• jamalrob
    2k
    To get things going on our articles web site I've published something I wrote some time ago about indirect realism.

    http://articles.thephilosophyforum.com/the-argument-for-indirect-realism
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Thank you for this. I'll read it and comment later this weekend.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I’ll start with Austin’s criticism of the Phenomenal Principle. Your quote is,

    If, to take a rather different case, a church were cunningly camouflaged so that it looked like a barn, how could any serious question be raised about what we see when we look at it? We see, of course, a church that now looks like a barn. We do not see an immaterial barn, an immaterial church, or an immaterial anything else.

    If we take Austin at his word here, he is wrong, both in the implication that we do not see a barn in any sense, and in the implication that any insistence that we do implies insistence that we therefore must see something immaterial.

    It takes a brief detour into linguistics to show that this is so. We know from semantics that there are intensional verbs that create scopally ambiguous sentences. One such famous example, discussed by Quine, is ‘seek.’ Suppose I say, ‘I am seeking a unicorn.’

    There are in fact two readings of this sentence, whose truth conditions can be rigorously separated and given different, precise, logical forms. One reading can be paraphrased:

    (1) There is an x such that x is a unicorn and I am seeking x.

    On this reading, of course, it is not possible to actually search for a unicorn, because there aren’t any, and so the sentence must be false. But there is another reading:

    (2) I am seeking the following: an x such that x is a unicorn.

    This is perfectly intelligible and perfectly possible. I can search for a unicorn even though unicorns don’t exist (in fact, we often search for things that don’t exist precisely in order to find out whether they exist).

    ‘See’ is an intensional verb in this same way, which has a scopal ambiguity similar to the de dicto versus de re distinction ((1) is de re; (2) is de dicto). So, if I say, ‘I see a barn,’ this can mean either (3) or (4).

    (3) There is an x such that x is a barn and I see x.

    Now this reading is clearly false, since there is no barn: only a church that looks like one. But Austin, and philosophers of perception generally, are insensitive to the second reading.

    (4) I see (my visual experience is consistent with) the following: there is an x such that x is a barn.

    That this reading is possible can be seen from the fact that without, it, the game in which people look at the clouds and ask, ‘what do you see?’ and say, ‘I see a man,’ ‘I see a shoe,’ and so on, would make no sense. In such situations the de re reading is always false: there is never an x such that x is a man and one sees x in the clouds, because there are no men where the players are looking in the sky, only clouds. Yet we can make perfectly true statements such as ‘I see a man,’ pointing at a cloud, on the latter reading. This is not a deviant way of speaking at all. Note that these are structural ambiguities that arise systematically, and are in no way ad hoc, for which semanticists offer accounts.

    So, in correcting myself, after I find out that the purported barn is actually a church, there are actually two things I can say, depending which of the two readings is intended. On the one hand, I can say, ‘I was wrong. I didn’t see a barn at all; I actually saw a church.’ But on the other hand, I can say, ‘I saw a barn, but there turned out to be no such thing — just a church.’ Both these responses are perfectly intelligible, and we actually know the structural reasons why they are. Now Austin, and most philosophers, not only do not give the second reading its fair due, but also seem to exclude its very existence. This is unfortunate, and I think it has to do with metaphysical presuppositions, and an insensitivity to linguistic analysis (unfortunately, quite common in ‘ordinary language philosophers’).

    This is crucial for the sense datum dispute. To say that one saw a shrinking object is not to commit oneself to saying ‘there is an object such that it was shrinking and I saw it.’ In eagerly trying to reject the latter interpretation, one wrongly rejects the more crucial point made by the indirect realist, which is that ‘I see a shrinking table’ is perfectly intelligible whether or not there actually is a table that is actually shrinking. So on the de dicto reading, one can in fact say, on one reading, ‘I saw something shrinking.’ You just have to make clear which meaning is intended — one way it is true, the other way false. The direct realist is wrong that there is no sense in which it is true.

    What this means is that although the indirect realist may have a tendency to hypostatize the shrinking table, i.e. to treat it on a de re reading as if there really were a thing that was shrinking, this misstep nevertheless leaves the importance of their philosophical point untouched, which is that even linguistically, we are sensitive to the notion of a visual medium through which things are seen, and we can characterize that medium as distinct from the objects that medium purportedly reveals to us. Direct realists are wrong to the extent that they deny or downplay this (the ‘one step removed’ that you talk about). The visual medium, the experiential field, is something to be spoken abut in its own right, and it has properties that vary independent of the object. We cannot just skip over it and pretend the objects are ‘just there’ for us with no more to do. That is not a viable philosophical position, and if a direct realist is forced to claim it is, so much the worse for his position.

    This, then, is the kernel of truth in indirect realism that the direct realist is insensitive to and wrong about. You phrase the debate in terms of direct versus indirect realism, and in so doing imply that other alternatives, in particular idealism and skepticism, are not worth considering; but leaning toward the skeptical view myself, I’m in a somewhat privileged position to speak about the faults of both types of realism without the bias that attends trying to defend one’s own favored position. Indirect realists correctly claim that perception is mediated in a far less trivial way than the direct realist is willing to grant; direct realists correctly claim that there is no sense in which there is a two-step perceptual process that takes one from one immediate object to another mediate one.

    Next I’ll take the Heidegger quote.

    We never...originally and really perceive a throng of sensations, e.g., tones and noises, in the appearance of things...; rather, we hear the storm whistling in the chimney, we hear the three-engine aeroplane, we hear the Mercedes in immediate distinction from the Volkswagen. Much closer to us than any sensations are the things themselves. We hear the door slam in the house, and never hear acoustic sensations or mere sounds.

    If we take Heidegger at his word, what he says is false. ‘We never…?’ We certainly do. We are met with visual impressions all the time that we aren’t sure what to make of, and so we do not first see them as determinate objects with specific significances, but a mess that we’re not quite sure what to do with (‘What the hell am I looking at?’). One problem here is that philosophers (and this goes for your paper as well, though interestingly not Heidegger’s quote which unusually focuses on sound) are overly accustomed to speaking primarily of visual perception, which is unfair to the full range of our experiences: visual perceptions are unique in that they, far more than those in other sensory modalities, seem (in my opinion, give the illusion) that they simply grasp objects the way they are without any further ado. Of course, even in vision, this is not only not always true, but is in fact never true (see below on this).

    But the case is far easier to see with sensory modalities classically considered more ‘subjective,’ such as smell. We so much more rarely smell things and immediately know what sort of specific thing that we are smelling that, if philosophers focused on cases of smell rather than vision, I think none of them would be tempted to say the sorts of wrong things that Heidegger does on this subject. Of course I may encounter an aroma as the smell of jasmine or the sell of chocolate chip cookies; but there are so many manifold smells that confront me just as weird, unidentifiable sensations, ones that I’m not sure how to interpret and will likely never smell again. These confront me not as the smell of particular objects, but rather as olfactory impressions upon me: ones that are painful or pleasant, imbue me with certain sensory affections, and so on, but that I cannot pin down. And when I do, this process can take, not milliseconds as in the case of veridical vision, but often whole seconds, even minutes or hours. These sorts of cases destroy the illusion that I simply ‘smell things as they are;’ there is a laborious process of piecing together, or projecting, what I smell. Here the direct realist is wrong, and the indirect realist correct.

    In the case of vision, as I’ve implied above, the situation is actually the same: we never simply see things right away as ‘what they are’ without further ado. There is again a laborious process of interpretation, but one that we are so well attuned to that in many cases it takes only milliseconds, and we are not consciously aware of it happening. We can actually measure how long this takes with modern physiological techniques, and in the lab we can purposely mess up the interpretive process that projects some object out of sensory impressions. If Heidegger were right, there would be no such process to mess up in the first place, since we first see the object, and only then do we abstract to sensation. And yet even outside the lab, our attempts at inferring from some sensation to some projected object go wrong, not only with outright hallucinations, but also e.g. when looking at surfaces when we can’t tell whether they’re flat or cornered (or for that matter, in seeing rainbows — there is a sense in which a rainbow is an object that we see, and a sense in which it is not, and it arises due to a curiosity in our visual mechanisms). It should also be noted that our modern laboratory equipment was not the advent of this realization: Schopenhauer said as much before modern psychology was a real discipline, and he had many examples of such ‘messing up’ of the visual interpretive process that you could perform for yourself purposely on a child’s allowance. The ‘remove’ that the indirect realist speaks of is very real, and you can see it for yourself in the process of its happening and its breaking down. Not only that, but ontogenetically we must learn how to see, and so the direct realist needlessly privileges adult humans with fully functioning visual capacities that have had years of practice at what they do, they who have forgotten how hard it was to unscramble the ‘blooming, buzzing confusion.’ It is almost as if someone literate thought that in seeing words, we just ‘see their meaning for what it is’ as a perceptual matter, and denied that there was really any process involved in constructing their meaning (note that for the literate person, seeing the meaning of a word, too, requires no conscious effort). Visual perception is much like reading. There is in this sense very much an ‘inference,’ though of course it is not always, not even usually, a conscious one or one of ratiocination.

