A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Hallucinations and Dreams

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on June 15, 2007

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.

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