NED BLOCK (Ph.D., Harvard), Silver Professor of Philosophy, Psychology and Neural Science, came to NYU in 1996 from MIT where he was Chair of the Philosophy Program. He works in philosophy of perception and foundations of neuroscience and cognitive science and is currently writing a book on attention. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Language and Information, a Sloan Foundation Fellow, a faculty member at two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes and two Summer Seminars, the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Science Foundation; and a recipient of the Robert A. Muh Alumni Award in Humanities and Social Science from MIT and the Jean Nicod Prize (list of past recipients of the Jean Nicod Prize), École Normale Supérieure, Paris. He is a past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, a past Chair of the MIT Press Cognitive Science Board, and past President of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. The Philosophers' Annual selected his papers as one of the "ten best" in 1983, 1990, 1995, 2002 and 2010. He is co-editor of The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates (MIT Press, 1997). The first of two volumes of his collected papers, Functionalism, Consciousness and Representation, MIT Press came out in 2007.
Į Lone Star Tourist (lectures at U. of Texas at Austin, Rice U., U. of Houston, Texas A&M)
Į Francis W. Gramlich Memorial Lecture, Dartmouth College
What is Consciousness? PBS 2015 Closer to the Truth series
What is Consciousness? Interview and music by Joe LeDoux on a Scientific American site
Consciousness and Intelligence. Panel Discussion with Giulio Tononi, Christof Koch and Shimon Ullman
Darwin Day 2011. Panel Discussion with Jaqueline Gottlieb and Massimo Pigliucci
Section 1 of the 1995 “Block Panel” interview of W.V. Quine on the inverted spectrum and related issues. (Download a Quicktime version here). Section 2, Section 3 (in which Quine gives a very qualified endorsement of an inverted spectrum)
“Tweaking the Concepts of Perception and Cognition,” Comment on Chaz Firestone and Brian Scholl, Cognition does not affect perception: Evaluating the evidence for ‘top-down’ effects, forthcoming in 2016 in The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
See also other comments on the same article:
“The Anna Karenina Principle and Skepticism about Unconscious Perception”, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2016, DOI: 10.1111/phpr.12258. This is a response to Ian Phillips’ Consciousness and criterion: on Block's case for unconscious perception Philosophy & Phenomenological Research
The Anna Karenina Principle says that all conscious perceptions are alike but each type of unconscious perception is unconscious in its own way. Breitmeyer’s 2015 article describes 24 methods of producing unconscious perception that work by interfering with conscious perocessing in different ways. No convincing critique of unconscious perception can focus on just one type of unconscious perception.
“The Canberra Plan Neglects Ground”, 2015, in Qualia and Mental Causation in a Physical World: Themes from the Philosophy of Jaegwon Kim, edited by Terence Horgan, Marcelo Sabates and David Sosa, Cambridge University Press. Amazon page here. Table of Contents
Argues that the “Canberra Plan” picture of physicalistic reduction of mind--a picture shared by both its proponents and opponents, philosophers as diverse as David Armstrong, David Chalmers Frank Jackson, Jaegwon Kim, Joe Levine and David Lewis--neglects ground. To the extent that the point of view endorsed by the Canberra Plan has an account of the physical/functional ground of mind at all, it is in one version trivial and in another version implausible. In its most general form, the point of view of the Canberra Plan is committed to unacceptably treating indexical or name-related facts as part of the ultimate physical/functional ground of the mental.
With enormous investments in neuroscience looming on the horizon, including proposals to map the activity of every neuron in the brain, it is worth asking what questions such an investment might be expected to contribute to answering. What is the likelihood that high-resolution mapping will resolve fundamental questions about how the mind works? I argue that high-resolution maps are far from sufficient, and that the utility of new technologies in neuroscience depends on developing them in tandem with the psycho-neural concepts needed to understand how the mind is implemented in the brain.
Argues that philosophers have underestimated the extent to which the following are empirical issues to which psychological experiments are relevant: Whether all seeing is seeing-as; whether seeing-as is conceptual; whether seeing is exhausted by seeing “low level properties”: shape, spatial relations, motion, texture, brightness, color; what the distinction is between perception and perceptual judgment. Presents evidence that some high level properties—namely faces and emotional facial expressions are perceptually represented.