    In other words, when you say this:

    If I think about my own perceptual experiences, it is obvious that I am immediately aware of the true sizes and shapes of objects (unless I have "snapped out" of normal perception).

    You are speaking falsely. And your comment about only awareness being relevant does not salvage you, since this can be brought easily to awareness by messing up the inferential process, or even in the case of smells that take minutes or hours to recognize.

    Now, as to your comments on the duck-rabbit:

    This is the duck-rabbit, made famous by Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations. Notice that we switch between exclusive ways of seeing it, now as a duck, and now as a rabbit. This is termed multistable perception, and it does not fit very well with the notion that we infer a duck or a rabbit from neutral stimuli. It is not because we analyze the picture, checking off its properties against a mental database, that we see it as a duck or as a rabbit. Rather, we immediately see it as a whole, excluding other ways of seeing it at any instant. In doing so we directly see what is significant or what has meaning, and exclude the rest. Perceiving as this or that is built right in to perception. This is a clue to a big problem with The Argument, namely its underlying assumption of a structure of perceptual experience with (a) a static, passive and purely sensory gathering of stimuli, combined with (b) rational deliberation on the representations that result from these sensations. The task of bringing out the problems with this view, and supplying a better picture of perception, will have to wait for a future article. I think we can at least say that twentieth century psychology and philosophy have given us good reason to think about perception differently.

    This passage is to me bewildering, because I think that the duck-rabbit shows exactly the opposite of what you want it to show. In the case of the duck-rabbit, we’re faced with a situation in which it makes no sense to say that you just see the picture immediately as it is, because there is no such way that it is (if by this we mean among the alternatives between a duck and a rabbit). In fact, in switching from one to the other, you can see the inferential process in action. All that’s relevant to the switch is that process — the picture hasn’t changed relevantly. Yet if, as the direct realist claims, what we see are simply things, this would be impossible. Second, I think you are wrong to say that we exclude other ways of seeing it: it is possible in working visually around the duck-rabbit image to hold it in limbo between its duck and rabbit gestalts, and the visual sensation in that case becomes very odd, and not at all in keeping with how the direct realist claims visual experience should look or function generally. The comment about the indirect realist making perception too passive is also odd: it is usually in my experience the indirect realist who emphasizes the activity of perception, and the direct realist who wants to minimize one’s role in perceiving in order to maximize the role of the object: we simply see things as they are, and thus there is little role for perception other than to just open us up to that way. For the indirect realist, the task of perception is far more laborious: given a stew of impressions upon the senses, one has to cobble together the object, not just receive it as is. And in doing so, one of course can cobble together either a rabbit or a duck, and then switch at will between the two processes, changing the perception without changing any ‘object.’ How is that possible, if perception ‘immediately’ just sees what is there?

    Now the kicker is, everything is a duckrabbit. So I also think this is in error:

    I do not think so, because such cases cannot be taken as the paradigm of perception.

    They are the paradigm. The duck-rabbit in one sense exists at the periphery; but in another sense it does so precisely because it shows you in a visceral way what is always going on. That we have perceptual mechanisms that tend to immediately prefer one interpretation does not in any way mean that there is no interpretation, via precisely the medium that the indirect realist speaks of.

    Finally, I want to talk about hallucination. This is important because while I believe that many of the direct realist claims above are empirically wrong, coming from false claims about linguistics or how perception works, this is where I think that the position generally shows itself to be internally incoherent, that is, not tenable even according to its own claims.

    The clue to unravelling this argument is the phrase "object of awareness" in the conclusion. Where does Robinson get it from? Well, he is explicit in taking the second premise to imply mental images or sense-data in both hallucination and perception. To bring out the mistake here it will be useful to look once again at the distinction I have already made between two ways of using the word "see". Here I am going to make use of Audre Jean Brokes' terms and label these uses as (1) perceptual visual experience, and (2) ostensible perceptual experience. (1) is seeing external things, and (2) is "seeing" mental images. Incidentally, I use scare quotes for the second usage because in a discussion about perception, seeing external things naturally ought to be the privileged usage, of which the second is derivative.

    This move to the distinction between genuine and ostensible visual experience is one that eventually the direct realist always seems forced to make in response to the uncomfortable fact that hallucinations happen. Now, this puts the direct realist in a really foul position. The reason is that, the direct realist must simultaneously claim that (1) hallucination can, at least at some points, be phenomenologically indistinguishable from veridical perception (as you happily concede, and though some deny this, I like you don’t take that denial seriously in lieu of serious argument); (2) that therefore there can be phenomenologically indistinguishable states that still differ as to whether or not they are states of perception. What this means is that, if we add a few plausible assumptions, the direct realist cannot, in principle, and according to his own claims, tell the difference between ostensible and genuine perception, ever. The reason is of course that there is no way to tell such a difference if the only distinguishing evidence one can have between the two is phenomenological, and ex hypothesi the direct realist is forced to admit that no such evidence can possibly exist. It follows that the direct realist not only never knows when he is perceiving anything, but cannot know; it is impossible. That is to say, no evidence that one could possibly have for perception is such that it distinguishes between veridical perception and a long, coherent, constructed dream. This spells a problem for the direct realist in two ways: (1) how does he know so much about perception, that he can give us a whole theory about it, when he has never experienced one case of it that he can in principle tell it apart from cases that are not perception? (2) What on Earth is even the relevance of his metaphysical thesis about the objectivity and perceiver-independence of objects, if all perceptual experience is equally coherent and behaves experientially the same way whether that status obtains or not?

    Now, there are many answers to these worries, but I have never heard one that comes close to being adequate.

    Thank you for writing this article and taking the time to read my criticisms.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    I'm not surprised someone pounced on the weakest sentence in the article, "If I think about my own perceptual experiences, it is obvious that...", which is unclear and inept.

    But thanks for reading, TGW. These are penetrating criticisms that deserve to be addressed, so I'll try and respond in the coming days. Generally, I agree with much of what you say and think the article is consistent with it; our fundamental disagreement I think is less about direct/indirect and more about realism/anti-realism, if you see what I mean.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Yes, but I believe the direct realist and indirect realist arguments against one another are generally cogent, with the result being that realism itself in perception is not tenable. There are points of the article that I agree with with respect to criticizing indirect realism, but there's just no reason for me to preach to the choir.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.8k
    Yes, but I believe the direct realist and indirect realist arguments against one another are generally cogent, with the result being that realism itself in perception is not tenable — The Great Whatever

    Indeed. Realism is a metaphysical point: any object defined itself. This doesn't have any empirical manifestation and so is not visible in perception (and so dreams are, in the moment, indistinguishable from "the real world." ).

    The telling of dreams from the "real world" does not happen by "realism," but rather by our experiences of what is a dream and what is not; the (experienced) relation of our experiences to other experiences.


    and the direct realist who wants to minimize one’s role in perceiving in order to maximize the role of the object: we simply see things as they are, and thus there is little role for perception other than to just open us up to that way. — The Great Whatever

    The direct realist actually maximises the object in experience. When the direct realist argues perception is "immediate," they are not suggesting experience plays no role in the experience of the object, but rather that there are no extra state of representation to the object in experience. Anytime someone experiences an object, what they experience is that nature of the object. What someone experiences when they perceive an object isn't merely a representation creation of there bodies. They see the object as it is.

