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Post 0

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - 11:30amSanction this postReply
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Thanks for this thoughtful and informative article, Merlin!

Do you think that a portrait is a representation even if there is no one to see it? Do you think that patterns of neural activity can be representations of a distal stimulus even though no researchers (and certainly not the perceiver whose brain it is) have yet discovered the representation of the distal stimulus embodied in patterns of neuronal activity?

You wrote that "Representationalism is the philosophical doctrine that in any act of perception, the immediate or direct object is a sense-datum or idea that represents an external object – the referent that is mediated and thus indirectly perceived." Is that the only doctrine in the philosophy of perception that goes by the name Representationalism today?


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Post 1

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - 11:59amSanction this postReply
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A good source for considering direct realism is Ed Pols' Radical Realism (Cornell Univesity Press, 1994). In my view it helps avoid the paradoxes of representationalism--like does the interpretation itself require first a representation, which then leads to an infinite regress. 

Post 2

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - 1:12pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for this thoughtful and informative article, Merlin!
You are welcome, Stephen.
Do you think that a portrait is a representation even if there is no one to see it?
Yes, since it was created as a representation.
Do you think that patterns of neural activity can be representations of a distal stimulus even though no researchers (and certainly not the perceiver whose brain it is) have yet discovered the representation of the distal stimulus embodied in patterns of neuronal activity?
It depends on the kind of neural activity -- a percept or other. For example, suppose I hear the sound of a train coming from a direction where I know there are often trains. The sound itself is not a representation, but a direct causal effect. But if I imagine what the train looks like, the accompanying neural activity would be representational.
You wrote that "Representationalism is the philosophical doctrine that in any act of perception, the immediate or direct object is a sense-datum or idea that represents an external object – the referent that is mediated and thus indirectly perceived." Is that the only doctrine in the philosophy of perception that goes by the name Representationalism today?
Yes, as far as I know, allowing for different philosophers holding slightly different versions of it. You might find a more complete answer here. http://cns-alumni.bu.edu/~slehar/Representationalism.html

Tibor, thanks for the reference to Pols' book.



Post 3

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - 2:46pmSanction this postReply
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A tremendous contemporary defense of direct realism is constructed in

The Problem of Perception (Harvard 2002) by A. D. Smith.

From the jacket flap:

 

In a major contribution to the theory of perception, A. D. Smith presents a truly original defense of direct realism—the view that in perception we are directly aware of things in the physical world.

 

The Problem of Perception offers two arguments against direct realism—one concerning illusion, and one concerning hallucination—that up to now no theory of perception could adequately rebut. Smith then develops a theory of perception that succeeds in answering these arguments; and because these arguments are the only two that present direct realism with serious problems arising from the nature of perception, direct realism emerges here for the first time as an ultimately tenable position within the philosophy of perception.

 

At the heart of Smith’s theory is a new way of drawing the distinction between perception and sensation, along with an unusual treatment of the nature of the objects of hallucination. With in-depth reference to both the analytical and the phenomenological literature on perception, and with telling criticism of alternative views, Smith’s groundbreaking work will be of value to philosophers of perception in both the analytical and the phenomenological tradition, as well as to psychologists of perception.

 



Post 4

Thursday, August 10, 2006 - 10:06amSanction this postReply
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In his book Perception (2003, McGill-Queens University Press), Barry Maund writes:

 

The right way to present the representationalist thesis is to say that the perceiver does not perceive physical objects except by being aware of intermediaries. One does not perceive the intermediary at all. This point is not a trivial one. Perceiving a physical object is being caused by that object to have a sensory representation. Being aware of the sensory representation is not like that. Accordingly, . . . it is possible to develop a representative theory of perception that is direct realist, in one sense, and indirect, in another. (p.68, emphasis added)

 

Maund’s is a contemporary direct-indirect hybrid theory of perception. His is a representational realist theory of perception that does not take perception to involve any inferences (e.g., from sensory particulars to the particulars that caused them). Rather, on this representational theory, perceiving “involves a form of double awareness: the perceiver is aware of both the sensory item and the physical object, and aware of the latter through being aware of the former” (70).

 

The theory that Maund defends “holds that, in conscious attentive perception, one perceives physical objects and their qualities by becoming aware of sensory representations, that is, of a set of quality-instances (tropes) that are natural signs for the objects in question” (71).

 

I wonder if Maund’s variety of representational realist theory of perception fits less well with Rand’s express views on perception than contemporary direct realist theories of perception fit with Rand’s view. Rand’s view of perception is definitely a realist view. She writes that a human being is able “to perceive a reality undistorted by his senses. . . . ‘Things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” [AS 1036]. She maintains, furthermore, that the mind’s only access to reality is by means of its percepts [KvS (1970)]. “It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality. When we speak of ‘direct perception’ or ‘direct awareness’, we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident” [IOE 5].

