Dispatches from the Ivory Tower

In celebration of my ten years in the blogosphere I have been compiling some of my past posts into thematic meta-posts. The first of these listed my posts on the higher-order thought theory of consciousness. Continuing in this theme below are links to posts I have done over the past ten years reporting on talks/conferences/classes I have attended. I wrote these mostly so that I would not forget about these sessions but they may be interesting to others as well. Sadly, there are several things I have been to in the last year or so that I have not had the tim to sit down and write about…ah well maybe some day!

  1. 09/05/07 Kripke
    • Notes on Kripke’s discussion of existence as a predicate and fiction
  2. 09/05/2007 Devitt
  3. 09/05 Devitt II
  4. 09/19/07 -Devitt on Meaning
    • Notes on Devitt’s class on semantics
  5. Flamming LIPS!
  6. Back to the Grind & Meta-Metaethics
  7. Day Two of the Yale/UConn Conference
  8. Peter Singer on Climate Change and Ethics
    • Notes on Singer’s talk at LaGuardia
  9. Where Am I?
    • Reflections on my talk at the American Philosophical Association talk in 2008
  10. Fodor on Natural Selection
    • Reflections on the Society of Philosophy and Psychology meeting June 2008
  11. Kripke’s Argument Against 4-Dimensionalism
    • Based on a class given at the Graduate Center
  12. Reflections on Zoombies and Shombies Or: After the Showdown at the APA
    • Reflections on my session at the American Philosophical Association in 2009
  13. Kripke on the Structure of Possible Worlds
    • Notes on a talk given at the Graduate Center in September 2009
  14. Unconscious Trait Inferences
    • Notes on social psychologist James Uleman‘s talk at the CUNY Cogsci Speaker Series September 2009
  15. Attributing Mental States
    • Notes on James Dow‘s talk at the CUNY Cogsci Speaker Series September 2009
  16. Busy Bees Busily Buzzing ‘Bout
  17. Shombies & Illuminati
  18. A Couple More Thoughts on Shombies and Illuminati
    • Some reflections after Kati Balog’s presentation at the NYU philosophy of mind discussion group in November 2009
  19. Attention and Mental Paint
    • Notes on Ned Block’s session at the Mind and Language Seminar in January 2010
  20. HOT Damn it’s a HO Down-Showdown
    • Notes on David Rosenthal’s session at the NYU Mind and Language Seminar in March 2010
  21. The Identity Theory in 2-D
    • Some thoughts in response to theOnline Consciousness Conference in February 2010
  22. Part-Time Zombies
    • Reflections on Michael Pauen‘s Cogsci talk at CUNY in March of 2010
  23. The Singularity, Again
    • Reflections on David Chalmers’ at the NYU Mind and Language seminar in April of 2010
  24. The New New Dualism
  25. Dream a Little Dream
    • Reflections on Miguel Angel Sebastian’s cogsci talk in July of 2010
  26. Explaining Consciousness & Its Consequences
    • Reflections on my talk at the CUNY Cog Sci Speaker Series August 2010
  27. Levine on the Phenomenology of Thought
    • Reflections on Levine’s talk at the Graduate Center in September 2010
  28. Swamp Thing About Mary
    • Reflections on Pete Mandik’s Cogsci talk at CUNY in October 2010
  29. Burge on the Origins of Perception
    • Reflections on a workshop on the predicative structure of experience sponsored by the New York Consciousness Project in October of 2010
  30. Phenomenally HOT
    • Reflections on the first session of Ned Block and David Carmel’s seminar on Conceptual and Empirical Issues about Perception, Attention and Consciousness at NYU January 2011
  31. Some Thoughts About Color
  32. Stazicker on Attention and Mental Paint
  33. Sid Kouider on Partial Awareness
    • a few notes about Sid Kouider’s recent presentation at the CUNY CogSci Colloquium in October 2011
  34. The 2D Argument Against Non-Materialism
    • Reflections on my Tucson Talk in April 2012
  35. Peter Godfrey-Smith on Evolution And Memory
    • Notes from the CUNY Cog Sci Speaker Series in September 2012
  36. The Nature of Phenomenal Consciousness
    • Reflections on my talk at the Graduate Center in September 2012
  37. Giulio Tononi on Consciousness as Integrated Information
    • Notes from the inaugural lecture of the new NYU Center for Mind and Brain by Giulio Tononi
  38. Mental Qualities 02/07/13: Cognitive Phenomenology
  39. Mental Qualities 02/21/13: Phenomenal Concepts
    • Notes/Reflections from David Rosenthal’s class in 2013
  40. The Geometrical Structure of Space and Time
    • Reflections on a session of Tim Maudlin’s course I sat in on in February 2014
  41. Towards some Reflections on the Tucson Conferences
    • Reflections on my presentations at the Tucson conferences
  42. Existentialism is a Transhumanism
    • Reflections on the NEH Seminar in Transhumanism and Technohumanism at LaGuardia I co-directed in 2015-2016

Zombies vs Shombies

Richard Marshall, a writer for 3am Magazine, has been interviewing philosophers. After interviewing a long list of distinguished philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Josh Knobe, Brian Leiter, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Schwitzgebel, Jason Stanley, Alfred Mele, Graham Priest, Kit Fine, Patricia Churchland, Eric Olson, Michael Lynch, Pete Mandik, Eddy Nahmais, J.C. Beal, Sarah Sawyer, Gila Sher, Cecile Fabre, Christine Korsgaard, among others, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, since they just published my interview. I had a great time engaging in some Existential Psychoanalysis of myself!

Clip Show ‘011

It’s that time of year again! Here are the top posts of 2011 (see last year’s clip show and the best of all time)

–Runner Up– News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!

Philosophy is unavoidable; that is part of why it sucks!

