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#1 Stephen Boydstun

Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 09:32 AM

Sensory Qualities, Their Relation to Sensory System and World

Stephen Boydstun*

Joseph Levine ponders whether scientifically based theories of conscious mind currently being constructed are such as to plausibly yield a physical-realization theory of conscious mind, provided enough yet-to-be-discovered neurobiological details were added to the theories (2000). I shall be concerned in the present study to make plausible the case for a physical-realization theory of sensory perception. My focus will be on elementary perception, halting prior to perceptual judgment. Making good on a physical-realization theory of the sensory qualities in elementary perception is the gateway, I should say, for a physical-realization theory of conscious mind in general.

Jeffery Poland maintains, rightly I think, that "a realization of an attribute, N, on a particular occasion by a class of physical attributes, P, is a configuration of physical attributes that constitute N on that occasion" (1994, 191). There is, to be sure, "no reason to suppose that there is just one sort of realizing relation that all entities bear to physical entities that realize them. . . . The realization of this world by a purely physical basis may well be the result of many different sorts of modes of constitution" (ibid., 18–19).

In the first section of the present essay, I set out my operating notions of the physical and of sensory qualities in conscious experience. I characterize the divide that looms between them for anyone who would explain the latter wholly in terms of the former. In the second section, I articulate, with some realistic detail, an up-to-date theory of how sensory qualities are plausibly realized entirely by physical elements. In the third section, I indicate the character of the sort of physical realization at work in this theory.


I. Qualities Spurious and Faithful

Sensory qualities are the takes of the perceiving animal subject, the ways an item or scene looks, appears, or seems to the animal in a sensory perception. The item or scene as physical is that which is tracked by those qualities in perception. Failure of tracking by a quality is discerned only by discrepancy with other qualities presumed as tracking. A sensory quality that seems not to track in some perception is brushed aside by us (extra smart animals) as spurious, as misleading action, as not true to the physical item or scene in that perception. Some spurious qualities are brushed further, into the animal subject of the perception.

Every sensory quality has a quale, an intensity, and a referral.[1] By referral I do not mean the physical item purported by the sensory quality. I mean, rather, the region of space in which the quale is given as residing (cf. Shepard 1993, 231). Every quale has a presented residence. Coldness of an ice cube in hand is felt, normally, as coldness on parts of the hand. Firmness of the floor under foot is felt as pressure at bottom of the foot. Radiant heat from the fireplace is felt as from the side of the body being warmed by it. Caw of crow in the sky is heard as a certain coarse sound coming from some not-so-certain direction and distance. Tapping at one's chamber door is heard as at the door. Ebony bird seen perched is seen as perched somewhere. Wooziness is felt as within one's head.

Fidelity of sensory qualities to the physical items and scenes of perception admits of assessment[2] in character (quale and intensity) and in referral. Illusory referrals would include the straight oar, with blade in the water, seen as bent; apparent source direction of an echoed sound; apparent distance into a mirror of an image; and apparent depth in a perspective drawing. There is a tradition of construing displaced-referral illusions such as these as having their falseness, to the physical object of perception, within the perception itself (Aristotle 1984, 442b1–10; Leibniz 1989a, 199, 202; 1981, 403–4; Dewey 1925; Dretske 1988, 67–70; 1995, 4, 26–34, 174–75n13; Siewert 1998, 230–34). According to this current of thought, one fully accounts for such falsity by specific comparison and accommodation of the illusory perception with (presumably) veridical ones. One thereby renders the illusory perception true to the full, refined physical scene.[3] Another tradition, also affirming such full, refined trueness in the illusions, construes the falseness as lying not at all in our illusory perception, but in some judgment or inference we make upon that perception (Augustine 1942, 68; Ockham 1990, 26–27; Descartes 1976, Med. IV, Prin. 1.42–43; Kant 1965, B70, B350 A294; Russell 1912, 113–14; 1918, 93).** Falsity and truth are born not in animal perception, but in the rational mind. The latter tradition left fully wide a gap for anyone who would explain the mental entirely by the physical.[4] I cast my lot with the former tradition. Even so, the gap is wide.

The term referral is used in medicine in connection with pains, and that usage is equivalent to what I am in this study calling displaced referral. In medical parlance, one would say that visceral pains are typically not localized to the site of their cause (damaged or threatened tissue), but referred to another site in the body.[5] In our general perspective of perception, we rightly say that these are displaced referrals of pains: illusions in referral.

Our visual perspectives of scenes plainly are functions of our body (head) locations. Rainbows plainly move within a scene in perfect synchrony with changes in the location of one's body. Remove the living animal, Galileo would say (1966, 65–68), and the perspective will remain, but the rainbow will cease to exist. Perspective is in the physical world; colors are in the (literal) eye of the beholder, in the animal subject. A color negative afterimage moves to whatever and wherever one moves one's gaze, preempting the normal colors of things seen there. To persons with jaundice, everything looks yellowish. To normal subjects, grass that looks green at noon looks golden in late afternoon. Remove the animal subject, grass and sunlight will remain, but no colors. Or so conjectured Galileo. Color, sound, and heat (warmth) are as tickling to the motion of a feather. Remove the animal subject. There will be ruffling of the air, but no sound; motions and shapes of minute particles, but no heat; motion of a feather, but no tickling. These qualia—color, sound, heat, tickling—though produced by things outside us, do not themselves exist outside us (ibid.).

In Galileo's picture, illusions of referral show only that referrals can be displaced from true, not that locations, directions, perspectives, nor geometry are per se dependent on the presence of the animal subject. I concur (cf. Dretske 1995, 78–81).

Newton really concurred, but the thought of Newton of moment to us here is his conception of physical body for purposes of rational mechanics. Body is that which fills space, excluding other body because impenetrable.[6] Body in mechanics should be regarded only as extended, impenetrable, and capable of motion. Other properties of bodies, properties not essential to motion, such as the powers bodies have for affecting our senses, are to be disregarded (Newton 1962, 122, 145–48). "The nature of things is more securely and naturally deduced from their operations upon one another than upon our senses" (quoted in Manual 1990, 75, from a college notebook of Newton's).

When we do turn to explaining how sensory qualities arise from the impingements of physical bodies on our sensory systems, referrals look more amenable to physical explanation than qualia. As Leibniz noted, the visual, auditory, and somatosensory systems allow us to know colors, sounds, and tactile qualities, but

they do not allow us to know what these sensible qualities are, nor what they consist in, for example, whether red is the rotation of certain small globes which, it is claimed, make up light, whether heat is a vortex of very fine dust, whether sound is produced in air as circles are in water when a stone is tossed in, as some philosophers claim. We do not see these things, and we cannot even understand why this rotation, these vortices, and these circles, if they are real, should bring about exactly the perceptions we have of red, heat, and noise. Thus it can be said that sensible qualities [qualia] are in fact occult qualities, and there must be others more manifest that can render them more understandable. . . .

I do not deny that many discoveries have been made about the nature of these occult qualities; for example, we know what kind of refraction produces blue and yellow, and that the mixing of these two colors produces green. But for all this we do no yet understand how the perception we have of these three colors results from these causes. (1989b, 186–87)


II. Qualities and Nervous Activity

The class of properties taken as physical and put to work in secure physical science has increased considerably since the days of Newton. But just as Leibniz could not understand how the experience of redness could arise from a physically admissible item, small-globe rotations conveyed into the eye, so today we do not understand, at least not fully, how the experience of redness can arise from a physically admissible item: photons / electromagnetic waves (in the optical frequency range) conveyed into the eye. In our era, there is an enormous amount that has been achieved by way of explaining redness, other visual qualia, and their intensities and referrals by (i) the physical stimuli (photons / E-M waves) reaching the eye and by (ii) the consequent modulations of various physical, neuronal activities (species of electrical and electrochemical activities). The greatest conundrum, the widest explanatory gap, in our understanding of sensory qualities is over the circumstance that qualia themselves seem to be found neither in (i) nor (ii).

At present there does remain a gap, in entirely physical explanation (sensory system and world), that is common to the qualia, intensity, and referral of sensory qualities. This is the general gap in explanation of our conscious awareness comprising qualia, their intensities, and their referrals (those three being constituents [always together] of our conscious awareness of items and scenes). This is the gap in our physical understanding of perceptual consciousness as such. Let me relate a recent neurophysiological theory of perceptual consciousness, with its self-acknowledged, general gap. Then I shall descend into the recesses of the gap peculiar to qualia and peculiar to their referrals.

In the theory of consciousness put forward by Antonio Damasio (1999), all conscious perceptual experience requires a sensory deliverance and, (re)emergent within each deliverance, an attendant sense of body self-in-the-act-of-sensory-perception.[7] This is so for what Damasio terms core consciousness as well as for what he terms extended consciousness. Core consciousness is only of and for the immediately present percept (or immediately present image from memory); requiring only low-level automated attention, not focused attention; and not implicating working memory, only a very brief short-term memory[8] (ibid., 15–19, 91, 112–13, 122, 170–72, 184–92, 196–97, 267–72). Extended consciousness is the level of broader perceptual experience and thought, which are dependent, in development and moment by moment, on the presence of core consciousness (ibid., 123–25, 200, 266).

