Institut Jean Nicod

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Paris Consciousness/Self-consciousness [PaCS] group


The meetings are on Mondays, 16h-18h, at the “salle de réunion”, Institut Jean-Nicod, Pavillon Jardin, ENS 29 rue d’Ulm, 75005.




Next sessions:

June 24 : Pierre Jacob (IJN), 

"Does the claim that phenomenology overflows cognitive access rest on an illusion?"

Does the phenomenology of visual perception coincide with what is accessible to the cognitive mechanisms of attention and working memory, which are necessary for report, as advocates of the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness have argued? Or else does the phenomenology of visual perception overflow cognitive access, as Ned Block maintains? In this paper, I argue that the current evidence from the science of vision supports Block’s thesis that visual phenomenology overflows cognitive access. I further try to rebut several attempts by advocates of the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness, who claim that Block’s thesis rests on a cognitive illusion. Finally, I point out that acceptance of Block’s thesis raises in turn the deep puzzle that people might have experiences of which they are not aware.


Passed sessions :

January 21 : Uriah Kriegel (IJN),
“Phenomenal Primitives”

Recent work on consciousness has featured a number of debates on the existence and character of controversial types of phenomenology.

Perhaps the best-known is the debate over the existence of a sui generis, irreducible cognitive phenomenology – a phenomenology proper to thought. Another concerns the existence of an irreducible phenomenology of agency. Such debates bring up a more general
question: how many types of irreducible, basic, primitive phenomenology do we have to posit to just be able to describe the stream of consciousness? The purpose of this talk is to present a framework within which to address this question.

February 4 : Jerome Dokic (IJN),
“Perceptual Feelings”

February 11: David Rudrauf (Laboratoire d'Imagerie Fonctionnelle, INSERM U678),
“Consciousness as a projective space”

February 18 : Sid Kouider (Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, ENS)
"Partial awareness and the illusion of inaccessible phenomenology"

Current theories of consciousness posit a dissociation between ‘phenomenal’ consciousness (rich) and ‘access’ consciousness (limited). I will argue that the empirical evidence for phenomenal consciousness without access is equivocal, resulting either from a confusion between phenomenal and unconscious contents, or from an impression of phenomenally rich experiences arising from illusory contents. I will propose a refined account of access that relies on a hierarchy of representational levels and on the notion of partial awareness, whereby lower and higher levels are accessed independently. Reframing of the issue of dissociable forms of consciousness into dissociable levels of access provides a more parsimonious account of the existing evidence. In addition, the rich phenomenology illusion can be studied and described in terms of testable cognitive mechanisms.

February 25 : Tom Avery (Institut Nicod)
"Egocentric Space"

In this talk, I discuss the notion of egocentric space, as it figures in philosophical discussions of visual experience. I distinguish a minimal notion of egocentric space, and - what I call - a complex notion, and note that the complex notion is more or less the present orthodoxy. The complex notion of egocentric space involves the idea that structure and orientation of egocentric space is constitutively determined by the orientation and disposition in space of the subject's body (or parts thereof). I raise a worry for the complex notion, by reflecting on how it handles cases of, so-called, displaced vision. I then supply an alternative account of these cases that involves a commitment only to the minimal notion of egocentric space, and which does not raise the worries that I highlight for the complex notion. I close by considering an objection to this alternative account, derived from Evans's seminal discussion of these issues, which emphasises the role that the subject's dispositions to bodily action supposedly play in fixing the contours of egocentric space. I indicate why this objection has no force.

March 11: Kenneth Williford (University of Texas, Arlinton),
Consciousness, Sensory Qualities, and Asymmetry

I argue for a more or less Husserlian account of sensory content (in terms of sensory "matter" and intentional "animation) and explain how the model can be embedded in a more general model of the structure of consciousness.  The resulting model, I argue, will allow us to make sense of the intentional component of sensory experience in terms of diachronic asymmetry plus a type of Bayesian inference.  I close by arguing that the model, modulo a few innocuous assumptions, will allow us to reduce the truly intractable part of the "Hard Problem" to general metaphysical problems.

March 18 : Elvira di Bona (IJN),
The Perception of Sound Sources

April 8 : Michel Bitbol (CNRS/Archive Husserl),
"Comment affronter le problème de la conscience sans théorie"

Je propose de changer la nature du “problème difficile” de la conscience, en le faisant passer du statut d’énigme intellectuelle à celui d’option existentielle. L’approche centrale qu’il faut utiliser dans ce but consiste à minimiser le rôle des préjugés ontologiques à propos de ce dont le monde est fait, et à donner la priorité aux méthodogies et aux attitudes. En effet, un préjugé de ce genre détermine la forme même du “problème difficile” comme question de l’origine de la conscience à partir d’une organisation matérielle préexistante; l’abandonner a donc toutes les chances de permettre la dissolution de ce problème. Mon guide dans cette recherche sera l’article “Neurophenomenology” de Francisco Varela. Dans ce texte, il affirme que chercher une solution théorique n’est pas le bon angle à adopter pour affronter le “problème difficile”; seul un “remède” est nécessaire. Cependant, cette déclaration a été négligée ou mal comprise: on a considéré tour à tour (ou simultanément) que Varela a fait des propositions théoriques de type idéaliste, dualiste, ou moniste matérialiste. Je commencerai donc par montrer que ces caractérisations théoriques contradictoires de la position de Varela sont toutes incorrectes. Puis, j’avancerai qu’il existe une attitude (qu’on peut appeler l’attitude varelienne) dans laquelle le problème de l’origine de la conscience primaire, ou pure expérience, n’a même pas à se poser.

