New paper (comments and criticism welcome): Consciousness and the Indeterminacy of Introspection

Consciousness and the Indeterminacy of Introspection

This is the first draft of my qualifying paper for Wash U. I got a revise and resubmit, so I am looking for feedback on how I can improve. It was already suggested to me that I am trying to do two things in the paper: (1) create a narrow argument that has results for higher-order theorists in particular and (2) create a broad argument that has results for anyone trying to reductively explain nonintrospective phenomenal consciousness. I was told I should pick which path to take. Right now I am leaning towards the broad argument since it is much more interesting (and potentially significant)  and it would allow me to engage more with panpsychist views (which I only talk about in footnotes), but I’d be interested in hearing what other people thought. Here’s the abstract (which will have to change once I revise the paper but it gives you a general sense of what I am doing in the paper):

“Since it is widely recognized to be difficult to define phenomenal consciousness, theorists might use introspection to “point” to the phenomenon in order to fix upon what most needs explaining. However, there is a well-known methodological problem built into introspection – the “refrigerator light problem” – that prevents us from gaining introspective access to what we most want to explain in some theories of consciousness. To deal with this, some theorists simply stipulate criteria for pointing out the phenomenon that needs explanation. However, I argue that the most common stipulation strategies pose problems for Higher-order theories of phenomenal consciousness because they inevitably cast their net wide in ascribing phenomenal consciousness to nonhuman organisms. If I am right, then there are repercussions for how we understand the phenomenon that needs explanation when setting up the problem of consciousness.”

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “New paper (comments and criticism welcome): Consciousness and the Indeterminacy of Introspection

  1. It strikes me as a brilliant paper, but I only have passing familiarity with Rosenthal and the HO crowd. It strikes me that from a publication point of view, you’d be better served by fellow natives as opposed to a tourist such as myself.

    But given your acquaintance with Heidegger, I’m sure you’re sensitive to the problem of conceptual path dependency, and thus the value of reconceptualizing problematics. Has anyone ever picked up on the parallel between the thin/thick dilemma and the Orwellian/Stalinesque dilemma that Dennett offers in “Time and the Observer”? Since I think Dennett misconstrues the dilemma I’m not at all interested in recapitulating his argument as offering you a quite different way of interpreting the ‘refrigerator light dilemma.’

    In both cases, the problem is that the experiential element in question – introspection or the two-colour phi phenomenon – lacks any access to the information required to distinguish between competing scenarios. This is a *problem* on the traditional way of thinking through these issues. In my view, these aren’t problems so much as they are clues.

    So consider the account of introspection you arrive at, one that makes as much as reveals what it is supposedly accessing, leading you to a bipartite notion of consciousness, one that tries to make a virtue of the dilemma: door-closed consciousness versus door-open consciousness. As ingenious as this is, my guess is that it will simply add to the controversy rather than provide any decisive way out.

    But note the one (I would argue) noncontroversial thing the refrigerator dilemma allows you to say: that introspection suffers from *informatic neglect.* Nowhere, in the information provided by introspection, do we find information pertaining to the *limits* of the information provided. If we did, the refrigerator light dilemma wouldn’t be a dilemma at all.

    Introspection is blind to the limits of introspection (as it has to be, you could argue). But then, if this is the case, all the ‘richness’ that philosophers are prone to attribute phenomenal consciousness when savouring, etc. becomes *very* difficult to understand (even as the apparent ieffability, privacy, irreducibility, etc., becomes easy to understand). Informatic neglect means that what introspection finds ‘rich’ could in fact be informatically impoverished: it means, in other words, that we have no way of assessing the *wattage* of the refrigerator light-bulb. (This was what I was driving at with the inverted refrigerator dilemma I pitched you a couple months back).

    This is the approach Blind Brain Theory takes: crudely put, instead of looking at our deliberative access to conscious experience as an example of *turning the lights on,* you look at it as *turning the lights off,* as peering through an informatic gloom you can’t recognize as such for lack of comparison – neglect. Then, taking the mechanistic brain revealed by the sciences as your interpretative baseline, you can begin interpreting all the puzzles and conundrums that have so plagued philosophy of mind as ARTIFACTS OF MISSING INFORMATION, as what happens when our environmentally oriented cognitive systems find themselves welded to a single informatic perspective in a crowded, almost totally dark room.

  2. VicP

    Scott: I’m reading Crick’s book and on p196 he discusses “winner-take-all” learning networks which may explain your “Lamps Instead of Ladies Problem”. What this has to do with Gary’s introspection problem is one of possible three-fold problems.
    #1Introspection may be done by co-opting alot of our visual mechanisms which entail several functions including muscle functions so we tend to “focus” and overfocus etc. The paradigm of “light” in a refrigerator is a good psychological example. Expert gourmets and wine tasters introspect because they are skilled at paying attention to and controlling the excitory and inhibitory functions of tasting and olfactory neurons through HO thoughts.
    #2Complexity and layering of the neocortex and associative integration of the visual system makes introspective language complex and lead to alot of misunderstanding and “talking past each other” between HO and FO theorists.
    #3Consciousness may be more being or body based so that brain activity is built up on something fundamental i.e. Cogito, “what it is like” etc. So when we discuss awareness in the brain, there is a time threshold set by the body so certain qualia responses do not fit the awareness criteria.

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