intentional equivalent to blindsight

Neil Rickert rickert at mp.cs.niu.edu
Thu Apr 14 11:15:10 EST 1994

In article <94103.093958VCBCC at CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> <VCBCC at CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> writes:
>Q: Is there an intentional equivalent to blindsight?
>   A person who has blindsight is _legally_ blind, because s/he has no
>   conscious experience of the qualia of sight. There is evidence that
>   people who suffer from blindsight can make visual discriminations,
>   but these discriminations are non-conscious discriminations.
>   Thus there is one condition in which a person can have a phenomenal
>   mental state without consciousness.
>   Is there a condition, either natural or through brain damage, in which
>   a person can have an intentional mental state but be _unable_ to have a
>   corresponding conscious experience of that mental state?

John McCarthy argues that a thermostat can have beliefs.  In particular,
it can have three beliefs:  It is too hot in here; it is too cold in
here; it is just right in here.  Since we do not presume a thermostat
to be conscious, it would have intentional mental states without conscious

Critics argue that the thermostat has no such states, and that what is
happening is that humans are attributing intentional states based on

The critic's comment would apply just as well to blindsight.  A critic
could claim that there the visual discrimination is merely an attribution
made by an observer of the blind person's behavior.

It seems to me that you are stuck in a problem of definition.

  Is a person's intentional mental state some actual state of that
  person, or is it merely a state attributed to that person, based on

If the state must be an actual existing mental state, then how are you
going to demonstrate its existence if the state is non-conscious?

If you allow the attribution of intentional states, then surely there
are plenty of intentional states which are non-conscious.  You could
even say that a person has a non-conscious belief that he should jerk
his foot forward whenever his physician strikes a nerve center in the
knee with a mallet.

There is much disagreement over the meaning of "intentional."  John
McCarthy would be quite liberal in identifying intentional states.  I
suspect that with McCarthy's idea of belief you would have to accept my
bizarre knee jerk example.  John Searle would not accept the knee jerk
as intentional, for he is quite restrictive and does not allow a state
to be called intentional unless it is accessible to consciousness.  The
Churchlands argue that intentional states should play no role in a theory
of cognition.

What I am suggesting is that an answer to your question does not require
any knowledge of neurology or psychology.  Rather, it requires that
you carefully examine your own semantics of "intentional".

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