The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 4

Unprojected Consciousness - 4.2.3
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2. Unprojected Consciousness and Interrogative Attention

[3] In the last chapter I distinguished three varieties of attention - interrogative, executive, and unordered, attention. I also accepted the contention that there were degrees of attention. I now wish to argue that the different forms of attention are constituted by the different possible ways in which the elements of unprojected consciousness can be in relation with the object of attention

Unordered attention defines the lower limit of attention. Hamilton, it will be remembered, 80 even doubted whether it deserved the

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name. Let us take as an instance of unordered attention the catching of an eye by a sudden movement. It needs no argument to show that in that case the question of what elements make up unprojected consciousness at the time would be quite irrelevant. My attention could be explicated without any reference to the content of unprojected consciousness. In unordered attention, therefore, we have a form of attention in which the relation between the object of attention and unprojected consciousness is one of mere juxtaposition.

We get a very different picture when we come to interrogative attention: the attention we pay when we are on the qui vive for something. Let us take the case of a search as an example of interrogative attention. I shall confine what I have to say to the notion of a search in the literal sense, although it will also apply with some modification to the notion of a search in the metaphorical sensc; i.e. searching for an answer to a problem. For attention to be interrogative it is not necessary for the attender to have a clear idea of what he is looking for. The idea does not even have to be clear enough for him to recognize what he is looking for when he comes across it. Such attention does not have its success guaranteed. But if the attender can say absolutely nothing about what he is looking for, it can be denied that his attention is interrogative. However, the fact that the attender can give a rough indication of the object of his search is not due to the fact that the object of the search is also the object of attention at the time of the search. The object of the search is 'missing' as it were, and if the attender were to attend to the 'missing' object he would be thinking about finding as opposed to being actively engaged in looking. The actual object of attention during the search must be taken to be either the searching activity itself, or the places that are consecutively searched. In addition to these two aspects of searching, there is a third that is of crucial importance, and that concerns the preparedness of the searcher. No one is likely to deny that the manner in which we go about a search can be affected by our state of preparedness. It is usual, for instance, for the searcher to have beliefs about the place to search, expectations about the probability of success, and so forth. These factors will determine where he looks, how hard he looks, how thoroughly he looks, how long he perseveres with the search, and finally what things he notices during the course of the search. Of these various factors That go to make up the attender's preparedness there is one of particular significance. The attender

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may have some idea of the state of affairs that would constitute the successful termination of the search. In other words, he may have a mental picture of the scene in which he comes across the thing he is searching for. This picture he may have obtained from memories, or he may have constructed it - it all depends on the circumstances of the search. Such an idea can play an important part in determining the manner in which the search is carried out, and in its absence the searching activity could be expected to take a different form. Moreover, it will partly determine the things we do and the things we do not notice while searching. Because of it we might notice some things we might otherwise have missed, and miss other things we might otherwise have noticed. Since such an idea will predispose us to notice certain sorts of things and overlook others, I shall refer to it as a 'guiding' idea. We may look upon a guiding idea as a partial filter that lets through those 'noticings' that are germane to the search, and that at the same time keeps down the number of extraneous 'noticings'. Equally importantly, if the guiding idea is on the wrong track it will actually make the attender overlook something that is relevant to the search including in the extreme case the actual object of the search itself.

Now this guiding idea cannot itself be conceived of as the object of attention during the search. Were it to become so, instead of prosecuting the search the attender would at best be engaged in planning a search, and at worst he would be merely distracted by an idea. The question now arises: 'If the guiding idea cannot be the object of attention while the search is under way, in what manner can it be a factor influencing the search?' The suggestion could be made that the guiding idea could only influence the search if at some prior time it had been explicitly an object of attention in the preparatory act of planning the search. Its effectiveness could then be put down to the fact that the idea had not been forgotten. But I do not think this suggestion will do. We can say of someone that he has not forgotten an idea if he is able to recall it when he wants to. But in the sense in which he remembers the idea in the intervening period, we are describing nothing but a disposition. The idea is then in no sense actual until it is expressed in an act of recall. But that is not the sense in which a governing idea influences a search. It cannot be thought of as an idea in the dispositional sense here. It can only have an effect - make its presence felt - by being somehow actual at the time. The idea is 'alive' in the search. Thus a description of it in dispositional terms would miss the point. What

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we would want to say about such a guiding idea, it seems to me, is adequately represented by the description of it as an element of unprojected consciousness. From this standpoint it would be correct to describe the idea as actual at the time it was influencing the search, and it would also be true to say that it was not itself the object of attention at the time. Furthermore, it would also account for the fact that it is frequently the case that one does not realize that a guiding idea is influencing a search, and it can be a surprise to make the discovery. In this respect the guiding idea behaves like a typical element of unprojected consciousness: its presence is determined in retrospect, either because something makes me realize this myself, or because it is pointed out to me by another.

