Thursday, March 08, 2012

Why Humphrey Should Think That the United States Is Conscious

In February, I argued that Daniel Dennett and Fred Dretske should, given their other views, hold that the United States is a spatially distributed group entity with a stream of experience of its own (a stream of experience over and above the experiences of the individual citizens and residents of the United States). Today I'm going to the suggest the same about psychologist Nicholas Humphrey.

My general project is to argue that that if materialism is true, the United States is probably conscious. I've advanced some general considerations in favor of that claim. But I also want to examine some particular materialist theories in more detail. I've chosen Dennett, Dretske, Humphrey, and (coming up) Guilio Tononi because their theories are prominent, aim to explain consciousness in any possible organism (not just human beings), and cover the metaphysics top to bottom.

Humphrey is a particularly interesting case because, awkwardly for my view, he explicitly denies that collective entities made of separate bounded individuals, such as swarms of bees, can have conscious experience (1992, p. 194). I will now argue that Humphrey, by the light of his own theory, should recant such remarks.

Humphrey argues that a creature has conscious experience when it has high-fidelity recurrent feedback loops in its sensory system (1992, 2011). A "sensory system", per Humphrey, is a system that represents what is going on inside the creature and directs behavior accordingly. No fancy minds are required for "sensation" in Humphrey's sense; such systems can be as simple as the reactivity of an amoeba to chemicals or light. (Humphrey also contrasts sensation with "perception", which provides information not about states of the body but rather about the outside world.) For consciousness, the only thing necessary besides a sensory system, on Humphrey's (1992) view, is that there be high-fidelity, momentarily self-sustaining feedback loops within that system -- loops between input and output, tuned and integrated across subjective time.

At first glance, you might think this theory would imply a superabundance of consciousness in the natural world, since sensory systems (by Humphrey's liberal definition) are cheap and feedback loops are cheap. But near the end of his 1992 book, Humphrey proves conservative. He rules out, for example, worms and fleas, saying that their sensory feedback loops "are too long and noisy to sustain reverberant activity" (1992, p. 195). Maybe even consciousness is limited only to "higher vertebrates such as mammals and birds, although not necessarily all of these" (ibid.).

Humphrey argues against conscious experience in spatially discontinuous entities as follows: Collective entities, he says, don't have bodies, and thus they lack a boundary between the me and the not-me (1992, p. 193-194). Since sensation (unlike perception) is necessarily directed at one's own bodily states, collective organisms necessarily lack sensory systems. Thus, they're not even candidates for consciousness. The argument is quick. Its subpoints are undefended, and it occupies less than a paragraph.

One plausible candidate for the boundary of a collective organism is the boundary of the discontinuous region occupied by all its members' bodies. The individual bees are each part of the colony; the flowers and birds and enemy bees are not part of the colony. That could be the me and the not-me -- at least as much me/not-me as an amoeba has! The colony reacts to disturbances of this body so as to preserve as much of it as possible from threats, and it deploys parts of its body (individual bees) toward collective ends, for example via communicative bee dances in a tangled informational loop at the center of the colony.

Humphrey makes no mention of spatial contiguity in developing his account of sensation, representation, responsiveness, and feedback loops. Nor would a requirement of contiguity appear to be motivated within the general spirit of his account. A sensory signal travels inward along a nerve from the bodily surface to the central tangle. Perhaps a species could evolve that sends its nerve signals by lightwave instead, along hollow reflective capillaries, saving precious milliseconds of response time. Perhaps this adaptation then allows a further adaptation in which peripheral parts can temporarily detach from the central body while still sending their light signals to targeted receptors. You can see how this adaptation could be useful for ambushing prey or reaching into long, narrow spaces. Viola, discontinuous organisms! Nothing in Humphrey's account seems to motivate ruling such possibilities out. Humphrey should allow that beings with discontinuous bodies can, at least in principle, have spatially distributed sensory surfaces that communicate their disturbances to the center of the organism and whose behavior is in turn governed by signals outbound from the center. He should allow the possibility of sensation, body, and the me/not-me distinction in spatially distributed organisms. And then for consciousness there remains only the question of whether there are sustained, high-fidelity feedback loops within those sensory systems.

