• Srap Tasmaner
    3.1k


    I'll add one more point before calling it a night: if objects are assembled out of our sense impressions by our internal model-making machinery, we might expect this fact to be disguised better. That is, we shouldn't have to learn to associate the scent of just cut grass with the look of just cut grass --- our model should have already taken steps to convince us that this scent and this look go together perfectly naturally. We shouldn't be surprised that they go together, and have to learn that this is normal. The model should be a better liar than that.

    I think it's an excellent question, the best question I've seen on here in a very long time. I think it might be a really fruitful way of looking at how we think about our senses, so heading in a very different direction from yours I think.
  • Manuel
    1.6k


    Yeah, I'm calling it a night too.

    I certainly agree with what you say. It seems our model should be a better liar, and we shouldn't be confused or surprised by sounds or smells.

    I'm glad you like the question. It's nice to find someone who thinks of this too.

    Talk to you soon.
  • TheMadFool
    12.6k
    Yes, I think you raised an important point, the arbitrary aspect. What would be rational to expect of something to smell like? We begin (almost) already in it, we grow up to an age in which we just assume meat smells this way and no some other way, and that flowers smell like this.

    But as to what they should smell like, based on how they appear, is a good question which I don't have an answer for.
    Manuel

    Innate knowledge? The horseness of a neigh - a neigh is part of the (Platonic) form of horses. Someone who hears a neigh a for the first time might immediately recognize it as horse's vocalization. :chin:

    As I tried to point out, the chemical and physical structure of objects determine their properties. Does this answer your question or does it not? if it does then there are reasons why objects appear to us as they do - the way they look, smell, taste, sound and feel are functions of their, how shall I put it?, essence. In a sense then an object's qualities, all of them, are fundamental to them and that messes up Hume's (?) [@Srap Tasmaner] primary vs secondary qualities distinction.

    Working my way through my confusion. I mean, sure, objects don't need to many properties by necessity. If you are blind and deaf and lack a sense of tactile sensations, there aren't many properties to uncover.

    Properties being, properties for us: induced by objects so that we feel that way we do when we encounter them.

    But to expect a property-less object is perhaps going too far.
    Manuel


    A property-less object? How does one distinguish that from nothing? Is this too off-topic?
  • StreetlightX
    7.5k
    Hm, the comparison of sight to the other senses is not homologous. You say that what you see resembles what is seen (how could it not?). OK, a little odd, but fine. But then you say that the smell of grass does not resemble grass. But what does that even mean? It seems to mean: the smell of grass does not resemble the sight of grass. But why the privileging of sight? After all, it doesn't seem like the reverse operation is admissable - why not say, 'the sight of grass does not resemble the smell of grass?'.

    In other words, what you call 'resemblance' already takes sight as its privileged sense. But why? Why is 'the wall which produces the sensation' understood on the modality of sight - a conflation of a sensory modality with the sheer existence of the wall as such.

    The very language of resemblance is odd too: the idea is that you have two terms, X and Y, where one can or cannot resemble the other. But in the case of sight, the issue of resemblance apparently does not apply, insofar as there is simply one term: 'that which is seen'. But for some reason - and the confusion here seems linguistic rather than substantial - two terms are admitted (arbitrarily?) for the other senses, except, having conflated sight with existence, every other sensory modality is judged to fail to 'live up to' the 'resemblance' understood as 'what it looks like'. But what kind of problem is this? Seems to me like asking why a fish can't climb a tree, despite the fact that for some inexplicable reason the fish seems to do very well in water. But the problem here is not with the fish, but the question itself. But perhaps I'm missing something. If so, what?

    Yet another consideration: from a phenomenological standpoint, this separation of sensory modalities is artificial from the get-go. The idea that things don't smell like they look, or feel like they sound is simply not true to experience, outside of some very narrow and artificial boundaries. To quote Alphonso Lingis:

    "A thing is not a whole assembled by the central nervous system out of separate sensory data, nor is it a conceptual term posited by the mind and used to interpret the data being recorded on the separate senses. The sense organ focused on a pattern is a segment of the whole interconnected mass of the sensory nervous system. What we pick up with the eyes is already sensed by the whole sensitive substance of our body. When we see the yellow, it already looks homogeneous or pulpy, hard or soft, dense or vaporous, it already registers on our taste and smell; anything that looks like brown sugar will not taste like a lemon. To see it better and to see it as a thing is to position oneself before it and converge one's sensory surfaces upon it. It is the postural schema that comprehends things. To recognize a lemon is not to conceive the idea of a lemon on the occasion of certain sensory impressions; it is to know how to approach such a thing, how to handle it, so that its distinctive way of filling and bulging out space, its distinctive way of concentrating color and density and sourness there becomes clear and distinct" (Lingis, Sensation).

    Or in yet other words: all sensing is synesthetic from the get-go, and the parcelling out of senses into discrete modalities is an artificial, analytic operation undertaken after the fact, on the basis of a rationalist confusion.
  • Manuel
    1.6k
    Innate knowledge? The horseness of a neigh - a neigh is part of the (Platonic) form of horses. Someone who hears a neigh a for the first time might immediately recognize it as horse's vocalization. :chin:TheMadFool

    Knowledge can be a problematic word when applied to animals. Innate dispositions might be better. The have a nature such that when an object induces in the animals the relevant sensory organ, they recognize the object as food or predator or mate, etc.

