Core Mysteries of Consciousness – A New Paper

I’ve just learned that another paper of mine has been accepted for presentation at a major conference, the Eastern Division gathering of the American Philosophical Association (Savannah, Georgia, January, 2018). I want to talk about the paper on this blog, but it’s highly technical. My clever, catchy, compelling title is: “Sensory Experiences Are Ontologically Opaque.”

Here’s the abstract, which I’ll follow with some comments in English:

Abstract: This paper critiques the claim that introspection reveals the ontology of sensory phenomena. If we lack such ontological access, several problems of consciousness become easier to solve. For example, one of the most challenging explanatory gaps between experiential states and brain states disappears if we do not subjectively detect ontologically puzzling phenomena. Similarly, Frank Jackson’s well-known “Mary” scenario depends on the intuition that color experiences are ontologically remarkable. If that intuition is false, Mary’s new experiences are philosophically unproblematic. The paper offers five arguments supporting the claim that introspection fails to disclose the ultimate nature of sensory experiences. It concludes by considering the plausibility of this skeptical stance. [End of abstract.]

Actually it’s easy to offer a simple summary of this paper’s theme. At one time many or most philosophers thought that we directly and infallibly “apprehend” our own conscious experiences. We know them just as they are. In recent decades this idea has lost a lot of support. Even though introspection – paying attention to our own mental processes – may seem simple, it’s actually quite complex and subject to error. The beliefs we form based on introspection arise out of a labyrinth of complex, poorly understood, and mostly-unconscious mental processes. In this paper I am questioning whether introspection-based beliefs about the ultimate, basic, fundamental nature of sensory experiences are well founded. I claim that the answer is no.

You can play with this general idea by going back to my February 1, 2016 post, An Aggravating Mystery Named Mary. After you think about this famous thought experiment, ask yourself whether Mary’s new color experiences show her the ultimate nature of colors – their ontology. That’s what I’ll be grappling with in my paper next January. I’ll add more comments as the time approaches.

Roger Christan Schriner

P.S. I recently mentioned that I’ll be speaking at The Science of Consciousness, in Shanghai, but this event has been moved to San Diego. My talk is slated for June 6.

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