Imagine two fellows named George and John. Both are similar enough in intelligence and language competency. Both have a tertiary education, similar literary interests, choice diction and are equally well spoken. The focal difference between George and John is that John is a fully qualified light aircraft pilot (Cessna variety- four seat, single engine, fixed wing, etc.)- George is not. To wit, if we were to place George in the cockpit, he couldn’t so much as get the plane started let alone airborne.

Now imagine if we requested a descriptive- cum- explanatory account what it is that a pilot ordinarily does when piloting a plane. What crucial differences would there be between their respective accounts? Should we expect John’s account to be deeper, more detailed/accurate, nuanced, finessed with novel (flying) anecdotes; one that is firmly grounded in a first person plane flying ‘capacity-how’? Should we expect Georges account to be superficial, patchy, speculative/inaccurate, poorly analogized to automobile driving; one clearly not based in a first person ‘capacity-how’, but a merely ‘knowledge-that’?

We can imagine a variation of this where George is the educated one and we have John as poorly educated, not the reading type, not especially articulate, but still a fully qualified light aircraft pilot. Here we might expect George’s account to be much more impressive than John’s; yet there would still be something George can’t do that John can- namely pilot light aircraft.

Question: Is a philosopher of consciousness more like George or more like John in their respective accounts of consciousness?

(I appreciate there’s no obvious comparison between planes and the phenomenon of consciousness, so if it makes you feel any better, you can swap out “being a pilot” for “being a cardiologist”- mutatis mutandis).

  • To simplify, your question is whether philosophy of consciousness (or neuroscience?) is more like aerospace engineering or piloting?
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 4:57
  • @virmaior-The piloting example is incidental. I'm suggesting that until you get something on par with say, cardiology, pulmonology, etc., perhaps all you have is arbitrary speculation from the proverbial armchair. The George vs. John distinction is as simple as it gets. There's something that John can do that George can't (irrespective of their comparative ability to 'wax-lyrical'). What is it- beyond mere theory chugging- that (say) Chalmers can do with respect to the phenomenon of consciousness that Dennett (Hoffman, Penrose, Tononi, whoever,..) can't? Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 5:19
  • Maybe some formatting could make your question clearer. (I was trying to boil down your rather lengthy question rather than a specific obsession with the piloting example from my side).
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 5:25
  • 1
    I would guess what philosophers of mind aspire to do is to be able to understand the nature of consciousness in the mode of theoretical knowledge (i.e., to be able to discourse about it, understand what is going on in consciousness, etc.) much in the same way as aerospace engineers can do about planes and flight whereas pilots are engaged in the practical task of flying. theoria vs. techne
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 5:27
  • Precisely! Should not the theoria and a basis in (be constrained by) praxis? Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 5:57


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