"Core consciousness is the process of achieving a neural and mental pattern which brings together, in about the same instant, the pattern for the object, the pattern for the organism, and the pattern for the relationship between the two" (ibid., 194; also 146–49). The brain structures proposed by Damasio as mediating core consciousness "are of old evolutionary vintage, they are present in numerous nonhuman species, and they mature early in individual human development" (ibid., 106). They are as follows: For the pattern of the organism (human body in particular), we have the somatosensory maps at upper brain stem nuclei and hypothalamus as well as the higher levels of those maps spread over somatosensory cortices (ibid., 153–56, 234–35, 252–55). For the pattern of the perceived object (item or scene), we have the somatosensory cortices (again) and visual and auditory cortices; and we must include subcortical modulating structures for object perception, that is, certain nuclei in basal forebrain, brain stem, and thalamus (ibid., 159–61, 193–94, 235–36, 267–70). For the pattern of the relationship between the animal and the perceived object, we have the cingulate cortices and certain nuclei of the thalamus and superior colliculus[9] (ibid., 177–82, 235, 260–66).

In speaking of "neural and mental patterns," Damasio means to acknowledge that there remains a gap in explanation of how conscious patterns, such as the sensory qualities in conscious experience, arise from neural activity patterns or neural maps. He does not mean to endorse dualism; he expects the gap to be filled by physical phenomena not yet identified. But he does not think it is correct to say, at our present stage of knowledge, that conscious mental patterns simply are the neural patterns or neural maps that he has proposed as bases for core consciousness (ibid., 9, 322–23).10

Contrast this stance with that of Sidney Lehky and Terrence Sejnowski. In reporting their modeling (for the color visual system) of the neural process of decoding (which is a mapping of) neural population-coded inputs,[11] they write:

One might argue that we have not decoded the population at all, but moved from a population code in one representational space to a population code in another representational space. How do you decode that new population? . . . At some point, one simply has to say that a certain pattern of activity is our percept. . . . The act of decoding implies something "looking at" the population. At the last link in the chain, one cannot decode or interpret [further] without invoking a homunculus. (Lehky and Sejnowski 1999, 1277; emphasis mine)

Damasio, of course, does not posit a homunculus in the brain, but he does think that we must go beyond the neural systems supporting sensory deliverances and bring into our account of the neural bases of perceptual consciousness the neural systems supporting the attendant sense of body self-in-the-act-of-sensory-perception. These latter neural systems do not constitute a homunculus; they do not stand already producing a sense of body self without any deliverances of the senses by the former neural systems (Damasio 1999, 11, 154, 189–91).

The somatosensory system is a switch hitter. It contains a spectrum of functions permitting it to support both the core-consciousness sense of body self-in-the-act-of-sensory-perception as well as many sensory deliverances of the body as perceptual object. The somatosensory system contains integrated information on the current internal milieu, chemical and visceral, of the entire body (ibid., 150–52) and on the current positions and movements of muscles and skeleton. The somatosensory system is also the neural system supporting the sensory component of pain, sense of touch in its various submodalities, and the sense of cutaneous warmth or coolness. There can be core consciousness without the visual and auditory systems, but not without the somatosensory system. Moreover, there are no purely visual nor purely auditory perceptions, that is to say, visual and auditory perceptions are always accompanied by signals of adjustments of the body (ibid., 147).[12]

Sensory cortical areas (and reciprocally modulated portions of the pathways to them from earlier sensory processing areas) whose activity levels correlate very well with our conscious perceptions of various items and scenes are being found out by our neuroscience. The qualia of our percepts are not referred to those areas of cortex (and confederate brain areas),[13] and neither we nor any other animal could have come to exist naturally if they were. It might seem then that qualia are not located at the areas of their correlated neural activity.

Straightaway we bring forth, however, the fact that the referrals of qualia are also mediated by neural processing (cf. Ellis and Newton 1998, 422–23, 430). Somatosensory channels (proprio-, noci-, thermo-, and mechanoreception) are all mapped somatotopically in parietal cortex. The dorsal cortical stream of visual processing, projecting from primary visual cortex to posterior parietal cortex (where it joins the subcortical stream from retina to superior colliculus to pulvinar to posterior parietal cortex), performs the transformations that "deliver the instantaneous and egocentric [bodycentric] coordinates of objects and thereby mediates the visual control of skilled actions, such as manual prehension, directed at those objects" (Goodale 1996, 373). Neurons have been located in parietal cortex that evidently "transform information from a retinal coordinate system into a coordinate system that could guide a motor response. These transformations may, for example, enable the reflex-like grasping of moving objects" (Lamme, Supèr, and Spekreijse 1998, 531), such as catching a baseball. There is now evidence also for the existence of a dorsal stream for the processing of auditory spatial information. It is plausible "that parietal cortex contains several space representations, each specialized for the processing of spatial information from different sensory modalities, including audition. In a next step, these unimodal representations may then be integrated into a supramodal representation of space acting on a sensorimotor interface" (Rauschecker 1998, 518).

If the referrals of the qualia in our sensory experience are brought into our awareness by (putting it overly simply) certain sensory and sensorimotor cortical neural activities, yet if no referrals are experienced as at those neural sites, do we all suffer from a systematic illusion of referral? No. I should say with Dewey that veridical referrals are to the locations at which our actions upon and movements about the perceived items and scenes would be effective (1925). Visual referral of the length axis of an oar entirely in air is well tuned to where we should reach. Visual referral of oar axis partly in water partly is not well tuned to where we should reach. If all referrals of qualia in our sensory experience were to nervous tissue in the brain, then we should be under a systematic illusion of referral.

The gap in wholly physical explanation of the referrals of qualia in our conscious perceptions does not seem unsusceptible of being closed, because referrals are simply to places in physical space. Being somewhere in space is something plainly common to world, body, and sensory receptors; and something assuredly susceptible to being mapped into arrays of receptors and subsequent neural networks, which are assuredly then translatable into animal action in space.

Is perceived light the flood of photons (electromagnetic bosons having energies in the optical range) that arrive, after propagation through the lens, at the rods and cones of the retina? Christine Skarda proposes it is so (1999, 83–87). Or is perceived light the changes in membrane potentials that occur in the rods and cones when they absorb photons? I propose this is so. (Surface plausibility of Skarda's account rests on an equivocal use of the term light.) I propose that perceived light consists of the changes in receptor membrane potentials, in the physiological forms into which those changes have been transmuted by the time they reach primary visual cortex (V1) and beyond.[14] Neuronal groups resonant with our conscious visual awareness of patterns in a scene are found plentifully in inferotemporal and parietal cortex, but are found also, more sparsely, "over the entire visual pathway" (Logothetis 1999, 74). I gather, however, that "entire visual pathway" means only back as far as V1 (with LGN implicated, presumably), not all the way back to the retina (Logothetis 1998).

So, I am proposing perceived light to be changes in receptor membrane potentials in the physiological forms they take by the time they reach V1 and beyond. Similarly, perceived sound, I should say, is not the train of stress-strain waves in the basilar membrane and organ of corti, but the changes in the stereocilia of the organ of corti, in the physiological forms these changes take in subsequent neural processing. Similarly, a coolness felt at the hand would not be the flow of heat out of the skin to the environment, but the correlative change of some physiological sort (unknown to me at present) at the end-bulbs of Aδ and C neuronal fibers. Similarly, the pain of pushing back a cuticle would be not the stress of the tissue, but a correlative change of some physiological sort in the end-bulbs of Aδ mechanical nociceptors embedded in the stressed tissue.

My resultant outline of the physical reduction of sensory qualities in our perceptions is, then, as follows: Qualia consist of modifications in physiological activities in our sensory receptors, as articulated by subsequent neuronal processing. Referral of qualia to the locations of their receptors would sometimes be veridical, sometimes not. The latter look especially resistant to wholly physical explanation. That is, qualia whose referrals would be illusions were they referrals to the locale of the receptors for those qualia seem especially resistant to wholly physical explanation.

That the basic quale of vision should consist of changes in membrane potentials of rods and cones as transmuted to V1 and beyond, yet be referred (veridically for the most part) to environmental locations distant from the retina is very counterintuitive. Though less acutely counterintuitive, that the basic quale of audition should consist of physiological changes in the stereocilia in the ear, yet this quale be referred (often veridically) to remote points of the environment, is also counterintuitive. The audition case is not so acutely counterintuitive as the vision case because in audition we are generally more aware that sound (what is becoming heard sound) is being received at the ear, though referred to a distant source location.

Processing of visual spatial information by the dorsal pathway evidently serves to control visually guided action largely unconsciously, in contrast to processing in the ventral pathway which mediates conscious visual perception, including that experienced during action (Goodale 1996, 370–73). Patients who have lost the ability to recognize and expressly represent objects, due to ventrolateral damage, retain their powers of visual reference and of visually guided manipulation of objects. I suggest that in the unconsciousness of dorsal-stream referral for visual perception, we have a root, a neurophysiological root, of why we find it so counterintuitive to think that though a visual quale consists of changes to membranes at the retina (in the form they take at V1 and beyond), their veridical referral is not to the retina, but to some place in the environment.

Visual referral happens instantly and automatically, and, unlike in audition, we have no direct sense (other than pain sometimes) that the proximal stimuli, photons, are in process of arriving at the eye. At the retina, the membrane changes that are (in their form upstream) qualia indicate the arrival of patterns in the flood of photons, but that is not the natural, biological indicating function of those qualia (cf. Dretske 1988, 62–64; 1995, 72, 88–90; Shepard 1993, 223–27).[15] The biologically given indicating function of visual qualia are indication to the animal of the distal stimuli, the items and scenes beyond the animal's eye. Accomplishment of this natural indicating function is in part through the instant, silent referral of visual qualia mediated importantly, as we partly understand now, by the dorsal stream of visual processing and its sensorimotor conjugation in parietal cortex.


