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.
Contact : Uriah Kriegel


June, 23Jonathan E. Dorsey (National Humanities Center)
"What is the hard problem of consciousness?"

Abstract: The hard problem of consciousness, though widely discussed, is surprisingly difficult to pin down. A brief history of the problem ultimately reveals that ‘the’ hard problem can be, and in fact often is, a confused mélange of related but distinct problems, all having to do with phenomenal consciousness.
Here, after supplying this brief history (§1), I argue that the hard problem is in fact a single and well-defined problem. Specifically, the hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining at least one phenomenally conscious state in terms of that which is not phenomenally conscious. After arguing for this -- I think very innocent -- thesis (§2), I distinguish the hard problem from related but distinct problems and I explain how a proper understanding of the hard problem ought to revolutionize our approach to phenomenal consciousness as an object of study (§3). A proper understanding of the hard problem may provide, to borrow Wittgenstein’s phrase, the way out of the fly-bottle.

Passed Sessions

October 14Kevin O’Regan (Paris V),
“The sensorimotor approach to color: An empirical victory of philosophy!”

Abstract: The sensorimotor approach to phenomenal consciousness claims to bridge the explanatory gap and provide an explanation for the "what it's like" of sensory experience. An obvious challenge to the theory was thus to try to apply it to color, which is the philosopher's prototype of a "quale". I will report an approach that takes the view that (1) color is essentially an aspect of surfaces, not of lights; and (2) the quality of a color experience is constituted by the sensorimotor law that describes how a surface modifies incoming light. I will show how this simple philosophical idea gives rise to empirical predictions about color naming and unique hues that are borne out with surprising accuracy.

October 28 : Jeremie Lafraire (IJN),
“Explaining Immunity to Error through Misidentification”

Abstract: Immunity to Error through Misidentification (IEM) undoubtedly has played a essential role in the literature on I-thoughts and many philosophers now regard it as a desideratum on a theory of first-person thought that it provides a satisfactory account of IEM.
My general goal is to sketch an explanation of that epistemological/psychological phenomenon from a more basic concept of IEM according to which an “I”-thought is immune to error through misidentification  when it can misrepresent the mental or bodily property self-ascribed but cannot misrepresent the subject (if any) possessing that property. This definition of IEM is incorrect as it stands. However, I will argue that it is a promising starting point for an explanation of IEM if we refine it in a way inspired both by the relativist approach of IEM (Recanati, 2007,2012) and by Robert Cummins' theory of targets and content (Cummins, 1996).

November 4 : Dorothée Legrand (Archives Husserl),
“For me from you: What is the structure of self-experience?”

How is subjectivity related to alterity? How is consciousness of oneself related to consciousness of others? Here this question is first addressed by considering how self-consciousness is intentional. Consciousness of oneself-as-object is thought to be intentional, in the sense that the subject is there taken as his own object of intentional consciousness. Contrastively, it is traditionally argued that consciousness of oneself-as-subject is orthogonal relative to intentionality, precisely in that any act of intentional consciousness targeting the subject himself would irremediably miss his specific subjectivity, by turning him into an intentional object. Here, it is rather proposed that consciousness of oneself-as-subject is tied to intentionality in that it involves being conscious of oneself as an intentional subject, i.e. as a subject directed at intentional objects transcending oneself-as-subject. This form of self-consciousness is neither reflective, in the sense that it does not involve taking oneself as an object of reflection, nor reflexive, in the sense that it does not involve being related to oneself but to what-one-is-not, i.e. to the transcending intentional object. It is further argued that consciousness of oneself-as-subject involves two dynamics, as the subject would be passively indicated to himself by the objects towards which he actively directs himself. This double dynamic is further considered in the specific case of self-consciousness in relation to other subjects.