April 22 : Davide Bordini (Milan),
“The Silence of Transparency”

According Block (1996, 2003), “the greatest chasm in the philosophy of mind” is between Intentionalism, the view that phenomenology and intentionality are not mutually independent, and Anti-intentionalism, the view they are mutually independent. In the last decade, Intentionalism has become a mainstream view. However, despite the agreement on the general point, intentionalists are still divided as to the specific account of the relation between phenomenology and intentionality. Some of them have argued that intentionality is prior to phenomenology (e.g., Dretske 1995, 1996; Tye 1995, 2000, 2002), others have held the opposite claim (e.g., Horgan and Tienson 2002; Kriegel 2002, 2011, 2013; Loar 1987, 2002, 2003; Siewert 1998).
According to a third account, there is no priority at all (Chalmers 2005). To support their particular view, some intentionalists have explicitly appealed to the thesis of the Transparency of Experience (TE), according to which (roughly) the phenomenal character of experience is transparent to its representational content. In this talk, I will argue that transparency alone is not enough to decide what is the priority relation between phenomenology and intentionality (and so to decide between different types of Intentionalism). After introducing TE, I will discuss the different arguments from TE, show that they have problems and conclude that transparency is silent.

May 6 : Alexandre Billon (IJN/Lille),
"Self-Awareness and Pathological Self-Doubt"

Basic self-awareness is the kind of awareness that underlies our comprehending use of the first-person. I argue that some psychiatric patients suffering from severe depersonalization or from the Cotard syndrome display an impaired basic self-awareness and that their study allows to favor a specific theory of basic self-awareness over its rivals. According to this theory, which I call Cartesian, we are basically self-aware in virtue of being acquainted with ourselves  thorough introspection.

Joulia Smortchkova (IJN),
"Seeing Agents"

Do we directly perceive agents (for the purpose of this talk an agent is just an entity that shows animacy cues) or do we cognitively infer that some entities are agents on the basis of low-level perceptual cues? In my talk I will defend the first hypothesis. I will try to show that detection of agents satisfies (at least) three criteria of perceivability: 1) there is a distinctive perceptual phenomenal experience of seeing agents, 2) agent perception seems to be “encapsulated” and agent representations have a non-conceptual format, 3) the hypothesis is compatible with psychological and neurological evidence on the processes involved.

June 10 : Marie Guillot (IJN),
"Unifying the epistemology of self-reference"

In her 2003 article “The first person: error through misidentification, the split between speaker’s and semantic reference, and the real guarantee”, Annalisa Coliva distinguishes three epistemic properties attaching to the use of “I”. She argues that a number of contributors to the debate on the nature of error through misidentification (IEM) with respect to the first-person pronoun, including Anscombe, have conflated IEM with the two other phenomena she has in view, namely (i) the putative impossibility of a “split between speaker’s and semantic reference” in comprehending uses of “I”, and (ii) the “real guarantee” that attaches to those uses, ensuring that the speaker always knows what object is the semantic reference of her utterances of “I”.
In this work in progress, I acknowledge Coliva’s three-way distinction, but aim to show that all three phenomena have a deeper unity, because of a common source, which helps explain why they are often conflated. This common source, I argue, lies in the nature of the self-concept, which I propose to analyse as a special type of phenomenal concept.

June 17 : Indrek Reiland (USC),

"Experiences, Seeings, and Seemings"

Abstract :

1) Perceptual experiences are events that are individuated by their phenomenal character, what it’s like to have them, and their presentational character, which objects and properties they seem to present us with. Let’s restrict our focus to experiences of a single modality, for example, the visual experience of a white knight on a black square. On a common view such events are indivisible in that they don’t consist of further events. Debates can then be had over whether they have a Naïve Realist or Representationalist metaphysics, whether they present us with only low-level or also with high-level properties, and whether they’re non-conceptual or conceptual. Let’scall this view the One-Event view.

            On an alternative view, experiences like the visual experience of a white knight on a black square consist of further events that belong to different mental kinds in having different natures and playing different roles. For example, on a classic version of this view, associated with Thomas Reid, a visual experience of a white knight on a black square consists of a non-intentional sensation which determines its phenomenology and something like a judgment or a series of judgments to the effect that this is a white knight on a black square which determines its world-presenting character (Smith 2002). For another example, both externalist epistemologists like Jack Lyons and internalists like Berit Brogaard and Chris Tucker have recently advocated taking experiences to consist of a non-conceptual event which presents us with low-level properties and a conceptual event which presents us with high-level properties (Brogaard 2013a, 2013b, Lyons 2005, 2009, Tucker 2011). Call any such view a Many-Event

            My aim in this talk will be to present and defend what is to my mind the most plausible version of the Many-Event view. On this view, the Sensing-Seeming view, experiences of normal perceivers consist of (at least) relational and non-conceptual sensings of objects and their maximally determinate low-level properties and representational and conceptual seemings to the effect that they have determinable low- or high-level properties. In order to get an initial grip on it, consider first a visual experience of somebody who’s never heard of chess and therefore lacks the concept of a knight, but who looks at a white knight on a black square from a particular point of view (“novice”).Consider next a visual experience of somebody who has the concept and looks at the same white knight from the same point of view (“expert”). Intuitively, there’s at least a part of the two
experiences that is phenomenally exactly the same. However, the object seems to be a knight only to the expert and one might think that only the expert has therefore evidence or reason for the belief that it’s a knight. On the Sensing-Seeming view the experiences of the novice and expert consist of sensings which are phenomenally the same, but only the expert's experience features a seeming to the effect that the object is a knight