III. Qualities Realized

Animality is realized by the living matter of the animal, the animal acting in the world. I am thinking only of multicellular animals, the ones having muscle and nervous systems. Theirs is the animality I mean. Consciousness is a piece, a very precious piece, of animality. I say that animality is realized in living mater, rather than identical to the living matter composing the animal, because animality requires animal behaviors, to which the living matter is as means.

To say that animality is realized by the living matter of the animal is to say that animality is instantiated in virtue of the instantiation of the living matter. The constituents of the living matter jointly make it the case that animality is instantiated (cf. Poland 1994, 16–19).

Saying that animality is realized comports also with the fact that there are the various species of animals and their behavioral repertoires. In that sense, we could say that animality is multiply realized. But I do not mean to say that animality is multiply realizable in a wider range of creatures, beyond animals: some living though not animals, others not living.[16] Enough for the day is the realm of animals.

Consciousness is realized in living matter in the same sense that animality is realized in living matter. The sensory qualities of conscious perception are realized by their living sensory systems. And I should expect that sensory qualities are not identical with their living sensory systems, because perception requires stimuli and responsive animal behaviors, to which the sensory and sensorimotor systems are as means.

I have proposed that qualia consist of modifications in physiological activities in the sensory receptors, as articulated by subsequent neuronal processing in the animal having conscious perceptions. Is this "consist of" identity or realization? A standard objection to identifying qualia, such as a pain, a sense of coolness, or a color, with physiological activities in the appropriate sensory system is that a given quale might be multiply realizable. I am concerned only with realizabilities by the sensory systems of animals, but the question remains whether a given qualia is realizable in very different sensory systems. I incline to think not, because each of our own different sensory systems gives rise to different qualia. Consistent with that common observation, we expect that sensory systems quite different from any we possess, such as the sonar system of a bat, will not give rise to qualia very like any rising from our systems.[17] So my "consist of" for qualia comes to identity.

The referrals of qualia, however, are multiply realizable. The referrals of different quale can coincide, and they will coincide insofar as they are veridical in their referrals. We then have multiple realizations of the same referral.[18]

The relation of sensory qualities to their sensory systems seems then to be a hybrid: identity with respect qualia (and their intensities), being-realized with respect to the referral of those qualia. In consideration of the natural composite of qualia with their referrals, I should say that the relation of sensory quality to sensory system is a species of being-realized.

The relation of sensory quality to world is one of indication.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* This study was composed in 2000.
** Cf. Aristotle, De An. 427b9−14; D. Kelley 1986, 88, 93, 132-33, 233-35; L. Peikoff 1991, 39-42.


Notes

[1] In the present study, I am omitting the temporal aspects of sensory qualities and, for the most part, the attention profiles of the conscious perceptions in which sensory qualities occur.

[2] The notion of assessibility for accuracy as applied to sensory qualities is from Siewert 1998, 189–94, 218–22.

[3] Measurements perfect this process (Plato 1997, Rep. 602c–d; Galileo 1957, 225–26; Leibniz 1989b, 187–88). A superb example is Descartes' explanation of all the particulars, illusory and plain true, of the rainbow (Boyer 1959).

[4] Radical skeptic Pierre Bayle, of course, pried the gap 360 degrees wide, for he brushed all sensory qualities whatsoever away from "the objects of our senses. They [sensory qualities] are modifications of my soul. I know that bodies are not at all as they appear to me. . . . Still further, sensed objects cannot be the cause of my sensations. I could therefore feel heat and cold, see colors and shapes, extension and motion, even though there were no bodies in the universe. I have therefore no good proof of the existence of bodies" (1966, 342–43).

[5] Examples are referrals of heart pain to left chest, shoulder, and upper arm; referrals of pain from blood vessels (innervated by trigeminal sensory nerves) in the vicinity of an intracranial lesion to some other region in the head; and referrals of skeletal muscle pains to nearby muscle-related structures (Conn 1995, 159, 246, 442).

[6] In Newton's picture, mind is located in space also, but mind does not exclude body from those same locations. This idea is alive and productive today (French 1987, 138–39, 146–50, 162–69).

[7] Aspects of this theory were anticipated by Ellis and Newton 1998 (431–41).

[8] Core consciousness occurs in a fraction of a second. Working memory, which is crucial to extended consciousness, spans seconds and minutes (Damasio 1999, 197). For a current alternative to Damasio's view on the roles of working and shorter-term buffer memories in the making of elementary consciousness, see John Taylor 1999 (180–82, 220, 260–71, 276–79).

[9] Damasio conjectures that activities of superior colliculi (which are critical for orienting toward sources of visual or auditory stimuli) may be the neural bases for the simplest form of core consciousness in species with little cortical elaboration. He stresses, however, that functioning of superior colliculi cannot support core consciousness in humans in the absence of functioning thalamic and cingulate structures (Damasio 1999, 265).

[10] Levine, as is well known, also acknowledges (and stresses) the gap in our explanations of how conscious patterns, such as the sensory qualities in conscious experience, arise from neural activity patterns or neural maps. And Levine, too, does not think dualism can be correct. But Levine maintains, furthermore, that in a fully adequate and fully physical theory of sensory qualities, we should be able to derive an animal's "qualitative state from its physiological state" (Levine 2000, 3.4). Derive for Levine, in this context, seems to include knowing what it is like to have any animal's qualia. He takes the unlikelihood of such eventual knowing by us to mean that our present forms of physical explanation of conscious sensory experience are profoundly inadequate. // Damasio, too, thinks we shall not know what it is like to experience the qualia of a foreign sensory system, even when our neurophysiological theory of consciousness becomes essentially complete. That circumstance will not show that consciousness has not been fully explained physically; the myriad convoluted arguments of philosophers attempting such a showing simply must have gone awry (Damasio 1999, 305–9; see also Churchland 1996).

[11] The neural decoding of color evidently reaches completion in inferotemporal cortex (Komatsu 1998).

[12] Evidently, "proprioceptive inputs from all the muscles holding and moving the retina in space, [muscles] from the foot up to the eyes, are used by the brain to process the visual information required to perform spatial localization and reaching tasks" (Roll, Gilhodes, Roll, and Harlay 1996, 291).

[13] Referrals of head pains due to damage of head tissue, though precise enough for practical purposes, can be suffuse, and we should not always know, without neurology, whether such referrals were to neural tissue itself or to other tissue of the head. Additionally, a headache could be coincident accidentally to neural areas supporting it in consciousness. Are these cases exceptions to my statement in the main text? I shall count them as exceptions, but the only ones. For all other cases, I stand by my statement that the qualia of our percepts are not referred to sensory cortical areas that support them.

[14] "Whatever is in something is in it according to the mode of that in which it is" (Aquinas 1975, 1.49.3).

[15] The world, including one's body, is full of natural indicators. Natural indicators are simply the natural traces of things. Natural indicators exist, as they are, independently of whether anyone is cognizant of the indication. The track of a bear is an indication of bear whether or not any animal comes along and becomes cognizant of the indication. Natural indicators cannot indicate incorrectly. They simply indicate the various things they do indicate. // Biological systems having an indicating function exploit natural indicators naturally, in consequence of evolution. In the biological indicating system, the indicator has come to have the function of indicating some of the things it naturally does indicate. Where there is indicating function, there is the possibility of malfunction and misindication. // I acquired this valuable scheme from Fred Dretske, though I here have not reflected his talk of representations in connection with indication functions. Talk of indication functions seems sufficient for elementary perception.

[16] Forms of realization more commonly contemplated for mind, in contemporary philosophy of mind, are realizations of computer programs by computer hardware and realizations of connectionist computations by neural networks of the brain. The former sort, symbolic-manipulation realization, is surely pertinent to and illuminating of certain reckonings of extended consciousness. However, that sort of realization does not seem pertinent to the manner in which receptor and brain activities realize core consciousness. The connectionist-computation sort of realization seems pertinent to core consciousness (see, e.g., Wray and Edelman 1996), but I must defer assimilation of this into my realization picture of sensory qualities. A third sort of realization, very general, contemplated in philosophy of mind, is realization of function, as when a variety of instruments perform the same function or as when a variety of machines (doing work or computing) perform the same function. The realizations I invoke in the present study are assuredly species of this broad category.

[17] Cf. Shoemaker 1982, 651–56, and 1993. Also, what qualia would one experience were one given an artificial, nonbiological retina or cochlea? I shall have to look into the details of this technological prospect.

[18] When Dretske (1995, 82–95), Kathleen Akins (1993, 349–52), and Taylor (1999, 330) contend that we have some sense of the qualia of the electric-field sensing of a dogfish or the sonar sensing of a bat (Simmons and Young 1999, 142–63), I find that they really speak not of qualia but their referrals. Naturally, we have some sense of referrals in all possible sensory modalities. And we can be quite sure that foreign sensory systems of other animals do have some distinctive qualia or other (Loar 1997, 611).


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E.S. Haldane and T.R.T. Ross, translators. In The Essential Descartes. M.D. Wilson, editor.
New York: Meridian.

Dewey, J. 1925. A Naturalistic Theory of Sense Perception. In Philosophy and Civilization. 1931.
New York: Minton, Balch.

