The Meaning of “Experience”

From what I’ve gathered (I might be wrong) philosophers speak a lot about experience, arguing over what is it’s content and how it relates to the world. For example proponents of qualia (or sense-data) theory argue that what we are given in experience is something non-physical; and the proponents of intentional theory claim that our experience is representational, and that when we introspect our experience, we can find nothing besides what the experience is experience of (what it represents). In representational theories, the experience might be also veridical (so, it might represent the world as it is) or not. And in veridical cases, for opponents of qualia views, the content of the experience is the thing which is represented – so the thing itself.

However, I have trouble understanding what is this “experience” that philosophers are talking about.

Looking into the etymology of the word, we are told that it’s early use (1377) was “knowledge gained by repeated trials”. And that it comes from Latin – experiri – which means to try, or to test. The word is composed from ex (“out of”) + peritus (“tested/from trial/attempt”).

That sense is still in use today. For example we talk about someone having lot of experience, gaining/gathering experience, group using the experience of some other group and so on…

I think that very close to this usage is when we say that we know something from experience.
-What you are doing will make things worse. -How do you know? -From experience.
This kind of answer means that the person observed similar situation where such thing was done, and it made the things worse. So, again “knowing from experience” is about knowing something because we witnessed/tried/tested it – we don’t claim something because we have understanding of why is it so, but merely because we saw it being so. We personally witnessed that doing so and so in such and such situation, will have such and such consequences.

Now, in these senses, “a person having experience” is obviously not a matter of perceiving now, but about the person having observed some fact, and now knowing it from experience.

So, what are the other senses of “experience”? Here is one that seems closer to philosopher’s usage of experience, as it doesn’t involve any mention of knowledge:

  • particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something: My encounter with the bear in the woods was a frightening experience.

Here “experience” is no more used in its sense of knowledge, nor has anything to do with knowledge. But again, in this sense it is about the person finding himself in some situation, and being aware of it. But if “encounter with the bear in the woods” is cited as an example of experience, it doesn’t refer just to something about the subject but about the whole situation (encounter with the bear) which includes the fact that the person was aware of it, and somehow affected by it (e.g. frightened).

Again, in this sense it can’t be that the experience represents anything – as it refers to the whole situation. It would be weird that the experience (in this sense) represents the bear or the encounter with the bear – the experience IS the encounter with the bear, and “the experience” in this case refers to the situation which includes the bear itself.

Or check those definitions:

  • An event or a series of events participated in or lived through.
  • The totality of such events in the past of an individual or group.

Notice that the individual is presented as participating in those events, and because the person participated, and was aware of them those are experiences of that person. Even more, the experiences as events are something that more then one person can participate in.

But whatever it is that philosophers refer to by “experience” it is supposed to be something that only an individual can have, and something which is representing things, and being veridical or not. Is “experience” one of those words about which J.L.Austin says (from Sense and Sensibilia):

We have here, in fact, a typical case of a word, which already has a very special use, being gradually stretched, without caution or definition or any limit, until it becomes, first perhaps obscurely metaphorical, but ultimately meaningless.

It seems so to me. How else to explain the change from this normal use of experience as explored here, to the use where the experience is supposed to represent something, to be had by the subject (but not in sense of knowledge that we saw previously). What is then this “experience” that philosophers’ talk about? Where do we find it?

And what to say when “experience” ends up referring not to something which we are aware of, which as we saw is the crux of the everyday meaning of “experience”, but as Pete pointed in the comment on another post – something which is theoretical, and of which we aren’t directly aware of. Surely if the word ended up meaning something opposite to its usage in normal speech, its “gradual stretching” went wrong somewhere.

I guess it is not problematic that disciplines sometimes will use the words with specific and technical meaning. But in this case I’m not sure that there is such a meaning. Maybe I’m wrong, and if I am, I hope someone will explain the technical meaning of the word in the comments, but it seems to me that all it is there is some mix-up of the normal usage of the word where it implies something of which an individual is aware of and is witnessing personally mixed up with a theory that our consciousness is result of processes in the brain. (Or course, “consciousness” itself might be interesting case in itself).

