a roommate. Maybe I heard about this from Noah? I am not sure. But I did make arrangements to move in with them. One of them even became a longterm girlfriend of mine. And then afterwards I ended up living with Noah and his group of friends until I left SF. And so, much like a typical student in the dorms, I had made connections that would last my entire college career. I felt like even though I had arrived in a non-standard way living in the dorms was a good experience. Granted I did it for only half of a semester and I had been homeless before that so maybe I am putting too much of a rose tint on the dorms!

At any rate with a place to live, a fresh infusion of financial aid money, and a wild first semester and summer behind me I was ready to get back to SF State. I had registered for 6 classes: all of them upper division philosophy classes! I was planning on taking existentialism with Helen Heise, ethics with Peter Radcliffe, Nietzsche and postmodernism with Sandra Luft, ethics in medicine with Anita Silvers, as well as history of Christian thought and ancient philosophy both with John Glanville. The fall 1997 semester was really exciting and at that time I loved studying philosophy. I even made the Dean’s List for the first time in fall of 1997. This was really the first time I can remember when I felt like I was doing something that I enjoyed and also was good at it! At least in terms of the grades and feedback on papers goes. In other areas the two had not gone together. I wanted to be good at skating and I tried very hard to get better, practicing all the time, and still never really got good. That was frustrating. With drumming I had the experience of getting better as I practiced but I knew, having seen firsthand what people could do with training and dedication, that I didn’t have it in me. At this time I didn’t even have a drum set and so wasn’t sure I would ever play again. But with academics I suddenly felt like I remembered ‘oh, yeah! I like thinking about this stuff! And I’m ok at it!’. It certainly was a lot more fun than working at McDonald’s or Burger King! Now…could I make any money doing it? That was the question.

I will have more to say about the fall of 1997 but looking at my financial records from back then it is funny to see that I had $310.00 in (taxable) earnings for that year! I can’t help but wonder where that came from. Was it a residual paycheck from the mortuary? I really can’t remember working at all in 1997.

Also since the topic came up I can say that September 14th 1997 was the last time I took LSD. Somehow I got some paper tabs and was going to go see Santana at the Shoreline Amphitheater, a place I knew well and had tripped at many times before, but the acid was not any good. We spent the entire night waiting for something to happen (talk about introspection!) and Santana was cheesy and uninspired. If I were to be very very dramatic I might say that that first time I took acid and wondered if I would ever be sane again seemed a distant thing of the past and in retrospect it was somewhat comforting to take some and NOT trip…it felt like the end of an era. Maybe the whole thing had been one long bad trip…yeah, that would explain a lot…luckily The Matrix hadn’t come out yet!

 

Seager on the Empirical Case for Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness

In the recent second edition of William Seager’s book Theories of Consciousness: An Introduction and Assessment he addresses some of my work on the higher-order theory. I haven’t yet read the entire book but he seems generally very skeptical of higher-order theories, which is fine. Overall the argument he presents is interesting and it allows me to clarify a few things.

It is clear from the beginning that he is interpreting the higher-order theory in the standard relational way. This is made especially clear when he says that the basic claim of higher-order theory can be put as follows:

A mental state is conscious if and only if it is the target of a suitable higher-order thought (page 94)

This is certainly the way that most people interpret the theory and is the main reason I adopted ‘HOROR’ theory as a name for the kind of view I thought was the natural interpretation of Rosenthal’s work. I seem to remember a time when I thought this was ‘the correct’ way to think about Rosenthal’s work but I have since come to believe that it is not as cut and dry and that.

This is why I have given up on Rosenthal exegesis and just pointed out that there are two differing ways to interpret the theory. One of which is the relational kind of view summed up above. The other is the non-relation view, which I have argued allows us to capture key insights of the first-order theories. On this alternative interpretation the first-order state is not ‘made’ phenomenally conscious by the higher-order state. Rather the higher-order state just is phenomenal consciousness. Simply having the appropriate higher-order state is what being phenomenally conscious consists in, there is nothing more to it than that. This is the way I interpret the higher-order theory.