Dretske, F. 1988. Explaining Behavior: Reasons in a World of Causes.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
——. 1995. Naturalizing the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ellis, R.D., and N. Newton 1998. Three Paradoxes of Phenomenal Consciousness: Bridging the
Explanatory Gap. J. of Consciousness Studies 5(4):419–42.

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In Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. S. Drake, editor and translator.
New York: Doubleday.

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Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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8:503–8.

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Processing in the Visual Cortex. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 8:529–35.

Lehky, S.R., and T.J. Sejnowski 1999. Seeing White: Qualia in the Context of Decoding
Population Codes. Neural Computation 11:1261–80.

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editors and translators. Cambridge: University Press.
——. 1989a. Letters to Des Bosses, 1712 (Feb 5) and 1716 (May 29). In Ariew and Garber 1989.
——. 1989b [1702]. Letter to Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia, On What Is Independent of
Sense and Matter. In Ariew and Garber 1989.

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8:536–44.
——. 1999. Vision: A Window on Consciousness. Sci. Amer. (Nov):69–75.

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P. Boehner, editor and translator. Revised by S.F. Brown. Indianapolis: Hackett.

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In Plato: Complete Works. J.M. Cooper, editor. Indianapolis: Hackett.

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Combined into a "Gestalt"? In Inui and McClelland 1996.

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——. 1918. The Philosophy of Logical Atomism. LaSalle, IL: Open Court.

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http://www.amazon.co..._pt#reader-link

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 22 January 2009 - 08:52 AM.


#2 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 10:31 AM

Pulling Together Some Thinking about Perception

I will retrace some of the course of Rand’s thinking about sensory perception, then her thinking about objectivity. I’ll rely only on texts Rand published. I will suggest an appropriate application to perception for Roger Bissell’s special senses of the objective. However, I will also challenge the correctness of his notion of perceptual content.

−Perception−

Rand thought that higher animals are guided by percepts. The actions of such an animal “are not single, discrete responses to single, separate stimuli, but are directed by an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it” [Obj Ethics (1961) 19].

We should note, however, that “an animal has no critical faculty. . . . To an animal, whatever strikes his awareness is an absolute that corresponds to reality—or rather, it is a distinction he is incapable of making: reality, to him, is whatever he senses or feels” [FNI (1961) 17].

But when it comes to human beings, Rand observes, they for sure have an integrated perceptual awareness that includes the ability to identify perceptual illusions [AS (1957) 1041]. We can come to understand illusions in terms of veridical perceptual components of which they are composed. Moreover, we are capable, when awake and healthy, of identifying the phantasmagoria of dreams and hallucinations as occasions of consciousness not fastened upon reality. We can also tell the difference between our episodes of perception and our episodes of memory or imagination [ITOE (1966–67) 30]. In Rand’s view, all of those types of human consciousness have a content that “is some aspect of the external world (or is derivable from some aspect of the external world)” [ITOE 31].

Rand stressed the primary, foundational kind of consciousness we possess, which is the kind possessed in veridical perception. This essential sort of consciousness is given pride of place in much contemporary philosophy of perception. It is sometimes termed success consciousness. This fundamental sense of consciousness is what Rand articulates when she writes that consciousness is “the faculty of perceiving that which exists” and “if that which you claim to perceive does not exist, then what you possess is not consciousness” [AS 1015].

Awareness is awareness of something. A content-less state of consciousness is a contradiction in terms.

Two fundamental attributes are involved in every state, aspect, or function of man’s consciousness: content and action⎯the content of awareness, and the action of consciousness in regard to that content. (ITOE 30−31)

Rand’s view of perception is a realist view. A human being is able “to perceive a reality undistorted by his senses. . . . ‘Things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” [AS 1036]. The mind’s only access to reality is by means of its percepts [KvS (1970)]. “It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality. When we speak of ‘direct perception’ or ‘direct awareness’, we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident” [ITOE 5].

−Objectivity−

Rand’s most elementary sense of the concept objective is the sense of ordinary parlance. This is the sense she talks of when explaining why she has chosen Objectivism as the name of her philosophy. She credits Aristotle as the first to correctly define “the basic principle of a rational view of existence and of man’s consciousness: that there is only one reality, the one man perceives—that it exists as an objective absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes, or the feelings of any perceiver)” [FNI 22].

In 1965 Rand published two refinements of her concept of objectivity. Early in the year, she wrote:

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). (FAE 18)

Later that year, Rand refined her concept of objectivity further. In the context of discussing objectivity in moral values, she observed that

There are, in essence, three schools of thought on the nature of the good: the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective. The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, . . . regardless of a benefit or injury they cause to the actors and subjects involved.

The subjectivist theory holds that the good bears no relation to the facts of reality, that it is a product of a man’s consciousness, created by his feelings.
The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness; the subjectivist theory holds that the good resides in man’s consciousness, independent of reality.
The objective theory holds that the good is neither an attribute of “things in themselves” nor of man’s emotional states, but an evaluation of the facts of reality by man’s consciousness according to a rational standard of value. . . . The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man. (WC 21–22)

By the following year, it was clear that Rand envisioned a broadened role for the intrinsicist-subjectivist-objectivist way of locating her philosophic theories in relation to others. She applied the tripartition to the theory of concepts and universals. Concepts, for Rand, can be objective and should be objective. Such concepts are “produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be formed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” [ITOE 54]. Rand’s conception of concepts (and definitions and essence and . . .) and her conception of the good can be rightly characterized as (i) objective with Rand’s metaphysical-epistemological faces of the objective relation and, at the same time, as (ii) objective within Rand’s intrinsicist-subjectivist-objectivist tripartition.

At this time (1966–67), Rand thinks that (as Roger has stressed) “the dichotomy of ‘intrinsic or subjective’ has played havoc with this issue [of universals] as it has with every other issue involving the relationship of consciousness to existence” [ITOE 53]. That would certainly seem to include the relationship of sensory perception to existence. In what ways has the dichotomy of intrinsic-or-subjective played havoc in understanding the nature of perception? Should perception have the status objective in Rand’s tripartition? There is fertile ground here, waiting for growers.

−An Objectivity in Perception−

Rand’s metaphysical sense of objectivity proclaims the recognition of the mind-independence of existence in the relationship of existence and consciousness. Her epistemological sense of objectivity proclaims recognition of the mind’s dependence on logical identification and integration of the evidence of the senses to acquire knowledge of existence [FAE 18]. Both of these senses of objectivity proclaim epistemological and moral norms of volitional, conceptual consciousness.

Like Rand, Roger stresses that every occasion of consciousness has a content. He takes the content to be an aspect of existence insofar as it is held as the object of the action of consciousness. Call that facet of the objective ontological objectivity. A second facet, which Roger’s calls cognitive objectivity, is the action of consciousness insofar as it holds as its object an aspect of existence.

Roger’s ontological and cognitive senses of the objective relation differ from Rand’s metaphysical and epistemological senses of objectivity in three ways. I’ll mention two of them.

Firstly, the forms of consciousness to which Roger’s ontological and cognitive aspects of the objective relation apply are wider. These aspects apply to all varieties of consciousness, whether or not they are volitional types of consciousness.

Secondly, Roger’s ontological and cognitive aspects of the objective are not necessarily norms for conscious rule-following. They are, however, related to norms in the more general engineering-performance sense. Any system having a function has performance norms. Human perception, pleasure and pain, memory, dreams (perhaps), imagination, judgment-level evaluations, and emotions all have functions and performance norms in the human being. Roger’s ontological and cognitive aspects of the objective figure into the performance norms of the volitional forms of consciousness, and they figure into the performance norms of perception, of pleasure-pain evaluations, of memories, and, perhaps, of dreams.

A question concerning Roger’s concept of ontological objectivity in application to perception:

If I grasp a baseball in my hand, I sense its size, shape, rigidity, texture, and weight. I toss it well above me and snatch it from its fall with a smack. When I perceive the trajectory and the falling speed, when I perceive the sting and the sound of the smack, when I perceive the shape, rigidity, texture, and weight of the ball, are some of these things and aspects exactly as they are without my perception? Is the answer known? If we can answer that some of these things or aspects are exactly as they are without our perception of them, then aren't those things, just as we perceive them, physically intrinsic, not ontologically objective?

I have the baseball in my hand. I squeeze it and sense its rigidity. Compared to a ball of modeling clay, the baseball is very rigid. My question for Roger's distinction of the ontologically objective is whether the rigidity of the baseball that I sense is intrinsic as distinct from ontologically objective. When I sense the ball's rigidity, am I sensing a physical quality of the ball itself---exactly that quality it has when left in a vise in the shop, say? Is rigidity or anything at all that we perceive known to be in itself exactly as we perceive it?

If Yes, then some of our perception is of the variety known as direct realism. If No, then all such allegedly direct perceptions, such as rigidity of the baseball, are correctly analyzed as: (1) indirect realism or (2) idealism.

Roger's characterization of all sensory perception as ontologically objective in an epistemological tripartition of intrinsic-objective-subjective would seem to fit most easily with the indirect realist account of perception. That is the dominant school in contemporary philosophy of perception. The milestone work The Problem of Perception (2002) by A. D. Smith is a sustained argument against the coherence of indirect realism. It defends direct realism. I expect it is known to readers here that the preeminent defense of direct realism anchored expressly in Rand's metaphysics is David Kelley's The Evidence of the Senses (1986).