Different, But Indistinguishable Experiences

Richard over at Philosophy Sucks!, posted a PowerPoint presentation of his paper Consciousness, Higher-Order Thoughts and What It’s Like. The great thing is that he has integrated his reading of the paper, so that the whole experience is much better (at least it was for me) than reading a paper.

Anyway in discussion of that post Richard gave few objections to the view of perception that I’m playing with on this blog in few previous posts (for example the posts on illusions, “appears” vs. “is”hallucinations and dreams, and also few follow up notes).

I don’t want to clutter comments on his blog with those issues, so I will quote Richard’s objections here, and try to answer them.
Richard says…

I just don’t see how this kind of view doesn’t fly in the face of all of brain science…for instance you say that you can have a pain in your finger and yet not feel it, but we know that there are no pains in fingers, pain is in the brain (as evidenced by phantom limb pain) so to have a pain in the finger is to be in a mental state that represents the pain as being somewhere. How do you avoid this conclusion?

I don’t think that it is problematic to say that the pain we feel is in the finger just because there is possibility of illusion. We don’t say that the rabbit we see is in the brain, just because there is a possibility of illusion. Both cases seem analogous to me, and as one can accept that the objects we see are not in the brain, one can accept that the pain we feel is also not in the brain. I had more detailed analysis of this, in the post about cyborgs sharing the pain.

The other objection Richard gives is the following…

Also there is the obvious problem of dreams and hallucinations. I know you have addressed this issue, arguing that it is the imagination that has something to do with it, but this answer is no good because we know from brain imaging studies that when you dream about things the actual visual cortex is active but this is not the case for imagining. We also know that we can stimulate the visual cortex directly and generate visual experiences in the absence of objects, so how can objects themselves be the constituents of experiences if we can have experiences in the absence of objects?

I want to thank Richard for pointing to the issue with connecting imagination and dreams. Adding imagination there was wild speculation on my part (as it turns out – wrong), but I don’t think it was essential to the argument. The general idea was that some kind of *seeing affector* can be used to explain the possibility of hallucinations and dreams, and still leave open the possibility that when we see real things it is the things themselves that are constituents of the experience.

The idea is that the word “experience”  should be read in an externalist manner, and not as something private and internal to the subject. I don’t think this is problematic, and that even aligns better with the everyday usage of the word “experience”. I guess I will argue this in separate post. So, “experience” being read in this way, we can say that while two experiences are different (say seeing a box and pyramid from certain side), they might be indistinguishable by the subject. Same can be said about two different experiences, e.g. seeing a rabbit and hallucinating one – that those are different experiences, but they might be indistinguishable by the subject. In this way, we can say that the possibility of illusions doesn’t implicate that the objects themselves can’t be constituents of the experience. The same reading can be used for the cases of stimulation of visual cortex.

Of course lot of things in this view depends on issue of how to read “experience”, and what this thing philosophers call “experience” is supposed to be. That’s why I asked few posts ago for some clarification of what representational theories mean by that word. (The only ‘official’ answer I got was Pete Mandik’s – who said that experience is supposed to be a theoretical concept, and not something of which we are directly aware).

How To Impress Girls If You Have A Time Machine

I was reading the paper What lies beneath? Understanding the limits of understanding by Keil, F.C., Rozenblit, L.R. and Mills, C. the other day. In that work the authors analyze the phenomenon of “illusion of explanatory depth” – the phenomenon where people usually overestimate their knowledge of how things work. The whole paper is interesting, but I thought that the following part was quite interesting and thought provoking on its own:

One way to get a sense of people’s limitations is to consider how much they underestimate the work involved in construction and design of everyday devices This error is vividly demonstrated by the popularity of various novels about people transported back in time (or to a primitive planet) who then proceed to re-create much of the technology of their own civilization in situ. The original instance of this plot device, quite familiar to readers of the science fiction genre, can be found in Mark Twain’s classic novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. These stories of individuals single-handedly rebuilding high technology are engaging, but they are almost always utterly implausible to anyone who has a sense of the intense division of labor (including cognitive labor) on which a technological civilization depends. The history of technological progress and the individual experience of those of us who have tried their hand at design show that development from concept to prototype takes an enormous amount of trial and error.

