On the Underblog I've posted the text of the talk I gave this morning for the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference. Given that the title of the talk predicts the possible demise of consciousness studies, I thought it might be wise to check that the back door was unlocked in case I needed to make a quick escape! (Actually, everyone was very nice.)
The talk basically combined my reflections on the richness or thinness of experience from my 2007 article on the topic, "Do You Have Constant Tactile Experience of Your Feet in Your Shoes?" (advocates of a rich view say yes [and that we also constantly auditorially experience the hum of traffic in the background, etc.], while advocates of a thin view say no), with the pessimistic argument in a recent post that the question is unresolvable -- and, worse, that it's likely impossible to establish a general theory of consciousness without first settling the rich-vs-thin question. Grand conclusion: A general theory of consciousness may be beyond human reach.
The one new thing was this: Ned Block and Michael Tye have recently argued that experience outruns attention (and thus that the thin view can't be right) because one visually experiences at least the gist of the parts of a visual display (for example on a psychologist's computer) to which you don't focally attend -- for example in "change blindness" demonstrations. Or to put it another way: Your visual attention right now might be on a few of the words in this sentence, but surely you also visually experience more of what is before you than just those few words, so (they say) this shows that attention is not required for experience.
The problem with that argument, I think, is that it ignores the (quite reasonable) possibility that attention comes in degrees and can spread beyond just a narrow point. In some sense, one is attending to the whole computer display even if the finest, most focused point of attention is just a few words at a time. What remains open -- and what I'm pessimistic about resolving -- is whether you also simultaneously visually experience the picture on the wall behind the computer and the pressure of the chair against your back. (Of course you experience them now, but did you experience them ten minutes ago when you weren't thinking about it? I think neither objective nor subjective methods to address this question can yield a trustworthy answer.)
Anyway, I enjoyed having the chance to pontificate about this for a while for the people at this conference! With the new book and the plenary talk, people are starting to treat me almost like I'm an established philosopher. (Maybe it helps, too, that I'm going a bit gray at the temples.) I think it would be a good thing not to get too used to that.