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Akins, Kathleen, , . What is it Like to Be Boring and Myopic?
1993, in Dennett and His Critics: Demystifying Mind, ed. B Dahlbom, Blackwell, 124-160.
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Summary: A response to Thomas Nagel’s famous paper “What is it Like to be a Bat?”. Akins uses neuroscientific data to argue that we can find out that bats may not actually have a point of view, and that, contrary to Nagel, this kind of objective study can bring us closer to understanding individuals’ subjective experiences, not further away.

Comment: As “What is it Like to be a Bat?” is frequently taught, this paper serves as an interesting counterpoint response to it, providing an alternative perspective. A bit technical and heavy on hard neuroscience, but full understanding of that part is not essential to grasping the basic argument.

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Blackmore, Susan Jane, , . What is it like to be…?
2003, In Consciousness: An Introduction. Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Simon Fokt

Abstract: What is it like to be a bat? This is one of the most famous questions ever asked in the history of consciousness studies. First posed in 1950 it was made famous in a 1974 paper of that name by American philosopher Thomas Nagel. Nagel argued that understanding how mental states can be neurons firing inside the brain is a problem quite unlike understanding how water canbe H2O, or how genes can be DNA. ‘Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable,’ he said (Nagel, 1974: 435; 1979:165), and by consciousness he meant subjectivity. To make this clear he asked ‘What is it like to be a bat?’. Do you think that your cat is conscious? Or the birds outside in the street? Perhaps you believe that horses are conscious but not worms, or living creatures but not stones. We shall return to these questions (Chapter 12) but here let’s consider what it means to say that another creature is conscious. If you say that the stone is not conscious you probably mean that it has no inner life and no point of view; that there is nothing it is like to be the stone. If you believe that the neighbour’s vicious bloodhound, or the beggar you passed inthe subway, is conscious, then you probably mean that they do have a point of view; there is something it is like to be them. As Nagel put it, when we say that another organism is conscious we mean that ‘there is something it is like to be that organism . . . something it is like for the organism’ (1974: 436); ‘the essence of the belief that bats have experience is that there is something that it is like to be a bat’ (ibid.: 438). This is probably the closest we can come to a definition of consciousness – that consciousness is subjectivity, or ‘what it is like to be . . .’. Here we must be careful with the phrase ‘what it is like . . .’. Unfortunately there are at least two meanings in English. We might say ‘this ice cream tastes like rubber’ or ‘lying on a beach in the sun is like heaven’. In this case we are comparing things, making analogies, or saying what they resemble. This is not what Nagel meant. The other meaning is found in such questions as: What is it like to work at McDonald’s? What is it like to be able to improvise fugues at the keyboard?…to be someone inconceivably more intelligent than yourself?…to be a molecule, a microbe, a mosquito, an ant, or an ant colony? (Hofstadter and Dennett, (1981: 404-5), pose many more such provocative questions.) In other words, what is it like from the inside? Now, imagine being a bat. A bat’s experience must be very different from that of a human. For a start the bat’s sensory systems are quite different, which is why Nagel chose the bat for his famous question. Bats’ brains, lives and sensesare well understood (Akins, 1993; Dawkins, 1986). Most use either sound or ultrasound for echolocation. That is, they detect objects by emitting rapid high-pitched clicks that bounce off any objects in the vicinity and then measuring the time taken for the echo to return. Natural selection has found ingenious solutions to the many interesting problems posed by echolocation. Some bats cruise around emitting clicks quite slowly so as not to waste energy, but then when they are homing in on prey or approaching a potential danger, they speed up. Many have mechanisms that protect their ears from the loud blastof each click and then open them to receive the faint echo. Some use the Doppler shift to work out their speed relative to prey or other objects. Others sort out the mixed-up echoes from different objects by emitting downward-swooping sounds. The echoes from distant objects take longer to come back and therefore sound higher than the echoes from nearer objects. In this way we can imagine that a whole bat world is built up in which higher sounds mean distant objects and lower sounds mean nearer objects. What would this be like? According to Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins (1986; see Profile, Chapter 10), it might be like seeing is for us. We humans do not know, or care, that colour is related to wavelength or that motion detection is carried out in the visual cortex. We just see the objects out there in depth and colour. Similarly the bat would just perceive the objects out there in depth, and perhaps even in some batty, sonar, version of colour. Living in this constructed world would be what it is like to be the bat. But can we ever know what it would really be like for the bat? As Nagel pointed out, the question is not answered by trying to imagine that you are a bat. This will not do. It is no good hanging upside down in a darkened room, making little clicks with your tongue and flapping your arms like wings. Perhaps if you could magically be transformed into a bat you would know. But even this won’t do. For if you were a bat, the bat in question would notbe an ordinary bat – what with having your memories and your interest inconsciousness. But if you became an ordinary bat then this bat would have no understanding of English, no ability to ask questions about consciousness, and could not tell us what it was like. So we cannot know what it is like to be a bat even if we believe that there is something it is like to be a bat. Nagel’s question clarifies the central meaning of the term ‘consciousness’. It is what the American philosopher Ned Block (1995) calls ‘phenomenal consciousness’ or phenomenality. He explains that ‘Phenomenal consciousness isexperience; what makes a state phenomenally conscious is that there is something ‘it is like’ to be in that state.’ He distinguishes this from ‘access consciousness’, which is ‘availability for use in reasoning and rationally guiding speech and action’ (Block, 1995: 227). We will return to this distinction (Chapter 18), and consider issues to do with availability, but ‘phenomenal consciousness’ is what this book is all about. So what is it like to be you now? Everything I have said so far implies that there is, uncontroversially, something it is like to be you now – that the problems only begin when you start asking about what it is like to be someone orsomething else. But is this right? A thoroughly sceptical approach would meanquestioning even this. I urge you to do this chapter’s ‘Practice’ and become a little more familiar with what it is like to be you.

