Showing posts with label phenomenal character. Show all posts
Showing posts with label phenomenal character. Show all posts

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Cognitive Phenomenology: An interview with Peter Carruthers

In this post Federico Bongiorno (PhD student at the University of Birmingham) interviews Peter Carruthers, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Peter’s research has focused predominantly on philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, and cognitive science. Here, Federico and Peter (pictured below) discuss Peter's position on the debate over cognitive phenomenology.

FB: Your recent work has focussed, among other things, on the question of cognitive phenomenology. Roughly, the question amounts to asking whether cognition has its own phenomenal character. Can you tell us more about this issue and its significance?

PC: The first thing that I ought to mention is that this is joint work done with Bénédicte Viellet. The issue is essentially whether thought has a phenomenal character that is not reducible to other kinds of phenomenal character. Thought is often associated with phenomenal states. As you listen to me speaking now, you are extracting meaning. At the same time, you have the phonology of the sentences that I am using and you might also be forming visual images or other kinds of affective associations. 

So there is going to be a whole wealth of phenomenal character that goes along with the meaning of any particular sentence that I utter. The question of cognitive phenomenology can be stated as follows: is there some distinctive phenomenology that belongs to the concepts and propositions themselves, that doesn’t just reduce to all the surrounding stuff? 

For instance, when you think a thought, there is a phenomenology of inner speech. But is there also a phenomenology that is distinctive to the thought that you are thinking in inner speech? If you could have the pure thought, would that have a phenomenology in its own right, independent of its causes and effects on the rest of your mental life?

I became interested in these sorts of questions back when I was working on qualia and phenomenal consciousness. It seemed to me that what gave rise to the hard problem of consciousness was distinctively to do with those kinds of mental states that you can form recognitional concepts for – as happens, for instance, when you experience red and form a concept for the way the experience of red is for you. These mental states do in fact give rise to thought-experiments of the ‘hard problem’ sort. 

You can have, for instance, zombie thought experiments, and speculate that zombies might be able to employ direct recognitional concepts of their brain states, even if those states have no associated phenomenal quality. But you can also have inverted-spectrum thought experiments, where an experience which we form the direct recognitional concept of red for is caused by perception of green. 

What occurred to me is that we don’t have analogous recognitional concepts for thoughts – the idea that you can, for instance, recognise the occurrence of the concept seven being tokened in yourself struck me as implausible. These considerations motivated me to argue that there is no cognitive phenomenology, as thoughts and conceptual states do not give rise to the sort of hard-problem thought-experiments that perceptual states do. My view is that we ought to maintain the original position, viz., that phenomenology belongs with the sensitive, whilst cognitive states do get bound into sensory states but do not add any distinctive phenomenal component on their own.