Consider gunpowder, for example. How likely is is that an average citizen of 2004, thrust into a low-technology world, would be able to reinvent gunpowder as a propellant for cannon balls? The process of making gunpowder itself seems easy enough on the surface. Many of us have learned in high school chemistry that it is made by mixing carbon, sulfur and saltpeter in the right proportions. Even if we do not remember the correct proportions for rapid-burning black powder (75% saltpeter; 14% carbon; and 11% sulfur), the ratios seem easy enough to derive through some elementary experimentation. Ignore, for the moment, and difficulties we might have in figuring out how to obtain the ingredients (how many of us know what saltpeter is, let alone where we might find it?). Also ignore the considerable problems of constructing cannon barrels strong enough to contain an explosion, of devising a reliable firing mechanism, and of making cannon balls of appropriate size, weight, and composition. Consider only the problems of making gunpowder function as a propellant for cannon balls.

History gives some clues as to how difficult the problem really is. The formula though well known to the Chinese since at least the tenth century, did not arrive in Europe until the early fourteenth century. The first cannons, however were quite ineffective as siege devices (their primary use for the next 300 years), compared to the advanced trebuchet catapults of the period, and were even less effective on the battlefield. Indeed, gunpowder-propelled cannon balls would not become central to European warfare until the early sixteenth century.

Obviously, knowing the formula for gunpowder does not translate into a decisive military advantage in any direct sense. One problem is that simply mixing the components of the high school chemistry gunpowder formula produces an inefficient and unpredictable propellant, “serpentine” black powder, which tends to separate into its constituent parts during transportation Nearly 200 years of development passed before gunpowder became a sufficiently effective propellant for cannons to compete with catapults. A key insight was that wetting the gunpowder, then drying it into cakes, which were then granulated ,produced several desirable properties. Granulated or “corned” gunpowder is much more stable and produces a substantially more powerful propulsive force. More importantly, by controlling the size of the granules, the manufacturer could control the burn rate, and produce different powder for different-sized cannons.

Granulated gunpowder powder, when combined with advanced in cannon manufacturing (e.g., the development of blast furnaces permitted casting of iron cannons) enabled artillery to destroy standing walls, thus changing the face of European warfare at the very end of the fifteenth century. Further advances in cannon design made gunpowder the central force on the battlefield by the early sixteenth century. But how many time travelers, armed with the high school chemistry formula, would be able to re-create the 200 years of research and development in their lifetimes? we would venture, “Not many”.

So keep a copy of this page handy! You can never know when time-travel vortex will suck you in, or have the mad scientist neighbor invite you to try his time-travel machine.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

We have been lucky to discover several previously lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre obsessed not with the void, but with food. Apparently Sartre, before discovering philosophy, had hoped to write “a cookbook that will put to rest all notions of flavor forever.” The diaries are excerpted here for your perusal.


Replaying Neuronal Activity and Mind-Body Issue

Assumption A1:
Every aspect of the state of a neuron which is important for how it will function in future as a part of the brain can be measured.

Assumption A2:
Every aspect of the neuron mentioned in A1 can in principle be affected in such way that a neuron can be in principle returned to some state which was measured at time t1.

Assumption A3:
We can measure the input and output signals of the neurons, and reproduce signals of same nature, in same timely manner.

