I am not a Number, (Nor am) I a Free Man: 1987-1990

I am continuing to write a semi-regular series of memoir-notes posts. Some of these are harder to write than others but this one was especially difficult. Not only are the memories so distant (and thus sparse and hazy), but I myself feel very distant from who I was at this stage in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I can still ‘see myself in him’ so to speak, and I definitely want to take ownership and responsibility for what I have done, but at this point in my life I had not even yet caught a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. I can definitely say that this was one of the absolute low points of my life.

It’s also funny because now that I am going over everything with a fine-toothed comb it looks like it was just the last two years of high school that I was “in the system”. In my mind it seemed longer. Another instance of the funny ways that memory betrays us. Before I started all of this I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the details and chronology of events of my life but I am finding out that I was wrong. I mean, I teach the neuroscience and psychology of memory all the time and so knew theoretically that memories are easily distorted, especially when one recalls them and learns new information (that will often get filed away as part of the original memory), but it was still a surprise to see that even I was susceptible (Oh, the hubris!).

I previously talked about what I think is the first group home I was sent to, which is the one in Santa Barbara. After that I am pretty sure I went to Boonville or Mendocino California. This place was way out in the boonies, up north of San Francisco in California. It had a camp-like feel to it, with different bunks, a communal eating area, and an on-site school. My transcripts say I was there in January 1988 and I do not know how long I was there. I also don’t remember when I had turned myself in after running away from the group home in Santa Barbara. I am pretty sure it must have been late 1987 but I don’t know.

One of the things I liked best about this place was breakfast. In the morning they would set out rows and rows of boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and milk. All down the communal dining area, where there were rows of panic table-like tables and chairs. This was wonderful because, first of all as a vegetarian I could eat it (and as much as I wanted). and second of all I didn’t have to worry about any meat (which I found disgusting) being around me. I have a vivid memory of being in juvy and having rib night and being in the dining hall where everyone was eating ribs. I could hear the cacophony of smacking lips, rending flesh, and clacking silverware and as I looked around the room I saw what appeared to me to be a mob of flesh-crazed zombies. Everywhere I looked I saw someone gnawing on a bone, or pulling some flesh from a bone, with sauce everywhere. This was really traumatic for me. I had as usual given my ribs away and was eating side dishes (the best a veggie can get at a rib joint!)…anyway the point is Honey Nut Cheerios was a double win!

It was up in Boonville that I heard Metallica’s Garage Days revisited. I had left all of my stuff at home and they did not allow us to listen to that kind of music in the group homes. But up in Boonville I learned a really nice trick. It turns out that if you put in some paper into a slot at the top of a commercial cassette you can record over whatever it was before. One of the guys there took a Kenny Loggins tape and recorded a bunch of stuff on it for me. I forget what was on there exactly but I remember it had some Voivod (I don’t remember what was on there but this is still awesome), Sodom (I am pretty sure Nuclear Winter was on there. I really liked these guys and later I found out old Slayer had this kind of thrash sound), Bathory (I am pretty sure from Under the Sign of the Black Mark), and Cryptic Slaughter (this I remember was from Convicted, which I really liked) and then there was Septic Death which I found out later was fronted by Pushead (this was definitely Need so Much Attention). A nice eclectic mix! There was some other stuff on there as well but I have lost all of that. I had that cassette for a long time after that. Once I learned this trick I used it a lot.

I really don’t know how long I was up there but I remember liking it and for the most part getting along with everyone (it was a large place with a lot of guys, not coed). I forget the details but as I remember it I fell in with some trouble makers and somehow ended up being kicked out. I vaguely remember somehow cutting my wrist really badly, somehow a door had closed on it while we were sneaking out or something like that, on accident and someone telling me to pour salt on the wound to ‘seal’ it. So I did. I never got stitches and still have that scar.

I really don’t remember how I was kicked out of that group home. I have some memories of it but I don’t trust them. But I am pretty sure I was back in San Luis Juvenile Hall by February or March of 1988. I do know that once I went back in I was very unhappy. I was getting into more fights and one time when they sent me to my room for my mandatory 3 hour confinement I had an epiphany. I realized that they couldn’t really do very much to me and so far all they had really done was “send me to my room” which was in essence a glorified time out. I thought that if I just stayed in my room they would have no power over me and so when they came to let me out I said I would rather stay. They had no problem with that. At first. I don’t know how long I stayed in confinement (remember I had books, a toilet, and a window so it wasn’t really solitary confinement). Every day they would come and ask if I was coming out and I would smugly say I wasn’t finished with my book, or something, and they would leave me in there. A counselor came and talked to me, and I explained that I was just very engrossed in my book and I would be sure to come out when I was done. But then I started another one). I really don’t know how long this went on but by then end they were begging me to come out. I was being offered special privileges, I could watch movies, they were talking about seeing if they could get Zork for me to play, or even possibly I could attend classes at the local high school on a furlough. They were trying. I wasn’t. I came out only to shower or to go to court. I can’t remember exactly what I was reading but at this time I was into Piers Anthony. I had liked the Xanth series when I was younger but at this time I was into the Incarnations of Immortality series (and the Apprentice Adept series…at that time I liked to read through an author’s work before moving to the next author). And then I got sent to another group home.

This one was in San Luis Obispo, which was nice. I am pretty sure I was there from March until sometime in July of 1988. This was way more of a ‘behavioral therapy’ kind of place. It was mostly staffed by counselors and psychologists and they worked regular shifts so it felt a little like still being in Juvy. There was a lot of one on one counseling, complete with Rorschach ink blots and everything. Because of my stint in “solitary” I was ‘forced’ to have special privileges the other kids were didn’t get. I had to attend San Luis High School, not the court school. I was also allowed to have some after school free time for social engagements. I told them that I joined the debate team and then skipped it and went to a drainage canal by our house. I swept it out over a period of time (I don’t remember how long it took, at least several days) and then would skate in it. I don’t even know where I got this skateboard. I don’t think it was the one I had before I was arrested. I know I ended up with a Philips but I am not sure what I had at this point. But I spent a lot of time in that drainage canal trying to carve and grind. Practicing dropping in, etc. I really wanted to skate a ramp but of course I had no access to that, and to be honest though I tried very hard I was not all that good at skating. I could do it and it was often my main source of transportation and some tricks I could nail but honestly, my oiling was weak. I was never really able to get my back leg up high enough and so would often catch my back truck on things.

I really wanted to be good at skating. In fact, I pretty much really wanted to be good at anything I ever heard of! Back when I was younger, I wanted to be a ninja and I used to ‘train’ for it all the time (I read you had to run a mile with a sheet of paper held to your chest by the wind to qualify for training and I gave myself an asthma attack trying to do this). I am not sure why this is, but when I see someone else do something that makes it look effortless, seamless, graceful, fluid, etc, I want to do it myself. It just looks like so much fun! But really what happened is I tried a lot and hurt myself. A lot.

Anyway, eventually they found out that I was not going to the debate team meetings after school and this led to a confrontation (at least this is what I think happened). I was kicked out and sent back to juvy. This must have been early-to-mid summer 1988. After sometime inside again I found out that I was being sent to Fresno for a ‘last chance’ group home. I was going to be driven out there by my case worker (or something) in a car, which was a new one.

I must have went out there in late summer because I am pretty certain I started at Central High School in Fresno for my senior year, or at least I think I came in pretty near to the beginning of the school year in 1988 (my senior year since I graduated in 1989). I thought I spent my 17th birthday in juvy but now that I am thinking about it, it may actually have been at the group home in Fresno (though I have a feeling I may have been back to juvy one last time…I wish I had more records from this time period!). So far I am counting five different High Schools from 1985-1989 (counting juvy as a school, I did earn credits in there!). Oh well, I was used to this. I had gone to two different Junior Highs (having been expelled from one for blowing up my teacher’s desk with a brick of firecrackers), and several elementary schools (at least three I think).

This group home was very large and had several houses all over Fresno. There were six boys to a house and two ‘house parents’. These were people (not psychologists) who lived at the house and managed the boys. I think there must have been 6 or 7 houses overall (though I really don’t know and it may have been more because the group meetings seemed to have a lot of kids) and we all met regularly for group counseling. I am pretty sure I came in and was at one house but soon got moved to the “problem” house.

In this house there was me, my roommate Big E (remember I am not using any real names except for public figures), who we usually just called E. E was a very large black guy from Oakland. He had been in a gang there, which I found out later, was pretty fearsome and well known to locals in Oakland. I, of course, did not know that at the time! There was also a black guy named Kieth who was a muscle head, very buffed out. A Latino guy named Juan who I had known briefly from one of my times in juvy, and then there was Jerry.  He was a sleazy kind of kid and no one really liked him. There was one other kid who was in our house as well but I really cannot remember who it was. I think they may have only been there for a short time.

E was very funny and we got along very well. I remember one time, shortly after I arrived in the house, we were wrestling in our room. I had been on the wrestling team my freshman year in high school and I enjoyed it. We were doing a mix of greco-roman and WWF (I went through a brief period of interest, liking the Ultimate Warrior). E pinned me down to the ground and held me there demanding that I tap out. I wouldn’t. This guy was very fat and I was very thin and his entire belly was shoved in my face. I struggled but eventually passed out. I woke up and Keith and Juan were peering down at me, I looked over at E and he was grinning. He said “casper got heart” (or something to that effect) and after that we became really good friends.

We also got into a lot of trouble. We had a central heating vent in our room and we could lift the cover and use it to stash stuff in. We also noticed that we had a phone outlet in our room so I stole a phone from K-Mart and we would charge people to make phone calls. This was before cell phones and we were only allowed one phone call per week in that place. Funnily enough this is how I acquired Slayer’s new album South of Heaven. At the time I had mixed feelings about it. Some of the songs were ok but it was no Reign in Blood! Eventually it kind of grew on me but it really wasn’t the same.

