Thursday, February 18, 2016

Phenomenal Consciousness, Conceptualized as Innocently as I Can Manage

I've been reading Keith Frankish recently. For example, this. Frankish appears to deny the reality of phenomenal consciousness, a.k.a. "qualia" or "what-it's-like-ness".

"Phenomenal consciousness" does sound like a bit of a suspicious concept. The terminology is technical and recent, for one thing. That invites the idea that phenomenal consciousness is a new concept invented by philosophers, and culturally specific. And that in turn invites the idea that in talking about it, we're talking about some odd sort of theoretical concoction, not a foundationally important aspect of human life.

Furthermore, philosophers wax oddly mysterious when they talk about it. Sometimes they say that it can't be defined, only gestured at or expressed via synonyms. Ned Block, borrowing a phrase about jazz from Louis Armstrong, tells us ("only half in jest"): "If you got to ask, you ain't never gonna get to know" (1978/1983, p. 241).

Despite all this air of mystery, I think the idea of phenomenal consciousness is simple and obvious, once you stop to think about it -- and probably would be so across cultures (though I'll admit that's speculative).

You have sensory experiences. Of course you do. Maybe you have the experience of seeing a computer screen. Maybe you have the experience of hearing someone making noise down the hall. Maybe you have the experience of the taste of coffee lingering in your mouth. Consider some vivid and obvious ones.

You have imagery experiences too. Imagine your house, as viewed from the street, if you can. Or think of the melody of Beethoven's Fifth ("da da da DA, da da da DA"). Or say this very sentence silently to yourself in inner speech.

You've had emotional experience also, I'm sure -- panics of fear, thrills of joy, the quiet pleasure of mellow contentment.

This isn't necessarily an exhaustive list of types of experience, but I think this is enough to give you the idea. There's something that sensory experiences, imagery experiences, and emotional experiences have in common. They're experiences. Dream experiences have this too (even though in some sense you're not "conscious"). At the same time, there are other things going on inside of you that you don't in the same way experience -- immune system response, for example, or the processes by which your fingernails grow. There are also other facts about your mind which you don't normally experience, such as your propensity to say "blue" when asked your favorite color (and let's assume that you aren't being asked right now), or your general, not-currently-relevant preference for vanilla over chocolate. Sensory, imagery, and emotional experiences have something obvious in common, which makes them different from all these other things. The term "phenomenally conscious" refers to that obvious feature they have in common. When you try to describe these experiences to someone else, there are facts about what those experiences are, facts that you are trying to get right -- facts that you might feel like you are struggling to put into words.

Neologism is helpful here not, I think, because the concept is new or strange but rather because folk usage is messy. "Experience" can mean that you've acquired some skills or undergone some events in the past, as in the phrase "I have some teaching experience". The words "consciousness" and "awareness" invite trouble if we hear too much of an epistemic dimension in them: To say that one is conscious of something or aware of something seems to imply that you know something about it, but we might not want to build any suggestions of transitive knowledge into our concept of consciousness. Personally, I like the phrases "conscious experience" and "stream of experience". I think those phrases convey the idea well enough. But for extra clarity, among those philosophers who like to make fine distinctions, the phrase "phenomenal consciousness" also serves.

Frankish suggests, in his 2012 article linked above (I'm not sure he's still committed to this), that demonstrative definitions of phenomenal consciousness by means of example -- that is, definitions of the sort I've just tried -- must fail because philosophers have different accounts of the underlying nature of such things (for example, some philosophers think we are directly aware of properties of our experiences, while others think that at least in sensory experience we are instead directly aware only of the properties of outward objects); but as Frankish acknowledges, disagreement about the fundamental nature of things is compatible with referring to them in common -- as for example ancient people and modern astronomers were both able to refer to "stars". Pushing farther, Frankish endorses Gareth Evans's view that identification of spatio-temporal particulars requires being able to track them in egocentric space; but that's quite a dubious commitment to take on board, especially in this context.

Frankish suggests -- and also Jay Garfield, in his recent book on Buddhist philosophy -- that the modern philosophical concept of phenomenal consciousness imports dubious notions, such as ineffability or infallible knowability or immateriality, which make it fail as a concept. But I don't see how a bare demonstrative account of the sort I've given, in terms of positive and negative examples, involves any such dubious philosophical commitments. Of course, one could define "qualia" or "phenomenal properties" in a way that commits to such matters, and sometimes philosophers do so, but my own aim is to avoid such commitments, keeping open as much as possible, while still pointing at the obvious thing that all conscious experiences have in common that makes us want to classify them together as "conscious experiences".