Seager comes close to recognizing this when he says (on page 94),

Denial of (CS) [the claim that “if S is conscious then S is in (or has) at least one conscious state”] offers a clear escape hatch for HOT theory. Contrast that clarity with this alternative characterization of the issue ‘[c]onscious states are states we are conscious of ourselves as being in, whether we are actually in them’ (Rosenthal 2002 p 415). Here Rosenthal appears to endorse the existence of a conscious state which is not the target of a higher-order thought, contrary to HOT theory itself. If so then HOT theory is not the full account of the nature of conscious states and it is time to move on to other theories. I submit that it is better for HOT theorists to reject (CS) and allow for creatures to be conscious in certain ways in the absence of an associated conscious mental state.

The quote from Rosenthal is an accurate one and it does summarize his views. If one interprets it my way, as basically saying that the higher-order state is the phenomenally conscious state, then we do have a conscious state that is not the target of a higher-order state (or at least which need not be). This is because the higher-order state is phenomenally conscious but not because of a further higher-order state. It is because being phenomenally conscious consists in being aware of yourself in the way the higher-order theory requires. As I have argued, in several places, this does not require that we give up the higher-order theory or adopt a ‘same-order theory’. HOROR theory is the higher-order thought theory correctly interpreted.

It thus turns out that phenomenal consciousness is not the same thing as ‘state consciousness’ as it is usually defined on the traditional higher-order theory. That property involves being the target of the higher-order state. This is something that, on my view, reduces to the causal connections between higher-order states, and their conceptual contents, and the first-order states. This will amount to a causal theory of reference for higher-order states. They refer to the first-order states which cause them in the right way. The states to which they refer are what I call the ‘targets’ of the higher-order states. So, for me the targeting relation is causal, but for Rosenthal and others more influenced by Quine it essentially amounts to describing. Thus for Rosenthal the target of the relevant higher-order state will be the first-order state which ‘fits the description’ in the higher-order content. I suppose I could live with either of these ultimately but I do think you need to say something about this on the higher-order account. At any rate on my view being the target of the higher-order state tells us which state we are aware of and the content of the higher-order state tells us the way in which we are aware of it. The two typically occur together but if I had to call one the phenomenally conscious state it would be the higher-order state.

Seager goes on to say in the next paragraph,

One might try to make a virtue of necessity here and seek for confirmation of the false HOT scenario. There have been some recent attempts to marshall empirical evidence for consciousness in the absence of lower-level states but with the presence of characteristic higher-order thoughts, thus showing that the latter are sufficient to generate consciousness (see Lau and Rosenthal 2011; Lau and Brown forthcoming; Brown 2015). The strategy of these efforts is clear: Find the neural correlates of higher-order thoughts posited by HOT theory, test subjects on tasks which sometimes elicit consciousness and sometimes do not (e.g. present them with an image for a very short time and ask them to report on what they saw), and, ideally, observe that no lower-order states occur even in the case where subjects report seeing something. Needless to say, it is a difficult strategy to follow. (page 95)

I would quibble with the way that things are put here but overall I agree with it. The quibbles come from the characterization of the strategy. What Lau and I were arguing was that we want to find cases where the first-order state is either absent or degraded, or  otherwise less rich than the conscious experiences of subjects. So we would be happy just with a mis-match between the first-order and higher-order cases. Whether we ever get the ideal total absence of first-order states is maybe too high of a bar. This is why in the work that Lau does he aims to produce cases where task performance is matched but subjective reports differ. The primary goal is to show that conscious experience outstrips what is represented at the first-order level. It is a difficult strategy to follow but all we can do is to use the tools we have to try to test the various theories of consciousness.

Seager then goes on to focus on the case of the rare form of Charles Bonnett syndrome. In these rare cases subjects report very vivid visual hallucinations even though there is extensive damage to the primary visual cortex. Seager briefly considers Miguel Sebastian’s objection based on dreaming but then objects that

…a deeper problem undercuts the empirical case, tentative though it is, for HOT theory and the empty HOT scenario. This is a confusion about the nature of the lower-order and higher-order cognitive states ate issue. ‘Lower-order’ does not mean ‘early’ and ‘higher-order’ does not mean ‘later’ in the brain’s processing of information. Higher-order refers specifically to thoughts about mental states as such; lower-order states are not about thoughts as such but are about the world as presented to the subject (including the subject’s body).

