• OwenB
    3
    Hello

    My daughter is studying Neuroscience at University and is doing a philosophy module. She has a 1000 word paper to write on this question and is flummoxed as am I.

    Do we infer the unperceived existence of what we perceive from the nature of our experience? If so, how? If not, why not?

    She has been learning about alva noe's enactivist approach as well as Hume and intellectualism but isn't sure on how to incorporate this into an essay

    Can anyone point me in the right direction as I have no idea how to help her?

  • Michael
    13.9k
    Perhaps check out this article:

    Epistemological Problems of Perception
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    Perhaps they meant "perception-independent" rather than "unperceived"?
  • Mark Nyquist
    729

    A horribly worded question....
    An embarrassment to the university.

    You need to parse each word or phrase in a nested set if that is any help.

    Looks like four elements.

    You probably need to start with your best theory of mind to make any progress.
  • Jamal
    9k
    You need to parse each word or phrase in a nested set if that is any help.

    Looks like four elements.

    You probably need to start with your best theory of mind to make any progress.
    Mark Nyquist

    @OwenB You will probably get many answers that are useless or worse, like the one I’ve quoted here. I hope someone will come along and suggest a good approach. It’s a difficult question though. Michael’s suggested SEP article is good, but maybe it’s not entry level.
  • Mark Nyquist
    729

    Take my advice... NOT Jamal's

    Try nesting it as a start.
  • tim wood
    8.7k
    Best she gives the matter some thought - enough thought so that she has some ground she feels secure on, and if it's still not clear, then she asks her instructor. Caveat: there's a chance that for a range of reasons she will not receive an adequate answer. Which, if she is feeling reasonably secure, she can press. And sometimes at her level, obscure questions are asked deliberately - the test may include how she takes ownership of the question. And of course sometimes the instructor is a moron, in which case tread lightly and get away as soon as possible.
  • Jamal
    9k
    Unlike others, I don’t see anything wrong with the wording of the question. It’s out of Hume.
  • Mark Nyquist
    729

    Okay, that is relevant.
  • Lionino
    849
    The question is basically asking "Is it because of the nature of our experience that we believe things remain there even when we are no longer seeing/hearing/feeling them?".

    That sounds like something whose answer would be in the class' slides. Has she researched those?

    In any case — and I will get some hate for this — I would also ask AIs.
  • Mark Nyquist
    729

    This is as far as I have gotten on parsing the question in sentence form:

    The nature of our existence leads to what we perceive that leads to what we infer.

    The (status of) unperceived existence is in fact a non-existent entity. As we do not perceive it... It does not exist from our personal frame of reference.

    This is more for the forum than the homework problem as it may contradict the curriculum.

    And it could be parsed in different ways by different people.
  • unenlightened
    8.7k
    We infer it from playing peek-a-boo as very small persons with entertaining adults. You guys have such short memories!
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    It’s out of Hume.Jamal

    Not with
    unperceived existence of what we perceive
  • Lionino
    849
    It does relate to Hume, it is just worded goofy, likely out of a wish to make the essay question seem "marketable" as a one-liner.
    See: https://academic.oup.com/book/33680/chapter-abstract/288253803
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    Hence my suggested rewording.
  • Jamal
    9k


    Still works. For “unperceived” you could think “continued, when we’re not perceiving it”. The question as asked is just very condensed and terse.

    @OwenB

    I have no idea if this is a good way to go for your daughter in her particular situation, but the way I’d look at it is to tackle David Hume’s argument against the inference of continued (unperceived) existence in the Treatise of Human Nature. He says that we infer continued existence—the existence of the cup in the cupboard when you can’t see it—from the constancy of our perceptions, but that this is unjustified.

    When we believe any thing of external existence, or suppose an object to exist a moment after it is no longer perceived, this belief is nothing but a sentiment — David Hume

    That quotation is from the “Abstract”, which is a summary of the Treatise. The argument itself is around 1.4.2 (that’s Book.Part.Section).

