Wednesday 8 November
Thursday 9 November
How rich is the illusion of consciousness?
François Kammerer (ENS, Institut Jean Nicod)
Illusionism is the thesis
according to which phenomenal consciousness is an illusion: it
does not really exist, even though it introspectively seems to
exist. This thesis has many advantages; it notably strengthens
the physicalist view of the mind, as it avoids the difficult
task of trying to locate phenomenal consciousness in the
physical world. Illusionism has found some prominent defenders
amongst contemporary philosophers and scientists.
Here I will presuppose that illusionism is true: phenomenal consciousness is an introspective illusion. We can then start to wonder: what kind of illusion is it? I will focus on one aspect of this question: is the illusion of phenomenality a rich illusion or a sparse illusion? In a rich illusion, the illusory object is “positively” presented with some inexistent features; in a sparse illusion, the illusory object is presented in an incomplete way, but not in a positively incorrect way (that is, it is presented with no inexistent features); however, the partial presentation of the object then leads us to wrongly infer the presence of inexistent features (and/or the absence of existent features).
I will first present illusionist theories of consciousness (focusing on Dennett’s and Graziano’s). I will then explain more precisely what I mean by “rich” and “sparse” illusions, and I will show that the most popular illusionist views of consciousness (including Dennett’s and Graziano’s) are sparse-illusion accounts. I will then give an argument against sparse-illusion accounts: I will try to show that they have trouble accounting for our strong intuitive reluctance to accept the truth of illusionism, and the purely physico-functional nature of our internal states.
Modelling opportunities for mental action
Tom McClelland (University of Warwick)
The fact that consciousness is for guiding action comes out vividly when we reflect on our conscious experience of opportunities for action, or ‘affordances’. Properties like being catchable figure in our experience precisely because sensitivity to such properties helps us to engage with our environment. One of the most striking features of these properties is that, strictly speaking, they are neither properties of our environment nor of ourselves. When the brain models an affordance it models a relation between ourselves and the world. To see the ball as catchable, for example, is to see it as standing in a certain relation to your ability to catch. Reflecting on affordances thus serves to show not just that consciousness serves to guide action, but that it does so by modelling the self and its place in the environment. Affordances have been the topic of research in a wide range of disciplines. Although our understanding of opportunities for action and their place in conscious experience has been greatly improved by this research, it faces a considerable limitation. Throughout the considerable literature on affordances the afforded actions that theorists discuss are, with only a few exceptions, bodily actions such as gripping, walking or eating. This paper presents the hypothesis that we are also sensitive to affordances for mental actions such as attending, imagining and calculating. I suggest that by expanding the scope of affordances we will be in a better position to capture the action-guiding function of consciousness, the full diversity of conscious experience and the place of higher-cognitive capacities in our self-models. Although this ‘Mental Affordance Hypothesis’ is ultimately answerable to the empirical evidence, a variety of phenomenological and theoretical considerations strongly suggest that we are appropriately sensitive to opportunities for mental action.
What do zombies lack?*
James Blackmon (San Francisco State University)
Can we conceive of philosophical zombies — that is, of beings physically identical to us in both constitution and behavior but lacking consciousness? An affirmative answer is taken by many to support dualism. But what is this property that philosophical zombies are supposed to lack? Is it a property that makes any physical difference in our lives at all? Are we not physical detectors of our own consciousness? And if we are, then how is it that zombies can be our physical duplicates when they do not act as we would act had we not been conscious, but as we do act because we are conscious? I will argue that these considerations show that the zombie arguments come at a significant cost.
The Absurdity of Taking
Consciousness Too Seriously
Enoch Lambert (Tufts University)
Taking epistemic gap arguments seriously actually demands a far more lavish fundamental ontology than their proponents consider. Exactly how lavish, though, doesn't seem to be decidable via the introspective data that motivate the gap arguments to begin with. This style of argument is intended as a reductio ad absurdum of such arguments. It also speaks in favor of illusionist approaches to consciousness by disarming the objection that such approaches simply deny the manifest data of consciousness. Empirical approaches need not be cowed by the Hard Problem of consciousness.
Why do we doubt that elephants are giant, extremely conservative persons?
Don Ross (University College Cork)
Jennan Ismael generalizes a model of the relationship between mind, selfhood and personhood, shared with Dennett and various other philosophers, under the label of the ‘Self-Governance Model of Personhood’ (SPG). According the SPG, language is necessary for ‘full’ personal selfhood. In the paper I inquire into the properties of language that endow it with this status, and explore (without pronouncing upon) the extent to which it is also a sufficient condition, by asking why most philosophers are confident that no non-human animals have personal selves. To focus the discussion empirically, I consider the facts as they are currently known about elephant communication and sociality. I suggest that our best reasons for doubting that elephants are persons are not based on knowledge that they lack language, knowledge we do not currently have. The reasons are rather based on elephants’ lack of enduring cultural/symbolic scaffolding. I consider the in-principle possibility, made less far-fetched by the development of deep learning algorithms, that people could potentially supply elephants with the missing symbolic ecology that is arguably necessary for personhood.
