DRAFT OF 6/18/02. Please do not quote without permission. Comments are enthusiastically welcomed.




Phenomenal Consciousness and Intentionality: Vive la Differance!


William S. Robinson

Iowa State University



The aim of this paper is to reinforce the distinction between phenomenal consciousness and intentionality. This once well accepted distinction has come under attack from two sides: phenomenal consciousness has been argued to be representational and therefore essentially intentional, and intentional items such as (occurrent) beliefs and desires have been argued to be intrinsically phenomenal. This paper will not deal at all with the first of these attacks (though its author also rejects representationalism). It will be exclusively devoted to developing the theme that, while there is an ample phenomenology of thinking, there is nothing that should be counted as the phenomenology of a thought (or, of a belief, of a desire, etc.).

While the foregoing statement of the intent of this paper will be generally intelligible, we need to have a way of making the distinction to be reinforced without using the term Aphenomenal@ B for otherwise it may appear that our very formulation of the intended distinction begs the question. We shall provide the required distinction in the first section below. We shall then turn to the positive part of this paper, namely, an explanation of what I believe we do have by way of phenomenal occurrences when we think. The third, and longest, section of the paper will then address a number of arguments designed to undercut the distinction between phenomenal consciousness and intentionality.



What=s the difference between phenomenal occurrences and thoughts?


The way to tell the difference between phenomenal occurrences and thoughts (beliefs, desires, hopes, fears, etc.) is to ask what are the salient differences between pairs of items of each kind. When we apply this idea to thoughts, an obvious candidate is propositional contents. For example, one belief is the belief that the stock market will fall, another is the belief that Santa Cruz is south of San Francisco. If beliefs are supposed to be different beliefs, in a way that is not just numerically different, then there will be some pair of nonsynonymous sentences that express their contents. Similarly, different desires (other than difference of the subjects who may have them) differ in content, and this difference of content can be expressed by giving different sentences as what is desired to become true.

When, however, we ask about the difference between two bodily sensations, the natural answer is along the lines of Aone is a pain, the other an itch@. That is, the natural way to describe the difference is not to give a sentence, but to give just a pair of different quality words. Afterimages differ in color, saturation, brightness, and shape, sounds differ in pitch, loudness, and timbre, smells differ in that one is of sage, the other is of bayberry, and so on.

These examples give us a distinction that we may abbreviate as follows: Thoughts differ in their characteristic associated sentences, other occurrences that have traditionally been regarded as part of the subject matter of philosophy of mind differ in their qualities, where the latter are not naturally represented by sentences. If this difference is accepted, then we will have made a distinction that plausibly cuts where Aphenomenal@ and Aintentional@ have been thought to cut, and which does not presuppose a decision on what is phenomenal and what is not. Armed with such a distinction, we can go on to ask whether the items that can differ in their associated characteristic sentences also have qualities that make them like the items that do not differ in a way that is naturally represented by sentences. That is, we can go on to ask this question in a way that does not prejudice the answer in favor of either side. This is, indeed, how we shall proceed, except that we shall not repeat the ungainly phrases just used, but will understand that they lie behind our use of Aphenomenal occurrences@ (the ones that differ qualitatively but not in sentences) and our use of Athoughts@ (beliefs, desires, etc. B the ones that differ in associated characteristic sentences). [1]

Perhaps, however, our distinction will not be accepted, on the ground that differences among pains, afterimages, etc. can be represented by sentences, e.g., we can say that a pain is occurring, or that a red afterimage is occurring, etc. In reply, we may note that if we make this move, we should also be prepared to make it for beliefs. In that application, however, we would represent having a belief (compare, having a pain) by saying that we are having a belief. And now we can naturally ask what belief we are having, i.e., it will be natural to say that we are having a belief that p. But if we try saying that we are having a pain that p, or that we are having a red afterimage that p, we come out with just nonsense. So, after all, there really is a difference between cases that are naturally differentiated by associated characteristic sentences and those that are not.



What is the phenomenology of thinking?


In this section, I list a number of occurrences that are aspects of our conscious experience that frequently occur when we are thinking, and that therefore seem natural to include under >the phenomenology of thinking=, even though, as I shall argue, none are the phenomenology of particular thoughts (beliefs, desires, etc.). I have derived this list by inspection, not by a principled method, and therefore I make no claim that it is complete. If I am right, however, it provides quite enough material with which to make all the distinctions that it is necessary to make in our area of inquiry.

First and foremost, there is, for a majority of thinkers, auditory imagery that consists of sentences or, more usually, near-sentences that express either what we think, or what we doubt, or what we are considering. By >near-sentences= I mean to recognize that the auditory imagery we have while thinking with our mouths closed is often fragmentary and grammatically defective. Indeed, in these respects auditory imagery is very like much of our overt speech, especially when we are not reading out loud, or repeating something we have been over many times before.