The sense in which unprojected consciousness may contain ideational elements can be brought out by the following example. People, when they have something on their minds, are sometimes heard to express a thought out aloud when they are speaking to themselves. When this happens there are two things the person might not realize. He might not realize that he expressed his thought out aloud, or he might not realize that he uttered the thought even to himself. Thus, when his utterance is brought to his notice, he might admit that that was what he was thinking, but agree that he had not been aware of making an audible utterance, or he might say that now that it is mentioned he does vaguely recall having had the thought but that if left to himself he would not have numbered it among his thoughts at the time. The latter sort of case is one in which the thought would be an element of unprojected consciousness.

It can happen that in the middle of a search one forgets what one is looking for. What, in terms of the analysis offered here, can be said to have been forgotten? Since the object of the search has been reasoned not to be the object of attention at the time, it cannot be that that has passed out of consciousness. Moreover, it has not been argued that the object of the search is represented in unprojected consciousness. Thus the only possibility apparently left open is that the forgetting must be understood dispositionally. The searcher can then be said to have forgotten what he was looking for, either when he stops searching, or when he would fail to recognize the object of his search when he came across it, Now there are obvious objections to analyzing the forgetting in this way. All sorts of other reasons could explain why the searcher stops searching, or fails to recognize the object of his search. Some of these reasons would be connected with the searcher's state of

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preparedness, which I have already discussed. But that is not the point. The point is that the searcher himself would not reach the conclusion that he had forgotten what he was looking for because he observes that he has stopped looking, or has realized that he would not know what would constitute 'finding' in the circumstances. He would realize that he had forgotten because something would have 'gone out of mind'. We can make sense of this happening, I suggest, in terms of the searcher's loss of the idea guiding his search. This we could then explain by saying that the guiding idea had ceased to be an element of his unprojected consciousness. This element having passed out of unprojected consciousness would not itself be noticed, but it could cause one to notice that one had forgotten what one was looking for.

It would be helpful to illustrate some of the points arising out of my analysis with a quotation from Sartre's Being and Nothingness. I have in mind the example Sartre gives of himself looking for his friend Pierre in a café. His description of the experience is an acute phenomenological analysis of attention.

I have an appointment with Pierre at four o'clock. I arrive at the café a quarter of an hour late. Pierre is always punctual. Will he have waited for me? I look at the room, the patrons, and I say, "He is not here." Is there an intuition of Pierre's absence, or does negation indeed enter in only with judgement? At first sight it seems absurd to speak here of intuition since to be exact there could not be an intuition of nothing and since the absence of Pierre is this nothing. Popular consciousness, however, bears witness to this intuition. Do we not say, for example, "I suddenly saw that he was not there." Is this just a matter of misplacing the negation? Let us look a little closer.

It is certain that the café by itself with its patrons, its tables, its booths, its mirrors, its light, its smoky atmosphere, and the sounds of voices, rattling saucers, and footsteps which fill it - the café is a fullness of being. And all the intuitions of detail which I can have are filled by these odours, these sounds, these colours, all phenomena which have a transphenomenal being. Similarly Pierre's actual presence in a place which I do not know is also a plenitude of being. We seem to have found fullness everywhere. But we must observe that in perception there is always the construction of a figure on a ground. No one object, no group of objects is especially designed to be organized as specifically either ground or figure; all

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depends on the direction of my attention. When I enter this café to search for Pierre, there is formed a synthetic organization of all the objects in the café, on the ground of which Pierre is given as about to appear. This organization of the café as the ground is an original nihilation. Each element of the setting, a person, a table, a chair, attempts to isolate itself, to lift itself upon the ground constituted by the totality of the other objects, only to fall back once more into the undifferentiation of this ground; it melts into the ground. For the ground is that which is seen only in addition, that which is the object of a purely marginal attention. Thus the original nihilation of all the figures which appear and are swallowed up in the total neutrality of a ground is the necessary condition for the appearance of the principal figure, which is here the person of Pierre. This nihilation. is given to my intuition; I am witness to the successive disappearances of all the objects which I look at - in particular of the faces, which detain me for an instant (Could this be Pierre?) and which as quickly decompose precisely because they "are not" the face of Pierre. Nevertheless if I should finally discover Pierre, my intuition would be filled by a solid element, I should be suddenly arrested by his face and the whole café would organize itself around him as a discrete presence.

