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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Phenomenal Red and The Phenomenal Intentionality Research Program

A lot has been going on the last couple of weeks. Last week we had the Introspection and Consciousness workshop, which was organized by Declan Smithies and Daniel Stoljar, and last Friday Mike Titelbaum hosted a mini-workshop on Sleeping Beauty, with talks by Kenny "Knows About Everything" Easwaran, Terry "Feigning Indifference" Horgan, Wo "The Last Lewisian Halfer" Schwartz, and Mike "Our Ever So Funny Organizer" Titelbaum (the middle names are for the most part due to Mike).

Last Thursday Terry Horgan gave a talk entitled "The Phenomenal Intentionality Research Program", which was based on a larger research project done in cooperation with Uriah Kriegel, and I want to say a bit about this project.

The main thesis of the phenomenal intentionality research program is that intentionality (or representation) has its source in phenomenal character (the what-it's-likeness of experience). Phenomenal intentionality has its source directly in phenomenal character, whereas other forms of intentionality derive from phenomenal intentionality. The main thesis is not new (Terry, Searle and others have defended versions of this view), but it certainly is no less controversial than it used to be. The main thesis can admittedly be spelled out as a relatively uncontroversial supervenience thesis, viz. the thesis that phenomenal intentionality supervenes on phenomenal character. But Terry wants to defend a stronger view, viz the view that all (phenomenal) intentional properties are identical to phenomenal properties.

Now, this latter claim is consistent with the thesis that not all phenomenal properties are intentional properties. This is good news, because it is not hard to imagine phenomenal properties which do not represent. Consider, for instance, a red afterimage. Plausibly the redness of some red afterimages does not represent or aim at representing anything. Or maybe it does represent but then plausibly it doesn't represent in the same way as the redness of, say, a visual experience as of a ripe tomato.

But now a problem seems to arise for the phenomenal intentionality thesis. Consider a red afterimage and a visual experience as of a ripe tomato. It's plausible that the rednesses of the two experiences are phenomenally indiscernible. Moreover, it is plausible that the redness of the tomato experience represents, whereas the redness of the afterimage does not represent (or at least does not represent in the same way). But we then need to distinguish between two kinds of phenomenal red, one corresponding to the phenomenal redness of the red afterimage and one corresponding to the phenomenal redness of the tomato experience -- call them 'phenomenal-red-1' and 'phenomenal-red-2'. But we just agreed that the perceiver needn't be in a position to distinguish between phenomenal-red-1 and phenomenal-red-2 on phenomenal grounds. So, the fact that there are two kinds of phenomenal red isn't grounded in phenomenology. Worse: the fact that one of the phenomenal redness properties represents whereas the other doesn't isn't grounded in phenomenology either. So, there are facts about intentionality that are not grounded in phenomenology. There is no direct tension between this latter claim and the claim that all (phenomenal) intentional properties are phenomenal properties, but it seems a bit odd to defend the thesis that all intentionality has its source in phenomenology and then admit that some facts about intentionality are not grounded in phenomenology.

Terry has subsequently responded to my objection by saying that phenomenal properties acquire their intentionality in context. On this view, whether or not a phenomenal property is an intentional property will depend in part on the overall phenomenal character of the experience. This line seems initially promising. It certainly can explain why the redness of my red tomato experience represents whereas the redness that flows before my eyes after starring at a flashlight does not represent (or does not represent in the same way).

However, I wonder whether one could strengthen the objection in the following way. Suppose one has a red afterimage that fills all of one's visual field and (at a slightly later time) one has a visual experience as of a part of a very large red wall (s.t. the redness fills all of one's visual field). The two experiences could in principle be phenomenally indistinguishable, yet plausibly the two redness properties represent in different ways. But if this is so, then the fact that the two redness properties represent in different ways is not grounded in phenomenology; hence, not all facts about intentionality are grounded in phenomenology. And in this case, it doesn't seem feasible to claim that the phenomenal redness properties acquire their intentionality in context. After all, the only property appearing in the visual field is the property red. So, arguably, there is no context for phenomenal red-1 and phenomenal-red-2 to acquire their intentionality in.

8 comments:

Richard said...

"Suppose one has a red afterimage that fills all of one's visual field and (at a slightly later time) one has a visual experience as of a part of a very large red wall"

Don't the conceptual tags or 'as-of-ness' affect the phenomenology of the experience? (Cf. duck-rabbit.)

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Richard. I see a couple of ways in which what you're saying could resolve the objection. It might be that visual experience represents higher-level properties like that of being a wall. If Terry were to hold this view (I don't know if he does), then he would probably say that wallness is presented in the phenomenology of one of the experiences. In that case the phenomenology is different in the two cases. Problem solved. Another possibility is that visual experience does not represent higher-level properties but that the phenomenology is different in the two cases due to considerations of the sort Susanna Siegel discusses in her PR (?) paper (Terry actually did mention that possibility in a conv we had)

Now, the second possibility presumably is not a real possibility wrt colors. Siegel suggests that afterimages and regular visual experiences do not represent in the same way. For example, the redness that flows before my eyes after starring at a flashlight will stay put as I move, whereas the redness of the tomato will disappear (with the tomato) when I move. But setting aside the possibility that higher-level properties such as the property of being a wall are presented in the phenomenology of visual experience, it is not clear that there is any difference between the phenomenology of the two experiences in the envisaged case. If I move, then the afterimage redness that fills all of my visual field will stay put as I move but so will the redness of the wall experience (provided that the wall is large enough).

As for the first possibility, if indeed higher-level properties are presented in the phenomenology of visual experience, then we don't have two experiences with the same phenomenology. Problem solved. But are higher-level properties really always presented in the phenomenology of visual experience? I can see how experience could have non-phenomenal representational content in addition to phenomenal representational content (Terry allows for this possibility). In that case the property of being a wall might be part of the non-phenomenal content of the experience. There could also be cases in which the property of being a wall is part of the phenomenal content of experience. My current visual experience of my office wall seems to have phenomenal content that contains the property of being a wall. But in the envisaged scenario, the perceiver is looking at a part of a very large wall, and I think it is less obvious in this case that the phenomenal content of the experience contains the property of being a wall (or any other higher-level property).

In any event, what you're suggesting is clearly the way to go. Deny that a scenario of the sort I was envisaging is possible (that is, deny that it is possible that the phenomenology of two experiences is the same in spite of the fact that the phenomenal properties represent in different ways).

Kappatoo said...

Hi.
I know next to nothing about this discussion, so maybe my question is just naive. But why couldn't Horgan just say that the afterimage does represent? You have to assume that the afterimage is very strong anyway. My intuitive reaction would then be to say that it does represent, and that its content is the same as that of the experience caused by the red wall (something like 'There is something red in front of me'). It is just that it's a misrepresentation. (This probably won't work within an externalist theory - but an externalist will most likely deny that the experiences can be identical anyway.)

Brit Brogaard said...

Sorry for the delayed response. Have been traveling and settling back in. Do afterimages represent? Well, in my reply to Richard I offered one reason to think that they do not. "the redness that flows before my eyes after starring at a flashlight will stay put as I move, whereas the redness of the tomato will disappear (with the tomato) when I move". This gives us some reason to think that afterimages do not represent, or at least do not represent in the same way. I suppose that would also be the case for strong afterimages.

In any event, the assumption underlying the counterexample is a rather uncontroverisal one, viz. that some experiences do not represent (and yet can be associated with the same subjective feel as the corresponding representational experiences). I think Terry accepts that assumption. But I suppose one could perhaps deny the assumption and get around the counterexample that way.

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