Abstract Details

The Annotated Mind: Knowing Our Experiences the Instant They Occur  Roger Christan Schriner (Independent scholar, Fremont, California )   C18

Many believe that whenever we have a conscious experience we automatically know we are having that experience. As a result, some philosophers have proposed a radical form of self-intimation, in which an experience and the subjective apprehension of that experience are the same mental state. This intuition has also been expressed in terms of self-presentation, self-representation, and subject-object duality, and it is related to theories of direct acquaintance. These ideas are difficult to articulate clearly and hard to reconcile with physicalism, and yet it seems as if we do know our experiences just as they occur. (We also learn about our experiences by reflecting on them after they occur, but that is not particularly controversial or mysterious.) This paper offers a new way to understand the radically instantaneous knowledge of sensory phenomena, by emphasizing the importance of simultaneous conceptual annotations. Many of our thoughts and other cognitions "comment" on our experiences, and some of these cognitions occur at essentially the same time as the experiences to which they refer. They are like annotations, explanatory notes that comment on nearby text. Admittedly, it may seem odd to say that a cognition could refer to an experience that occurs at the same instant. Wouldn't there be at least a tiny time lag before we have some thought about it? But it is now widely agreed that both perceptual experiences and conscious cognitions are assembled unconsciously prior to becoming introspectible. From an evolutionary perspective, it would often be helpful if an experience and a cognition about that experience became conscious simultaneously, after being assembled "offstage," and many such co-occurrences are introspectively obvious. When we see some item, for example, we typically know what it is at the same time we perceive its appearance, as if it came into consciousness wearing an invisible name tag. Its perceived appearance does not announce its identity, but a simultaneous conceptual annotation speaks on its behalf. In seeing some animal-shape, for instance, one might have a simultaneous cognition that could be expressed by saying, "That is a hippopotamus." The paper also discusses other examples of instantaneous cognitions about sensory phenomena, including knowledge of the meanings of spoken words, knowledge of what we are currently trying to do, and Gibsonian affordances. I will focus on sensory experiences, but conceptual experiences can be understood in much the same way. Although the "annotations" discussed in this paper are compatible with both physicalist and non-physicalist theories of consciousness, I will conclude by showing that the concept of simultaneous conceptual annotations undermines an important objection to physicalism.