November 18 : Vasilis Tsompanidis (IJN),
“Experiencing the passage of time: Between the memory view and specious present theories”

Abstract : Theories attempting to explain the experience of the passage of time through the human experience of motion and/or auditory streams have been classified by Dainton (2008) and others into three broad categories: memory, retentionalist and extensionalist theories. I argue first that the current conception of auditory working memory as involving phonological loops, and not a separate memory module, casts doubt into distinguishing the first two groups of theories. Then I propose a description of the human cognitive architecture that retains the insights of all three theories without putting them into direct competition. Three separate paths from sense to consciousness are distinguished, each roughly corresponding to the positive part of each of the three theories, all of which are involved in normal-working human processing of change. Moreover, all three can be viewed as parts of objective perceiving, and all three are needed to explain abnormal cases such as akinetopsia. I conclude that we should include the positive parts of all three theories in a philosophical explanation of our experience of the passage of time.

December 2 : Margherita Arcangeli (IJN),
“Is imagining from the inside just what you imagined?”

Abstract: A key notion in many discussions on imagination is that of imagining something “from the inside”. Although imagining from the inside can be intuitively interpreted as imagining by taking the stance of the subject who fixes the “point of view” or perspective within the imaginative scene, this notion deserves much more attention, since it can yield different and more technical meanings. In this talk I shall disentangle four readings of that phrase, which I think often overlap and are even confused in discussions about the ways in which imagination can be “from the inside”. First, “imagining from the inside” can be interpreted as involving the perspective of an experience in a broad sense. Second, that phrase may refer to the involvement of an internal, rather than external, experiential perspective. Third, “imagining from the inside” can be seen as a specific way of self-involvement in imagination, namely what has been called “implicit de se imagination”. Fourth, that phrase can be tied to imagining being in someone else’s situation.

January 20: Frederique de Vignemont (IJN),
"The affective quality of bodily self-awareness"

Is the sense of bodily ownership exhausted by bodily experiences or is there a distinctive awareness that goes beyond bodily experiences? And if the latter case, what is the nature of the awareness of one’s body as one’s? I will argue against a sensory conception and in favour of an affective conception of bodily self-awareness. In a nutshell, what it means to be aware of one’s body as one’s own is that one cares for it. I will then consider two objections that can be put forward against the care model. First, according to what I call the Dualist objection, one may claim that we do not care for our body and only care for the self. Secondly, according to what I call the Altruistic objection, we care for other bodies in addition to ours. By answering to these objections, I shall be able to describe in more details the notion of bodily care that is relevant for the sense of ownership.

January 27: Francois Recanati (IJN),
“First-Person Thought”

First person thoughts are the kind of thoughts we express by using the first person. This characterization does not take us very far, however. When we attempt to characterize the (linguistic) first person, we appeal to the token-reflexive rule : the fact that we use the first person to refer to ourselves. But to follow the token-reflexive rule, we need to think of ourselves as ourselves. The capacity to use the first person in language presupposes the capacity to think first person thoughts.

I will offer a characterization of first person thoughts independent of their linguistic expression. The account will be couched in the mental file framework (Recanati 2012a). In the second part of the talk, I will discuss the issue of immunity to error through misidentification, and the account I offered using the mode/content distinction (Recanati 2007, 2012b). I will show how that account can be maintained, and elaborated, in the mental file framework.

Recanati, F. (2007) Perspectival Thought. Oxford University Press.
Recanati, F. (2012a) Mental Files. Oxford University Press..
Recanati, F. (2012b) ‘Immunity to error through misidentification : what it is and where it comes from’. In S. Prosser and F. Recanati (eds.) Immunity to Error through Misidentification, Cambridge University Press.

February 10 : Cathal O'Madagain (IJN),
“Thinking about the Statue and Thinking about the Clay: Reference in Phenomenally Indistinguishable Thoughts”

We routinely distinguish in thought between objects in our environment that are phenomenally indistinguishable. In the most obvious case, we can entertain distinct demonstrative thoughts about a statue before us, and the stone it is made of. We might believe at once that the statue is just a few years old, but that the stone it is made of is millions of years old. How do our demonstrative thoughts distinguish between these objects, when they look and feel indistinguishable to us? Here I argue that such cases raise a problem for both of the dominant current accounts of demonstrative thought. I then offer a solution, based on a conditional structure for the content of demonstrative thoughts.

