Here, I'm not so much interested in Dennett's ideas on consciousness as I am in his ideas concerning privileged access.

 

I like the opening idea that there is the folk-belief among people that everyone is an expert on their own consciousness. After all, they have a direct relationship with their own consciousness, and this, thereby, makes them an expert on consciousness.

 

I'm not all that impressed with this talk -- not that it's not good -- but he really only presents one piece of evidence, and we are lead to the inference that we don't know our own minds only indirectly through that evidence. I was hoping for something a bit stronger.

 

I like though how he incorporates real time thought experiments into his work.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjbWr3ODbAo&feature=player_embedded

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Thanks for posting this; I watched it yesterday with interest (and was pleased that I was able to notice the changes in the pictures at least a little, and sometimes a lot, ahead of the median success rate). But it was interesting how the changes first did not seem to "exist," and then they became very apparent.

I also did not think his evidence was sufficient to demonstrate we do not know our minds, or that our minds can only be known indirectly (to the extent that first-person inquiry would not yield anything that could constitute "knowledge of" consciousness). I think it's clear that cognitive science has demonstrated that there is a great deal of mental processing that is unconscious or "inaccessible" to first-person perspectives, and the intersubjectivists and developmentalists have confirmed this in their own ways. But I don't think this rules out something like "mindfulness meditation" as a valid means of investigating consciousness. For instance, paying attention to "mind," one might become acutely aware of the extent to which we habitually talk to ourselves; we might become aware of patterns of thinking and story-telling that we had not previously noticed; we might begin to perceive subtle degrees of relationship between rates of breathing, rate of thinking, and emotional states; etc. This knowledge is not exhaustive, and it doesn't simply yield "reality in itself," but I believe it does yield a kind of knowledge which can be helpful, informative, and therapeutic (as mindfulness practice apparently is in the behaviorist school of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, for instance).
Jim, from the old IPS forum, commented to me that he'd read this thread and wanted to add that he felt Dennett would likely agree with my contention that mindfulness can nevertheless yield valid, useful knowledge. Here's what he said:

"...in a review of The Embodied Mind, despite some specific criticisms of the book, Dennett suggests that he himself 'could well be an Enactivist without realizing it.' In another review by Dennett of the same book, he says that Varela, Thompson (with whom Dennett worked when Thompson was a Visting Fellow at Tufts), and Rosch 'are convincing about the need for cognitive science to take account of the forms of consciousness that arise in meditative states. Moreover, their ideas about how to pose the fundamental questions of cognitive science have considerable useful originality. The time they have devoted to their meditations has certainly done them no harm, so others with a taste for these practices should give it a try.' Based on this I doubt that Dennett would disagree with what you say in your comment to Kela about mindfulness practice yielding 'a kind of knowledge which can be helpful, informative, and therapeutic.' (These reviews are from '93 and '92 respectively, and can be found here: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/pubpage.htm)
Interesting. I would have to agree that meditative training may allow one greater access to the 'filtered' contents of consciousness.

I was watching show on the National Geographic channel called Inside LSD. There, a German researcher referred to what he called the "hollow mask" experiment. Apparenty schizophrenics and people on LSD are able to distinguish when a mask is concave or not. The idea is that the brain/ mind will sometimes add or create features that it thinks should be there. The implication is that psychedelics and or meditation may help "deautomatize" the brain. This is an old idea going back to Diekmann and Naranjo, and while I'm cautious about its romantic implications, there may be something to it. It was also of course Huxley's supposition in The Doors.
Balder: "I... did not think his evidence was sufficient to demonstrate we do not know our minds,"

Yes, I think that conclusion does not follow, though what he offers does call into question the claim that the contents of my consciousness are always "clearly and distinctly" available, and suggests that the mind often does play tricks on us.

Balder: "...or that our minds can only be known indirectly (to the extent that first-person inquiry would not yield anything that could constitute "knowledge of" consciousness)."

