Two Senses of `Experience`, Representation and What Is It Like

In past posts I was attacking the philosophers’ sense of experience (p-sense), and arguing that if we talk about any experience at all, it should be in the sense of  ‘experience’ where it refers to events in the world in which subject is participating, and which is one of the most common ways it is used (this one I call np-sense). I want to here see what issues motivate the assumptions that there is p-sense experience, and to talk (although I will probably repeat mostly what I’ve already wrote) how one can address those issues.

In the p-sense of experience, usually it is supposed that this experience is 1)characterized by what is it like to have that experience, and that 2)the experience is taken to represent the state of affairs in the world, and that it can be veridical or not. Both those characterizations have their motives.

The motivations of this second characterization are I think those… We are aware of the cases of illusions, hallucinations, dreams and so on, and based on the idea that it might be impossible to distinguish hallucination from the real thing, a common element is assumed in both – namely the experience. In the case of normal seeing, the experience represents to us the states of affairs as they are, in the case of hallucination the experience represents the state of affairs as they are not. However, I think that we don’t need p-sense of experience to make sense of those phenomena. What is needed is just to allow that in different np-sense experiences (where ‘experience’ refers to events in the world in which the subject is participating) different states of affairs might appear same to the subject. That is because the appearance is constituted by (or maybe the better word is ‘depends on’, I should probably stay away from complex words) the things in the world, but also on the characteristics of the access (be it seeing, hearing, or whatever), and possible complications (fog, glasses, mirrors, and so on). As for explaining hallucinations and dreams, one idea is that there is some kind of ‘seeing affector’ which also affects the act of seeing, but I think there are some other possibilities.

Be as it might be, the first characterization of p-sense experience is a separate issue to be addressed. In this sense experience is connected to what is it likeness of having that experience. So, how can we deal with this problem if p-sense experience is denied. I think what motivates the talk about the what-is-it-likeness, is that the most philosophers buy the picture of the world as reduced to some basic physical components. However thinking about the world in this way we are confronted with the gap between this picture and further thing what we are aware of, like colors, sounds, and so on. So, it is taken that the explanation of this what-is-it-likeness has to do with the special thing the brain is (and possibly some psycho-physical laws). However, if we see the physics (and other sciences) as putting attention just to specific aspects of the world, namely those which are open to measurement and quantification, we approach the whole thing in such way that the issue of what-is-it-likeness doesn’t appear.

It is in our experiences (np-sense) that we approach those aspects of the world of which physics is interested. However we can say that we are aware of other aspects of the world which physics by its nature has to ignore. Those are the aspects that show up as problematic in the aforementioned gap. Because of that ignoring they don’t feature in the final picture that physics gives of our world. You get what you put into it, and what we put into physics are just limited number of notions which are susceptible for physics.

4 thoughts on “Two Senses of `Experience`, Representation and What Is It Like

  1. Hi, I’ve been meaning to comment on this, but I have been busy doing stuff in the ‘real workd’ :)

    You say

    What is needed is just to allow that in different np-sense experiences (where ‘experience’ refers to events in the world in which the subject is participating) different states of affairs might appear same to the subject. That is because the appearance is constituted by (or maybe the better word is ‘depends on’, I should probably stay away from complex words) the things in the world, but also on the characteristics of the access (be it seeing, hearing, or whatever), and possible complications (fog, glasses, mirrors, and so on).

    I really just do not see how what you say here doesn’t mean something like the following. There is a person, and the person has certain apparati of access via which it accessess the world (i.e. seeing, hearing, touching, thinking?). This person can find itself participating in events in the world and what it is like for the person to participate in those events depends partly on what the event is and partly on the nature of the access to the event.

    The reason why I can’t see what else you could be talking about is because I have participated in some events and noticed that there was something that it was like for me to be participating. So I con’t imagine how your account of np-experience goes without crucially invoking p-experience…That’s the reason for thinking there is some what-it-is-likeness…because I have had some…it’s not because of any beliefs about science or the brain that makes people think there is p-experience! It is because they notice that they do!

    Also, I am not sure what your last point about physics is if it is not that physics can’t capture the what-it-is-likeness of experience…

  2. Hi Richard, thank you very much for your comment.
    (Sorry for being late with the answer. I was away for couple of days for my friend’s marriage and also had (actually still have) some things to finish at work.)


    Yes, that is roughly what I’m saying.

    But I bag to differ on the issue if taking the world to be merely as physics describe it is a motivation for talking about what-it-is-likeness and p-experience. I think it is.

