E-Int: “Varieties of depiction for synthetic phenomenology”

Ron Chrisley will be speaking on “Varieties of depiction for synthetic phenomenology”
4:30 p.m., 26 April 2007
Pevensey I 1A1

Not all research in machine consciousness aims to instantiate phenomenal states in artifacts. For example, there is work that uses artifacts that do not themselves have phenomenal states, merely to simulate or model organisms that do. Nevertheless, one might refer to all of these pursuits – instantiating, simulating or modeling phenomenal states in an artifact – as “synthetic phenomenality”[1]. But there is another way in which artificial agents (be they simulated or real) may play a crucial role in understanding or creating consciousness: “synthetic phenomenology”. Explanations involving specific experiential events require a means of specifying the contents of experience; not all of them can be specified linguistically. One alternative, at least for the case of visual experience, is to use depictions that either evoke or refer to the content of the experience. Practical considerations concerning the generation and integration of such depictions argue in favour of a synthetic approach: the generation of depictions through the use of an embodied, perceiving and acting agent, either virtual or real. Synthetic phenomenology, then, is the attempt to use the states, interactions and capacities of an artificial agent for the purpose of specifying the content of experience. This talk discusses work with Joel Parthemore on using a robot to specify the non-conceptual content of the visual experience of an (hypothetical) organism that the robot models.

I gave a talk on this topic to E-Intentionality last Autumn; the talk today will focus on new developments and findings since then.

[1] Thanks to Rob Clowes for suggesting the term “synthetic phenomenality”.

Announcement – Symposium: AI and consciousness


Corresponding authors: Antonio Chella (chella@unipa.it), Riccardo Manzotti (riccardo.manzotti@iulm.it)
Further information: http://www.aaai.org/Symposia/Fall/fss07symposia.php#fs01

The symposium will take place in Washington, DC from November 8–11, 2007. It is sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. In recent years there has been a growing interest in the field of consciousness from biological, psychological, philosophical and computational points of view. At the same time, several Artificial Intelligence researchers have designed and implemented systems that take into account the suggestions from the study of consciousness. On the one hand, there is the hope of being able to design better AI programs; on the other hand, the actual implementations of working systems could be helpful for understanding consciousness.

The main goal of the symposium is to bring together researchers from AI, cognitive science, philosophy and psychology to reason about the question: can we build better AI and robotics systems by facing the problem of consciousness? The symposium will provide extensive discussions and group interactions in which to present the current state of research and to discuss the experimental results and the theoretical foundations of the field of consciousness and their relationships with artificial intelligence. The symposium will schedule key invited speakers and selected talks from authors.

Authors are encouraged to submit their work in long papers and in position papers. Submission deadline is May 1st. A limited amount of support is available for students.

E-Int: “Transparency and Agency in Inner Speech”

Rob Clowes will be speaking on “Transparency and Agency in Inner Speech”

Pevensey I 1A1, 4:30 p.m., 19 April 2007

What is inner speech? How does its phenomenological aspect relate to its functional and representational aspects? Does inner speech play a special role in our inner-lives, and if so, how can we characterise it?

Vygotsky (1986 [1934]) – in the modern context – is one of the originators of the claim that speech as a social tool between persons is appropriated to the regulation of inner life within persons. In some passages, he even argues that the internalisation of speech plays a role in the constitution of inner life as such. Vygotsky develops his case primarily in terms of a functional analysis. Phenomenology does however play a role in this analysis and recent research has made clear his indebtedness to the Husserl (MacDonald, 2000) as well as his more well-known use of Husserl as a target for critique (Vygotsky, 1997 [1927]).

The proposed link between speech as a social tool and inner life remains enticing to many. In part, because it might help develop a materialist case for a special sort of human inner life without parting company with naturalism. But is it possible to defend this link? Is there anything special about inner speech either along its phenomenological, functional or other dimensions? Can we develop a principled account of this articulated within a broader account of subjectivity?

I will situate Vygotsky’s argument with respect to one of the most developed current research programmes into articulating a multi-level account of subjectivity, i.e. the work of Thomas Metzinger (2004). Metzinger conclusions on the ontological status of subjectivity are controversial. Nevertheless, his framework offers a series of multi-level constraints (spanning the phenomenological, representational, functional and neural) that enrich our understanding of subjectivity. We can also use them to analyse inner speech.

A central constraint is transparency. Metzinger says transparency is “a special form of inner darkness” with respect to some of the vehicles of cognition. Transparency as a feature of representational systems is used to explain a variety of features of normal and abnormal subjectivity. On Metzinger’s account, the transparency (and other) vehicle properties of a linguistic representation are no different from those of any other representational system. Such a view threatens the basic Vygotskian claim.

Metzinger’s enriched concepts for understanding subjectivity are perhaps at their weakest in the resources they give for the analysis of agency. And yet, agency is a central dimension needed to explain the sorts of dissociations of thought and especially of inner voice we find e.g. in schizophrenia (Stephens & Graham, 2000). In the light of this, I propose a revised neo-Vygotskian account of the social and linguistic construction of agency. I use this to elucidate what is special about the inner voice and extend the levels of analysis offered by Metzinger, especially, along the dimension of its time-structure.


MacDonald, P. S. (2000). Phenomenological factors in Vygotsky’s mature psychology. History of the Human Sciences, 13(3), 69-93.

Metzinger, T. (2004). Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity: Bradford Book.

Stephens, G. L., & Graham, G. (2000). When Self-Consciousness Breaks: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986 [1934]). Thought and Language (Seventh Printing ed.): MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1997 [1927]). The historical meaning of the crisis in psychology. The Collected Works of LS Vygotsky, 3.