Self-consciousness from within — A developmental approach
Anna Ciaunica (Universidade do Porto/University College London)
Laura Crucianelli (University College London)
The question whether subjective conscious experience is a mere gloss on the top of a sophisticated bodily machinery designed to survive and reproduce, or something more, has long-time fascinated both philosophers and scientists. Self-consciousness, the feeling that our experiences are bound to the self — as a unitary entity, the “I” — is considered to be one of the most astonishing features of the human mind. Famously philosophers argue that it is possible to imagine a world in which my body behaves in exactly the same manner I behave in this world, yet without any subjective conscious experience inhabiting it. A “zombie” me, so to speak (Chalmers 2006). In this paper we will leave aside the ontological implications of these thought experiments and focus instead on one basic yet overlooked aspect of self-consciousness and perceptual experiences in this particular world, i.e. the fact that human beings start their journey into their experiential life within the body of another experiencing subject. Indeed, not only do my subjective experiences not occur in a vacuum — they are given to me through my body — but more crucially, my bodily experiences emerge from the outset within an other’s experiencing body. We discuss some implications of this overlooked relational and primitive aspect of our embodiment on current debates on the nature of self-awareness. We focus on touch as paradigmatic example of perceptual awareness, i.e. as fundamental point of contact of an experiencing subject with the external environment. We suggest that endorsing a developmental perspective in addressing the nature of subjective conscious experiences might shed additional light on current debates on the relational nature of self-awareness and ultimately consciousness itself.
Being somewhere: A situated account of minimal phenomenal selfhood
Raphaël Millière (University of Oxford)
The sense of self or self-awareness is perhaps the most difficult aspect of conscious experience to account for in a naturalistic framework. In recent years, however, new clinical and experimental data from autoscopic phenomena and full-body illusions have contributed to refine our understanding of embodied aspects of selfhood. On the basis of these data, it has been suggested that self-identification to a body, self-location in space and the geometrical first-person perspective are necessary and jointly sufficient for the simplest form of self-consciousness, which has been labelled “minimal phenomenal selfhood” (MPS). In this paper, I review and criticize this hypothesis. Firstly, I summarize the available evidence regarding autoscopic phenomena and full-body illusions that led to the threefold distinction between self-identification to a body, self-location and the first-person perspective. Secondly, I argue that self-identification to a body is not a necessary condition for self-consciousness. Thirdly, I suggest that the notion of “first-person perspective” is ambiguous and may refer to at least two different aspects singled out by autoscopic phenomena and full-body illusions, namely the experienced origin point of one’s visual and auditory reference frames, and one’s experienced orientation in absolute space. I subsequently argue that neither of these aspects are necessary for self-consciousness. Finally, I put forward a deflationary account of minimal phenomenal selfhood according to which it is reducible to the sense of spatial self-location. I suggest that the sense of self-location often has two components that are indistinguishable in ordinary conscious experience, but can come apart in specific cases, without disrupting MPS. However, there also appear to be conscious experiences in which the lack of experienced self-location mediates a loss of self-consciousness. I conclude by suggesting that the primacy of experienced self-location for self-consciousness is consistent with its evolutionary role for survival. For a self-modelling system, being someone is first and foremost being somewhere.
Import Theory: The social making of consciousness
Wolfgang Prinz (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences)
Import theories raise three major claims (cf. Prinz, 2017): (i) Conscious awareness builds on self-representation, (ii) selfhood is a social, not a natural kind, and (iii) selfhood is imported from others to self. Classical import theories are grossly underspecified. While various brands of export theories offer mechanisms to account for the putative transition from self to others, import theories have not much to offer to account for the putative transition in the reverse direction. This paper outlines a framework to close this gap. Key to the framework is the notion of action matching. This term addresses dyadic interactions for perception/production matching, i.e. matching perception of foreign action to production of own action and vice versa. The framework specifies both representational resources and social practices on which self-import through action matching relies.
Real seemings: Representing ourselves representing the world
Roly Perera (University of Edinburgh/University of Glasgow)
I explore the idea that perceptual “qualia” (seemings, appearances) are functional components of a reflexive model or theory that we deploy of our own perceptual relationship to the world. On this view human perceptual behaviour partitions into two distinct tiers of capability: representing the world, and representing ourselves in the act of representing the world. The latter equips me with a rich set of subpersonal, subsymbolic opinions about how the world appears from my perceptual vantage point, allowing “how things seem to me” to become part of the subject matter of my own behaviour.
Why should we believe that metarepresentational content of this kind is somehow sufficient for, or constitutive of, phenomenal consciousness? The claim is not that certain judgements made by the brain somehow become conscious solely (yet inexplicably) in virtue of being the object of another judgement. Rather, the suggestion is that, because first-order percepts represent the world, in a non-conscious way, from the perceptual vantage point of the organism, the organism which entertains a higher-order theory of those percepts entertains a theory of how the world seems from its own point of view. That is the subject matter of the theory. This second tier of theorisation thus gives rise to an “audience”: not an inner humunculus whose power of vision is the source of our power of vision, but a virtual agent who can not only see but can appreciate that it sees.
