Bayes and the first person: consciousness of thoughts, inner speech and probabilistic inference
On a widely held view, episodes of inner speech provide at least one way in which we become conscious of our thoughts. However, it can be argued, on the one hand, that consciousness of thoughts in virtue of inner speech presupposes (unconscious) interpretation of the simulated speech. On the other hand, the need for such self-interpretation (even if unconscious) seems to clash with distinctive first-personal characteristics that we would normally ascribe to consciousness of one’s own thoughts: a special reliability; a lack of conscious ambiguity and incomprehensibility; and a sense of causal agency. I try to resolve this puzzle by proposing an account for the requisite self-interpretation of inner speech in terms of Bayesian probabilistic inference. Drawing on “perceptual loop” accounts of speech control, I argue that such interpretive probabilistic inferences are used for the control of inner speech, and that as a consequence of this function, they are biased toward the correct interpretations. I conclude by showing how this model can explain the first-personal characteristics of consciousness of one’s own thoughts. In the case of the sense of causal agency, the resulting explanation yields novel accounts for “audible thoughts” and thought insertion.
KeywordsInner speech Consciousness of thoughts Bayes Perceptual loop Audible thoughts Thought insertion
I have presented versions of this paper at King’s College, London, at the Humboldt University Berlin (Colloquium Tobias Rosefeldt), at the University of Granada (Workshop “Inner Speech: Theories and Models”, July 2015), and at the Institut Jean Nicod, Paris (Paris Consciousness and Self-Consciousness Group). I am grateful to the audiences at these occasions for very helpful discussions. My special thanks for their criticisms and suggestions go to Élisabeth Pacherie, Uriah Kriegel, Mark Textor, Richard Moore, Édouard Machery, Peter Langland-Hassan, Erasmus Mayr, Ole Koksvik, and the anonymous referees for this journal.
Funding Research for this article during a research stay at the Institut Jean Nicod, Paris (2015/6) has been made possible by a scholarship in the Postdoc Programme of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
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