    You say that people think that there is p-experience because they notice that they do, but I don’t think so… The naive-realistic view (which is I guess called naive, because it is how people understand things naively) seems to me doesn’t include p-experience. It does include colors, it includes sounds, smells, and so on. And those are things/properties which are seen, heard, smelled… They are outside in the world as things or properties of the things, and that they as in the world have the what-it-is-likeness.

    So, I guess it is obvious then, that when someone believes that what is in the world is molecules and atoms and combination, there is no room for those colors, sounds, smells, etc (now called qualia). But yet we have experiences which include those colors, etc...

    I think people agree on this last. But as in np-sense experience those qualia are part of the whole experience and that can’t be accepted (in context of physics), this brings us to the motive for change of sense of ‘experience’ to the p-sense.

    “We have experiences which include those colors, etc…” can be held true, in combination with the view that the world is mere configuration of atoms or whatever, with simple reading ‘experience’ as something that is private, or something which is in the mind/brain, so by switching what ‘experience’ to another meaning. (In the comment of course ‘colors’ refers to colors along with what-they-are-like)

    BTW, I’m not arguing that naive realism of given kind is true here (I’m not sure currently what to think of it). Used it merely as an what I think is an obvious example of how certain interpretation of physics will invite new p-sense of ‘experience’. Hope this made more sense.

  3. hi, thanks for the clarification. I think I better understand what you meant now.

    I think that you are right that invoking science does lead you to consider p-experience. But I also beg to differ about the naive stroy about p-experience. So, while I agree that the common sense view of colors is that they ‘are out there’ on the objects. One of the jobs of a theory of consciousness is to explain why it seems to us that way in spite of what we learn from science about the ‘true’ nature of the objects…I think that higher-order theories do a splendid job at this, but that is another matter. In fact given what you have said here I would recommend that you read David Rosenthal’s essay ‘Sensory Quality and the Relocation Story’ (it used to be up at his website but now that it is in his new book (Consciousness and Mind) he has taken it down). I think that the intuition and the story you told is about what he calls the Relocation Story…he also argues that the problem is eaisly solved by a higher-order theory of consciousness, but that too is another matter.

    So while I agree that what you said is true in so far as it is a story about how some theoretical thing came into existence notice that even in this way of putting it a crucial premise is that we know that we have experiences that include those colors and etc. This was the sense of p-expewrience that I say is in the dictionary and is just as supported by the naive common sense view as the claim that the colors are ‘out there’ on the objects.

    We often notice that our experience differs from the way things really are. This includes the simple cases of knowing that though the Sun looks small it is really gigantic and knowing that the stick that looks bent isn’t really bent to complex things like knowing that hallucinating a dagger and really seeing a dagger can be subjectively indistinguishable. Now you may be right that we do not need p-experience to explain what is going on here, it may turn out that the ‘seeing affector’ stroy can be told convincingly, but you must admit that the common sense view is that my experience diverges from the way things are and so there are really two things, my experience and the object, and they can match or not. It is certainly not common sense to say that my dream of Jessica Alba and my seeing of her differ in content. They seem to me to be the same, that is why the dream is so pleasing!

    We often and regularly notice our own experience (instead of what it is an experience of) in such a way that the notion of p-experience automatically comes up. Perhaps not inthe way that sense-data theoriests think, or the way in which people who usually talk about qualia think, but these are attempts to capture something even if they are bad attempts. We shouldn’t through the baby out with the bathwater!!

  4. Hi Richard,

    I agree with your point in Jessica Alba example. Dreams and hallucinations (and imagination and memory for that matter) seems to be somehow more intimately connected to their intentional content than simply being some kind of illusions which invoke wrong judgments in us (which would be roughly what ‘seeing affector’ explanation). Because of that I’m doubtful in ‘seeing affector’ too, but that was best (only) idea I came up with as a possible explanation for dreams and hallucinations which would be compatible with the rest of the story in which I DO believe:
    a) that what-it-is-likeness can be located in the world (and not in the mental realm). The world however needs to be taken as “richer” than merely physical – so to say, including things which are not reducible to the physical (nor supervene on the physical), but have physical aspect.
    b) that cases of illusions are matter of judgment and limit of perception. (seems that there I’m repeating part of Ryle/Austin analysis of words like ‘appears’, ‘appears like’, ‘seems like’, etc…)
    c) that given success in those two points, the p-experience (as something that contains what-it-is-likeness, and which represents the world) is not needed. But your point about throwing out the baby out with the bathwater is good. For sure I would want to make space for subjectivity and individuality!

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