I have not been too good keeping up with the NYU Mind and Language Seminar like I had originally planned. Part of the problem was the Online Consciousness Conference (about which more later) the other part of the problem has been that I teach until 3:30 and the sessions start at 4:00. At any rate I managed to make it down yesterday for David Rosenthal’s session on his “Sensory Qualities, Consciousness and Perception” which was very interesting.
The commentary by Ned Block focused on the usual issues that he has with HOTheads (i.e. eitology ad hoc, the mismatch problem, conceptual content too unconstrained, etc) though there was an interesting new objection (at least I hadn’t heard Ned give it before). The mismatch problem (red first-order state/green HOT) presents the HOThead with a dilemma. Either what it is like for the person is like seeing red in which case HOT is false or it is like seeing green in which case there is no difference between having an experience and thinking that one has the experience. It is not clear why the second horn of the dilemma is supposed to be bad. If HOT theory is right then having the conscious experience os seeing blue will consist in having the appropriate HOT so the horn just restates the theory.
But building on this Block quotes this passage from pages 185 in Consciousness and Mind:
HOTs do no transfer the property of being conscious from themselves to their targets; indeed, they don’t induce any change whatever in those targets. Rather, they make their targets conscious because a state’s being conscious consists simply in one’s being conscious of oneself as being in that state, and having a HOT is the right way of being conscious of oneself as being in a state.
Block then argued that in the case of the empty HOT –that is where one has a HOT that one is seeing green but has no first-order state at all– there is a conscious mental state that one is not conscious of and so we have a counter-example to the transitivity principle. Block seemed to be suggesting that if we take the above quote seriously then the HOT itself is the conscious mental state and since there is no 3rd-order thought about the HOT it is itself is a counter-example to the transitivity principle or he would need to adopt the same-order view. Rosenthal replied that the HOT was not the conscious state; it was the seeing of blue that was the conscious mental state even though it was a notional state (a lot of this came up at the online conference in Pete’s excellent session). Jesse asked what the NCC of the conscious state would be in this case. It surely doesn’t seem like one can have a NCC for a notional state! This prompted Stephen Stich to exclaim that David was “worse than a dualist”. Uriah interjected that it was a commonplace of predicate calculus that if A is F then it follows that there is a x such that x is F and this entails that if one has a conscious mental state then there is a state that has that property. David objected to this because he thinks that the conscious mental states are states of the person not individual metal states. During the discussion I asked David to return to Ned’s objection because I wasn’t sure what his answer to it was. If the quoted passage is correct then a conscious mental state is identical to having the suitable HOT. What reason does David have to deny that the HOT is thereby the conscious mental state? His answer was that he did not stand by the quoted passage, which seemed really odd to me. I hope to follow up with him about this…
Another very interesting theme of the discussion of was how repression works. Someone in teh audience (a nyu student named Lisa, I think) pointed to cases of repression as a possible counter-example to the transitivity principle. When one represses some thought one has to have (unconscious) knowledge of the thought that one is suppressing, which sounds like a HOT, yet the repressed thought is not thereby made conscious. David objected that this was not the way he understood repression to work. Rather than having a HOT usually what happens is that one has unconscious guilt about the repressed thought that leads to repressing it. Ned and David argued a bit about the right way that actual Fruedians talk about repression…no consensus was reached except in so far as David acknowledge that if repression worked in the way that Ned and Lisa suggested then that would be a counter-example to the transitivity principle.
Another audience member (Eric) tried to press this line of attack using the implicit racism test. The idea was supposed to be that after one has taken this test and discovered that one has unconscious racist attitudes one can have the thought that one is having a racist thought with the thought not thereby becoming conscious. David at first denied this and maintained that the thought would be conscious but then he reconsidered and said that attitudes were dispositions and those aren’t mental states.
The session ended with a discussion of the relation between Jesse’s AIR theory and HOT theory (it was pointed out that Dave Chalmers is now calling CUNY the HOT AIR department). David gave his signature argument against attention being necessary for consciousness. in parafoveal vision the percepts at the periphery are conscious even if one is fixating and attending to some central point. This is a case of conscious experience without attention. Jesse’s trademarked response is that attention can be spread over the entire scene to which David responds that at that point he doesn’t know what attention is anymore. At that point the session ended.
Afterwards I asked Jesse if he thought that when we attended to something we became conscious of that thing. He said that he did. I then said that if that was the case AIR theory is an implementation of the transitivity principle and so is not really in competition with David’s view. Jesse agreed that this was the case. I then suggested that we could think of the situation like this: David has argued that there are only two ways that we can become conscious of something: we either sense it or we think about it in the right way. He therefore sees only HOT and HOP. We can then see a lot of Jesse’s work as arguing that there is a third way that we become conscious of something; by attending to it. He agreed…I knew it!