Rumination is also often accompanied by imagery in any sensory modality that is related to the matter about which we are thinking. For example, desire that Jane return one's love may be accompanied by an image of Jane. Belief that Tennessee is between Kentucky and Alabama may be accompanied by an image of a map. Belief that Darth Vader has a deep voice may be accompanied by an auditory image of that character's saying something. Desire that Jones catch the pass may be accompanied by kinaesthetic feelings of Abody English@ as if one might help him speed toward the ball.

Desires and beliefs may also be accompanied by a variety of emotional tones and feelings. Saying to oneself that Jane is about to arrive may be accompanied not only by a pictorial image of Jane, but also, e.g., a certain feeling of joy mixed with apprehension.

There are a number of experiences that Bruce Mangan (2001) has described as Anonsensory experiences@ or Aexperiences in the nonsensory fringe@. Examples are feelings of familiarity, feelings of rightness, AAha!@ experiences, and the feeling that some word is Aon the tip of one=s tongue@. One should not suppose that one has such feelings on all occasions where they might be appropriate; e.g., cases of speaking (overtly or subvocally) that Ago well@ (i.e., give accurate and adequate expression to a complex series of ideas) are not routinely accompanied by a stream of feelings of rightness. But, on occasion, one can have a feeling that what one has just been saying is quite correct, or that it fits the surrounding circumstances quite well. Again, not every experience of something that is familiar is accompanied by a feeling of familiarity; but one can have a feeling (right or wrong) that something is familiar.

The items I have listed are aspects of our conscious experience. They are Aphenomenal@, i.e., they differ not by associated characteristic sentences, but by qualities. Perhaps it is a problem to see this in the case of auditory imagery, which, of course, does have a content when it is an image of a sentence. To clearly see the point of saying it is phenomenal, or qualitative, imagine saying the same sentence subvocally in a variety of accents. In this case, the content of the sentence will remain the same, but the quality of the imagery, as imagery, will differ in such respects as placement of stress and shape of vowels.

Having recognized so much phenomenal consciousness as common accompaniment to believing and desiring, what can I mean by denying that there is a phenomenology of beliefs and desires? Part of the answer is that none of the imagery or feelings I have recognized are required for believing or desiring. Some people do not have much subvocal speech at all. I may not have an image of Jane; that does not mean that I do not at that moment desire that she requite my love. I may not have any map imagery; that does not mean that at that moment I am not thinking that Tennessee lies between Kentucky and Alabama. Moreover, one could have an image of Jane or an image of a (correct) map of Eastern states, and still not have the indicated desire or belief. Taking our cue from Wittgenstein (1953), we may note that we might have the same image of Jane even if frustrated love has turned to hatred, or the same map image even if we believe it to be an image of a falsely drawn map. Further, when we are overtly stating our desires or beliefs, we are less likely to be having associated imagery; but that does not mean that our statements do not express genuine desires or beliefs. Finally, our fringe experiences are the same for many cases. E.g., the frustrating >tip of the tongue= experience is the same on various occasions, when it is different words we feel we are just about to retrieve. The feeling of rightness can occur with many different sequences of thoughts; but this means that it cannot be the phenomenology of any particular thought.

For these reasons, the phenomenal occurrences I have listed should be regarded as merely frequent accompaniments to believing and desiring. The organization of a cognitively capable brain no doubt provides a causal explanation of why certain auditory imagery is accompanied by certain other images and feelings. Nonetheless, none of the imagery or feelings is constitutive of beliefs or desires. Thus, while imagery and feelings are instances of phenomenal consciousness, their occurrence along side of beliefs and desires does not show that beliefs and desires themselves are instances of phenomenal consciousness, or that they themselves have a phenomenal aspect.

In addition to particular beliefs and desires, one may consider the attitude type, e.g., belief, or desire, and hold that there is a phenomenal character to these types, even if not to particular contents. This view seems most plausible if we focus on cases of strong desire or deep conviction. Now, there is, of course, the emotion of yearning, and there can be feeling of anxiety when one realizes that a belief on which many of one's actions depend may not be accepted by others. The yearning and the anxiety are instances of phenomenal consciousness; but again, they are not what desiring or believing feels like. They are what strong desiring or believing feel like. Strong desiring or believing is desiring or believing that is accompanied by yearning or anxiety. The best way to see this point, perhaps, is to consider less strong cases. At 11:45 we may feel a bit peckish, and have the desire to eat lunch soon. It is doubtful that it feels like anything to have this desire -- unless one simply means that the peckishness is a feeling. Or consider the belief that one's lunch is in the refrigerator. One may say this to oneself for reassurance. One may picture one's sandwich sitting neatly on the second shelf. These accompaniments, however, are all that there seem to be, phenomenally speaking, in this sort of case. There is not, in addition, a particular way it feels to believe or desire something per se, i.e., a >belief tone= or >desire tone= that is present whenever we have a belief or desire.