“Rich conscious perception outside focal attention”, Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol. 18, Issue 9, p445–447, 2014
Can we consciously see more items at once than can be cognized at once, i.e. than can be held in a cognitive buffer? This question has eluded resolution because the ultimate evidence is subjects’ reports in which phenomenal consciousness is filtered through a cognitive system, visual working memory. However, a new technique makes use of the fact that unattended ‘ensemble properties’ can be detected ‘for free’ without decreasing working memory capacity.
Michael Tye’s response to my “Grain” (Block 2012) and “Windows” (Block 2013) raises general metaphilosophical issues about the value of intuitions and judgments about one’s perceptions and the relations of those intuitions and judgments to empirical research, as well as specific philosophical issues about the relation between seeing, attention and de re thought. I will argue that Tye’s appeal to what is (§. 2) “intuitively obvious, once we reflect upon these cases” (“intuition”) is problematic. I will also argue that first person judgments can be problematic when used on their own as Tye does but can be valuable when integrated with empirical results.
Elaborates the argument in “The Grain of Vision and the Grain of Attention,” Thought: A Journal of Philosophy. Volume 1, Issue 3, September 2012. And replies to critiques by Bradley Richards and J. H. Taylor. Discusses metamers of peripheral vision in the light of results about certain kinds of regular repeating patterns. Argues that there are special features of repeating patterns in peripheral vision that allow one to single an object out by vision that one cannot single out by attention, i.e. to see an item that one cannot attend to.
Ned Block and Susanna Siegel, “Attention and Perceptual Adaptation,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36:3, p. 25-26, 2013
Comment on Andy Clark on predictive coding: Clark advertises the predictive coding (PC) framework as applying to a wide range of phenomena, including attention. We argue that for many attentional phenomena, the predictive coding picture either makes false predictions, or else it offers no distinctive explanation of those phenomena, thereby reducing its explanatory power.
Often when there is no attention to an object, there is no conscious perception of it either, leading some to conclude that conscious perception is an attentional phenomenon. There is a well-known perceptual phenomenon—visuo-spatial crowding, in which objects are too closely packed for attention to single out one of them. This article argues that there is a variant of crowding—what I call ‘‘identity-crowding’’—in which one can consciously see a thing despite failure of attention to it. This conclusion, together with new evidence that attention to an object occurs in unconscious perception, suggests there may be a double dissociation between conscious perception of an object and attention to that object, constraining the extent to which consciousness can be constitutively attentional. The argument appeals to a comparison between the minimal resolution (or ‘‘grain’’) of object-attention and object-seeing.
Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Ned Block, Christof Koch, “Top-down attention and consciousness: comment on Cohen et al.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16, 11, 2012, p. 527
J.Kevin O’Regan & Ned Block, “Discussion of J. Kevin O’Regan’s Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness”, The Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2012
“Response to Kouider, et al.: which view is better supported by the evidence.” Replies to Kouider, et. al. and Overgaard & Grünbaum, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol 16, No. 3, March, 2012
“Perceptual consciousness overflows cognitive access”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences December 15, 12, 2011, p 567-575
One of the most important issues concerning the foundations of conscious perception centers on the question of whether perceptual consciousness is rich or sparse. The overflow argument uses a form of ‘iconic memory’ to argue that perceptual consciousness is richer (i.e., has a higher capacity) than cognitive access: when observing a complex scene we are conscious of more than we can report or think about. Recently, the overflow argument has been challenged both empirically and conceptually. This paper reviews the controversy, arguing that proponents of sparse perception are committed to the postulation of (i) a peculiar kind of generic conscious representation that has no independent rationale (for example, an image of a non-square rectangle that does not specify any orientation) and (ii) an unmotivated form of unconscious representation that in some cases conflicts with what we know about unconscious representation.
“The Higher Order Approach to Consciousness is Defunct,” Analysis, Volume 71, No. 3, July 2011, 419-431.
Argues that there is a well-known objection to the higher order approach to consciousness that, with a slight twist, is fatal.
