Subjective Brain Ch. 4

Chapter 4 of The Subjective Brain, “The Neurophilosophy of Consciousness,” is here.

Excerpt:

THE STORY SO FAR: An account of consciousness needs, to get rolling, a credible answer to the question, “what makes this account an account of consciousness?” and appeals to (Deflated) Transitivity, (Deflated) Transparency, and WIL seem to best get us in the ball park. A physicalist account of consciousness is going to need to be a reductive physicalist account of consciousness. And if the reductive-physicalist account in question is going to make any kind of use of representation, it better do so in ways that don’t run afoul of unicorns and their inexistent brethren. It increasingly looks like we need a physicalistic representational account of consciousness that is internalistic. What internal things matter most? My bet is on brains. Time to start making good on the bet.

In this chapter I now turn to examine sample neurophilosophical theories of consciousness. I will raise problems for them to be solved in subsequent chapters where I develop my own neurophilosophical account.

In keeping with the remarks in chapter zero on the definition of neurophilosophy as well as the three questions of consciousness (the question of state consciousness, the question of transitive consciousness, and the question of phenomenal character), the discussion of this chapter will be centered on philosophical accounts of state consciousness, transitive consciousness, and phenomenal character that make heavy use of contemporary neuroscientific research in the premises of their arguments.

There are three philosophers whose work on the Neurophilosophy of consciousness I find especially illuminating to examine in concert: Paul Churchland, Jesse Prinz, and Michael Tye. Sections 1,2, and 3 will be devoted to them, respectively. Section 4 is devoted to initial contrasts and comparisons of the three thinkers. Section 5 is dedicated specifically to contrasts and comparisons regarding phenomenal character and section 6 discusses problems to be solved in subsequent chapters.

13 Responses to “Subjective Brain Ch. 4”

  1. Hey Pete,

    My response is kinda long, and so I posted it over at Philosophy Sucks!

    Is There Such a Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness?

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for the comments.

    The answer to the question of what makes the theories in question theories of consciousness is that they supply answers to the three questions of consciousness (what is transitive consciousness? What is state consciousness? And What is phenomenal character?). The answer to the question of what makes the theories neurophilosophical is that specifically neuroscientific considerations figure in premises of their arguments.

    I am puzzled when you write

    I don’t see how the neuro stuff is supposed to be a theory of consciousness. As I have said, it looks like spelling out ways of implementing the two standard (first-order/higher-order) representational theories of consciousness.

    If you are right that they are “spelling out ways of implementing the two standard (first-order/higher-order) representational theories of consciousness” then wouldn’t it follow that what their theories are theories of is consciousness?

    Also, I am puzzled by your assertion that on Churchland’s theory a conscious state “involves being aware of myself as being in a certain state.” What reason is there to believe that this is an entailment of Churchland’s theory? Is it supposed to follow from the description of the dynamical profile approach that you quote? I don’t see why it would. I wonder, though, if it is because you are assuming that attention is meta-representational. It isn’t obvious, however, that Churchland makes such an assumption. Churchland describes attention in terms of the priming and prejudicing of neural activation and the differential interpretation of inputs. I don’t see that that necessarily involves meta-representation.

    Likewise, I don’t see how Prinz is “discussing a possible implementation of the transitivity principle”. Again, maybe you are assuming that attending intermediate-level representations involves being conscious of intermediate level representations and thus having meta-representations of intermediate level representations. But the account of attention that Prinz endorses doesn’t require meta-representation. As I say, on the view he endorses, attention involves the modulation of flow of attention between different parts of the brain. Like Churchland, this involves the top down influence of higher-level areas on lower-level areas. But unlike HOT-heads, there’s no explicit requirement here that the higher-level stuff be also higher-order.

    I think, however, that a revised version of the chapter should draw this stuff about attention out more and discuss whether it’s meta-representational more explicitly. It does get some discussion in the remarks about Tye and attention, but I can agree thatA more should be said.

  3. Hi Pete,

    The answer to the question of what makes the theories in question theories of consciousness is that they supply answers to the three questions of consciousness (what is transitive consciousness? What is state consciousness? And What is phenomenal character?).

    My point is that in so far as they amswer these questions they do not appeal to any neuroscience, but rather rely on transitivity or transparency

    The answer to the question of what makes the theories neurophilosophical is that specifically neuroscientific considerations figure in premises of their arguments.