I don't think anyone could really claim that 1st person access yields no knowledge of consciousness. It is indeed a form of knowledge. As for the term "indirectly," this would appear to be an ambiguous term. Do we mean unmediated by concepts or free from interpretation? I doubt that, as that then would imply a form of the myth of the given. At the same time, of course we have a kind of "direct" access to the contents of our consciousness that others do not. As Wittgenstein might say, you cannot have access to my consciousness, as it is my consciousness.

Balder: "I think it's clear that cognitive science has demonstrated that there is a great deal of mental processing that is unconscious or "inaccessible" to first-person perspectives, and the intersubjectivists and developmentalists have confirmed this in their own ways. But I don't think this rules out something like "mindfulness meditation" as a valid means of investigating consciousness. For instance, paying attention to "mind," one might become acutely aware of the extent to which we habitually talk to ourselves; we might become aware of patterns of thinking and story-telling that we had not previously noticed; we might begin to perceive subtle degrees of relationship between rates of breathing, rate of thinking, and emotional states; etc. This knowledge is not exhaustive, and it doesn't simply yield "reality in itself," but I believe it does yield a kind of knowledge which can be helpful, informative, and therapeutic (as mindfulness practice apparently is in the behaviorist school of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, for instance)."

Sure, but I don't think that this means that that knowledge is necessarily superior to other forms of knowledge, say of what our psychiatrist might tell us, or what a cognitive scientist might tell us. This is after all part and parcel of the argument from privileged access.

I think we need to keep clear in our mind what the argument is and what it entails. I recently sent the Youtube clip to my brother. Here is how I explained the argument, as well as my reservations about it, to him:

"I was watching something by Dennet about how we don't know our own minds. This topic comes up at forums I frequent under the rubric of what I call "privileged access." In a argument from "privileged access," the "mystical empiricist" will typically argue that only he has access to the contents of his consciousness during meditation or during a mystical experience, and that this privileged access (supposedly) makes him an expert on his experience and on the content of his experience. He will say, "But I have had the experience and you have not. So, you are in no place to question the experience, and until you have that experience, you are not an expert on that experience or its content." Then comes the questionable move: "I had an experience of X (God, or Krishna, or brahman, or Buddhist emptiness, or what have you), and because of that experience, I know X exists because I have had an experience of X. You haven't had the experience. So you have no right to question my experience. It was my experience, after all, and not yours."

Here I counter that 1. people are not necessarily experts on their own experience, and often times the mind plays tricks on us; being fallible humans, we are subject to self-deception. And 2. while there is no reason to doubt that you may have had some experience or other, I see no reason to make the ontological claim that X (God, or Krishna, or what have you) exists simply because you have had some "experience" or other. To claim so is to interpret the experience and to draw an inference from that experience that is not necessarily justifiable.

It can be difficult to argue against the above kind of argument. It's akin to arguing with people who say, "Well, you just haven't had your consciousness raised yet, so there's no point talking to you until you have." What this gambit does is effectively shut down debate on a subject -- and I have heard Marxists and feminists make use of the same gambit -- and it can reduce a discussion of the subject to soapbox preaching to the converted, i.e., those who believe that they have had an experience of God or Krishna or whatever."
Another thing I have an "issue" with, which is related to the above but not necesssarily the same, is the supposition that meditation allows us access to the "inner workings" of the mind, and of its "inner structure."

I encountered this idea often at the old Lightmind forum, and usually, the person positing the idea would announce that he or she had "experienced" just this: they "saw" the inner workings of their mind by virtue of their meditative prowess. While I would agree that mindfulness can tell us much about the kind of nonsense that usually floats through our stream of consciousness, at the same time I have deep reservations about its power to reveal the actual structure of our mind or the nature of consciousness.

Here, for example, is how Vivekananda argues for the supposition (taken from my blogspot page). I find this kind of thing to be a hyper-inflated account of the nature of meditation and yoga:

The teachers of the science of Yoga, therefore, declare that religion is not only based on the experience of ancient times, but that no man can be religious until he has the same perception himself. It is not much use to talk about religion until one has felt it.... If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 72.

