Archive for the ‘Consciousness’ Category

Dennett on Dennett at Philosophy Now

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Dan Dennett

Parts 1 and 3 of Dennett’s autobiography are available as free online articles from the magazine Philosophy Now. Link to Part 1. Link to Part 3.

Excerpt from part 1:

My wife and I sailed to England in the summer of 1963. I carried with me an idea I had had about qualia, as philosophers call the phenomenal qualities of experiences, such as the smell of coffee or the ‘redness’ of red. In my epistemology course at Harvard with Roderick Firth, I had had what struck me as an important insight – obvious to me but strangely repugnant to those I had tried it out on. I claimed that what was caused to happen in you when you looked at something red only seemed to be a quale – a homogeneous, unanalyzable, self-intimating ‘intrinsic’ property. Subjective experiences of color, for instance, couldn’t actually owe the way they seemed to their intrinsic properties; their intrinsic properties could in principle change without any subjective change; what mattered for subjectivity were properties that were – I didn’t have a word for it then– functional, relational. The same was going to be true of [mental] content properties in general, I thought. The meaning of an idea, or a thought, just couldn’t be a self-contained, isolated patch of psychic paint (what I later jocularly called ‘figment’); it had to be a complex dispositional property – a set of behavior-guiding, action-prompting triggers. This idea struck me as congenial with, if not implied by, what Ryle was saying. But when I got to Oxford, I found that these ideas seemed even stranger to my fellow graduate students at Oxford than at Harvard.

Phact Check, Heck

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

How determinate can phacts – phenomenal facts – get? Can they be so determinate as to outstrip introspective access?

Does it make sense that there could be determinate aspects of phenomenology inaccessible to introspection? It strikes me as odd: I would have thought that phenomenology just was whatever is accessible to introspection. I’m curious what others think of this.

A take contrary to my own is due to Richard Heck (2007, pp. 129-133). Paraphrasing, Heck’s claim is as follows.

Whereas it is available to introspection that I believe of both my car and computer that they are gray, I cannot introspect the determinate contents of my perceptual phenomenology concerning the upper left and lower right patches of a 10 x 10 grid, even though my phenomenology has such determinate contents.

Heck doesn’t provide a visual aid, but I thought it would be fun to cook one up. Check out these patches!


Figure 1. Is it accessible to introspection whether the upper left and lower right patches are of the same determinate shade? Is it a part of your phenomenology that they are?

Heck Jr, R. G. (2007). Are There Different Kinds of Content? In B. McLaughlin & J. Cohen (Eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Mind (pp. 117-138). Oxford: Blackwell.

Swamp Mary’s Revenge: Deviant Phenomenal Knowledge and Physicalism

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

I’m pretty happy to be able to announce that I’ve got a paper coming out in Philosophical Studies. It’s “Swamp Mary’s Revenge: Deviant Phenomenal Knowledge and Physicalism” (linked file is a draft. The original publication will be available at

This paper grew out of presentations I made this year at Toward a Science of Consciousness in Tucson and at the University of Cincinnati “Churchlandpalooza“. These talks grew out of discussions from this here blog. See especially Wanted: An Actual Argument for the Knowledge Intuition and Knowledge Intuition Fight Club.

Anyway, have some abstract.

Abstract: Deviant phenomenal knowledge is knowing what it’s like to have experiences of, e.g., red without actually having had experiences of red. Such a knower is a deviant. Some physicalists have argued and some anti-physicalists have denied that the possibility of deviants undermines both anti-physicalism and the Knowledge Argument. The current paper presents new arguments defending the deviant-based attacks on anti-physicalism. Central to my arguments are considerations concerning the psychosemantic underpinnings of deviant phenomenal knowledge. I argue that only physicalists are in a position to account for the conditions in virtue of which states of deviants constitute representations of phenomenal facts.

And here’s why google Image Search is the best thing in the world (from the first page of returns on the search string, “swamp mary”:

There's Swampthing About Mary

There’s Swampthing About Mary from [link]

Beware of the Unicorn: Consciousness as Being Represented and Other Things that Don’t Exist

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Longtime Brain Hammer readers, if any are left after the long hiatus, may recall the many past and heated discussions of my “Beware of the Unicorn: Consciousness as Being Represented and Other Things that Don’t Exist”. What was once a blog discussion is now an article. It’s forthcoming in Journal of Consciousness Studies. 16(1). [link to draft file].

Abstract: Higher-Order Representational theories of consciousness — HORs — primarily seek to explain a mental state’s being conscious in terms of the mental state’s being represented by another mental state. First-Order Representational theories of consciousness — FORs — primarily seek to explain a property’s being phenomenal in terms of the property being represented in experience. Despite differences in both explanans and explananda, HORs and FORs share a reliance on there being such a property as being represented. In this paper I develop an argument — the Unicorn Argument — against both HORs and FORs. The core of the Unicorn is that since there are mental representations of things that do not exist, there cannot be any such property as being represented, and thus no such property with which to identify either being conscious or being phenomenal.