    So everything is, indeed, a duckrabbit. And a duck on its own. And a rabbit it on its own. And some unclear shape which isn't yet known. Any of which are immediately present in the experience someone who perceives the object in the given manner.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    The telling of dreams from the "real world" does not happen by "realism," but rather by our experiences of what is a dream and what is not; the (experienced) relation of our experiences to other experiences.TheWillowOfDarkness

    The point is, by the direct realist's own logic, he cannot tell dreams apart from waking by experience. Hence why the dreaming argument is so annoying to the direct realist: it's not that his enemies invent wild scenarios for him; he brings them upon himself.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.8k


    The direct realist has nothing to be concerned about though, for whether or not they are dreaming is of no consequence. Direct realism is not an argument over whether or not any particular experience is a dream or not.

    It is a logical point about existence, that states are defined in themselves, and a logical point about the perception of objects, that any perceived object is how it is present in experience. Pick out any experience. It is inconsequential to the direct realist. Dream or not, something manifests in experience.

    If its a dream, well, no object of the "real world" is perceived and so it holds no consequence for arguments about when an object of the "real world" is perceived. On the other hand, if an object is perceived, then its nature (as far as the person perceives it) present in their experience. Nothing conflicts with the direct realist's position. Direct realism was never a means of judging "what is real." There is no method for that, as we are always stuck within whatever experience we have.

    A direct realist has nothing to fear because knowing what is and is not a dream is irrelevant to their point. It is a question without significance because, no matter what happens, a person only has their experience to distinguish dreams and the world. Trying to find some an object, something independent of experience, which shows what is a dream and what is not is absurd: unperceived objects don't show anyone anything. Any knowledge or showing involves someone experiencing.

    Trying to get outside experience, with respect to perceived objects, is exactly what direct realism avoids- perceived objects are experienced as they are. If one perceives an object, it is by experience.
  • StreetlightX
    3.8k
    A lovely article, Jamal, one in keeping with my own sensibilities. I think one thing to keep in mind re: the pervasiveness of the argument is that it's not just a matter rejigging our ways of thinking due to a historical legacy that stems from Hume/Descartes, etc. In some ways, I suspect, we are evolutionarily predisposed to thinking about the world in the terms that 'The Argument' presupposes. In some sense, our survival depends on our ability to 'fix the world in place' in order to act effectively in it. Our ability to act in the world is tributary to our ability to treat it as a fixed 'thing' whose elements can be manipulated, changed, acted upon, etc. There is pretty much an evolutionary imperative to divide the world into subject and object. We have to work so hard to divest ourselves of this idea precisely because it comes, in some ways, 'built in' to who we are as creatures. No matter how much we come to know, 'intellectually', that this is not the case, we may never get rid of 'the Argument' once and for all. Hence the need for articles like this!

    Nonetheless, I'm coming to realize just how preliminary arguments like the ones in the article are. They do good work in 'demolition' as you put it, and only begin to point out 'where to go next' as it were. And there are indeed, issues with that demolition itself. TGW, as much as I disagree with his general outlook, for example, make some excellent points which do need to be addressed. I think you're entirely right, for example, to take 'inferential' accounts of perception to ask, but rather than discard with inference altogether, what I suspect is needed is a reintegration of inference as something like an 'additional layer' of perceptual experience which can work in tandem with the more 'primordial perception' which your own arguments seem to want to tend towards. I think one of the challenges of future accounts of perception will precisely to show how inference can function in a 'top-down' manner upon the more 'bottom-up' conceptions of perception which are very in vogue at the moment.

    There will need to be a dialectical integration of concept formation with perceptual exploration that will complicate any straight forward move to ground perception in the body, etc. This is where I think the trend toward 'embodiment' and so on is ripe for another revolution: one which will show how idealities can structure our perceptual capacities even as they have their genesis from out of that perceptual ground. In other words, articles like yours will need to be seen to constitute the first part of a two-step account of perception: the first consisting in the rejection of the naive 'sense data' accounts of perception wherein perception is a matter of inferential extrapolation from brute sense data, and the second consisting of a recuperation of inference as that which operates as an 'expanded' or extra modality of perception which can enhance and augment the 'primary processes' of perception as given in embodied accounts.

    --

    Second, I think TGW is entirely right to highlight the autonomous role of sensation with respect to perception. The challenge is to accommodate this autonomy without falling back into the old paradigm of sense data/inferentialism. There's been some really good stuff written on this matter by philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas, Alphonso Lingis, and more recently, Tom Sparrow. To draw on Lingis however, as he points out - with respect to the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty in particular, "what is lacking in the phenomenology of perception is sensation... [P]henomenology, making perception primary, veers toward a certain idealism. Is not something lost, in the measure that sensation becomes the perception of a sense - that by which sensation is sensuous? The exposure to the field of the sensuous is not only a capture of messages, things tapped out on our receptors; it is contact with them in their resistance and materiality, being sensitive to them, susceptible to being sustained and wounded by them. Sensation also means feeling pleased, exhilarated, or being pained by the sensible. A sentient subject does not innocently poise objects about itself as its decor, it is not only oriented by their sense; it is subject to them, to their brutality and their sustentation."

    Thus, against Merleau-Ponty's argument that to perceive is to see a figure against a background, Lingis argues that "the sensible field does not consist only of configurations against a background of potential things, or instrumental connections, or paths and planes. There is also an unformed prime matter.... Sensibility occurs in a medium which is pure depth, but not empty space; filled with qualitative opacity. It has no contours, does not present itself through profiles, does not have sides, is depth without surfaces. It is neither delimited, nor positively without limit: it is indefinite, apeiron ... Colors concretize in a chromatic medium, solids and vapors form in the density, sounds emerge in the sonorous element.... The things do not crystallize along the axes of a space-time framework, or at the intersections of instrumental pathways; they solidify in a depth-in the day, in the atmosphere, in the density and din of the world." (Lingis, Sensation)

    A phenomenology of sensation, rather than perception, would have us pay attention to these un-phenomenal 'vapours' that cannot themselves be captured by the intentional structure perception (one wonders if this would be a 'phenomenology' any more...). There is, in other words, a double challenge that the phenomenology of perception needs to meet. The first is with respect to the role of conceptuality and inference, which cannot be so easily discarded as one would like. The second is the challenge that sensation poses, which also cannot be captured by the strictures imposed by the perception of 'things'. I like to think of it in terms of a continuum which runs both forward and backward, looking something like this: sensation <-> perception <-> inference. Anyway, the point of this is to say that while I agree entirely with the spirit of your article, one must be careful of the sorts of conclusions that we can draw from it: is inference the 'enemy', or must we instead rethink the role of inference in perception? Equally with sensation - is sensation the equivalent of sense-data, or is sensation more complex, more interesting that that?

    *Attached is a link to Lingis's article on Sensation, which is a great read in itself, and speaks to some of TGW's concerns here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_WcK7Wdttxqc19fWm1SXzFDcVU/view?usp=sharing (Google Drive, pdf, 12 pages)
  • jamalrob
    2k
    First I'd like to say--and I don't say this to absolve myself of the responsibility for defending the article--that I wrote this article a couple of years ago and would take a different approach today. But I will defend it, because I still basically agree with most of it, as far as it goes.

    Thank you for the detour into linguistics. It's very usfeful. I attempted to bring out the same point in my brief discussion of the word "see". It is, as you say, perfectly intelligible to say you see a face in the clouds (maybe that would have been a better example than a scintillating scotoma). It is this distinction that I am claiming is missed by the indirect realist, who thereby finds that all we ever see is faces in the clouds, where some correspond to real objects and others do not. Because the de re sense is privileged (certainly by realists), faces in clouds, hallucinations, and shrinking tables are thoughtlessly taken to be objects of perception rather than in various ways constituting perceptual experiences (in the same way that the pain constitutes a pain experience rather than being an object of awareness in a perceptual sense).

    So I agree with most of this:

    This is crucial for the sense datum dispute. To say that one saw a shrinking object is not to commit oneself to saying ‘there is an object such that it was shrinking and I saw it.’ In eagerly trying to reject the latter interpretation, one wrongly rejects the more crucial point made by the indirect realist, which is that ‘I see a shrinking table’ is perfectly intelligible whether or not there actually is a table that is actually shrinking. So on the de dicto reading, one can in fact say, on one reading, ‘I saw something shrinking.’ You just have to make clear which meaning is intended — one way it is true, the other way false. The direct realist is wrong that there is no sense in which it is true.

