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.

Views: 3888

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Yes, I follow that, and I appreciate the link between knowing-by-implication and uncertainty.  But not everyone exploring a particular observation traces out the same implications, and not all implications prove 'correct' (eschew disconfirmation).  Why?  It seems to me that more is involved in the 'success' of a traced-out implication than thought-to-being identity -- that implication is implication-for: who is doing the tracing, and at what point in their development, and in what context, and with what present (theoretical or other) understanding and 'view,' etc -- all of these factors matter.   Would you agree?
Of course he does. He said it: you have to be "yellow" to get it, and if you don't get it as he lays it out then you aren't yellow.

Yeah, there's always indetermination of theory by fact: any data or experience or theory is always open to any number of equally valid (internally consistent) interpretations, influenced by altitude, culture, personal and social bias, etc. -- all those things Balder mentioned.  Even "falsification" is an interpretation, as is "confirmation".  All we can do in the end is express our opinions as best as possible and trust that the community will get it right.


Of course, "right" in this case might mean realising that the opinion in question is bullshit.  Or it might mean the opposite.  In any case, knowing what is right depends on somehow being able to know the truth directly -- an ability that none of us have.  So once again we are back to intersubjective agreement.  That means a theory that no one other than the author can understand is useless -- not wrong, necessarily, just irrelevant.

Hi Balder,

Perhaps I should have been clearer as to what it is that was at stake.  I think there is sometimes, or even often, a conflation of ideas among the "mystical empiricists" where these matters are concerned. Sometimes, they may equivocating simply out of sloppy thinking. At other times, a rhetorical gambit may be at work where sense 2. rides in on the skirt tails of sense 1. Probably, I should given examples of what I was targeting so that it was not so unclear. As I learnt at grad school, and as He who Shall not be Named has pointed out to me at times, one should always have a concrete example of who it is one has in mind when given a critique, not only because we do not want to attack straw men or tilt at wind mills, but because, as this case shows, it really concretizes and makes clear who and what is at issue.

It was sense 2. that was initially my primary target, and so it is in this sense that I had initially been using the phrase "privileged access." Apparently we both agree that sense 2. is questionable and problematic.

I think we could do some inquiry into how this situation arises, where someone makes claim 2. I think it arises from the rather popular and not well thought out idea that our "inner life" is more important that our "outer life." Possibly this is linked to the idea that we should "change ourselves" before we "change the world," if you remember that distinction coming up in another thread. In that case, there will be the attempt at an argument that goes something like this: "my inner thoughts and feelings are more direct than my perceptions of outer objects, therefore they are "privileged."

In the course of this thread though I developed the idea, bases on arguments I had encountered elsewhere. The target here is the slightly more nuanced and sophisticated argument -- which is related to the former and also to philosophical notions of privileged access and psychological ideas about self-deception and so on -- concerning the status of the objects of my inner perceptions. This argument, and dialogue, will go something like this: "'I have had an experience of brahman (or God or whatever).' Rejoinder: 'How do you know you had an experience of brahman (or God)?' Reply: ' I know because I had the experience, because I had the experience myself. I have the privilege of making the claim, because it was my own inner experience. My inner experiences have a privileged status for me, because I have a (more) direct access to them than I do to external objects which may after all be mirages, or illusions. This being the case, I have the privilege of judging whether they are "authentic" or not'." Or something like that. One can see several issues at work here, and it is not always easy to disentangle them.

This latter idea or line of argument we have reviewed here and there was some agreement that we can at least question the ontological status of inner objects, though we had come to some agreement that they had some sort of "ontological status."

But still -- and it is so difficult for me to put my finger on the issue, probably because we have no concrete examples to target -- while we can get hung up on this issue of ontology, it is not entirely what I have in mind here. What I really have in mind -- perhaps as the issue I have been trying to get at -- is this psychological sense of self-certainty that is at play, not just where inner experiences are concerned, but where all experience -- of the "outer world" or our even our beliefs -- are concerned. And here things get tricky because one can have a belief, an experience of holding a belief, an experience of the content of the belief, and so on. (Is "faith," for example, a cognitive apprehension or an "experience?")

