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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I'm planning on responding to some of Theurj's and Tom's recent posts in this thread, but first want to address this post by you, Kela.

 

Basically, I have just two brief responses:  One, the suggestion that introspection involves a process of construction and inference (rather than 'direct perception' of 'what is') is not surprising or problematic for me.  What bothers me a little, though, is the suggestion, in the Wiki article, that this fundamentally differs from other 'more objective' modes of perception.  There seems to be preserved, in some of the language in this article, the supposition that there are some 'modes of access' (say, scientific ones) that give us the 'reality,' whereas introspection only gives us 'confabulation.'  I think it's certainly fair to point out that introspective self-reporting sometimes or perhaps even often seems inconsistent with perspectives that are more intersubjectively robust or 'constant,' but I see this as possibly a difference in degree rather than in kind.


And, with that point, my second comment is that I'd be curious to see if there have been any related studies done on long-term mindfulness (vipassana) practitioners.  I ask, not because I think vipassana practitioners have any 'magical' or 'direct' access to the contents-in-themselves of their consciousenss, but because I think that their perception has been trained in a way that might make them less prone to unconscious and demonstrably erroneous confabulation (but still involving 'construction' and 'interpretation'), and in this sense their skills could be taken as a complement to experimental methods of investigation into conscious processes (as Varela suggests, for instance).


kelamuni said:

I would like to return to the original questions regarding this subject. Over the past few months I have encountered some further relevant material.  Scientific American Mind, Nov/Dec 2010 had an article titled, "Your Brain on Magic: How tricks hack your neural wiring," pp. 22 - 29. The authors also give a list of further reading on stage magic and neuroscience.

 

But even more relevant is the concept of "introspective illusion." I ran across this idea while researching the idea of the "adaptive unconscious," while looking into that book, Blink! (Apparently the author has a new book out.  I'm gonna make a snap judgement and predict that he is going to recommend that we all become brain dead. :-) The principle underlying the introspective illusion  would appear to be precisely what I have been after with regard to the the philosophical concept of "privileged access." (Perhaps I should have been looking in the direction of psychology rather than philosophy.)

I ask, not because I think vipassana practitioners have any 'magical' or 'direct' access to the contents-in-themselves of their consciousenss, but because I think that their perception has been trained in a way that might make them less prone to unconscious and demonstrably erroneous confabulation (but still involving 'construction' and 'interpretation').

Recall this post and the referenced material from earlier in this thread. Meditation might promote more keen perceptiveness in some ways but this doesn't prevent magico-mythical interpretations—errroneous confabulations by (post) modern standards—like belief in autonomous beings on other planes of existence. Is there a whole truth (and nothing but the truth, so help you God) in this partial worldview?

True.  After our discussions here, I expected you, kela, and others would understand that I'm not suggesting that meditation would necessarily prevent magico-mythical interpretations, so I didn't bother to make that clarification.  My concern in my previous post was whether "introspection" was being treated as a given in itself, as some relatively fixed (and inherently "untrustworthy") function, rather than something which might exhibit a significant range of develop-ability and train-ability.  The former presupposition would appear to be in play if there is no attempt to control for such possibility of development in the subjects tested.  And I specifically focused on vipassana meditation since, as it is practiced in the modern West, the focus is largely on developing mindfulness of mental events and mental content (not on visualizing deities, making supplications, etc), and because laboratory tests have already demonstrated that mindfulness practitioners show a significant decrease in habituation response (a kind of "going unconscious" in the face of repeated stimuli).

Hi Balder,

I think though that the thing about the issue of "inner access" is the contention that it is somehow or other "more" direct than other modes.

I have a speculative explanation as to why this might be so. Take, for example, the Cartesian meditation that discovers a direct access to consciousness. I personally think that this is actually a perfectly legitimate example of what should be called intuition; this is to say, it is legitimate to say that we do in fact know directly that we are presently aware at this time, though there is nothing, really, special about it. However, and here is where the problems start, there is really not much more than this that can be "directly intuited" in this [phenomenological "space"and when we think there is, we can run into potential problems when the meaning of "intuition" changes. I'm not sure if this is clear or not.

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'm still not sure if I'm being clear, here.  Basically, I'm saying the original contention, as I understood it, was that introspection yields a kind of knowledge that is "more direct" than the observation of the "external world" and hence science. Possibly, part of the problem may have to do with representationalist conceptions of perception that are assumed by the account. Many empiricists, for example, held that there are "inner perceptions," and they also held a representationalist conception of perception. I'm not sure if any of them ever said that the "inner" perceptions were more direct, but I seem to remember some empiricists who held so and it does seem to be part of the idea involved in some conceptions of "mystical empiricism."

