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[consciousness] Some Points on Cognitive Closure

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  • sirdavidalex
    John Searle has recently published on Koch s _The Quest for Consciousness_ in the New York Review of Books. Searle is critical of some aspects of Koch s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2005
      John Searle has recently published on Koch's _The Quest for
      Consciousness_ in the New York Review of Books. Searle is critical
      of some aspects of Koch's program, which he calls the "building
      block approach" to scientific investigation of consciousness.

      The building-blocks are neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCCs)
      found in vision. From these Koch thinks a test could be performed to
      see if the NCC's caused consciousness, and this would be the basis
      for a theory explaining this causation.

      Searle has his qualms with the ability of the building block
      approach to account for the generation of a unified field of
      consciousness. But what interested me in this article was a detail.

      Koch gives an "intermediate level" account of consciousness, whereby
      many aspects of our inner world of thoughts and feelings, as well as
      the external world of material objects, are wholly inaccessible to
      us. Koch says "the inner world of thoughts and concepts is forever
      hidden from consciousness, as is the exernal, _physical_ world,
      including the body" [emph. added].

      I think much could be made of Koch's claim were he not to include
      _physical_ in his description fo the external world. This single
      word makes his account vulnerable to many attacks (to which Searle
      gestures)found in the history of epistemology, for it leads to
      solipsism (no public language, no publicly verifiable knowledge,
      etc.), and is probably inconsistent.

      Without the word "physical," however, Koch's claim might be seen as
      a recognition of a reasonable principle of cognitive closure. Searle
      makes the bad argument against even this by stating that
      Koch "confuses object and concept" by failing to recognize that the
      object one sees is distinct from the experience one has of it. This
      might be so in some sense, but we are certainly not _conscious_ of
      objects in any sense separated from our experiences. Contrary to
      Searle's claims, most qualia do not function to give us "..._direct_
      information about the real world" unless by "real world" is meant
      the world constructed from veridical sensory experiences. I think by
      including physics Koch has unknowingly slipped in this understanding
      of the real world as connected to sensory experience, since physics
      is of course bound to observational data.

      Similarly, Koch's claims about the inaccessibility of some aspects
      of high-level cognition is reasonable. Conscious decisions function
      with the aid of unconscious mechanisms to do with processing, etc.
      In _Contemporary Theories of Knowledge_, John Pollock makes the very
      good point that our cognitive architecture is enabled by epistemic
      norms, which are a form of _procedural knowledge_ - so our reasoning
      is guided by unconscious compliance with epistemic norms, which is
      accomplished by "knowing how" and not "knowing that."

      If anyone is interested, I can make a copy of Searle's article.

      Hope the break has been treating everyone well!
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