There are, I think, two main issues that I do not keep open. One is that there is some obvious common feature of most or all of the intended positive examples have (the various sensory experiences, imagery experiences, and emotional experiences) and which the negative examples lack, which we can take to be the target of the phrase "phenomenal consciousness". The other is that there are facts about what these experiences are, which in our introspective reports we are trying to get at. These assumptions are not entirely philosophically innocent; but I hope they are plausible enough. I can't make do with fewer.

There is one further thing that I will commit to here, of some philosophical significance. It's kind of the flip side of openness. If I have succeeded in conceiving of phenomenal consciousness with a high degree of metaphysical innocence, then there ought to be nothing built into the notion of phenomenal consciousness that rules out various wild metaphysical views such as idealism (the view that only mental things exist, and not anything material) or even radical solipsism (the view that the only thing that exists in the universe is my own mind). And indeed, I do think that there's nothing incoherent in the supposition that there might only be phenomenal consciousness and nothing else. Some philosophers -- maybe Frankish and Garfield among them? -- would like to rule out idealism from square one, would like to say that the very idea of mentality already presupposes the idea of something beyond the mental, so that idealism, and maybe also less radical views like dualism, are conceptually incoherent. If my minimalist conception of phenomenal consciousness is correct, however, there is no such easy path to the rejection of those metaphysical positions.

[image source]


P.D. Magnus said...

I'm not sure that idealism is left as an open possibility. The negative part of your characterization mentions other stuff which isn't included in phenomenal consciousness. This seems to presuppose that the other stuff exists; i.e., the characterization would suffer from presupposition failure otherwise.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Interesting point. But two responses: (a) if such stuff exists, it might exist in the way that idealists think that stuff exists, i.e., not as physical; or alternatively (b) couldn't I just add "if such things exist" as a qualifier on the negative examples?

David Duffy said...

Imagery is a slippery one. You left open the fact that individuals vary in their powers of imagery, and often have false beliefs about the information content of such experiences. So perhaps the subjectivity and ineffability are already sneaking back in.

howie berman said...

I can think of difficulties with taking experience as a given, a few should be hard to deal with: first, experience must be interpreted, which assumes a framework of interpretation, which may imply something out there called life or even the world.
If you assume it doesn't exist in time and things in time are stories that must be interpreted, even if you try to pin down an experience into it's pictures having sense and reference, you must point to an outside world and also assume meanings which also point at mind and symbolic systems which go beyond experience
I think that epistimelogically experience is independent, but ontologically it cannot exist independent of other aspects of reality, which is problematic

Josh Weisberg said...

Hey Eric!

A couple of questions:

1. A minor point. It kind of sounds to me like this is a descriptive definition. "Whatever sensory, imagery, and emotional experience have in common." You might even construe this as a topic-neutral definition or some such. That would keep it innocent! But I take it you intend something beefier here.

2. Is your characterization compatible with Frankish's Dennetian idea of "zero qualia"--simply those properties which dispose us to report or form beliefs of certain kinds (something like that...). Or is it more commitall than that?

3. Do you allow that down the road we might discover (decide?) that there is no single property that sensation, imagery, and emotional experience have in common? Maybe there just seems to be one, given our present state of knowledge, but as we learn more about the mind/brain, we may revise our view?

4. Relatedly, might we think there is one sort of property now that is shared by the things on your list, but discover later that it's another sort of property altogether? (I don't see why this would be ruled out, but I'm trying to get a feel for it...)

Scott Bakker said...

Another excellent post! A different way to frame your argument (the way I would) is to simply list all the things the information (somehow) accessed lets you do.

In this sense, you're not all that far from Frankish, I think, save that he would take the further step of saying that none of these things are 'real' in the sense that natural kinds are real. (This is the kind of thing you only admit to after several pointed emails!) ;).

As I always argue there's a theoretically systematic way to understand the power of this approach, one with real empirical and abductive wheels: heuristics. By focussing on the kinds of problems that the information phenomenology (somehow) provides actually can and cannot solve in everyday usages you are delimiting the cognitive ecology of 'experience talk.' (25 centuries of abject confusion is actually an important data point, in this regard). Taking the standpoint *of* this ecology, as you do, Frankish's eliminativism is going to sound obviously wrong. Taking a standpoint *on* this ecology, however, and his eliminativism becomes quite obvious.