So much for in-principle possibility. How about actual consciousness in actually existing distributed organisms? Since Humphrey sets a high bar for "high fidelity", bee colonies still won't qualify as conscious organisms by his standards; their feedback loops won't be high fidelity enough. But how about the United States? I think it will qualify. It will be helpful, however, to consider a cleaner case first: an army division.

An army division has clear boundaries. There are people who are in it and there are people who are outside of it. There's the division on the one hand and the terrain on the other. The division will act to preserve its parts, for example under enemy attack. Disturbances on the periphery (e.g., on the retinas of scouts) will be communicated to the center, and commands from the center will govern behavior at the periphery. If we can set aside prejudice against discontiguous entities and our commonsensical distaste at conceiving of human beings as mere parts of a larger organism, it seems that an army division has a body by Humphrey's general standards.

Does the division also have a sensory system? Again, it seems it should, by Humphrey's standards: Conditions on the periphery are represented by the center, which then governs the behavior of the periphery in response. That's all it takes for the amoeba, and if Humphrey is to be consistent that's all it should take for the division.

Now finally for the condition that Humphrey uses to exclude earthworms and fleas: Does the army division have high-fidelity, temporally extended feedback loops from the sensory periphery to the center? (Alternatively it might have, as in the human case per Humphrey, a more truncated loop from output signals, which needn't actually make it to the periphery, back to the center.) It seems so, at least sometimes. The commander can watch in real time on high-fidelity video as her orders are carried out. She can even stream live satellite video back and forth with her scouts and platoon leaders. Video feeds from the scouts' positions can come high-fidelity in a sustained stream to her eyes. Auditory feeds can return to her ears -- including auditory feeds containing the sound of her own voice issuing commands. For a modern army, there's plenty of opportunity for sustained high-fidelity feedback loops between center and periphery. With good technology, the feedback can be much higher fidelity, higher bandwidth, and more sustained than in the proprioceptive feedback loops I get when I close my eyes and wiggle my finger.

(In his 2011 book, Humphrey gestures toward further complexities of information flow that feedback loops enable (p. 57-59). However, as he suggests, such emergent complexities arise quite naturally once feedback loops are sustained and high-quality, and the same will presumably be true for some such feedback loops in an army division. In any case, since such remarks are gestural rather than fully developed, I focus primarily on the account in Humphrey's 1992 book.)

If I can convince you that a Humphrey-like view implies that army divisions have conscious experience, that's enough for my overall purposes. But to bring it back specifically to the United States: The U.S. has a boundary of me/not-me and a spatially distributed body, in roughly the same way an army division does. In Washington, D.C., it has a center of control of its official actions, which governs behaviors like declaring war, raising tariffs, and sending explorers to the moon. Signals from the periphery (and from the interior too, as in the human case) provide information to the center, and signals from the center command the periphery. And with modern technology, the feedback loops can be high fidelity, high bandwidth, temporally sustained, and almost arbitrarily complex. Humphrey's criteria are all met. Humphrey should abandon his apparent bias against discontinuous organisms and accept that the United States is literally conscious.

Update, March 13:
Readers might be interested to Nick Humphrey's reply in the comments section and the exchange between Nick and me that grows out of it.


David Duffy said...

But the consciousness is not unitary: if each army division is a Leviathan in his own right, what does that make the entire army? And all these analogies can be equally made about smaller organisations like football teams or married couples. Next you'll be saying corporations are persons.

And what about a despotic country, where all decisions are made by a single human, with information coming up and orders going down the chain of command?

Nicholas Humphrey said...