Besides I had progressed to more extreme music. I still had my old mix tape with Sodom and Bathory, etc. But I had somehow also discovered Napalm Death and I was really into them. Their album Scum was at that time my favorite. I recently re-listened to it and I think it holds up! I also had Carcass’ Reek of Purification which I really loved. I especially liked how they named their solos and that they were allegedly med students. I was also into a band called Nuclear Assault and of course Exodus, who had just released Fabulous Disaster and D.R.I. and a bunch of others. I had heard the Dead Keneddys but their music just seemed like rock-a-billy to me. I like it now but it wasn’t angry enough for me back then. I had to secretly acquire these albums, then record them over a ‘dummy’ tape. It was an arduous process. But the result was that I could listen to my music and when they inspected my stuff all they saw was Madonna, Kenny Loggins, and other acceptable music.

I was allowed to go to regular high school whereas most of the other kids in the home went to a private in-house school. Our house was pretty close to the campus and I would ride my skateboard to school. Being a ‘group home kid’ at a public high school is not exactly fun and I was definitely an outsider but I hung out with a cool group of girls (and their friends).

One kind of funny story is that I remember being in the library at school and finding Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. This book had the cover torn off of it and happened to be in the non-fiction section. I read it with a sense of disbelief. Was this a real interview with someone claiming to be a vampire? Of course I wanted to be a vampire, like everyone else, but I didn’t want to drink blood. Could there be a vegetarian vampire? Probably not. But I remember going up to the librarian and asking if this was a true story. I remember she laughed out loud at me and I was really embarrassed and just basically bolted for the door.

I don’t remember exactly when this was but I got a Thrasher magazine or TransWorld Skating magazine and I saw that someone had their nose pierced and I wanted to do that. So I got a safety pin and pierced my nose and re-pierced my ear (I had originally just pierced the left ear (as was the custom back then!) back in the 8th grade but my mom had forced me to remove it). I recall that at first I did not have the guts to stick the safety pin all the way through the back side of my nostril. It just hurt too much. I remember standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom and trying to will myself to push the point through the skin and every time I did I just couldn’t really push it. I didn’t want to take it out because I had already spent a lot of time on it.

So I wore the safety pin half-way through and went to school. That day once I got home I did get the safety pin all the way through.  One day I wore a fork in my nose to school. Yes, that’s right, I took a fork from the silverware tray, bent it and put one of the tines through the hole and wore it as a nose ring. We were not allowed to have our ears (or any other body parts) pierced and so any jewelry I had would have been confiscated. Of course there was an old trick that I learned about in juvy whereby you could take a tine of a comb or brush, break it off and use it to keep your earring hole open. I had had my safety pin confiscated and so had to use a fork to keep the hole open. I forget when I officially stopped wearing my nose ring but at some point I remember I wore a chain that ran from my nose to my ear. Man, I wish I had a picture of that!

I had also by this time started hurting myself pretty often. Some of it was to show off for the other kids. For instance we used to play “bloody knuckles” a lot. This is a game where you take a comb or a brush (or you can use your fist if you don’t have any of the above). One person rests the comb on their fist while the other tries to grab it and smack their fist before they can pull it away. If you were hit the person got to go again. If you pulled your hand away fast enough it was your turn. I liked this game and was pretty good at it. We would also play a version of chicken where we would take a cigarette (they were easy to get, but I didn’t smoke at that point) and then two guys would put their forearms together, skin to skin, and someone would drop the lit cigarette at the place where the two skins met. The first person to pull their arm away “lost”. I never lost. We would also take Bic lighters and heat them up and then brand ourselves. The resulting burn resembled a smiley face. In addition to that I would also cut myself with a knife. At first I did it as part of my Satanic Rituals. These were mostly aimed at getting a certain girl to notice me or getting revenge on some asshole who had done something to me. Strictly low-level stuff that I read about in books. But it did involved cutting and eventually I just did it for the cutting. I was semi-open to the idea of the super natural and if the “magic” had ever worked I might have adjusted my beliefs in various things but these little excursions into magic never paid off.

This was also the first time I tried to tattoo myself. A lot of people at school and inside the group homes had tattoos on their hands, usually signifying some kind of gang affiliation. I wanted to signify my non-affiliation with any gang and so I wanted to tattoo “Skate” on my hand around the spot where gang signs were. I had heard that you could do so by taking a safety pin and wrapping a thread around the tip. Then, one could take toothpaste (for color), and ash, mix them together with water and make a kind of tattoo ink. I tried this and tried to “hand poke” a tattoo on my left hand but it never really came out very well. I would eventually get this done by my roommate once I got out of the group home and moved back to the Central Coast but I will get to that later. Really, at this time, this was just an excuse to cut myself in a different way.

I felt totally powerless and since I had been raised by a religious person I thought that the best way to get power was via Satanism. I finally realized that I was still playing into my mom’s idealology. I was an idle child rebelling by being the opposite of what he had been taught. But real rebellion meant rejecting the whole system. Why believe in God and Satan in the first pace? So I gave up the Satanism and officially became an Atheist at some point, but I still liked that kind of music because it was shocking. I certainly was not into evil, I mean real evil. When I listened to Slayer (or whatever) I didn’t see an endorsement of evil but rather an indictment of any alleged super natural creator. It was a litany of the atrocities allowed by any such being. I was raised vegetarian and I had a pretty strong innate sense of justice and fairness (though I didn’t always live up to them!). The Satanism I was looking into (i.e. mostly the Satanic Bible by Anton LeVay) was more of a kind of embracing of one’s true self. Of course, if one is a child molester or murder then embracing one’s true self is less than ideal but as long as one is fairly normal this is a just a strange version of the ethics of authenticity. As a side note I always rejected the ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ line from Crowley for just this kind of ‘what about child molesters?’ objection.

I got into a couple of fights at this group home. One of them was in the house and one for them was at school. The one at school happened while I was in the library. I don’t remember what I was doing but I noticed this guy at the other table staring at me. I did not know him. He pointed at me and then pointed outside. He then got up and went outside so I followed him. I walked out saying ‘what’s up dude?’ and he hit me square in the jaw. I remember hearing a sound and feeling kind of numb. I had been hit many times before so it did not knock me out or put me down but I did loose my shit. I attacked the guy smashing him in the face with both fists. I then grabbed him by the hair and slammed his face into the lockers. After that I kind of grated his face on the vents on the lockers. Smashing it in and rubbing it upwards. I did this until someone pulled me off of him. In the principle’s office he came out and said he would see me soon, so I punched him in the face yelling that he could see me now. I was suspended from school for a while over that but they eventually let me back in because it was unprovoked. I heard that this guys and his friends were out and about looking for me. Ha ha, let them come to the group home I thought. I have a vague memory of being out in the park late at night and running into some of this guys friends, and one pulling knife on us, but it is very hazy.

During this time that I was suspended I was attending the in-house group home school. One day things were a buzz. Everyone was talking about this new kid who was coming to the group home. Apparently this kid was a member a white power gang.  At this time I was the only other white guy in the group home. Everyone by this time knew that I wasn’t “in the game”. I had never belonged to a gang, and was vocally anti-racist. I used to joke around a lot by point at my arm and saying “don’t let this fool you! I’m only white on the outside,” as everyone was laughing (usually) I would add “luckily that where it count’s though!’

I certainly didn’t know about white privilege back then. In fact I had a very naive Libertarian outlook on life and was saying thing like anyone could make, just look at me! But honestly, I am not sure if a non-white kid with my same aptitude (or lack thereof) from where I was from could have made as easily as I did. I don’t want to minimize what I went through but I have to admit that I was treated differently from day one. I had a sense that people thought I was ‘smart’ or ‘bright’ and that I was treated differently for this. Looking back on it I would definitely say it was white privilege at work. Anyway, I had tried to stay in principle neutral as between gangs and used to say that I was from wherever my skateboard was currently touching ground. By this time I had the full on Tony Hawk haircut and a giant Corey O’Brian skeleton and fireball T-Shirt that I had cut up and turned into a jacket patch. Holy shit! I wish I had a picture of that! At any rate the point is that I was not into white power and that there was going to be violence on this day. Everyone in the house was upset and acting out and I think there were some fights over this but actually I can’t remember all of it clearly. I have a very vague memory of a large fight breaking out during school but honestly it is too vauge to take seriously and I can’t really believe that the staff did not anticipate something like that.

One day at school I found out that Metallica was going to be playing in Fresno as part of their Damaged Justice tour. The show was December 14, 1988 at the Selland Arena and this was my first concert. I had just turned 17 and I was determined to go to that concert. Somehow the group home found out that I intended on going and they told me that I could not go and I told them that there was no way in hell they were going to stop me. They warned me against going. I said fuck it and took off towards the concert. Fresno Treatment center was unique in one way. Usually when I ran away from a group home they notified the police and then the police would look for you (or not). But here, when someone ran away, they would get all of the houses together in their vans (each house had a van of their own) and they would drive around Fresno looking for you. They finally spotted me skating down the street towards the concert and the van pulled over. Everyone jumped out and I was booking it down the street. Suddenly another van comes around the corner and cuts me off. They grab me and I am trying to fight them off but I can’t and they start dragging me back towards the van. There are people on the street watching this whole thing and so I start yelling, “help! Help! I’m being kidnapped”. One person sort of looks concerned and asks what is going on but no one does anything. They throw me in the van and take me back to the group home.

The whole time I am telling them that I will just leave again and so they took my shoes from me to make sure that I couldn’t go. But I was not going to let that stop me! I jumped out of our second story window and then headed towards the concert. I was used to being barefoot and in fact before I was arrested I preferred being barefoot (that is how I stepped on a nail and had to get a tetanus shot but that was way earlier). Besides I had my skateboard and so did not have to walk on the concrete too much. But now I know that they are looking for me so at some point I jump on a city bus. I transfer to the bus that drives by where the concert is and I just ride it. We must have done the route three times and I am seeing these vans all over town but these idiots don’t ever think to look at the busses driving by. I wait until the concert is about to start, get off at the right stop and I’m in the concert!

The concert was awesome and I remember being blown away by the stage show. They had a giant Statue of Liberty that exploded and Kirk Hammet came out and stood on its head and soloed. This was the first time I had ever seen a pit and I was instantly hooked. It looked like fun so I went in barefoot and all! I loved being in the pit. As I said I had been hit before and it felt good to get in there and bash the fuck out of people. By the end of the night I was a bruised and bloodied mess. And I loved it. After the concert was over I made my way back to the group home and slept in my own bed. They found me there in the morning and they were very surprised! I remember there were some consequences for this but I forget what.