There is little reason to think that lower-order states, properly conceived, should be implemented in low-level or entry-level sensory systems. It is not likely that an isolated occipital lobe would generate visually conscious states.

Nor is it unlikely that lower-order states, states, that is, which represent the world and the body occur in ‘higher’ brain regions such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It would be astounding if that brain region were devoted to higher-order thoughts about mental states as such. (page 96)

I largely agree with the points being made here but I do not think that Lau and I were confused about this. The first thing I would say is that we are pretty explicit that we adopt the usage that we think the typical first-order theorist does (and especially Ned Block) and that we include areas outside the occipital lobe “that are known to contain high number of neurons explicitly coding for visual objects (e.g. fusiform face area)”  as first-order areas (see footnote 7 in the paper).

In the second instance we talked about three empirical cases in the paper and each was used for a slightly different purpose. When people discuss this paper, though, they typically focus on one out of the three. Here is how we summed up the cases in the paper:

To sum up, there are three kinds of Empirical Cases – Rare Charles Bonnet Cases (i.e. Charles Bonnet cases that result specifically from damage to the primary visual cortex), Inattentional Inflation (i.e. the results of Rahnev et al, in press and in review) and Peripheral Vision (introspective evidence from everyday life). The three cases serve slightly different purposes. The Rare Charles Bonnet Cases highlight the possibility of vivid conscious experience in the absence of primary visual cortex. If we take the primary visual cortex as the neural structure necessary for first-order representations, this is a straightforward case of conscious experience without first-order representations. In Inattentional Inflation, the putative first-order representations are not missing under the lack of attention, but they are not strong enough to account for the “inflated” level of reported subjective perception, in that both behavioral estimates of the signal-to-noise ratio of processing and brain imaging data show that there was no difference in overall quality or capacity in the first-order perceptual signal, which does not concern only the primary visual cortex but also other relevant visual areas. Finally, Peripheral Vision gives introspective evidence that conscious experience may not faithfully reflect the level of details supported by first-order visual processing. Though this does not depend on precise

laboratory measures, it gives an intuitive argument that is not constrained by specific experimental details.

So I don’t think Seager’s criticism of us as being confused about this is fair.

In addition, in recent work with Joe LeDoux we endorse the second claim made by Seager. We explicitly argue that the ‘lower-order’ states we are interested in will occur in working emory and likely even dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex.

But even if I think Seager is wrong to accuse us of being insensitive or confused about this issue I do think he goes on to present an interesting argument. He goes on to say,

The problem can be illustrated by the easy way HOT (or HOT-like) theorists pass over this crucial distinction. Consider these remarks from Richard Brown:

Anyone who has had experience with wine will know that acquiring a new word will sometimes allow one to make finer-grained distinctions in the experience that one has. One interpretation of what is going on here is that learning the new word results in one’s having a new concept and the application of this concept allows one to represent one’s mental life in a more fine-grained way. This results in more phenomenal properties in one’s experience…that amounts to the claim that one represents one’s mental life as instantiating different mental qualities.

Those unsympathetic to HOT theory will balk at this description. What is acquired is an enhanced ability to perceive or appreciate the wine in this case, not the experience of the wine (the experience itself does not seem to have any distinctive perceivable properties). After training the taster has new lower-order states which better characterize the wine, not new higher-order states aimed at and mentally characterizing the experience of tasting the wine.

Since there is no reason to restrict lower-order states to relatively peripheral sensory systems, it will be very hard to make out an empirical case for HOT theory and the empty HOT scenario in the way suggested. (pages 96-97)

The quote he offers here is from the HOROR paper and so it is interesting to see that the proposed solution, that the higher-order state is phenomenally conscious and that this is not giving up on the higher-order theory, is neglected.

Before going on I should say that I am pretty much sympathetic to the point being made here. I think there is a first-order account of what is going on. I also tend to think that this is ultimately an empirical issue. If there were a way to test this that would be great but I am not sure we have the capacity to do so yet. But my main point in the paper was not to offer this as a phenomenon that the first-order theorist couldn’t explain. What I was intending to do was to argue that the higher-order interpretation is one consistent interpretation of this phenomenon. It fits naturally with the theory and shows that there is nothing absurd in the basic tenet of the HOROR theory that phenomenal consciousness really is just a kind of higher-order thought, with conceptual content.