So, we take a brain of John, and do this:

  1. We record internal signals between the neurons in John’s brain, and the signals that come from his senses to each of the brain neurons starting from time t0 for some time-span dt. John is conscious over the time dt. dt can be for example 30 seconds.
  2. As we now know the outputs of each neuron we construct replay neurons, which when started fire the exact same outputs as the original neurons did starting from time t0 till the end of the dt period, in same timely manner as the original neurons did. Inputs can be connected to those neurons, but they ignore those.
  3. We reset (A2), all of the neurons to their states at t0, and replay the inputs which come from the senses to any of the neurons for the dt time period. Also at the start we replay the starting inputs to each of the neurons that don’t come from the senses, and which were measured at t0.  Will John be conscious for this replay-dt time period?
  4. We change one of the original neurons with it’s corresponding replay neuron, and repeat everything as in 3. Let me point that if we take the neurons as black-boxes, i.e. abstract from what is happening inside them, everything about the brain looks same. The inputs and outputs are the same, and John behaves same.
  5. We replace more and more of the original neurons with the corresponding replay neurons, and repeat everything as in 3.


Q1: Would you agree that after changing all the neurons with their corresponding replay neurons, it can’t be true that John has conscious experience through the replaying?

Q2: If you agree with Q1, would you agree that it can’t be a matter of sudden turning off of conscious experience, but that it will be a gradual process?

Q3: If you agree with Q1, what is that which is lost in the John’s brain and which corresponds to having conscious experience?

Time Travel

The idea of time travel is connected to the idea of the time being a container.

In my thinking however time is an abstraction and not a container. Properly speaking, what is there are things which change, and our awareness of their changes and our abstracting the specific states of those things as being before and after one another. For example when an object is moving, we can become aware of the movement, and from that movement we can abstract the positions that the object had and that it has now. The thing there is not something which exist as time-slice. We could say that it transcends the change, or so to say – it is the thing that changes, that moves, and so on.

But when things (as changing things, but there is no reason to add this adjective – i.e. changing, as there are no unchanging thing, to be a thing is to be changing, and really any change requires something that changes, some identity which transcends time) are thus seen as more actual than their states which are merely abstractions, the idea of time travel is shown as non-sensible.

Namely if the things are what is actual (or more actual), and time what is abstract, there is no way to go to the past, as the states exists only as abstractions of what is actual, and that they are not actual themselves. What is true are the things, their states are transitory (Of course the things are transitory too, but that is topic for some other post).

The only way something might feel like time-travel is to make things change towards the states they had before, (If that is possible. I’m skeptical that this is metaphysically possible too). Notice that again, this will be normal before/after changes, just that the nature of the changes will be different. Properly speaking this will not be “travel in time” but only affecting how the things change. Of course to have this illusion of “time travel” would also require for the time-traveler to be isolated and for him the changes to continue in same direction.

And where is the Experience?

I’m skeptical about the “phenomenal experience” thingie. It seems to me that it is one of the last hiding places of Cartesianism. But, I probably will leave my pondering on that issue for some other post.

I want here to ask if anyone has idea of how “the experience” is supposed to work in representationalism. As I understand it one of the claims of the representationalism in which it differs from sense-data (qualia) views is the claim of transparency of experience. The transparency thesis, to quote Pete’s formulation from this post on Brain Hammer is this:

When one has a conscious experience all that one is conscious of is what the experience is an experience of.

Now the question that puzzles me is this… If all that one is conscious of are the things that experience is experience of, what about the “experience” itself? Isn’t this supposed to be something that we are aware that we have? But if all that we are aware of are the things that the experience is experience of, what is this “experience” thing (I take it that conscious of can be changed with aware of in this case)? If we can’t become aware of it, how do we know that we have experience? Or is it supposed to be a theoretical concept?