10. Epiphenomenalism and Russellian Monism

Is Russellian Monism committed to epiphenomenalism about consciousness? Dave Chalmers argues that it is not.

9. Bennett on Non-Reductive Physicalism

Karen Bennett argues that the causal exclusion argument provides an argument for physicalism and that non-reductive physicalism is not ruled out by it. I argue that she is wrong and that the causal exclusion argument does cut against non-reductive physicalism.

8. The Zombie Argument Requires Phenomenal Transparency

Chalmers argues that the zombie argument goes through even without an appeal to the claim that the primary and secondary intension of ‘consciousness’ coincide. I argue that it doesn’t. Without an appeal to transparency we cannot secure the first premise of the zombie argument.

7. The Problem of Zombie Minds

Does conceiving of zombies require that we be able to know that zombies lack consciousness? It seems like we can’t know this so there may be a problem conceiving of zombies. I came to be convinced that this isn’t quite right, but still a good post (plus I think we can use the response here in a way that helps the physicalist who wants to say that the truth of physicalism is conceivable…more on that later, though)

6. Stazicker on Attention and Mental Paint

Can we have phenomenology that is indeterminate? James Stazicker thinks so.

5. Consciousness Studies in 1000 words (more) or less

I was asked to write a short piece highlighting some of the major figures and debates in the philosophical study of consciousness for an intro textbook. This is what I came up with

4. Cohen and Dennett’s Perfect Experiment

Dennett’s response to the overflow argument and why I think it isn’t very good

3. My Musical Autobiography

This was big year for me in that I came into possession of some long-lost recordings of my death metal band from the 1990’s as well as some pictures. This prompted me to write up a brief autobiography of my musical ‘career’

2. You might be a Philosopher

A collection of philosophical jokes that I wrote plus some others that were prompted by mine.

1. Phenomenally HOT

Some reflections on Ned Block and Jake Berger’s response to my claim that higher-order thoughts just are phenomenal consciousness

Stazicker on Attention and Mental Paint

On Monday I attended a discussion of James Stazicker‘s paper Attention, Visual Knowledge, and Psychophysics. I have talked about Block’s argument before that recent experimental work on attention suggests that there is mental paint (i.e. that there is more to phenomenology than what’s in the world or in our representations of it). In this paper Stazicker wanted to offer an account of the representational contents of vision that denied any kind of illusion (like Block) but at the same time rejected Block’s argument for mental paint (Stazicker says that his view is compatible with mental paint but not with the argument that Block gives for it).

The basic idea that Stazicker wants to develop is that vision represents determinable properties rather than determinate properties. That is to say that our visual representations while we are looking at a line of (say) 5 centimeters will be something to the effect of a line that is, say, 4.5-5.25 centimeters long. If this is right then there are many different ways of veridically representing the line of 5 cm length. We could represent it, as above, or as 4.75-5.5 or many others. Stazicker wants to maintain that these two different representations will produce different phenomenologies but that each is perfectly veridical. If this is what happens in Carrassco type cases then we can still say that our belief are veridical even though we agree that attention changes our phenomenology. He also argues that we have independent reason to think that vision does deal in determinable representations stemming from considerations about the limited spatial resolution of our representations.

Block is aware of this kind of objection and responds to it in Attention and Mental Paint. As he says,

The problem with this proposal is that it if the phenomenology of perception flows from representational content, then indeterminacy in content would have to be reflected in an indeterminacy of look. But there need be no such indeterminacy.

If our experience represents something indeterminately as, say, 4.5-5.25 cm in length then we should expect the phenomenology to be indeterminate as well, but since our phenomenology isn’t this way we have some evidence that there is more to it than the indeterminate representation; there is also the phenomenological mode of presentation, that is what it is like for the subject to have that conscious experience.

Stazicker responds to this line of argument in the paper. He argues that there is no problem with saying that our phenomenology is indeterminate. He denies that saying that conscious experience is indeterminate is the same as saying that it is blurry (though blurriness does involve indeterminacy, it also involves something else, something like the phenomenology of blurriness), nor is it the same as representing a disjunct of possibilities. He rather appeals to notions of seeing things in the distance. When one sees something that is far away one’s representations are indeterminate but without being burry or fuzzy or disjointed.

During the discussion Dan Shargel brought up the issue of how we can tell if our normal conscious vision is blurry or not. He reported an experience of having his prescription updated on his glasses. Suddenly he realized that his vision had been blurry before but had not realized that it was that way before the update. Perhaps that is what conscious vision is like for us. Block argued that there is a phenomenological difference between seeing a clear image blurrily and seeing a blurry image clearly. In each case one would be tempted to say that a subject would draw the same ‘pixel array’ even though there is a distinct phenomenological difference (the difference between feeling like you see it clearly or blurrily). Block also argued that one could not cash this out merely in terms of determinable versus determinate contents. Chalmers suggested that you might be able to capture that difference representationally in the following way. In the case of seeing the blurry image clearly one has a visual experience which represents the various smudges in a very determinate way (so one has a determinate representation of the indeterminate thing itself), whereas when one see a clear image blurrily one has an indeterminate visual experience in that one represents the determinate thing in a smudged way. Block insisted that this did not meet his objection since one would end up drawing the same thing in both cases.

I have to admit that I lean towards Block view here. It does seem to me that conscious visual experience presents things as being some determinate way. So, when I look at the frame of a painting it seems to me that the frame has some determinate length even though I am unsure what that length is. One interpretation I have long been attracted to is to see higher-order thought-like states as (phenomenal) modes of presentations for first-order sensory qualities. The higher-order states may very well represent the indeterminate first-order states as being determinate. This would allow one to endorse Block’s view that experience doesn’t seem indeterminate while also taking the empirical evidence to suggest that first-order states are indeterminate.