As for your second point, it could very well turn out to be the case that vipassana practitioners are less susceptible to confabulation or forms of self-deception, or whatever. This may, though, have to do with instructions received concerning practice and may not necessarily arise as a result of some "power of consciousness" that develops when one meditates. We don't really know though. 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 see now that you use the term "untrustworthy" with regard to introspection. OK now I can be clearer: I'm not sure that that is the exactly issue. I think the original question concerned whether or not introspection was more trustworthy, and the answer from my side was, "not necessarily."

I'm aware of habituation studies, and have always found them interesting. Not sure if they are relevant, but they might be.

Thanks Balder.


Balder said:

I'm planning on responding to some of Theurj's and Tom's recent posts in this thread, but first want to address this post by you, Kela.

 

Basically, I have just two brief responses:  One, the suggestion that introspection involves a process of construction and inference (rather than 'direct perception' of 'what is') is not surprising or problematic for me.  What bothers me a little, though, is the suggestion, in the Wiki article, that this fundamentally differs from other 'more objective' modes of perception.  There seems to be preserved, in some of the language in this article, the supposition that there are some 'modes of access' (say, scientific ones) that give us the 'reality,' whereas introspection only gives us 'confabulation.'  I think it's certainly fair to point out that introspective self-reporting sometimes or perhaps even often seems inconsistent with perspectives that are more intersubjectively robust or 'constant,' but I see this as possibly a difference in degree rather than in kind.


And, with that point, my second comment is that I'd be curious to see if there have been any related studies done on long-term mindfulness (vipassana) practitioners.  I ask, not because I think vipassana practitioners have any 'magical' or 'direct' access to the contents-in-themselves of their consciousenss, but because I think that their perception has been trained in a way that might make them less prone to unconscious and demonstrably erroneous confabulation (but still involving 'construction' and 'interpretation'), and in this sense their skills could be taken as a complement to experimental methods of investigation into conscious processes (as Varela suggests, for instance).


kelamuni said:

I would like to return to the original questions regarding this subject. Over the past few months I have encountered some further relevant material.  Scientific American Mind, Nov/Dec 2010 had an article titled, "Your Brain on Magic: How tricks hack your neural wiring," pp. 22 - 29. The authors also give a list of further reading on stage magic and neuroscience.

 

But even more relevant is the concept of "introspective illusion." I ran across this idea while researching the idea of the "adaptive unconscious," while looking into that book, Blink! (Apparently the author has a new book out.  I'm gonna make a snap judgement and predict that he is going to recommend that we all become brain dead. :-) The principle underlying the introspective illusion  would appear to be precisely what I have been after with regard to the the philosophical concept of "privileged access." (Perhaps I should have been looking in the direction of psychology rather than philosophy.)

Another thing that sometimes goes on, and Wittgenstein deals with this with regard to ordinary empiricists, is that there is sometimes the circular claim made that goes something like, "I KNOW they are more direct! It is my inner perception that it is the case that they are more trustworthy!" etc., as if the emphasis and exclamations "made" them more privileged. I'm not claiming anyone here is saying this, but Wittgenstein entertains this line of argumentation, suggesting that at one time he had encountered it.

[I guess I have something of a "issue" with this kind of self-certainty that people sometimes assume they have, particularly where politics is concerned, but also with regard to religion, and this is one of the reasons I scrutinize the issue so.]

This reference might also be relevant: First-Person Methodologies, particularly the first section, "Inside-Outside: The Misleading Divide."

From the pragmatism wiki:

In 1868,[12] C.S. Peirce argued there there is no power of intuition in the sense of a cognition unconditioned by inference, and no power of introspection, intuitive or otherwise, and that awareness of an internal world is by hypothetical inference from external facts. Introspection and intuition were staple philosophical tools at least since Descartes. He argued that there is no absolutely first cognition in a cognitive process; such a process has its beginning but can always be analyzed into finer cognitive stages. That which we call introspection does not give privileged access to knowledge about the mind - the self is a concept that is derived from our interaction with the external world and not the other way around (De Waal 2005, pp. 7–10).

I appreciate this paragraph from Varela and Shear:

"First, exploring first-person accounts is not the same as claiming that first-person accounts have some kind of privileged access to experience. No presumption of anything incorrigible, final, easy or apodictic about subjective phenomena needs to be made here, and to assume otherwise is to confuse the immediate character of the givenness of subjective phenomena with their mode of constitution and evaluation. Much wasted ink could have been saved by distinguishing the irreducibility of firstperson descriptions from their epistemic status."