Idealistic Argument For Objectivity of Morality

Something along those lines…

1. World is a rational place. (It makes sense)
2. What is rational can be in principle understood.
3. From 1 and 2 => the world can in principle be understood.
4. Moral judgment of a rational agent in specific situation depends on agent’s understanding of the world (including the understanding of the situation) 
5. From 4 and 3 => because the world in principle can be understood, in principle there is an ideal moral judgment (or… there is objectively right way to act, connected to the full understanding of the world)

If a person A lacks understanding person B has, A might not agree with the moral judgment of B in the concrete situation, but if A understood (or came to understand) what B understands he would agree with the moral judgment of B. As the understanding approaches ideal understanding, the moral judgment approaches ideal moral judgment.

Setting Aside Certain Types of Change Of Meaning

I think when we talk about change of the meaning of the words, we need to differentiate two things. One is change that comes from knowledge about the correct use of the word, and the other is change of meaning that might come from the knowledge about whatever it is to which the word refers.

If two people don’t mean the same thing by the word because of misunderstanding of what the word is supposed to mean.

  • If one of the parties in semantical disagreement is taken to be expert on what the word is supposed to mean, the disagreement is resolved by the expert correcting the wrong usage of the word of the other party. Such is the case I think with the children and their usage of words described in the previous post. The children being aware just that the things can show gestalt perceptual similarity, don’t have anything else to connect the word to. So to say, because they aren’t (at that time) aware of any other kinds of similarity between the things, they do their best with what they are aware of. But in this case adults are taken to be expert of the usage of the words, and through the years by explaining, pointing, describing children become aware of other kinds of similarities, and connected to that can correct their use of words. We can say that what is changing here is both the knowledge about the world, which  opens possibility for learning the correct use of the word.
  • If none of the two parties considers the other one (or others) as an expert, either they will be pragmatic or they will end up fighting.

As Richard pointed in the comments of last post, if people can mean different things by the same word is not an issue. I acknowledge that point, and I think that nobody has (or should have) problem with change of meaning of words which is motivated by learning or by pragmatic decision about use of words, and which (I think) would cover the cases that appear in cognitive development.

So to make the issue which I raised in previous posts more specific – it is not just if there is possibility of change of meaning of the words, but if a change of the meaning of the word can happen among the competent users of the word, which are in same time also experts about what the word refers to.

More On Twin Earth and Change Of Meaning

In the post Phenomenology of Names and Twin Earth, I said that if one accepts the position that common nouns are based on awareness of multitude of things (real or assumed) which share some similarity, the consequence is that in the Twin Earth scenario, Oscar and Toscar mean same thing by “water” before they figure out that water is H2O, and that twater is XYZ. That is, because the similarity on which their words are grounded are shared across both water and twater.

In the comments of that post, I compared two scenarios to back up that claim:

Scenario 1:
1 – Martin sees a bunch of elm trees. He becomes aware of the gestalt similarity of this multitude and names those “trees”
2 – Later, on some other place, Martin sees beech trees and says – “Ah, there are more trees here”

Scenario 2:
1′ – Martin sees bunch of elm trees. He becomes aware of the gestalt similarity of this multitude and names those “trees”
1a’ – Martin further puts attention to the form of their leafs, branches, roots and so on. He gets more knowledge of the extension that he is acquainted with (and which he calls “trees”).
2′ – Later, on some other place, Martin sees beech trees. But in this case he notices the difference between beech trees, and what he called “trees”. So he says – “Ah, there are those things here that are similar to the trees, but those are not trees”.

If you find the second scenario sounds wrong to you, just change the word “trees” with the word “elms”. Nothing substantial changes, by changing the word that is used.
Both scenarios seem normal to me, but in the first scenario word “tree” ends up meaning tree, while in the second scenario “tree” ends up meaning elm. However everything is same in both scenarios, so there has to be some change of meanings which corresponds with the additional knowledge that Martin gained in second scenario in step 1a’.

