There is no such thing as conscious thought (Peter Carruthers)

#1
https://www.scientificamerican.com/artic...s-thought/

INTRO: Peter Carruthers [...] is an expert on the philosophy of mind who draws heavily on empirical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. He outlined many of his ideas on conscious thinking in his 2015 book The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us about the Nature of Human Thought. More recently, in 2017, he published a paper with the astonishing title of “The Illusion of Conscious Thought(PDF).” In the following excerpted conversation, Carruthers explains to editor Steve Ayan the reasons for his provocative proposal.

EXCERPTS OF EXCERPT: . . . One might easily agree that the sources of one’s thoughts are hidden from view—we just don’t know where our ideas come from. But once we have them and we know it, that’s where consciousness begins. Don’t we have conscious thoughts at least in this sense?

In ordinary life we are quite content to say things like “Oh, I just had a thought” or “I was thinking to myself.” By this we usually mean instances of inner speech or visual imagery, which are at the center of our stream of consciousness—the train of words and visual contents represented in our minds. I think that these trains are indeed conscious. In neurophilosophy, however, we refer to “thought” in a much more specific sense. In this view, thoughts include only nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals. These are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences. Such thoughts never figure in working memory. They never become conscious. And we only ever know of them by interpreting what does become conscious, such as visual imagery and the words we hear ourselves say in our heads.

So consciousness always has a sensory basis?

I claim that consciousness is always bound to a sensory modality, that there is inevitably some auditory, visual or tactile aspect to it. All kinds of mental imagery, such as inner speech or visual memory, can of course be conscious. We see things in our mind’s eye; we hear our inner voice. What we are conscious of are the sensory-based contents present in working memory.

[...] You call the process of how people learn their own thoughts interpretive sensory access, or ISA. Where does the interpretation come into play?

Let’s take our conversation as an example—you are surely aware of what I am saying to you at this very moment. But the interpretative work and inferences on which you base your understanding are not accessible to you. All the highly automatic, quick inferences that form the basis of your understanding of my words remain hidden. You seem to just hear the meaning of what I say. What rises to the surface of your mind are the results of these mental processes. That is what I mean: The inferences themselves, the actual workings of our mind, remain unconscious. All that we are aware of are their products. And my access to your mind, when I listen to you speak, is not different in any fundamental way from my access to my own mind when I am aware of my own inner speech. The same sorts of interpretive processes still have to take place.

[...] Why, then, do we have the impression of direct access to our mind?

The idea that minds are transparent to themselves (that everyone has direct awareness of their own thoughts) is built into the structure of our “mind reading” or “theory of mind” faculty, I suggest. The assumption is a useful heuristic when interpreting the statements of others. [...] The illusion of immediacy has the advantage of enabling us to understand others with much greater speed and probably with little or no loss of reliability. If I had to figure out to what extent others are reliable interpreters of themselves, then that would make things much more complicated and slow. [...] And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.

What is the empirical basis of your hypothesis?

There is a great deal of experimental evidence from normal subjects [...] Autism spectrum disorders, for example, are not only associated with limited access to the thoughts of others but also with a restricted understanding of oneself. In patients with schizophrenia, the insight both into one’s own mind and that of others is distorted. There seems to be only a single mind-reading mechanism on which we depend both internally and in our social relations.

What side effect does the illusion of immediacy have?

The price we pay is that we believe subjectively that we are possessed of far greater certainty about our attitudes than we actually have....

[...] Would you agree that we are much more unconscious than we think we are?

I would rather say that consciousness is not what we generally think it is. It is not direct awareness of our inner world of thoughts and judgments but a highly inferential process that only gives us the impression of immediacy.

Where does that leave us with our concept of freedom and responsibility?

We can still have free will and be responsible for our actions. Conscious and unconscious are not separate spheres; they operate in tandem. [...] In the end, being free means acting in accordance with one’s own reasons—whether these are conscious or not....

