More HOTter, More Better

In an earlier post I outlined the case for qualia realism from the higher-order perspective as I see it.Dave Chalmers worried that one of the moves was too quick. The move in question is the move from concepts making a difference to phenomenal experience to their determining phenomenal experience. Basically the line I was pushing was that if it is the case that applying concepts changes our phenomenal experience then “perhaps it is not too crazy to think that applying concepts is what results in phenomenal feel in the first place,” but Dave is right that there is a lot more that needs to be said.

As I also said, I think that a crucial step in securing this premise in the argument is showing that there can be unconscious states with qualitative character which are not like anything for the creature that has them. If we established that then we would have evidence that it is solely applying concepts that constitutes phenomenal consciousness. There is another line of argument which might show this as well which is given by David Rosenthal in a few different places (see page 155 inConsciousness and Mind for a representative example). Basically it is a subtraction argument. Take some phenomenally conscious experience, like listening to music. We already agree that applying new concepts will change the character of the experience. So, if I were to learn what a bass clarinet was then listening to Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon will sound differently to me. Now suppose that we subtract this concept. My experience will change. More specifically it will lack the bass clarinetiness that my experience had when I applied that concept. Now we can continue subtracting out concepts one by one without altering the first-order state in any way. Since subtracting the concept produces a phenomenal experience that lacks precisely the element corresponding to the concept we can conclude that subtracting these concepts will produce phenomenal consciousness that is sparser and sparser. What are we to say when we have reached teh point where there is just one concept characteriing the first-order state? Suppose that we are at the point where we are only applying the concept SOUND to the experience. Phenomenally it will be like hearing a sound for me but not any particular sounds. Now suppose we subtract that concept. What will it be like for the creature?

The higher-order theorist says that at that point it is no longer like anything for the creature. The other side says that there is still something that it is like, though it may not be like anything for the creature) but what argument could show this? What reason is there for thinking that there is anything phenomenal left over?


  1. If I don’t have an experience of *something somewhere* then there is NOTHING that it is like for me, and I am not conscious. I believe this is true for you and for every other creature. My claim is that in order to have an experience of *something somewhere* one must first have a brain representation of an egocentric spatial surround. If the brain system that generates this biophysical representation is active, even with no other input (sensory, imagistic, or HOT) one is in the minimal state of consciousness because it is like being in a vacuous surround (the minimal space of our phenomenal world). All other input to this egocentric brain space constitutes something else somewhere in our phenomenal world.

    What are the counter arguments?

  2. Bill

    One problem with the above argument is that it appears to claim that the brain will not be (globally) conscious if the (focus of attention) consciousness of the music is attenuated by subtracting all of its associations.

    In reality, the mind would likely be busy being conscious of something else when not aware of the music except as background noise, or, barring this, it would be in some kind of sleep, I suppose.

    Subtracting content and subtracting attention/alertness are two different things.

  3. Notice that the sense of an ego-center within a volumetric surround (minimal consciousness) is an event that does not require the deployment of attention. If attention is deployed, it is selectively directed to a target somewhere outward from the egocentric origin of our phenomenal surround. In other words, one must be conscious before attending to anything. So the brain’s representation of a volumetric space from an egocentric perspective is the very foundation of consciousness from which nothing can be subtracted without losing consciousness.

  4. Jonathan Speke Laudly

    Determining phenomenal experience?
    This phenomena/concept split is just
    another version of the assumption of the mind/body, mental/physical, sensual/mind, world/thought split that has bedeviled us for five centuries. And it’s a great aid in generating paradox.
    That there is something which
    is separate from concepts that can partially determine phenomenal experience–is, one may argue, itself a concept. “Phenomenal experience”, is itself a conceptual wordy thing.
    That there is an intuition which says there are no concepts in phenomena and phenomena are not concepts–is itself a conceptual/verbal scheme.
    What is more, concepts and words must be themselves phenomena.
    And if phenomena are silent let me ask how do you have silent phenomena without the concepts and words that say phenomena are silent!
    At what point are words and concepts out of the picture? Nowhere.
    At least realize that as long as you indulge in the split you will generate paradoxical statements in an effort to reconcile the split that you will not relinquish.
    Reminds me how they catch monkeys in asia; the monkey reaches into a narrow necked jar for a treat and as his captors approach, he refuses to release the treat, preventing the removal of his hand and thwarting his escape.
    It is optional, not necessary, to split the world into sense and mind or world and mind– but if you want to do so, why not just say that there are split views and nonsplit views and be explicit about your preference?
    You are then free to suggest ways that a split is to our advantage.
    Acknowledging that the world is multifarious seems a view closer to the world.
    After all, aren’t all these points of view part of what the world is? Does not the world consist in whatever shows up–all of it, moment by moment? —–conflicting and consonant concepts included. What else could the world be? What else is there?
    Because the world is whatever shows up it outstrips any attempt to reduce it to a scheme.

  5. Richard, try this.

    The simple argument:

    1. There must be something that it is like for me to be conscious.

    2. If there is something that it is like for me to be conscious my brain must represent something somewhere for me because something cannot exist nowhere.

    3. The minimal condition for the existence of something somewhere for me is a brain representation of my egocentric space (my self as the “0,0,0 coordinate” origin within a volumetric surround). This constitutes my minimal consciousness/phenomenal content.

    4. Without this primal brain representation of egocentric space no other phenomenal content (something somewhere) can exist for me because there would be no relevant place for it to exist.

    What are the counter arguments?

  6. Bill

    I can’t do the subjective qualiophile definition very well. In terms of the brain, the serotoninergic and dopaminergic systems govern the overall state of being awake (consciousness as requiring global state of arousal of the cerebrum) and the frontal and parietal intracortical neurons are used to facilitate focal attention (what Arnold above means by “deployment of attention”).

  7. John Gregg

    Speaking for “the other side”, I am NOT saying that there is something phenomenal left over after we subtract all the concepts. Here is how I would articulate the arguments you just made: there is a funny interplay between what we might call “pure phenomenal experience” on one hand, and on the other, “cognition” or “conceptual thought”. In fact, it is devilishly hard to isolate pure examples of either in the wild. In fact, it seems as though all of our mental activity takes place somewhere on a continuum between these two poles. Some mental activity seems more conceptual, some more phenomenal. Personally, I do not know what it means to “apply a concept” to a chunk of phenomenal experience, and I certainly do not know what it means to do so in a way that gives comfort to anyone who wishes to “naturalize” consciousness in the sense of explaining qualia in non-qualitative terms. For HOT to go through, you are going to have to explain in a fair amount of detail what these “concepts” are, and what it means to “apply” them to experience, in a way that does not leave you with qualia informing your concepts rather than the other way around.

    -John Gregg

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