A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Different, But Indistinguishable Experiences

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on June 28, 2007

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).

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12 Responses to “Different, But Indistinguishable Experiences”

  1. Hi Tanasije, thanks for the resposne…

    We don’t say that the rabbit we see is in the brain, just because there is a possibility of illusion.

    No we don’t say that the rabbit is in the brain, but we do say that the experience of the rabbit is…this is in fact a standard argument (dating back to Descartes) for representatinalism…

    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.

    Notice that your formulation of what a ‘seeing affector’ is itself relies on the notion of representing (i.e. the picture painted on the glasses)…without the notion that experience represents the world what sense can you make of this ‘seeing affector’?

    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.

    This is something that both parties agree to and so cannot be evidence for your view.

    Pete was telling you what people who endorse the transparency thesis mean, and you are right that these guys are representationalists, but about conscious experience…the issue here is one that is more general, viz, does expereicne represent at all, which is an independent question from the one that those guys are interested in (viz, what is the nature of a conscious mental state?)…the other side, people like me, think that a conscious experience is one that I am conscious of myself as having (given what you said back at Philosophy Sucks! I think that you agree with this)

  2. Hi Richard,

    You say that the experience of the rabbit is in the brain.
    I accept that in the philosophers’ usage of term “experience” (let’s call this ‘P-SENSE’) that is true, but let me try to use that sentence in order to point to the alternative that I’m playing with…

    As I tried to show in “The meaning of Experience” post, having experience in common (outside of philosophy) sense (‘NP-SENSE’) is participating in some event, being affected by it, or learning something from it. In such sense one can’t have experience of rabbit (as rabbit is not an event in which the observer participates). One can though participate in an experience of seeing a rabbit. But as in NP-SENSE, experience is an event that includes the person, the rabbit itself, and the act of seeing – it can’t be in the head.

    I use NP-SENSE also in that second part you quoted. That two NP-SENSE experiences can be different, but indistinguishable, is meant to be an alternative explanation for cases of hallucinations , dreams and illusions. Alternative to the representationalist’ explanation that is. Because in this case, we don’t need to speak about P-SENSE experiences representing veridically or falsidically the situation in the world. Instead hallucinations, dreams and illusions are explained by participating in NP-SENSE experiences in which some things appear same, even when they are different.

  3. BTW, I couldn’t understand why you say that “seeing affector” in the case of glasses with semi-transparent picture painted on them is dependent on the notion of representation.

  4. I couldn’t understand why you say that “seeing affector” in the case of glasses with semi-transparent picture painted on them is dependent on the notion of representation.

    A picture is a representation, you explain the seeing affector in terms of a picture being painted onto glasses, so you explain the seeing affector in terms of representation.

    Itis also true in the non-phi8losophers sense, since the thing I quoted from Mirriam-Websters is a common, non-philosophical sense of the word. That is not to deny that there is another sense of the word that you fixate on…notice that even in the example that you use ‘that encounter of the bear was a frighting experience’ the ‘frightning’ part is something that is felt by the subject, it is in the head…

    Finally, the NO-sense that you appeal to cannot possibly be an explanation of hallucinations and dreams as the two boxs will only look the same from some point of view, which is to say that the persons experience will represent them in the same way…you have not given any argument to think that this is not the way to explain it…

  5. 1.
    I don’t think that my mentioning of picture painted on the semi-transparent glasses is a problem.

    Of course things which *are* representations of something else (e.g. photographs) might appear to me as the real things (isn’t that the whole point of photographs?), but that there could be representation relation between two things in the world doesn’t mean that experience is representational.
    In this view if through some process in the world involving an object X, a seeing affector is created such that when I look at the wall, it appears to me same as if I’m seeing X on the wall, there are two np-experiences in both of which the wall appears same to me. There will be one np-experience of seeing X on the wall, and the other np-experience of hallucinating X on the wall.

    2.
    Yes, it is true that even in the np-sense of experience, the subject is affected somehow, but in the np-sense the subject (along with how he/she is affected) is part of the whole situation which is in the world. So the issue is here, if there is a need for p-sense experience which would supervene on the brain, or all the issues can be addressed by talking about np-sense experiences, appearing same of the things, and some kind of seeing-affectors.

    3.
    I’m not sure I understand your last note about the impossibility of np-sense experience and seeing-affectors to address hallucinations and dreams.
    If you are saying that in the dreams and hallucinations things appear as “full-blooded” things, this can be explained by complex seeing affectors, that are capable of simulating more complex real experiences (similar to how the virtual reality simulators do it).

  6. Re 1. You haven’t given us any clues about what this ‘seeing affector’ is or how it could possibly make things seem to me that there is something on the wall when there isn’t that does not involve generating a representation (like the picture on the glasses)

    re 2. Who said anything about superveneing on the brain? P-experience is the conscious mental life that you have everyday that you are alive, alert, and awake. It is an open question whether it supervenes on the brain or not.

    re 3. the point was that if two people participate in the same np-experience then you have to account for the fact that each sees it from a point of view and that can’t be done without appealing to the notion that the experience represents the stuff in the world in a particular way (i.e. as from over here)…notice again how your idea of a ‘seeing affector’ implicity relies on representation (virtual reality is a representation of reality)

    Finally, even though I have adopted yor terminology I don’t really think that what you call p-experience’ is something that only philosophers know about (see comments on the other post) rather it is something that philosophers have payed a great deal of attention to…

  7. Hi Richard,

    1. There is no need even for a causal relation in order for some ‘seeing affector’ to make the wall appear same as a wall on which there is something. Glasses might be product of a random process similar to Putnam’s bug drawing a caricature in the sand by pure chance. However even if there is a causal relation between the things in the world and the ‘seeing affector’ it doesn’t have to be one of representation. Mirrors make some thing X which is behind us appear same as a left-right-inverted double of X would appear in front of us. But I don’t think that mirrors represent anything, it is just two different np-sense experiences, in which two different things in two different situations appear same. So, ‘seeing affector’ would be just such ‘blind’ physical process, which ends up with two np-sense experiences (e.g. “seeing” and “hallucinating”) resulting in same judgment (e.g. “there is a rabbit in front of me”). So, the idea is to do away with the p-sense experience which would be representation of the things in the world and which could be veridical or not, and talk about experiences only in np-sense (or one can probably name this externalist-sense of ‘experience’), and transfer the issue of right/wrong to the judgment – which np-sense experience from all those np-sense experiences in which things can appear as they appear now to me is this one that I’m now having?

