A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Few Half-Baked Thoughts On Rabbits and Sequoias

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 13, 2007

I said that I think that the common nouns (or general and mass terms) are referring to multiplicity as intentional content. That is, as proper names are given to something that appears as intentional content (be it that we become aware of it through seeing, touching, etc…, or we heard about it from someone else, or assume it, imagine it, etc..), those common nouns are given to some multiplicity (again, it might be assumed, imagined, and so on). If a person sees one rabbit, then another rabbit which reminds him of the first, and then another and another, he becomes aware that there is some kind of multiplicity in the world. And he can give name “rabbits” to this multiplicity.

There are few thoughts I want to add…

A person doesn’t just come out from some unconscious state, become aware there is some multiplicity, just to get back to unconscious state again. A person encounters this multiplicity usually in the context of which he is aware. For example, a person is aware that he has drove from the city to the nearby woods, and that is where he saw the rabbits. So, he becomes aware of this multiplicity, but this is not without context.

a) The salience has important role what one becomes aware of. Salience means that some things will tend to attract attention, and you will most probably become aware of them with or without trying. Some other will require more deliberate attention to become aware of.  A jumping rabbit is salient. Its parts aren’t so much. Things are probably in general more salient then their properties. So, usually we will become aware of some things, and not of others. (Just to avoid misunderstanding – I don’t mean that salience is property of the things)

Similarities can be more or less salient too. Gestalt similarities seem more salient in general than similarities that require putting attention to parts (I guess, this is understandable?). Gestalt similarities are where you don’t need to become aware of the characteristics of the things. Faces are similar even you haven’t put attention to any characteristic of those faces. The second rabbit reminds you to the first one, and you leap to thinking of “these things” even you might not really know even how many legs those have, if they have fur or not, and so on. First rabbit was salient, the second one was salient too, their similarity was salient, enough to think of them as multiplicity. (One can point to researches like of Vygotsky where children were given blocks of different color, form and size, and was asked to categorize them. Younger  children didn’t categorize them on base of any of those properties.) Of course it is no rule, gestalt similarity might be less salient then some characteristic property. Even kids would probably categorize humans with fully dark eyes (like in the horror movies) on one side and all other “normal” people on another.

Even in the gestalt similarities, there are more and less salient ones. Gestalt similarity among trees (which makes one think – “ah, another of those things”, and name them “trees”) is more salient than gestalt similarity between sequoias. We will most likely become aware of trees, before we become aware of sequoias.

b) The salience of things and similarity is changed through the life, we become aware of different things that were not so salient… those things might be interesting for us, because of this and that, probably we train ourselves to recognize faster those things, and as result their salience grows. Some other things… they become uninteresting and get pushed in the background (one rabbit or two rabbits will be salient, but if for few hours they keep appearing every minute, we probably won’t notice them any more after that).

Even some basic categorization can be based on this kind of salient similarities, one can become aware of some less salient properties, on base of which one can categorize things (for this or that use). We become aware of the common properties of animals, we become aware of social relations, we become aware of chemical properties of elements.

Even the salience of a similarity or a thing is not something which belongs to the object as such, but it is connected (by definition) to how much this object attracts our attention, or how much we tend to notice that similarity; still the things (which were seen as similar) are real, and hence when they are named the name connects to the awareness of those real things which are similar in some way. For example – the word “rabbits”. That “rabbits” refer to a multiplicity, doesn’t mean that there won’t be cases for which we won’t know if they are rabbits or not. There is no Platonic form of rabbit, which any rabbit will satisfy, nor I think it is some concept in our head that defines what we consider a rabbit. . “A rabbit” is just one of this specific multiplicity that we became aware of.


16 Responses to “Few Half-Baked Thoughts On Rabbits and Sequoias”

  1. Richard Brown said

    What is itthat we become aware of? The rabbit? Or the intentional content of my expereince of the rabbit? You seem to talk both ways…

  2. Maybe this will explain my position… I don’t make distinction between the rabbit, and the intentional content of my seeing, or intentional content of my awareness. So, I would say that we become aware of the rabbit, or that the rabbit is intentional content of the act of becoming-aware-of.
    Does that make sense?

  3. Richard Brown said


    How do you explain hallucinations? Misperception? Unless you endorse some kind of idealism like Berkeley?