One particularly disturbing event involved one of the new kids in our house. I forget his name but he was even crazier than I was. Big E and Keith and I got along with pretty well but there was this other guy named Jerry that no one liked. Jerry was a bit greasy, and he was a diabetic, and he liked to whine a lot. Well, Jerry for some reason was saying he was going to tell the house parents about our little operation in the heating vents and none of us were happy about it. So one night I got woken up and it is Big E telling me to get up because we’re going after Jerry. So I get up and come out into the hallway. There is the new guy with a bottle of Pert, or Prell or something, in his hand, you know the shampoo. He says, “stay here and if you see anyone coming knock on this door” and then all three of them go into Jerry’s room. I hear a scream and then some struggling. No one is coming so I just hold my position. After a bit they come out and we high tail it back to our rooms. Big E and I jump into our respective beds and start to pretend we are sleeping. I can hear Jerry screaming from the other room. “What the fuck did you do to him?” I whisper. E responds by hissing that I should shut the fuck up. So I do.

It turns out that they had held him down, taken off his pants, and inserted the Pert bottle into his anus and squeezed. The new guy had put the whole bottle of shampoo into his rectum. That was pretty messed up, to say the least, and is probably the worst thing that I was personally involved in. I didn’t recognize it at the time but this was the only sexual assault I heard about during my time in the juvenile justice system and I was a part of it! The worst part is that at the time I thought he deserved it. I don’t really remember what happened as a result of that but somehow I have a feeling the new guy got blamed for it and sent back to juvy. I kind of remember them getting all us up and questioning us one by one. I just did what I always did. I stuck to my story. I was asleep and then I heard screaming. It is strange how when you are in the midst of these kinds of experiences you don’t even realize how fucked up they are. They seem like business as usual.

One day I was walking from my physics class to my P.E. class and all of a sudden I fell down in agonizing pain. This was in early 1989. I started to vomit and roll around in agony.  I was in bad shape. So they rushed me to the hospital but they didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had been sick occasionally before but it had always gotten better on its own so I never did anything about it. I had a pretty high tolerance for pain and besides that my motto at the time was ‘you either die or you get better, either way things work out fine’. They ran a bunch of tests on me including a Barium Enema (which really sucked) and an x-ray. They said they would call us with the results and sent us on our way. I was feeling a little bit better but I was still in bad shape. When we got home there a message on the answering machine that was asking where we had went and saying that I was scheduled for emergency surgery as soon as I could get back to the hospital. I vaguely thought that this wasn’t good but I was in so much pain that I could not really focus. I arrived back to the hospital and once they knew it was me they rushed me to the surgery prep area. I was on a cart wearing my shorts with a big skull on the side of them and the nurse said ‘do you think that’s appropriate?’ looking at the skull, I yelled back ‘do you think I give a fuck?’ As they strapped me to the table (right arm across my chest, exposing my side) and ran the I.V. all I could think about were the lyrics to a slayer song “surgery, with no anesthesia, feel the knife pierce you intensely” and then the guitar riff, over and over (this song was about Auswitzch and obviously what I was going through was nothing like what was depicted in the song but this is what I was hearing in my head) until the nurse asks me to count backwards from 100. 100, 99…I begin and the next thing I know I wake up and someone is holding a little baggie with a bunch of shit in it saying ‘this was your appendix’

”can I keep it?” I squeak back.

“No, it’s hospital property now” whoever it was responded.

”well fuck you then” I slurred back and drifted off into unconsciousness

I lay in my hospital bed recovering. The doctor said I needed to spend a day, maybe two in the hospital. The people from the group home had left to tend to the other kids and so I was at the hospital all by myself. It was boring. I used the phone by the bed to call the group home and I told them that the doctor had said that I was free to go. They didn’t know any better and said they would be right over to get me. I pulled out the I.V. and got dressed. It hurt.  A lot. They arrived and helped me to the car and took me home. I was on the couch watching T.V. when the phone rang. The house parent went to answer it. I could hear a loud frantic voice on the other end

“Hello?! Yes, uh, we seem to have misplaced the boy you brought in. He was in his room, but now he is gone and we don’t know what happened to him!”

The house parent looked at me on the couch and then said that I was there and that I had told them that it was ok for me to come home. I could hear them on the other end loudly denying that they had said it was ok for me to leave the hospital. Uh oh, busted! But since I was already there they said it might be too traumatic to come all the way back so as long as I rested I could stay put. The very next day I was outside, a bit stir crazy, and I was trying to ride my skateboard in the street. I tried to do an ollie and then felt a rush of pain and wetness. I had pulled out the staples and stitches, but not just the surface ones, the ones in the deep layers of the incisions. Back to the hospital where I got a lot of ‘we told you so’ looks. I learned my lesson and let it heal.

Eventually I was let out of Fresno Treatment Center. They let me go at midnight of my 18th birthday. During the summer of 1989 I was required to take summer school and they were helping me get enrolled in Fresno City College. Someone in the group home was helping me to find a place to live after I got out. I ended up living with another, somewhat older guy, name Julio who was a previous “graduate” of the group home I was in. He was a construction worker who had a nice car with “Metallica” stenciled on the back window. I ended up getting a job at the local McDonalds (I had worked at a McDonald’s back in my freshman year and so knew the routine) and hanging around in Fresno with some people I had known in High School.

young me

Shortly after getting out of Fresno Treatment Center. This must have been in 1989 or 1990..

It was odd for me to suddenly be out on my own. I was used to having to ask to use the bathroom and having someone monitor my every move at all times. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I was free. I know now that I overdid it a bit but at the time I couldn’t believe it. You mean, for the most part, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want? Holy shit! I remember the first time I ever got drunk happened just shortly after I was let out of the group home (at a hotel party, remember those?) and I also started smoking cigarettes.

Another thing I remember from 1989 was my seeing Warrant at the Wilson Theatre. This was obviously not my kind of music but my roommate, Julio, told me there would be a lot of girls there and he liked the music. We both liked Metallica but for me that was on the light end of the spectrum whereas for him it was on the heavy end. He was a full-on Hessian. Long flowing hair, a great physique from physical labor. The girls loved him. So I went. I remember getting really drunk and at one point I ended up on Julio’s shoulder’s yelling at the band that they sucked. The singer was trying to swat at me with the microphone stand and I think I ended up running up on stage and getting into a fight with one of the bouncers.

We also went to see Motley Crue, again at Selland Arena, in February of 1990 and I remember spitting on the guitar player and they were very unhappy about it. They stopped the show and he grabbed the microphone and yelled “who the fuck just did that?!?” I kind of remember flipping him off and all of the fans around me pushing and yelling at me. I responded by trying to start a pit and was escorted out. At the time I thought it was hilarious and was proud to have spit on Motley Crue but obviously I don’t endorse that kind of behavior now! I would also have to add that the laser light show they had was pretty good!

I remember one night Julio and I were at the bowling alley, which was a local hotspot in Fresno, believe it or not, and we met these two girls. I really liked one of them but she ended up hooking up with Julio that night. I could hear them the room next door and I remember feeling very upset by it. This kind of thing happened to me a lot. Anyway, at some point this girl, named Maddy, moved with her sister and family to Morro Bay. We used to keep in touch with phone calls (on a land line!) and I think even a couple of letters back and forth (hand written! Oh man, those were the days!).

Eventually at some point I was really depressed and tried to “commit suicide”. This must have been part of the way through 1990. I put it into quotes because I did not really want to die. I am pretty sure what I wanted was attention from a girl, or help, or something like that. But I got a razor and instead of nicking like I did before I cut deep. I also cut my right arm (at that point I mostly cut my left arm, because that’s the “bad arm” haha). One slash was kind of hesitant, and then again a little harder, and then once a little harder, and then a final deep gash. I had heard that if one was serious about this one should cut length wise so I did, but I did not hit any of the veins. I bleed a lot and got light headed but that was it. I woke up the next morning and realized I had to go. Why was I in Fresno any?

I packed up my Caddy El Dorado that I had bought for $500 (that’s a whole different story but this tank of a car had some issue where overtime you started it the battery would drain and so you had to either get a new battery or charge it overtime you drove it…I would often just leave it running if I had to make a stop) and decided to head to Morro Bay to visit Maddy. She was always telling me to come out so I thought I would finally do so. On the way out of town I saw a tattoo shop and decided to get a real tattoo. I had a skate mag and I brought it in with a picture of the Santa Cruz Screaming Hand and I got it done for 50 bucks cash. I got back in my Caddy, with newly tattooed arm hanging out of the rolled down car window, and I headed out of town.

Look out Central Coast, I’m a-coming home.

Eliminative Non-Materialism

It struck me today that all of the eliminativists about the mind are physicalists (or materialists) and a quick google search didn’t reveal any eliminativist dualist out there. But why is that?

I can see why a particular kind of dualist would reject eliminativism. If one held that the mind was transparent to itself in a strong way then the existence of beliefs and other mental states can be known directly via the first-person method of introspection. But does that exhaust the possibilities? Suppose one thought that there was a robust correlation (or even causation) between the brain and mind. Then one would expect a robust NCC for every conscious state (assuming a law-like connection or at least correlation between the brain and mental states).

To give us a model to work with let’s assume that there is correlation between function states of the brain and consciousness such that whenever certain functional states are realized that guarantees (given our laws of physics, etc) that a certain (non-physical) state of consciousness is also instantiated. Now suppose that we have a pretty good functional definition for what the functional correlate of a given metal state should be. That is, suppose we have worked out in a fair amount of detail what kinds of functional states we expect would be correlated with the conscious mental states posited by folk-psychology. Now further suppose that when we advanced far enough into our neuroscience we saw that there were no such states realized in the brain or that the states were somewhat what we thought but varied in some dramatic way from what we had worked out folk-psychologically.