    Yes, but the neuroscience is appealed to not top support the theory of consciousness but to explain how the theory is implemented in a neural system…so again it is not specifically a neurophilosophical theory of consciousness.

    If you are right that they are “spelling out ways of implementing the two standard (first-order/higher-order) representational theories of consciousness” then wouldn’t it follow that what their theories are theories of is consciousness?

    No. The theory of consciousness is the first-order/higher-order stuff NOT the neuro stuff…you have not demonstrated (at least not yet) that these guys are using the neuro to GIVE a theory of consciousness rather than, as I have been arguing, to IMPLEMENT a non-neuro theory.

    You say

    They all agree that what will differentiate a conscious representation from an unconscious representation will involve relations that the representation bears to representations higher in the processing hierarchy.

    This sounds to me like an endorsement of transitivity…now, as for your claim that for these guys attention need not be ‘meta-representational’, so what? The point is not that they endorse Rosenthal, or Lycan, or Carruthers’ view of higher-order theory. The claim is that they endorse transitivity (or in Tye’s case transparency). Now, transitivity says that a conscious state is one that I am conscious of myself as being in (in some suitable way). ONE suitable way is by having a ‘meta-representation’ accompany the first-order state, but that is not the only way. A theory that endorses transitivity need not appeal to ‘higher-order’ contents as a way of implementing it (e.g Kriegal, Lurz both endorse a same-order account but yet still accept the transitivity principle).

    So, you say

    For Churchland , Tye, and Prinz, they all agree that what one is conscious of is the representational content of conscious states. In all cases what the subject is conscious of is what the representational contents of the conscious states are.

    And I assume that they are so conscious invirtue of attending to the representational states in question. So, again, there is nothing neurophilosophical about their THEORIES of consciousness…what is neurophilosophical, if anything is, is their argument for an implementation of one of the (only) two standard kinds of representational theories of consciousness…

  4. [...] There is no Such Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness For anyone interested, discussion of the previous post is taking place over at the Brain Hammer…. [...]

  5. Pete Mandik says:

    Richard,

    I am having a difficulty time seeing what your complaint is such that you are not contradicting yourself. You claim that these guys are not giving a theory of consciousness. You also claim that they are giving a theory of consciousness, just one that isn’t neurophilosophical. So I ask, which is it?

    I asked

    If you are right that they are “spelling out ways of implementing the two standard (first-order/higher-order) representational theories of consciousness” then wouldn’t it follow that what their theories are theories of is consciousness?

    And you answered:

    No. The theory of consciousness is the first-order/higher-order stuff NOT the neuro stuff…you have not demonstrated (at least not yet) that these guys are using the neuro to GIVE a theory of consciousness rather than, as I have been arguing, to IMPLEMENT a non-neuro theory.

    To which I respond, “No”!? So their theories are not theories of consciousness? So how would it be possible, then, for them to give a theory of consciousness that is constituted by the “the first-order/higher-order stuff NOT the neuro stuff”?

    Maybe you are assuming that something about supplying an implementation story prevents one from thereby giving a theory? On this reading of your complaint, it is because Prinz and Churchland are merely supplying an implementation of Transitivity that they aren’t really giving a theory of consciousness. But if this is the complaint, then Rosenthal isn’t giving a theory of consciousness either, since, as he explicitly states, the main reason for believing in HOT is that it gives an implementation of Transitivity.

    If your point is, instead that they do have theories of consciousness but “that in so far as they amswer these questions they do not appeal to any neuroscience , but rather rely on transitivity or transparency” then my point is that you have given insufficient reason for believing this. Now, there’s little dispute that Tye is a fan of Transparency, but even Tye’s theory is neurophilosophical, since the ability to explain and predict various things about visual agnosia and the neural correlates of consciousness are supposed to help support his PANIC theory of consciousness. Worse, I’m not seeing what justifies your interpretation of Prinz and Churchland as being committed to Transitivity. Not only do they explicitly reject it, there’s nothing in the theories they endorse that entails it.

    I am totally mystified how you think that Churchland and Prinz are endorsing Transitivity. Likewise, I am totally mystified how you get an “endorsement of transitivity” out of “what will differentiate a conscious representation from an unconscious representation will involve relations that the representation bears to representations higher in the processing hierarchy.” The claim that state consciousness depends on relations to representations higher in the processing hierarchy is logically compatible with the falsity of Transitivity. It would only entail Transitivity if you further assume that the relations to the higher level representations constituted being aware of oneself as being in such and such state.

