A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

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

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on June 17, 2007

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.

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