At that point it seems we would have two options. One thing we could do is to maintain that there is after all no law-like correlation between brain states and mental states. There is a belief or a red quale, say, but it is somehow instantiated in a way independently from the neural workings. This seems like a bad option. The second option would be to abandon folk-psychology and say that the non-physical states of mind are better captured by what the correlates are suggesting. The newly non-physical states might be so different from the original folk-psychological postulates that we might be tempted to say that the originally postulated states don’t exist. Wouldn’t we then have arrived at an eliminative non-materialism?

As a corollary, doesn’t this possibility suggest that there aren’t any truly a priori truths knowable from introspection?

Ten Years at LaGuardia

The spring semester is finally coming to an end for us (classes end next week; we are on a slightly different schedule than the rest of CUNY) and while I was getting ready for the end of the semester I realized that this marks the end of my 10th year at LaGuardia! I officially started at LaGuardia September 1st 2007 but I was interviewed sometime in June of 2007. This is definitely the longest I have ever held one job in my entire life! If you count the four years I taught at Brooklyn College before coming to LaGuardia that makes 14 years working for CUNY! I hadn’t really been planning on including this period in my current series of memoir-note posts. The plan was roughly to get up to the point where I earned my Bachelor’s degree (January 2000; I am currently up to 1987 or so) and save graduate school and beyond for a possible ‘second volume’ in the future (Volume I=the life of the body; Volume II=The Life of the Mind ?) but I can’t help adding a couple of comments about what was going on in my life 10 years ago.

Back in 2007 I was a graduate student with at least a year and a half or so of work on my dissertation (which I finished in the summer of 2008 and defended September 3rd 2008). It is a long story (aren’t they all!), but I had started working on my dissertation officially in 2006 and at that time it had been a project that I had had on the back burner for a while. I worked on it for about a year with my committee and then had to basically start the project over because of various things.

I was also a full time faculty member at Brooklyn College teaching 5 classes a semester (and beginning to form what would be the New York Consciousness Collective), on what is known as a Substitute Line. These are two year contracts that are limited and non-renewable. I started at Brooklyn College in the fall of 2003 as an adjunct lecturer and I really liked teaching there. Especially since I was allowed to teach philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, scientific revolutions, and philosophy of psychology (as well as Ethics, Business Ethics, and Intro to Philosophy). I knew my time as a Sub was coming to an end (I had been hired on the two-year contract in 2005 and so in 2007 it was up). I had had a taste of what a full-time salary was like and I didn’t see how we could go back to just what an adjunct makes. As a result I was on the job market pretty heavy at that point. I forget how many places I applied to but it was quite a few. I was really hoping to leave New York and wasn’t planning on applying to LaGuardia at all but the chair of our department at Brooklyn College told me that I should apply there and that it was a really great place to work.

So I did.

I was getting no responses and I was getting worried. I even considered the possibility that blogging was having some kind of detrimental effect (I had received an anonymous email after all). I wasn’t sure but I brushed off the concern (no one even reads my blog!). It is striking that I didn’t talk to anyone about where or how I should apply. I just did it because I needed to get a job. I had taken out over 100 thousand dollars in debt. I started taking loans out my first semester of community college back in 1994 and took the last one out in 2003 or 2004. I was taking a lot of classes so I mostly used the loans to support myself over those ten years. I did work here and there, most notably at the mortuary (which I’ll get to later) but also at several coffee shops and restaurants in San Francisco and a few other odds and ends, but that was usually during breaks between semesters. So, I knew that once I defended my dissertation and was awarded my PhD (should I be so lucky) I would have to start paying that back. And so I *needed* to find a job. I was really really nervous. I had known going into this whole thing that it was a long shot and that the market was pretty bad for philosophers (and this was before 2008!) but I really had no other choices (or so it seemed to me at the time). I had been on the market the year before (in 2006) and got an interview but ultimately nothing panned out so it was really wearing on me at this time. If I graduated with all of that debt and then failed to find a job (and/or then failed to get tenure…but one step at a time!)…

On top of all of that I had just found out that my aunt had died. This is a very sad story that is probably best for another time but I had been very close with my aunt before I ran away from home. She had had a very rough life and back in 1982/1983 she was kidnapped at gunpoint by an ex-boyfriend, driven to a secluded place, told that if he could not have her then no one could, and shot point blank in the chest. The coward then turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the stomach. They both survived but my aunt was paralyzed from the waist down after that. Her life spiraled from there (I will skip all of the details) and though she was a strong independent woman I don’t think she every fully recovered from that event. I lost contact with my family when I moved to Connecticut in August of 2002 and was focused on graduate school.

It turns out that my mom had hired a private detective to find me and she found me teaching out at Brooklyn College. She called and left a message with the department secretary and left her number saying she had ‘information’ I might want. I am pretty sure this was in late 2006 or early 2007. I eventually called her back and she told me about my aunt.  That really hit me hard. It was a such a sad, pointless, story. I hadn’t talked to her in years but it brought back a flood of memories and threw me for a loop for a few weeks. I also found out that both of my mom’s parents (my grandparents) had died in 2002. I had talked to both of them sometime before I moved to Connecticut and apparently my grandma had died shortly after that, in May 2002, and my Grandfather followed her a few months later in August. The last time I spoke with her I told her that I was sorry for all of the trouble that I had caused as a kid and how much I appreciated her and grandpa sticking by us through it all and letting us live with them when we needed to. She said she was proud of me but that they never expected me to be the one that did so well. I remember trying to explain Sartre to her. People are not static objects, they can change if they choose to change. Not just once, but every day.

It turned out that my grandfather had dementia from Alzheimer’s and would get angry and upset. He would misplace his keys, for instance, and then accuse my grandma of hiding the keys. Apparently she was terrified of him and so she took a bunch of sleeping pills and killed herself. She was laying on her bed with a bunch of photos of the family from when they were all young played out around her. After that my grandfather just withered and kind of gave up. So, my favorite aunt died of a drug overdose, her last words were “I think something’s wrong” according to my mom, my grandmother committed suicide because of my grandfather’s potentially violent rages. So I was not in the greatest of moods back then. I kept hearing my mom’s words from the last time we spoke echoing in my mind. All of this had happened while I was ‘polishing the brass on a sinking ship’. If I had stayed in California was there anything that have been done differently? It seemed like my life might still ultimately end up like that of the rest of my family. Maybe I hadn’t come as far as I thought I had.

But then I got a phone call one day from LaGuardia asking me if I was available for an interview. This was the only place that had contacted me at this point (I did hear from one other place but that was later). All of my eggs were suddenly in this basket!

I was overjoyed at having an interview, but not entirely happy that it was here in New York. New York is great for philosophy but if you don’t have a lot of money it is difficult to live here. But anyway,  it turned out they were holding the interview on a Friday and I just happened to be going to the Society for Philosophy and Psychology meeting up in Toronto Canada to present a poster of “Consciousness, (Higher-Order) Thoughts, and What It’s Like” (blog post here). The plans were all set and I asked if there was any chance to reschedule. I was told they would get back to me. I hung up the phone and then, in shock, realized what I had done. Had I just passed on this interview? Should I call back and say I would cancel my trip? I was panicking and my wife (then girlfriend) was at work. I was about to call back when the phone rang. It was them. I answered and was told that they really wanted to interview me and could I come in the following Monday (or something). I said no problem. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was the only one coming in for an interview that day. They were all meeting just to interview me. Luckily I was in the city already so it was no big issue to get there.

As I sat in the office waiting for my interview, nervous of course, the secretary, Alice (remember no real names) who I later came to know really well said to me “you want to work here?” I nodded. She laughed and said “you should run!” and I laughed nervously with her. After that an older professor walked by, stopped and looked at me and said “you’re applying for the philosophy job?” I nodded and he turned to the secretary and said “he has a great tie on, hire him!” and walked out of the room. What had I got myself into?

After my first interview I had a second with the Vice President, and then a third and final interview with the President. I think that was in July. I did not find out that I was actually hired until mid-August and was hurriedly prepping for a Philosophy of Religion course (I had never taught this course before but obviously I was interested in the topic!). I stopped teaching philosophy of Religion regularly back in 2009 (I think) since we hired people who actually knew what they were doing.

My interview was actually a lot of fun and I really liked the environment at LaGuardia. I had started at a Community College myself and so I knew the power that education had to transform lives for the better. I still believe that. It is funny because at the end of the interview they asked me if I had anything I wanted to say to the hiring committee and I said that I had come into the interview not knowing if I would be happy at LaGuardia but that they had convinced me that this would be a great place to work. I walked out feeling good but also wondering if I should have said that. Truth be told, I did not really want to stay in New York. Back then I was still hoping to ultimately end up back in California and was naively assuming that if it didn’t work out this year I would try again next year. Boy was I wrong.

I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if they had not decided to take a chance on me. For most of my life I thought of myself as a Californian more than anything else but now I am proud to be an honorary New Yorker (14 years in the city!) and a part of the world’s community college. Here’s to 10 more years!

Papers I almost Wrote

In celebration of my ten years of blogging I have been collecting some of my posts into thematic meta-posts. The previous two listed my writing on the higher-order thought theory of consciousness and my writing about various conferences and classes I have attended. Continuing in that theme below are links to posts I have written about various things that are not in either of the two previous categories. Some of these I had thought I might develop into papers or something but so far that hasn’t happened!