    But I don't think direct realists make that claim. Their point is that the sense in which one sees something shrinking, or sees a face in the clouds, does not permit the indirect realist to say that one always only sees a perceptual intermediary, precisely because, as you say, it does not entail that ‘there is an object such that it was shrinking and I saw it.’

    What this means is that although the indirect realist may have a tendency to hypostatize the shrinking table, i.e. to treat it on a de re reading as if there really were a thing that was shrinking, this misstep nevertheless leaves the importance of their philosophical point untouched, which is that even linguistically, we are sensitive to the notion of a visual medium through which things are seen, and we can characterize that medium as distinct from the objects that medium purportedly reveals to us. Direct realists are wrong to the extent that they deny or downplay this (the ‘one step removed’ that you talk about). The visual medium, the experiential field, is something to be spoken about in its own right, and it has properties that vary independent of the object. We cannot just skip over it and pretend the objects are ‘just there’ for us with no more to do. That is not a viable philosophical position, and if a direct realist is forced to claim it is, so much the worse for his position.

    I agree that we can speak about the visual experiential field in its own right, and that we can pay attention to it phenomenologically. The point is that this medium, as you call it, is not a barrier between ontologically independent subjects and objects, a screen on to which outer objects are projected, or a channel between mind and world or a priori and a posteriori. It is not a veil, but a reciprocal relation, which is essential to perception even if one sees things that are not there.

    Instead of saying that "we are sensitive to the notion of a visual medium through which things are seen", I think it is better to say that we are sensitive to perception as a process of interaction that can go wrong or that we can attend to in its own right. This is a better way of putting it because the notion that we see through a medium is borderline incoherent: it implies an intervening something of which seeing is independent, something like an old window with warped glass. But what could it be to see without such a medium? Of course, there would be no seeing at all, because what you are calling a medium actually constitutes vision.

    This means that the indirect realist cannot, after all, justifiably say that we are one step removed. We may be one step removed in those moments when we attend to the geometry of vision, as when you see the person on the other side of the street as a centimetre tall. In the article I call this a snapping out of normal, smooth, successful perception. And there are also times when we haven't been able to snap in to successful perception ("what the hell am I seeing?") But it cannot be drawn from this that we are generally one step removed from the things we perceive, except by assuming a dualism and a head-bound epistemology.

    This, then, is the kernel of truth in indirect realism that the direct realist is insensitive to and wrong about. You phrase the debate in terms of direct versus indirect realism, and in so doing imply that other alternatives, in particular idealism and skepticism, are not worth considering; but leaning toward the skeptical view myself, I’m in a somewhat privileged position to speak about the faults of both types of realism without the bias that attends trying to defend one’s own favored position. Indirect realists correctly claim that perception is mediated in a far less trivial way than the direct realist is willing to grant; direct realists correctly claim that there is no sense in which there is a two-step perceptual process that takes one from one immediate object to another mediate one.

    But what does "mediated" mean here? It all hinges on how one characterizes the fact that we see faces in clouds or hallucinations or mirages: if perception's being mediated means that it has its own properties that can be studied independently of the properties of whatever is perceived, and is perspectival, partial, subject to error, and relative to the perceiver's specific evolved physiology, his cultural milieu, his motivations and affect, and so on--if this is what "mediated" means then the direct realist can happily agree that perception is mediated. But the "direct" in "direct realism" is not the opposite of this sense of "mediated". The sense of "direct" is: having no object of perception intervening between subject and object.

    You partially defend indirect realism but I notice you do not defend the main arguments that I criticize in the article. Maybe you think it is a trivial point, that we do not see intervening objects. I don't think so, and I made some attempt to explain why. Such comments as this, from a neuroscientist, are still very common:

    All we’re actually doing is seeing an internal model of the world; we’re not seeing what’s out there, we’re seeing just our internal model of it. And that’s why, when you move your eyes around, all you’re doing is updating that model. — David Eagleman

    But after reading what you say about unconscious inference, I suspect that you have more sympathy with this view than I at first thought:

    If we take Heidegger at his word, what he says is false. ‘We never…?’ We certainly do. We are met with visual impressions all the time that we aren’t sure what to make of, and so we do not first see them as determinate objects with specific significances, but a mess that we’re not quite sure what to do with (‘What the hell am I looking at?’). One problem here is that philosophers (and this goes for your paper as well, though interestingly not Heidegger’s quote which unusually focuses on sound) are overly accustomed to speaking primarily of visual perception, which is unfair to the full range of our experiences: visual perceptions are unique in that they, far more than those in other sensory modalities, seem (in my opinion, give the illusion) that they simply grasp objects the way they are without any further ado. Of course, even in vision, this is not only not always true, but is in fact never true (see below on this).

    But the case is far easier to see with sensory modalities classically considered more ‘subjective,’ such as smell. We so much more rarely smell things and immediately know what sort of specific thing that we are smelling that, if philosophers focused on cases of smell rather than vision, I think none of them would be tempted to say the sorts of wrong things that Heidegger does on this subject. Of course I may encounter an aroma as the smell of jasmine or the sell of chocolate chip cookies; but there are so many manifold smells that confront me just as weird, unidentifiable sensations, ones that I’m not sure how to interpret and will likely never smell again. These confront me not as the smell of particular objects, but rather as olfactory impressions upon me: ones that are painful or pleasant, imbue me with certain sensory affections, and so on, but that I cannot pin down. And when I do, this process can take, not milliseconds as in the case of veridical vision, but often whole seconds, even minutes or hours. These sorts of cases destroy the illusion that I simply ‘smell things as they are;’ there is a laborious process of piecing together, or projecting, what I smell. Here the direct realist is wrong, and the indirect realist correct.

    In the case of vision, as I’ve implied above, the situation is actually the same: we never simply see things right away as ‘what they are’ without further ado. There is again a laborious process of interpretation, but one that we are so well attuned to that in many cases it takes only milliseconds, and we are not consciously aware of it happening. We can actually measure how long this takes with modern physiological techniques, and in the lab we can purposely mess up the interpretive process that projects some object out of sensory impressions. If Heidegger were right, there would be no such process to mess up in the first place, since we first see the object, and only then do we abstract to sensation. And yet even outside the lab, our attempts at inferring from some sensation to some projected object go wrong, not only with outright hallucinations, but also e.g. when looking at surfaces when we can’t tell whether they’re flat or cornered (or for that matter, in seeing rainbows — there is a sense in which a rainbow is an object that we see, and a sense in which it is not, and it arises due to a curiosity in our visual mechanisms). It should also be noted that our modern laboratory equipment was not the advent of this realization: Schopenhauer said as much before modern psychology was a real discipline, and he had many examples of such ‘messing up’ of the visual interpretive process that you could perform for yourself purposely on a child’s allowance. The ‘remove’ that the indirect realist speaks of is very real, and you can see it for yourself in the process of its happening and its breaking down. Not only that, but ontogenetically we must learn how to see, and so the direct realist needlessly privileges adult humans with fully functioning visual capacities that have had years of practice at what they do, they who have forgotten how hard it was to unscramble the ‘blooming, buzzing confusion.’ It is almost as if someone literate thought that in seeing words, we just ‘see their meaning for what it is’ as a perceptual matter, and denied that there was really any process involved in constructing their meaning (note that for the literate person, seeing the meaning of a word, too, requires no conscious effort). Visual perception is much like reading. There is in this sense very much an ‘inference,’ though of course it is not always, not even usually, a conscious one or one of ratiocination.

    First, I don't think it's true that we are often met with indeterminate impressions. Most often when I say "what the hell am I looking at", I am seeing something meaningful yet unstable or anomalous. An example: back in the summer I was at the top of a hill in the early evening of a sunny day, looking down on a pine forest, and I was amazed to see a patch of luminous glowing yellow birch trees surrounded by the dark pines. It didn't make sense--there are no birch trees around here it wasn't autumn--and it didn't look quite real. But then I suddenly saw the spectacle for what it was. These were not different trees at all; it was just a small area of the fairly uniform pine forest directly illuminated by the sunlight shining through a gap between the hills, the rest of the forest being in shadow.