    As I tried to point out, the chemical and physical structure of objects determine their properties. Does this answer your question or does it not? if it does then there are reasons why objects appear to us as they do - the way they look, smell, taste, sound and feel are functions of their, how shall I put it?, essence.TheMadFool

    Yeah. So far as we know it's the chemical properties that cause us to smell objects the way we do. At least we have to include chemicals as an important part of the explanation.

    I think @Srap Tasmaner was on to an important point, which is the similarity of our reports based on different senses. We often see that sight and touch seem to agree with each other, as when we crumple up a piece of paper and aim for the garbage bin.

    But sometimes the reports don't match, a piece of Tupperware may look normal to us and we would expect we could lift up with no problem. Until we touch it and feel an intense burn.

    A property-less object? How does one distinguish that from nothing? Is this too off-topic?TheMadFool

    Depends on how you think of objects. Something lacking all sensible properties could be called nothing.
  • Manuel
    1.6k
    It seems to mean: the smell of grass does not resemble the sight of grass. But why the privileging of sight? After all, it doesn't seem like the reverse operation is admissable - why not say, 'the sight of grass does not resemble the smell of grass?'.StreetlightX

    Yeah, you are right. I'm aware of privileging sight. You could ask the reverse question you are positing. And the answer might be that depending on what you've smelled before, maybe a certain perfume or rolling in mud or whatever, is similar to grass, so when you turn around and see it you are surprised that the smell produced by grass is due to that object, as opposed to mud.

    is judged to fail to 'live up to' the 'resemblance' understood as 'what it looks like'. But what kind of problem is this?StreetlightX

    I think the problem is that of arbitrariness. We could imagine we describe to a blind person how a tree looks like: it's taller than me, hard like a table is bright green at the top, etc. I would assume such a person would form some kind of association with "tall", "bright" and so on. So when the time comes that they recover sight, they could say I expected it to be this tall, but not this colour.

    Clearly they couldn't compare colour to anything else prior to sight, but they had idea of resemblance of height. So the shock is partial.

    Or in yet other words: all sensing is synesthetic from the get-go, and the parcelling out of senses into discrete modalities is an artificial, analytic operation undertaken after the fact, on the basis of a rationalist confusion.StreetlightX

    Sure I agree that objects are synthetic from the get go, in this sense "the given" is already created by us.

    But the distinction between primary and secondary qualities was made by Locke and the idea of "bundles" was Hume's, so it was also an empiricist account. Again, I could be asking a confused question, as you point out, it could be that it's like asking why "fish can't climb a tree".

    Or it may be a very particular puzzle of mine that may dissolve in a bit of time.
  • TheMadFool
    12.6k
    Knowledge can be a problematic word when applied to animals. Innate dispositions might be better. The have a nature such that when an object induces in the animals the relevant sensory organ, they recognize the object as food or predator or mate, etc.Manuel

    Animals know i.e. they possess knowledge (of edible food for example) but probably in ways different from humans. Now that you mention it, the definition of knowledge might need revision to accommodate this fact.

    Yeah. So far as we know it's the chemical properties that cause us to smell objects the way we do. At least we have to include chemicals as an important part of the explanation.

    I think Srap Tasmaner was on to an important point, which is the similarity of our reports based on different senses. We often see that sight and touch seem to agree with each other, as when we crumple up a piece of paper and aim for the garbage bin.

    But sometimes the reports don't match, a piece of Tupperware may look normal to us and we would expect we could lift up with no problem. Until we touch it and feel an intense burn.
    Manuel

    In what sense do you mean "...reports don't match"? It implies you had an expectation, a preconception if you will of how a certain object/phenomenon should look/smell/taste/sound/feel like. Are you Alice (in wonderland)?

    Depends on how you think of objects. Something lacking all sensible properties could be called nothing.Manuel

    Definitional issue, eh?
  • Manuel
    1.6k
    Now that you mention it, the definition of knowledge might need revision to accommodate this fact.TheMadFool

    I think so in the case of animals. For knowledge to be knowledge proper and not just a very broad word implying ordered information or something, it should be explicit knowledge, as in I know that so and so. Raymond Tallis speaks of this quite well.

    It implies you had an expectation, a preconception if you will of how a certain object/phenomenon should look/smell/taste/sound/feel like.TheMadFool

    It's a problem. Again, suppose your senses come back and you see and hear a tree in your garden or park. You might expect that the object is closer that it is, given that much of our information is visual, perhaps more important than tactile sensation.

    But when you reach out to try to touch the tree, it doesn't match what you perceive, as sight and sound suggest the object is, say 5 feet away, when it is actually 8 feet.

    Something like that.

    The thing is, our senses often don't match this way. You can't match music to many things, maybe math. The sensation of warmth isn't really matched by sight.