Objections and Replies


In the previous section, I have sketched the argument for the view that there are many phenomenal accompaniments to thinking, but nothing that deserves to be regarded as the phenomenal character of particular thoughts, or the phenomenal character of belief, desire, etc. In this section, we will deepen our understanding of these points by seeing how to apply the phenomenal materials we have recognized in responding to several arguments against our conclusion.



a. Knowing what we think


Alvin Goldman has advanced the claim that


a plausible-looking hypothesis is that mental states are states having a phenomenology, or an intimate connection with phenomenological events. This points us again in the direction of identifying the attitudes in phenomenological terms. (Goldman, 1993, p. 24.) [2]


Goldman's use of "phenomenological" here is equivalent to my use of "phenomenal". "Intimate connection" is not clarified; but it is possible that the imagery we have allowed, and especially the possibility of giving inner "voice" to our attitudes in auditory imagery, would count as an intimate connection between having propositional attitudes and phenomenological events. If so, we can accept the second disjunct of Goldman's formulation, and there is little reason to dispute his claim. The issue that may remain is whether we must accept the first disjunct, i.e., that beliefs and desires themselves have a phenomenology, or whether it is sufficient to allow that beliefs and desires are often accompanied by the instances of phenomenal consciousness -- imagery of various kinds, emotions, and feelings -- that we have already recognized.

One of Goldman's arguments is introduced as a question, and concerns not the content of attitudes, but their type, i.e., whether they are believings, desirings, hopings, fearings, etc. Goldman asks, "How, then, do people decide whether a current state is a desire rather than a belief, a hope rather than a fear?" (Goldman, 1993, p. 23.) But this question has an easy answer: People do not "decide" about such things. When we are asked, e.g., whether there's any beer left, we just say what we think. What we say, in normal circumstances, expresses our belief -- we do not do anything to find out that we believe what we are saying. If we say, e.g., that we want to go to lunch now, that expresses a desire; again, we do not do anything to find out that that is what we want, and we do not have to look inside for a feeling of desire to tell us that we have expressed ourselves correctly.

But what about cases of lying? It might be thought that we have to inwardly know that we don't believe the beer is gone, if we say that it is in the hope that Jones won't look, and thus will stop imbibing. How do we know that what we say is not what we believe? Or suppose one expresses a desire to go to lunch now merely in order to avoid being rude in terminating an interview that has become tiresome. Must we not have a way of knowing that we don't really want to go to lunch now?

When we lie about what is the case or about what we want, we do know that we are lying, and we do know what we really believe or want. It does not follow that we tell what we really believe or want by having a phenomenal marker of those states. What may obscure this fact is that we may have accompanying phenomenal events. For example, normal people would have a mild feeling of guilt in the cases just imagined. This feeling is, evidently, not a marker of believing that there is more beer or of not wanting to go to lunch, as that belief and that (lack of) wanting by themselves would not normally be accompanied by such a feeling; and the feeling might be the same for both of these cases. In the beer case, we may also have a visual image of an unopened six pack on the refrigerator shelf, even as we tell Jones there's no more beer; but again, having that image is neither necessary nor sufficient for having that belief.

Goldman also offers an extension of Jackson's (1982; 1986) knowledge argument.


Just as someone deprived of any experience of colors would learn new things upon being exposed to them, namely, what it feels like to see red, green, and so forth, so (I submit) someone who had never experienced certain propositional attitudes, for example, doubt or disappointment, would learn new things on first undergoing these experiences. There is "something it is like" to have these attitudes, just as much as there is "something it is like" to see red. (Goldman, 1993, p. 24.)


This passage does not really give an argument for its conclusion; instead, it seeks to focus our attention on something we are to find in ourselves. The attempt is plausible, but not, I shall argue, because there is a phenomenology specific to propositional attitudes. Let us consider Goldman's examples one by one. I doubt that it will rain today; but I do not think there is any phenomenology distinctive of this doubt. What makes a phenomenology of doubting plausible is that there is a feeling of anxiety in cases where the doubt is emotionally loaded. Perhaps I have been in the airport awaiting the arrival of my beloved, but now, with the latest cancellation, I doubt that she'll make it this evening after all. That is a palpably unpleasant state of mind; but that kind of unpleasantness is not present in all doubting, and it is present in some cases of believing (rather than doubting) -- e.g., the belief that my beloved will not arrive today. Again, a religious person may begin to have doubts. Such an occasion commonly produces anxiety; but as before, this is because religion is often a particularly emotionally loaded topic. Where there is no fear of the crumbling of the foundations of one's belief system, there is no such anxiety. In short, we can account for the plausibility of Goldman's claim by supposing that in certain cases of doubt, there are associated emotional responses. But we should not mistake these emotional responses for a phenomenology of doubting, because they are neither necessary nor sufficient for doubting. The same conclusion is even more evident in Goldman's other case, namely, disappointment; for this term is properly the name of an emotion. One experiences disappointment upon learning that something hoped for will not occur. Disappointment is thus connected with hoping and believing. But since one can hope and believe in absence of disappointment, this emotion is easily separable from those attitudes, and should not be considered to be a phenomenological aspect of them.