    As to meta-representation, self-representation is meta-representation. This is because meta-representation is just representation of representation. So even same-order guys like Kriegel, are appealing to meta-representation. What I don’t see, however, is any evidence that Prinz or Churchland are appealing to meta-representation or anything else that would entail commitment to the principle that a state is conscious only if one is conscious of being in it.

    You write “I assume that they are so conscious in virtue of attending to the representational states in question. ” But as I’ve tried to indicate, neither Prinz nor Churchland commit to the view that attending representational states requires being conscious of the representational states. Attending to representational states just means, for them something like increasing the likelihood that those states will be activated (Churchland) or have their information routed to short-term memory (Prinz). Thus, no commitment to Transitivity is thereby expressed.

  6. *sigh* Pete, what I said is that the theory of consciousness that these guys give is not a NEUROPHILOSOPHICAL theory of consciousness, but is rather just the regular theories that are out there…this is in fact what Rosenthal position is. The theory of what a conscious state is is given by the transitivity principle, the implementaion of that theory is HOTs

    I don’t have time, at the moment, to work through the rest of your responses, but I still don’t see anything more than rhetoric here…what is the ARGUMENT that these guys are not just implementing transitivity? That they don’t want to be? shessh!

  7. One question:

    So, you are suggesting that I can attend to a state and not be conscious of the contents of the state? Then why do you say that attending to the state makes me conscious of the contents of the state?

  8. Pete Mandik says:

    One can be conscious of the content of a state without thereby being conscious of the state itself. I spell this out in chapter 2 in the argument attributed to Guzeldere on pp 60-61.

    So, one can attend to a state, be conscious of the contents of the state, but not thereby be conscious of the state itself.

  9. Yes, I know. That is Robert Lurz’s position…If anything this is a modification of transitivity not a rejection of it.

  10. Here is a quote from Robert’s psyche paper “Neither HOT nor COLD’

    I believe that there is another way to be conscious of one’s mental states which does not amount to being conscious that one has them and is, therefore, perfectly consistent with the truth of propositions 1 [Conscious mental states are simply mental states of which one is conscious], 3 [Animals have conscious mental states], and 4 [Animals are not conscious that they have mental states]: one can simply be conscious of what one’s mental states represent. My claim is that a creature can be conscious of its thoughts and experiences simply by being conscious of what it thinks or experiences in having those thoughts or experiences, and that its being conscious of what it thinks or experiences does not entail its being conscious that it thinks or has experiences.

    So how are the views that you present not a version of this kind of same-order account?

  11. Hey Pete,

    I am a little suprised to get back and find out that you have not responded to my challeneg…which I take to mean either that you don’t have a good response (I win) or that you think the response is to obvious to make…I prefer the former, but since I am feeling more charitable than usual I will assume that it is the latter :) to that end let me correct what I said.

    You say

    One can be conscious of the content of a state without thereby being conscious of the state itself. I spell this out in chapter 2 in the argument attributed to Guzeldere on pp 60-61.

    So, one can attend to a state, be conscious of the contents of the state, but not thereby be conscious of the state itself.

    I said “Yes, I know. That is Robert Lurz’s position”, which is not quite right. Robert accepts everything you said except the last bit…so Robert’s challenge to you is “why isn’t being conscious of the contents of the state a way of being conscious of the state?”

    Now the Guzeldere stuff is not an objection to this kind of view because the state in virtue of which one is conscious of the contents of first-order state are not the same as the first-order state. Crucially, the higher-order state will not have the content ‘there is a tree’ or whatever, but something like ‘I, myself, am seeing a tree’

    So, too, all the theories you discuss seem to me to be akin to this. Or at least you have not yet given any reason to think otherwise…

  12. ooopppsss I should have said “the contents of the state in virtue of which one is conscious of the contents of the first-order state are not the same as the contents of the first-order state”

  13. Intremil says:

    First-person reports/data method is of most importance for neuroscientific researches. Nonetheless, such a style, whose main field is “introspective phenomenology in studying brain basis of consciousness” has more than one shortcoming. I argue that training itself is a remarkable one, and to get rid of some of the weaknesses is to use data from untrained participants, at least for comparison. Good luck.