Abstract Details

What Do Illusionists Mean When They Talk About "what-it-is-likeness" of Conscious Experience?  Krzysztof Dolega (Bochum, Germany)   C11

Illusionism is one of the leading approaches to the metaphysics of consciousness. Although versions of this view have been defended by a number of authors throughout the years (Dennett, 1999; Humphrey, 2006; Pereboom, 2011), the core idea has been recently summarized by Keith Frankish: "Illusionism makes a very strong claim: it claims that phenomenal consciousness is illusory; experiences do not really have qualitative, ?what-it?s-like? properties, whether physical or non-physical." ( Frankish, 2016, p. 3 ) This, by no means uncontroversial, position has been faced with a number of objections . One of the most prevalent criticisms faced by illusionists is that their approach denies the existence of subjective experience (Chalmers 1996, 2020; Strawson, 2016 ) and collapses into eliminativism about consciousness. What makes matters worse is that, despite the passage quoted above, Frankish and other illusionists continue to define consciousness by using Thomas Nagel?s conception of ?what it is like? to have or undergo an experience. However, this raises a further question about what the phrase is supposed to refer to. Frankish has responded to such attacks by pointing out that: "Illusionists can say that one?s experiences are like something if one is aware of them in a functional sense, courtesy of introspective representational mechanisms. Indeed, this is a plausible reading of the phrase; experiences are like something for a creature, just as external objects are like something for it, if it mentally represents them to itself. Illusionists agree that experiences are like something in this sense, though they add that the representations are non-veridical, misrepresenting experiences as having phenomenal properties [...]? (Frankish, 2016, p. 9) However, this response pushes back the issue rather than solves it. Equating the subjective character of experiences with the cognitive system misrepresenting itself as having phenomenal properties amounts to exchanging the problem of explaining the nature of phenomenal properties for the problem of answering how misrepresenting such properties can explain the subjective quality of experiences. In this paper I?m offering a distinct version of illusionism, which I call 'virtualism'. The proposed position grows from a detailed analysis of Nagel?s concept of the ?what it is likeness? of experience. As I show, the expression was originally introduced to denote the subjective perspective of a whole organism. I then build on Clifford Hooker?s (1981) seminal work in the metaphysics of reduction and emergence to propose that the subjective property of ?what-it-is-like? to experience is a virtual property of the whole system, where a property is said to be virtual if it is a (weakly emergent) property of the system as a whole, but not of any of its parts. This approach not only impregnates illusionism against the accusations of eliminativism, but also helps to explain what illusionists talk about when they talk about 'what it is like' to have or undergo experiences.