  1. Freedom and Evil
    • This was written for a debate at Brooklyn College entitled ‘If there is a God, Why does Evil Exist?” sponsored by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
  2. There is No Santa
    • Is it wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa? I think so!
  3. What’s So Unobservable about Causation?
    • This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut
  4. Freedom of Speech Meets Speech Act Theory
    • Freedom of speech means freedom of assertion but not the freedom to perform any speech act one wants
  5. Reason and The Nature of Obligation
    • A discussion of Locke and Hobbes on reason and obligation. I think this was first written for a class I had on social and political philosophy. I argue that both are committed to the view that reason is the source of moral obligation but fear (or some external motivator) is required to get people to conform to reason.
  6. Logic, Language, and Existence
    • I discover the problem of necessary existence, and, as usual, also discover that I have reinvented (a crappier version of) the wheel
  7. Timothy Williamson on Necessary Existents
  8. Stop your Quining!!!
    • Are there any counter-examples to some common analytic truths? I don’t think so
  9. What God Doesn’t Know
    • Can we invent Liar Paradox-type sentences involving God’s knowledge? Spoiler alert: yes!
  10. A Counter-Example to the Cogito?
    • Are you nothing more than an alternate personality of the all-power Evil Genius?
  11. Conceptual Atomism, Functionalism, and the Representational Theory of Mind
    • Can we construct quaility-inversion-type scenarios for the mental attitudes? I give it my best shot.
  12. Did Quine Change His Mind?
    • No he did not. The axioms of logic are revisable but we haven’t got any good reason to revise them (yet)
  13. God v. the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser
    • one of my most popular posts.
  14. The Evolutionary Argument against Rationalism
    • Evolution may have built certain facts about our local reality into the brain, thus generating a priori justification (of a sort)
  15. The A Priori Argument against Rationalism
    • Is it conceivable that there are no necessary truths?
  16. The Empirical Justification of Mathematics
    • Could there be empirical disconfirmation of basic arithmetic?
  17. Invoking God Doesn’t Save Descartes from Skepticism
    • Doesn’t the case of Job from the bible undermine Descartes’ claim that God is not a deceiver?
  18. The (New) Agnostic’s Manifesto: Part 1 –Preamble
  19. Secular Ethics vs. Religious Ethics
  20. Breaking Promises
    • When is a promise broken versus excused?
  21. Second Thoughts about Pain Asymbolia
  22. Transworld Saints
  23. The Logical Problem of Omniscience
  24. Empiricism and A Priori Justification
  25. Reduction v. Elimination
  26. Why I am not a Type-Z Materialist
  27. Pain Asymbolia and a Priori Defeasibility
  28. Summa Contra Plantinga
  29. The Unintelligibility of Substance Dualism
  30. What is Philosophy that it Sucks so Bad?
  31. Identifying the Identity Theory
  32. Can we think about Non-Existant Objects?
  33. The Zombie Argument Depends on Phenomenal Transparency
  34. Bennett on Non-Reductive Physicalism
  35. News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!
  36. Kant’s response to Hume’s Challenge in Ethics
  37. The Identity Theory in 2-D
  38. Outline of the Case for Agnosticism
  39. Consciousness Studies in 100 words (more) or less
  40. The Argument from Photosynthesis
    • Could humans be photosynthetic? The answer seems to be yes and this i bad news for the problem of evil
  41. The Design Argument for the Simulation Hypothesis
  42. Consciousness as an M-Property (?)
  43. If Consciousness is an M-Property then it is Physical
  44. Do We Live in a Westworld World??
  45. Eliminativism and the Neuroscience of Consciousness

Circa 1987

I am continuing to write a semi-regular series of memoir-notes posts. This all started because I realized that it was 20 years ago, in 1997, that I left the mortuary and moved to San Francisco. That led me to realize that 40 years ago, in 1977, my mom left my father and Los Angeles to move to the Central Coast (and appeared on the Merv Griffen Show!). And I have just recently realized that it was in the summer of 1987 that I ran away from home and was arrested. 30 years ago! Wow, time does fly! And wow, years ending in 7 seem to be big moving years…I wonder what big move 2017 may yet have in store for me 😉

But back to 1987, events are hazy –it has been 30 years after all and I spent most of the intervening time trying to forget this stuff!– and a lot of this is pieced together from my own memory, talking to my mom, and my high school transcripts which I recently acquired. I am hoping to fill in some of the details later but it is turning out to be harder than I thought to get any records from this time (and no pictures at all!). By 1987 I was 15 years old and starting the second semester of my sophomore year in high school. I had started 9th grade in the fall of 1985 and had done ok the first year. I was averaging about a C/C+ doing very well in classes I was interested, like Electronics (earning an A), and doing very poorly in classes I did not care about, like World Geography (earning a D). I remember thinking that these places they were telling me about didn’t seem real. I mean I believed they were there but I had never been there my self. I had only been in Los Angeles and the Central Coast of California and I had my own problems to deal with.

1985 is also the year that my mom started ‘studying’ with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I will come back at some point and talk more about this period (and this post on 1987 is turning out to be on 1985-86!). But I think some of this is important context. My mom had been going to various religious places of worship trying to find a place where she fit in for as long as I can remember. She had always been very spiritual (she tells me now) and had even wanted to be a nun when she was a child (I did not know this in the 1980s). She took us to a synagogue one time and I remember the way they wrote and how they did not write the name of God on the board, or whatever. My mom worked with a women who was a Jehovah’s Witness already and she had told my mom that God’s name was Jehovah and so my mom asked this Rabbi if that was true and he ‘rebuked’ her saying that no one knew the name of God and that it was unpronounceable by humans, etc. My mom was deeply troubled by this and, according to her, she called the local Kingdom Hall demanding to speak with someone. She said that her friend had been lied to and that they had no right to go around telling people that this was God’s name, etc. They asked if they could come and speak with her in person and she agreed. They sent over a woman named Sara (remember I am not using any real names) and they talked for hours and hours. That is how it began.

I had found the things they were saying more reasonable than the stuff I had heard from other places. They did not believe in Hell, for example, because it conflicted with their conception of God as all-loving and I found that reasonable. In fact I had been kicked out of Sunday School for arguing with the teacher about the existence of Hell. I said that I did not think God could love us the way they said if he was willing to have people sent to Hell for any amount of time. They told me to leave and not to come back until I did believe in Hell. Needless to say I never went back!  But even though I found the Jehovah’s Witness version of Christianity less objectionable and more logically consistent than others I did not believe what they were saying. At all. At the time what is called the problem of evil was really on my mind (I did not know that is what is was called of course). Why did God allow so much suffering? Jack the Ripper? The Holocaust?! My own life?

The answer? That God was waiting for humans to realize that they could not live without God (as Satan had suggested to Adam and Eve) and then once the scenario had played out, and there could be no doubt by anyone that humans could not live without God, He would step in, smite Satan and restore the Earth to the paradise state in the Garden. Then, there would a 1000 year reign of peace where the dead were resurrected and educated about the true nature of God, and then Satan would be let loose one last time and anyone who abandoned God at that point would be ‘erased from the Book of life’, which they interpreted as just ceasing to exist. It was an interesting story, and the 1,000 year bit at the end seemed fair. After all, God would not be hidden at that point (after the ‘great tribulation’ where Jesus comes back and all) so there would be a total epistemic shift, if any of this were real.

“But, why wait?” I asked. “Why not just smite Satan *now* and stop all the suffering which is currently happening (not to mention all the future suffering before ‘the end of this system of things’)?”

Because, I was told, in case anyone ever tries to suggest this again in the future God can say, “look we let that play out and it didn’t work,” but I found that unbelievable. Literally I could not believe that response. It used to infuriate me. God was supposed to know everything and so He knew how it was all going to play out, and Satan knew that God knew that; so why is everyone waiting? It made no sense to me at all. A supremely powerful, morally perfect being is trying to prove a point to someone? This doesn’t sound like a fully rational being (and neither is Satan, obviously, if there is no recognition that an all-knowing being already knows how this little rebellion will work out). No, this sounded more like Star Wars to me! That is, this sounded like a man-made story full of all too Human embellishments. In addition I never understood why there should be any consequences for rejecting God. If I am truly made with reason and free will then I should be able to do what I want. ‘But you owe God for your life’ I was told. No I do not. I remember endlessly arguing with these guys about this. How can I owe somebody for a gift that I did not ask for? Little did I know it but I was very close to being an Existentialist back then! I felt ‘condemned to be free’. It was as though someone shows up and says here is this wonderful gift I got you, a new house upstate (say), now to show me how grateful you are devote your life to me or I will burn the house down (while you watch after you have lived there for 50 years or whatever)! Give me a break! That is not rational behavior. That is desperate, moody, needy behavior.

In 1986 I started my sophomore year and did well again. In particular I took a speech class where I met the new English professor who had recently started a speech team at our high school. Due to my performance in the class I ended up joining the speech team. I really enjoyed the speech team, and competed in a couple of events. I vaguely remember one being in Simi Valley, or Moorpark College. I wish I knew when those competitions actually were but I cannot find anything about them online. I competed in several categories including original Oratory and Extemporaneous. There was a girl on the team who did Dramatic Interpretation and was really into Woody Allen. I remember sneaking out at night to see her and getting picked up by the police. The policeman brought me home and stayed to talk to my mom for hours. They ended up dating and as a result I had to join the Police Explorers club, which I hated. I recall having to direct traffic at one of the Strawberry Festivals they had, dressed in the uniform, and seeing some of the kids from school. They laughed and called me a Narc. At the time I wasn’t sure what that meant but I got the feeling it wasn’t good.

I also remember joining the Columbia House Music Club. This was one of those 20 cassette tapes for penny kind of things that could only have happened in the 1980s! I remember ordering all kinds of music. I used to listen to the Casey Cassum countdown and I liked some of the music (like the Beastie Boys) but I wanted some shocking music. Remember getting Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and a bunch of others, and not really understanding what all the fuss was about. I listened to Iron Maiden and liked the drawings of Eddy a lot but the music was too much like ordinary rock and roll. The one thing I did get from them was Metallica Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, which I was an instant fan of. I recall one speech competition that I was not allowed to go to, for some reason, and listening to Master of Puppets. That song, to me, was about being controlled and for me the controller was my mom. Later when I found out it was really about drug use I was surprised. But then again, that is just another form of control. That and Slayer, which I found out about shortly after that. When I heard Reign in Blood I knew I had found what I was looking for. Here was music that sounded as angry as I felt, and was as shocking to the world as I felt shocked by the world. Slayer became my favorite band, followed closely by Metallica.

And now back to 1987. Apparently I was taking books from the local library without checking them out. I had forgotten about this but I am pretty sure my mom is correct about this. She doesn’t remember when she caught me but I think it must have been in April or May of 1987. I had a lot of books that I wanted to keep and so instead of checking them out I would just put them in my bag and take them home. These were mostly books about math and physics that I used during my research for my Original Oratory speech that I gave at the competitions. It was a very basic speech laying out the basics of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the suggestion that this theory allows for the realistic possibility of time travel (what we now call time dilation and on a side note, I just bought Brian Greene’s kids book about time dilation!). Looking back on it I wish I had also found and read something on quantum mechanics but it was relativity that captured my interest back then. I would soon find out about string theory (in juvenile hall) and That was really fascinating. I was at the time hoping to go to Cal Tech or Harvey Mudd College and study theoretical physics.