On Roger's account of perceptual awareness, I don't see how we could ever know if the rigidity of my baseball as I experience it is the very quality of the ball as it is when locked in a vise in the shop. I cannot know the sameness, even if I reach my fingers around the ball and squeeze it while it is locked in that vise. It seems that on Roger's account, it is an indirect realism, not direct realism, that gives the best account of perception. Roger anchors his account in Rand's metaphysics, and his account would seem to be a competitor to, not simply a sub-account of Kelley's.

http://rebirthofreas...1648_1.shtml#39
http://rebirthofreas...ns/1648.shtml#3
http://rebirthofreas...s/1648.shtml#19
http://rebirthofreas...1648_1.shtml#23
http://rebirthofreas...1648_1.shtml#28

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In his book Perception (2003, McGill-Queens University Press), Barry Maund writes:

The right way to present the representationalist thesis is to say that the perceiver does not perceive physical objects except by being aware of intermediaries. One does not perceive the intermediary at all. This point is not a trivial one. Perceiving a physical object is being caused by that object to have a sensory representation. Being aware of the sensory representation is not like that. Accordingly, . . . it is possible to develop a representative theory of perception that is direct realist, in one sense, and indirect, in another. (p.68, emphasis added)

Maund’s is a contemporary direct-indirect hybrid theory of perception. His is a representational realist theory of perception that does not take perception to involve any inferences (e.g., from sensory particulars to the particulars that caused them). Rather, on this representational theory, perceiving “involves a form of double awareness: the perceiver is aware of both the sensory item and the physical object, and aware of the latter through being aware of the former” (70).

The theory that Maund defends “holds that, in conscious attentive perception, one perceives physical objects and their qualities by becoming aware of sensory representations, that is, of a set of quality-instances (tropes) that are natural signs for the objects in question” (71).

I wonder if Maund’s variety of representational realist theory of perception fits less well with Rand’s express views on perception than contemporary direct realist theories of perception fit with Rand’s view. Rand’s view of perception is definitely a realist view. She writes that a human being is able “to perceive a reality undistorted by his senses. . . . ‘Things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” [AS 1036]. She maintains, furthermore, that the mind’s only access to reality is by means of its percepts [KvS (1970)]. “It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality. When we speak of ‘direct perception’ or ‘direct awareness’, we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident” [ITOE 5].

Does Rand’s view, I wonder, entail pure direct realism (such as we see defended by A. D. Smith or David Kelley), or is Rand’s view sufficiently coarse-grained that it is compatible with pure direct realism and equally compatible with Maund’s hybrid of direct and indirect realism? More importantly, I wonder if Maund’s representational realist theory of perception is a better or worse background for interpreting and guiding research on perception than direct realism is as that background.

I should also draw attention to the contemporary representationalist thesis, known also as the intentionalist thesis, which is “that we are, in normal perception, not aware of the intrinsic qualities of experiences; we are instead aware of those objects and their qualities that are specified in the content of our experiences.” The representationalists deny that the phenomenal character of subjective experiences “consists of intrinsic qualities of subjective experiences, that is, of what are sometimes called qualia.” They propose an alternative way to construe the phenomenal character of experience. These contemporary representationalists propose to analyze the phenomenal character of perceptual experience “in terms of the representational character, that is, the representational content, of the experiences” (Maund 2003, 165).

In addition to Barry Maund, the following distinguished philosophers uphold some version or other of the representational theory of the phenomenal character of perceptual experiences: Fred Dretske; Michael Tye; Gareth Evans; Ruth Millikan; Gilbert Harmon; and Austen Clark. These theories belong to the class known as representational realism (direct or indirect or hybrid).

Professor Maund maintains that in the perception of an object, one is aware of, but does not perceive, one’s sensory representation of the object. We often use the word perception in a more general sense to mean simply any sort of awareness, but Maund is here using perception to refer strictly to sensory perception. Our awareness of the sensory representations instrumental in a sensory perception is a type of direct awareness, but it is not itself a sensory perception.

Maund has us perceiving physical objects always by being aware of intermediary sensory representations. We do not perceive the intermediaries. When we hear the sound of the bell at the rail crossing or see the moving barrier, we are caused to have sensory representations. We are aware of both the phenomenal sensory items and the physical objects that caused them. And we are aware of the latter through being aware of the former, on Maund’s view. “In conscious attentive perception, one perceives physical objects and their qualities by becoming aware of sensory representations, that is, of a set of quality-instances (tropes) that are natural signs for the objects in question” (71).

The sensory representations activated in a perception are not the object of which the perceiver is aware (66). “The perception of physical objects is direct (and immediate) but . . . nevertheless [it] operates through awareness of intermediaries” (68). Because of the latter element in perceptual experience, Maund calls his theory a hybrid direct-indirect theory of perception.

Is it legitimate to call some component or aspect of perceptual processing representational (or representative)? Is this use of representation only an analogy with our representations in drawing a stick-man or in making a statement?

Yes, it is legitimate. No, it is not an analogy, not any more than chemical affinity is an analogy with human affinity.

The successful interpreter of the representation must be able to recognize the referent when she detects and discriminates it, she must be able to recognize the representation when she detects and discriminates it, and she must be able to recognize the representation as a representation of that referent. [I nod to John Haugeland’s “Pattern and Being” in [i]Having Thought[/i] (1998).]

Biological systems that are incapable of recognition are incapable of being interpreters of representations. Can the preattentive conscious elements in our episodes of attentive perception recognize something? That question is highly pertinent for an assessment of Professor Maund’s representative realism. But I want to address a more radical question. Can preconscious elements in our perceptual processing recognize something?

I say not. There are pattern-recognition systems, machines we have invented or the natural neuronal pattern-recognition systems. This use of the term recognition is an analogy. Neuronal pattern-recognition systems are part of what makes our genuine recognition possible. Genuine recognition is attained, however, only when those subsystems are hooked up in the right ways in a high-level animal brain.

Is it possible that activity patterns in some of the neuronal subsystems subserving our perceptions are representations? To be sure, such neuronal subsystems’ activity patterns cannot be an interpreter of representations, for they cannot genuinely recognize anything. Can they be representations?

They meet Fred Dretske’s requirement for a representational system. They are systems having functions “to indicate how things stand with respect to some other object, condition, or magnitude” [Explaining Behavior (1988) 22). The sense of indication here is simply causal. Rabbit tracks naturally indicate a rabbit whether or not they are recognized as indicators of a rabbit. As a result of plant evolution, the collumella region of the cap of a gravitropic root has the function of indicating the direction of gravity. The collumella region of such a root of such a plant is a representational system, on Dretske’s view.

To count as a representational system, I think we need Dretske’s requirements, but we need more besides. Animals such as humans, and even birds and insects, have more indirect and more complex reactions to their external environment than gravitropism. Behavior of these organisms is very active compared to plant tropisms. Such animals actively search out information from the world, information that is needed for them to perform successful actions.

In many mammals (and especially in humans), the retina is nonuniform, with a fovea that provides particularly detailed information about the visual scene. Thus, the successive fixations must be integrated, with the information acquired with the eyes in one position remapped as the eyes move. Other sensory modalities, such as audition and touch, also must be integrated into this evolving representation of the visually perceived world. (37)

In the saccadic system, the brainstem saccade generator converts space (retinotopic code) to time (firing of the excitatory burst neurons). The working memory holds a “plan” (the retinotopic position of targets) until it is executed, whereas dynamic remapping updates the plan as [saccadic] action proceeds. (67)

Neural Organization: Structure, Function, and Dynamics
Arbib, Èrdi, and Szentágothai
MIT 1998



Saccades are essential to the formation of our integrated percepts of visual scenes. These coordinated actions in the visual system can perform automatically for us, without our conscious direction of the steps. In this context, we find the scientists quoted above talking of information, remapping (so mapping), representation, and retinotopic code. These are legitimate concepts in this context. They are not concepts merely analogous to representation in the sense entailing genuine recognition and conscious action. (And they are not ‘stolen concepts’.)

Neuronal subsystems subserving our perceptions do have indicating functions that feed into our perceptions. So they meet Dretske’s condition for being representational (sub)systems. The representations subserving perception are neither iconic nor language-like. They are distributed computational representations. The sense of representations here is the mathematical one (cast perhaps very generally, say perhaps the one in terms of objects and morphisms in mathematical category theory), but instanced in the operational setting of functioning neuronal systems. So the morphisms, or mappings, of the mathematical representations are actually being performed by physical neuronal activity.

I do not have an argument to the effect that all of our conscious representations—imagination, memory, conceptualization, planning—must be held by neuronal processing that is representational in the mathematical sense. But one notable research program progressing under the hypothesis of such a dependency is displayed in this book:

The Harmonic Mind
From Neural Computation to Optimality-Theoretic Grammar

Smolensky and Legendre
MIT 2006


http://rebirthofreas...ns/1759.shtml#4
http://rebirthofreas...ns/1759.shtml#6

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Related:

http://www.objectivi...amp;#entry16328

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 25 January 2009 - 09:00 AM.


#3 Roger Bissell

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 02:48 AM

A question concerning Roger’s concept of ontological objectivity in application to perception:

If I grasp a baseball in my hand, I sense its size, shape, rigidity, texture, and weight. I toss it well above me and snatch it from its fall with a smack. When I perceive the trajectory and the falling speed, when I perceive the sting and the sound of the smack, when I perceive the shape, rigidity, texture, and weight of the ball, are some of these things and aspects exactly as they are without my perception? Is the answer known? If we can answer that some of these things or aspects are exactly as they are without our perception of them, then aren't those things, just as we perceive them, physically intrinsic, not ontologically objective?