Yoga is the science which teaches us how to get these perceptions. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 72.

The science of Raja-Yoga proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method of reaching this truth.... Each science must have its own methods. I could preach to you thousands of sermons but they would not make you religious, until you practiced the method. These are the truths of the sages.... They all declare that they have found some truth higher than what the senses can bring to us and they invite verification. They ask us to take up the method. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 73.

The perfected mind... has the reflexive power of looking back into its own depths. This reflexive power is what the Yogi wants to attain; by concentrating the powers of the mind and turning them inward he seeks to know what is happening inside.... The Yogi proposes to attain that fine state of perception in which he can perceive all the different mental states. There must be a mental perception of all of them. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, pp. 79-80.

The science of Raja-Yoga... proposes to give us such a means of observing the internal states. The instrument is the mind itself. The power of attention... directed towards the internal world, will analyse the mind, and illuminate facts for us... That is the only way to anything which will be a scientific approach to the subject. When by analysing his own mind, man comes face to face, as it were, with something which is never destroyed, something which is, by its own nature, eternally pure and perfect. From "The Aim of Raja Yoga." Selections, p. 74.
I have no problem with mindfulness "watching" the contents of experience going by, and admit that with some training this ability can be sharpened. It's the idea that the mind can, in some way or other, "get behind" the process of thought/feeling formation and preceive the "inner structure" of the mind. This to me, appears to be what Vivekananda is suggesting. One way this is sometimes argued is to say that consciousness or "intelligence," of what have you has the ability to get behind mind. But to me this simply begs the question.

I would refer to Vivekananda's theory, and others like it, as a kind of bootstrap theory, or as Shankara would put it, it's akin to a tumbler standing on his own shoulders. In order to perceive the funtioning of mind, how it combines concepts and percepts for example, one would have be perceiving what is logically prior to the fusion of concepts and percepts. But perception is concept-ridden to begin with; it requires and presupposes what it is purportedly investigating.

Again, it is not the more mundane theory of meditation that I am going after -- simply the inflated version that overstates the case.
Alleluiah brother kela, you're singing to this choir. I will testify with with a couple of my favorite quotes from L&J's PF:

"The phenomenological person, who through introspection alone can discover everything there is to know about the nature of mind and experience, is a fiction. Although we can have a theory of a vast, rapidly and automatically operating cognitive unconscious, we have no direct conscious access to its operation and therefore to most of our thought" (5).

"Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather the formation and use of categories are the stuff on experience.... We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that" (18).
do-ra-me-fa-so-la-te-do! kalifornia is the garden of eden, a beautiful place to live in or to see, but believe it or not u won't find it so hot if u don't no ur do-ra-me's!

well, you guys have done enough threads on meditation to know that not many here buy into the 4th and and 5th claims of the meditators creeds...so, meditation doesn't prove ontology! why is that so hard to get? and who can prove that consciousness goes all the way down or back? no one! it's a spiritual speculation! one that this wise ass is willing to consider being part murky and all ( the ground of all being)!lol iow's , another teflon theist:) but, i do think phenomenology should be taken seriously by people like dennett; not everyone believes in belief, there are some spiritual experiences that defy culture and language....god save us from making religion or money out of those experiences though:) and just so julian knows, my old 777 blog on meditation was complete creative imaginary writing. i thought it was funny as hell though:)
Kela, thank you for adding that clarifying note (from your letter to your brother) about the gist of the "privileged access" argument. You introduced the concept to me, so most of what I know about it (besides a little background reading, inspired by our discussions) has come from previous conversations with you, and I'm not always sure I'm addressing the main point when I'm responding to you. So, the "reminder" was helpful.

You wrote: Then comes the questionable move: "I had an experience of X (God, or Krishna, or brahman, or Buddhist emptiness, or what have you), and because of that experience, I know X exists because I have had an experience of X. You haven't had the experience. So you have no right to question my experience. It was my experience, after all, and not yours."

