Consciousness Club Meeting Minutes from February 5th, 2018
Readings: Zeki, "The Disunity of Consciousness"
This week's meeting began with a discussion of art and the perception of art. We discussed how the perception of art as meaningful, even perception of its beauty, depends in part on interpretation of the artist's intentions. When we are devoid of information that is likely to give us access to those intentions, we many read into it intentions that were not there. Abstract art done by an animal may be indistinguishable from that done by a human (in some cases - though, the question of indistinguishability is an empirical one). It may pass an artist's version of the Turing test, but only because of that supposition.
This served as a segway into our discussion of Zeki, because we want to be sure processing that looks like perception actually is. There's a lot packed into my percept of a red rose. It feels like something, it looks like something, it fits into a certain category, it is processed in a certain way. Does all processing with that shape have the same character? Does all symbol manipulation result in understanding, does all color processing result in perception, do all paint splashes count as beautiful works of art? We don't know - but we don't want to take it as a presupposition that "processing sites" are definitionally identical to conscious ones, or that consciousness = perception is a tautology (something Zeki seems to accept).
Integration and Filtration
Perceptual processing helps us to filter out irrelevant information. One of our members brought up the idea that integration not only combines information together, but leaves information out - such that what makes it into the system is already self-selected.
Are SubConscious states phenomenally conscious?
An example brought to our attention was the experience of forgetting your grocery bags, and not noticing until you get home, though you've felt the whole drive that something was "off." The brain picked up on something (if you really were feeling that something was off due to the phenomenon), but it didn't raise that informational content to the level that you could call it to mind.
These kind of states are often called "sub-conscious." Such as, "Sub-consciously, I knew something was off - it just didn't raise to the level of conscious awareness." One member said let's be careful here - if we are using a definition of consciousness as what-it's-likeness, than a state could be "subconscious" in this sense but conscious in another. There could be something it is like to be in states you are unable to call to mind. States contribute to your phenomenology, even if you are not aware of them doing so.
Again we discussed memory, and the way in which our access to our own conscious states often seems indirect, gleaned only through our memory of once experiencing them.
However, one member insightfully pointed out that memory itself is a kind of experience, and can even result in re-experiencing states that you once had (think of PTSD, for example). Some experiences leave us with an experiential residue so strong that we can literally re-experience those very same experiences.
This was challenged by another member, but eventually they came to see eye to eye. The experience you remember strongly may contain literally the same "ingredients" as the one that you experienced in the moment. The informational content could be the very same, and if it left a deep enough impression, that informational content may be able to be accessed in the very same way that it was the first time you experienced it - at least, this seems plausibly possible (though of course memory is fallible, so can introspection be - we brought up cases where you think you said one thing, and literally believe that is what you heard yourself say, but you are challenged).
But does this apply to conscious states we are actually in? Can we be wrong about what we think we are experiencing? What do you think?