    But there must be secondary sources that could make it more manageable.
  • unenlightened
    8.7k
    Explains Trump's popularity - he's always there!
  • Mark Nyquist
    729

    Comment on cup in the cupboard:

    The cup exists physically as a physical cup.

    The cup exists as brain state,
    Brain; (mental representation of cup in cupboard)

    Hume fails on this.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k


    Hence my suggested rewording.
  • wonderer1
    1.5k


    How far along is your daughter in her study of neuroscience?

    When we believe any thing of external existence, or suppose an object to exist a moment after it is no longer perceived, this belief is nothing but a sentiment
    — David Hume

    That quotation is from the “Abstract”, which is a summary of the Treatise. The argument itself is around 1.4.2 (that’s Book.Part.Section).

    But there must be secondary sources that could make it more manageable.
    Jamal

    Bringing up the Hume quote is good, but can your daughter then make a case for it not being nothing but sentiment, but rather a matter of pattern recognition occurring in neural networks?
  • Fire Ologist
    65
    Do we infer the unperceived existence of what we perceive from the nature of our experience? If so, how? If not, why not?OwenB

    Reminds me of "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?" which is Berkeley. But without the context that could take you way off on a tangent.

    Terrible question without some context and definitions of some heavy words like "existence", "perceive" and terms like "unperceived existence" and "the nature of our experience" or even "we infer". And after 3,000 plus years of writing thoughts down about (what I believe to be) this question, the answer of all the greatest thinkers is - I have no idea how. So "if so, how?" is just plain mean to do to a student.

    I would restate what you have to assume the question is driving at, and then answer your new restated question. I'd reframe it as a recognition of how we are enslaved to our senses (Plato) or cut off from the thing-in-itself by the structure and condition of experience (Kant), and then re-ask it as "Do we infer that the things we experience exist in themselves in the same way we perceive them to be?" Or something.

    In other words - I see a red ball. I, at first, assume there is a red ball over there in the world, whether I am looking at it or not. So I am perceiving something as it is in the world, inferring my experience in my head on the ball and in the world. But then I realize it is red because the light that is hitting that object is a red light and I'm looking at some false appearance so I don't really know what color it is, and further, I see that my eyeball builds for me an impression I call "red", so I've self-generated or constructed this experience (Plato's cave, Kant), and I know even less about the object I was calling a red ball over there in the world apart from me. So if I want to refer to "objects in the world", I have to infer my constructed perception in my head back onto them. With this context, it will be easier to answer the question, and with this context, it will be easier to answer the question if you say that it is the nature of our experience that we are cut-off from the world, constructing appearances and fabricating forms of perception and so what we infer is not necessarily correct or even has anything at all to do with the world in-itself. That's my easier answer to think about.

    But there is the odd part of the question, "unperceived existence of what we perceive" - really, what the hell is that supposed to mean? I think they are trying to capture Kant's idea of the thing-in-itself as discussed above. My interpretation of the question is that it is about whether what we think we know (or perceive) about the world is a true reflection (inference) of the world as it is in itself. Are our inferences good if we seek to know something about the world. If it is a true reflection, how, and if not, how not so? But "unperceived...[words]...we perceive" - thanks for that clarification.

    Instead of a red ball, you could treat the question itself as the object of perception and ask whether the question in your mind has anything to do with the question the teacher had in mind. Use the question itself to demonstrate how our perceptions have nothing to do with the real world, because the "nature of our experience" is to be confused when presented with just about any perception, but certainly with this question, and only once our minds re-organize things does the object of perception really take shape in the first place. The object before you is this amorphous, opaque, masked unknown, hiding in the words "Do we infer the unperceived existence of what we perceive from the nature of our experience?" Not until you redefine the terms here can you have in mind an actual question, an actual object, that you are now perceiving. So you would be answering the teacher's question, by saying it is not possible for you to have any true inference of what the teacher's question really is, since all we can do is reconstruct our own experience that is cut-off from the world. Basically, say "see Kant".
  • Philosophim
    2k
    Fortunately for her, this is a very open ended question. Considering its only 1k words as well, this is more asking her to think through on the subject then generate any one right answer.