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Camp, Elisabeth, , . Slurring Perspectives
2013, Analytic Philosophy 54 (3):330-349.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Thomas Hodgson

Introduction: Slurs are among the most rhetorically powerful and insidious expressions in a language. One key reason for this, I will argue, is that they present contents from a certain perspective, which is dif?cult to dislodge despite the fact that it is precisely what a nonbigoted hearer most wants to resist.

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Carey, Susan, , . The Origin of Concepts
2009, Oxford: Oxford University Press
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Saranga Sudarshan

Publisher’s Note: Only human beings have a rich conceptual repertoire with concepts like tort, entropy, Abelian group, mannerism, icon and deconstruction. How have humans constructed these concepts? And once they have been constructed by adults, how do children acquire them? While primarily focusing on the second question, in The Origin of Concepts , Susan Carey shows that the answers to both overlap substantially.

Carey begins by characterizing the innate starting point for conceptual development, namely systems of core cognition. Representations of core cognition are the output of dedicated input analyzers, as with perceptual representations, but these core representations differ from perceptual representations in having more abstract contents and richer functional roles. Carey argues that the key to understanding cognitive development lies in recognizing conceptual discontinuities in which new representational systems emerge that have more expressive power than core cognition and are also incommensurate with core cognition and other earlier representational systems. Finally, Carey fleshes out Quinian bootstrapping, a learning mechanism that has been repeatedly sketched in the literature on the history and philosophy of science. She demonstrates that Quinian bootstrapping is a major mechanism in the construction of new representational resources over the course of childrens cognitive development.

Carey shows how developmental cognitive science resolves aspects of long-standing philosophical debates about the existence, nature, content, and format of innate knowledge. She also shows that understanding the processes of conceptual development in children illuminates the historical process by which concepts are constructed, and transforms the way we think about philosophical problems about the nature of concepts and the relations between language and thought.

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Lavelle, Jane Suilin, , . Theory-Theory and the Direct Perception of Mental States
2012, Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3(2): 213-230.
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Abstract: Philosophers and psychologists have often maintained that in order to attribute mental states to other people one must have a ‘theory of mind’. This theory facilitates our grasp of other people’s mental states. Debate has then focussed on the form this theory should take. Recently a new approach has been suggested, which I call the ‘Direct Perception approach to social cognition’. This approach maintains that we can directly perceive other people’s mental states. It opposes traditional views on two counts: by claiming that mental states are observable and by claiming that we can attribute them to others without the need for a theory of mind. This paper argues that there are two readings of the direct perception claims: a strong and a weak one. The Theory-theory is compatible with the weak version but not the strong one. The paper argues that the strong version of direct perception is untenable, drawing on evidence from the mirror neuron literature and arguments from the philosophy of science and perception to support this claim. It suggests that one traditional ‘theory of mind’ view, the ‘Theory-theory’ view, is compatible with the claim that mental states are observable, and concludes that direct perception views do not offer a viable alternative to theory of mind approaches to social cognition.

Comment: A good argument against direct perception as an alternative to theory theory. Since the direct perception theory is somewhat trendy, this paper would be a useful counterpoint in philosophy of mind courses.

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Levin, Janet, , . Could love be like a heatwave?: Physicalism and the subjective character of experience
1986, Philosophical Studies 49 (March):245-61.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Simon Fokt

Abstract: We expect there to be a connection between experience and knowledge in many of our ordinary epistemic judgments; this expectation is by no means confined to our knowledge of mental states. Thus, the appeal to a special necessary connection between experience and knowledge of mental states ignores the generality of this phenomenon. More important, however, it takes this phenomenon too seriously: our unreflective expectations about the previous experiences of a person who has knowledge, as I have argued, have little to do with whether these experiences are necessary for knowledge of that sort. Thus, they provide no threat to physicalism, or any other objective theory of mental states. To be sure, it is not hard to see why reductionist theses in the philosophy of mind raise suspicion, as they have often ignored the complexity of our mental lives. In this case, however, the suspicion leads to unwarranted fears about Procrusteans under the bed: it is not the insufficiencies of objectivity, but the vestiges of Empiricism, that suggest that these theories may be inadequate for expressing all the truth about experience that there is.

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Spener, Maja, , . Disagreement about cognitive phenomenology
2011, In Tim Bayne and Michelle Montague (ed.), Cognitive Phenomenology. Oxford University Press. pp. 268.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Simon Fokt

Abstract: The debate concerning the phenomenology of thought is marked by severe disagreement about how best to characterize a given conscious thought on the basis of introspective reflecting upon it. In this paper I focus on the fact of this introspection-based disagreement – in particular, on its epistemic import for participants in the debate. How ought these philosophers respond when facing such radical disagreement about the deliverance of introspection? I argue that the fact of such disagreement itself should lead participants to be less confident – or even to suspend judgement – in their own introspection-based claims. If that is right, then to the extent that the debate about the phenomenology of thought is carried out by appeal to introspective evidence, this constitutes a serious epistemological concern. At the very least, if this is the epistemically appropriate response, non?trivial reliance of introspective evidence in the debate comes under pressure.

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