At any rate my mom tells me that she went into my room and found stacks of books from the library and that some of them were never even checked out! She demanded that I return the books to the library and apologize and at the same time forbade me from going to any further speech competitions. I first went to the speech competition and then I did not go back home when we returned. It may have been a bit earlier and I am misremembering it but if I am right it must have been in May or June of 1987. I had a ten speed bike that I rode a lot (I had wanted to be in the Tour De France back then!) and I just started to ride. I went out through the back roads. I was familiar with the area from exploring plus from when I was going out looking for odd jobs (that is another story but back in junior high my mom would tell me to go out and not come home until I had earned x amount of dollars. I would would go door to door asking for work and end up raking leaves, washing cars, etc). I rode for the rest of the day and by night fall I was somewhere that I did not recognize. I can’t really remember where this was but it was somewhere out between Arroyo Grande and Atascadero. I remember riding my bike though some pretty sketchy and deserted places and along dirt trails through some kinds of hills or something.

Eventually I came to a place that looked like a small town. It was getting dark and there was a kind of crossroads situation. I did not know where I was or which way I was going. I also realized that I had not brought anything with me at all. I had the clothes I had been wearing during the day and my bike. That was it. I had been riding for hours and I suddenly felt very alone and scared. I remember sitting there on the side of the road and finally feeling overwhelmed and I started to cry. After a while though, nothing had changed. I was still sitting in the dirt by the side of the road with no money and no food and no idea where I was. I decided I had to do something. I looked around the little town I was in a bit and I eventually found a little saloon. It was closed by this point but I could see that they had food inside and a cash register on the counter. After a bit of hemming and hawing I eventually broke the window and went in. I had been stealing things for a while now, from mom and grandparents, and from my job as a paper boy and at McDonalds and at school in the coffee shop) but I had not broken into any place before. I was nervous but I was also hungry. I found some soda and some bread and checked the register. Nothing. But then I noticed that there was a lot of money on the ceiling of this place. It had stuff written on it like ‘good luck!’ and so on. But there was a lot of it. I took as much as I could. Most of it was one dollar bills but there were some bigger bills as well. I grabbed as much as I could and got out of there. With the adrenaline I was pumped to get back on the road and I got on my bike and rode out of town as fast as I could. At the time I didn’t quite realize what I had done but when I did I felt bad about it. Those bills were obviously from the opening of this place and I am sure whoever owned it was not happy at all.

A while later I was cold and tired and I needed a place to lay low. I found a movie theatre somewhere off the road I was riding on and thought that would be a good place to hang out for a while. I left my bike outside and went in. I am pretty sure Full Metal Jacket was the movie that I saw and it really blew me away. I knew my uncle had been in Vietnam but he never really talked about it, except very rarely. I came out of that theatre with the Mickey Mouse theme song stuck in my head and realized that my bike was gone. I wondered around a while and eventually, exhausted, found a pile of tires in back of a gas station that I tried to sleep on. I was woken up by some police officers who were asking me what I was doing there. Apparently a 15 year old white kid sleeping on a pile of tires aroused their suspicion. I was very frightened because my mom had told me once (in a fit of rage) that kids like me would be ‘eaten alive’ in jail. But these officers were very nice, asking me what my names was. They did not book me and they apparently had no idea about my earlier B&E. In fact they drove me all the way home. My mom was very angry but had been worried as well. That didn’t stop her from hitting me with a broom but I don’t want to dwell on those kinds of details.

My mom felt powerless and had not had a good upbringing herself. So when she hit me and screamed at me and told me she was sorry I had been born and that she wished she had not been so loyal and stuck by me, I know she was just a desperately scared woman who was reenacting her own childhood abuse. I know that now. But at the time I hated her with all my heart. I also hated the police for bringing me back home. From my point of view they had just taken me right back to the prison I had just escaped from. My grades in school were tanking. I ended up with all Fs that semester, even in the classes I loved most, which were my programming in BASIC class (where I first met ELIZA and dreamed of becoming a programmer and designing the Ultimate Zork-like game), Electronics II (where we built a robot from a kit and programmed to do basic tasks like drive down the aisle), and speech forensics (the speech team). I was required to work (I had been working officially since 1985 according to Social Security (but had been doing so unofficially since 7h or 8th grade) and I had no friends. I was not allowed to go anywhere expect school, work, and then home where I endured what I thought of as  mental and physical abuse.

By the summer things with me and my mom were coming to a head as well. She was taking me and my sister out to Fresno to attend a big Jehovah’s Witness convention which was held July 4th 1987. This was when my mom was baptized and officially became a Jehovah’s Witness. I am pretty sure my sister was as well. I was not. I absolutely refused to be baptized. I remember that we were all getting into the car and the car would not start. My mom started crying and saying that Satan was trying to stop us from getting to the convention and I thought that was malarkey. Why would Satan care about us getting there I asked? My mom told me that we were special and that we had a lot of power and could a lot of good for God, especially me she said. I must admit that I liked the idea of being the special chosen one battling the forces of evil. It had a very Star Wars feel to it but I just could not believe that our car didn’t start because of that. My mom prayed and tried again. The car started.

She turned to me and said, smugly, “see, Richard God is more powerful than Satan” and I remember feeling overwhelmed with rage at how stupid that very idea was! I was sure it was something mechanical that had failed in the car and it was just luck that it started after she prayed! Maybe she had flooded it and it just needed to rest. There were a million more likely explanations besides Satan’s special interest in my family! I don’t really remember too much about the convention itself except that someone there had a really new computer and I was really interested in it. Whoever it was that owned it was impressed by how much I knew (I was really into BASIC programming back then).

The details of all of this are hazy but it must have been a couple of weeks after her baptism that ran away again. I remember she was sitting in the bathtub, like she liked to do, and she was yelling at me about something I had done. She was screaming that I needed to study the bible and that this was her house and as long as she paid the bills I would follow her rules and I suddenly broke. I interrupted her and screamed “no! I need to start living MY LIFE” and I stormed out of the house. I am pretty sure I went to the library, which is where I spent a lot of time. I wanted to be a little smarter this time since I had been so easily caught the few times I had snuck out/ran away before.

At this time I remember I was working at a local minimart in a gas station. I wasn’t there for very long but I definitely did work there. I was going to work, going to the library and then sneaking into my room at night. The apartment we had at that time was upstairs and had a downstairs shed that we had turned into a separate room for me. I would sneak in late at night and then sneak out early in the morning. The only bathroom was upstairs and I did not go into the main house but there was a bathroom at the gas station I worked at and I remember brushing my teeth and washing up in there. I think I did that for a few days though I don’t really remember. My mom has told me since then that she saw the signs of my having slept there and felt comforted by that, knowing I was still around somewhere.

One morning as I was sneaking out I happened to see a motorcycle sitting in a drive way with the keys in the ignition. It was a big bike, and Honda 750 or something like that, with a dragon decal on the side and I wanted it. It had the keys in it so I decided to take it. I pushed it out of the driveway and down to the end of the block to try and start it. I remember it was very hard to start with the kick-starter and I did not know how to shift the gears so once I did get it started I kept stalling it out. But I did figure it out. I don’t know how long I had that motorcycle but I drove it to work, parked it out back and then worked. I am pretty sure I drove it to school and parked it in the main parking lot and everyone was looking at me. I have a feeling that this may have been for registration for the upcoming 1987-1988 year. My transcripts say that I was a no-show for that year so I don’t think I actually made it to any classes.

I wish I had more of these dates down! I don’t even remember how long I had this motorcycle for. Anyway, I remember at some point wanting a book from the library (yes I drove the motorcycle there) and they did not have it. They said they did have it at the bigger library in Santa Maria so I decided to drive up there. It was down the freeway about 20 minutes or so and I remember driving in my shorts and a tee-shirt on the freeway. The ground was moving so fast it looked like it was standing still! I think I made it to the library and was in there for a while and on my way home I noticed a cop car start following me. I tried to keep my cool and turned into a parking structure to see what they would do. They turned as well and I knew I was busted.

I had no I.D. on me and I was not from Santa Maria. I also remembered that the last time I was picked up by the cops they simply brought me back home and made my life worse (so I thought at the time anyway). So when they asked me my name I told them that it was Alex Wolfe. I had been reading the Ken Follett novel Key to Rebecca and I thought that was a great name (I had also previously written to the CIA requesting to become a sleeper agent so as to get away from my mom…this was after I read a book on how to apply to the CIA). So they booked me under that name and took me the holding room. I used to think they took me to the general jail but now I don’t remember. They may have taken me to a juvenile facility. I am not sure. I do remember being in with a lot of other people at some point and I obviously stood out. I was pretty much the only scrawny white teenager in the place. Some people asked me what I was in for and I told them steeling a motor cycle and resisting arrest and they all laughed. They said ‘yeah right! You?’. I remember feeling really angry at the time. Of course me, what the fuck were they talking about? Of course looking back on it now I can see that I was the beneficiary of white privilege. People looked at me and assumed I was innocent. After all didn’t I look that way? Blond hair, blue eyes with a twinkle? Check. Seemingly intelligent and inquisitive? Check. Seemingly outgoing and personable? Check. Couldn’t have been me. Of course I didn’t feel like any of those things but that is what people saw when they looked at me.