David Rosenthal’s reply: “Exaggerated Reports: Reply to Block” Analysis 71, 431-437
Josh Weisberg’s reply: “Abusing the notion of what’it’s-like-ness: A response to Block”, Analysis 71, 438-443
My reply: “Response to Rosenthal and Weisberg” Analysis 71, 443-448
The Anna Karenina Theory says: all conscious states are alike; each unconscious state is unconscious in its own way. This note argues that many components have to function properly to produce consciousness, but failure in any one of many different ones can yield an unconscious state in different ways. In that sense the Anna Karenina theory is true. But in another respect it is false: kinds of unconsciousness depend on kinds of consciousness. This is a commentary on Heather Berlin’s “The Neural Basis of the Dynamic Unconscious”
Much of recent philosophy of perception is oriented towards accounting for the phenomenal character of perception—what it is like to perceive--in a non-mentalistic way—that is, without appealing to mental objects or mental qualities. In opposition to such views, I claim that the phenomenal character of perception of a red round object cannot be explained by or reduced to direct awareness of the object, its redness and roundness—or representation of such objects and qualities. Qualities of perception that are not captured by direct awareness of or representation of qualities of object are instances of what Gilbert Harman has called “mental paint” (Harman, 1990, Block, 1990). The claim of this paper is that empirical facts about attention point in the direction of mental paint. The argument starts with the claim (later modified slightly) that when one moves one’s attention around a scene while keeping one’s eyes fixed, the phenomenology of perception can change in ways that do not reflect which qualities of objects one is directly aware of or the way the world is represented to be. These changes in the phenomenology of perception cannot be accounted for in terms of awareness of or representation of the focus of attention because they manifest themselves in experience as differences in apparent contrast, apparent color saturation, apparent size, apparent speed, apparent time of occurrence and other apparent properties. There is a way of coping with these phenomena in terms of vagueness or indeterminacy, but this move cannot save direct realism or representationism because the kind of vagueness or indeterminacy required clashes wth the phenomenology itself.
“Comparing the Major Theories of Consciousness,” The Cognitive Neurosciences IV, Michael Gazzaniga (ed.) MIT Press, 2009
Argues that the existence of the explanatory gap provides a reason to believe a biological account of consciousness rather than a global workspace account or a higher order account.
“Consciousness and Cognitive Access”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 108, Issue 1 pt 3 (October 2008), p. 289-317. This is a much shorter version of the paper below, aimed more at philosophers than scientists, and incorporating improved formulations and replies to some of the commentators listed below.
Accessibility and the Mesh between Psychology and Neuroscience,” in Behavioral and
Brain Sciences 30, 2007, 481-548,
along with 32 commentaries (available here)
by Balog, Burge, Byrne
Hilbert & Siegel, Clark & Kiverstein, Gopnik, Grush, Harman, Hulme
& Whitely, Izard Quinn & Most, Jacob, Kentridge, Koch & Tsuchiya,
Kouider, Gardelle & Dupoux, Lamme, Landman & Sligte, Lau & Persaud,
Laureys, Levine, Lycan, Malach, McDermott, Naccache & Dehaene, O’Regan
& Myin, Prinz, Rosenthal, Sergent & Rees, Shanahan & Baars,
Snodgrass & Lepisto, Spener, Tye and Van Gulick; and author’s
How can we disentangle the neural basis of phenomenal consciousness from the neural machinery of the cognitive access that underlies reports of phenomenal consciousness? We can see the problem in stark form if we ask how we could tell whether representations inside a Fodorian module are phenomenally conscious. The methodology would seem straightforward: find the neural natural kinds that are the basis of phenomenal consciousness in clear cases when subjects are completely confident and we have no reason to doubt their authority, and look to see whether those neural natural kinds exist within Fodorian modules. But a puzzle arises: do we include the machinery underlying reportability within the neural natural kinds of the clear cases? If the answer is ‘Yes’, then there can be no phenomenally conscious representations in Fodorian modules. But how can we know the answer? The suggested methodology requires an answer to the question it was supposed to answer! The paper argues for an abstract solution to the problem and exhibits a source of empirical data that is relevant, data that show that in a certain sense phenomenal consciousness overflows cognitive accessibility. The paper argues that we can find a neural realizer of this overflow if assume that the neural basis of phenomenal consciousness does not include the neural basis of cognitive accessibility and that this assumption is justified (other things equal) by the explanations it allows.
