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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seeing as a Non-Sensory Relation: The Case from Synesthesia and Visual Imagery

A friend of mine recently asked me whether I thought synesthesia has any philosophical consequences or is just an independently interesting phenomenon. I think it has numerous philosophical consequences. In this paper I outline some consequences of synesthesia for the analysis of the concept of seeing. This is still just a rough draft. Comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

Hello Barit, as usual, interesting stuff.
I hope I understand you correctly--in any case, here's my two-cents, I hope it may be of some use:
First, if there is an entity that sees--- in the broader sense of attending to-- it sees what the eye makes and what all the senses make and what the mind makes,
and sees dreams---which may at times be more visually stunning than any waking scene.
It can all be said to be seeing/vision in some real way.

Where "sensory" eye seeing ends and these other kinds of vision begin-- is tricky business. So too any sort of "interpretation".
Your approach is premised on there being a strong distinction between inner and outer--subjective and objective--and this is dubitable too--as necessity.
Seems to me I can say legitimately that I saw the sadness
on x's face; and "I saw a bunch of colored patches and shapes and light, and only after I had interpreted them did I see it was my own foot in dim light" and equally, "I saw a bunch of colored shapes and light but then saw my own foot"---i.e., no interpretation just two different acts of seeing.
And it seems legitimate to say " I saw 18 people in the classroom" or, "I saw the vase was shaped like an egg".
To presume it necessary in every seeing that there must first be the seeing of something called "qualia" only, rather than a recognized object or formation or named thing --is, it seems to me, just that, a presumption and a prejudice. Frequently, recognition of an object is instantaneous. What seeing comes without some kind of recognition? Even a sighted person struck blind may say, as Milton did, that its as if a permanent night had descended.
And when does seeing end?
If I see a large Afgan hound immediately upon sighting what then is so different upon seeing a something and then shutting my eyes
and its identity as an Afgan hound
then appearing? To me, these both may be labeled "sensory states" ---and it is ultimately arbitrary where you place the mark beyond which there is no more "sensory state"--if such you must do. All these examples are to me not just "grounded in a sensory state" but straight ahead sensory states-- for all of them are part of and inseparable from vision. Visual state and object are indistinguishable. No vision without an object. Recognition can be simply seen as integral to every "sensory state" and interpretation seen as no different from interpretation---or a species of recognition.
Blue and red numbers? Integral to the "sensory state" of that person.
If it is ultimately arbitrary--and I believe it is--whether and where you make some kind of line between "sensory state" and "interpretation"----then the usefullness of your division and particular dividing place becomes
Make arguments then for the pragmatic legitimacy or your particular division and dividing place, to our understanding of vision or sense or mind or what have you--- versus not making such.
That, in my estimation, would have more philosophical legitimacy-than your current approach--though probably would not satisfy the cognitive sci folk.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks for your comments, Anon. I think that the whole sensory vs. non-sensory dispute (as well as perception vs. cognition dispute) can be construed as verbal.

But then, out the drain goes all the neat debates, including the debate about high-level properties in perception and cognitive penetration.

So take it to be essential to sensory states that they have a neural correlate in visual cortex. Use Chalmers' def of 'neural correlate'

"I saw 18 people" (type 1 seeing -- It didn't seem to me that there were 18 as opposed to 19 or 17)

Brit Brogaard said...

Correction: "... essential to visual sensory states that they ..."