- Partial Report is the Wrong Paradigm
Invited article for a thematic issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (September/October 2018): Perceptual Consciousness and Cognitive Access, eds. Peter Fazekas and Morten Overgaard.
Is perceptual consciousness of a stimulus independent of cognitive access to that stimulus? The dominant methodology for supporting this independence hypothesis exploits partial report experiments. Using a standard model of evidential support, and reviewing various elaborations of the partial report paradigm in the recent literature, I argue that the paradigm has the wrong structure to support the independence hypothesis over the hypothesis that consciousness requires cognitive access. In summary: partial report experiments seek to dissociate consciousness from cognitive access; they could do so only if there were uncontroversial marks of consciousness which did not imply reportability; since there are no such uncontroversial marks of consciousness, the experiments confirm both hypotheses equally. I then suggest an alternative methodology for supporting the independence hypothesis. Rather than attempting to dissociate consciousness from cognitive access, this methodology focuses on a distinctive functional role of consciousness in cases in which the stimulus is cognitively accessed. I argue that both scientists and philosophers often appeal to this distinctive functional role in reason-based psychological explanations of a subject’s behaviour. I recommend a broadly Marrian approach to identifying the neural processes best suited to realise this functional role, and to assessing whether they are independent of cognitive access.
- 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.
In Enciclopedia de Filosofía, Spanish Society of Analytic Philosophy (SEFA). Forthcoming in 2018.
- The Visual Presence of Determinable Properties
In Phenomenal Presence, eds. Fiona Macpherson, Fabian Dorsch and Martine Nida-Rümelin. OUP 2018. In press.
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.
- Review of Dominic Gregory’s Showing, Sensing, and Seeming: Distinctively sensory representations and their contents (OUP 2013).
Perception, 2015, volume 44, pp.107–110 (open access)
- 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.
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 some more information about the essays here.