"Frequently, someone putting forward an explanation of consciousness will start by investing the problem with all the gravity of the problem of phenomenal consciousness, but will end by giving an explanation of some aspect of psychological consciousness, such as the ability to introspect. This explanation might be worthwhile in its own right, but one is left with the sense that more has been promised than has been delivered."
David Chalmers, “The Conscious Mind”
I am totally onside with this quote. I read an article, or a book, or a theory, hoping to find out why there is a movie going on in my head, but I end up having aspects of my behaviour, or my knowledge explained instead. “Why is it *like something* to know that or to do that?" is what I really want to know.
Chalmers goes on to list the types of these Consciousness Red Herrings:
- Voluntary Control
But hold on a minute… one of these on the list seems funny to me. Look at what Chalmers has to say about Attention:
"We often say [wrongly] that someone is conscious of something precisely when they are paying attention to it; that is, when a significant portion of their cognitive resources is devoted to dealing with the relevant information. We can be phenomenally conscious of something without attending to it, as witnessed by the fringes of a visual field.”
This rubs me the wrong way. Of course, after reading it, I got a funny look on my face as I tried to pay attention to the edge of my visual field! Yep, there it is, fuzzy information waiting there at the edges. But was I truly, phenomenally conscious of that edge before I was paying attention to it? I’d be willing to admit peripheral information might affect my behaviour, but I just don’t think I’m conscious of it.
Maybe Chalmers wants to make too clean a break between the “phenomenal” consciousness and the other stuff going on in the head. One could certainly study something called “devoting large amounts of cognitive resources”, but I don’t think that’s synonymous with “paying attention”. I think this topic is something of a bridge between phenomenal considerations and what Chalmers calls “psychological” ones. Yes, Attention has both phenomenal and psychological aspects, but unlike the other categories, I’m not sure you can carve the phenomenal away and still have something that makes psychological sense.