I’ve nothing against the idea of the United States having a mind. In fact Dennett and I discussed why we might want to attribute Selfhood to the United Sates (and to swarms of bees) in our article “Speaking for Our Selves”. But phenomenal consciousness? Could the United States have the experience of feeling pain or seeing red, with all the associated qualia?

Schwitzgebel bases his essay on my 1992 book A History of the Mind. But my ideas (fortunately) have changed over the years. My book Seeing Red revised and clarified what I wrote earlier. But it was only Soul Dust that I think I finally got it right. The crucial insight of the new book is that consciousness is theatre – a kiond of magical mystery we lay on for ourselves inside our own heads.

Central to the new theory is (a) the idea that sensations, as active responses, are staged, (b) they are staged in such a way as to make them appear to a specially positioned spectator to have special out-of-this-world properties, ( c) there is indeed such spectator, who represents the sensations as phenomenal, and (d) this spectator is co-terminous with the Self.

Now, could the United States have similar arrangements? It’s clear that it doe not at present, so it is not conscious yet. But could the arrangements be made? Yes, I don’t see why not in principle. The Self of the United States which Dennett and I alluded to could be beefed up to become a true subject of intentional representations. And then the sensory show could be arranged, with the subject appropriately seated to observe it as a phenomenal entertainment.

But this is clearly a tall order. And it’s not something that could possibly come about by chance. In the case of humans it came about because humans who had these extraordinary experiences were selected by natural selection. As I’ve put it “This self-made show lights up the world for us and makes us feel special and transcendent. Thus consciousness paves the way for spirituality, and allows us, as human beings, to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in what I call the ‘soul niche.’”

Does the United States need a “soul”. Well maybe it does. But someone’s going to have to put a lot of work into designing it.

Richard said...

'And it’s not something that could possibly come about by chance. In the case of humans it came about because humans who had these extraordinary experiences were selected by natural selection.'

I thought natural selecton was a chance mechanism?

Richard said...

'And it’s not something that could possibly come about by chance. In the case of humans it came about because humans who had these extraordinary experiences were selected by natural selection.'

I thought natural selecton was a chance mechanism?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ David: I agree that those questions naturally follow.

@ Nicholas: Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful reply! I focused more on your 1992 book than your 2011 book because I had trouble unpacking some of the metaphors in your 2011 book, and it seemed to me that the 2011 book was still grounded in the 1992 theory, presenting that theory in a somewhat less detailed way than did the 1992, with more of a focus on developing some of its *consequences* in a different direction.

My reading of your 2011 book puts more emphasis on the "Looping the Loop" chapter, which seems an updated presentation of your 1992 theory, than it does on the theater/stage metaphor. In addition to the desire to read you as broadly consistent over time, I note that the Looping the Loop chapter is chapter four, the climax of Part One (seemingly the part dedicated to developing the core theory), whereas the theater/stage metaphor is dominant in Chapter 2. Thus, I was inclined to read Looping the Loop partly as an attempt to unpack the metaphor.

But maybe your view has changed more than I thought!

So let's consider your conditions (a)-(d). I don't find it entirely clear how to apply them to the question of whether the United States, or an army division, has phenomenal consciousness. But let me try.

Since it's a cleaner case to think about, let's do an army division. I've argued above that you should accept that the army division has sensations. Are those sensations "staged"? Well, why not? Suppose the scouts' video feeds are displayed on a big screen at HQ. That would seem to be a kind of "staging". And the observers of those video feeds would be the spectator. And the kinds of feedback loops you emphasize in Chapter 4 (and that I emphasize above) seem to be present. So on the face of it, it looks like (a) and at least part of (b) are satisfied.

How about the rest of (b)? Do the sensations have "special out-of-this-world properties"? Your discussion of this in 2011 seems again to be mainly in Chapter 2. Key to that idea, it seems to me, is your "ipsundrum" -- an "illusion-generating inner creation in response to sensory stimulation" (p. 40), which reflects what the sensation "means for you" (p. 39). I see no reason to think the army division doesn't have these ipsundra. Maybe the video feeds are coded with features of interest to the division (for example, with colors and boxes representing enemy positions, with details about weather and roads and rail). Your theory here is rather sketchy, I think, so it's a bit hard to know what exactly would satisfy it. But on the surface, it would seem that something along these lines might do so (assuming that we set aside the commonsense notion that this whole exercise is absurd from the start).