Richard in the comments said that if the additional knowledge changes the meanings of the words, then communication is not possible. One can point here to two things:

That it is a fact that this kind of differences of meaning appear in the conceptual development. Frank C. Keil in his book Concepts, Kinds and Cognitive Development does different tests of the development of different concepts in kids.
One example is where he asks children if some kind of transformation would change certain thing (animal, mineral, artifact) from one type to another. Here is an example of the story about tiger/lion “transformation”:

The doctors took a big tiger that looked like this. They used special fur bleach to take away its stripes, and they sewed on a huge mane so that it ended up looking like this. Was this animal after the operation a tiger or a lion?

The question was asked to children of different age, and the results were as in the following graph:

The X axis represents the kids’ grades K (5 to 6 year olds), 2 (7-8 year olds) and 4 (9 to 10 year olds). The Y axis represents the answers that were given, where 1 = judgment that transformation changed kind type, 2 = judgment indicating indecision on that issue and 3 = judgment that operation did not change kind type.

So, it seems that there is some change of what kids mean by “tiger” or “lion” through their development and I think that the graph goes nicely with the idea that first kids become aware of multitude of things that show gestalt perceptual similarity, and that only later they become aware of other kind of similarities that hold between certain multitudes. (This is surely a oversimplification, but I think it could be analyzed in more details if needed).

But what to do with objections like Fodor’s from Thought and Language, when talking about possibility that children and adults might mean different things by the words, he says (citation also taken from Keil’s book):

They must misunderstand each other essentially; and, insofar as they appear to communicate, he appearances must be misleading. Nothing less than this is entailed by the view that word meanings evolve.

I want to point here, that as long as the two meanings (in the sense of awareness of some similarity) are grounded on the same extension, the communication might go without bigger problems, as in both cases it is finally the extension that one is aware of (i.e. the multiplicity). So to say, as long the things that show the gestalt perceptual similarity which is ground for the usage of the common noun of certain person (e.g. “tree” in the example) are the same things which show some other kind of similarity that is ground for the usage of the same word for another person, those two persons will agree in lot of cases on the use of the noun. For example Martin-scenario1(after 1) and Martin-scenario2 (after 1a’), would not have lot of problems of communication until such things as 2/2′ happens.

100K page views

Yesterday, A Brood Comb got its 100,000 page view. Which is cool, I guess, for some reason.

Not sure how this maps to a number of unique visitors, which seems to me as more important stat, but which doesn’t give. So, a request to stuff…

The Request

Please add unique visitor stats, and to make it the greatest stats in the world, give also distribution of percentage of the unique visitors per number of their returns. So, for example it would say that 40% visited once, 20% visited twice, etc…  And that, in a period which we can choose, for example – last week, last month, or some given number of days.

End of The Request

Few other stats: 220 posts (I’m not a very regular poster, and often need some time to fill the batteries, or time for my work), 445 comments (those are the thingies that make me happy), and 6,000 out of those 100,000 are for the power-blogroll aggregator page. BTW, the Technorati Stats page is now generated once every day, so you can see how the blogs which are aggregated are ranked by Technorati. The Technorati ranks blogs by number of links they received from other blogs in last 6 months. So, it is a dynamic thing – a blog ranking can go up and down.
As for the ranking the least philosophical blog – Cognitive Daily is currently on the top with 999 blogs linking to it (this will make it 1,000). And one of my favorite blogs – Mixing Memory is second with 340 blogs linking to it. Third is Leiter Reports with 317, followed by Philosophy, et cetera (154), Maverick Philosopher (153), etc…

Few Notes on my Position on Perception, Ending with a Rant

I will try shortly to explain further my position on perception that I wrote about in few previous posts, and how it stands in relation to some other positions…

First to start negatively – this position isn’t representationalism – it doesn’t say that experience represents the world as being somehow, nor for that matter that there is veridical and falsidical experiences which would depend on the issue if the experience represents the world as it is, or not. Even less it is qualia (or sense-data) view. It is negated that any such thing as “phenomenal seeming”,  in any sense in which it might remind of Cartesian theater.