I have the baseball in my hand. I squeeze it and sense its rigidity. Compared to a ball of modeling clay, the baseball is very rigid. My question for Roger's distinction of the ontologically objective is whether the rigidity of the baseball that I sense is intrinsic as distinct from ontologically objective. When I sense the ball's rigidity, am I sensing a physical quality of the ball itself---exactly that quality it has when left in a vise in the shop, say? Is rigidity or anything at all that we perceive known to be in itself exactly as we perceive it?

If Yes, then some of our perception is of the variety known as direct realism. If No, then all such allegedly direct perceptions, such as rigidity of the baseball, are correctly analyzed as: (1) indirect realism or (2) idealism.

Roger's characterization of all sensory perception as ontologically objective in an epistemological tripartition of intrinsic-objective-subjective would seem to fit most easily with the indirect realist account of perception. That is the dominant school in contemporary philosophy of perception. The milestone work The Problem of Perception (2002) by A. D. Smith is a sustained argument against the coherence of indirect realism. It defends direct realism. I expect it is known to readers here that the preeminent defense of direct realism anchored expressly in Rand's metaphysics is David Kelley's The Evidence of the Senses (1986).

On Roger's account of perceptual awareness, I don't see how we could ever know if the rigidity of my baseball as I experience it is the very quality of the ball as it is when locked in a vise in the shop. I cannot know the sameness, even if I reach my fingers around the ball and squeeze it while it is locked in that vise. It seems that on Roger's account, it is an indirect realism, not direct realism, that gives the best account of perception. Roger anchors his account in Rand's metaphysics, and his account would seem to be a competitor to, not simply a sub-account of Kelley's.


First, I would think it is obvious that one and the same aspect of reality can exist both apart from a given person's consciousness of that thing, and as the object of that person's consciousness. Is it one and the same aspect of reality? Well, yes, it is--just in different situations. It is either the object of a specific relationship of objectivity between itself and a perceiver--or it is not the object of a specific relationship of objectivity between itself and that perceiver. But in either case, it is the same aspect of reality.

As for direct vs. indirect realism, I will offer my comments from the last discussion we had on this subject, over on Rebirth of Reason, back in 2006. I wrote:

I confess that I have not read more than about half of Smith's The Problem of Perception (2002). Stephen and I were reading it together as part of a joint writing project last year, and when he withdrew from the project, I set the book aside. However, while I'm not sure I fully agree with Smith, I will say that his book is quite challenging and interesting, and that it makes a good case for the distinction (which Rand and Peikoff reject) as being not only compatible with, but necessary for, a theory of direct perceptual realism.

However, in arguing against the distinction, Peikoff makes the argument that, at least in theory, all of our perceptual awareness of things in reality could be via their causal consequences, rather than penetrating right to their physical essences. Even things taking the form of entities could be not intrinsic to their nature, but instead the result of how reality interacts with our forms of perceptual awareness. And that even if this were so, it would not imperil the validity of the senses, or negate our being in cognitive contact with reality. I think that Carolyn Ray, Thomas Radcliffe, and David Jilk (and others?) have argued this point in various Objectivist settings, making a radical case that seems to take Peikoff's speculation as the most logical explanation of the nature of reality and our knowledge of it.

The question I see is this: do we characterize that perceptual awareness of reality which comes to us via a thing's causal consequences (sound waves, light waves, surface resistance, etc.) as "indirect," as Stephen seems to suggest -- or as "direct," as Rand, Peikoff, and Kelley argue? Is this kind of cognitive contact with reality (and is there any other kind?) "indirect," because it gets its data from the object of awareness by means of a causal interaction with something the object has done (e.g., emitting light waves) -- or "direct," because this causal interaction provides contact with a real aspect of the existence of the object of awareness?

If Stephen and Smith are correct, then some of the objects of our awareness, being ontologically objective (the objects of awareness), are "just as they are" in their physically intrinsic state. Personally, I think that, since all awareness is processed, our awareness of things in reality is always "in some form." Awareness is not being; it is of being. Things in reality, however exist in some form of being, and a form of being is not the same as a form of awareness. I am wondering if this isn't the root error in intrinsicism.


To this, I have to add a few more thoughts, in reply to Stephen. And please note, I have changed my terminology a bit since that earlier discussion. I now speak of existentially objective (instead of ontologically objective), and I now speak of cognitively objective (instead of epistemically objective). This allows me to use abbreviations, ObjectiveE and ObjectiveC, that also connote the existence and the consciousness sides of the objectivity relationship.

1. I think that my view of perception is very close to David Kelley's. Whether he wishes to acknowledge it or not, he has replicated the same dual-aspect feature of the objective in his account of perception that I have also pointed out in earlier writings of Rand and in Peikoff's OPAR.

In Bissell 2007, I drew on a distinction made, at least implicitly, over 40 years ago by Rand between what I call the “existentially objective” and the “cognitively objective.” As Rand notes, in every issue regarding the relationship between existence and consciousness, the objective arises as an alternative to the false dichotomy of intrinsic vs. subjective.

What Rand did not explicitly point out, however, is that the relationship between existence and consciousness, being a dyadic relationship, has two poles: the thing in reality of which one is conscious, and the conscious being one is that is aware of something in reality. There is a thing in reality that is held as an object of awareness and there is an act of awareness (by a conscious being) that holds a thing in reality as its object. More simply: there is something that exists that one is cognitively adhering to, and one who is cognitively adhering to that existing thing.

..........................COGNITIVE RELATION...................................
...............................(OBJECTIVITY)..................................
OBJECT------------------------------------------SUBJECT
THING IN REALITY OF..................................ONE WHO IS AWARE
WHICH ONE IS AWARE.................................OF THING IN REALITY

This relation of cognitive adherence, of holding and being held as cognitive object, is a relation of objectivity. The existentially objective, or ObjectiveE, then, is “the ontological aspect of the objective…that which pertains to an aspect of existence insofar as it is held as the object of an act of consciousness,” the object-pole of the objectivity relation—and the cognitively objective, or ObjectiveC, is “the epistemic aspect of the objective…that which pertains to an act of consciousness insofar as it holds as its object an aspect of existence,” the subject-pole of the objectivity relation.

As I have argued, this dual-aspect nature of the objective runs throughout Rand’s epistemology, though it has not been widely recognized just how extensively it applies. It even pertains to the perceptual level, despite the fact that various Randian commentators (apparently at Rand’s own urging) have rejected the notion of perceptual objectivity. For instance, consider the question: where does redness exist? Redness is the apple as it appears to me, i.e., an aspect of the way the apple appears to me “in respect of [its] reflectance properties,” and redness is a form in which I am aware of the apple, an aspect “of the means by which [I am] directly aware of those properties” (Kelley 1986, 111).

Perceptual content (or appearance) and perceptual form are the two inseparable aspects of the objective in the field of perception, aspects which, like the perceptual object and the perceptual subject, I refer to as ObjectiveE and ObjectiveC, respectively. They are the relational attributes that arise from the relationship of perceptual objectivity between an aspect of reality and a perceiver who holds it as the object of perception. Specifically, perceptual appearance (or content) is a relational attribute of the thing in reality that is the object of perception, and perceptual form is a relational attribute of one’s conscious process that is the act of perception.

Now, Kelley would perhaps demur from my citing his analysis as an example of the dual-aspect of the objective, but it clearly fits the pattern, which can be extended to numerous other issues, including the nature of the mind (as explored in my forthcoming article in the somewhat delayed Fall 2008 issue of JARS), the nature of will (JARS, forthcoming), and the nature of conceptual units (JARS, forthcoming).

2. I do distinguish here between the object and the content (or appearance) of perception (and of cognition in general). Although the difference may seem to be subtle, the object of perception is the thing in reality that appears to our perceptual awareness, and the content of perception is the thing in reality as it appears to our perceptual awareness.

For instance, if I look at a red apple, the red apple that exists intrinsically in reality becomes the object of my perception, but its appearing to me as a red, round, solid entity is the existentially objective content of my perception. Perceptual content or appearance is thus a relational attribute—viz., a condition—of a thing in reality, and that attribute arises from that thing's being the object of perception. Thus, insofar as a thing in reality becomes the existentially objective object of perception, it also thereby becomes the existentially objective content (or appearance) of perception.

Similarly, I distinguish between the act and the form of perception (and of cognition in general). The act of perception is the conscious process that grasps a thing in reality in a certain manner, and the form of perception is that conscious process as it grasps a thing in reality in a certain manner. Form is a relational attribute of a person’s conscious process, and that attribute arises from that conscious process's being an act of perception. Thus, insofar as a conscious process becomes a cognitively objective act of perception, it also thereby becomes the cognitively objective form of cognition.

3. If someone has a better way of explaining the nature of conscious content, showing that it is intimately related to the object of consciousness, yet subtly different from it, I would like to see it. In the meantime, it makes sense to me to regard perception as a form of direct awareness in which we are in cognitive contact with something by means of the causal effects it generates in us. We are perceptually aware of the object of perception by means of its appearing to us in a certain way, which results from its generating certain results in us. You can't get much more direct than this, folks!

