Thursday, June 09, 2011

Four features of conscious states

A redated post.

Someone asked me for a definition of consciousness. J. P. Moreland's essay "Hume and the argument from consciousness" in Sennett and Groothuis ed. In Defense of Natural Theology (IVP, 2005) delineates some features of conscious states that he thinks they have.

1. There is a raw qualitative feel or a "what it is like" to hve a mental state.
2. At least many states have intentionality--ofness or aboutness--directed toward an object.
3. They are inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them.
4. They require a subjective ontology--namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them.

Now Moreland mentions a fifth feature, which I take it no physicalist is going to buy:

5. They fail to have crucial features (spatial extension, locatioin) that charcterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.

Now I take it this last one is not one that a materialist could accept. But the first four seem to me to reflect what consciousness is. I would add that consciousness is importantly unified, that there is single entity that possesses all of the relevant conscious mental states; something that ties them together.

I take it that this is the common-sense conception of consciousness, and to reject it would be to accept a revisionist position.

22 comments:

Jeff G said...

I'm not sure that I would include (1) within any common sense conception of consciousness. It all depends upon what you mean. Inasmuch as (1) is aimed at drawing a distinction between a-consciousness and p-consciousness, I reject it and, moreover, I think it ceases to be common-sense. I think that (1) has become so loaded with philosophical freight that it is impossible to appeal to common-sense in its defense.

Victor Reppert said...

Lots of philosophical freight can be built up around various things, such as the fact that I am looking at a computer monitor right now. I'm not sure that's sufficient to say that it can't be part of a common-sense conception.

For example, common sense tells you that if I am thinking of a number between 1 and 50, I KNOW what number it is, and a neurophysiologist, however well-informed, if he is not me, can only have inductive evidence as to what that number might be. If I tell you I'm in pain I know how much it hurts.

Anonymous said...

Victor, thanks for the clarification. I agree that Moreland's first four properties and your own criterion ("unity") are all features of an "internalist" or phenomenal description of conscious states. However, Moreland's fifth requirement seems to me to be both incoherent [what does it mean to be "described in physical language" anyway? many people (e.g. William Alston) regard "physicalism" as a meaningless label] and false [my own conscious states are clearly localized, in my head, behind my eyes].

In any case, an internalist description cannot help us answer the questions I posed: Are animals conscious? Why do we think other people are conscious? and so on. These are "externalist" questions, and in the passages you quoted in "I am not a selfplex" Blackmore and Pinker were clearly referring back to an externalistic description of conscious states, one predicated on the monist assumption that conscious states are correlated with identifiable brain states.

Now, I am aware that you believe the monist assumption to be an unwarranted one. But this does not alter the fact that the externalist picture of consciousness posited by Blackmore and Pinker is not the same as your internalist picture. There is no contradiction, as there is no reason why the two pictures should agree. Indeed, many situations have been documented in which an individual believes something to be true of the content of his/her own sensations, but diagnostic tests give contrary indications. Referred pain is but one example.

Anonymous said...

Why is there an assumption that consciousness is a "state"? That already seems to be a description of something physical-like.

Victor Reppert said...

I think we have to engage in analogical reasoning with respect to creatures other than humans. However, if we didn't know what we were comparing, we wouldn't know what analogy to draw.

Unless you are some kind of "incompatible language game" theorist, the internalist and externalist pictures are pictures of one reality. If there is a contradiction between them, someone must be mistaken.

Clayton said...

Does my table's power to hold up this laptop have extension or location? Or, consider a bridge in a weakened state--does its weakness have extension or location? What of my calculator's capacity or ability to calculate sums?

As a physicalist, I'd be willing to accept 5 because I accept 5 for paradigm physical objects.

Anonymous said...

VR wrote: "Unless you are some kind of "incompatible language game" theorist, the internalist and externalist pictures are pictures of one reality. If there is a contradiction between them, someone must be mistaken."

You are jumping to conclusions here. The essential features of any externalist picture (like those of any other scientific theory) are just the predictions it makes. Only if these predictions are at variance with our experience of consciousness will there be a contradiction.

