Ditching The Experience

I’ve been ranting against the “phenomenal experience” idea on several occasions, and I wanted to write something about it again. But, instead, let me put out a question, and see if someone comes with any answer…

A Short Introduction…

So, the basic idea is that while it might seem that term ‘phenomenal experience’ doesn’t have any metaphysical commitments, and just refers to something that we are all aware to have, I beg to differ. To me it seems that the whole idea of “phenomenal experience” is deeply connected to a Cartesian picture of the world, which continues to live mainly disguised as different forms of representationalism, but also in my humble opinion, even people who don’t accept representationalism usually don’t go far enough, and instead ditching the concept of “phenomenal experience” they struggle to somehow relate “phenomenal experience” with their anti-representationalist view of the world.

As I said in the past, we do have a perfectly good sense of ‘experience’ in which it refers to event or events in the world, in which the subject participates, and by which it is affected somehow (got us thinking, or got us scared, excited, etc…), or from which he learns some things. In the related sense, it is used for the knowledge itself gained from those events (one can have experience with computers, with illegally getting people across borders, and so on).

However notice that this traditional meaning of ‘experience’ is not what is usually meant by “phenomenal experience” or “conscious experience”. When philosophers speak about ‘phenomenal experience’ it means that it is separated from the events taken as experiences. It is spoken thus of what it is like to have a certain experience, that there are some facts about the experience (separated from the facts about the experience taken as an event), about our ability to get knowledge of those facts through introspection, and so on.

The Question:
So, the question would be this: Can you point to one fact which would be fact about the so-called phenomenal experience, but not fact about the events in which we are participating?


Here is one example so you get the idea:
Ph-Ex talk:
When we watch some picture, we have certain phenomenal experience, and there are certain facts about that phenomenal experience (like presence or absence of some object). But, while there is this fact about phenomenal experience, we might not actually notice this fact about the phenomenal experience. Hence, in this “ph-ex talk”, this shows that our introspection is not infallible – we make mistakes about our own conscious or phenomenal experience.
Normal talk:
Sometimes, even we watch in the direction of some object, we don’t see it.

2 thoughts on “Ditching The Experience

  1. An awareness of self need not encompass experience. Granted the moment before one “throws” oneself into “experience” can seem so minimal as to “seem” existent. I have to admit I have bias – I’ve always had some suspicion/reservations with regards to arguments that have to do with the experiential component. An example I can throw out here? Meditation, for one.

    You made an interesting point about introspection not being “infallible”, but really – is that the point to to phenomenal experience? I’m not sure that fallibility or infallibility was ever the point because it was never scientific to begin with.

    Having said that, I think you raised a very interesting and valid question here. It falls back to that whole object-observer dialetic.

  2. Hey Nin!

    Self-awareness is one of the issues that I haven’t really thought about a lot, and it is very interesting problem. But, when we talk about it in context of meditation for example, do we need to say that there is some “phenomenal experience” to which we are related? It seems to me one can talk about awareness of aspects of our own being, by abstracting from our situatedness in the world in those cases.

    Removing “phenomenal experience” or “conscious experience” surely doesn’t mean removing consciousness or self-consciousness. It is just that instead of approaching consciousness (and self-consciousness) in some form of constructionist way, as if they are created from separate mental constituents, one of which would be ‘phenomenal experience’, they can be more tightly related to our being in the world.

    The issue about experience being infallible or fallible is connected to what I think is unnecessary complications of how we relate to the world. So, I wanted to give an example, how much simpler, and intuitive the problem (and the very phrasing of it) becomes if we remove the whole idea of “phenomenal experience”. Same thing happens with the so called “content of conscious experience”. Is it conceptual, or not, is it ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ and so on? I think those questions can be rephrased with much intuitive and understandable questions if one removes the idea of ‘conscious/phenomenal experience’.

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