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“The HOT Theory and Anti-theories”

By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center continues the 24-part Great Courses Philosophy of Mind series with Part 23, “The HOT Theory and Anti-theories”, Thursday, November 9

Video Presentation
Philosophy of Mind: Part 23, “The HOT Theory and Anti-theories”
Thu, Nov 9, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejon Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

In this lecture, we will consider two further approaches to the problem. One of these is a very different kind of theory, the higher-order thought, or HOT theory of consciousness. It’s perhaps the strongest contender for a fully functionalist theory of consciousness. The other approach is represented not by a theory of consciousness but by a handful of anti-theories.

David Rosenthal’s HOT theory makes a number of distinctions in our concept of consciousness. Sometimes we speak of people or animals as being conscious when they are awake and responding. This is creature consciousness. When a belief or emotion is conscious, that is state consciousness. When you are conscious of a car in front of you or a cup beside you, that is transitive consciousness. We also speak of a state, intransitively, as a conscious state on its own. This is intransitive consciousness. The latter is the focus of the theory.

The core of the HOT theory is: To say a mental state is conscious is merely to say there is a higher-order thought about it. A mental state is conscious when it is the transitive target of some other mental state. Consciousness is a matter of the functional organization of mental states.

Thomas Nagel offers an anti-theory of consciousness. According to Nagel, the strange truth is certain complex, biologically generated physical systems of which each of us is an example, have rich non-physical properties. An integrated theory of reality must account for this, and I believe that if, and when, it arrives, it will alter our conception of the universe as radically as anything has to date. Our inability to get an objective grasp on subjectivity may not be a historical limitation but the human predicament. Perhaps we need an Einstein of consciousness.

Colin McGinn says we cannot solve the mind-body problem. It is possible the answer is beyond our conceptual reach. Why do we think we have the conceptual keys to the entire universe? Why think all problems are within our abilities? We need to have a conceptual link between subjective experience and physical reality. We can’t make one.

Two questions seem to be at issue: Might the anti-theories be true? Should we believe the anti-theories are true? Although the answer to the first might be yes, the answer to the second is no.

Professor Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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