b. Strength


We have already noted that beliefs and desires can be stronger or weaker, and have said that such differences lie in accompaniments rather than in phenomenology of attitudes per se. Here, we shall just illustrate the point by reference to two kinds of example. Fervent beliefs are often those that are likely to be challenged, and for which challenges lead to anxiety. Religious people fully appreciate that their beliefs are doubted by the unfaithful, and that if called upon to prove their faith, they may not be able to provide arguments that will convince others. Since the matter is important, anxiety is natural. But again, such anxiety is not a feature of believing as such, but of believing something important and insecure. There is plenty of phenomenology here, just not a phenomenology that is properly construed as a phenomenology of belief. Similarly, there are hunger pangs that go with strong desires to eat, and feelings of indignation if the strength of one's resolve to carry through on a promise is doubted to one's face. But hunger pangs are not constituents of every case of desiring to eat, and indignation is a constituent neither of firm intention to perform, nor of every realization that others may doubt one's steadfastness.

Some descriptions of attitude strength seem to involve little that is phenomenological. For example, one may believe that the stock market's rise will soon taper off, that three months is sufficient advance time to be sure of being able to obtain an air ticket to London on a particular date, and that one is more certain or more confident of the second belief than of the first. In cases like this, one's confidence judgments need not be based on phenomenology at all. They are adequately accounted for by being regarded as ways of describing one's opinions about the strength of one's evidence.



c. Center-embedded, garden path, and bullet sentences


David Pitt (forthcoming) recommends an experiment that begins by reading the following sentences. [3]


(1)        The boy the man the girl saw chased fled.

(2)        The boat sailed down the river sank.

(3)        Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.


At first hearing, these sentences are incomprehensible. It is only when we realize that they can mean the same as the following that we come to understand them.


(1N)      The boy, who was chased by the man that the girl saw, fled.

(2N)      The boat that was sailed (by someone) down the river sank.

(3N)      Buffalo that are outwitted by buffalo outwit buffalo that are outwitted by buffalo.


Pitt advises us to attend to the difference between our first experience (i.e., of (1), (2) and (3)) and our experience that we now have of them, after they have been explained with their primed counterparts. "That is what I mean by the phenomenology of cognition: it is the difference made by thinking" (emphasis in original). Pitt goes on to claim that "that sort of thing goes on whenever you consciously entertain a content, where consciously entertaining a content is what goes on when you understand a sentence."

We should agree with Pitt that there is plenty of phenomenological difference between the difficult sentences before one has figured out what they mean, and after. And we should further agree that this phenomenology is more than simply the auditory imagery of the words in the sentences. But when I follow out the experimental approach Pitt=s recommends, what I find is that this additional phenomenology is nothing but further imagery, none of which is essential to understanding the content. Let me explain this for each case.

Upon reading (1) for the first time, my feeling was indeed the predicted "Huh? Does this make sense? What is it saying happened?" After the explanation, I had a mental image, namely, of a man chasing a boy with a girl looking on. This was followed by a "correction" (to reflect the past tense form, "saw"), namely an image of a girl looking through a doorway at a man (to visual right, as it happened) and another image of a man chasing a (running) boy. There was also a vague sense of relief or relaxation, as of a problem solved.

I concede that my coming to understand (1) is probably not empirically possible without my having some such imagery. But no image is sufficient for having the appropriate thought (Pitt would surely agree so far!) and the particular images I had were not necessary, even for me, for understanding. That is, I may have had the image of the girl espying the man on the left instead of the right, or a different girl-image, etc. Others might have felt the sense of a problem solved with only the words of (1N). For these reasons, the imagery that accompanies my (eventual) understanding of (1) seems to me to be mere accompaniment, and not the phenomenology of the content.

Entirely parallel remarks apply to (2). (3), however, is a difficult case. Here, I also experienced imagery B this time of several buffalo, one by itself, one group to its left and two groups to its right. (The ones to the left buffalo the single buffalo; one group to the right is buffaloed by the other group to the right, and also by the group to the left. [4].) But, in addition, if I am to read (3) and believe it makes sense to me, I must read it (silently) with variable emphasis and variable spacing between the words. (An attempt to render this: "Buffalo buffalo buffalo . . buffalo . . (buffalo buffalo buffalo).") Further, as I read the sentence with this variable emphasis, I find my attention shifting from one of the imagined (groups of) buffalo to another. And, finally, I acknowledge a sense of relaxation as of a problem solved.