On (c): I've mentioned above that the people in HQ would seem to be the spectator. Do they "represent the sensations as phenomenal"? Again, it's not entirely transparent to me what this means. Presumably, one needn't have an explicit concept of phenomenology to represent as phenomenal, or infants and dogs wouldn't have phenomenal consciousness (and I don't *think* you want to go that sparse in your attributions of consciousness, do you?). On pages 50-52, you seem to be setting up Chapter 4, Looping the Loop, as your answer to what it is to represent as phenomenal; and that's the part of your book that fits most clearly with your 1992 account and my analysis in the main post. It seems to involve a kind of self-monitoring supported by complex feedback loops; and for the reasons developed in my post, I'm inclined to think you should say that is present in the army division. Thus, I'm inclined to think that (c) also is satisfied.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Nicholas (continued):

On (d): You begin your comment above by expressing openness to the U.S. having a self, so I'll assume that's not the sticking point for the army division either. Whether that self is co-terminous with the spectator in HQ -- well, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that. An Amazon text search of your 2011 book doesn't produce any results for "coterminous" or "co-terminous". I can't recall the concept of coterminousness playing a big role in your work. Quite possibly I'm missing something obvious, though. It's hard to keep everything across several books vividly in mind at once! If by "co-terminous" you mean something like having a common spatial boundary, I'm not sure how that is supposed to work. If the "inner spectator" is really "inner", it ought to have a narrower boundary, oughtn't it? The finger is part of myself, but the finger isn't part of my "inner spectator", is it? Maybe my finger is part of what my inner spectator *represents* as itself. But there's an ambiguity here: My inner spectator represents the finger as part of my body -- my physical self -- but not as part of my inner-spectator-self, e.g., the "self" that we might be tempted to think of as non-physical and capable of existing without the body. Maybe the army division case admits a similar ambiguity? The officers in HQ represent the scout as part of the larger self of the division but not as part of their *personal*, narrow selves that are capable of continuing to exist (as people) without the division.

Now all this is pretty loose and speculative. But these aspects of your 2011 book are pretty loose and speculative too, I think, if you'll forgive me!

Thus, I remain inclined to think that you should accept that an army division (and probably also the U.S., though I haven't developed the case) literally has phenomenal consciousness. By your 1992 account and your Looping the Loop restatement of it in 2011, the criteria seem to be satisfied. And the sorts of things you say above and Chapter 2 of your book, although (in my mind) somewhat gestural and sketchy, also seem satisfied, or easily satisfiable, in the army division case.

One might be tempted to dismiss the whole idea out-of-hand as patently absurd. But this exercise is premised exactly on *not* being dismissive in that way, and on seeing what your theory (and Dennett's and Dretske's and Tononi's) would imply about the phenomenology, or lack of it, of the U.S., or other groups, if the criteria for consciousness are applyied in a straightforward way.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Another thought: If the evolutionary value of consciousness is the joie de vivre that it gives (as delightfully articulated in the 2011 book), one question then becomes by what outward signs this is known in the non-human case. On 2011, p. 93, the tentative idea seems to be that it is reflected in "a cat's and gorilla's and panda's and galah's straining for sensation... signs of a core self devoted to its own continuance". (I also think of the dog excited for a walk mentioned earlier, and the dispirited blindsight monkey mentioned in other work). The same outward signs seem present in the case of the army division and the U.S.: They strain for sensation; they fight to exist. They are not indifferent or only passively reflexively self-defensive, but positively fierce in seeking information and in seeking self-continuance.

Nicholas Humphrey said...