They asked me for an address and I gave them a made up one (I think I told them Lompoc or something, again not sure). I waited in lockup while they went to contact my parents. Remember that they were going to contact the parents of Alex Wolfe at a made up address. Obviously they found no such address and they came back to me and told me as much. I told them that the house was in the back of another house and that you could not see it from the road. I based the whole story on the way that my mom’s boyfriend’s property had had a guest house, with its own address, in the back of the property. So it was kind of true, at least it was true that there were places like this! But obviously they did not find that place either. I don’t know what my plan was but I kept to my story. I was Alex Wolfe from Santa Maria or, er, uh, Lompoc (or whatever). I was used to interrogation from my mom. She would question me for hours trying to get me to admit to doing something (stealing or sneaking out) and I would never do so. She tells me now that my silence drove her to a frenzy and she just wanted some kind of reaction from me. She would hit me and scream at me and I would try me best to just stand there and take it. Glaring at her but taking it. So when these guys were asking me questions in a friendly manner without any hitting or yelling about how they were sorry I was born and that they should drop me off somewhere, I felt like it was a cake walk.

As I remember the story it was a receptionist in the juvenile hall that finally recognized me. Believe it or not she was a Jehovah’s Witness and she had been at the convention where my mom was baptized and she had met both my sister and I. Somehow she contacted my mom and when she found out that I had just vanished recently she knew that it was me they had in custody. My mom came out and IDed me. I tried to insist that I did not recognize her but she had no problem establishing my identity. So now they knew I was not Alex Wolfe. And the only way they had ever known was through a random Jehovah’s Witness connection! At the time I remember the psychologist telling me that I had lied so convincingly that perhaps I had multiple personalities and asking me if I ever ‘lost time’…I remember thinking this guy was a jackass. I didn’t have multiple personalities, I just knew how to lie really well. And I was used to having to do it while resisting physical and verbal abuse. Sitting in a chair, comfortable and fed, the game was easy to play! I really wish I could see what those guys were writing down. This was the first of many encounters I had with ‘child psychologists’ and I always had the feeling of messing with them but I sometimes wonder if they knew that and were just playing along. I tried contacting the places I was at and they told me those records were long ago destroyed. I guess I’ll never know.

I really do not remember how long I was locked up in Santa Maria but I remember standing trial for Grand Theft Auto there. Someday I hope to get my arrest record and maybe even a transcript of this trial. Since no one took me seriously when I said that I had taken the motorcycle when I went into court and they asked for my plea, I pleaded Not Guilty. And so the whole thing went to trial. The owner of the motorcycle had to come and testify. The arresting officer testified. I had to testify. It was obvious that I had done it. They had caught me riding the bike! I was ultimately convicted and sent back to San Luis Obispo for sentencing. I wish I could find the transcripts of those proceedings!

I remember that when the time came to take me back to San Luis Obispo I had to be shackled and handcuffed. I was taken to a van with a bunch of inmates. These were people going either to prison or the California Youth Authority, which was were serious criminal offenders went. I remember being in there and being really scared. I did not know what to expect once I got to San Luis. So far things had not been like my mom told me but it was still new to me. At some point we pulled over to use the restroom and I remember them taking us one by one into the bathroom. I saw an elderly woman watching me shuffle by in my shackles and orange jump suit and she looked very shocked to see me. I have a memory of sitting there in the van, waiting for someone else to use the restroom, and talking with the driver who was watching me and someone else in the back. he started bragging about what a good shot he was and telling me how he could hit a deer from this or that far away and I said “bet you couldn’t hit someone running away”. He looked at me and said that he could hit me from across the street. I said “what?” and he said “yeah, I’ll unlock your shackles and cuffs and give you a head start. I’ll wait until you are across the street and the hit you in the leg. That’ll show you what a good shot I am”. I looked at the gas station. Could I make it to the pumps and hide and then dart across the street. I looked back and saw him eyeing me. Was he serious I wondered? I laughed nervously and said something like ‘yeah ok, right’ and the moment passed.

Again I do not have access to the exact dates but my high school transcript says that I was in juvenile hall in September of 1987 in San luis Obispo. I vaguely remember getting to the place that was called Juvenile Services Facility. It was a place I would come to know well over the next couple of years. I spent my 16th and 17th birthday in that place. Ironically it was located right next door (I mean literally) to Cuesta Community College, which I would attend 1994-1997, though I didn’t know it then. I was in the back of the van when we pulled up and when they took me in for processing I was very scared.

But this wasn’t the worst place in the world. It was coed and people mostly had their own rooms. Each room had a window, a bed, a toilet and that was it. I actually enjoyed it and did a lot of reading. We could also play chess and watch movies in the common area. For our time outside we had a volley ball court and we could play wife ball (no real bats for us angry kids!). I remember we used to play cards a lot and would play Speed for push ups. The in-house school had a computer and they even let me play Where in the World is carmen San Diego, which I actually liked a lot. It wasn’t Zork but it was still ok. All in all this place was ok, except for the occasional scuffle things were mostly orderly and there were no killings or extremely brutal beatings during my time there.

I remember watching Ferris Bueller on movie night for the first time and having a crush on two of the girls who came in and out. Nothing happened between us, I was way too shy back then to even think telling her how I felt or of trying to have sex in the bathroom of juvenile hall, but I heard that others did. This place was unique, I found out later, because it had private bathrooms. Of course they weren’t really private because they did not lock from the inside but they had a door and only one person at a time would be in there. What I remember most was having a massive crush on a girl, whose name was Sabra, and then she was sent home. That night I lay in my room and cried myself to sleep. It was so frustrating not being able to see her any more or even know if I would ever see her again. She was back in the next week.

I had a couple of incidents, one of which was over chess. My mom had taught me how to play and I used to play all the time. I never studied it and even though I was on the chess club in high school I was not very good. But I was ok. I beat some guy and talked shit about it and that started a fight. I held my own and was surprised how being hit in a fight was mostly the same as being hit at home. It didn’t really faze me. I could take a punch and not miss a beat, which comes in handy in a fight! That was the first time I experienced “the burrito” which was the technique used by the staff to subdue unruly teenagers. They had this thick fire blanket that they kept in the back. They would take it out and rush you and wrap you up in this blanket like a burrito, more like a rolled carpet, but then they would carry you to your room for solitary confinement.

Aside from that it was mostly school during the day and lights out by 9. I did really well in school and excellent on the standardized tests. At some point they bought me a calculus book and let me work on it at my own pace. I remember going to court while here and confronting my mom. She wanted me to come home and the judge was inclined to grant her request. He wanted to send me home. I could not believe it! After all this and they just wanted to send me home? I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if i had not been a blond hair blue eyed, semi-bright kid. At any rate I was made a ward of the court and assigned a case worker who was going to find me a group home. The one down side was that being a vegetarian made it hard to eat. We all ate in a giant mess hall area with benches. We were served the same meal and there was no negotiating. If you didn’t eat meat, and if they were serving ribs, or hamburger, then you either ate it or starved. I chose to starve and traded my meat to met eaters for extra milk, and veggie side dishes. This had the added benefit of making me popular with many different ‘kinds’ of people. There were people in gangs in there but I was not associated with any of them. When people asked me where I was from or ‘what I claimed’ (code words for a potential fight about to happen) I used to joke that I was from wherever my skateboard was at the moment or that I was from California. And it is true that for most of my life I primarily identified as a California (as opposed to an American, or whatever) I had moved around enough to not really feel like any place was truly home and I had not really left California at all at that point in my life. I will talk about some of this more but I found that being a skater definitely helped me in the group homes. Skating had a kind of rebellious-individual-who-can-take-pain image about it and that allowed me to stay neutral in the various clicks and ganges that I encountered, which on the whole was a good thing!

But back to the point, although I can’t be sure I think this may have been in October of 1987. I remember spending my 16th birthday in juvenile hall. My High School transcripts say that I earned credits from the San Luis Juvenile Court 9/87-3/88 and I am not sure if that means that the initial stay was six months long. At this point the dates become very hazy. I know that I was sent to four different group homes. Two I stayed at for very short durations. The shortest was a group home in Santa Barbara. This place was beautiful and I remember the house parents taking us out to the park and showing us around downtown Santa Barbara but somehow the other boys there didn’t like me. I was into skating at the time, I had just started getting into it before running away, after losing my ten speed. I think we got into a fight over some kind of surfer versus skater bullshit. All I remember is that it was four against one and I was getting my ass kicked. I managed to break away from them and ran to the bathroom. I locked the door and then they grabbed a screwdriver and were trying to get the handle off to get into the room. I panicked and jumped out of the window. I was totally paranoid that they would be after me and so I hid out for the rest of the day in Santa Barbara trying to figure out what to do. I decided to head back to San Luis and so I started walking. I walked all day and all night until someone pulled over and offered me a ride. I got in (stupid but I was desperate!). Luckily this person was actually nice and drove me to San Luis. I ended up staying with someone I had known from high school and who used to be a neighbor of mine at some point. The next morning I went to the police station and turned myself in.

You see, at that point I had started to like it in juvenile hall. I understood how it worked in there and I felt like I had more freedom to be myself there than I did at home. When I was brought back I found out that this was a typical pattern. There was a few kids that were regulars in juvy. You went back in, went before the judge, they added more time onto your ‘suspended sentence’ and then they started to look for another group home. There was a saying in Juvy that when you got out you could tell if you were coming back by whether you looked over your shoulder or not on the car ride out. I very often did find myself looking over my shoulder as I left (I must have been in and out at least 4 times). I would wonder what they were doing tonight, and miss my ‘friends’. How fucked up is that?

I didn’t know it at the time but there were basically three ‘tracts’ in the juvenile justice system. The first was your basic drug offender. These people came in and were sent to some kind of rehab. I never had any drug-related charges. I had, of course, been exposed to drugs via my mom and her boyfriends (it was the 70s! and then it was the 80s! I mean, C’mon!) but I did not really use any (I tried alcohol, and cigarettes and marijuana but I did not use them regularly like some kids did. My mom was way too strict for me to get away with anything like that!). The second was violent crimes. Depending on the seriousness these people could be sent to the California Youth Authority, which was the ‘big leagues’ for juvenile offenders. There were a few kids who came through who were ultimately sentenced to CYA, or “see ya!” as we called it, and they were kept out of the general population area. Though I got into occasional fights I was not classified as a violent offender and I never had any assault related charges as a juvenile (that I know of).