    Are there really times when what we see is inchoate and meaningless? I think this happens rarely. I suspect this goes for smell, touch, and hearing as well (though I take your point that I've fallen into the habit of privileging vision). Smell is not intentional to the extent that vision is, in fact is probably quite rarely so. But it is meaningful all the same. Familiar smells go unnoticed, while new smells stand out against this background; this is a useful evolved adaptation. For a smell to be meaningful there need not be an awareness of what the object is that is giving off the odour. I can be reminded of a time in my past just by a smell that I haven't identified. The olfactory impressions you mention are meaningful precisely in that they are imbued with qualities of newness or familiarity, pleasantness or unpleasantness, etc., in the way you describe.

    Your account of the "laborious process of interpretation" and of unconscious inference is supremely Cartesian. I don't believe perception works this way. If we are meant to take "inference" seriously, it is hard to see how it could be unconscious, despite the popularity of the concept among psychologists. And if you are merely gesturing towards what is happening in the brain and the perceptual system as a whole when we perceive things, I think there are good reasons to think that this is not of the nature of internal construction with the building blocks of raw sensation.

    From the way you describe perceptual learning, it looks like you really do mean that objects are inferred, that perception is a process of inference, a la Russell:

    Induction allows us to infer that this pattern of light, which, we will suppose, looks like a cat, probably proceeds from a region in which the other properties of cats are also present. Up to a point, we can test this hypothesis by experiment: we can touch the cat, and pick it up by the tail to see if it mews. Usually the experiment succeeds; when it does not, its failure is easily accounted for without modifying the laws of physics. (It is in this respect that physics is superior to ignorant common sense.) But all this elaborate work of induction, in so far as it belongs to common sense rather than science, is performed spontaneously by habit, which transforms the mere sensation into a perceptive experience. — Russell, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth

    It is very clear that Russell's primary conception is one of full-blown conscious mental interpretation, only one that eventually becomes "habit", thereby slipping beneath explicit consciousness. I can't make much sense of this. I can see neither how an inference can become habitual and yet remain an inference, nor how one can seriously maintain that perceptual learning, prior to habitual perception, involves conscious inference from sensory premises to perceptual conclusion, when everything we know about perception tells us otherwise.

    So I'll return to the possibility that you mean "inference" metaphorically, to describe what the brain is doing in perception. Does this mean that unconscious brain processes can, like inferences, be mistaken? Does the use of "inference" mean you think there is something analogous to inference carried out by cognitive modules in the language of thought, as in computationalist theories?

    But without delving too deeply into unconscious inference, I could take you to mean simply whatever the brain or perceptual system has to do to construct a meaningful perceptual field from the impoverished input of the senses. I take issue with this as well. I am much more sympathetic to Gibson's ecological approach to perception, in which all the information required for perception is in the environment rather than being built up in the head, and where the function of vision is not to supply the brain with material for synthesis, but to allow the perceiver to act in its environment. Of course, this environment is an environment for us--what we perceive is its affordances--so this might be thought to weaken the element of realism, but the crucial point is that perception requires no mediation: we are attuned to an environment that contains invariant patterns and structures that constitute all the information we need to perceive.

    You suggest that the direct realist ignores the temporality of perception, but a theory of direct perception such as Gibson's is acutely sensitive to this. Perception develops over time as the perceiver explores her environment and seeks to maintain an optimal sensorimotor engagement as conditions change (and as they are changed by her). It is not that everything is just there, straight away, exactly as it really is. The point is a quite different one: that perception is a relation of reciprocity between agent and environment and between sensory detection and action. What makes this direct is that there is nothing intervening, nothing separating the two relata into independent domains.

    I'm not familiar with the studies of infant perceptual learning, but I'll note that some psychologists do take the ecological approach. Intuitively, I see no reason to accept that the need to learn how to see entails that perception is essentially inferential. After all, when we become expert at some activity--driving or playing an instrument--what has happened is not that the laborious step-by-step process we had to go through as novices has now got a bit faster and more habituated; rather, we are in an entirely different mode of activity.

    You say that the "remove"--the separation of mind and world or subject and object of perception--becomes apparent when perception breaks down. I would say rather that there is only such a remove when perception breaks down (or in "snapping out", etc.).

    However I don't want to say that inference has no place in perception. Sometimes I actively and consciously try to work out what I'm seeing, actually inferring by induction from the characteristics of my visual field, thereby also guiding my perception. But this is not what you and the indirect realist mean by inference.

    The comment about the indirect realist making perception too passive is also odd: it is usually in my experience the indirect realist who emphasizes the activity of perception, and the direct realist who wants to minimize one’s role in perceiving in order to maximize the role of the object: we simply see things as they are, and thus there is little role for perception other than to just open us up to that way. For the indirect realist, the task of perception is far more laborious: given a stew of impressions upon the senses, one has to cobble together the object, not just receive it as is.

    As might now be clear, I didn't mean passive in the Cartesian or Kantian sense, as opposed to the active synthesizing of the manifold by the understanding. I meant it in Gibson's or Merleau-Ponty's sense, as opposed to the constant probing movements of a perceiver in an environment, relative to its affordances for action. Indirect realists imagine a passive sensory receptivity borne by a single static eye, the stimuli from which are only then worked up into perception by an active cognition--because for the indirect realist, the perceiver as bodily subject or situated organism is passive, its only relevant positive activity taking place behind the veil and in the head.

    As part of this active, probing bodily subject, our perceptual systems do not just receive, but obtain stimulation.

    Looking around and getting around do not fit into the standard idea of what visual perception is. But note that if an animal has eyes at all it swivels its head around and it goes from place to place. The single, frozen field of view provides only impoverished information about the world. The visual system did not evolve for this. — J. J. Gibson

    Now, about the duck-rabbit.

    Now the kicker is, everything is a duckrabbit. ...

    They are the paradigm. The duck-rabbit in one sense exists at the periphery; but in another sense it does so precisely because it shows you in a visceral way what is always going on. That we have perceptual mechanisms that tend to immediately prefer one interpretation does not in any way mean that there is no interpretation, via precisely the medium that the indirect realist speaks of.
    — The Great Whatever

    Aside from my objections to the notion of interpretation, I think this might be right, and I may have to abandon the position I took on this particular issue. I agree, we always or most often see under an aspect, i.e., see as.

    I may say more, and I still have to tackle your bit about hallucination.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    Thanks Street, I'll read that Lingis article.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    (maybe that would have been a better example than a scintillating scotoma).jamalrob

    I think, in the case of the scintillating scotoma, or an after-image or color patch, that a de re reading is also intelligible. That is, since you only refer to the object seen qua visual impression, I think it can be true to say 'there is an x such that x is an after-image and I see x.' I don't think objects in the wide sense have to be 'located' anywhere in particular, and it's perfectly fine to treat things in the visual field as objects and talk about them that way. That is not the same as seeing a face in the clouds: when someone says this, they're not committed to there being any face at all, except metaphorically; but I think you are in some sense committed to saying there is an after-image (look, it's right there). The after-image and scintillating scotoma are not supposed to be extra-visual objects in the first place, like a face is.

    I see no reason, other than philosophical prejudice, not to say the same about splotches of color and so on in every case. Here, of course, you often do have to take a sort of abstract and artificial view of your own perception to say something like 'I see a red patch of color' and mean it, but that's fine, there's no reason to rule it out on that account. Day to day though, I would say people don't do this sort of thing very often -- it usually happens when something's wrong with your eyes or you for some reason are relaxed and curious, and want to take an objective distance toward your own experience.

    It is this distinction that I am claiming is missed by the indirect realist, who thereby finds that all we ever see is faces in the clouds, where some correspond to real objects and others do not.jamalrob

    I need to clarify a few more things here. De dicto and de re readings of these verbs can be distinguished, but that doesn't mean they're mutually exclusive. Suppose again I say 'John is seeking a unicorn.' That can be true de dicto: he has his 'sights' set on finding some unicorn or other; it can be true de re: there is some unicorn (say, Charlie), and John is seeking him; it can be true both: John is seeking Charlie, and since he knows Charlie is a unicorn, he has his sights set on finding a unicorn, too; it can be true de re but not de dicto: John is seeking Charlie, but doesn't know Charlie is a unicorn, and so he is seeking an x such that x is a unicorn, but does not have his sights set on finding a unicorn; and it can be true de dicto but not de re: John has his sights set on finding a unicorn, but not on any individual in particular (rather he just wants to find some unicorn or other, he doesn't care which).