I can only blame myself if you failed to see the significant change to my theory in my recent book. True the bones of the theory remain in place, but I really have moved on.

Perhaps it will help if I tell the history of tihionking about consciousness. When I was forty years old, I held that being conscious was the outcome of a special kind of introspection. As conscious beings we have the capacity to look in on the workings of our own minds, and so to observe – as with an Inner Eye – the beliefs, thoughts, desires, emotions, perceptions and so on that rule our mental life. Thus consciousness is essentially propositional or representaional in character – a matter of what we think about what it’s like to be us.

By the time I was fifty, I’d realised that this wouldn’t do. The process of introspection is surely not sufficient to give conscious mental states their qualitative feel. Why should it, in the terms that Tom Nagel made famous, be “like something” to have these states? But the answer, I then hit on, is that it is actually not like anything to have most mental states. When it comes to it, beliefs, thoughts, desires etc. mostly don’t have any intrinsic feel to them. In fact the only mental states that reliably and intrinsically feel like something are – wait for it – feelings, which is to say sensations. So, I concluded, to be conscious is nothing other than to live in the presence of sensations – “the thick moment” of sensation. And what makes the experience of this moment so specially feelingful? My answer (how brazen I was) was that what’s intrinsic doesn’t need explaining. Sensation is something the subject does – essentially a kind of bodily expression in response to stimulation – and to do this simply is to be conscious. It certainly doesn’t depend on a secondary layer of introspection. It’s just a fact. Pre-propositional.

Now that I’m sixty I’ve had to recognise that this is clearly nonsense. The idea that the intrinsic quality of something going on in our minds could communicate directly.. Clearly the quality has to be observed before it can have any effect. I was right to start with. If consciousness is central to our sense of self – as clearly it is – it has to be representational – a matter of what we think about what’s happening in our minds. Otherwise how could it possibly connect to all the other thoughts that make up our story of being us (what’s more, how could it possibly be explicable, even in principle - a scientific explanation shows how a statement follows from another statement).

So that’s why I made the move I did in Soul Dust, to re-introducing the idea of “theatre”, and of sensations as a “show”, observed by the “self” (whose very properties as a self are partly created by the show). I may not have used the word co-terminous in Soul Dust to describe how the self comes to have a wider remit than just being the subject of sensations, but I did devote several pages to discussing just this isuue – how the self gets unified.

You say some of my ideas are pretty loose and speculative. I freely admit that my suggestions about how sensations actually acquire their illusion-generating properties, as an outcome of feedback loops that devlop into attractor states, is no more than a first stab at how it might work. Nonetheless the core idea of consciousness as theatre is not loose at all.

Now, how about the US or an army division? As I said in my first post, I don’t think it’s impossible for such a group entity to enjoy phenomenal consiousness. It’s just that I can’t see any reason to suppose that it does so at the moment. You may be right to suggest that some of the necessary elements are in place. But this doesn’t mean they actually do the trick. As I discuss in Soul Dust, animals had non-phenomenal sensations before they had phenomenal sensations. I guess the US may have be already having something equivalent to nonconscious sensations, but not yet the conscious kind.

Nicholas Humphrey said...

Sorry for the lapses of my previous post (written too fast and too soon after getting out of bed). Having re-read Eric’s post, I realise I’m more in agreement with him than I made out.

I think he’s right that the structural elements for consciousess could be in place in an army division: that’s to say, (a) there could be a command HQ that receives information from scouts at the periphery and responds to it with the equivalent of an emotional expression, (b) this could change the way the scouts report what’s happening, so that feedback loops get set up, ( c) the evolving information could be displayed on a screen at HQ, where observers continuously keep an eye on it, ( d) because of the feedback the picture might soon begin to look rather complex – indeed it might begin to look “like something”in Nagel’s terms. Then, I agree, the observers at HQ could indeed be having a phenomenal experience. But what I can’t agree with is Eric’s suggestion that all this is already in place.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Nick, for both of your very thoughtful and helpful responses! If you're feeling patient, I would be inclined to nudge you just a bit more.