As before, I do not think that any or all of this imagery and feeling is either necessary or sufficient for understanding (3), even though I would agree that it is unlikely my brain could get into a state of understanding (3) without producing some imagery of the general kind I have described. Thus, it does not seem appropriate to regard all this imagery as the phenomenology of a thought as opposed to phenomenology that accompanies certain (difficult) cases of thinking. Moreover, it seems evident that there is even less imagery, and less need for imagery, for most of my thinking, in which there is little that is problematic, and I just silently chatter on to myself with only occasional pictorial or vague diagrammatic imagery or kinaesthetic feelings.

Pitt has one more experiment to propose. Here again, there is a shift from lack of understanding to understanding; but in this case the impediment to immediate understanding is semantic, not syntactic. The example is


(4)        The rhodomontade of ululating funambulists is never idoneous.


If one does not know the meanings of some of the words of this sentence, one will not understand (4), despite the transparency of its syntax. Upon learning that substitution of synonyms yields AThe rant of howling tightrope walkers is never appropriate@,  (4) can be read with understanding.

Hewing to Pitt's experimental approach, I begin discussion of this case by reporting that learning the meaning of "funambulist", caused an image of a man on a tightrope (with a balance pole, as it happened). Finding that Aidoneous@ meant Aappropriate@ did not produce anything other than the silent pronouncing of Aappropriate@, but, as that was the last word of the sentence, a sense of relaxation ("problem solved") followed, with no reinstatement of the sense of there being a problem at hand. That is all the phenomenology that I can find in this case, and it seems to me all that is needed to account for the evident difference between reading (4) in ignorance of the meaning of some of its terms and reading (4) with full knowledge. I am, of course, not claiming there is anything special about the image I happened to have. If, for example, I had been personally acquainted with a tightrope walker, reading the definition of "funambulist" might have called an image of my friend's face to mind instead. But such an image is not the phenomenology of thoughts about tightrope walkers, since, for example, a portrait artist might have the same image as a part of the thought of tomorrow's work and, as already noted, a different image, or no image, might accompany thoughts of tightrope walkers.

The references to imagery may stimulate an objection from some readers who may be reminded of Wittgenstein=s (1953) discussion of two particular pictures. One of these pictures shows a man on a hill with a walking stick, the other depicts a boxer in a particular stance. Wittgenstein=s point was that a picture is not determinative of its meaning. For example, while viewing the first picture, one might be thinking of the man as leaning on his stick to help him climb the hill; but equally, one might be thinking of the man as digging in with the stick to help keep himself from sliding down the hill. And one might be thinking of the second picture as an instruction of how to hold oneself as a boxer, or again as an instruction of how not to stand while in the ring.

Consider, now, the images one might have after one has seen these pictures. Here we are not merely to remember that we have seen a picture of a man on a hill with a walking stick, or of a boxer; we are, instead, to conjure up an image of how the picture looked. Wittgenstein=s point will hold equally for such pictorial images: they could be images of climbing up or sliding down, or of how to hold oneself or how not to hold oneself. Moreover, the same independence between the image and the interpretation would hold in the case where one happened to have formed one of these images spontaneously, without having seen the pictures.

So far, these observations are apparently congenial to the way of thinking that has been defended in this paper. In brief, they suggest that imagery is (mere) accompaniment to thought, and not so closely related to a thought as to be rightly regarded as Aits@ phenomenology. But further reflection on these cases may produce an objection to the effect that imagery is richer than we have recognized. If we were to regard, say, the Adigging in to avoid backsliding@ interpretation of the first image as included in the image itself, it would then be much more plausible to take the image as being the phenomenology of the thought that the man is digging in to avoid backsliding (or, at least, part of such phenomenology). [5]  According to this way of thinking, we would have to say that the image of the man leaning on his stick to help him climb up is a different image from the anti-backsliding image, despite the fact that line drawings corresponding to the Atwo@ images would be identical. This consequence seems counterintuitive; but perhaps we should nonetheless accept it, for the following reason. Surely, there is some difference in the cases, and it is not utterly implausible to say that the difference is not only in what we might go on to say by way of elaboration of a story about the imaged man (whether overtly or subvocally).

We should agree that there is some difference in the cases that goes beyond difference of elaborated story, but we need not take this fact to overrule our intuition that we have the same visual image in both cases. The required difference can be very plausibly located in associated kinaesthetic imagery. If we were the person in the image, our leg muscles would be in different states of tension, depending on whether we were about to flex our legs for the next step up, or were trying to keep them rigid to dig in against backsliding. Even though we do not actually tense our muscles during either interpretation of the man-on-the-hill image, our interpretation may well be accompanied by kinaesthetic imagery of a kind appropriate to our interpretation. Experimental studies of motor imagery suggest plausible neural mechanisms for the generation of such kinaesthetic imagery (Jeannerod, 1994; Fadiga, et al., 1999). Even more suggestive is the discovery of Amirror neurons@ in macaques (Gallese, et al., 1996). These neurons fire both prior to initiation of certain movements (e.g., grasping) and also when the subject observes the experimenter performing the same motion (but not when observing other motions, even of the hand).