  4. I think it hard to give plausible explanation, but it is not impossible…

    I can say that the act of seeing is determined by the thing seen, but also by the characteristics of the “access” to that thing (access which is done by appropriate sense organs (which would include eyes, but also some parts of the brain, etc…). So for example, for me to see a rabbit, there needs to be the rabbit, but also there needs to be me, and I need to have eyes (and brain of course). So a thing will appear differently depending on the characteristics of my eyes, and the characteristic of the seeing-access. For example I may have glasses, I may be looking at the thing through fog, I may be short-sighted or color-blind, and so on…

    For illusions, for example we can say that two things can appear same due to the limits of our perception. E.g. a box and pyramid can appear the same when seen from some perspective. And two things can appear same when looked from distance. Also green ball, and yellow ball under blue light will appear the same. We can say that illusions are such cases (of two things appearing same), when the one case require lot of deliberate set-up which uses the limits of our perception, and which we are usually (or in that moment) ignorant of, so that it will look like the other case. For example in case of an after-image illusion, we can say that the light temporarily affects our sight, so that the wall that we look at appears as with a circle. (but it is really a perception problem)

    Hallucinations are harder, but for example we might think that our faculty of imagination is actually a possibility to deliberately make problems in the perception (to skew it), so that it appears that there is something which isn’t there (take examples of Perky(1910) where she gave some experimental evidence that in some cases imagination and perception can’t be distinguished). From there, we can say that hallucinations can be consequences of the imagination-gone-wild combined with perception-gone-wild.

  5. Richard Brown said

    You say ‘to see a rabbit there needs to be a rabbit’ but that isn’t the case on your view. To see a rabbit all there needs to be is the intentional content as of seeing a rabbit….

  6. I use “to see a rabbit” and “to have a rabbit as an intentional content of the act of seeing” as pretty much saying the same thing. But not “having the intentional content as of seeing a rabbit”.
    Do you think that something that I said implies that?

  7. Oh, sorry, that was just a slip of the tounge, uh, er, keys, due to force of habit.

    So let me rephrase…you say ‘to see a rabbit there needs to be a rabbit’ but why? On your view to see a rabbit is to have rabbit-ish intentional content which I could have in the absence of any rabbits at all, unless you think that the ACTUAL rabbit is somehow part of the intentional content of the act of seeing?

  8. Yeah, I think that when we see, we see the actual rabbit.
    And yes, I think that it is the actual rabbit that is the intentional content in the act of seeing.

    But I wouldn’t use the word “part” though. Maybe the word “intentional content” is confusing here, as it implies that it is something contained (or part of) the intentional act. I don’t think that the actual rabbit is part of the intentional act, but that the act is act which involves the actual rabbit, as also it involves me, my ability to see the rabbit, the characteristics of that ability etc…

  9. Richard Brown said

    I agree it involves all of those things and that sometimes we see an actual rabbit, but the rabbit, that is the actual bunny hoping around out there on the ground, is not always involved in my seeing rabbits, is it? I dream of rabbits, hallucinate rabits, imagine rabbits. None of these involves any actual rabbits.

    The question is HOW are we able to see an actual rabbit if not by having some kind of mental state that REPRESENTS the rabbit…

  10. Right, but when you dream, hallucinate, or imagine them, you are not seeing them (but dreaming, hallucinating, imagining them).

    As for the HOW question, I don’t know… Magic? :)
    Just kidding, but I’m a pessimist about possibility of the answer of that. The awareness of things, it seems to me, is part of possibility of understanding things we have, and I don’t think that possibility to understand can be understood (reduced to anything else). Especially in philosophy, I don’t think that “deeper ground” than understanding should be searched for.

    I specifically think that it can’t be grounded in physics. I see physics as analyzing the situations that we are aware of, just in specific terms. So… when we see rabbit, someone can come and analyze the whole situation… the photons bouncing off the rabbit, falling on the eye, focused on the rod/cone cells, those further to the thalamus, etc… But I think that what one is doing is analyzing *the same* situation, which includes the rabbit, the photons, the eye, the brain,etc…, and giving description of the whole thing…
    Of course we might say “there is the rabbit”, which in that analysis will show in some way, and that there in the bio-physical picture we will tend to find something state-like (maybe bunch of neurons, or combinations of them , or whatever) that will tend to correspond with there being a rabbit (or something that looks like rabbit), but I don’t think that such correspondence (as far as it might get) will explain anything (though it will be good at prediction, and tamper with the brain for medical and other purposes), nor it will give clear picture. I think it will be like analyzing chaotic processes by figuring out some regularities.

  11. Ok then, what do the dreaming, hallucination, and the seeing hav in common if not what you call intentional content (and what I would call representational content)?