February 17 : Catherine Tallon-Baudry (ENS),
"Toward a biological explanation of subjective experience?"

Conscious vision is accompanied by both enhanced cognitive abilities and a subjective experience. I will present here experimental evidence revealing that those two aspects of consciousness can be dissociated both at the neural and behavioral levels. I will propose that the first person perspective necessary for subjective experience is linked to a self-centered referenrial, based on physiological monitoring processes, and show that experimentally, fluctuations in neural responses to heartbeats before stimulus onset predict fluctuations in visual consciousness.

March 3 : Michael Murez (IJN),
“The Phenomenology of Particularity and Mental Files”

Our experience of the world is not purely qualitative. We perceive objects as particular individuals. The problem of particularity is how to account for this fundamental phenomenological fact. A similar problem arises at the level of conceptual thought. Singular thoughts are thoughts that are directly about particular individual objects. According to Bach (2010), the problem of particularity and the problem of singular thought are “in relevant respects ... pretty much the same problem.” If so, perhaps they have pretty much the same solution? In this presentation, I explore the possibility of using the recently popular mental file framework (Recanati 2012) to address both problems. I argue that we should distinguish between the particularity of perception and the singularity of thought rather more carefully than Bach seems to suggest. This distinction raises some thorny issues for file enthusiasts, issues which concern the relation between the phenomenology of perception and rational thought.

March 24 : Eric Tremault (Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne),
"Do we need pre-reflective self-consciousness? About Sartre and Brentano"

Since Locke at least, pre-reflective self-consciousness has been understood as a means to understand the very perception we have of being “selves”: otherwise, it seems that we could be conscious of ourselves only as something outside of ourselves, namely as a reflected and supposedly observable past consciousness. Thus, it is supposed that we can only be self-conscious as something which is not reflected and cannot be observed: a present self-consciousness, which is conscious of being (in various ways) conscious of the world. But here, and on the face of the difficulties such a theory generates, the problem might be raised, and indeed has been raised, whether this construction might not be purely fictional. Against the very possibility of such a question, Brentano and Sartre (on which this talk will focus) have given a similar answer: pre-reflective consciousness ("internalperception";  "non-thetical self-consciousness") is not only the condition of possibility of self-consciousness, it is moreover the condition of possibility of the Cartesian “Cogito”, according to which the most obvious thing in the world is supposedly not the world itself but the “intentional” consciousness I have of the world. However, such interpretation of the Cogito is itself very dubious, at least concerning the purely “representative” modality of consciousness: can my (unreflected and unobservable) consciousness of the world seriously be said to be more certain than the appearance itself of the world? Starting with the opposite assumption, many other ways to deal with the problem of self-consciousness appear possible.

March 31 : Malika Auvray (IJN),
"Questioning the use of sensory substitution devices at the behavioral, neurophysiological and phenomenal levels"

Sensory substitution devices convert stimuli that are normally accessed through one sensory modality (e.g., vision) into stimuli accessible through another sensory modality (e.g., touch or audition). Studies conducted with these devices revealed an important structural and functional plasticity of the central nervous system. From a structural point of view, it has been shown that practice with visual-to-tactile and visual-to-auditory devices results in increased activation in the blind’s visual cortex. From a functional point of view, users can build a perceptual space that possesses visual characteristics. In this talk I will review the existing devices together with the main obtained results. This will allow questioning the extent to which sensory substitution devices genuinely allow replacing one sense by another at the behavioral, neurophysiological, and phenomenal levels. I will then stress that research conducted so far were based on an implicit perceptual paradigm which accepts the equivalence between using a sensory substitution device and perceiving through a particular sensory modality. Such implicit perceptual paradigm has generated important confirmation biases. I will subsequently give the outline of an alternative framework, which defines the integration of sensory substitution devices as being closer to culturally-implemented cognitive extensions of existing perceptual skills.