François Kammerer said...

Nice post, Eric. I just would like to point something that may seem peripheral in your reflection, but which I think may happen to be quite crucial (just to make things clear: I just had a quick look at this precise paper by Frankish, so maybe I am off topic).

You say: "Frankish suggests [...] that the modern philosophical concept of phenomenal consciousness imports dubious notions, such as ineffability or infallible knowability or immateriality, which make it fail as a concept. But I don't see how a bare demonstrative account of the sort I've given, in terms of positive and negative examples, involves any such dubious philosophical commitments. Of course, one could define "qualia" or "phenomenal properties" in a way that commits to such matters, and sometimes philosophers do so, but my own aim is to avoid such commitments, keeping open as much as possible, while still pointing at the obvious thing that all conscious experiences have in common that makes us want to classify them together as "conscious experiences"."

>> It seems quite crucial to your "neutral" approach to phenomenal consciousness that you reach consciousness through a purely ostensive definition. However, mental ostension can be of two sorts: either (1) it is accompanied (maybe implicitly) by a characterization (for example, with the help of a sortal concept) which tells us what "kind" of thing we are currently demonstrating, or it is not (2), in which case this ostension has to rely on a purely recognitional capacity that our brains happen to possess (I see no other possibility, though there may be one that I have not taken into account).

In case (1), that would mean (in my mind) that our introspective representations of phenomenal states all characterize phenomenal states as having something in common; and in virtue of this common characterization, we would be able to demonstrate "phenomenal consciousness", and we would have a certain grasp of what phenomenal consciousness is (though 1/ it may be a purely implicit, pre-theoretical grasp; 2/ It would not mean that we ultimately know what phenomenal consciousness is). But if our introspective representations provide such a characterization, then we need to know the nature of this characterization before we can say that it indeed brings "no dubious notions". After all, some people, such as Derk Pereboom, states that our introspective representations deeply mischaracterize phenomenal states, by ascribing them some qualitative features that they do not have. Maybe Frankish himself would like to embrace such a position. I personnally tried to defend such a view (

In case (2), that means that through introspection we have absolutely no grasp of what phenomenal states have in common, but that we simply happen to make classifications that group these states together. Our brains put the same "label" on all those states, but this label is in no way cognitively significant for us (for example, it does not have a rich inferential role in virtue of which it could be some cognitively relevant content). But then, two problems arise. The first is that such a view does not seem to account for our grasp of phenomenal consciousness, which is not so "empty" and "blind" (proponents of a "purely recognitional view" of phenomenal concepts famously faced this problem). The second is that, if our grasp of phenomenal consciousness is so "empty" and "blind", then I see no reason to believe that our demonstrative grasp of phenomenal consciousness gives us anything more than what Frankish calls "zero qualia" (properties that causally dispose us to apply some introspective representations).

François Kammerer said...

In one word: my remark amounts to saying that stating that we can indeed have a purely ostentive approach to consciousness is in no way obvious. When we try to think harder and what this purely ostensive approach to consciousness may actually be, we face all sorts of problem, which I am not sure can be solved.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Wow -- very helpful comments! Thanks a lot folks!

Howie: Yes, as soon as you start to conceptualize and label experiences, I agree, lots of room for error and presuppositions. Your point at the end about the split between epistemology and ontology is a nice way of capturing what I'm aiming at. I think we can keep the ontological questions epistemically open at the beginning of inquiry, when we've only gone as far as labeling the phenomenon of interest. There's nothing in the labeling itself that commits to (much) ontologically -- for example materialism vs. dualism vs. idealism.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...


On 1: Yeah, an important issue to get clear about, and on which I maybe wasn't as clear as I should have been. It's not just "whatever X, Y, and Y have that A, B, and C lack". There will be many things. It has to be the *obvious* thing. So it's not neutral, and it depends on there being some obvious feature/property that is shared. So yes, in that sense "beefier".

On 2: It think it's an ontologically/metaphysically open point whether conscious experience turns out to in fact be constituted by dispositions to judge. If so, then something like a Frankish/Dennett view would be correct as a positive account of consciousness. (However, it's not my favorite positive account.) But I disagree with the negative move that Frankish makes -- that *other* approaches fail because they rely on a defective notion of qualia. I think some such other approaches might fail (especially classic qualia of the early 20th-century type). But I'd hope that a substantial proportion of "Type B" theorists and non-materialists could accept something like the account I've offered above. For example I don't think it's so different from some things that Block has said. (He doesn't *leave* it with the Armstrong quote.) Maybe it's a little harder to reconcile with versions of Type A materialism that try to achieve their Type A-ness by seeing the concept of phenomenal consciousness as not metaphysically innocent.