As far as I am aware, no externalist theory of consciousness predicts that conscious agents will _experience_ consciousness in a non-unified way. So there is (at present) no contradiction. (Of course, no externalist theory has been developed that predicts what conscious agents experience at any level. So it is far too early to even speak of contradictions.)

Anonymous said...

"As a physicalist, I'd be willing to accept 5 because I accept 5 for paradigm physical objects."

Although I am skeptical of "physicalism" as a label, I also agree that theoretical entities lacking spatial extension or location pose no problem for the physical sciences. (Quantum mechanics, for example, is believed to be inherently non-local.)

Arguing otherwise seems to me to presume a quaint, pre-twentieth century view of materialism, and of the sciences in general.

Victor Reppert said...

Anonymous wrote: You are jumping to conclusions here. The essential features of any externalist picture (like those of any other scientific theory) are just the predictions it makes. Only if these predictions are at variance with our experience of consciousness will there be a contradiction.

As far as I am aware, no externalist theory of consciousness predicts that conscious agents will _experience_ consciousness in a non-unified way. So there is (at present) no contradiction. (Of course, no externalist theory has been developed that predicts what conscious agents experience at any level. So it is far too early to even speak of contradictions.)

VR: No, it's worse than that. These "externalist" pictures call into question the very existence of conscious agents.

Anonymous said...

VR wrote: "No, it's worse than that. These "externalist" pictures call into question the very existence of conscious agents."

I think you are reading too much into the externalist picture. Can you name any psychologist or theorist of consciousness who has stated openly that conscious agents do not exist? I do not believe that any current theory of the mind makes such a prediction.

Victor Reppert said...

They don't just typically deny consciousness. But they do often reject consciousness as we typically understand it. Dennett calls it Quining Qualia. Conscious states are not occurrent inner states, as common sense suggests, but are rather, perhaps, functional states picked out by causal relations.

Mr Veale said...

Anonymous

Could we argue that physical states can be mathematically measured in some way? And that this is not true of qualia?

Graham

Mr Veale said...

"The essential features of any externalist picture (like those of any other scientific theory) are just the predictions it makes."

?

I think that a few more necessary conditions apply to scientific theories.

Mr Veale said...

Wouldn't those "predictions" need to be measured in certain ways to count as scientific, for example?

Ilíon said...

To "define" something is to put it in terms of something else, in terms of what it is not. There are two ways to do definitions:
1) descriptive;
2) reductive (which is the assertion that the thing so "defined" is not itself real).

Anonymous said...

Two new articles relevant to the AfR:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/arts/people-argue-just-to-win-scholars-assert.html?_r=2

http://www.lastseminary.com/argument-from-reason/Libertarian%20Free%20Will%20and%20The%20Argument%20From%20Reason.pdf

Ilíon said...

The first is relevant in that it demonstrates the irrationality, and indeed the anti-rationality, of proponents of naturalism/atheism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

What is his argument that consciousness doesn't have these spatial properties?

Mr Veale said...

I don't think that Moreland offers any argument as a definitive proof. But, as one example, many conscious states are ineffable. They are impossible to describe artistically, nevermind mathematically.
Beyond a promissory note that we'll reduce qualia to intentional states, and then intentional states to physical states- "there'll be pie in the sky and materialists will tell us why" - I'm not really sure what reply the materialist has here.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

I'm not sure that the fact that we can imagine that such a reduction is logically possible can offer the materialist comfort here.

(Although if Chalmers is going to witter on about the conceivability of philosophical zombies, I suppose I can't blame the materialist too much. I'm not sure how persuasive these zombies are, but Chalmers seems to get carried away when he imagines something...)

Graham

Blue Devil Knight said...

Mr Veale I'm not sure that is really an argument that they don't have spatial properties. I don't see how that follows from the apparent ineffability of our personal experiences.

The logical possibility blocks entire antimaterialist research programmes from working. That's nontrivial.

Incidentally, looked at his article Victor cites: he assumes dualism is true.

Mr Veale said...

It would indicate that they cannot be reduced to spatial properties etc.

And my problem is with the move from "I can imagine" to "it is possible"

Graham