Talk:Higher-order theories of consciousness
Overall, this article is very clear and is just what is needed for Scholarpedia. It was a stimulating and enjoyable read.
Some suggestions for revisions:
First two paragraphs do not flow well – the second para starts by talking of a third phenomenon but it is not clear a second has been defined.
“Nonconscious HOTs explain how this subjectively immediate awareness occurs. “ Is the implication that when HOTs are conscious, then awareness of being in mental states will no longer seem immediate? The implication does not seem true to me. Can this be re-worded?
A similar point arises here: “So it may well be that we are conscious of subtle differences among the corresponding mental qualities partly in those terms. It does not seem, of course, as though we are conscious of mental qualities even partly in comparative terms. But, since the relevant HOTs would seldom be conscious, we have little reason to trust our pretheoretic intuitions about how HOTs would represent the subtle differences among conscious mental qualities.” But since the relevant HOTs can easily be made conscious by a third order thought, I don’t see this argument carries weight. When I do make my second order states conscious by third order thoughts, I seem not to be aware of explicit comparisons for every fine grained aspect of my experience.
On Metzinger’s theory: “Global connectedness may be typical of many conscious states, but it does not distinguish mental states that are conscious from those that are not. And it is unclear that there is any utility to a mental state's being conscious over and above that state's occurring without being conscious (Rosenthal 2008).” I am unclear of the role of the second sentence in critiquing Metzinger. Is it that - as it happens - there is little utility to a state’s being conscious yet Metzinger assigns some function? or the other way round? Can the argument here be expanded slightly?
“Carruthers's (2000) dispositionalist theory appeals to the social utility of a dedicated capacity to discern what states others are in; but it's unclear why discerning that consciously would have greater utility than doing so nonconsciously.” But surely the whole point is that one does not need to discern what states others are in consciously. Indeed, on the evolutionary story one just needs to discern what state others are in. The pressure gives one mental state concepts so one can refer to mental states; when these get applied to oneself, one’s mental states become conscious (and hence also one’s thoughts about what states others are in, but that is just a byproduct).
“Also, it's not obvious why creatures that were good at discerning what mental states others are in would thereby have similar access to their own, given the reliance on observable behavior in one case, but not in the other.” Your own behaviour is just as available to oneself as it is to others. Indeed, small details of one’s behaviour may be more available to oneself than to others. And once one has partially locked on to one’s mental states, one might learn other cues – like pounding heart beat, minor trembles, aborted small actions, correlations between occurrences of mental states etc etc – that are not available to other people at all.
I wonder if the authors would like to comment on one other issue. Conscious mental states allow more actions and inferences than unconscious ones: The authors deny a 1:1 relation between global availability and consciousness (though I find their examples far from compelling), yet undeniably subliminal perceptions for example play a very limited functional role compared to conscious perceptions. Why is this if a state’s being conscious reflects not its first order properties but only barely useful second order ones?