on 21 August 2014
This is a very interesting short book about your consciousness and unconsciousness. It's one of those funny coincidences that I was drawn to it on the library's shelves of new acquisitions, given how I blogged on the topic of consciousness yesterday. Or was it?!
That is the point Paley conveys very powerfully and convincingly in the first half of the book: you don't know why you do what you do, and experimental psychology has proven this. Which leads naturally onto the question, "Why do we have the conscious impression that we know why and what we are doing?"
Paley's theory is interesting. He argues that, just as we have a theory-of-mind in our minds that models the minds of other people, so we model our mind in the same way. This lets us know how other people might be modelling our minds. Which let's us predict how they will respond to our actions, since their reaction depends on their assessment of our motives. And if we can predict how they will respond to us, then we can better manipulate them and thus acquire a selective advantage that will promote the development and spread of consciousness as an adaptation.
This is an intriguing theory-of-mind theory for why we consciously model our own knowledge and intentions. It is almost shockingly, simply right as explanation for the mass of phenomena Paley has piled up.
What about conscious sensations of vision, hearing, warmth, pain, and so on? Paley's theory about these is another thought-provoking extension of his theory: we have to reflexively mind-read these sensory perceptions into our model of how others are modelling our minds, because the stimuli to those perceptions are often sensorily perceptible to others too. For example, another mind thinks about whether we can see what they see, and we thus need to include in our reflexive mind-reading the sensations stimulated by the often publicly accessible stimuli. Plus, we also need to model what we know that others don't. So sensations, and memories too, get modelled after all. Very clever.
However, Paley's theory does not really seem to get us any further on the Hard Problem of consciousness, i.e. why we have internal, subjective experiences at all. Perhaps he is not trying to answer this question. But in not doing so, he fails to provide a reason why the self-reflective theory-of-mind faculty needs to be conscious at all, which I would regard as the great mystery of it all. His theory is of what consciousness is for, rather than of how it arises from dumb matter. He does attempt the Hard Question but only very briefly and unsuccessfully (p. 179).
Paley's theory is fascinating and provocative, and will take me some time to digest and consider. I would like to read him tackling the Hard Question next!
I reviewed this book in full on my blog: http://3stes.blogspot.com/2014/08/this-is-very-interesting-short-book.html