Chapter 3: What Does Consciousness Do?
- Naive model of intentional acts ... e.g.., catching a thrown ball
Misgivings about this model
- consciously perceive
- act on the basis of conscious experience
- interaction worries: "It means two mysterious conversions"
"In some ways, the better we understand brain function, the
worse the problem becomes." (p.37)
- "nerve firings in the visual system must somehow give rise to
a conscious experience"
- "the conscious experience must somehow cause more nerve
firings to direct the appropriate action" (p. 37)
- "In the nineteenth century, as physiologists began to
understand reflex arcs and nerve function, the problem loomed even
larger [than for Descartes].
- The more we know the more the the details the fewer the
unaccounted links in the causal change where consciousness might be
interjected, the more Huxley's claim that we are "conscious automata"
seems to be borne out.
- James objected (1890, 1: 38) "that 'to urge automaton-theory
upon us ... is an unwarrantable
impertinence in the present state of psychology."
- The more we come to know, however, the less the impertinent
it seems: "The ordinary view is that our subjective feelings and
conscious volitions cause our actions. Yet when we study the
intricate workings of the brain, there seems to be no room for them to do anything." (p.37)
The Role of Consciousness in Skilled Movements
- Our skilled responses -- returning a tennis ball, e.g.
- initial intuitive conviction that it happens as the naive model
- challenged by the speed of these responses
- never mind that they're mysterious, how is there time for all these m-b conversions?
- Empirical evidence -- there isn't time
- homely examples -- almost changing lanes when a car was in my
- I was veering away, I swear,
- before I was conscious of the car's being there!
- experimental evidence suggesting "a dissociation between fast
motor reactions and conscious perception"
- Would-be (neurology based) explanation: functionally dissociated
"visuomotor control" and "visual perception systems in the brain
- utilizing different neural stream in the visual system
- ventral: visuomotor
- dorsal: visual perceptual
- initially plausible ... much as the body reactively withdraws
my hand from the fire before the pain has time to register, so my body
proactively guides my racket before the visual experience registers it.
- Other experiments
- D.F. a visual form agnosiac
- seems unable to consciously
recognize a slot's (up, down, diagonal) orientation
- cannot draw a
picture correctly portraying this
- cannot adjust a comparison slot to the same angle
- yet she can quickly and accurately post a card through the
- The Tichener illusion experiment (p.42)
- the minds eye is fooled about the size
- but the reaching hand isn't
- "These findings suggest that conscious perception of the ball
depends on processing that is too slow to play a role in guiding the
fast catch. So although the causal sequence seems to be [as the naive model
says] we now know that it cannot be."
- Moral: be cautious in making claims about what consciousness does based on how it feels.
- Our privilege knowledge of consciousness -- if such there is
-- does not extend to its causes & effects.
Conscious and Unconscious Actions
Causal and Non-Causal Theories
- Dualist interactionism -- as advocated by Descartes or Eccles
& Popper -- "provides a simple and unambiguous answer to the
question here. The difference between the same action being
carried out either consciously or unconsciously is that in the first
case the [immaterial] self-conscious mind had a desire or intention and
caused the brain to carry out that intention by interacting with
it. In the second, the brain processes acted along without
interference from the self-conscious mind." (46)
- Higher Order Process (HOP) Theory: what makes a mental state or
process conscious is being
the object of an inner perception.
Being introspectively "seen in the minds eye" as it were.
- Higher Order Thought (HOT) Theory: what makes a mental state or
process conscious is is being the object of a higher
- previously I wasn't consciously
aware of the sound of the air conditioner: I was hearing the air
conditioner but not thinking "I'm hearing the air conditioner"
- but when my attention is called to it I think "I am hearing the
air conditioner" my so thinking (this higher order thought) is what
causes me to be consciously
- Blackmore's objections
- HOT theory would entail organisms incapable of something like
reflective self-awareness, thus denying the consciousness of many
(most?) nonhuman animals
- HOT theory might entail that mystical experiences -- which
mystics describe as not involving thought of any kind -- were not
- Functionalism -- for present purposes -- is the view that,
essentially, mental states and processes are, computational states and
- most find its accounts of intentional
mental states -- e.g., beliefs and desires -- most persuasive
- and its accounts of phenomenal
or qualitative states --
e.g., itches, afterimages, lemony-tastes -- least persuasive
- "When we ask what is the difference between actions carried out
consciously and those carried out unconsciously, the functionalist
would answer in terms of the different functions [data processes]
- Dennett: to be conscious a being must have "higher-order
information states that are about its other, lower-order informational
- so it's the addition of self-monitoring information processes
- a HOT theory with "information processes" for thoughts
- Modular v. central processing version (LH)
- unconscious processes -- e.g., knee jerks, burn-response,
fast-skilled-acts -- are special purpose peripheral processes
- conscious processes -- e.g., deciding what to watch on TV --
invoke general purpose central processes.
- like Descartes' interactionist theory with central processing
in the place of the soul
Global Workspace Theory (GWT)
- Baars: consciousness is "a facility for accessing, disseminating, and exchanging
information, and for exercising
global coordination and control" (1997a: 7)
- LH: Baars theory is a functionalist theory with the "global
workspace" being "central processing" (as I have been calling it).
- SB's objection: GWT doesn't solve (or even seem to engage) "the
- "His theory might be understood as a description of how
integration and global control of actions is achieved by a complex
brain, but then there is no need to bring in subjective experience as
well. ... We still do not know why there is something it is like to be a system
with a global workspace ...." (49)
- LH: This objection applies to functionalism, more generally,
and is the source of the aforesaid unease about functionalism's ability
to account for qualia.