If you haven’t noticed, Graham Harman has been attacking Metzinger’s theory of consciousness for some time now. Although I do not totally agree with everything Metzinger has to say (he is an internalist whereas I am an externalist), I do agree with him that the self is not an object, but rather, a function. It is an operation rather than a thing or repository. Accordingly, over at Larval Subjects, I said:
Now, you can take issue with functionalism as an explanation of mind, but Metzinger is only taking it to its logical conclusion, so if you are going to fault him on this point, then you will need to also confront the huge literature defending functionalist explanations of the mind e.g. Global workspace theory, Dennettian multiple-drafts theory, etc.
In response, Graham Harman had this to say:
Nonsense. I can just as easily say “Metzinger will need to confront the huge literature defending substance e.g., Aristotle, Suárez, Leibniz etc.” And Metzinger doesn’t do this. Nor does he need to, especially. He makes a philosophical argument for why the self isn’t a thing, and it’s a rather feeble argument, one that can be dispatched in a few pages. You can’t send people to the library every time they corner you philosophically.
Harman doesn’t seem to realize that Metzinger is not the only one to present the “feeble” argument that the self is not a thing, but rather, a function. Julian Jaynes said the same thing. So has William James, Daniel Dennett, Bernard Baars, Jesse Prinz, Robert van Gulick, David Armstrong, William Lycan, just to name a few (out of dozens). Moreover, there are thousands of articles on Global Workspace Theory and Multiple Drafts theory, which Metzinger takes up and modifies in terms of his functionalist phenomenal self-model theory. Is Harman really that naive to think that he can “dispatch” decades of rigorous argumentation and scientific theorization in a few pages? Has Harman even read the necessary background literature to adequately critique functionalism as a theory of mind? Has he ever read Daniel Dennett? Or Bernard Baars? Does Harman realize that there are thousands of articles published in the field of consciousness studies every year? I find it humorous that Harman thinks he is competent enough to dismiss 30 years of functionalist theorizing as “feeble” when he doesn’t even have a detailed account of the mind, except to say that the mind is an object. They even have working computer models of consciousness as a function. Does Harman even have a competing theory of consciousness? Does he even have a working counter-definition of consciousness? Or any concrete critique of Metzinger’s testable claims about how consciousness functions? What is Harman contributing to the field? Does he realize that people like George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have been demolishing the idea that the self is literally an object for twenty years? Where does Harman get off feeling intellectually superior to Metzinger? Does he really think he has “cornered” functionalism as a theory of consciousness? Metzinger has at least made a concrete contribution towards investigating the hard issues related to mind and consciousness. Harman is stuck in the clouds, thinking that discussions of Leibniz and substance are actually relevant to contemporary models and explanations of consciousness and cognition. Until Harman is willing to actually read the literature, develop a working counter model of consciousness, or step outside his comfort zone of pure philosophy, I won’t take his critiques of Metzinger very seriously. If you want to read a real critique of functionalism, read someone like Ned Block or Thomas Nagel.