 

Just a few more excerpts from Varela, touching on ground already covered here, but supportive anyway. And which still leaves for me the question of the leap from diving into the “subpersonal” to some degree and the connection with “the same unity” for every particular conscious awareness given the degree to which we cannot dive.

“The progress of cognitive science (as well as the development of psychoanalysis) has made familiar the idea that something might happen for a subject, and in that sense be subjective, but nevertheless not be accessible to this subject. We naturally describe such a case by saying that the subject is not conscious of the phenomenon in question. A distinction must therefore be introduced between conscious and non-conscious phenomena, or again between conscious and sub-personal subjectivity. The notion of consciousness itself is clearly meant primarily to designate the fact that the subject knows about, is informed about, or in other words is aware of, the phenomenon.

“It might be tempting to conflate the two concepts of phenomenal data and conscious subjectivity. But the notion of non-conscious or subpersonal phenomena argues against that move…[but] we need to put into question the assumption that the demarcation line between the strictly subpersonal and conscious are fixed and given once and forever. First-person methodologies include as a fundamental dimension the claim that this is a movable line, and much can be done with the intermediate zone” (3-4).

The comments by Varela in the last paragraph you quoted bear, I believe, on my own comments to kela regarding the 'trained attention' of (some) meditators: I also was suggesting that that 'line' between conscious and unconscious is moveable.


About the 'same unity' question:  this reminds me of some of the territory we've explored in a number of ways regarding Wilber's discussion of subsisting and existing phenomena in his appendix on postmetaphysics.  From this perspective, a person positing an 'underlying unity' might legitimately claim that such unity subsists in other (past, developmentally prior, or otherwise 'other') worldspaces, but not necessarily that it ex-ists (e.g., that 'the same unity' as the one you intend stands out for and is recognized by such individuals).  In positing such subsistence, if we regard that move as acceptable, I would suggest that this is still not a 'view from nowhere,' but a situated and enacted meta-view: the speaker's perspective or 'frame' is still implicit in this claim.  "From where I stand, it is appropriate to posit this universally for all, regardless of whether it is recognized or not" (e.g., all cats have atoms and cells, even if atoms and cells do not stand out or ex-ist in cats' worldspaces; all sentient beings have sense-experience, even if the notion of 'sense-experience' does not ex-ist for them; all mammals experience affect, even if the notion of 'emotion' does not ex-ist for most of them; etc.)  But this is still "from where I stand" (enacting this meta-view).

I need to read more Varela. He (it's a 'he' right? cuz no chic could possibly be this philosophically astute) appears to be well versed in contemporary critiques of phenomenology. I like the mutatis mutandis move, too. Indeed, as I encounter, and research, recent political "deformations" (a normative term I have begun to use un-apologetically), I have begun to notice the degree to which members within a cohesive well-defined group begin to exhibit, as a whole or group, "subjective" features -- as if the group were, in a way, a "subject"

Way cool. I'm glad to be here so as to have yuzz intellectual types parse some of my recent experience among (idiotic) political groups (i've been hangin with ) and am beginning to realize that I really need to stop attempting to reinvent the wheel, and start reading again -- more thoroughly and widely, so as to save myself time. There really has been so much done recently -- scientifically, phenomenologically, methodologically, and philosophically -- that it really behooves one to do so. I appreciate, though, the confirmation of some of my insights, and  will note that at the same time I have been acknowledging where my shooting from the hip has proved to be inadequate and where my knowledge of the facts has fallen short.



Balder said:

This reference might also be relevant: First-Person Methodologies, particularly the first section, "Inside-Outside: The Misleading Divide."

The line is moveable but by how much? I'd suggest that compared with what remains inaccessible the movement is negligible. (I appreciate infimitas' post on access consciousness in the machine thread.) Accepting for the sake of argument the little bit of conscious awareness we do have increases so as to enact more comprehensive worldspaces, such that we may claim mammals have affects whether they recognize it or not. But a claim to a universal unityall that exists, subsists and ex-ists—based on a very small amount of conscious awareness seems unwarranted. The warrant seems to be that we all have full and direct access to the All in each and every moment of conscious awareness, despite the level of enacted worldspace, since the latter limitation is causal, classical, Newtonian. The All is acausal, as is our very awareness. The part is in the All and the All is in the part, to paraphrase the slogan for the Three Muscateers. It's not that different from similarly “enacted” metaphysical and traditional religious—or “spiritual” if you're slightly more aware—views. Or Wilber's metaphysical view that the Absolute does not have a view or kosmic address but rather is the emptiness that measures any relative kosmic address. And, full circle*, a version of privileged access.

 

* A full circle being an ideal Platonic form that has no shape or boundary.

 

 

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