“Wittgenstein and Qualia”, Philosophical Perspectives 21, 1, 2007: 73-115, edited by John Hawthorne. The version linked to here is a substantially revised version that is coming out in a volume edited by Maria Baghramian in honor of Hilary Putnam as part of Oxford University Press’s Mind Association Occasional Series
Wittgenstein (in notes published first in 1968) endorsed one kind of inverted spectrum hypothesis and rejected another. This paper argues that the kind of inverted spectrum hypothesis that Wittgenstein endorsed (the “innocuous” inverted spectrum hypothesis) is the thin end of the wedge that precludes a Wittgensteinian critique of the kind of inverted spectrum hypothesis he rejected (the “dangerous” kind). The danger of the dangerous kind is that it provides an argument for qualia, where qualia are (for the purposes of this paper) contents of experiential states that cannot be fully captured in natural language. I will pinpoint the difference between the innocuous and dangerous scenarios that matters for the argument for qualia, give arguments in favor of the coherence and possibility of the dangerous scenario, and try to show that some standard arguments against inverted spectra are ineffective against the version of the dangerous scenario I will be advocating. I will also agree with what I think is Wittgenstein’s position that the kind of inverted spectrum hypothesis he rejected lets qualia in the door. At one crucial point, I will rely on a less controversial version of an argument I gave in Block (1999). Wittgenstein’s views provide a convenient starting point for a paper that is much more about qualia than about Wittgenstein.
"Max Black’s Objection to Mind-Body Identity", in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, II, edited by Dean Zimmerman with
replies by John Perry and Stephen White, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 3-78. White’s reply here.
Table of Contents here. Also in Torin
Alter and Sven Walter (eds.), Phenomenal
Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge, Oxford University Press, 2006, 249-306. (Amusingly, the simultaneous OUP publications of this
article were copy-edited by different copy-editors, leading to slightly
The mind-body identity theorist says phenomenal property Q = brain property B. But in stating or thinking this identity claim, don’t we have to have a further, unreduced, phenomenal property that serves as a mode of presentation of Q? This paper argues that this suspicion underlies both Jackson’s Knowledge Argument and the famous glimpse of an argument that J. J. C. Smart ascribed to Max Black. The argument is presented, dissected and refuted.
"Two Neural Correlates of Consciousness" This is a longer version of a paper in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol (9), 2, February 2005 The shorter published version is here. This paper was the top download from the Trends in Cognitive Sciences web site of 2005 and was on ScienceDirect’s list of the Top 25 Hottest Articles of January-March, 2005 in the category of Neuroscience.
"Mental Paint" in Reflections and Replies, a book of essays on Tyler Burge, with replies by Burge, edited by Martin Hahn and Bjorn Ramberg and published by MIT Press, 2003. Here is Burge's reply to this paper (perhaps slightly different from the published version).
"Do Causal Powers Drain Away?" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. 67, No. 1 (July 2003), pp. 110-127, with a reply by Jaegwon Kim, "Blocking Causal Drainage and other Chores with Mental Causation".
"Spatial Perception via Tactile Sensation", (or here) Trends in Cognitive Sciences Volume 7, Issue 7, July 2003, Pages 285-286. This is a reply to Susan Hurley and Alva NoĎ, "Neural plasticity and consciousness". (Note: the journal incorrectly reversed the noun phrases in the title.) Hurley's and NoĎ's reply to me, "Neural plasticity and consciousness: Reply to Block" from the August, 2003 issue.
"The Harder Problem of Consciousness", PDF version, from The Journal of Philosophy XCIX, No. 8, August 2002, 1-35. The version that came out in The Journal of Philosophy was shortened considerably because of space limitations in the journal. Some of the cuts have been restored in the version here. (This version appeared in Disputatio 15, November 2003.) For critiques, see Brian McLaughlin, "A Naturalist-Phenomenal Realist Response To Block's Harder Problem", Philosophical Issues, 13, (2003):163-204 (The version linked to here may be slightly different from the published version.), and Jakob Hohwy, "Evidence, Explanation, and Experience: On the Harder Problem of Consciousness" Journal of Philosophy, Volume CI, Number 5, May 2004 pp. 242-254 (Again, the version linked to here may be slightly different from the published version.)
"Concepts of Consciousness" In Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, David Chalmers (ed.) Oxford University Press, 2002.
"Paradox and Cross Purposes in Recent Work on Consciousness". This is an expanded and revised version of a commentary on all the papers in a special issue of Cognition (April, 2001) on the state of the art in the neuroscience of consciousness. (The special issue has come out separately: Stan Dehaene, ed., The Cognitive Neuroscience of Consciousness, M.I.T. Press, 2001) Two philosophers–Dan Dennett and I–were asked to comment on all the scientists' papers. (We both made some comments on each others' papers as well). Dennett's paper is available by clicking here. If you want to see the papers that Dennett and I commented on, see Cognition, Volume 79, Issues 1-2, Pages 1-237 (April 2001)
"Behaviorism Revisited". This is a comment on J. K. O_Regan. and Alva NoĎ, "A Sensorimotor Account of Vision and Visual Consciousness" The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2001 (24:5).