Presumably, a literal display screen in HQ isn't necessary, since there is no literal display screen in the human case. So what would be needed? If all that's necessary is some place where the peripheral inputs come together and generate controlling outputs in reaction, that would seem already to be present. I suppose you probably want to see something more than that for the stage/spectator condition, but it's still not entirely clear to me what more and thus not entirely clear whether the army division case would satisfy it.

I'm also not sure what would be "the equivalent of an emotional expression". If it's enough to have a pattern of central reactions and commands that lead to something like withdrawal and avoidance (by the division as a whole) and preparedness to fight or flee in the face of perceived danger, that would also seem already to be present. If we're allowed to count the emotional expressions on commanders' faces and in their prosody and the effects that is likely to have on subordinates, that is already present too. And since human beings are complex and human communication is complex, I suspect there will already be quite rich feedback loops here, in realtime conversations.

So exactly where to go with this, I think, depends on how liberally you're willing to apply the stage/audience metaphor and the idea of an emotional reaction. If you're willing to go as liberal as what I've just suggested, then I suspect some actual army divisions already qualify, if they have rich enough HQ-scout communications systems. If you're more inclined to be conservative, then I worry that you might end up excluding some of the simpler perceptual modalities of small mammals, which I think you would prefer not to do (although I don't read you as adamant on that point).

Nicholas Humphrey said...

Eric, it’s you who are being patient!

You ask me to enlarge on what I mean when I say sensations are “staged”. As I explain in Soul Dust, I believe our primitive ancestors got to know what was happening at their body surfaces by monitoring their own emotion-laden responses to the stimuli (“sentition”, as I call it). And I go on to suggest this is what we’re still doing when we experience sensations today, only the responses are now “virtual responses” inside our heads. So, yes, I do want to retain the idea of there being a “show” that is observed by the subject - though I’d agree there doesn’t have to be a literal display screen. With the army division, I think this “staging” condition could be satisfied by there being a place in HQ where intelligence officers assemble all the information about how the division is actually responding to external provocations, and make a reading of this to assess what’s actually going on at the periphery – a reading which is then instrumental in guiding their recommendations for the division’s next moves.

But the question is what would make their reading of this information have phenomenal properties? Only, I’d say, a very careful tweaking of the feedback loops to bring about this precise outcome – and this is only going to occur if recommendations for the next move that are influenced by phenomenality are more successful than those that aren’t. Perhaps divisions that believe in their own conscious souls outcompete other divisions.

But here’s another problem for the idea that this could actually happen or already has. Years ago, Dan Dennett in his paper, “Fast Thinking”, suggested that it could just be that certain functional states which can be realised by biological brains, simply couldn’t be realised by anything less than a biological brain – because the compactness and interconnectivity of the brain allows for extraordinarily rapid development of activity. True, a modern computer could emulate such fast thinking, but I’m not sure an army division could. And, without it, the feedback loops might never achieve the heights of becoming states with the requisite phenomenal properties.

Charles T. Wolverton said...

Prof H -

phenomenal properties [arise from] tweaking of the feedback loops [and only] occur if recommendations for the next move that are influenced by phenomenality are more successful than those that aren’t.

In an attempt to identify functions for which phenomenal experience is indispensible, the best I've been able to come up with so far is that it may provide a delay in the "sense-determine response-effect response" feedback loop. This is consistent with my guess that responses for which speed is the primary requirement - eg, ducking an incoming missile - are largely, perhaps totally, independent of phenomenal experience whereas the determination of some responses may need to be slowed down to allow for more time for "deliberation". Your quote above seems to be along similar lines, although you express the distinction in terms of success rather than response time. Are we aligned on this?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Nick! I am finding this very helpful. I think I'm still confused about one central point, though. What is it to have "recommendations for the next move that are influenced by phenomenality"? It seems to me that either this builds in an unanalyzed notion of phenomenality, which was the very concept I thought we were trying to explicate in other terms, or (more charitably?) it builds in the notion of self-ascription of phenomenality. But I worry in the latter case about what that involves. Infants and non-human animals don't seem to explicitly self-ascribe phenomenality. So either they aren't conscious or self-ascription of phenomenality is something other than an explicit move requiring a sophisticated "theory of mind". I wonder, then, how self-ascription of phenomenality (or whatever nearby thing you are referring to) is to be analyzed for, say, a rabbit. And the question is whether that analysis would sweep in army divisions without too much strain.