I agree this is a questionable move. On the one hand, as you noted above, it is legitimate to say, "you cannot have access to my consciousness, as it is my consciousness," and so there would appear to be some justification for allowing the individual to retain some authority with regard to the contents of his own consciousness -- at least, as Dennett would say, authority with regard to the "seeming" of consciousness. A functional MRI might not register a particular brain activity, and yet an individual could report that he nevertheless is having such-and-such a phenomenological experience -- and we have to at least admit that the individual's phenomenological self-reporting has some weight to it. If we deny any weight, any "right" to the validity and acceptability of self-reporting, I think we run into some serious ethical challenges, at the least: where the "state" or other authorities (secular, religious, etc) might begin to speak authoritatively about the actual contents of your own consciousness, regardless of what you might believe. I'm reminded of the apologetic move some Christian fundamentalists make: Everyone ultimately knows God exists, and that God is the very God of the Bible, but some people, subject to sin nature, are driven to vehemently deny that. And therefore they stand guilty before the Lord.

On the other hand, for the individual to make the move you described also seems problematic: "I had an experience of Krishna, and therefore I know that Krishna exists." At least, it is problematic if you take this as a third-person, objective, propositional truth claim that can be used to refute other third-person, objective, propositional truth claims: because I've experienced Jesus, I know that he really is the son of God, and Buddha and all other teachers are false prophets; or, because I've experienced God directly, and he has spoken to me through his Word, I know that the theory of evolution is wrong. I'm reminded also of a story a Christian priest told me over on the Integral Life website, about asking God for a response, and, upon receiving no response at all, coming to the conviction that the God of the Bible does definitively exist because he did not deign to answer that sort of question. That a person has a particular kind of first-person experience seems hard to finally refute (although we can introduce a degree of doubt, perhaps demoting it to a "seeming" through heterophenomenological methods), but the interpretations an individual makes with regard to his experiences do seem more readily subject to critical analysis and debate.

An interesting point to consider here is an argument that Wilber makes in Integral Spirituality, about a post-metaphysical approach doing away with, or dissolving, the problem of God's "existence." Here, mystical realities become, not objectively pre-existing, interpretation-free entities, but particular forms of enacted experience within different intersubjective, cultural, developmental contexts. These enactments are not without lived consequence or impact, but they are not the pre-existing spiritual artifacts of the mystical empiricist.
Hi Balder,

Just a quick note, so that I don't forget it, then I'll return with something more substantial.

While an individual's self-reporting is important, it is also not sacrosanct.

At one point I was writing an essay on/critique of the category of "feeling" as way of knowing. One of my targets was Marrianne Williamson, author of The Courage to Heal. At one point in her book she says, "If you had the feeling that you were abused, then you were abused." Then she says something about "body memories" and about how "the body does not lie" or some such rubish. This, to me, is a recipe for disaster. (Williamson we should know is no professional; she's a hack, popular writer.) One need only recount the problem of "false memory" syndrome, and of the numerous "Satanic abuse" skandals that have ruined families. Ian Hacking gives one of best accounts of remembering "abuse," and related problems, in Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personalities and the Sciences of Memory
Lest someone go after me for "blaming the victim," I should add this caveat. I certainly do not want to diminish the seriousness of actual cases of abuse or dismiss post-traumatic stress syndrome as an actuality. What Hacking targets in his book is the theoretical assumption, which he traces to before Freud, that all forms psychic disturbance and mental imbalance must be due to some sort of psychological "trauma" suffered by the individual such that if there were none to begin with, it must thereby be created by the clinician and patient. It is this creation process that interests me.
Yes, this is the same type of "body wisdom" I saw Gendlin peddling at his site referenced in the Levin thread. And because Genlin's overall body-based philosophy is in general agreement with Johnson I don't see the latter questioning this type of snake oil sales.

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