- Attention, Visual Consciousness and Indeterminacy
I propose a new argument showing that conscious vision sometimes depends constitutively on conscious attention. I criticise traditional arguments for this constitutive connection, on the basis that they fail adequately to dissociate evidence about visual consciousness from evidence about attention. On the same basis, I criticise Ned Block’s recent counterargument that conscious vision is independent of one sort of attention (‘cognitive access’). Block appears to achieve the dissociation only because he underestimates the indeterminacy of visual consciousness. I then appeal to empirical work on the interaction between visual indeterminacy and attention, to argue for the constitutive connection.
Penultimate draft here.
- Review of Dominic Gregory’s Showing, Sensing, and Seeming: Distinctively sensory representations and their contents (OUP 2013).
Perception, 2015, Volume 44: 107–110 (open access)
- The Visual Presence of Determinable Properties
In Phenomenal Presence, eds. Fabian Dorsch and Fiona Macpherson. OUP 2018.
I explain and defend a way of understanding the idea that properties of things, such as their shapes and colours, are visually present to a subject of experience. I argue that this idea is coherent, well motivated and empirically plausible, provided that we reject two traditional assumptions: (i) that maximally determinate properties, rather than just determinable properties, are visually present; (ii) that we can tell through introspection exactly which properties are visually present to us.
Penultimate draft here.
- Partial Report is the Wrong Paradigm
In the thematic issue, Perceptual Consciousness and Cognitive Access, eds. Peter Fazekas and Morten Overgaard.
Is consciousness independent of the low-capacity, general-purpose processes known as ‘cognitive access’? The dominant methodology for supporting this independence hypothesis uses partial report experiments as evidence for consciousness in the absence of cognitive access. Adopting a standard model of evidential support, and reviewing recent elaborations of the partial report paradigm, this article argues that the paradigm has the wrong structure to support the independence hypothesis. Like reports in general, a subject’s partial report is evidence that she is conscious of information only where that information is cognitively accessed. So partial report experiments could dissociate consciousness from cognitive access only if there were uncontroversial evidence for consciousness which did not imply reportability. There is no such uncontroversial evidence for consciousness. An alternative, broadly Marrian methodology for supporting the independence hypothesis is suggested. This methodology does not require evidence for consciousness in the absence of cognitive access. Instead it identifies a function that consciousness performs when a stimulus is cognitively accessed, and then identifies the processes best suited to implement this function. If these processes exclude cognitive access, the independence hypothesis will be supported. One relevant function of consciousness may be reflected in reason-based psychological explanations of a subject’s behaviour.
Penultimate draft here.
- Attention as Visual Determinacy: Merleau-Ponty, James and the cognitive neuroscience of attention
Forthcoming in a special edition of Ratio (December 2018): Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Attention and the Self, ed. Shalini Sinha.
Across different cultural and theoretical contexts, inconsistent psychological properties are treated as marks of attention. This is prima facie grounds for a pluralist approach that identifies sufficient but non-necessary conditions on attention. I argue that this approach nonetheless allows us to find informative points of convergence between the accounts of attention given in different contexts. In particular, I argue that Merleau-Ponty’s observations about attention converge with both James’ definition and recent work in cognitive neuroscience. I exploit these converging accounts to defend the claim that certain effects on the determinacy of visual experience are attention, against objections in the recent philosophical literature. I also argue that, so understood, the nature of attention has broader ramifications for theories of perceptual experience: having a certain perceptual experience can be a form of basic action; the question whether a certain experience is perceptual should sometimes be addressed by empirical, rather than introspective, argument.
- I’m contributing a symposium paper, in response to Matthew Soteriou’s paper about wakefulness, to the Supplementary Volume of the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2019.
This collection of essays is published both as a special edition of Ratio (Volume 27, Issue 4, 2014) and as a book (Wiley 2015). The book includes an editor’s introduction. There is a draft of the introduction and more information about the essays here.