An image of a boxer may also cause kinaesthetic imagery of muscular tension that would be present in taking the imaged stance. Here, however, there is no need to consider two different sets of kinaesthetic images. We can get the difference of interpretation by supposing that there is different accompanying auditory imagery, e.g. ADo this@ in one case, and ANever do this@ in another.  Other sentences expressing equivalent views will do just as well. There need not, of course, be any accompanying auditory imagery at all. For example, an experienced coach might just laugh at a certain drawing and say ANo one but a rank amateur would ever draw a boxer standing like this.@ Having the same stance occur in a spontaneous visual image might make the same coach merely smile inwardly. The conclusion from this example would seem to be the same as from the previous one; namely, accompaniment by inessential imagery is sufficient to account for whatever there is in the cases besides the strictly visual character of the images and the ways in which one may go on to offer descriptions of or draw conclusions about the imaged item.

Block (1995a) discusses two other cases that may suggest that imagery may be intimately involved with thoughts. He points out that Awhat it is like to hear a sound as coming from the left differs from what it is like to hear a sound as coming from the right@, and we may extend the point to images of such sounds. A similar extension to images can be made with respect to Block=s other case, the experiential difference between seeing a building (or, something one takes to be a building) and seeing what one takes to be a mere movie set facade. [6]

The differences in these cases are not easy to describe, but many relevant differences of imagery and feelings are available to us. For example, we may have imagery about what is around the corner of a building we see, and this will differ from the imagery we may have about what is around the corner of something we take to be a mere facade. We may imagine what it would be like to knock on the wall of what we see and again, this will differ depending on whether we think we are looking at a brick wall or a painting of a brick wall. If the facade is a good one, we may have an eerie feeling produced by the dissonance between what is in view and our opinion of what we are looking at. All of these differences can occur also in cases where we merely imagine ourselves confronted with a building, or imagine ourselves confronted with a facade. We should, of course, allow that our difference of opinion, or a difference in what we intend to imagine, can cause a difference in accompanying imagery and feelings; recognition of such effects is evidently compatible with locating the resulting differences in the accompanying imagery and feelings, and not in the mere opinions or intentions themselves.

The case of sounds seems difficult because left and right are symmetrical. It may thus seem that there could not be any purely sensory difference in a sound heard (or imagined as heard) from the left and the same sound heard or imagined as heard from the right. If that were so, then the experiential difference would have to be a phenomenolgical aspect of the mere thought about the location of the source. But the symmetry of left and right does not imply that our bodies are symmetrical; and plainly, they are not. There is thus no reason to deny that there can be a difference in kinaesthetic imagery, e.g., a difference in imagined pointings to or lookings at the source of the sound. Once again, such kinaesthetic imagery, while it can account for experienced difference, should not be regarded as the phenomenology of the thought that a sound is coming from a particular direction, since the thought might be had without such imagery.



d. Condensed thoughts


Some philosophers think that we have thoughts that have phenomenological character, complex content, and very brief duration. AVery brief@ here means, at least, faster than subvocal speech; thus the phenomenology of such cases, it is held, cannot consist in verbal imagery. To discuss this view, an example is essential, and Charles Siewert (1998) has provided a very fully described  case. It concerns a thought that occurred to him between the time he got up to pay a restaurant bill, and the time he reached the cashier=s desk.


Asked to state more precisely what this [thought] was, I would have to say something like: AMy preoccupation with the topic of my book has made the world seem especially alive with examples of it, references to it, so that it can=t help but seem to me that the world is more populated with things relevant to it than previously. And it struck me that this is similar to the way in which new parenthood made the world seem to me burgeoning with babies, parents, the paraphernalia of infancy, and talk and pictures of these.@ Somehow this thought of my philosophical preoccupations and parenthood, and an analogy between their effects, rather complex to articulate, occurred in a couple of moments while I approached the cashier, in the absence of any utterance.@ . . . . [T]hought occurs, wordlessly, without imagery, condensed, and evanescent. If you agree that you have such unverbalized noniconic thoughts, and the way it seems to you to have them differs from the way it seems to have imagery and sensory experience, then you will agree that noniconic thinking has a phenomenal character distinct from that proper to iconic thinking and perception. (Siewert, 1998, 277 - 278.)