So, to give an example of one of the above, if I have the sense or feeling that I have been "saved," I may make the claim that I have been saved.  I think that for some of us, myself and perhaps theurg, if someone wants to make such a claim, all the more power to them: if you believe your are saved, for all intents and purposes, you may as well be... if it makes you happier, and your life has better quality and more meaning, etc. This is a kind of pragmatic stance.  But a Christian may come along -- an Augustianian for whom only God knows if someone is saved, since it is only God who will separate the wheat from the chaff when the time comes -- and he may challenge the claim that someone is saved simply because he feels saved. I may not give a rip, as a non-Christian, but the Augustinian may make a big deal of it and feel that this guy's head is inflated with self-importance, etc. And I think the Augustinian may have a point: How does this guy really know that it is the case that he has been saved?

I'm not sure I like the way I have phrased the last point since it makes it sound like a mere epistemological and "foundationalist" point, which I'm not sure is how I want to construe it.In any case, let's continue.

I think that there are a number of instances where we think something is the case and it is not, say, in so called "false memory" syndrome, or where witnesses give a faulty testimony because it has been a long time since they witnessed the event or they didn't really have a clear line of vision, etc.

The thing then that I'm getting at, then, is the empiricist idea that experience is somehow or other more reliable than other forms of knowledge. There is the old dispute between empiricists and rationalists as to which is more reliable, and many of us can probably remember Descartes point that experience, or rather judgement based on experience, can be wrong. As someone point in succinctly on another board I'm at, I have the experience that the world is flat, but that doesn't mean that it is.

In regards the "outer world" our experience can be corroborated -- by the experience of other people, by its consistency with other facts, and/or by means of calculations and logical inferences. Inner experience, though, presents a bit more of a problem, and I think it is precisely this problematic nature that is sometimes exploited by mystical empiricists. Because inner experiences cannot be corroborated, people can then couple this problematic business about lack of corroboration with claims about inner experience being "more direct" or "more reliable" and suddenly it all begins to sound like their claims are incontestable.  In other words, the "innerness" of the experience, its inaccessibility, becomes part of their strategy to defend its claims. You, or we, don't have access to his inner states, and it is precisely this problem that he will exploit for his own purposes.

At this point, the idea enters that though we can't verify the authenticity of his claim by getting inside his head, we can at least in some sense "corroborate" his claim by undergoing the experience itself. And so this then certifies in some sense the ontological status of the object of the "shared" experience. We have rehearsed this issue before, and I'll reiterate my own point of view that I don't think that this kind of "corroboration" is the same as the corroboration that occurs in chemistry labs. My own view is that a metaphysical or theological teaching of somesort will underpin the inner experiences of a tradition, such that Vaishnavas will see Krishna, Buddhists will see Avalokiteshavara, and Catholics will see Mary. Some kind of corroboration and some form of "objectivity" is being constructed here, admittedly, but I don't think it is really the same as science.

In any case, this is still not what I am getting at. The issue as I stated before is the psychological sense or feeling that one is correct because one has had an "experience" of something that I am getting after, particularly as it relates to inner experience which is so impervious to scrutiny.


I get the sense that one of my targets here may be someone like Wallace and his book about the "taboo" of subjective experience. I personally think that the taboo arose for good reason, since subjective experiences don't make for good science, IMO. I have deep reservations about the idea that the Yoga Sutras or the Visuddhimagga are all about being somekind of "spiritual science." They mat be about a "technology," in the sense of a system of techniques, but not "science" in the sense that the term is usually taken today. This move or usage, IMO, arises through rhetoricians like Vivekananda and Yogananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who attempted to defend the practice of yoga by elevating the teaching to the privileged status of an "empirical science." IMO, this is not necessary, and indeed it cheapens these traditions by making them look silly in their claims -- kind of like the guys who think that because Krishna flies around in a little car, they must have had that kind of technology when the Mahabharata was written. So I'm not necessarily attacking the traditions of yoga and vipassana meditation; I'm going after the contemporary interpretation of them as forms of "mystical empiricism." In a way, I'm defending the classical interpretation as "authentic" over against the claim that they are some form of "msytical empiricism." In themselves, they are in no such need of "defense."

I'm getting sidetracked, and there is no need to respond to all if this, though these are related issues. To reiterate, then, it is this sense or feeling of certainty that something is the case or that some thing has been experienced because that thing is based on an "inner experience" that I am driving at.

Balder said:

Kela:  In other words, 1. the onus is on the "inner access" account to show that the inner access to the contents of one's consciousness is somehow more direct than other modes of knowing, which is the usual claim; 2. there appears to be a confusion or an ambivalence or equivocation as to what we mean by "intuition" such that feelings get lumped in with actual intuition and then the former are given a priority status of "directness."