As I read Rosenthal he does not think the first-order account is plausible. For Rosenthal we are explicitly focusing on our experience sin these kinds of cases. One takes a drink of the wine and focuses on the taste of the wine. This may be done even after one has swallowed the wine. The same is true for the auditory cases. It does seem plausible that in these cases I am focused on my experience, not on the wine (it is the experience of the wine of course). But if the general kind of theory he advocates is correct then one will still come to appreciate the wine itself. When I have the new fine-grained higher-order thoughts they will attribute to me finer-grained first-order states and these will be described in terms of the properties I experience the wine as having. They will thus make me consciously aware of the wine and its qualities but they do so by making me aware of the first-order states. The first-order alternative at least seems to be at a disadvantage here because it seems that on their view learning the new word produces new first-order qualities as opposed to making me aware of the qualities which were already there (as on the higher-order view). I think there is some evidence that we can have ‘top down’ activity producing/modifying lower-order states so I ultimately think this is an empirical issue. At the very least I think we can say that this argument shows that the higher-order theory makes a clear, empirically testable predication, and like the empty higher-order state claim itself, the more implausible the prediction the more of a victory it is when it is not falsified.

At any rate abstracting from all of this Seager presents an interesting argument. If I am reading it correctly the claim seems to be that the empirical case for the higher-order theory is going to be undercut because first-order theories are not committed to the claim that first-order states are to be found in early sensory areas, and might even be found in places like the dlPFC. If so then even if there were a difference in activation there, as between early sensory areas, then this by itself would not be evidence for a higher-order theory because those may be first-order states.

The way I tried to get around this kind of worry (in my Brain and its States paper) was by taking D prime to be a measure of the first-order information which is being represented. This was justified, I thought, because the first-or-lower-order states are thought by us to largely drive the task performance. D prime gives us a measure of how well the subjects perform the task (by calculating the ration of hits to false alarms) and so it seems natural to suppose it gives a measure of what the first-order states are representing. The bias in judgment can be measured by C (the criterion) in signal detection theory and this can roughly be treated as a measure of the confidence of the subjects. So, instead of looking for direct anatomical correlates we can look for matched D prime scores while there is difference in subjective report. This is exactly what Lau and his lab has been able to show in many different cases. In addition when there is fMRI data it shows no significant difference in any first-order areas while there is a difference in the prefrontal cortex. Is this due to residual first-order states in ‘higher-order’ areas? Maybe, but if so they would be accounted for in the measure of D prime. And that would not explain why subjects report a difference in visibility, or confidence, or whatever. Because of this I do not think the empirical cases has been much undermined by Seager.

Gottlieb on Presentational Character and Higher-Order Thought Theories of Consciousness

In his paper, Presentational Character and Higher-Order Thoughts, which came out in 2015 in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Gottlieb presents a general argument against the higher-order theory of consciousness which invokes some of my work as support. His basic idea is that conscious experience has what he calls presentational character, where this is something like the immediate directness with which we experience things in the world.

Nailing down this idea is a bit tricky but we don’t need to be too precise to get the puzzle he wants. He puts it this way in the paper,

Focus on the visual case. Then, fix the concept ‘presentational character’ in purely comparative terms, between visual experiences and occurrent thoughts: ‘presentational character’ picks out that phenomenological quality, whatever it is, that marks the difference between what it is like to be aware of an object O by having an occurrent thought about O and what it is like to be aware of an object O by having a visual experience of O. That is the phenomena I am claiming to be incompatible with the traditional HOT-theoretic explanation of consciousness. And so long as one concedes there is such a difference between thinking about O and visually experiencing O, we should have enough of a fix on our phenomenon of interest.

Whether or not you agree that presentational character, as Gottlieb defines it, is a separate, distinct, component of our overall phenomenology there is clearly a difference between consciously seeing red (a visual experience) and consciously thinking about red (a cognitive experience). If the higher-order theory of consciousness were not able to explain what this difference amounted to we would have to admit a serious deficit in the theory.