I was in a different ‘tract’ classified as a kid with ‘behavioral problems’. What this meant is that the kinds of group homes they looked for for me were all geared towards helping kids deal with behavioral issues. Each one was different. One was a large camp-like place focusing on discipline, (in Mendocino Ca), another was run by a single family and more like a foster home (Santa Barbara), another was more like a mental institution and had regular 9-5, 5-2, 2-10 shifts (San Luis Obispo), another was a bunch of different houses with live-in staff and group counseling (Fresno). I don’t really remember the order that I was in these group homes but I think after my initial processing into the system I was sent to the group home in Santa Barbara (in late 1987?), and then up to Mendocino California (in January 1988), and then in San Luis Obispo (in March/April of 1988). The final one was in Fresno and I am pretty sure I got there in the late summer of 1988 (and was released in 1989) but I will have to get to all of that later.

LeDoux and Brown on Higher-Order Theories and Emotional Consciousness

On Monday May 1st Joe LeDoux and I presented our paper at the NYU philosophy of mind discussion group. This was the second time that I have presented there (the first was with Hakwan (back in 2011!)). It was a lot of fun and there was some really interesting discussion of our paper.

There were a lot of inter-related points/objections that came out of the discussion but here I will just focus on just a few themes that stood out to Joe and I after the discussion. I haven’t yet had the chance to talk with him extensively about this so this is just my take on the discussion.

One of the issues centered on our postulation that there are three levels of content in emotional consciousness. On the ‘traditional’ higher-order theory there is the postulation of two distinct states. One is ‘first-order’ where this means that the state represents something in the world (the animal’s body counts as being in the world in this sense). A higher-order mental state is one that has higher-order content, where this means that it represents a mental state as opposed to some worldly-non-mental thing. It is often assumed that the first-order state will be some basic, some might even say ‘non-representational’ or non-conceptual, kind of content. We do not deny that there are states like the but we suggested that we needed to ‘go up a level’ so to speak.

Before delving into this I will say that I view this as an additional element in the theory. The basic idea of HOROR theory is just that the higher-order state is the phenomenally conscious state (because that what phenomenal consciousness is). I am pretty sure that the idea of the lower-order state being itself a higher-order state is Joe’s idea but to be fair I am not 100% sure. The idea was that the information coming in from the senses needed to be assembled in working memory in such a way as to allow the animal to connect memories, engage schemas etc. We coined the term ‘lower-order’ to take the place of ‘first-order’. For us a lower-order state is just one that is the target of a higher-order representation. Thus, the traditional first-order states would count as lower-order on our view but so would additional higher-order states that were re-represented  at a higher-level.

Thus on the view we defended the lower-order states are not first-order states. These states represent first-order states and thus are higher-order in nature. When you see an apple, for example, there must be a lot of first-order representations of the apple but these must be put together in working memory and result in a higher-order state which is an awareness of these first-order states. That higher-order representation is the ‘ground floor’ representation for our view. It is itself not conscious but it results in the animal behaving in appropriate ways. At this lower-order level we would characterize the content as something like ‘(I am) seeing an apple’. That is, there is an awareness of the first-order states and a characterization of those states as being seeing of red but there is no explicit representation of the self. There is an implicit referring to the self, by which we mean these states are attributed to the creature who has them but not in any explicit way. This is why we think of this state as just an awareness of the first-order activity (plus a characterization of it). At the their level we have a representation of this lower-order state (which is itself a higher-order state in that it represents first-order states).

Now, again, I do not really view this three-layer approach as essential to the HOROR theory. I think HOROR theory is perfectly compatible with the claim that it is first-order states that count as the targets. But I do think it is an interesting issue at state here and that is what role exactly the ‘I’ in “I am seeing a red apple’ is playing and also whether first-order states can be enough to play the role of lower-order states. Doesn’t the visual activity related to the apple need to be connected to concepts of red and apple? If so then there needs to be higher-order activity that is itself not conscious.

Another issue focused on our methodological challenge to using animals in consciousness research. Speaking for myself I certainly think that animals are conscious but since they cannot verbally report, and as long as we truly believe that the cognitive unconscious is as robust as widely held, then we cannot rule out that animal behavior is produced by non-conscious processes. What this suggests is that we need to be cautious when we infer from an animal’s behavior to the cause of it being a phenomenally conscious mental state. Of course that could be what is going on, but how do we establish that? It cannot be the default assumption as long as we accept the claims about the cognitive unconscious. Thus we do not think that animals do or do not have conscious experience but rather that the science of consciousness is best pursued in Humans (for now at least). For me this is related to what I think of as the biggest confound in all of consciousness science and that is the confound of behavior. If an animal can perform a task then it is assumed this is because its mental states are conscious. But if this kind of task can be performed unconsciously then behavior by itself cannot guarantee consciousness.

One objection to this claim (sadly I forgot who made this…maybe they’ll remind me in the comments?) was that maybe verbal responses themselves are non-conscious. When I asked if the kind of view that Dennett has, where there is just some sub-personal mechanism which results in an utterance of “I am seeing red” and this is all there is to the conscious experience of seeing red, counts as the kind of view the objector had in mind. The response was that no they had in mind that maybe the subjects are zombies with no conscious experience at all and yet were able to answer the question “what do you see” with “I see red,” just like zombies are thought to do. I responded to this with what I think is the usual way to respond to skeptical worries. That is, I acknowledge that there is a sense in which such skeptical scenarios are conceivable (though maybe not exactly as the conceiver supposes), but there are still reasons for not getting swept up in skepticism. For example I agree with the “lessons” from fading, dancing, and absent qualia cases that we would be in an unreasonable sense detached from our conscious experiences if this were happening. The laws of physics don’t give us any reason to suppose that there are radical differences between similar things (like you and I), though if we discovered an important brain area missing or damaged then I suppose we could be led to the conclusion that some member of the population lacked conscious experience. But why should we take this seriously now? I know I am conscious from my own first-person point of view and unless we endorse a radical skepticism then science should start from the view that report is a reliable(ish) guide to what is going on in a subject’s mind.

Another issue focused on our claim that animal consciousness may be different from human conscious experience. If you really need the concept ‘fear’ in order to feel afraid and if there is a good case to be made that animals don’t have our concept of fear then their experience would be very different from ours. That by itself is not such a bad thing. I take it that it is common sense that animal experience is not exactly like human experience. But it seems as though our view is committed to the idea that animals cannot have anything like the human experience of fear, or other emotions. Joe seemed to be ok with this but I objected. It is true that animals don’t have language like humans do and so are not able to form the rich and detailed kinds of concepts and schemas that humans do but that does not mean that they lack the concept of fear at all. I think it is plausible to think that animals have some limited concepts and if they are able to form concepts as basic as danger (present) and harm then they may have something that approaches human fear (or a basic version of it). A lot of this depends on your specific views about concepts.

Related to this, and brought up by Kate Pendoley was the issue of whether there can be emotional experiences that we only later learn to describe with a word. I suggested that I thought the answer may be yes but that even so we will describe the emotion in terms of its relations to other known emotions. ‘It is more like being afraid than feeling nausea’ and the like. This is related to my background view about a kind of ‘quality space’ for the mental attitudes.

Afterwards, over drinks, I had a discussion with Ned Block about the higher-order theory and the empirical evidence for the role of the prefrontal cortex in conscious experience. Ned has been hailing the recent Brascamp et al paper (nice video available here) as evidence against prefrontal theories. In that paper they showed that if they take away report and attention (by making the two stimuli barely distinguishable) then you can show that there is a loss of the prefrontal fMRI activation. I defended the response to this that fMRI is too crude of a measure to take this null result too seriously. This is what I take to be the line argued in this recent paper by Brain Odgaard, Bob Knight, and Hakwan, Should a few null findings falsify prefrontal theories of consciousness? Null results are ambiguous as between the falsifying interpretation and it just being missed by a crude tool. As Odgaard et al argue if we use more invasive measures like single cell or ECoG then we would find prefrontal activity. In particular the Mante et al paper referred to in Odgaard et all is pretty convincing demonstration that there is information decodable from prefrontal areas that would be missed by an fMRI. As they say in the linked to paper,

There are numerous single- and multi- unit recording studies in non-human primates, clearly demonstrating that specific perceptual decisions are represented in PFC (Kim and Shadlen, 1999; Mante et al., 2013; Rigotti et al., 2013). Overall, these studies are compatible with the view that PFC plays a key role in forming perceptual decisions (Heekeren et al., 2004; Philiastides et al., 2011; Szczepanski and Knight, 2014) via ‘reading out’ perceptual information from sensory cortices. Importantly, such decisions are central parts of the perceptual process itself (Green and Swets, 1966; Ratcliff, 1978); they are not ‘post-perceptual’ cognitive decisions. These mechanisms contribute to the subjective percept itself (de Lafuente and Romo, 2006), and have been linked to specific perceptual illusions (Jazayeri and Movshon, 2007).

In addition to this Ned accused us of begging the question in favor of the higher-order theory. In particular he thought that there really was no conscious experience in the Rare Charles Bonnett cases and that our appeal to Rahnev was just question begging.

Needless to say I disagree with this and there is a lot to say about these particular points but I will have to come back to these issue later. Before I have to run, and just for the record, I should make it clear that, while I have always been drawn to some kind of higher-order account, I have also felt the pull of first-order theories. I am in general reluctant to endorse any view completely but I guess I would have to say that my strongest allegiance is to the type-type identity theory. Ultimately I would like it to be the case that consciousness and mind are identical to brain states and/or states of the brain. I see the higher-order theory as compatible with the identity theory but I am also sympathetic to to other versions (for full-full disclosure, there is even a tiny (tiny) part of me that thinks functionalism isn’t as bad as dualism (which itself isn’t *that* bad)).

Why, then, do I spend so much time defending the higher-order theory? When I was still an  undergraduate student I thought that the higher-order thought theory of consciousness was obviously false. After studying it for a while and thinking more carefully about it I revised my credence to ‘not obviously false’. That is, I defended it against objections because I thought they dismissed the theory unduly quickly.

Over time, and largely because of empirical reasons, I have updated my credence  from ‘not obviously false’ to ‘possibly true’ and this is where I am at now. I have become more confident that the theory is empirically and conceptually adequate but I do not by any means think that there is a decisive case for the higher-order theory.

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