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.
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:
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.
Sometimes, even we watch in the direction of some object, we don’t see it.