Subjects distinct from me must have non-experiential causal grounds distinct from me. Plausibly, these distinct causal grounds are physically distinct (or so I argued in “Evans, Experience, and Abiding Causal Grounds“) Subjects distinct from each other must be physically distinct from each other (or so I argued in “Dualism, Physicalism, and Spaceballs“) However, the previous remarks leave open the question of where subjects are. In other words, just because subjects are individuated spatially, doesn’t mean that their spatial locations are identical to the locations of the physical processes that constitute their individuating properties. For example, a version of externalism may be correct whereby the supervenience base of Smith’s mind is larger than his brain, but that leaves open the possibility that Smith’s mind and brain are located in the same place.
One place where the question of the location of subjects is brought to a head (pun intended) is in Dan Dennet’s thought experiment in his famous “Where Am I” article. In brief, the thought experiment involves having your brain separated from your body, but your brain remains in (remote) control of the body via radio links. While viewing your disembodied brain with your remotely (yet self-) controlled eyes, you are invited to contemplate: where am I?
The thought experiment helps show, 1 that its not obvious that we should identify the subject’s location with the brain’s and 2 what a plausible alternative is, namely that the subject is where it seems to the subject to be. Another way to describe the two main options is in terms of vehicles and contents. That the subject be located 1 where the vehicles of the mental representations are, namely in the brain or 2 where the contents of the mental representations say the subject is, namely where the (perhaps brainless) body is.
In his “Locating Subjects of Experience in the Natural Order” (available as a video podcast here), Rick Grush argues for the latter view. As he puts it in an abstract, he is
“arguing that the subject is primarily a content-level phenomenon, roughly, the subject is implicitly defined or determined by the contents â€“ including perceptual and experiential â€“ jointly grasped. And because many of the contents grasped have implicit and explicit location information built into them, the subject determined by these contents has its location determined by the location-relevant aspects of those contents.”
One thing I find problematic with such a view is that it involves the identification of what something is (in this case, with what its location is) with how it is represented. Or, more briefly, it identifies something’s being F with its being represented as F. I think this notion is deeply problematic and one of the main problems I have with it is that I think nothing can consist in its being represented. A very brief argument for this view goes as follows. We can represent things that don’t exist. But failing existence, those “things” instantiate no properties whatsoever. Thus, representing is not property confering. Nothing instantiates a property in virtue of being represented. (I say more about this line of thinking in my â€œUnicorns and Monitoring Theories of Consciousnessâ€)
Now, this line of argument against representation being property-conferring is only denying that representation bestows properties onto the intentional objects of representations. I do not wish to deny that representations themselves have properties. Nor do I wish to deny that representations have contents. What remains, then, is the view that whatever representational content amounts to in terms of properties, it amounts to properties of the representations. It seems, then, that the preferable choice in answering “where am I?” is the vehicular choice: the subject is where the brain is.
Fig 1. Photograph by Pete Mandik. Who is where his brain is.