    The reason this is important is because it is possible to see something de dicto without seeing anything de re. If I shut my eyes and imagine a house, I can with propriety say on the de dicto interpretation, 'I see a house.' This can be true, even if de re there is no x at all such that I see x: I don't see anything in this sense, since my eyes are closed. But the reverse is not true: you cannot see something de re without seeing something de dicto. It is true that I might see a church de re, and not see a church de dicto: I only see a barn de dicto. But nevertheless, it is impossible, given that I see something, that I do not see something de dicto. So in this respect, the indirect realist is perfectly correct. And they are perfectly correct in claiming that it is possible to see 'the same thing' in one sense regardless of whether you are hallucinating or not, and regardless of what the object 'actually' is.

    Because the de re sense is privileged (certainly by realists), faces in clouds, hallucinations, and shrinking tables are thoughtlessly taken to be objects of perception rather than in various ways constituting perceptual experiences (in the same way that the pain constitutes a pain experience rather than being an object of awareness in a perceptual sense).jamalrob

    It depends on what you mean by 'objects,' but okay. And certainly phenomenalists like Ayer are far more sophisticated and subtle than this crude criticism would suggest. I also think, as I said, that it is possible in analyzing your own experiences to objectify them and make of them de re objects. And of course, it's perfectly intelligible to speak of the experiences themselves as such objects.

    But I don't think direct realists make that claim. Their point is that the sense in which one sees something shrinking, or sees a face in the clouds, does not permit the indirect realist to say that one always only sees a perceptual intermediary, precisely because, as you say, it does not entail that ‘there is an object such that it was shrinking and I saw it.’jamalrob

    Okay, yes, I agree with this. But I'm not sure the hypostatization of the sensory intermediary in these cases is really what's crucial about indirect realism insofar as it's a criticism of direct realism. In other words, the fact that the indirect realist's positive thesis is incorrect doesn't really help the direct realist in any way, who will be beset by the same problems.

    But what does "mediated" mean here? It all hinges on how one characterizes the fact that we see faces in clouds or hallucinations or mirages: if perception's being mediated means that it has its own properties that can be studied independently of the properties of whatever is perceived, and is perspectival, partial, subject to error, and relative to the perceiver's specific evolved physiology, his cultural milieu, his motivations and affect, and so on--if this is what "mediated" means then the direct realist can happily agree that perception is mediated.jamalrob

    I'm not so sure he can. You may think he can, or want very badly that he can because it would make you more comfortable with the position, but these are not all the same thing. Usually trying to account for mediation leads direct realists into incoherencies that invite dreaming arguments, and so on.

    First, I don't think it's true that we are often met with indeterminate impressions.jamalrob

    It doesn't matter how often it happens. That it can happen, period, is a problem for the direct realist. And of course you can make it happen once you figure out how.

    Are there really times when what we see is inchoate and meaningless?jamalrob

    Yes.

    But after reading what you say about unconscious inference, I suspect that you have more sympathy with this view than I at first thought:jamalrob

    'Inference' is misleading, in the sense that I think there's no transference from one sort of thing to another. In brief, I do not really think there is such a thing as perception as philosophers talk about it. If you like, direct realism could be an attempt to logically deduce what qualities perception must have if it is to exist, and it rightly criticizes indirect realism for not sticking to those qualities. But then, since direct realism is internally incoherent, this shows that perception is internally incoherent.

    If I had to pick a word, I would say that objects are projected, not inferred or perceived or anything like that. If I could speak with more liberty, I would simply say, there are no objects. Period. There are experiential movements, some of which settle into more or less regular patterns. There is nothing they are 'about' or 'aim at.' They contain their telicity internally, in pleasure and pain.

    So I'll return to the possibility that you mean "inference" metaphorically, to describe what the brain is doing in perception. Does this mean that unconscious brain processes can, like inferences, be mistaken? Does the use of "inference" mean you think there is something analogous to inference carried out by cognitive modules in the language of thought, as in computationalist theories?jamalrob

    It doesn't even matter. Even if we move the goalposts, the fact remains that sometimes you do literally infer what you are perceiving consciously, as when trying to figure out what a certain smell is. That in most cases the process isn't a conscious one seems to me metaphysically irrelevant. You have a lot of work to do in order to see anything. Sometimes it's conscious work, sometimes not -- so what?

    As might now be clear, I didn't mean passive in the Cartesian or Kantian sense, as opposed to the active synthesizing of the manifold by the understanding. I meant it in Gibson's or Merleau-Ponty's sense, as opposed to the constant probing movements of a perceiver in an environment, relative to its affordances for action. Indirect realists imagine a passive sensory receptivity borne by a single static eye, the stimuli from which are only then worked up into perception by an active cognition--because for the indirect realist, the perceiver as bodily subject or situated organism is passive, its only relevant positive activity taking place behind the veil and in the head.jamalrob

    Honestly, I don't see how an indirect realist in any way, shape or form is less able than a direct realist to talk about, account for, or ascribe importance to active understanding and affordance in this way. I suspect this is more of a vague feeling of the 'character' of the positions that doesn't amount to much.

    You say that the "remove"--the separation of mind and world or subject and object of perception--becomes apparent when perception breaks down. I would say rather that there is only such a remove when perception breaks down (or in "snapping out", etc.).jamalrob

    There are two theses held by the direct realist, both of which I think are wrong. These are that experience is:

    1) teleological, aims naturally at something outside of it, and sometimes fails to hit its target;
    2) normative, has a 'job to do,' and so sometimes can 'fail at it.' Furthermore, there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways to perceive (there must be, since there is a way the world is, and a way it's presented, and since these are separate, the latter is good only insofar as it somehow hooks up with the former)

    We can talk about why I think these are both wrong, and why so much of the mistaken realist metaphysics depends on them; but I just wanted to say that this is where your 'snapping out of it' language comes from, and the only background against which it makes sense. I suspect what is at work is taking certain phenomenological or practical qualities of experience and mistaking those qualities for metaphysical ones -- that because, for example, some perception is felicitous or useful, it therefore is not just that, but further 'real' (insert some story about how there are evolutionary pressure to make perception 'good,' and so on).

    That, of course, is more deeply Cartesian than anything you criticize.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    Your linguistic analysis looks good to me, but I still don't see how it goes against my criticism of The Argument. To see this, here is Russell's version again (it's handier than Hume's because it's easier to think of a perspectival shape as an object of perception than a perspectival diminution):

    P1. The table looks as if its top has two acute angles and two obtuse angles
    P2. The tabletop's real shape is rectangular; it does not really have two acute angles and two obtuse angles
    P3. If there sensibly appears to a subject to be something which possesses a particular sensible quality then there is something of which the subject is aware which does possess that sensible quality
    C1. Therefore the real table is not what we see
    C2. Therefore what we see is a mental image, copy or representation of the real table

    Your linguistic considerations still don't take us from P2 to the negative conclusion C1. This is because you have not shown P3, the Phenomenal Principle, to be true. What you have done, I think, is supported a weaker formulation:

    If there sensibly appears to a subject to be something which possesses a particular sensible quality then there is sometimes something of which the subject is aware which does possess that sensible quality.

    This is clear from what you say here:

    Day to day though, I would say people don't do this sort of thing very often -- it usually happens when something's wrong with your eyes or you for some reason are relaxed and curious, and want to take an objective distance toward your own experience.

    But on another reading--accepting that the shape with two acute angles and two obtuse angles remains an object of perception even when we're not paying attention to it--you have successfully defended the Phenomenal Principle, and in that case maybe my formulation of The Argument is actually invalid: if seeing a shape with two acute angles and two obtuse angles does not in fact exclude seeing a rectangular tabletop--so that one can see both, as objects in the wider sense, at the same time--then C1 does not follow from the premises.

    Either way, the conclusion that "the real table is not (ever) what we see" is unsupported. Do you agree with this? Or have you in fact been arguing for the negative conclusion? I suppose your answer might be "it depends what you mean by 'the real table'".

    I'm not sure the hypostatization of the sensory intermediary in these cases is really what's crucial about indirect realism insofar as it's a criticism of direct realism. In other words, the fact that the indirect realist's positive thesis is incorrect doesn't really help the direct realist in any way, who will be beset by the same problems.

    Just to be clear, it is not merely the hypostatization of the sensory intermediary that I object to, but the claim that we cannot be perceiving what we think we are perceiving, or that we don't really see what is out there, or that we do not see objects that exist outside of our heads.