Stephen mentioned certain people who have a sort of hybrid direct-indirect view. In a way, my view, which I take to be Rand's also, falls into this category. I was struck by how similar my view is to that of John Searle in his book Intentionality as well as to that of Benny Shanon. They characterize perception as working by means of certain conscious contents which represent the thing in reality. We do not, however, perceive the representation by looking ~at~ it, as though it were an opaque proxy standing "vertically" between us and the thing in reality, but rather we perceive the thing in reality through/by means of the representation, looking "horizontally" through the representation at ~the thing in reality~.

Appearance/content is existentially objective, and representation/form is cognitively objective. These are not things that exist independently of a particular relationship between consciousness and existence, but they are ~aspects of~ things which exist independently of that particular relationship, even if the aspects do not. (The perceived solidity of the ball is not a thing that exists independently of my awareness of it, but it is an aspect of a thing, the ball's solidity, that ~does~ exist independently of my awareness of it.)

I don't know if this is clear enough to advance the discussion. Feedback and questions are welcome.

REB
Objectivism, properly used, is a tool for living, not a weapon with which to bash those one disagrees with.

#4 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 04:18 AM

Roger,

You triggered some thoughts and here is a ramble. Please do not take any of this as an insinuation that you were saying one thing or another. I am not critiquing your position, but instead going off on a tangent from thinking about these things over a long period of time. However, I do believe there is much in common with what you stated and what I write below.

You mentioned the "false dichotomy of intrinsic vs. subjective," and I am beginning to wonder if there isn't some level where objective vs. intrinsic/subjective is a false dichotomy.

This is the issue of scope I keep mentioning that I stumble across in several places in Objectivist thought: either perception is objective or it is intrinsic/subjective with no possibility for cases including aspects of both. When I look at reality, it just isn't that way. Some facets of perception are intrinsic, like the way we exist, and some parts are subjective, like when our volition kicks in. Maybe objective really means understanding which is which and bringing it all together.

What strikes me about direct perception is that we only have direct contact with little tiny thingies in reality (usually waves), never the big thingies like the whole form of an entity. We process these tiny thingies in our minds into bigger thingies bearing form, but they also exist as part of bigger thingies in reality that have form.

My question for a long time with ITOE is that how can we perceive something like a form and call this objective if it did not exist in the first place? For example, doesn't a species of life reproduce the same general form over and over throughout the existence of the species? The instructions might be in a tiny DNA molecule, but the existing form is "out there," much much bigger than the DNA molecule, in one member of the species after another.

My other question is that instead of perception being only one side ("in here" or CognitiveC as you put it) or only the other side ("out there" or CognitiveE), why isn't it considered both? In other words, our mind has a specific nature and such nature observes the same laws of the universe that govern the rest of existence. Since the rest of existence is made the same way as our minds are, we can process "out there" abstractly and be accurate. The direct perception of little thingies and the triggered input of electrical and biochemical impulses along our nerve pathways is an interface between these two parts of awareness and I believe they are the reason—the direct evidence—we can legitimately arrive at fundamental axioms. "In here" and "out there" are totally merged in such instance.

This hybrid way of thinking, as you put it, would account for the fact that we can accurately perceive and integrate a form that exists, and we can create imaginary abstractions of things that have form but that don't exist—even forms that don't exist.

I see six facets of this issue that jump out at me (and there are probably more, since this is off the top of my head):

1. Form (a manner of organization producing individual existents) exists in entities and other existents "out there," and these form-bearing existents emanate and/or bounce off little tiny thingies (like waves) to the universe at large.
2. Form exists in the same manner of organization "in here" as "out there," but "in here" the little tiny thingies that emanate are electrical and biochemical impulses that trigger muscle action, hormones, etc.
3. We have direct contact with little tiny thingies from an existent bearing a specific form "out there" and can accurately reassemble that same form "in here" as an idea.
4. We can create new forms "in here" that do not come from little tiny thingies "out there," but we do rely on memories of ones that came before, and even memories of forms we previously integrated.
5. Our minds come biologically prewired in many other areas that overlap our perception-and-integration of "out there," but also has a measure of volitional independence in doing this.
6. One special part of direct perception is observing our own mental processes through introspection—and this process itself observes the same laws of nature as the ones for the rest of the universe.

Instead of any one of these predominating over the other, they all interconnect and are different features of the same thing (like, as I mentioned before, different facets of the same gemstone, which you can look at separately but cannot extract existentially from the whole).

A biological malfunction and limitation can account for errors in perception, but not an existential misalignment like our minds operating on principles different than those that govern reality. We are part of reality in terms of laws of nature, not separate from it. The beauty of thinking like this is that a standard for correct perception can be defined objectively and with certainty. It can be measured and predicted.

I consider thinking about form a "top down" perspective and about the little tiny thingies we directly perceive a "bottom up" perspective. One doesn't exist in our minds without the other.

Michael

Know thyself...


#5 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 06:45 AM

Thank you, Roger, for the elaborations in your post.

I have wondered if your conception of a type of objectivity (your E-C coin) might facilitate an analysis of perceptual illusions (e.g. bent-looking straight stick in water, Mach bands, motion-illusions) and hallucinations that reaches further than the analyses given so far by Branden, Kelley, or Peikoff elaborations of Rand. I mean an analysis contributing to a sound resolution of the accurately stated problem of perception, as in its statement by A. D. Smith.

You remarked:

I do distinguish here between the object and the content (or appearance) of perception (and of cognition in general). Although the difference may seem to be subtle, the object of perception is the thing in reality that appears to our perceptual awareness, and the content of perception is the thing in reality as it appears to our perceptual awareness.

Yes, I make that distinction also, as do many other philosophers evidently. From my 1994 essay “Volitional Synapses” (Obj V2N1):

The technical, Randian sense of consciousness⎯reality consciousness⎯is the fundamental sense, I expect. Its relation to the more ordinary sense, I suggest, is as follows: All consciousness is distinctive against other sorts of living process on account of its intentionality. As observed by Brentano, Husserl, Sartre, and others, consciousness always refers or is directed beyond. It comes no other way; it always has a content and an attending subject. Across conscious experiences, the content is variable, the subject steadfast (as Leibniz emphasized). It seems that content as such and subject as such exist interdependently, and they are peculiar to the process we call consciousness. Now when the content is identically something in reality (just now, this printed sentence), then the conscious episode is of the special Randian genre. It is then reality consciousness. The content-subject relation may in that sort of episode most deservedly be called the object-subject relation. (119)

Rand seemed also to make this distinction between object and content, but in a most charming way. “Directly or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one’s awareness of the external world. Some object, i.e., some content, is involved in every state of awareness” (ITOE 29). Writers sometimes use “i.e.” or “that is” to mean “identically equivalent.” But sometimes we use “i.e.” or “that is” to mean “so also, necessarily at hand.” First Rand gets attention on the external world with perception of it being dependent attendant. Her term object in the next sentence rises first as in the external world, but then she turns it, by “i.e., some content,” from object in external world to also object of consciousness, to also object as in consciousness. In the same wave, Rand’s “i.e.” turns from the “identically equivalent” meaning to the “so also, necessarily at hand” meaning.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 26 January 2009 - 06:56 AM.


#6 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 07:34 AM

Stephen,

I need to chew on your essay and posts a little more to get into them properly, but I do have a question that seems to be at root in a few points I noticed on my initial couple of skims. (This is the way I read difficult material—skimming it a few times before reading it slowly and in depth).

I detect a notion that just because science can, say, measure a light wave coming from many different sources, the light waves and photons coming from a particular source have no fundamental connection to it as an existent. Photons are treated as separate entities or existents. I noticed this in the discussion on "intermediaries," for instance.

Yet the groups of photons and light waves are what directly cause us to visually perceive the form of the existent from whence they come.

So shouldn't what I call the "little tiny thingies" that enter our sensory organs be considered as part of the existent from whence they come, even if only a temporary part, and not as something totally separate?

Michael

Know thyself...


#7 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 08:26 AM

Yes, Michael. Patterns in light waves reaching the eye are natural indicators, in many ways, of the character of the light sources. Cognizance of some of those indications is automated, by evolution and normal individual development, in perception. We see edges thanks to patterns in the light coming from their region and thanks to the responses of our visual system.

Similarly, as I wrote in “Induction on Identity” in 1991,

There are . . . cases in which it seems sensible to say that a thing bears in itself part of the identity of its cause. Examples would be die castings, fingerprints, . . . . Another example would be the causation of thunder by lightning. There are patterns in the lightning that persist in and can be perceived in the complex waveform of the ensuing thunder. A signature of the lightning is borne by the thunder it generates. (Obj V1N3, 11)

The Aristotelian tradition agrees with your thoughts, in your previous post on this thread, about forms outside coming inside. The modern scientific vista also concurs in that, but aims to specify the forms concretely.

#8 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 08:55 AM

Stephen,

Thank you for your answer. After all the big words, that's a relief!

:)

You guys make it hard to keep up, especially for a person now studying and working with Internet marketing 30 hours a day...

But bring it on. We can only get better like this.

btw - I really like that phrase: "a thing bears in itself part of the identity of its cause."

Michael

Know thyself...


#9 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 09:10 AM

I know I am going to get into hot water for this, but I have to say it. I have been chewing over a phrase Rand wrote in the Introduction to ITOE for about 30 years and I have been resisting what the insinuation is:

Where is the "manness" in men? What, in reality, corresponds to the concept "man" in our mind?