    Considering its neuroscience, I would simply look at consciousness. We can perceive the brain's function, and even manipulate what the person is experiencing by stimulating certain areas of the brain. But do we know what its like to BE that consciousness? That is the unperceived. Good luck to her!
  • GrahamJ
    28
    Personally, I'd be inclined to answer in terms of psychology, based on Elizabeth Spelke's book What do Babies Know?

    Chapter 2 focuses on studies of infants’ knowledge of objects: the movable
    bodies that we see, grasp, and act on. Before infants can reach for and manip-
    ulate objects, they organize perceptual arrays into bodies that are cohesive,
    bounded, solid, persisting, and movable on contact. Young infants use these
    abstract, interconnected properties to detect the boundaries of each object
    in a scene, to track objects over occlusion, and to infer their interactions with
    other objects. Nevertheless, there are striking limits to young infants’ object
    representations: Infants have little ability to track hidden objects by their shapes,
    colors, or textures, although they do detect and remember these properties.

    Above all, research reveals that infants’ early- emerging representations of
    objects are the product of a single cognitive system that operates as an inte-
    grated whole. This system emerges early in development, it remains present and
    functional in children and adults, and it guides infants’ learning. The system
    combines some, but not all, of the properties of mature perceptual systems and
    belief systems, and it therefore appears to occupy a middle ground between our
    immediate perceptual experiences on the one hand and our explicit reasoning on
    the other. Research probing infants’ expectations about objects suggests hypoth-
    eses concerning the mechanisms by which a system of knowledge might emerge,
    function, and guide infants’ learning about the kinds of objects their environ-
    ment provides and the kinds of events that occur when different objects interact.
    Research described in this chapter also reveals that infants’ knowledge of objects
    is at least partly innate. It suggests how innate knowledge of objects might arise
    prior to birth, preparing infants for their first perceptual encounters with mov-
    able, solid, inanimate bodies.
  • bert1
    1.8k
    Do we infer the unperceived existence of what we perceive from the nature of our experience? If so, how? If not, why not?OwenB

    I'm not overly keen on the question. I'd need to know what the course material was to ensure I understood what kind of answer they want.

    'Do we infer...' is different from the usual philosophical question of 'Can we validly infer...' Answering 'do we' isn't really philosophy is it? That's some kind of social science. Although maybe in the context of Hume, maybe 'do we' is appropriate, as he is interested in that as well.

    @OwenB what is the context? What material has led up to this question?
  • Mark Nyquist
    729
    A second try:

    The nature of our existence,

    [ Brain state]

    Expanded,

    [ Brain; (mental content)]

    Expanded again with specifics,

    [Brain; (perception)]

    Also,

    [Brain; (inference)]

    And combined in sequence and relation,

    [Brain; (perception, inference)]... I based on P.

    And a category in question,

    Unperceived existence.....ask about this.... clear as mud??

    Edit: Unperceived existence is defined as not perceived so it exists only outside of brain state.
  • bert1
    1.8k
    Is this about the British empiricists? Locke, Berkeley, Hume?
  • Mark Nyquist
    729
    In the context of Neuroscience this seems very poor curriculum. A historical perspective maybe?
  • Jamal
    9k
    Is this about the British empiricists? Locke, Berkeley, Hume?bert1

    Looks like the person who formulated the question has that background in mind. Whether Owen’s daughter is expected to know that or has any such reading materials, I don’t know.
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    In the context of Neuroscience this seems very poor curriculum. A historical perspective maybe?Mark Nyquist

    It's a philosophy course. Why think it is "in the context of neuroscience"?
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