    But what does "mediated" mean here? It all hinges on how one characterizes the fact that we see faces in clouds or hallucinations or mirages: if perception's being mediated means that it has its own properties that can be studied independently of the properties of whatever is perceived, and is perspectival, partial, subject to error, and relative to the perceiver's specific evolved physiology, his cultural milieu, his motivations and affect, and so on--if this is what "mediated" means then the direct realist can happily agree that perception is mediated.jamalrob
    I'm not so sure he can. You may think he can, or want very badly that he can because it would make you more comfortable with the position, but these are not all the same thing. Usually trying to account for mediation leads direct realists into incoherencies that invite dreaming arguments, and so on.The Great Whatever

    Can you explain how the direct realist's position is in conflict with this kind of mediation? Positions that fail to acknowledge it are not those I am defending, and emotional attachment has nothing to do with it. And I think I have already shown how we can hold perception to be direct while remaining consistent with--perhaps even dependent on--a description of the particular way that perceivers get geared in to their surroundings. I do think this can be called a direct realism, but I don't care if the label is not entirely appropriate. I'm not here to defend "common sense realism".

    First, I don't think it's true that we are often met with indeterminate impressions.jamalrob
    It doesn't matter how often it happens. That it can happen, period, is a problem for the direct realist. And of course you can make it happen once you figure out how. — TGW
    But it does matter how often it happens. It does matter that meaningless sensation is atypical. The reason it matters is that the existence of a perceptual field with its own characteristics, one that does not always resolve in a phenomenally meaningful way, does not in any way suggest that in typical perception we do not get a direct grip on the things around us--does not, for example, suggest that we do not see tables directly. You think this does follow only because you assume this perceptual field to be a medium or barrier rather than part and parcel of perception, and the meaningless sensations to be the raw data for a mental synthesis.

    It doesn't even matter. Even if we move the goalposts, the fact remains that sometimes you do literally infer what you are perceiving consciously, as when trying to figure out what a certain smell is. That in most cases the process isn't a conscious one seems to me metaphysically irrelevant. You have a lot of work to do in order to see anything. Sometimes it's conscious work, sometimes not -- so what?

    Well, I made a point of describing conscious inferences in perception in my last post, so I am not claiming that inference has no place at all. What I object to is the idea, again expressed here, that this conscious inference is a special instance of a process that goes on all the time, for the most part unconsciously. Didn't you just backtrack on this point anyway?

    Honestly, I don't see how an indirect realist in any way, shape or form is less able than a direct realist to talk about, account for, or ascribe importance to active understanding and affordance in this way. I suspect this is more of a vague feeling of the 'character' of the positions that doesn't amount to much.

    Indirect realism is utterly at odds with ecological psychology, whose theory of perception is significantly called "direct perception" and whose pioneers and adherents explicitly pitch their theories against indirect realism, representationalism, cognitivism and the rest of that family of theories.

    Dewey was a precursor of the approach, and likewise he explicitly opposed it to representationalism and the spectator theory of knowledge, both of which I take to be tied up with indirect realism.

    It is not a vague feeling. It is simply the case that indirect realism is associated with, sits most easily alongside, and is most sympathetic to a cognitivist, mechanistic, passive, dualistic conception of what it is to perceive.

    I can go in to more detail, but a couple of your responses here have been a bit impatient about this, so I'd like to see where you intend you go next. It's not enough to say you don't see how, "in any way, shape or form", indirect realism is incompatible with a view of perception that is famously in opposition to it. It might help if you say what you think indirect realism actually is.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Your linguistic considerations still don't take us from P2 to the negative conclusion C1. This is because you have not shown P3, the Phenomenal Principle, to be true. What you have done, I think, is supported a weaker formulation:jamalrob

    Is this the indirect realist's conclusion? It certainly isn't if we're talking about people like Russell and Ayer. And certainly someone like Descartes never claimed that we do not see tables -- rather, he claimed that we saw them mediately, that is, via something else seen immediately, which are ideas presented to the mind. Note that even in your opening Hume quote, he says 'nothing can ever be present to the mind...' This does not mean that we do not perceive tables (Hume was ultimately a skeptic on this question, it seems to me). It means that they are not 'present to the mind' in the way that a direct realist thinks: rather, they are seen mediately, if at all. Insofar as the rest of your post is predicated on this historically dubious claim, you need to answer this before continuing.

    Can you explain how the direct realist's position is in conflict with this kind of mediation? Positions that fail to acknowledge it are not those I am defending, and emotional attachment has nothing to do with it. And I think I have already shown how we can hold perception to be direct while remaining consistent with--perhaps even dependent on--a description of the particular way that perceivers get geared in to their surroundings. I do think this can be called a direct realism, but I don't care if the label is not entirely appropriate. I'm not here to defend "common sense realism".jamalrob

    You really need to have your feet held to the fire abut hallucination in order to see this. You cannot make your position live on promises.

    Well, I made a point of describing conscious inferences in perception in my last post, so I am not claiming that inference has no place at all. What I object to is the idea, again expressed here, that this conscious inference is a special instance of a process that goes on all the time, for the most part unconsciously. Didn't you just backtrack on this point anyway?jamalrob

    What exactly does it matter whether it's conscious or not? We know it's happening, in either case.

    It is not a vague feeling. It is simply the case that indirect realism is associated with, sits most easily alongside, and is most sympathetic to a cognitivist, mechanistic, passive, dualistic conception of what it is to perceive.jamalrob

    Why, exactly? The fact that perception occurs via a perceptual medium doesn't seem to me to implicate anything about perception not being active, embodied, or whatever hip word you want to use. This is obvious from the fact that playing video games, which the realist does not want to describe the same sort of directly perceptual metaphysical import to as non-video-game seeing, operate pretty much the same way, as embodied, sensitive to the environment, relying on affordances, and so on. It seems to me that all these things are precisely what don't need any sort of direct, or realist, account to make sense. Just the opposite, they shift the focus to the process of experiencing itself, rather than putting all the weight on the object that the direct realist believes perception is there just to give us information about. Getting objective information about some external thing, indifferent to the medium by which this happens, is not at all what perception is like or about. Hell, we spend a good portion of our lives nowadays looking at electronic screens with purposely projected interfaces; even for the direct realist, much of what we live in is a projected sensory simulation. The indirect realist rightly points out that this is not metaphysically different from ordinary situations. That is, we in no sense began to lose touch with any reality when we began to look at computer screens more often.
  • Janus
    7.7k
    The indirect realist rightly points out that this is not metaphysically different from ordinary situations. That is, we in no sense began to lose touch with any reality when we began to look at computer screens more often.The Great Whatever

    This just seems patently untrue to me. Our sensory dealings with real entities are most often far more inter-sensory and somatic than can be the case with virtual entities. I can not only see the apple, I can touch it, feel its texture, hardness, taste it, experience its crispness, slice it, smash it, throw it and so on.

    Even if a virtual environment were to be set up to simulate such a rich inter-sensory and somatic experience, I would still know that it was a simulation because I could, given the appropriate knowledge, describe exactly how it was achieved.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I don't understand what you mean in the second paragraph. What does knowing it is a simulation have to do with anything? You still interact with it in the same way as 'real life' -- that's the point. And further, a mature neuroscience and psychology can describe to you exactly how your 'natural interface' is achieved as well. It is too, if you like, a simulation. Or, you could say that the video game is real. The point is, they are not in principle phenomenologically different, and there is no reason to consider them metaphysically different.
  • StreetlightX
    3.8k
    With respect to video games, I actually agree with TGW here, but not necessarily for reasons he might appreciate. I think that it is indeed disingenuous to think of the experience of video games as categorically different from so-called 'real life' - but precisely because video games are far more somatically grounded than we traditionally care to think. There's a reason, for example, that virtual reality headsets are often described as nauseating after long periods of use, and that pilots who emerge from long periods of simulated flying are not allowed to drive cars, or in fact fly planes at all, for fear of their perceptual capacities having being compromised by the simulation. Recently they found that putting an image of the bridge of a nose on VR headsets can help decrease the feeling of motion sickness - no doubt because the nose functions as an phenomenological invariant by which bodily orientation can take place, a function of it's being just so in 'real life', without which it would be just another visual coloration in image-space:

    virtual%20nose.jpg

    And video games still abide by the phenomenological if-then relations that characterize body movement, relations which remain somatic: if I move my hand/mouse in this way, my point of view will change accordingly. If I type out this string of instructions, that event will take place. Further, as Vicki Kirby warns, trying to institute a hard and fast divide between so-called 'real life' and VR simply redoubles the Cartesianism which embodiment tropes are meant precisely to avoid: "Thus far, the literature on VR/cyberspace, despite its attention to the vagaries of identity, remains committed to a recipe of self-present ingredients... The mind/body division [in this literature] presumes supplementation, articulation, interfacing, and progress, such that the body is figured as a tool or as an instrument of the mind. ... [Yet], there never was an unmediated integrity before difference. Instead of mind and body, the conjunction that assumes that difference happens at one interface, between entities, we might think the body as myriad interfacings, infinite partitionings—as a field of transformational, regenerative splittings, and differings that are never not pensive." (Kirby, Telling Flesh: The Substance of the Corporeal, p. 148).
  • Janus
    7.7k


    I would say that knowing something is a simulation would necessarily entail that you interacted with it differently than you would with something you presumed to be real.