Pete Mandik, Sick, 2006

Consciousness Without Subjectivity

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Consciousness Without Subjectivity, the PowerPoint from my Toward a Science of Consciousness 2008 talk, appears in my updated talks section. This represents the 20-25 minute version of the talk. The version I’ll be presenting at Churchlandpalooza in May is scheduled for a two-hour slot. A draft of the paper should materialize from the ether sometime June-ish.

Also: There’s Swampthing about Mary.

Also also: Dave Chalmers has his pics up here and here.

A Mary-in-the-box-type story in Esquire

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Thanks, Franklin Scott, for emailing me the following:

I thought you’d appreciate this passage:

Never had a symptom. The pain came like a bullet out of the blue. I was alone when it started. My wife and my daughter had gone out. The pain is often described as the worst pain you can have. The pain was so severe that I would have welcomed anything to relieve it — including death. I wasn’t going to fight it. I look upon death as a part of living, just as some trees lose all their leaves in the winter and have them replaced in the spring. But at the same time, part of me was thinking, What caused this pain? Part of me was doing a diagnosis on myself — which, as it turned out, was correct. Aortic dissection. I’d written more articles about the condition than anybody in the world, and I resigned myself to having a heart stoppage. The pain didn’t teach me anything about the heart. It simply emphasized what I had already learned.

- Michael DeBakey, Heart Surgeon

February 28, 2008, Esquire

Type-Q Materialism

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Josh Weisberg and I just finished a draft of a paper that my wife likes to call “Avenue Q Materialism” but Josh and I call “Type-Q Materialism” [link to draft].

Here’s a chunk:

As Gibson (1982) correctly points out, despite Quine’s brief flirtation with a “mitigated phenomenalism” (Gibson’s phrase) in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Quine’s ontology of 1953 (”On Mental Entities”) and beyond left no room for non-physical sensory objects or qualities. Anyone familiar with the contemporary neo-dualist qualia-freak-fest might wonder why Quinean lessons were insufficiently transmitted to the current generation. Chalmers (1996a, 2003a) has been a prominent member of the neo-dualists, though he does not leave Quine unmentioned. Neo-dualist arguments proceed by inferring from an epistemic gap between the physical and the phenomenal to an ontological gap between the physical and the phenomenal. Chalmers sorts various materialist responses to these arguments as follows: Type-A materialism denies that there’s any epistemic gap in the first place. Type-B materialism accepts that there is an epistemic gap, but denies that the epistemic gap entails any ontological gap. Type-C materialism is like type-B materialism except it thinks the epistemic gap in question is only temporary. Type-Q materialism (Q for “Quine”), according to Chalmers (2003a), rejects the kinds of distinctions needed to formulate both the neo-dualist arguments and the type-A , type-B, and type-C materialist responses to them. Such rejected distinctions include the conceptual vs. the empirical, the a priori vs. the a posteriori, and the contingent vs. the necessary. Chalmers (2003a, 123) charges Type-Q materialism with being incapable of avoiding the problems alleged to arise for the types from earlier in the alphabet. The aim of the current paper is to argue the contrary point that Quineans are inoculated against these so-called problems. We spell out how Quinean allegiance to holism and pragmatic criteria for ontic commitment protect Type-Q materialism from the complaints of the qualia-freaks.


Free Dennett

Monday, January 14th, 2008

The following is from an email announcement sent by Shaun Gallagher:

The special double issue of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (Vol 6, #1-2, 2007) on Dennett’s heterophenomenology, edited by Alva Noë, is available for free download until the end of March at

The issue includes papers by Taylor Carman, Roberto Casati and Elena Pasquinelli, Jérome Dokic and Elisabeth Pacherie, John Drummond, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly, Uriah Kriegel, Eduard Marbach, Alva Noë, Jean-Michel Roy, Eric Schwitzgebel, Charles Siewert, Gianfranco Soldati, Evan Thompson, Max Velmans, and Dan Zahavi; and a response by Dan Dennett.

Also the most recent issue (Vol. 7 #1, 2008), a special issue on Moral Phenomenology, edited by Uriah Kriegel, has just been published.

Subjective Colors Online

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Benham’s Top or Benham’s Disk involves the elicitation of a perception of colors by a rotating stimulus that is itself only black and white. A terrific online demo is available at this link [here]. My own experience is that at relatively high speeds, the inner bands are yellowish and the outer bands are blueish. Reversing the direction of rotation results in the colors switching locations.

Benham's Top

Tip of the Tongue, Iceberg

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

In his recent post “Echoes of Inner Speech“, Eric Schwitzgebel reflects on the phenomenological differences between inner speech and the apparently lingering non-speech thoughts that follow episodes of inner speech. As the comments to the post evidence, it’s natural to wonder here to what degree the various relevant mental phenomena - thoughts, etc. - are language like. How “speechy” is so-called inner-speech? How language-like are so-called non-speechy thoughts?

It strikes me as relevant to compare such phenomena to the phenomenon of a name on the tip of one’s tongue. There’s a clear sense in which the name is “there” even though it’s not there in the way it would be if you were silently saying the name to yourself. It’s also clear that what ever is “there” has to be pretty language-like, since what’s on the tip of the tongue is a name, after all.