On 3: That would be surprising, but I wouldn't rule it out.

On 4: Yes. To figure out what *kind* of property it is is to engage in theory. We might be radically wrong. Compare "being a star". I think it's quite likely that the folk conception of consciousness does build in some problematic commitments, like irreducibility to the material and like a sharp-boundaried you-have-it-or-you-don't. So I'm not saying "use the folk concept with all its commitments". Again compare stars: Maybe the ancient concept involved all kinds of commitments about their nature, their movement, whatever. But there was something in common among most of the things pointed to, which we can capture with a relatively innocent "being a star". (The might have pointed to some planets too, which nicely illustrates that you don't have to be 100% right in your examples to still have a usable definition of this sort.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

As usual, Scott, I think you and I aren't too far apart -- and neither are Frankish and I too far apart -- though we frame things rather differently, and I think aren't *entirely* in agreement. I do think there's a "natural kind" (probably fuzzy bordered) that we are getting at when we talk about "conscious experience" or "phenomenal consciousness"; but *what* that natural kind amounts to, if we were to really figure it out, might be radically different from what we thought it was. (Compare again the ancients on "stars".) Maybe that radically different thing turns out to be that information presents with phenomenal character to play a kind of heuristic role in our cognitive ecology.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Francois, that's very useful. I think I'm approximately with your option 1. But I don't think we need to know the nature of this characterization -- not in any problematic sense of "knowing its nature", anyhow. I'll have to check out your paper! (Maybe you could send. I tried following the link and then wanted to ask me for a Facebook connection or similar.) My thought is that we do kind of implicitly already know what these things have in common. We just don't have a really clear label for it -- although "conscious experience" is already a *pretty* clear label. I'd probably add Pereboom to the people I'd disagree with on this point, along with Frankish and Garfield. I don't think the concept needs to have problematic stuff built into it. I agree with Pereboom that we can be radically mistaken about the phenomenal character even of currently ongoing experiences carefully attended to, but I don't see how this ruins the possibility of ostensive definition.

François Kammerer said...

Thank you very much Eric for your answer! My point of view is that, even though you don't want to put anything theoretically laden in your label "phenomenal experience", given that this label relies on an ostensive definition, which itself has to rely on a characterization of what phenomenal states have in common provided by our introspective representations and/or our phenomenal concepts, if such a characterization is itself theoretically laden (and I think it is - and even if you don't think so, I think you may admit that this is at least an open possibility without begging the question) then we cannot approach phenomenal consciousness in a way that would be both substantial and unproblematic.

In a nutshell: my own view is that our introspective representations/phenomenal concepts (it does not really matter here) fundamentally characterize phenomenal states as having special epistemological properties; more precisely, as states that are in a very special epistemic relation with the subject who has them. When I represent an experience, I represent it as "appearing", in a way, to the subject who has it (I cannot think of an experience that would not appear to a subject, of an experience that would not be "experienced" by someone or something, even if this can be a very minimal subject : I think this is something Frege and Kant famously noted, even though they did not interpret it as a point being primarily about our introspective representations) ; more importantly, I represent it as being such that something that appears exactly in the same way to the subject simply is the same experience (I cannot think of something that would appear to a subject exactly like an experience X without being the experience X).

I think that these characterizations are "included" (though they are not explicit of course) in our introspective representations of experiences. We have a grasp of what it is, for something, to be an experience, because we implicitly grasp that, for something to be an experience, it has to be (maybe amongst other things) something that is in such an epistemic relation with a subject of experience. But I also think that, if we grant that, then it means that our introspective grasp of experiences (on which your ostensive definitions has to be based) is not devoid of any problematic commitment, as it characterizes experiences as states that, for example, are not open to an appearance/reality distinction (and for various reasons it makes them at odds with physicalism).

Of course, I guess that at this point of the dialectic of the debate you may simply deny that our introspective representations of experience includes such an implicit characterization (though I personally think it is quite intuitive: I really cannot make sense, for example, of something that would appear exactly like an experience of pain to a subject without being an experience of pain). Fair enough! Nevertheless, I think that I could at least object to you the following: if you want to argue that we can have a fully neutral grasp of phenomenal consciousness, given that this grasp has to rely on ostension which itself relies on our introspective characterization of consciousness, then you should tell us what this characterization is (and at least gives us some reason to think that it is not problematic itself - which is not so obvious that we could take it for granted).