It seems difficult to respond to a passage of this kind, because argument against what is offered as, in effect, a datum seems inappropriately directed, and simple denial seems just highhanded. Nonetheless, if we are not to simply accept such a Adatum@ on faith, we must try to come to grips with it. The only argument that comes to mind is that it ought to seem very odd that such a complex phenomenon can occur so rapidly. If we imagine that all the elements occur simultaneously (or even nearly so), then they will have to be separated by something. The only separators that come to mind are space and time. But spatial separation of elements suggests imagery, which is contrary to the proposed phenomenal character. So, if there is a complex of distinct elements (and if they are not distinct, how can they be complex?), they must be separated by time. The time in question was supposed to be much shorter than the time it takes to say the sentence that can express the content to others. So, it looks as if the phenomenal character of thought must be a succession of elements much faster than words and neither visually nor verbally imagistic. This description does not seem to be self-contradictory, but it is not at all evident what the phenomenal material is, or even could be, that is supposed to have the required complexity and rapidity. Denial of any such phenomenal material does not, of course, imply denial that complex neural events can take place in a few hundred milliseconds, nor does it imply that these neural events cannot correspond to the coming into relation of the elements of an analogy. There is thus no reason to deny that neural events that will come to have rich effects on our subsequent intelligent behavior can occur within a few hundred milliseconds. But, equally evidently, allowing rapidity of neural processes has nothing directly to do with our question about the phenomenal character of thoughts.

My own introspection leads me to believe that I have had experiences of the kind that Siewert means to be indicating; I am denying only that the phenomenological description matches anything in my experience. What then do I think happens on such occasions? What I believe occurs is a few words in subvocal speech, a rather vague sense of a diagrammatic sketch, and perhaps some pictorial or kinaesthetic imagery. There is also usually a feeling of satisfaction, something I might express by saying I=d thought of something particularly interesting. There is also a confidence B which may or may not prove to be justified B that I can go on to say something now that I could not have said before this occurrence and that will be the verbalization of an interesting claim, description, observation, etc.

The fact that what I go on to say may seem to express correctly what I just thought, or, on the other hand, may seem to misexpress what I just thought, may foster a sense that my later expression must match something that occurred, ever so rapidly, when, as we say, the thought struck me. But no such matching hypothesis is needed. If everything goes smoothly, I will say that what I am now expressing is what I just thought. In a sense, on the view being defended in this paper, that is correct; that is, there were indeed brain events that just occurred that for the first time put me in a position to say the intelligent sentences I go on to produce. But that point does not require us to suppose any matching between present words and a recent phenomenal occurrence. If, on the other hand, what I go on to say strikes me as silly or confused, I may say that I am misexpressing my thought, and make Acorrections@. Again, we may have the image that a correction is a restoration of match between what occurred and what I go on to say after the correction; but the only sense of Acorrection@ we actually need here is the recognition that what I have just said is confused (or wrong in some way), and a very present tendency to think that a revised version is coherent and correct. Finally, if what I go on to say is very confused, I may say that although I believed I had thought of something interesting and worth saying, I was actually just confused. Once again, the point is that the intelligibility of this point of view about my recent past does not require any supposition that I am actually matching my present words with a recent phenomenological occurrence. [7]

It might be argued at this point that at least we can succeed in referring to particular thoughts of our own, and that to do this we must refer to them through some phenomenological aspect. [8]  This consideration, however, will not show that thoughts themselves have a phenomenology. A particular thought can be singled out by means of its content together with imagery (or, for that matter, overt speech) to which it causally contributed, or even with which it was merely simultaneous. In either case, such imagery need not be more than accidentally connected with the thought for which it serves as a partial identifier on a particular occasion. This conclusion should be evident from the fact that we can equally refer to a particular thought through its simultaneity or other relation to an external event B e.g., we might think of the thought about ubiquity of paraphernalia of infancy that came to Siewert when he was paying his restaurant bill on a particular day.



e. Other languages


There is an obvious difference between hearing a sentence of a language one understands and hearing a synonymous sentence in a language one does not understand. It is tempting to explain this difference by saying that, in addition to the sound of the words of one=s own language, one also has a feeling of understanding, and that this feeling should be counted as the phenomenology of understanding. One can take the point inside, and consider a series of auditory images. Perhaps these have no meaning in one=s own language and one can appreciate them only in respect of their euphony or rhythmicity. Evidently, matters are experientially different if the series of auditory imagery happens to compose a meaningful series of words in a language one understands. [9]

The differences just described are certainly real, but they do not undercut the argument of this paper. One relevant point is that the occurrence of anxiety when there is not understanding does not imply that there is generally occurrence of something else when there is understanding. And it seems that there is not. In ordinary, unproblematic daily life it does not seem that my receptions of what others say is accompanied by a feeling of understanding. In situations where other languages are in use (e.g., airport announcements), one will surely notice when a language one understands begins, and one may have a feeling in addition to the fact of taking in information that then becomes available for guiding actions. But in view of the usual circumstances of its occurrence, that feeling might better be called the feeling of relief from non-understanding. Perhaps there is also a feeling of familiarity about the words; but again, the occurrence of such nonsensory, or Afringe@ experiences is no argument that they are generally present when familiar things are present.

Similarly, in a newscast in a language one does not understand, there may be a reference to some famous person from one=s own country. One notices that one recognizes ATiger Woods@ as the otherwise unintelligible sound flows on; but again, it does not follow, nor does it seem to be true, that such feelings or noticings are a regular concomitant of understood language. This fact undercuts the claim of such feelings to be the phenomenology of understanding. They are more plausibly regarded as the phenomenolgy of unexpected recognition.

