[consciousness] Some Points on Cognitive Closure
- 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!