In the history of philosophy, there are, essentially, four schools of thought on this issue:

1. The "extreme realists" or Platonists, who hold that abstractions exist as real entities or archetypes in another dimension of reality and that the concretes we perceive are merely their imperfect reflections, but the concretes evoke the abstractions in our mind. (According to Plato, they do so by evoking the memory of the archetypes which we had known, before birth, in that other dimension.)

2. The "moderate realists," whose ancestor (unfortunately) is Aristotle, who hold that abstractions exist in reality, but they exist only in concretes, in the form of metaphysical essences, and that our concepts refer to these essences.

3. The "nominalists," who hold that all our ideas are only images of concretes, and that abstractions are merely "names" which we give to arbitrary groupings of concretes on the basis of vague resemblances.

4. The "conceptualists," who share the nominalists' view that abstractions have no actual basis in reality, but who hold that concepts exist in our minds as some sort of ideas, not as images.

(There is also the extreme nominalist position, the modern one, which consists of declaring that the problem is a meaningless issue, that "reality" is a meaningless term, that we can never know whether our concepts correspond to anything or not, that our knowledge consists of words—and that words are an arbitrary social convention.)

If, in the light of such "solutions," the problem might appear to be esoteric, let me remind you that the fate of human societies, of knowledge, of science, of progress and of every human life, depends on it. What is at stake here is the cognitive efficacy of man's mind.

Rand identifies her thinking as No. 4. I read that right-side up, upside down and from all different kinds of angles, and I have done so for years. But the only conclusion I can come to is that Rand is saying that the mind is not built in the same manner as the rest of the universe and does not follow the same manner of organization.

If "the fate of human societies, of knowledge, of science, of progress and of every human life, depends on" this, then it is imperative to get it right. And for the life of me, I see no reason to place consciousness outside the same laws of nature everything else abides by.

Michael

Know thyself...


#10 Brant Gaede

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 09:57 AM

Why is it "imperative to get it right"? Rigorous, critical thinking, yes, but not this. Ideas are in our heads and our heads are part of reality. All we are talking about is the physical nature and attributes of consciousness. Combustion is inside my car's engine when it is running. It is not outside the engine yet it makes my car go. We don't say this combustion is outside or apart from reality. If you replace "concept" with "idea" this becomes clearer. We use "concept" because the process of thinking is conceptual--that is forming concepts and using them.

--Brant

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--limited government libertarian heavily influenced by Objectivism


#11 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 10:41 AM

No, Michael, Rand’s theory of concepts is not any of those four.
http://rebirthofreas...ns/1772.shtml#1

In Rand’s theory, concepts are regarded as objective, “as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must by performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” (54).

The dimension(s), for example, that compose the frame of a concept in Randian form are not arbitrarily posited. Those dimensions have to be found in the world (or in rational thought itself) by perception (and by categorical perception I would add) or they have to be found by rational thought upon perceptual experience.

Rand’s sense of objective here is her normative one, of course. That is her metaphysical/epistemological coin of objectivity. Roger’s different coin⎯his existential/cognitive sense of objectivity⎯also applies.

#12 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 10:46 AM

Brant,

I said "if." I was using Rand's premise in an "if then" conditional construction. Maybe it would have been clearer if I had said,

If, as Rand claims, "the fate of human societies, of knowledge, of science, of progress and of every human life, depends on" this, then it is imperative to get it right. If not, not.

:)

Also, I don't think you got my point. In my view, our minds form abstract structures that perfectly reflect the actual structures in the rest of the universe because both are made of the same stuff. In other words, abstractions follow the same organization as you find in the rest of reality.

As I understand it, Rand's statement (No. 4) insinuates differently.

Michael

Know thyself...


#13 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 10:59 AM

Stephen,

I think you just took a big burden off my shoulders. I had presumed for years that when Rand started immediately blasting people for their attack on man's conceptual faculty right after that statement, she was identifying herself as a conceptualist.

Dayaamm, I'm dumb sometimes!

Rand was actually proposing a fifth alternative.

Ufa!

At least a huge irritation that has always nagged at me is now dissipated.

(My previous post to Brant crossed with yours, so it obviously no longer means that Rand holds to No. 4.)

Thank you.

Michael

EDIT: You wrote in the RoR link:

In her view, the properties and relations on which universals and concepts are based—properties and relations such as identity, similarity, and having measurable dimensions—are concrete circumstances that occur independently of whether we grasp them and compose our concepts with them.

This is how I understand concepts and this is what I understood Rand to say elsewhere. That is why Rand's statement appeared so out of tune to me when I thought she was identifying herself as a conceptualist. But I take this explicitly further by claiming that both reality and the mind are made of the same stuff, which is why (and how) concepts work.

EDIT 2: Here is another quote from the same RoR post that I heartily endorse:

Abstract entities like numbers and sets are traceable to sensory perception. They are ontologically and cognitively objective. There is no need to take them to be intrinsic, no need to take them to be mind-independent archetypes accessed by mysterious means.

I have been thinking in circles about how to say this clearly when people say math and logic are not connected to reality.

I need to read more of your stuff. I admit, the big words and academic tone are obstacles for the amount of time I have right now, but we definitely are on the same wavelength conclusion-wise, at least from what I have read.

Know thyself...


#14 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 09 February 2009 - 02:53 AM

More Recent Work on Realization

There will be an Author-Meets-Critics session on Sydney Shoemaker’s Physical Realization (Oxford 2007) at the Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. http://www.amazon.co...008#reader-link

The meeting will be held in Vancouver at the Westin Bayshore. This session will be on April 10th at 1:00–4:00 p.m.

Critics:

Louise Antony
http://www.umass.edu...ulty/antony.htm

Jaegwon Kim
http://www.amazon.co...001#reader-link

Andrew Melnyk
http://www.amazon.co...001#reader-link

Author: Sydney Shoemaker
http://www.arts.corn.../shoemaker.html

~~~~~~~~~~~

The session of the Ayn Rand Society will be in the preceding evening.
http://www.objectivi...amp;#entry63802

#15 Neil Parille

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Posted 09 February 2009 - 06:47 AM

Stephen,

Is it really the case, as Rand seems to think, that all nominalists and conceptualists believe that abstractions have "no basis in reality"?

I would also question Rand's claim about the fate of science, etc. resting on the correct theory of concept formation. Consider all the progress made in mathematics in the 20th century even though mathematicians weren't even able to agree on what a number is.

-Neil Parille

#16 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 09 February 2009 - 09:12 AM

I have been thinking in circles about how to say this clearly when people say math and logic are not connected to reality.


Clearly no conceptual system can exist in a sensory, perceptual and intuitive vacuum. However the most advanced portions of abstract mathematics such as category theory and algebraic topology are at a greater distance from the perceptual and intuitive than, say, the mathematics of motion (calculus and differential equations). No thought system truly exists in a vacuum. But the abstract approach loosens the bonds of visual intuition and perceptual memory in such a way that objects can be formulated ( or created ) which cannot be truly visualized such as six dimensional manifolds used in string theory (Calabi-Yau manifolds).

So there is not a total disconnect from (physical) reality but a distancing.

Ba'al Chataf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#17 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 09 February 2009 - 09:54 AM

Bob,

This is basically how I see it. I am against the notion that math and logic are completely severed from "out there" reality.

Michael

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#18 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 10 February 2009 - 06:54 AM

Post #15 was addressed to Stephen, but I will jump in anyway. He can still respond if he so chooses.

Is it really the case, as Rand seems to think, that all nominalists and conceptualists believe that abstractions have "no basis in reality"?

Surely not all. These are Rand's straw men. You can probably find somebody who holds that view, but it is false for the main nominalists in philosophy like William of Ockham and Thomas Hobbes and also for conceptualists. Indeed, Rand herself is a conceptualist, whether or not she liked the label. Nominalism and conceptualism were born as revolts against Plato's Theory of Forms and its offspring.

I would also question Rand's claim about the fate of science, etc. resting on the correct theory of concept formation.

I question it, too, strongly. There is a big difference between being able to do X and articulate how one does X. The inability to articulate doing X does not imply incompetency at X nor that the capability to do X will die.

Consider all the progress made in mathematics in the 20th century even though mathematicians weren't even able to agree on what a number is.

If lack of universal agreement is regarded as total failure, then philosophy in general is a total failure. I know what a number is and lots of people do. Again, competency and articulation are two different things.

Edited by Merlin Jetton, 10 February 2009 - 07:39 AM.


#19 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 08:59 AM

Stephen responds to Neil's post 15 here.

Stephen classifies Rand as a 'resemblance nominalist' there. That is based on David Armstrong's classification of positions on universals, under which 'concepualism' is not a separate category. That is also the case for the Wikipedia article here. My calling Rand a 'conceptualist' was not based on Armstrong's classification, but in the way the term is used here, for example.

#20 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 11:57 AM

Hold on. I did not classify Rand as a resemblance nominalist. I said her theory is more similar to resemblance nominalism than it is similar to concept nominalism. I denied that her Objectivist theory is a nominalism of any stripe, and I denied that it is a realism, moderate or extreme.

Informative posts, Merlin. I should underscore also that when Peter Saint-Andre classified Abelard and Rand as conceptualists (JARS V4N1), he too was using a notion of conceptualism that did not coincide with the divisions in the Armstrong canon.

I hope that this thread can be preserved for a steady discussion of sensory qualities and philosophy of perception. Discusssion of concepts can proceed in that other thread.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 11 February 2009 - 12:02 PM.





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