    As for the second thing, how is that NOT an explanation?

  12. I would say that they don’t have common intentional content at all.
    In seeing, remembering, thinking of, etc… of rabbits, rabbits (as an actual extension, and I think in the way as I described in this and the previous post on common nouns) appear as intentional content.
    In dreaming and hallucination, there are no rabbits, what appears directly as intentional content is just things, though we mistake those things for rabbits (what those things are? as I said in another post, they can be certain anomalies of the perception which *appear* same as rabbits do). Though of course, one can point that an intentional act in which we mistake something for a rabbit, has indirect intentional relation again with the actual rabbits (e.g. that thing reminds us *of rabbits*).
    Imagination, as long as it is “it would be good if she gave me a rabbit for my birthday”, is again thinking of the actual rabbits. But it is not thinking of any actual rabbit, of course. As I said in my post, I think that “a rabbit” is just one of the extension of “rabbits”, and “rabbits” is grounded in awareness of the actual multiplicity of rabbits.

    As for the impossibility for the physical description to explain the everyday description… I guess any dualists’ argument might work (if you accept any :), if not I will to have to think more). But, I’m not a dualist, so I accept physicalists attacks on dualism. (So, as long physicalists attack dualists, and dualists physicalists, I’m OK)

    Instead, I take the stance (as I guess it is obvious from our discussion for now), that the world is such that we can describe it either in our everyday language as “I saw a rabbit, and reported it”, or in language of neuro/bio/chemistry/physics “photons bounce of the surface of the fur of the rabbit, which has specific reflectance characteristics, my eye’s lens focuses the diffuse light, and make copy of the image of the thing on the retina, etc, etc, … , and resulted with specific movement of my lips, tongue, jaw, synchronized with specific changes of tension of the vocal folds, and controlling flow of air through them.”.

    I don’t take that second description explains the first one, because I think that the physical description is ignoring lot of things in the world from the very start, and limiting itself to those things which are approachable by empirical science. And I think that is the very problem that such things as “qualia” and “phenomenal experience” thingies are supposed to solve… When we return to our experience, we acknowledge the gap between the everyday description, and the physical description, and we (well, dualists at least) try to add new things, to get from the physical description to the “wealth” of the world that we ignored when approached the physical aspect of the world.

  13. That’s an interesting position…do you have any arguments for it?

  14. Thanks Richard, I hope “interesting” there doesn’t mean weird :)

    Well if one doesn’t accepts the physicalists’ nor dualists’ positions (i.e. accepts the arguments they give against each other), this strikes me as one plausible alternative.
    That the physical is merely ‘an aspect of the world’ to which we come by abstracting from everything that isn’t accessible by method of physics.

    There are of course problems with the view, and I’ve tried to address them on the blog. Some of the answers might seem radical, but as long they are not inconsistent, *shrug*…

    a) You already pointed to the hallucinations, dreams, etc… as hard to explain. I agree, but as I said I don’t think it is impossible.

    b) Than there is the fact that as result of physical analysis, we come to little particles and physical laws. So, if this view says that the world isn’t merely those things, but that you get such things when you do physical analysis, the problem appears of explaining why does than appears that every system seems fully determined by those kind of laws, and as some configuration of those little particles. I’ve tried to address those issues in different posts, for example here about “atoms”, and in few about physical laws (e.g. here).

    c) If we loose power to explain the “higher level” phenomena fully through the atoms and forces (some still might be), there is also the question of how would explanations work, and what they would be. I’m also trying to give plausible position on this. (e.g. here or here)

  15. No, I meant interesting, though it may turn out that I think it is weird after I read the posts that you linked to :)

    I take it that you are some kind of ‘disjunctivist’?

    btw, I am a physicalist and in fact accept the identity theory.

  16. I never thought that I might be disjunctivist, but now that you said it if I understand rightly what it is, I might be… I mostly thought of those views as shared with phenomenologists like Husserl and Merleau Ponty.

    I don’t think that there are such things as appearances (as some kind of entities).
    I think that things *appear to us*, and that that appearing can have different characteristics. Then two things might appear same a)given same characteristics (e.g. seen from the same point, without glasses, with same focus of the eyes, etc…), for example pyramid and box from some place or b) two things given two different characteristics of the appearances, e.g. one thing seen in white light, the other in green light (or through different glasses…, or through rewired eye nerves). Also even darkness can appear the same as a rabbit, if something skews your perception enough. As I said I think dreams work something like that.

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