"Sexism, Racism, Ageism and the Nature of Consciousness", in The Philosophy of Sydney Shoemaker, Philosophical Topics, 26, 1 and 2, 1999. Edited by Richard Moran, Jennifer Whiting, and Alan Sidelle.
"Conceptual Analysis, Dualism and the Explanatory Gap" (with Robert Stalnaker) The Philosophical Review, January, 1999.
"Is Experiencing Just Representing?" (in a symposium on Michael Tye in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, September, 1998).
"How Not to Find the Neural Correlate of Consciousness" (in a volume of Royal Institute of Philosophy lectures edited by Anthony O'Hear, 1998).
"Anti-Reductionism Slaps Back" Appeared in Mind, Causation, World, Philosophical Perspectives 11, 1997, 107-133.
"On a Confusion about a Function of Consciousness" The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18, 2, 1995, 227-287. There is a corrected version of this article in Block, Flanagan and G|zeldere, The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates (MIT Press, 1997). There was a second round of critiques by Joseph Bogen, Selmer Bringsjord, Derek Browne, David Chalmers, Denise Gamble, Daniel Gilman, Güven Güzeldere and Murat Aydede, Bruce Mangan, Alva NoĎ, Ernst Pöppel, David Rosenthal, A.H.C. van der Heijden, P.T.W. Hudson and A.G. Kurvink. These critiques plus replies appeared in 1997: "Biology versus computation in the study of consciousness", Behavior and Brain Sciences 20:1, 159-165, 1997
"How Heritability Misleads about Race" (Cognition 56, 1995: pp. 99-128).
"What is Dennett's Theory a Theory of?" (Philosophical Topics 22, 1 and 2, 1994, pp. 23-40).
"An Argument for Holism", in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol XCIV, 1995, p.151-169.
I can supply articles prior to 1995 that are not included here, if you send me an email.
“Evidence against Epiphenomenalism”, from Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14, 1991
This is a comment on an article arguing for epiphenomenalism
Can the Mind Change the World? In George S. Boolos (ed.), Meaning and Method: Essays in Honor of Hilary Putnam. Cambridge University Press. 1989, 137--170.
"Mental Pictures and Cognitive Science" (The Philosophical Review, Volume 92, 4, Oct. 1983, pages 499-541.) Accessing this paper requires a password. The paper is available without the password from JSTOR, although you may not be able to get it without a university account or a paid subscription.
“Troubles with Functionalism”, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 9:261-325. 1978 scan. Jim Pryor’s notes. In 1981, I divided the paper into two parts, a much expanded version of the part on what functionalism is, here. And the argument against the clarified functionalism, here. Spanish version: “Las Dificultades Del Funcionalismo”
Review of Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Boston Globe, March, 6, 1977, p. A17
Articles in Handbooks or Encyclopedias
“Consciousness”, in S. Guttenplan (ed), A Companion to Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell: Oxford, 1994
"Holism, Mental and Semantic" (in The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1998)
"Semantics, Conceptual Role" (in The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1998)
"What is Functionalism?" (a revised version of the entry on functionalism in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Supplement, Macmillan, 1996)
Minds & Machines, Fall 2011
Consciousness, Fall 2010
The Perception/Cognition Border with Eric Mandelbaum, Fall 2016
The Perception/Cognition Border, with Eric Mandelbaum, Fall 2014
Conceptual and Empirical Issues about Perception, Attention and Consciousness Spring 2011 (with David Carmel)
Philosophical and Empirical Issues about Consciousness, Fall 2008 (joint Columbia/NYU course with Hakwan Lau)
Consciousness, Action and Attention, Spring 2008
Percepts and Concepts,
Fall 2005 (with Michael Strevens)
Research Seminar on Language and Mind: Consciousness, Spring 2005 (with Thomas Nagel)
Advanced Introduction to Philosophy of Mind, Fall 2003
Philosophy of Mind: Consciousness, Fall 2001
Research Seminar on Language and Mind: Consciousness, Spring 2000 (with Thomas Nagel)
Research Seminar on Language and Mind: Concepts, Spring 1998 (with Paul Boghossian)
Research Seminar on Language and Mind: Consciousness, Spring 1997 (with Thomas Nagel)
Metaphysics: Causation, Fall 1997 (with Hartry Field)