I may not be entirely clear (still!) on the nature of this argument, so I beg your indulgence, but does the issue of "privileged access" have to do specifically with the directness of one's "access" to one's own consciousness (versus the indirectness of someone else's access to the contents of your consciousness); or does it have to do with a broader claim regarding types of knowledge in general (e.g., 1st-person knowledge -- intuitions, feelings, insights -- being more 'direct,' and therefore more reliable, than 3rd-person knowledge in general)?

It seems you're suggesting both arguments are involved, or at least they frequently come together.  Regarding the former, I generally agree with Varela's position (as outlined in the paper I linked):  I do think 1st-person knowledge involves a kind of 'directness,' but do not believe this necessarily entails privileged (exclusive) access to the contents-in-themselves (the very notion of which seems to presuppose a representationalist model of perception, which I reject).  It does seem fair to me make a qualitative distinction between types of perspectives involved (with degrees of 'directness' suggested by the terms, first-, second-, and third-person):  I can be 'aware of' my own first-person, 'lived' experience more 'directly' than another person, who must infer it about me (by interacting with me, 2p; or examining certain objective 'indicators' of experience, such as brain activity, 3p).  But this does not mean I have exclusive or privileged access to the contents of my consciousness or my cognitive processes, such that I am the only authority on what is going on for me subjectively.  As Dennett and others have demonstrated, our self-reports can be shown to be subject to self-deception and confabulation, so in the study of human consciousness, approaching it from multiple perspectives (1st and 3rd person methods, with 2p mediation where appropriate) is recommended.

Regarding the second claim, as I have interpreted it (that 1p knowledge, because it is 'relatively' more direct, is therefore more reliable), that just doesn't seem to hold water to me.

What do you think?


kela:  I think the point I would make here though is that we should not assume that "meditators" will be, or are, less susceptible simply because they "meditate," as if that automatically provided some kind of inoculation.  Still, I am open to the possibility that they may be and would like to see some studies done in this direction. But again, I don't think we should simply assume this, and I think it may be a little premature to claim that "their perception has been trained in a way" that they have such a skill, and take your inclusion of the term "might" as indicating that this is still only a possibility. (Am I softening my position?) Anyway, I don't like apriori claims coming from either direction; I'd like to see the results of some actual rigorous studies, first.

I agree with this.  Which is one reason I've valued Varela's work: he's arguing for just this sort of multi-pronged study.

Ooh, Ed, sour.  Do you ever think your understanding is better than another's?  You imply as much in your what you say above: I'm wrong, you're right.  Do you think your being right is developmental?  How would you frame that?

Sour but accurate. Yes, I admit to arguing for a better interpretation but I'm not pulling that kennilingus "you're not as cognitively developed as I am if you disagree" bullshit. I see it more as a legitimation debate within a postformal frame.

Tom:  Bruce, I don't think it's immediately relevant that some who trace implications don't get to a certain place.  The relevant detail is that implicatory tracing is possibly the only way to move forward in a manner that ushers in a new paradigm.  Context and how and who are all relevant, but those are secondary questions.  The primary question, in my opinion, what Bohr has said: the only way forward is through tacit intuition, an idea, implication---many names for something unnameable.  How can one name something non-causal and non-conceptual?

Are you saying that implicatory thinking is behind all paradigm transitions, or are you speaking more "locally" -- e.g., saying that a move to implicatory thinking is important at this stage of human development, if we want to move in a post-Newtonian, non-causal direction?

In any event, with regard to the question of 'privileged access' -- the topic of this thread -- finding a way forward into a new paradigm would be a secondary (but not necessarily irrelevant) question, whereas how we are interpreting the 'nature' and 'action' of implicatory thinking would be a primary concern.  Does (1p) implicatory thinking 'deliver reality' in a way that other modes of thinking, inquiry, investigation, etc, do not?   If it 'delivers reality' (because it IS reality, a movement of reality; because thought-and-being are identical), then it does seem relevant also that some examples of implicatory thinking have proven wrong -- and have been proven wrong or disconfirmed by empirical findings.  How do we understand that? 

I understand that bringing in questions of (intuitively held or arrived at) 'beliefs' or 'predictions' about the world at large that are either subsequently confirmed or disconfirmed seems to put us in the realm of correspondence theories of truth, or of representational knowledge, but I am discussing them because you have specifically appealed to certain examples as 'empirical evidence' that a certain presupposition underlying implicatory thinking -- that knowing and being are one -- is true, and that this is the source of its predictive power.