Again, there Kirtland=s warbler are cases of reaction to meaningless insertions, which are not present when speech is correct and understood. There is certainly surprise in such cases; but there is no reason to think that absence of surprise is, in ordinary cases, the occurrence of some contrary feeling.

Suppose that a person, S, who is wholly ignorant of English, had a sequence of auditory imagery that is exactly like your auditory image of AThe cat is on the mat@. Of course, S would not understand the sequence. So, having the thought that the cat is on the mat is not the same thing as having the sequence AThe cat is on the mat@ in one=s auditory imagery. It does not follow that there is a phenomenal something else that is the thought that the cat is on the mat. The difference between you and S can be only that you are prepared to go on to have further auditory imagery and/or nonverbal behavior that relates to cats and mats, whereas for S the same sequence is no more than a snatch of not very good music. Depending on the circumstances, you (but generally not S) may also have feelings of familiarity, or satisfaction, or relief from anxiety, and so on. [10]





Many people (not all) have auditory imagery when they are thinking with their mouths closed. The sudden occurrence of a thought is often correctly describable as the popping into mind of a sentence. Our discussion has appealed to many other phenomena, visual, kinaesthetic, and feelings (such as familiarity) that are not naturally attributed to any of the senses. The phenomenology of thinking is thus rich indeed. But none of these phenomena seem to be either necessary or sufficient for the having of a thought (belief, desire, etc.) or a thought with a certain content. Thus, despite the richness of the phenomenology of thinking, we should not suppose that thoughts have a phenomenology of their own. For this reason, we should continue to respect the difference between phenomenality, on the one hand, and thought, on the other.





[1]        Qualities come in natural quality spaces, e.g., some colors are close (red and orange) and others less close (red and blue). We can impose an order on sentences, e.g., by alphabetization; but there does not seem to be any natural sentence space, in the way that there are natural quality spaces. This provides a further difference between phenomenal occurrences and thoughts, but it is one that we shall not have to recur to for the arguments of this paper.


[2]        Goldman=s context is an extended critique of functionalism. Despite the criticism I make here, I am in full agreement with many of the points Goldman makes in the paper under consideration.


[3]        Goldman (1993) briefly considers garden path sentences (although he does not press the point in the way Pitt does). Horgan and Tienson (forthcoming) make a similar point with similar examples.


[4]        This sentence reports my actual image upon first encounter with Pitt=s example. On another occasion, a different image came to mind. I take this observation to support my claim that no particular image is the phenomenology of a thought.


[5]        This possibility is suggested by Block=s (1995a, 1995b) view that (as he puts it) P-content (phenomenal content) is often representational. See, e.g., Block, 1995a, p. 230, 1995b, p. 278. We will discuss two of Block=s examples below.


[6]        A related objection can be approached through Akins= (1993) argument, which seeks to undercut any sharp distinction between the representational and the qualitative aspects of experience. In my view, however, this attempt does not succeed, and so such an objection cannot be enforced. We cannot pursue this complex matter here, but to put the essential point very briefly, Akins argues that qualitative content cannot exist without any representational content whatsoever. She neglects, however, to note that the same qualitative content can occur with many different representational contents. This independence of occurrence permits independent reference to qualitative and representational aspects of experience.


[7]        Pinker (1994) gives an argument that is closely related to the one being criticized in this paragraph. For a parallel criticism applied to Pinker=s version, see Cole (1999).


[8]        I take this argument from Jennifer Church (1998, p. 68). Her context is a little different from the one in the text, but the argument applies to the present discussion. The reply offered also applies to the argument as it occurs in Church=s context.


[9]        For cases of the first kind, see G. Strawson (1994) and Mangan (2001). Pitt (forthcoming) considers the imagery case.


[10]      One has to say Amay@ because a deranged S could have feelings of familiarity quite inappropriately.






Akins, K. A. (1993) AA Bat Without Qualities@, in M. Davies and G. Humphries, eds., Consciousness: Psychological and Philosophical Essays (Oxford: Blackwell).

Block, N. (1995a) AOn a Confusion About a Function of Consciousness@, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18:227-47.

Block, N. (1995b) AHow Many Concepts of Consciousness?@ (Author=s Response to commentaries on target article), Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18:272-287.

Church, J. (1998) ATwo Sorts of Consciousness?@, Communication and Cognition 31:57-72.

Cole, D. (1999) AI Don=t Think So: Pinker on the Mentalese Monopoly@, Philosophical Psychology 12:283-295.

Fadiga, L., Buccino, G., Craighero, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., and Pavesi, G., (1999) ACorticospinal Excitability is Specifically Modulated by Motor Imagery: A Magnetic Stimulation Study@, Neuropsychologia, 37:147-158.

Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., and Rizzolatti, G. (1996) AAction Recognition in the Premotor Cortex@, Brain, 119:593-609.

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