Consciousness and the Flow of Attention

Dissertation, City University of New York, Graduate Center (2012)
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Visual phenomenology is highly elusive. One attempt to operationalize or to measure it is to use ‘cognitive accessibility’ to track its degrees. However, if Ned Block is right about the overflow phenomenon, then this way of operationalizing visual phenomenology is bound to fail. This thesis does not directly challenge Block’s view; rather it motivates a notion of cognitive accessibility different from Block’s one, and argues that given this notion, degrees of visual phenomenology can be tracked by degrees of cognitive accessibility. Block points out that in the psychology literature, ‘cognitive accessibility’ is often regarded as either all or nothing. However, the notion motivated in the thesis captures the important fact that accessibility comes in degrees (consider the visual field from fovea the periphery). Different legitimate notions of accessibility might be adopted for different purposes. The notion of accessibility motivated here is weaker than Block’s ‘identification’ (2007) but is stronger than Tye’s ‘demonstration’ (2007). The moral drawn from the discussion of Block can be applied to the debate between Dretske and Tye on the speckled-hen style examples. Dretske’s view is even stronger than Block’s, but his arguments from various figures he provides do not support his conclusion since he does not have right ideas about fixation and attention. Tye’s picture is more plausible but his notion of accessibility is so weak that he reaches the excessive conclusion that accessibility overflows phenomenology. Three ramifications might be considered in the final part of the thesis. The first is the relation between this debate and the one concerning higher-order/same-order theories of consciousness. The second is about John McDowell’s early proposal about demonstrative concepts in visual experiences. The third is the relation between the interpretation of the Sperling case proposed here and McDowell new view of experiential contents, i.e., his story about how we carve out conceptual contents out of intuitional contents without falling pray to the Myth of the Given.

Author's Profile

Tony Cheng
University College London


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