The Radical Plasticity Thesis: Consciousness is something that the brain learns to do
Axel Cleeremans (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Here, I explore the idea that consciousness is something that the brain learns to do rather than an intrinsic property of certain neural states and not others. Starting from the idea that neural activity is inherently unconscious, the question thus becomes: How does the brain learn to be conscious? I suggest that consciousness arises as a result of the brain’s continuous attempts at predicting not only the consequences of its actions on the world and on other agents, but also the consequences of activity in one cerebral region on activity in other regions. By this account, the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity to itself, so developing systems of meta- representations that characterise and qualify the target first-order representations. Such learned redescriptions, enriched by the emotional value associated with them, form the basis of conscious experience. Learning and plasticity are thus central to consciousness, to the extent that experiences only occur in experiencers that have learned to know they possess certain first-order states and that have learned to care more about certain states than about others. This is what I call the “Radical Plasticity Thesis”. In a sense thus, this is the enactive perspective, but turned both inwards and (further) outwards. Consciousness involves “signal detection on the mind” the conscious mind is the brain’s (non-conceptual, implicit) theory about itself. I illustrate these ideas through neural network models that simulate the relationships between performance and awareness in different tasks.
Attending to the illusion of consciousness
Krzysztof Dolega (Ruhr Universität Bochum)
Joe Dewhurst (University of Edinburgh)
Our aim in this paper is to integrate Graziano’s attentional schema theory into the predictive processing framework, in order to resolve deficiencies in both accounts. Whilst predictive processing is able to offer a functional description of some aspects of consciousness, it currently lacks a plausible explanation of the subjective quality or the phenomenal ‘feel’ of conscious experience. The attentional schema theory explains this ‘mysterious’ quality of consciousness as an epiphenomenal byproduct of the mechanism used to control top-down attention, a story that we will argue is well suited to the predictive framework. On the other hand, the attentional schema currently lacks concrete details regarding the way it should be formalized and implemented by neural processes. This weakens the appeal of the attentional schema hypothesis as it lacks the ability to predict how interventions on parts of the cognitive mechanism underlying the schema will influence and change conscious experience. The predictive processing framework can provide an attractive and empirically tractable way for filling in such detail. Once integrated, these two accounts can offer a plausible explanation of the supposedly irreducible and mysterious ‘feel’ of conscious experience, in terms of the attentional mechanisms responsible for determining the contents of conscious perception.
Explaining substantiality: The phenomenal self as an abstract salience object
Wanja Wiese (Johannes Gutenberg University)
This paper sketches an account that explains the apparent, but elusive, subjective quality of “substantiality” of the phenomenal self. It integrates two recent predictive processing accounts of the self with key ideas of Michael Graziano’s attention schema theory of consciousness. Similarly to attention schema theory, the present account posits an internal model of ongoing attentional processing that supports attentional control. In terms of predictive processing, it is a dynamic model of precision estimates that represents the salience of features, objects, and internal and external processes. The apparent substantiality of the self is then explained by a structural feature of this salience model: it binds different dimensions of salience by representations of higher-order dimensions of salience (just as more abstract object representations bind representations of perceptual features in predictive processing accounts of feature binding). The result of this salience binding is a phenomenally transparent &lquo;salience object”, which is represented as a cause of widespread changes in precision estimates, which is a form of epistemic self-control. Phenomenologically, this goes along with the experience of epistemic agency and in this way creates the origin of our consciously experienced first-person perspective: I attend, I am.
Predictive coding, perceptual content, and the experiencing subject
Tobias Schlicht (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Elmarie Venter (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
According to Predictive Processing accounts, the brain uses a generative model to issue top-down hypotheses about the possible causes of sensory input, compares these hypotheses with actual input and updates its model accordingly until prediction error is minimized. This bidirectional process operates on many levels of the processing hierarchy. It is supposed to be the overarching goal and unifying principle of the cognitive system to minimize prediction error either by perceptual updating or by acting upon the world to make the world match the hypothesis. Consequently, what we experience is not the world, “it is the predictions of the currently best hypothesis about the world” (Hohwy 2013, p.~48). The claim that the brain generates a model of the world and attempts to “get it right” by updating it based on sensory feedback gives rise to the issue of accuracy conditions for perceptual experience. This paper discusses the specification of accuracy conditions within the predictive processing framework. According to Recanati (2007), the accuracy conditions are determined not only by content (Searle 1983), but also by intentional mode (perceiving, remembering etc.). My perception of the tree in front of me is accurate if there is a tree in front of me and I am causally interacting with this particular tree right now. The accuracy condition is different for my remembering a tree. In this way, the subject may enter the specification of the accuracy condition in two ways, in the subject-sense and the object-sense (Shoemaker 1968). If Recanati is right, then in what way does the subject enter the accuracy conditions and how should this be captured in the predictive coding framework? We discuss various proposals from the recent literature, including the way self-models (Metzinger 2003) may help to address this point.
*This paper was accepted to the symposium but will not be presented.