April 7 : Diana Raffman (University of Toronto),
"A Phenomenological Puzzle About Hue Discrimination"

Data obtained in an experiment on hue discrimination support the hypothesis that, contrary to a usual view, the relation of indiscriminability is not nontransitive. Interestingly, subjects’ performance suggested that they were sensitive to stimulus differences of which they were, in an important sense, unaware.  This makes the phenomenology of their experience difficult to describe.  I suggest several possibilities.

April 14 : Coralie Dorsaz (University of Fribourg),
“Perceptual Justification”

Perceptual experiences seem to give us reasons to form beliefs about the world around us ; but can they do it, so to speak, by themselves ? In other words, do perceptual experiences provide immediate justification for some of our beliefs ? In this talk, I’m going first to present two motivations to believe in the possibility of immediate perceptual justification. I then want to discuss BonJour’s argument against this very possibility, an argument taking the form of a dilemma and proceeding from a questioning about the nature of perceptual experiences. In the third part of my talk, I’ll propose some attempts to answer BonJour’s objection and to thereby make room for the possibility of immediate perceptual justification ; firstly, an attempt suggesting the adoption of a disjunctive theory of perceptual experience, secondly an attempt suggesting the restriction of immediate perceptual justification to veridical perceptual experiences.

April 28 : Jacob Berger (University of Antwep),
"Perceptual Holism"

Abstract :
Most current accounts of the contents of perceptual states areatomistic insofar as they hold that a perceptual state's content does not depend on the state's relations to other kinds of perceptual
states, but only on its standing in the appropriate relation to the thing it represents.  In this talk, I'll explore some reasons to doubt such atomistic approaches to perceptual content and argue that theseconsiderations in turn motivate a promising alternative theory of the contents of perception, which is holistic insofar as it holds that a perceptual state's content constitutively depends on that state's relation to other perceptual states.  On this kind of perceptual holism, for example, a perception of red represents red because it occupies a location within an ordering space of color perceptions that matches the location of red within an ordering space of colors.  After sketching this view, I'll reply to several commonsense, theoretical, and experimental objections to it.

June, 2: Jan Degenaar (Université Paris V),
"Consciousness without inner models: representation-hunger reconsidered (with Erik Myin)"

Abstract: According to a standard representationalist view, cognitive capacities depend on internal content-carrying states, and so does conscious experience, even if phenomenal experience may then ‘overflow’ the content of inner representational models. Recent alternatives to the representationalist view have been met with the reaction that they have at best limited scope, because a large range of phenomena —those involving absent and abstract features— require representational explanations. Here we challenge the idea that the consideration of the absent (e.g. visual imagery) and the abstract (e.g. abstract thought) can move the debate about representationalism along. Whether or not the absent and the abstract require the positing of representations depends upon whether more basic forms of experience require the positing of representations.

June, 9 : Cain Todd (Lancaster),
"Emotional Phenomenology and Attention"

Abstract : Many contemporary accounts of emotion presuppose that emotions resemble perception in possessing  objective truth conditions, a mind-to-world direction of fit, and an attributive phenomenology. The primary aim of this paper is to undermine this conception and to outline a more complex picture of the evaluative content and phenomenology of emotion. First, I argue that emotions have relative rather than objective truth conditions. Second, I account for the presumption of objectivity in terms of what I call ‘apparent objectivity’, which is subject to degree and articulated in terms of two key factors: the apparent voluntariness and opacity of emotional experience. Finally, I provide an alternative conception of emotion that draws on the representational role and phenomenology of attention, rather than perception. In particular, I claim that emotion, like attention, has a sui generis partly non-attributive phenomenology.