But now Pierre is not here. This does not mean that I discover his absence in some precise spot in the establishment. In fact Pierre is absent from the whole café; his absence fixes the café in its evanescence; the café remains ground; it persists in offering itself as an undifferentiated totality to my only marginal attention; it slips into the background; it pursues its nihilation. Only it makes itself ground for a determined figure; it carries the figure everywhere in front of it, presents the figure everywhere to me. This figure which slips constantly between my look and the solid, real objects of the café is precisely a perpetual disappearance; it is Pierre raising himself as nothingness on the ground of the nihilation of the café. So that what is offered to intuition is a flickering of nothingness; it is the nothingness of the ground, the nihilation of which summons and demands the appearance of the figure, and it is the figure - the nothingness which slips as a nothing to the surface of the ground. It serves as a foundation for the judgement "Pierre is not here." It is in fact the intuitive apprehension of a double nihilation. To be sure, Pierre's absence supposes an original relation between me and this café; there is an infinity of people who are without any relation with this café for want of a

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real expectation which establishes their absence. But, to be exact, I myself expected to see Pierre, and my expectation has caused the absence of Pierre to happen as a real event concerning this café. It is an objective fact at present that I have discovered this absence, and it presents itself as a synthetic relation between Pierre and the setting in which I am looking for him. Pierre absent haunts this café and is the condition of its self-nihilating organization as ground.' 81

This example brings out very well the point that the manner in which Sartre pays attention to the café is determined by his objective, which is to find Pierre. Everything in the café assumes the character of a background to a non-existent foreground. Nothing in the café is seen in its own right with a being of its own. How completely different this is from the attention the scene in the café would have received, had Sartre not been looking for someone. The preparedness to find Pierre directs Sartre's attention to certain types of 'noticing' and this affects not only what is seen of the café but the way it is seen. It may be that he has in mind a certain image of what Pierre might be looking like and how he might be seated. He would then be looking for that state of affairs, and nothing that did not 'gell' with that image would be the focus of attention. But in those circumstances it would be the search for Pierre and not the image of him that would be the object of attention. The image will guide the search, but it will do so as an element of unprojected consciousness.

It can now be suggested that those philosophers who would as a matter of principle demand a dispositional analysis of the preparedness involved in interrogative attention would do so because they do not have a concept of unprojected consciousness to help them account for those mental factors that quite clearly are not themselves objects of attention. Thus, when Ryle rejects the idea that each of our acts is preceded by a bit of mental rehearsing, he does so because he has no evidence of attending to any such mental rehearsing before acting. 82 He is, we can now see, quite right: there is no such object of attention. However, that does not establish that there are no concomitant mental occurrences playing their part in the overt action. The concept of an unprojected consciousness allows us to admit their

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existence while at the same time agreeing that at the time of acting nothing but the action holds the attention of the agent. It also nicely explains why Ryle should have claimed that there is no such thing as introspection, but that what seems to be introspection is in reality always retrospection. 83 If there were no unprojected consciousness and every element of experience had to be an object of attention, then it would follow that a seemingly introspected element had to be thought of as an earlier object of attention which was simply being recalled. But if we take unprojected consciousness into account we are not forced to say that the 'retrospected' element had to belong to the past. On the contrary, all that will have happened is that its relationship with the other elements will have been altered.

Another point to be noted is that Sartre's account backs up my contention that it is the nature of attention to polarize consciousness into a foreground and a background. When attention is frustrated, as in the above example, an incipient process of division of the field of consciousness into figure and ground irresistibly occurs, but it breaks up before it forms.

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Footnotes

80. See above, p. 93.
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81.Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, tr. H.E. Barnes (London, 1957), pp. 9-10.
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82. Ryle, The Concept of Mind, pp. 29-32.
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83. Ibid., pp. 163-7.
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