Continuing my discussion with philosopher of mind David Rosenthal, we now focus on consciousness itself. There are two plausible theories, says Rosenthal: that consciousness is an “inner sense” or that it is a kind of thought. He argues for the latter, claiming that awareness is a “higher order thought”: that is, a thought about a mental state. When we are conscious, according to Rosenthal’s theory, all that’s going on is that we are having a thought about the mental state we are in. Notice that, since you’re not usually having a thought about your own awareness (unless you’re a philosopher), your consciousness is not itself usually conscious. He fills out the details of this theory and defends it against some objections.
Rosenthal spends the second half of the episode arguing that consciousness has little to no utility. He speculates as to why this idea seems so intuitively repugnant, and as to why we might have developed consciousness despite its lack of utility.
0:45 – Conscious versus unconscious perception
4:45 – Awareness: inner sense
6:06 – Awareness: higher order thought
15:19 – Regress of higher order thought?
17:32 – Disposition to higher order thoughts
22:13 – Consciousness has little or no utility
29:12 – Why did we develop consciousness if it’s not useful?…
Suppose you see a round red ball. This appearance of redness and roundness – what is it?
David Rosenthal, a philosopher of mind, lays out two ways of approaching “mental qualities”. There is the consciousness-based approach, which posits that only consciousness gives us access to perceptual “qualia” like color and smell. And there is the perceptual-role approach: the view that we know about mental qualities through their role in perceptual discrimination. Rosenthal argues for the latter and develops a “quality space theory” to describe what mental qualities are in these terms. Along the way, he discusses subliminal perception and priming effects, the “undetectable inversion” hypothesis (basically this idea), and why he thinks there is no “hard problem of consciousness” at all.
0:20 – Intro to David Rosenthal
1:02 – Consciousness based approach to mental qualities
7:23 – Perceptual role approach to mental qualities
9:55 – Immediacy?
13:32 – First v. third person access
20:22 – The hard problem of consciousness
31:13 – Subliminal perception and priming
40:15 – Quality space theory
45:49 – Undetectable inversion hypothesis