(I send you the paper I talked about by email, in case you want to have a look at it)

Unknown said...

With idealism, why is imagination so rudimentry (imagine your parked car - ok, what's reflected in the windsheild? Nothing - it was a fudged over detail) as opposed to reality (and all the detail reflected in your cars windscreen)?

chinaphil said...

I think I can agree with all that, but I'd question whether phenomenal consciousness is a useful concept or a natural kind. If I take a Dennett-style view that consciousness is a trick - or more accurately a collection of tricks - then I can accept both of the conclusions which you seek, and yet still not see consciousness as worthy of investigation.

"There are, I think, two main issues that I do not keep open. One is that there is some obvious common feature of most or all of the intended positive examples have..."

Here I'd say, sure, there is an *obvious* common feature, but it is obvious, not true. We see this feature because we happen to be made this way, but in fact there's no reason to think that the thing our brain perceives to be obvious (i.e. we have a unified consciousness) is in fact true.

"The other is that there are facts about what these experiences are..."

Again, I can accept that, and simply say: I predict that once these facts are known, we will find that the experiences do not form a natural kind or any kind at all, and in fact cannot be grouped in any way other than the fact that we experience them all.

If your argument holds, as I understand it you have shown that one can create a valid concept which corresponds to "phenomenal consciousness". But concepts are cheap. The important bit surely must be to show that a concept is interesting and useful. And I don't think this argument can do that, while remaining innocent.

Ned Block said...

Eric, your conceptualization of phenomenal consciousness as the obvious feature that is in common to certain sensory, imagery and emotional experiences and absent from other cases has some advantages. And I agree with you against Frankish that disagreement about the fundamental nature of consciousness is no bar to conceptualizing phenomenal consciousness via your method. Although Pete Mandik is right that reliance on obviousness does build in something epistemic, I don’t see what is wrong with building in something epistemic so long as it doesn’t amount to smuggling in the concept of phenomenal consciousness itself. But there is a more serious problem with your characterization: there is more than one obvious property in common to the cases you mention, notably cognitive access or at least accessibility, what I call access-consciousness. As we consider the cases you mention, the taste of coffee, the sound of the melody, etc., we have access to various qualities of these experiences. We can talk about them, think about them, decide on the basis of them, etc. And this common core of access is obvious. Further, we have no access to the immune system responses you mention as negative examples.

I think that there can be phenomenal consciousness without actual access. And maybe there can be phenomenal consciousness even without accessibility. But these cases can be verified only in experimental situations so they won’t do for the kind of intuitive characterization that you are looking for. I think the attractiveness of your characterization depends on a prior understanding of what obvious feature of the examples you are indicating, the phenomenal feature.
Your characterization has the same problem as Searle’s famous definition: “Consciousness, so defined, begins when we wake in the morning from a dreamless sleep - and continues until we fall asleep again, die, go into a coma or otherwise become "unconscious." Cognitive access or at least accessibility normally accompanies phenomenal consciousness. Of course Searle uses the term he is defining in the definition and you don’t, so that is an aspect of superiority of your method of examples. But putting that difference aside, you and Searle both suffer from too many common properties to the positive cases. Further, Searle’s definition is superior to yours in one respect. He is relying on all the conscious experiences that take place in a day whereas you are relying on a list of examples. If we list the experiences that we recall having recently, they will all be accompanied by a lot of cognition including higher order thought just in virtue of the fact that we have to have all that cognition in order to list them. So your definition brings in further conflation of phenomenal consciousness with cognitive phenomena.
You motivate your characterization by saying you want to avoid the appearance of “talking about some odd sort of theoretical concoction, not a foundationally important aspect of human life.” Yes and I agree that phenomenal consciousness is not a theoretical concoction. Nonetheless conceptualizing phenomenal consciousness does require abstracting away from one aspect of the mind, the cognitive access aspect, in order to focus on the phenomenal aspect. And it is that requirement of abstraction that fuels the idea that phenomenal consciousness is a theoretical concoction. I don’t think your characterization—or any characterization—can insulate us from that suspicion. Still, I think we can do better than "If you got to ask, you ain't never gonna get to know". Phenomenal consciousness is the basis of the explanatory gap; it is what Mary learns; and it is what is morally worst about suffering.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for that helpful comment, Ned!