From my perspective, I see implicatory thinking as an enactive modality -- an important one, but not necessarily one which should be held as privileged over all other modes (especially when it comes to 'delivering reality,' as a privileged revelation of being).  One's capacity to trace out the implications of a particular observation is indebted to the 'yield' or 'fruits' of other modes of knowing or investigation (there is a lot of 'history' behind Einstein's or Bohr's implicatory experiments, which is why I appealed to the situatedness of such 'tracing' in my previous post); and thinking by implication has sometimes delivered bad or inadequate conclusions or predictions.  I see such a mode of 'thinking' as both fed by, and feeding, other modes; limiting or 'testing' and being 'limited' or 'tested' by other modes -- all of which I would regard as 'expressions' of 'being,' if we want to use that sort of language.  (I am arguing here, in other words, for a kind of IMP.)  Swimme talks about a vast, 13.7-billion-year energy event, a stupendous multiform unfolding, such that we can say that our acting now -- our thinking, our inquiring, our singing, our dancing -- is, in some sense, in its singularity also a universe-expression.  We can toggle microphase or macrophase perspectives, uni-verse (holistic) or pluri-verse (pluralistic, particular) perspectives.  Any mode of inquiry is thus participant in and as that, if we want to play with such 'mythic' or 'Big Story' language.


But while we might say, from such a perspective, that any view -- Newtonian, quantum, fundamentalist, mythic-magical -- is 'what is,' is in some sense what the universe is 'up to' in that whole-particular singularity there and then, is being-as-thought, this isn't to suggest that all views are thus 'equal' when it comes to accounting, say, for certain regularities of experience.  That's a different ball game. 

Please don't project your obnoxious superiority onto me Tom. I am offering alternatives from "experts" (of which I am not) in the spirit of inquiry, as I'm here to learn, not teach or preach. Unlike you I do not know it all.
Tom, I'd like to go deep(er) with this, but to start, I'd like to ask a couple brief questions, to help me better get my bearings in responding to you.

1) Because I'm not sure we're understanding the same things with the term, 'privileged access,' can you tell me what your understanding of the notion (and the basic critique) is?

2) In a post-causal orientation, what would it mean for something to be a 'root' of something, or xx-based.  ("...the root of thinking, on the Bohr-Einstein-Godel side of history, whatever history is (see above), is tacit-based, and tacit-based thinking...")

3) In relation to the idea that tacit knowing cannot be demonstrated, what specifically is your intention in referencing quantum predictions (70 years in advance, out to so many decimal places, etc)?

I don't ask you these things to challenge or counter your points at this point; I'm only seeking clarification.

Best wishes,

Tom, thanks.  To give a bit of 'history' on this thread, this is actually the continuation of a multiple-thread-long discussion started by kelamuni back on the old IPS forum.  He is the one who has raised this issue of 'privileged access,' and I have been engaging in the discussion in part as a learner -- not having been familiar with the philosophical arguments regarding this beforehand -- and in part as a sounding board, to the degree that I've been able to serve as such.  So, with that qualification in place, I'll continue with my comments on what I think the gist of the concern is:  The criticism, especially as kela has been presenting it, is not so much with the idea that inner experience cannot be explicated or proven, but with several things that often follow from that:  the claim that 'experience,' because it has a quality of 'directness,' is therefore the most reliable form of knowledge; the belief of some mystical empiricists (such as Alan Wallace) that 'looking within' gives you direct access to the 'actual contents' of consciousness; and the capitalization of some individuals on the 'directness' and 'inaccessibility' of 'inner knowledge' such that religious or other convictions become unquestionable, immune from communal judgment or rational scrutiny.  To my knowledge, the critique of privileged access does not deny intuition or resent the notion of tacit knowledge -- I believe kela has said he believes our apprehension of our own consciousness is best described as intuitive, and has written a few posts of his own about tacit knowing -- but rather raises concerns about how the intuitive and tacit dimensions of 1-p are sometimes exploited and used to prop up beliefs or power structures in questionable ways.  As you point out, Christians will often say God cannot be proven, demonstrated, etc; and then some will move from there to say, therefore, our 'faith tradition' is immune from criticism, it stands outside of 'worldly' judgment, and use the supposed 'inscrutability' of faith in a defensive, self-insulating, and sometimes hegemonic fashion.