    So it's curious that they sometimes they do happen to match, as when we accustom ourselves to distances coordinating our vision and tactile sensations.
  • Joshs
    2k
    In what sense do you mean "...reports don't match"? It implies you had an expectation, a preconception if you will of how a certain object/phenomenon should look/smell/taste/sound/feel like. Are you Alice (in wonderland)?TheMadFool

    No, he’s a perceiving organism. Most of what perceive doesn’t come directly fro the world but from our expectations. See Noe and O’Reagan’s work on visual
    perception.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    3.1k


    Here's my first stab at it --- don't know if it's any good.

    What we want, think we want, is for the scent of just cut grass to be to smell what the look of just cut grass is to our vision.

    Suppose we maintain a sort of catalog of scents we have smelled. What matters here is not quite the individual and possibly unique quality of each one, but how we can arrange them. You could imagine a sort of graph or map that would keep similar scents near each other shading off around the periphery into other groups that are more similar to each other than to these, and so on. The point here would be that we would have the opportunity to catalog new unfamiliar scents by their relations to ones we already know, and we could describe scents we have smelled to others who haven't relying on systematic similarities and differences.

    I'm not concerned with whether the underlying psychology here is accurate; what I want is a sort of model of how we think about familiar and unfamiliar sense impressions, how we talk about them with other people, how we might link such behaviors to our actual sensory experiences. Something like what I've described seems good enough for a start.

    And now we can flesh out what it would mean for the scent of just cut grass to be to smell what the look of just cut grass is to vision: the idea is that they would occupy similar positions in our respective sensory catalogs, near the same sorts of things and distant from the same sorts of things, showing the same pattern of similarities and differences, and describable using the same comparisons.

    But there are at least two reasons this doesn't work at all.

    First, the various sensible qualities of objects just fail to match up for us this way. Things that appear to have similar texture -- baby powder and cocoa powder -- have almost nothing else in common in their other qualities. The scent of cocoa leaves might be close to a combination of the scent of powdered cocoa and other sorts of leaves, but it looks like one and unlike the other. Failure everywhere. The way things group together, the whole pattern of relations, the map, is different for each sense.

    The second reason is that the maps don't even have the same population: there are an enormous number of things we have only partial experience of. I can walk through the grocery store and see everywhere foods that I have not tasted but that I now know the look of. The population of the visual catalog explodes here with no additions to the taste catalog at all, not just at the moment anyway. Of course there's no reason to imagine we catalog absolutely everything we see in this way, but the point remains that we have to expect there are objects we took enough interest in to note their look or feel or scent, whatever, but for a large number of these we won't have a complete set of sensory impressions and thus cannot conceivably rely on the same set of similarities and differences to catalog them.

    Is this at all close, you think?

    I'll try to take another swing at why we might think things should match up better. I'm not sure I really get that yet, and it's the most interesting part.
  • Manuel
    1.6k
    What we want, think we want, is for the scent of just cut grass to be to smell what the look of just cut grass is to our vision.Srap Tasmaner

    That's a good direction to go in. We'd want objects to be coherent, as we take them to be in manifest reality.

    The point here would be that we would have the opportunity to catalog new unfamiliar scents by their relations to ones we already know, and we could describe scents we have smelled to others who haven't relying on systematic similarities and differences.Srap Tasmaner

    Then when we bump into a new-ish smell, we would not be surprised by it, because we have a catalogue of similarly smelling things. We might except to predict such smell from sight or touch.

    I'm not concerned with whether the underlying psychology here is accurate; what I want is a sort of model of how we think about familiar and unfamiliar sense impressions, how we talk about them with other people, how we might link such behaviors to our actual sensory experiences. Something like what I've described seems good enough for a start.Srap Tasmaner

    Yes. This is a thought experiment which can provide a heuristic of sorts to get people into sharpening the ideas they may have of particular sensations. If this can inform a science in any way, good. If not, well we've attempted to highlight sense impressions more clearly.

    And now we can flesh out what it would mean for the scent of just cut grass to be to smell what the look of just cut grass is to vision: the idea is that they would occupy similar positions in our respective sensory catalogs, near the same sorts of things and distant from the same sorts of things, showing the same pattern of similarities and differences, and describable using the same comparisonsSrap Tasmaner

    Correct. That would be our "folk psychological" picture.

    Is this at all close, you think?Srap Tasmaner

    I like your intuition and the way you caught on to the gist of my problem.

    What you point out is true, it would be impossible to catalogue every sensation. Yet these very different senses appear to give us a coherent whole. It's very strange, but taken as a given.

    And there's the whole problem of your "red" being my "green", but with smells and sounds. I don't know if when you smell cut grass or when you hear a drum you get the same sensations I do.

    I suspect that we do share similar sensory qualities, but each person accentuates one property over another one.

    It's also interesting to see what senses are relevant for our scientific theories. I think Russell was correct when he points out that vision is our most acute sensation. Then we go to tactile sensations. Then probably sounds. Our sense of smell is quite poor compared to many other mammals.

    Yet while sight gives us good evidence for scientific phenomenon, we paradoxically don't have a science for qualitative colours. Which is strange considering how acquainted we are with colours in our day to day life.

    This is meant to be open ended, and your approach looks useful to me. So quite good in my eyes.
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