I agree with most of what you say, but I have a complementary set of worries: to use the explanatory gap and/or Mary to point out phenomenal consciousness might build too much theory into the project. Pointing to it as what's morally worst about suffering risks tagging too narrow a range of phenomena; and I could imagine someone disputing what the basis of the moral badness of suffering is. (Barbara Herman once said to me, if I recall, that what makes suffering morally bad on the Kantian view is that it interferes with rational thought. Maybe I'm misremembering or oversimplifying!)

In response to the concern about whether I tag too narrow a range of phenomena, by going after the most vivid or memorable ones: I confess to that as a potential problem, but I don't think it's a fatal problem. Searle assumes a "rich" or "abundant" view of conscious experience on which we have constant tactile experience of our feet in our shoes, never have non-conscious phases while doing habitual activities like driving, etc. I don't think it's obvious that that's true. Everyone agrees about vivid cases with attention, though, so those are the cases I want to use to flag the concept, leaving the feet-in-the-shoes question open. Those vivid cases do have something obvious in common, I think -- they are experienced -- and then the question is whether peripheral or unattended sensory states also can have that same thing.

A comparison point (not perfect, since "square" is decompositionally definable): Imagine that I define "square" for you by using positive and negative examples. These here are squares; these here are rectangles, rhombuses, triangles, incomplete figures, etc. Now there will be some features in common among all the square examples -- maybe I've drawn all them on the left, all the non-squares on the right. But we trust the person not to latch onto *that* feature as the defining one, or a merged concept of "squareness-plus-leftness" or "squareness-plus-my-pointing-to-them". In a similar way, I hope that people will latch onto the obvious concept of "conscious experience" rather than "conscious-experience-with-cognition-about-that-experience" -- especially since I am trying to point generally to "sensory experiences", "imagery experiences".

It is true that all the examples I point to are both examples of phenomenal consciousness and examples of access consciousness, but (1) I think/hope/trust that phenomenal consciousness is the more natural and obvious of the two categories, the one most *obvious* thing that they have in common. It's what's really striking and interesting! Access is more of a functional psychology notion. And (2) the phrases that I use to generalize from the specific examples, like "imagery experiences", "sensory experiences" seem more naturally read has having the phenomenology as the common surface factor than as having actual or in-principle access as the common surface factor (even if they mostly or always are also in-principle accessible, on some theories).

The concerns you raise are legitimate worries which trouble me to some extent too. But I think they don't defeat the minimalist approach I favor.

Scott Bakker said...

Now I'm confused, Eric! Understanding phenomenal consciousness in 'metaphysically innocent' terms amounts to understanding consciousness in a folk pragmatic manner, which is to say, relative to a certain cognitive ecology. The issue of accessibility is implicit in this insofar as it actually references the kinds of things we can usefully say about phenomenal consciousness. We can argue the specifics of the cognitive ecology involved, the kinds of problems human cognitive access to human conscious experience is adapted to solve, but the notion that such an approach risks "further conflation of phenomenal consciousness with cognitive phenomena" simply begs the question against this way of approaching the problem of consciousness. For one, it presumes there is such a thing outside of folk-pragmatic ecologies our limited metacognitive capacities are (obviously I would argue) adapted to solve.

It's precisely when you take the accessibility issue seriously that you can begin mapping the heuristic limits of that accessibility, stop asking information geared to solving practical problems to somehow solve theoretical problems. By my lights, Ned's basically arguing that you need to leap into crash space!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

But Scott, I don't think we want to make it an analytic or conceptual truth that what you're saying is correct -- do we?

Here's what I think the "crash space" idea should amount to: Consciousness is characterized *without* assuming, as a matter of definition, that consciousness is about information access, brains, efficient heuristic processing, etc. Then your and others' arguments (if successful) show that it comes down to such things. If the theory is just built in from square one, right into the definition, there's no surprise and nothing to "crash".

My thought is: We point to the folk psychological thing, "conscious experience". In this pointing out, we *leave open* how right or wrong folk psychology is about that thing. Admittedly, if folk psychology is *so* wrong that there's not even something important in common among imagery experience, sensory experience, etc., that could be the target of the pointing, then the definition fails. But in a way, that would be consistent with this approach, too: One could say "here's the ostensive definition, and it turns out that even so minimally conceived there's no natural kind that satisfies it".

Scott Bakker said...

Eric: This is a nice way of putting it. I've been puzzled by your noncommittal approach before, I know, because I know your sympathies and I wasn't sure what you gained, dialectically, posing issues in this way.