But why should we think that the higher-order theory has any problem with this? Gottlieb presents his official argument as follows:

S1  If HOT is true, m*(the HOT) entirely fixes the phenomenal character of experience.

S2  HOTs are thoughts.

S3  Presentational character is a type of phenomenal character.

S4  Thoughts as such do not have presentational character.

So:

S5 HOTs do not have presentational character.

Thus:

S6 If HOTs do not have presentational character, no experience (on HOT) has presentational character.

Therefore:

P1 If HOT is true, no experience has presentational character.

The rest of the paper goes on to defend the argument from various moves a higher-order theorist may make but I would immediately object to premise S4. There are some thoughts, in particular a specific kind of higher-order thought, which will have presentational character. Or at least these thoughts will be able to explain the difference that Gottlieb claims can’t be explained.

Gottlieb is aware that this is the most contentious premise of his argument. This is where he appeals to the work that I have done trying to connect the cognitive phenomenology debate to the higher-order thought theory of consciousness (this is the topic of some of my earliest posts here at Philosophy Sucks!). In particular he says,

Richard Brown and Pete Mandik (2013) have argued that if HOT is true, we have can have (first-order, non-introspected) thoughts with propriety phenomenology. Suppose one first has a suitable HOT about one’s first-order pain sensation. Here, the pain will become conscious. Yet now suppose one has a suitable HOT about one’s thought that the Eiffel Tower is tall. As Brown and Mandik point out, if we deny cognitive phenomenology, one will then need to say that though the thought is conscious, there is nothing that it is like for this creature to consciously think the thought. But this would be—by the edicts of HOT itself—absurd; after all, the two higher-order states are in every relevant respect the same.

I agree that this is what we say about the traditional higher-order theory (where we take the first-order state to be made conscious by the higher-order state) but I would prefer to put this by saying that if we are talking about phenomenal consciousness (as opposed to mere-state-consciousness) then it would be the higher-order state that was conscious, but other than that this is our basic point. How does it help Gottlieb’s case?

The argument is complicated but it seems to go like this. If we accept the conclusion of the argument from Brown and Mandik then conscious thoughts and visual experiences both have phenomenology and they have different kinds of phenomenology (i.e. cognitive phenomenology is proprietary). In particular cognitive phenomenology does not have presentational character. Whatever the phenomenology of thinking is, it is not like see the thing in front of you! But now consider the case where you are seeing something red and you introspect that conscious experience. When one introspects, on the traditional higher-order view, one comes to have a third-order thought about the second order thought. So, in effect, the second-order thought becomes conscious. But we already said that cognitive phenomenology is not the kind of thing that results in presentational character, so when the second-order thought becomes conscious we should be aware of it *as a thought* and so *as the kind of thing which lacks presentational character* but that would mean that introspection is incompatible with the presentational character.

I have had similar issues with Rosenthal’s account of introspection so I am glad that Gottlieb is drawing attention to this issue. I have also explored his recommended solution of having the first-order state contribute something to the content of the higher-order state (here, and in my work with Hakwan)

I also have a talk and a draft of a paper devoted to exploring alternative accounts of introspection from the higher-order perspective. I put it up on Academia.edu but that was before I fully realized that I am not much of a fan of the way they are developing it. In fact, I forgot my login info and was locked out of seeing the paper myself for about a week! Someday I aim to revisit it. But one thing that I point out in that paper is that Rosenthal seems to talk about introspection in a very different way. Here is what he says in one relevant passage,

We sometimes have thoughts about our experiences, thoughts that sometimes characterize the experiences as the sort that visually represent red physical objects.  And to have a thought about an experience as visually representing a red object is to have a thought about the experience as representing that object qualitatively, that is, by way of its having some mental quality and it is the having of just such thoughts that make one introspectively conscious of one’s experience, (CM p. 119)

This paragraph has often been in my thoughts when I think about introspection on the higher-order theory. But it has become clear to me that a lot depends on what you mean by ‘thoughts about our experiences’.