    I don't agree that we are justified in thinking that the everyday world is a simulation, because a simulation is normally understood to be both a simulation of something else and deliberately simulated by some agent.

    In any case, I cannot agree that the fact, even if it were accepted, that
    a mature neuroscience and psychology can describe to you exactly how your 'natural interface' is achieved...The Great Whatever
    entails that such an explanation could be analogous to an explanation of how a merely simulated sensory environment works because the latter would be given in relation to the separate understanding of the physical and chemical dynamics of the real world, and could be exhaustively understandable in relation to those already achieved separate understandings; whereas any explanation of the former could only be given in terms of the aforementioned deliverances of the very sensory perception that it would be purporting to be explaining, and will always be limited by that fact, and hence could never be definitive or exhaustive.
  • Janus
    7.7k


    This is interesting Streetlight, but I still think that the virtual space of video games is categorically different than natural perceptual space, even if not phenomenologically so. I think it is categorically different by virtue of its being able to be exhaustively explained in terms of the mechanisms by which natural space is simulated. It seems to me that it would cease to be able to be exhaustively explained only at a point where explanation is demanded for natural perceptual abilities.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Our natural waking perception is in a way 'designed,' too. Of course there's no person or group of people who purposefully made it some way, but nonetheless its features act as if designed, as if the affordances it allowed us were constructed by some sort of demiurge. And what our perceptual systems allow us is based on eons of coagulated prejudices: every 'natural' fact is just an old, calcified 'tradition.' So in that sense the 'world' built up for us is a kind of elaborate simulacrum or puppet show that is 'intentionally' sensitive only to a small number of qualities. In our naive state we just take this puppet show at its word; when we do philosophy, we begin to see its architecture, and notice that it does not make sense on its own terms. In that sense, the world as perceived is unreal.
  • Janus
    7.7k


    I think there's certainly something to what you say here TGW, but I still cannot see any reason to think that natural space is simulated (although we might think of it as 'simulated') whereas virtual space is most definitely simulated, and so I remain unconvinced that they should not be thought to be categorically different.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Well, for one thing, the simulation breaks down in systematic ways when you poke holes in the hardware, in either case.
  • Janus
    7.7k


    Yes, the two cases are certainly analogous in that regard. Actually, this leads me to think of another dis-analogy, namely that we know that virtual space is contained by natural space, at least in the sense that experiences of it always occur in some localized region of natural space. Thus we know there is natural space outside, in the sense of surrounding, virtual space; and this is not the kind of thing that could be known about, or even makes sense in relation to, natural space.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    To say that natural space 'surrounds' virtual space is to treat virtual space as if it were a little piece of natural space. But when you control your character, you are not going anywhere in 'natural space.' It's a category error.
  • Janus
    7.7k
    No, I wasn't suggesting the two are joined such that virtual entities could be "going anywhere" in natural space. All I was pointing out is that when you put the helmet on or whatever and 'enter' virtual space you do not cease to be present in natural space.

    Or envisage a 'virtual space parlour' where participants go to get 'hooked up'. We can say that everything that is going on in the virtual perceptual spaces of the participants is contained within the natural space bounded by the building that houses the parlour, even though the virtual 'events' are not 'happening' in the natural space.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.8k
    This is interesting Streetlight, but I still think that the virtual space of video games is categorically different than natural perceptual space, even if not phenomenologically so. I think it is categorically different by virtue of its being able to be exhaustively explained in terms of the mechanisms by which natural space is simulated. It seems to me that it would cease to be able to be exhaustively explained only at a point where explanation is demanded for natural perceptual abilities. — John

    The problem with this is such video game functions no differently to "real space." We may miss something occurring in virtual space just as readily as in "real space." It isn't necessary exhaustively explained(or rather, that should be, described) at all. Moreover, there is actually no such difference when considering our capacity to describe our the functioning of the world. That, for example, a biologist knows how some part if the body reacts with the world is no more or less exhaustive than the model that runs under the hood of a virtual world. And both are ruling of nothing more than what we happen to perceive about a world. Whether "virtual" or "real," our experience shows it insofar as we perceive it.

    We may have more "exhaustive" descriptions of how a virtual world works, even to the point of being able to tell the precisely what happens at any point, but that's merely a function of happing to know more about a virtual world. Take away the expert's knowledge and it is just "uncertain" as the normal world. Players often have to learn how a virtual world functions through experience, much like our interaction with our "real" surrounding environment. We must not confuse the amount of knowledge we have for some "fundamental difference" of "existence."

    Virtual space is actually categorically different than "real space." There are things is virtual space which aren't in "real" space. I am not a super man with a gun in real space. My hands on the controller aren't in the virtual world. I can't see my hands in the virtual world. In the real world, my body is unaffected by the recoil of my gun in the virtual world. Such difference, however, is always a function of the objects themselves and how they can interact with each other. The difference between the "real" an "virtual" world is not found in some abstracted quality of "real" or "virtual," but rather in the specific sensations themselves and how they relate to each other. When we say something is "real" or "virtual," we are actually talking about what it can to outside that moment of sensation; the ways something relates to the rest of our life. The difference between the real monster, who can snap your body in two and end your life, and the virtual monster, which can't touch you (no matter how many times it might kill the character you are controlling on the screen).
  • Janus
    7.7k


    You say that "virtual space is actually categorically different than "real space." so I think you are agreeing with me, even though it might seem as though you are not.

    We must not confuse the amount of knowledge we have for some "fundamental difference" of "existence."TheWillowOfDarkness

    The question as to whether the two are ontologically different is an entirely different beast that I have not ventured to touch.
  • Janus
    7.7k
    BTW, jamalrob I have not had time to do more than skim your paper, but from what I have read I it seems cogent, methodically argued and very well written. If I manage my time such that I am able to read it in more depth, then I would like to be able to comment on it further.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    Thanks John, I'd love to see your comments if you do get around to reading it.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    By the way, @The Great Whatever, work is getting in the way. I'll reply to you as soon as I can. I'm going to address these accusations:

    1. That I misrepresent indirect realism or ignore its strongest versions
    2. That I falsely oppose indirect realism to active, embodied theories of perception
    3. That I or the direct realist cannot answer the argument from hallucination
  • StreetlightX
    3.8k
    This is interesting Streetlight, but I still think that the virtual space of video games is categorically different than natural perceptual space, even if not phenomenologically so. I think it is categorically different by virtue of its being able to be exhaustively explained in terms of the mechanisms by which natural space is simulated. It seems to me that it would cease to be able to be exhaustively explained only at a point where explanation is demanded for natural perceptual abilities.John

    Oh don't get me wrong John - my point is that it's precisely because VR or video games are never 'purely' video games, because the 'space' involved when we interact with them is not at all reducible to the 'flat projection' which they seem to employ, that citing video games as an argument against the OP doesn't work. In some sense what I'm saying is that there is no such thing as a 'virtual space of video games', as if such a space could exist 'in itself'. Such a space always has roots in a corporeality without which 'experience' of it begins to come apart at the seams, as in the case of the nauseous simulator subjects.

    One shouldn't have to 'side' with reality over virtual reality (as you are doing), or vice versa (in TGW's case), when the very line that demarcates the two is porous to begin with.
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