I’m working on a new paper, “Control Consciousness,” and will be serializing a draft on Brain Hammer over the next three weeks (posting on a MWF schedule). Here begins chunk one of nine. Enjoy!
We act, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. What does our acting consciously consist in? One hypothesis that will be useful to consider, though I’ll ultimately reject it, is that the conscious part of acting consciously always resolves into a more basic form of consciousness, namely sensory consciousness. Now, I don’t deny that sensory consciousness is often part of the story. When I consciously flip a fried egg without breaking the yolk or consciously attach a delicate component to a scale model, much of my complex mental state integrates what I see arrayed before me as well as what I feel in my skin and muscles. Nonetheless, despite acknowledging the role that perceptual input often plays in contributing to consciousness during episodes of controlled action, I’ll argue for the possibility of instances of conscious control that involve no form of sensory feedback (input?) either real or imagined. Also, I’ll argue that in all cases of conscious control, some aspect of the consciousness involves (in a relatively direct way) non-sensory signals.
The organization of the remainder of these posts is as follows. First, I’ll lay out the three main kinds of approaches to understanding control consciousness. The first is a pure perceptual model, which, to my knowledge, no one defends but it is instructive to see why such a simplistic model is inadequate. Further, the pure perceptual model aspires to an ideal of parsimony in the way it gives a unified account of sensory consciousness and so-called control consciousness: control consciousness is just more sensory consciousness. It will be useful to see how competing theories rate with respect to parsimony. The second is a model defended by Prinz (2007), which shores up the shortcomings of the pure perceptual model by positing a crucial role for sensory imagery. The third is a motor theory of control consciousness, a version of which I will defend. The central idea of the motor theory is to posit a crucial role for motor commands, here construed as neural output signals that are neither sensory inputs nor instances of sensory imagery. Next, I’ll spell out how the motor theory account of control consciousness is an offshoot of an account that also is adequate for sensory consciousness, an account I’ve spelled out elsewhere, especially as pertains to visual consciousness (P. Mandik, 2005; P. Mandik, 2008; P. Mandik, 2009). Finally, I’ll offer some explanations for why some have supposed there to be no distinctively non-sensory control phenomenology.
References for the series
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