I do think that if the criteria for consciousness are stringent enough to exclude rabbits and babies, then you can probably similarly exclude army divisions and the USA. The problem, as I see it, is finding plausible materialist criteria for consciousness that include rabbits and babies (and various plausible types of hypothetical aliens) and yet exclude all actually existing informationally sophisticated, well-structured human groups.

On speed: Recently Andy Clark and Chris Eliasmith have both appealed to speed of processing as a reason to think consciousness stays inside the head. But it's hard to me to see why speed per se should matter. Availing myself of the philosopher's prerogative of weird hypothetical cases, couldn't we imagine a slow-paced conscious alien? What seems important isn't speed per se but sophistication of processing, and I don't see why that couldn't be slow, nor why an army division couldn't engage in loopy processing as sophisticated as, if slower than, a rabbit's processing of tactile sensations on its back.

Nicholas Humphrey said...

Eric, You’re pushing me to reveal the whole plot of my book!In it I discuss various levels at which experiencing phenomenal consciousness can change an individual’s “psychology” . The point I insist on, to start with, is that consciousness doesn’t underwrite any new cognitive skills, it doesn’t enable you to do things you COULDN’T do otherwise; rather, consciousness is motivational, it encourages you to do things you WOULDN’T do otherwise. It s primary effects are on self-development ... on your sense of who you are and your relation to the world around you.

How so? In the case of humans, at least, I argue for the following:

(i) In the process of becoming and remaining conscious, in the simple pleasure of being there, you discover a new purpose in your own existence.. you develop a will to exist – a will to live

(ii) By projecting your conscious sensations out into the world, you coat the world out there with a kind of fairy-dust. you enchant the world – with your own feelings, the things are singing your song

(iiI) When you reflect on where this magic comes from, and realise it’s yours, and yours alone, that you are the enchanter, you come to think of yourself – and others too -- as spiritiual beings.

Now, to go back to the questions in your last comment. Of these three levels of effect (or affect), only the third requires thoughtful self-ascription (and is indeed probably limited to humans). The first two can and, I’m sure do, work unconsciously (!) in both nonhuman animals and humans to influence how individuals relate to the world and each other. Could these work for an army division as much as for a rabbit? Yes, certainly the first two (you yourself in an earlier comment raise the question of an army division expressing joie de vivre).

On the question of what exactly phenomenal properties are, and what’s so special about them as to have these effects, of course I haven’t got all the answers yet. But I make what are I hope a few plausible suggestions in the book, discussing in particular the kind of thing happening before your inner eye that could give you the impression that you’re living in “thick time”. And, since you ask, I don’t see why, in the case of the army division, the agents in HQ might not be driven by the information they’re receiving to experience a temporal illusion of this kind. Then I can imagine various ways this might influence their recommendations for the division’s next moves.

Coming back to your larger project, to decide whether a materialist theory of consciousness such as mine entails the counterintuitive possibility of group consciousness, then at the end of this interesting discussion on your blog, I’d say, Yes it does. I can live with that as a possibility. But for the various reasons I’ve given, I doubt it’s yet the actuality anywhere here on Earth.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks once again, Nick, for your thoughtful and detailed reply! I think I'm getting a better feel for your view. At this point, further progress might require beverages, I'm inclined to think. I hope we'll have that chance before too long.