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Synopsis of Language, consciousness, culture by Ray Jackendoff 2007
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Emerging Methods in Psychology. Seth Surgan. The Rationality of Perception. Susanna Siegel. New Essays on Belief. Kohut, Loewald and the Postmoderns. Judith G. Naturalizing Epistemic Virtue. Abrol Fairweather. Rethinking Introspection. Causality in Sociological Research. This is more so when the intuitions are native to the philosopher. Dennett mentions heterophenomenology as a method of studying consciousness where the raw behavioral and internal events in a human subject are recorded and interpreted taking an intentional stance.
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He says that heterophenomenology prepares a catalogue of what must be explained. The catalogue also includes a first-person report of the experiences, granting that there might be some experiences which are ineffable. This method, he contends, works for zombies as well as for genuinely conscious beings and hence helps us to put the difficulty of the zombic hunch at bay for the time being. However the situation doesn't seem to me to be that simple. The method presupposes that behavior is generated by an intentional individual.
In that sense it presupposes that the behaving agent is not a zombie. This presupposition seems to be philosophically difficult to sustain. But then Dennett questions the zombic hunch itself as a philosopher's illusion. Then he considers the second-person point of view which takes into account trust and empathy , as distinct from the neutrality or agnosticism of heterophenomenology.
Philosophers like Evan Thompson argue that 'sensual empathy' is required for studying consciousness for which one must have similar body types.
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Martians are not suitable for studying human consciousness. Dennett thinks that we should not start with this assumption. In chapter three he defies the magical conception of consciousness and says that it is just another physical, biological phenomenon like metabolism or reproduction.
Someone trying to explain away the magic of consciousness is taken to be a spoil sport. Dennett talks at length about card tricks and the Indian Rope Trick to understand the element of magic in them, what makes them magical and how it is very much within the limits of natural scientific explanation. He is especially suspicious of Chalmer's Hard Problem.
Though he admits that it cannot be proved that there is no Hard Problem, one can hardly prove that there is one. In chapter four Dennett tackles the qualia issue. He says that it is difficult to deny that there are qualia but that is because the concept itself is elusive. He brings in the case of change blindness in order to show that we are often confused or in the dark about our own experiences.
If the qualia are not even available for first-person verification then a science of such a state becomes impossible. Thus he argues that heterophenomenology is the best available method for studying consciousness. The concept of qualia, he remarks, is in a mess and philosophers are not clear about what they mean by it. However his argument against the position that a change in qualia takes place only when the change is noticed seems unclear.
He proposes an alternative to the hypothetical Mary being surprised on encountering colors situation by suggesting that it is similarly possible that she is not surprised as she has all the physical information about the colors as per the thought experiment. Dennett as an exponent of thin materialism contends that Mary doesn't learn anything new on encountering color.
He says 'that Mary had figured out, using her vast knowledge of color science, exactly what it would be like for her to see something red, something yellow, something blue in advance of having those experiences' p. According to him the idea that you cannot deduce what a color looks like if you have never seen one is an interesting folk theorem without any scientific backing.
In chapter six, Dennett takes on the issue of explaining consciousness, something termed as a 'hard problem' by Chalmers. Dennett however thinks that the notion of 'hard problem' is a theorist's illusion. He compares consciousness to fame characterizing it as a phenomenon that needs some actualization of the potential p. This 'fame in the brain' theory contends that different happenings in the brain form a clout and gain attention just like any celebrity does.
Now the question is how does this take place? Hence one cannot duck the so-called 'hard problem' but needs to tackle it and that, Dennett believes, can be done following heterophenomenology. In the seventh chapter Dennett talks about his fancily named ' fantasy echo theory of Consciousness'. Here he argues that the most important characteristic of consciousness is its ability of self reflection, to produce an echo of an experience. In the eighth chapter he mentions this ability as that of being able to 'notice that we notice things' p. He compares the notion of qualia with that of vitalism and thinks that understanding consciousness in terms of qualia is a mistaken move.
As a collection of pieces written over a period on issues relating to consciousness Dennett's Sweet Dreams is refreshing and challenging without being philosophically heavy. In this sense it should be accessible to a wider audience interested in reading about philosophical issues in understanding consciousness. Comment on this review. We feature over in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives.
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