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03/14/2018

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The other Eric S

Hi Eric S. (the real one),

Thanks for the helpful and generous discussion!

On many of the side issues I agree with you, including that Dennett may have been somewhat gentle and overly concessive to me, as a younger scholar (esp. in 2007), who agrees with him about a great many things.

Your core idea (somewhat too strongly put, as you say) is:
"The answer to Eric's question is to make a distinction... between Dennett's methodology (heterophenomonology) and his ontology (real patterns) or findings. In his method, the heterophenomenological subject will be treated as somebody, who for the purposes of generating the data that will be studied in heterophenomology, will have dictatorial authority over the account of how things seems to her. To simplify greatly, she provides some of the imput and phenomena that will be studied in third person science (and hence the hetero). Heterophenemonology helps establish that nothing we think or report we experience is immune to error."

To me this sounds like the view, which I articulate in the paper, that what we have "dictatorial authority" over is our *account* of our conscious experience (like the eyewitness in court has authority over their *account* of what happened). But that's a very weak kind of epistemic privilege, since you could have such dictatorial authority and be wholly wrong about the target phenomenon that you are aiming to report, your actual conscious experience.

Maybe that's all Dennett thinks we have dictatorial authority over (which would also fit with some later things he has said to me), in which case he and I basically agree. But in other passages he seems to be reaching for some stronger or bolder claim than that -- for example when he says you have dictatorial authority over "what it is like to be you". And some sympathetic readers of Dennett interpret him as saying that there are no facts about conscious experience beyond the tendency to report one's conscious experience, and thus no facts beyond the report about which you could possibly be wrong.

I *want* to read Dennett as saying "Here, give us a heterophenomenological report about your stream of conscious experience. Tell us your impressions about what your conscious experience is; it's *your* report, so anything you want to say gets to go in it." And then, once we have that report, saying "Thanks! Now let's look at some other data, in light of which we might decide that your claims are credible, or not very credible, or credible in some respects but not others.” Putting these two sources together (your report, plus all other types of evidence) we will then, as scientists, reach our best guess about what your phenomenology or conscious experience (your real conscious experience) actually is.

To read Dennett this way is to read him as a flat-footed phenomenal realist who thinks we often make gross errors in our reports. There's too much in Dennett that strains against this straightforward interpretation for me to be comfortable that this is the right way of reading him; though maybe on balance it *is* the best way? In any case, I think this is the locus of the interpretative challenge that I struggle with in reading him.
Part of the trouble here, I think, is a background pun on "seems". "How it seems to you" can be given an epistemic reading ("what you judge to be the case") or a phenomenal reading ("how you consciously experience things"), so I think it's clearer if we decline to use that particular word. (Similarly with "appears".)

It is quite possible that I am so buried in flat-footed phenomenal realist presuppositions that I still can't quite hear what's being said....

Eric Schliesser

I don't see why this -- "To read Dennett this way is to read him as a flat-footed phenomenal realist who thinks we often make gross errors in our reports" -- follows from anything what I say. And i think this is because you don't take seriously enough the claim that the heterophenomological subject is methodological. (Dennett would say theoretical fictions.)

I think your comments goes wrong is here: "Putting these two sources together (your report, plus all other types of evidence) we will then, as scientists, reach our best guess about what your phenomenology or conscious experience (your real conscious experience) actually is." I don't see this being the point at all for Dennett. What makes you say that? One of the scientific projects, for example, that Dennett recommends heterophenomonology for is to study if phenomological items are really events in the brain.

I think Dennett's official position is that heterophenomology helps interpret behavior of subjects. But I would have to check Consciousness explained again to make sure.

So, the question of epistemic authority enters in at the wrong place altogether. An experimental subject has no epistemic authority.

The other Eric S

I’m sorry, Eric, I still don’t get it! It could be that I’m so deeply committed to phenomenal realism that I can’t hear some distinction you and Dennett are making. You write that an aim is to find out “if phenomenological items are really in the brain”. Could one answer be “yes”? An would it then follow that phenomenological items exist? And would we then be phenomenal realists? Where would you put on the brakes in that progression, if you would?

Eric Schliesser

I am not sure what you are asking. When we start doing heterophenomenology, phenomenal realism could turn out to be true. I don't think Consciousness Explained suggests it does.

The other Eric S

Sorry if I wasn't clear, Eric. Based on your most recent comment, am I correct in inferring that you don't think that Dennett thinks that "phenomenological items" exist in the brain?

"Phenomenological items" isn't my favorite way of phrasing things, but I do think that it is the case that people have conscious experiences (e.g. imagery experiences, visual experiences, emotional experiences). Those conscious experiences have certain properties (e.g., temporal properties, at least approximately). In virtue of this, there are facts about our conscious experiences. The term "phenomenal consciousness" or "phenomenology" can be to refer to conscious experiences. Therefore, there are facts about our phenomenology. We can get it right or wrong about such facts, in our introspective reporting. Do you take Dennett to disagree with any of that? In some places it sounds like he would disagree, to my ear; in other places, it sounds like he would not disagree. That's the interpretative problem I struggle with.

Eric Schliesser

Okay, I think now understand your interpretive problem.
Just to disambiguate: I certainly think that for Dennett heterophenomology (with other cognitive sciences) teaches us stuff/knowledge about the nature and character of phenomenology.
I think it's clear that for Dennett this nature and character is such that we tend to get it wrong when we do our introspective reporting.
But I think part of the problem here is that for Dennett there is a kind of introspective indeterminacy of reference (and lack of identity in Quine's sense) of the objects (conscious experiences) that you seem to wish to posit.

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