Here is what I say in the earlier mentioned draft,

…In [Rosenthal’s Trends in Cognitive Science] paper with Lau where they respond to Rafi Malach, they characterize the introspective third-order thought as having the content ‘I am having this representation that I am seeing this red object’. I think it is interesting that they do not characterize it as having content like ‘I am having this thought that I am seeing red’. On their account we represent the second-order thought as being the kind of state that represents me as seeing physical red and we do so in a way that does not characterize it as a thought. One reason for this may be that if, as we have seen, the highest-order thought determines what it is like for you then if I am having a third-order thought with the content ‘I am having this thought that I am seeing red’ then what it will be like for me is like having a thought. But this is arguably not what happens in canonical cases of introspection (Gottlieb forthcoming makes a similar objection). Rosenthal himself in his earlier paper agued that when we introspect we are having thoughts about our experiences and that we characterize them as being the kind that qualitatively represents blue things. This is a strange way to characterize a thought.

So I agree that there seems to be a problem here for the higher-order theory but I would not construe it as a problem with the theory’s ability to explain presentational character. I think it can do that just fine. Rather what it suggests is that we should look for a different account of introspection.

When Rosenthal talks specifically about introspection he is talking about the very rare case where one ‘quote-unquote’ brackets the external world and considers one’s experience as such. So, in looking at a table I may consciously perceive it but I am focused on the table (and this translates to the claim that the concepts I employ in the higher-order thought are about the worldly properties). When I introspect I ‘bracket’ the table in the world and take my experience itself as the object of my inner awareness. The intuitive idea that Rosenthal wants to capture is that when we have conscious experience we are aware of our first-order states (as describing properties in the world) and in deliberate attentive introspection we are aware of our awareness of the first-order state. The higher-order state is unconscious and when we become aware of our awareness we make that state conscious, but, on his view, we do so in a way so as not to notice that it is a thought.

But part of me wonders about this. Don’t some people take introspection to be a matter of having a belief about one’s own experience? If so the a conscious higher-order thought would fit this bill. So there may be a notion of introspection that a third-order thought may account for. But we might also want a notion of introspection that was more directly related to focusing on what it is like for the subject. When I focus on the redness of my conscious experience it doesn’t seem as though I am having a conscious thought about the redness. It seems like I am focused on the particular nature of my conscious experience. We might describe that with something like ‘I am seeing red’ and that may sound like a conscious higher-order thought but we are here talking about being aware of the conscious experience itself. So, to capture this, I would suggest, in both cases we are aware of our first-order states. In non-introspective consciousness we are aware of the first-order state as presenting something external to us. In introspective consciousness we are aware of the first-order state as a mental state, as being a visual experience, or a seeing, etc.

I am inclined to see these two kinds of thoughts as ‘being at the same level’ in the sense that they are both thoughts about the first-order states but which have very different contents. And this amounts to the claim that they employ different kinds of concepts. But these ideas are still very much in development. Any thoughts (of whatever order) appreciated!

Gottlieb on Brown

I have been interested in the relationship between the transitivity principle and transparency for quite a while now. This issue has come up again in a recent paper  by Joseph Gottlieb fittingly called Transitivity and Transparency. This paper came out in Analytic Philosophy in 2016 but he actually sent me the paper beforehand. I read it and we had some email conversation about it (and this influenced my Introspective Consciousness paper (here is the Academia.edu session I had on it)) but I never got the chance to formulate any clear thoughts on it. So I figured I would give it a shot now.

There is a lot going on in the paper and so I will focus for the most part on his response to some of my early work on what will become HOROR theory. He argues that what he calls Non-State-Relational Transitivity, is not an ‘acceptable consistency gloss’ on the transitivity principle. So what is a consistency gloss? The article is technical (it did come out in Analytic Philosophy, after all!). For Gottlieb this amounts to giving a precisification of the transitivity principle that renders it compatible with what he calls Weak Transparency. He defines these terms as follows,

TRANSITIVITY: Conscious mental states are mental states we are aware of in some way.