Instead in this view the objects in the world are constituents of the appearance (or experience). However the appearance is also constituted not just by those objects and their characteristics (towards which e.g. the seeing is directed) but also by the act of perception, and the characteristics of that act (e.g. the presence of fog, the distance from the object, the angle, subject wearing glasses, and so on).

So, according to this there are no mental states at all which represent the objects of our perception and which would somehow give rise to the phenomenon of “phenomenal experience”. Instead the “experience” and “appearance” is to be read as something not in the head, but constituted by the objects and their characteristics, the act of perception and its characteristics, and any other things and their characteristics which contribute to the appearance because of its nature. Such is the thing with a fog, or with the glasses for example. They are not some necessary constitutive part of the seeing something, but because of the nature of seeing, the objects put between the eyes and the object affect the appearance of that object. Because of adding all those things to the appearance, this view can talk about such things as illusions and hallucinations both:

  • Without a need for representation which would be veridical or not. Instead this view sees the illusions and hallucinations matter of appearing-same of different things given the variation of constituents of the appearances and their characteristics.
  • Without denying the transparency of experience (which would be case for sense-data theory), and even because of the immediacy of the appearance, removing the need to talk about “phenomenal experience” as some kind of entity, which would be connected to what-is-it-like.

What about the what-is-it-likeness then? Where do we put it in this view? Well, it is so to say everywhere…For sure IT IS like something to see a rolling ball from three meters distance while wearing glasses, and looking through fog. What is it like? Well, it is like seeing a rolling ball from three meters distance while wearing glasses, and looking through fog.

I guess lot of people might not buy this as any kind of explanation, and require some reduction. Physicalists and dualists will say that we have a physical world, made from molecules (or maybe quantum foam), and that what-is-it-likeness should metaphysically or at least nomologically supervene on that.

But to me it seems this is looking at the things from wrong direction. Why can’t we instead ask this? – What will we find on physical/chemical/neurological level if we analyze the situation in which I’m looking at a rabbit. Now, we can analyze that situation, and say that in such and such case, there are photons bouncing off the rabbit’s fur, coming in the direction of our eyes, getting focused by our eye’s lenses, fall on the retina, where they affect the rod/cone receptors, and so on… , after some time resulting with specific movements of my lips tongue, jaw, synchronized with specific changes of tension of the vocal chords and controlling flow of air through them.

But, this won’t be explanation of the first situation, it is merely another description, in different terms. Now the terms are not “see”, “rabbit”, “5 meters from me”, all of which carry implicitly some what-is-it-likeness, but is speech in terms of different entities, which carry fully different what-is-it-likeness (what is it like to detect a photon, what is it like to base a belief there are photons on base of the explanation of photoelectric effect, etc…; what is it like to understand different kinds of organizations and emergent information processing of the neurons in a neural network, or to observe neurons through microscope, etc…).

So, on this view, the what-is-it-likeness is, so to say – just the consequence of the being a person which can see a rabbit, and which is seeing a rabbit. Of course, physics in its approaches ignores those things (justifiably) because of its nature, that only things which can be objectively evaluated count. However the consequence of it is that it can’t produce them back  from the impoverished picture of the world that it produces.

The picture of the physics is merely a picture which shows just an aspect of this world. It is an abstraction, and not a ground of the world.

Hallucinations and Dreams

In talking about illusions few posts back I said that the first thing to consider about illusions, is that two things can appear same depending on the characteristics of those things, but also depending on the characteristics of the act of seeing. That is, depending on the things like how far are the things, the angle from which we look at them, if there is maybe a fog, if we look at the things through some colored (or distorting) glass. One can also add to this facts about the person looking, like that the person is tired, that he has poor vision and has no glasses, and so on…

Once one accepts that two things (or situations, events, etc…) can look the same depending on all those characteristics even the things (situations, events, etc…) are different, we have easy explanation of what illusions are. They are phenomena where one of those situations is taken as standard, and the other one requires some complications, so that we use the “looks like X”, or “seems like X”, to explain how this second thing under the specific circumstances appears as the standard situation X. (Of course this isn’t isolated on appearances of single things, we can for example that it seems that someone is home, and that usage can be covered with explanation given here, we just say that the things in the house appear as they would if the person is at home. For example the person’s shoes are there, or his coat, or there is a sound coming from the TV, etc…)