MORE (details): https://www.scientificamerican.com/artic...s-thought/
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#2
I don't agree that deciding is unconscious. Every so often for example I sit in my recliner around noon and decide what I want for lunch. A lapse of time occurs in which I remember various foods I have eaten from various fast food restaurants, and there is this growing sense of what I'm in the mood for now. Then I narrow it down to images of me eating something good in anticipation. Then I may wait abit, wondering if I'm really hungry enough yet. At some point, bam!, I'm up and out the door off to retrieve the decided upon meal. All this process of deciding was not unconscious. In fact it used memory and anticipation and imagination to reach a point at which I decide upon something and take action to go get it. It WAS tied to the senses, as well as to a running narrative of telling myself what I want now and want bad enough to get my lazy ass up to go get it. I think judgements and goals and intentions operate the same way, occurring in a consciously selective way to the point of engendering purposive action.
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#3
(Dec 22, 2018 07:11 AM)C C Wrote: EXCERPTS OF EXCERPT: . . . One might easily agree that the sources of one’s thoughts are hidden from view—we just don’t know where our ideas come from. But once we have them and we know it, that’s where consciousness begins. Don’t we have conscious thoughts at least in this sense?

In ordinary life we are quite content to say things like “Oh, I just had a thought” or “I was thinking to myself.” By this we usually mean instances of inner speech or visual imagery, which are at the center of our stream of consciousness—the train of words and visual contents represented in our minds. I think that these trains are indeed conscious. In neurophilosophy, however, we refer to “thought” in a much more specific sense. In this view, thoughts include only nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals. These are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences. Such thoughts never figure in working memory. They never become conscious. And we only ever know of them by interpreting what does become conscious, such as visual imagery and the words we hear ourselves say in our heads.
If he just defines thought as something we are not conscious of, he is simply begging the question. His definition assumes his conclusion from the outset. It could also be a form of no-true-Scotsman fallacy, where he may be asserting that visual/sensory consciousness is "not really" thought.

Quote:So consciousness always has a sensory basis?

I claim that consciousness is always bound to a sensory modality, that there is inevitably some auditory, visual or tactile aspect to it. All kinds of mental imagery, such as inner speech or visual memory, can of course be conscious. We see things in our mind’s eye; we hear our inner voice. What we are conscious of are the sensory-based contents present in working memory.
Apparently he doesn't think we are conscious of emotions, as he neglects them entirely, unless these are his "nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals".

Quote:What is the empirical basis of your hypothesis?

There is a great deal of experimental evidence from normal subjects [...] Autism spectrum disorders, for example, are not only associated with limited access to the thoughts of others but also with a restricted understanding of oneself. In patients with schizophrenia, the insight both into one’s own mind and that of others is distorted. There seems to be only a single mind-reading mechanism on which we depend both internally and in our social relations.
The theory of mind by which we understand others is based on our own understanding of ourselves. So it's no surprise that the two should be linked.
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#4
Quote:Apparently he doesn't think we are conscious of emotions, as he neglects them entirely, unless these are his "nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals".

I thought of that last night. We ARE conscious of our moods and feelings and emotions and various brain states. It's a powerful demonstration of our immediate and direct access to our own minds, which he seems to deny.
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#5
I don't agree with the absoluteness of "no such thing as conscious thoughts", either. More of a mix.

"Judgements and decisions" can be mediated by language or exhibited by the "inner voice". They don't universally entail being nonsensory (invisible) mental attitudes. When they are the latter, they would be limited to being (public) brain processes alone rather than "thoughts" (usually pertaining to or involving private manifestations). Neurophilosophy can choose to borrow and extend the meaning of "thought" within its own discipline, but it can't then conflate that with traditional usages elsewhere, as if referring to the same thing or its own application of the word subsuming all the others.

Instead of a process like a decision being carried out, "intentions and goals" OTOH could be akin at times to stored settings that initiate and guide action. In those cases they may be nonconscious -- not surface fully as language, feeling, or imagery. This may also rub shoulders with "habit" and "conditioning", wherein such could be misconstrued as a set of procedures (reasoning) having been carried out to produce a possibly new or contingent result. But the person actually seeks or performs like a zombie without having to think about it. As well, the behavior may ensue without the neural cause having had an introspective appearance or inner phenomenal form beforehand (would not qualify for Carruthers' "sensory" classification).

~
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