W-TRANSPARENCY: For at least one conscious state M, it is impossible to:

(a) TRANSPARENCY-DIRECT: Stand in a direct awareness relation to M, or; (b) TRANSPARENCY-DE RE: Stand in a de re awareness relation to M, or; (c) TRANSPARENCY-INT: Stand in an introspective awareness relation to M,

His basic claim, then, is that there is no way of making precise the statement of transitivity above in such a way as to render it consistent with the weak version of transparency that he thinks should count as a truism or platitude.

Of course my basic claim, one that I have made since the beginning of thinking about these issues, is that there is a way of doing this but it requires a proper understanding of what the transitivity principle says. If we do not interpret the theory as claiming that a first-order state is made conscious by the higher-order state (as Gottlieb does in TRANSITIVITY above) but instead think of transitivity as telling us that a conscious experience is one that makes me aware of myself as being in first-order states then we have a way to satisfy Weak Transparency.

So what is Gottlieb’s problem with this way of interpreting the transitivity principle? He has a section of the paper discussing this kind of move. He says,

4.3 Non-State-Relational Transitivity

As it stands, TRANSITIVITY posits a relation between a higher-order state and a first-order state. But not all Higher-Order theorists construe TRANSITIVITY this way. Instead, some advance:

  • NON-STATE-RELATIONAL TRANSITIVITY: A conscious mental state is a mental state whose subject is aware of itself as being in that state.

NON-STATE-RELATIONAL TRANSITIVITY is an Object-Side Precisification. And it appears promising. For it says that we are aware of ourselves as being in conscious states, not simply that we are aware of our conscious states. These are different claims.

I agree that this is an importantly different way of thinking about the transitivity principle. However, I do not think that I actually endorse this version of the transitivity principle. As it is stated here NON-STATE-RELATIONAL TRANSITIVITY is still cast in terms of the first-order state.

What I mean by that is when we ask the question ‘which metal state is phenomenally conscious?’ the current proposal would answer ‘the mental state the subject is aware of itself as being in’. Now, I do think that this is most likely the way that Rosenthal and Weisberg think of non-state-relational transitivity but this is not the way that I think about it.

I have not put this in print yet (though it is in a paper in draft stage) but the way I would reformulate the transitivity principle would be as follows (or at least along these general lines),

  • A mental state is phenomenally conscious only if it appropriately makes one aware of oneself as being in some first-order mental state

This way of putting things emphasizes the claim that the higher-order state itself is the phenomenally conscious state.

Part of what I think is going on here is that there is an ambiguity in terms like ‘awareness’. When we say that we are aware of a first-order state, or whatever, what we should mean, from the higher-order perspective, is that the higher-order state aims at or targets or represents or whatever the first-order state. I have toyed with the idea that the ‘targeting’ relation boils down to a kind of causal-reference relation. But then we can also ask ‘how does it appear to the subject?’ and there it is not the case that we should say that it appears to the subject that they are aware of the first-order state. The subject will seemingly be aware of the items in the environment and this is because of the higher-order content of the higher-order representation.

Gottlieb thinks that non-state-relational transitivity,

 …will do nothing with respect to W-TRANSPARENCY…For presumably there will be (many!) cases where I am in the conscious state I am aware of myself as being in, and so cases where we will still need to ask in what sense I am aware of those states, and whether that sense comports with W-TRANSPARENCY. NON-STATE-RELATIONAL TRANSITIVITY doesn’t obviously speak to this latter question, though; the awareness we have of ourselves is de re, and presumably direct, but whether that’s also true of the awareness we have of our conscious states is another issue. So as it stands, NON-STATE-RELATIONAL TRANSITIVITY is not a consistency gloss.

I think it should be clear by now that this may apply to the kind of view he discusses, and that this view may even be one you could attribute to Rosenthal or Weisberg, but it is not the kind of view that I have advocated.

According to my view the higher-order state is itself the phenomenally conscious state, it is the one that there is something that it is like for one to be in. What, specifically, it is like, will depend on the content of the higher-order representation. That is to say, the way the state describes one’s own self determined what it is like for you. When the first order state is there, it, the first-order state, will be accurately described but that is besides the point. W-transparency is clearly met by the HOROR version of higher-order theory. And if what I said above can hold water then it is still a higher-order theory which endorses a version of the transitivity principle but it is able to simultaneously capture many of the intuitions touted as evidence for first-order theories.