The idea here is that we don’t need to suppose that there are such things as “visual fields”, or “phenomenal experiences” or “phenomenal appearances/seemings” which would be used to explain the possibility for illusions. But, what about hallucinations and dreams. After all, we can say that in the case of illusions, there is really two things that under certain circumstances appear same. But in the case of hallucinations or dreams… There is nothing. So, is this a proof that one can’t do away with those assumed “visual fields”/”phenomenal experiences/appearances/seemings”, and that we need them to explain dreams and hallucinations?

I think not. Imagine that we have some semi-transparent glasses with some (semi-transparent) picture painted on them. When we see through this kind of glasses, the picture from the glasses might contribute to the seeing in such way, that what we look at appears mixed with the picture on the glasses. For example when we look at a blank wall, it might appear as if the picture on the glasses is on the wall. Now imagine that we have something analogous to semi-transparent glasses “behind” the eyes. This “seeing affector” will affect the seeing in similar way to semi-transparent painted glasses, i.e. when we look at the wall, it will appear same as when we are looking at the wall which has picture on it.

I guess it is clear where this is going – the idea is that we can look at the back of our eyelids (or whatever we are looking when we have our eyes closed), but that the “seeing affector” can affect the seeing in such a way, that that “darkness” in fact appears as when thing appear in normal situations. (As argued in the ‘Appears as a Red Ball’ vs. ‘Is a Red Ball’ normal situation is that in which we learn the concepts and where we are ignorant of possible complications). So, anyway the idea is that something like this happens in the case of dreams – that what we look at in those dreams is actually nothing (taken in the sense how in the situation where there is no light, we can’t see anything), but that some “seeing affector” makes it appear as the cases in which we are seeing some particular things. Hallucinations would be similar case, just in those cases the “seeing affector”, affects seeing in such way that the situations in the world appear as it would appear when there is something there, which in fact in those cases isn’t. I’m not sure if in the hallucinations the hallucinated things are mixed with what we see in the real world, but if it does, then the analogy with semi-transparent glass might make even more sense…

Anyway, what is this “seeing affector”? I think that it is connected to what we call “imagination”. In the experiments done by Perky in 1910,published in the text called An Experimental Study of Imagination, she found out that the subjects were failing to distinguish banana imagined on the screen from a projected imagine of a banana on the screen (they instead e.g. reported that their imagined banana started rotating). So, the imagination there seems as a perfect candidate for this “seeing affector” (of course seeing is juts one perception, and there is no reason why it would be special, and why we couldn’t talk about general affect on the senses), as the way it affects what is seen seems very similar to the semi-transparent painted glass analogy.

Also one can point to the case of Zoltan Torey, which was presented on the All In The Mind radio show some time ago. Zoltan eyes were hurt in an industrial accident, so he was permanently blinded. But this is what he says in the interview:

Evidently the visual cortex, far from going blank and atrophying, it has picked up in acuity, and it is now totally under my command, so I virtually live in a visual space that I constantly produce myself. It is not really a canvas that I’m looking at, it is really visual space, so that I am—in the middle of which I find myself. So if I turn around, for example, I see what’s behind me, and as I turn my head around in the room where I am, so I orientate into the objects and furniture which I’m facing. It’s a completely technicolour, textured, visual world which apparently I continuously produce.

This points even better of the potential role of imagination as a “perceptual affector”, which I assume as an explanation of dreams and hallucinations.
Of course, this is not an argument against the idea of phenomenal experience, however I think it shows that one can argue about perception being directed to the outside things, or so to say that we are aware of the things themselves, and that we don’t need any middle entity which would be used to explain phenomena like illusions, hallucinations and dreams.