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Higher order representations

26 January, 2016 - 17:41
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Does a humans mind make representations of the world? I would say that your minds biochemistry determines what you are going to feel when you experience anything. You see the color red, and your minds biology determines how that makes you feel, not necessarily what you are thinking about it. However, since emotions and feelings are very complex then what influences your feeling when you see the color red might be mental, psychological factors. For instance, you get mad when you see red because it reminds you of blood, or something.

The internet encyclopedia of philosophy also has a good entry on “Consciousness”. They talk about higher order representation – which is basically a person being aware of their own consciousness at any given time, or aware of anything at any given time. For instance, if I am aware of my feelings on a certain matter, then I am more conscious of that matter. That seems fairly obvious, I mean if you think about something more you are going to be more conscious of it. This relates to the two different levels of thought and feeling – the lower level is more unconscious and immediate and less under control, and the higher level of consciousness is part of conscious experience and people are more aware of because it isn’t ‘unconscious’ it is ‘conscious’. So what separates out the two different levels of consciousness is one is mostly beneath awareness and would be defined as being unconscious, and the other is largely in awareness and would be defined as being conscious. There is clearly an overlap between conscious thoughts and feelings and unconscious thoughts and feelings, however – there are degrees that someone’s awareness is ‘awake’ and ‘clear’. Have I presented here a theory of consciousness? It is obvious that there are degrees to awareness, and all I have said is that consciousness is basically a combination of feelings and thoughts - that is a rather simple explanation of consciousness. Is there more explanation that is needed in order to answer what consciousness really is?:

  • As we have seen, one question that should be answered by any theory of consciousness is: What makes a mental state a conscious mental state? There is a long tradition that has attempted to understand consciousness in terms of some kind of higher-order awareness. For example, John Locke (1689/1975) once said that “consciousness is the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.” This intuition has been revived by a number of philosophers (Rosenthal, 1986, 1993b, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2005; Gennaro 1996a, 2012; Armstrong, 1968, 1981; Lycan, 1996, 2001). In general, the idea is that what makes a mental state conscious is that it is the object of some kind of higher-order representation (HOR). A mental state M becomes conscious when there is a HOR of M. A HOR is a “meta-psychological” state, i.e., a mental state directed at another mental state. So, for example, my desire to write a good encyclopedia entry becomes conscious when I am (non-inferentially) “aware” of the desire. Intuitively, it seems that conscious states, as opposed to unconscious ones, are mental states that I am “aware of” in some sense. This is sometimes referred to as the Transitivity Principle. Any theory which attempts to explain consciousness in terms of higher-order states is known as a higher-order (HO) theory of consciousness. It is best initially to use the more neutral term “representation” because there are a number of different kinds of higher-order theory, depending upon how one characterizes the HOR in question. HO theories, thus, attempt to explain consciousness in mentalistic terms, that is, by reference to such notions as “thoughts” and “awareness.” Conscious mental states arise when two unconscious mental states are related in a certain specific way; namely, that one of them (the HOR) is directed at the other (M). 1

So a mental state can be unconscious or conscious. If someone is sleeping and dreaming, then their mental state would be considered to unconscious. I would say that there is a lot to say about how ‘aware’ someone is at any time. If someone is drugged or drunk, are they less aware of their interactions with other people? I said previously that they might not be responding as intelligently to other people. I wouldn’t guess as to how exactly their cognitions or emotional response is dulled – there could be a wide range of emotional, personality and intellectual dispositions that someone could have that could be affected. That shows how awareness in general, not necessarily when someone has lower general awareness like when they are sleeping or drunk, is influenced to different degrees.

What is the difference between our unconscious awareness and our conscious awareness then? Here again is the internet encyclopedia of philosophy – they address the question of differences between HO (high order) and LO (lower-order) mental states, which I have said is basically the difference between conscious states and unconscious ones:

  • A fourth important objection to HO approaches is the question of how such theories can explain cases where the HO state might misrepresent the lower-order (LO) mental state (Byrne 1997, Neander 1998, Levine 2001, Block 2011). After all, if we have a representational relation between two states, it seems possible for misrepresentation or malfunction to occur. If it does, then what explanation can be offered by the HO theorist? If my LO state registers a red percept and my HO state registers a thought about something green due, say, to some neural misfiring, then what happens? It seems that problems loom for any answer given by a HO theorist and the cause of the problem has to do with the very nature of the HO theorist’s belief that there is a representational relation between the LO and HO states. For example, if the HO theorist takes the option that the resulting conscious experience is reddish, then it seems that the HO state plays no role in determining the qualitative character of the experience. On the other hand, if the resulting experience is greenish, then the LO state seems irrelevant. Rosenthal and Weisberg hold that the HO state determines the qualitative properties even in cases when there is no LO state at all (Rosenthal 2005, 2011, Weisberg 2008, 2011a, 2011b). Gennaro (2012) argues that no conscious experience results in such cases and wonders, for example, how a sole (unconscious) HOT can result in a conscious state at all. He argues that there must be a match, complete or partial, between the LO and HO state in order for a conscious state to exist in the first place.

The mind must have an unconscious understanding of the world and a conscious understanding of the world, and that is what accounts for differences in higher-order (conscious) and lower-order (unconscious) mental states. Or I could say that there is simply a difference between how a human responds unconsciously, and how a human responds consciously to experiences and stimuli.

What is the difference between an unconscious response and a conscious response then, however? Unconscious responses are affective - they are faster and more immediate than conscious responses. Unconscious responses are also what your brain has programmed in from previous development. Conscious responses, however, are more so under your control and thoughts can help to change a conscious response.

What if someone’s conscious response differs from their unconscious response? What would be an example of that happening? All responses are unconscious unless someone tries to change their response. For example, people often try to change their feelings by inhibiting them or encouraging them.

Saying all responses are higher-order or conscious doesn’t make sense, because people are constantly influenced by natural emotional processes. First comes natural unconscious responses, and if you want to change or think about your situation, you ‘think’ and make the response more conscious.

So basically humans have emotional and intellectual responses to experience and stimuli. It is hard to influence your emotions with thought; however people attempt to do this all the time (consciously and unconsciously).