Do you have any thoughts on this?  I expect the quantum view, if it indeed is a developmental advance (I think it likely is), should be able to see through and eschew the faults of its premodern 'parallels'.

Concerning the notion of development and your calling yourself a developmentalist: how do you square this with your critique of appeals to history in your previous post to me?  If the notion of development is developmental, isn't it subject to a similar rug-pulling that you've identified for notions of 'history'?

Tom: But back to implicatory thinking.  I'll illustrate with Godel, again.  He's a mathematician who rocked the world of mathematics in the same way Planck rocked the world of physics.  Godel said, in essence, that any mathematical system is based, at root, on an assumption.  He put it this way: no system of axioms (no mathematical system or theory) can be both consistent and provable.  Now, in mathematics, inconsistency is the death-knell equivalent of saying 1 + 1 = 3---a contradiction of assumptions---so what Godel was really saying is that every mathematical system is based on tacit knowing, whether by tacit is meant assumption, a non-provable axiom, a posited somethingness, whatever.


Let's place Godel into a historical frame.  What Godel said in mathematics is the same thinking pattern that Bohr applied to quantum physics: the root of thinking, on the Bohr-Einstein-Godel side of history, whatever history is (see above), is tacit-based, and tacit-based thinking, per Bohr and Godel, is simply more powerful: 14 decimal places for quantum physics, which wins the physics-prize.


Concerning the connection of the 'tacit' to Godel's incompleteness theorem:  yes, I like that.  Here's where I go with it, though.  A tacit 'lynchpin' of a paradigm or belief system, being tacit and presuppositional, doesn't necessarily establish that assumption as absolute in a metaphysical sense: it serves functionally as 'absolute' in the ecology of that paradigm.  That's as much as we can say.

Yes, please demonstrate that.  I thought Godel's theorems were more general -- arguing, for instance, that a consistent paradigm will be incomplete and will contain statements that cannot be proven, but not specifying the content or nature of those unprovable statements.


I also would be interested in your thoughts on the final question I asked in my first post:  Concerning the notion of development and your calling yourself a developmentalist (seeing the world in spiral colors): how do you square this with your critique of appeals to history in your previous post(s) to me?  If the notion of development is developmental, isn't it subject to a similar rug-pulling that you've identified for notions of 'history'?

Yes, certainly; I believe that Godel was seeing systemically, seeing system as system, and I agree with you that that is a kind of 'wholeness insight.'  But I don't follow your suggestion that the absolute in any given paradigm or meaning system is 'wholeness.'  Rather, I see the inescapability of certain unprovable axioms or fundamental concepts in any system of thought as implying wholeness -- when we are viewing system as system -- but, in a given system, the unprovable statement may not refer conceptually to 'wholeness' per se; it may be conceptualized in any number of ways.  In other words, the content of an unprovable statement might be any number of meanings besides The Whole.  Within the ecology of that conceptual system, or perhaps it is better to say, for that particular conceptual ecology, the statement is 'absolute' -- can't be questioned or proven within the terms of the system itself, because it is foundational for the system -- but for the 'members' of that system, said absolute may not be conceptualized literally in terms of Wholeness or The Whole.  Absolute-as-whole is absolute-for someone seeing systems; for someone at "Amber," the absolute is That Power that Makes It All, That Begins It All, at the beginning of the unfolding of history.

Thomas said:

Bruce: Yes, please demonstrate that.


Godel is witnessing a system.  He sees the system as a system, as a whole, and because he sees it whole, he can see that any axiom-part of the whole-theory cannot prove the whole, because wholeness cannot be proven.  Proof is of the part mode. 


View it from this angle.  Elements of the system self-refer.  They cannot refer out of their particular referential mode to refer (prove) the whole.  It's like asking a computer programmed to do X to do Y: it doesn't compute.  Godel was able to see that.  That is the wholeness insight.


It is the same thinking---tacit thinking, wholeness thinking---Bohr used in instantiating his insight into the quantum: that thing, he says, is wholeness itself, therefore there really are no parts.  Quantum physics is the death of Newtonian parts, that's for tootin' sure.



Reply to Discussion


What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

Notice to Visitors

At the moment, this site is at full membership capacity and we are not admitting new members.  We are still getting new membership applications, however, so I am considering upgrading to the next level, which will allow for more members to join.  In the meantime, all discussions are open for viewing and we hope you will read and enjoy the content here.

© 2024   Created by Balder.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service