    Or to use the example that I used… The red ball under white light might appear same as white ball under red light. But there is nothing veridical in any of those experiences by themselves aside from the judgment of which np-sense experience are we currently having. There is no essential reason why we should give primacy to how things appear under white light over the way they appear under red light. (Of course there IS a reason why we will tend to give primacy, and that is because we do learn color names based on how things appear under white light, but that is not bounded to some intrinsical feature of some p-sense experience to represent things right or wrong).

    3.There is no problem there. It would be problem if I claimed that np-sense experience is constituted *just* by the things in the world (some form of very naive naive-realism). But I’m not, I’m including the subject, the type of access (seeing in this case), the characteristics of seeing (which implicitly carry the fact that seeing is always seeing from certain place), and any other things which might affect the seeing (because of its nature) like fog, glasses or any other ‘seeing affectors’. So, instead of saying that there is p-sense experience that “represents the stuff in the world in a particular way (i.e. as from over here)”, one can talk simply about “seeing that thing from here”. All variables which are required are covered (in an externalist, or np-sense manner), without a need for separate p-sense experience which represents anything.

  8. “Mirrors make some thing X which is behind us appear same as a left-right-inverted double of X would appear in front of us. But I don’t think that mirrors represent anything”

    They don’t? Then what do you call the image?

    “The red ball under white light might appear same as white ball under red light. But there is nothing veridical in any of those experiences by themselves aside from the judgment of which np-sense experience are we currently having.”

    There isn’t? Then how do you know thatit is a RED ball under a WHITE light?

    “So, instead of saying that there is p-sense experience that “represents the stuff in the world in a particular way (i.e. as from over here)”, one can talk simply about “seeing that thing from here”.”

    And what does it mean to ‘see that thing from here’?

  9. “Then what do you call the image?”

    I don’t think that we need to talk about an image at all, we are just seeing X in the mirror, similarly to how we can see X through glasses. It is true that the mirror affects the act of seeing so that it appears to as if we are looking a left-right-inverted X, but so can glasses affect the seeing so that it appears to us as if we are seeing different color X.

    “How do you know that it is a RED ball under a WHITE light?”

    I discussed to some extent the issue in the ‘Appears as red object’ vs ‘Is a red object’ post. The rough idea would be this… how things appear depends on the objects, but also on the characteristics of the act of seeing- presence of different lights, fog, if we were looking at some bright light before that, do we look through glasses, by using mirrors etc. When learning colors and their names we are predicating them to objects because we are taking that the difference in the appearance is merely due to the objects, and the other conditions are standard and we might be even ignorant of those other parts of np-experience that affect the appearance. I guess this is somewhat vague, but I hope it gives the general picture of the direction in which I think the answer would go. (More precise analysis I think would get into metaphysical issues of relation between subjects and predicates etc..)

    “What does it mean ‘to see the thing from here’?”

    What would it mean to see the thing from nowhere?

  10. Wow, your views on mirrors conflct with common sense (we say ‘mirror image’ all the time) as well as the science of optics…What’s next? Paintings don’t represent anything? They just ‘affect the act of seeing’?

    As for the other thing, you seem to contradict yourself by one minute saying that there is nothing out there to get right (i.e. experience isn’t veridcal or not), and then in the next minute saying that the objects ARE a certain way, which makes it sound as though experience could get it right…so, again, I am very confused by what you are actually claiming…

  11. I don’t think it is a contradiction. I simply deny there is such a thing as p-experience, and the np-sense ‘experience’ refers to events in the world (which include subject being affected somehow). The np-experience of meeting a bear in the woods can’t represent meeting bear in the woods, and so can’t be veridical or not. IT IS meeting a bear in the woods, there is nothing to be right or wrong in that whole event.

    But I can still say that being a part of the situation (or the whole np-sense experience) a subject CAN fail to see something, or make wrong conclusion about what he is seeing. It might be a np-sense experience of a subject seeing a white ball in red light, but the subject might not be aware of the light, so conclude that he is seeing a red ball.

    BTW, I was searching through The contents of perception article in SEP, and I found this which seems to come close to my view:

    As stated so far, naïve realism is neutral on whether any experiences have accuracy conditions. A version of the view, however, explicitly denies this. This version holds that experiences are analogous to chunks of the environment that clearly lack accuracy conditions. The lawn chair on the deck is not the kind of thing that can be accurate or inaccurate (though it may figure in the accuracy conditions of an utterance, such as an utterance of “that is a lawn chair”). Travis (2004) develops naïve realism in just this way.

  12. As for the ‘mirror image’, we usually say that a thing is mirror image of some other thing, when the first thing looks like the second when we see it in mirror. I don’t think that this usage implies that there is actually some ‘mirror image’ which has representative properties.
    Also, I would claim that it doesn’t go against optics, it is just that when we see a thing in a mirror, and we analyze the situation in physical terms, we give description in terms of photons, reflection from the things and the mirror surface and so on. (Or alternatively we can go even further and analyze the whole thing on QM level).

    Of course in case of paintings I would agree that they represent.

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