 

Does Rand’s view, I wonder, entail pure direct realism (such as we see defended by A. D. Smith or David Kelley), or is Rand’s view sufficiently coarse-grained that it is compatible with pure direct realism and equally compatible with Maund’s hybrid of direct and indirect realism? More importantly, I wonder if Maund’s representational realist theory of perception is a better or worse background for interpreting and guiding research on perception than direct realism is as that background.

 

I should also draw attention to the contemporary representationalist thesis, known also as the intentionalist thesis, which is “that we are, in normal perception, not aware of the intrinsic qualities of experiences; we are instead aware of those objects and their qualities that are specified in the content of our experiences.” The representationalists deny that the phenomenal character of subjective experiences “consists of intrinsic qualities of subjective experiences, that is, of what are sometimes called qualia.” They propose an alternative way to construe the phenomenal character of experience. These contemporary representationalists propose to analyze the phenomenal character of perceptual experience “in terms of the representational character, that is, the representational content, of the experiences” (Maund 2003, 165).

 

In addition to Barry Maund, the following distinguished philosophers uphold some version or other of the representational theory of the phenomenal character of perceptual experiences: Fred Dretske; Michael Tye; Gareth Evans; Ruth Millikan; Gilbert Harmon; and Austen Clark.


Post 5

Thursday, August 10, 2006 - 11:23amSanction this postReply
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Stephen,

I have not read Maund's theory and rely only on what you wrote. However, it seems muddled, for two reasons. First, he says we don't perceive sense data but we are aware of it. Maybe he means "aware of it" from a third person perspective, but that is not clear. In contrast, I hold that we are not aware of sense data -- from a first person perspective. Rather sense data are (part of) the means of awareness. Second, I suspect he uses "representation" without explaining what it means like my article says, and such usage is based on a bad analogy.

From what you say about the intentionalist thesis, it sounds okay to me. But I would not describe it  as "representational." Again, representation is a bad analogy for perception.


Post 6

Sunday, August 13, 2006 - 1:55pmSanction this postReply
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Section A – Prof. Maund

 

Merlin, you write that Maund “says we don’t perceive sense data, but we are aware of it. Maybe he means ‘aware of it’ from a third-person perspective.”

 

No, he is here staying with the first-person perspective of the perceiver. He is saying that in the perception of an object, one is aware of, but does not perceive, one’s sensory representation of the object. We often use the word perception in a more general sense to mean simply any sort of awareness, but Maund is here using perception to refer strictly to sensory perception. Our awareness of the sensory representations instrumental in a sensory perception is a type of direct awareness, but it is not itself a sensory perception.

 

Maund has us perceiving physical objects always by being aware of intermediary sensory representations. We do not perceive the intermediaries. When we hear the sound of the bell at the rail crossing or see the moving barrier, we are caused to have sensory representations. We are aware of both the phenomenal sensory items and the physical objects that caused them. And we are aware of the latter through being aware of the former, on Maund’s view. “In conscious attentive perception, one perceives physical objects and their qualities by becoming aware of sensory representations, that is, of a set of quality-instances (tropes) that are natural signs for the objects in question” (71).

 

The sensory representations activated in a perception are not the object of which the perceiver is aware (66). “The perception of physical objects is direct (and immediate) but . . . nevertheless [it] operates through awareness of intermediaries” (68). Because of the latter element in perceptual experience, Maund calls his theory a hybrid direct-indirect theory of perception.

 

Perhaps Maund’s theory should be taken to be purely direct realism. I’ll leave that question for future scrutiny. Be that as it may, Maund’s theory and the theories of all those other philosophers I listed in post #4 are in a class of theories known representational realism (direct or indirect or hybrid).

 

Section B – Stephen

 

Is it legitimate to call some component or aspect of perceptual processing representational (or representative)? Is this use of representation only an analogy with our representations in drawing a stick-man or in making a statement?

 

Yes, it is legitimate. No, it is not an analogy, not any more than chemical affinity is an analogy with human affinity.

 

Component (3) in Merlin’s model of representation is “the interpreter of the representation, who can distinguish between, and relates” (1) the referent of what is represented and (2) the representation itself.

 

In order to make clear an important point on which I agree with Merlin’s view, I want to magnify, in the following statement, the elements in his model: The successful interpreter of the representation must be able to recognize the referent when she detects and discriminates it, she must be able to recognize the representation when she detects and discriminates it, and she must be able to recognize the representation as a representation of that referent. [I nod to J. Haugeland’s “Pattern and Being” on this (1993).]

 

Biological systems that are incapable of recognition are incapable of being interpreters of representations. Can the preattentive conscious elements in our episodes of attentive perception recognize something? That question is highly pertinent for an assessment of Professor Maund’s representative realism. But I want to address a more radical question. Can preconscious elements in our perceptual processing recognize something?

 

I say not. There are pattern-recognition systems, machines we have invented or the natural neuronal pattern-recognition systems. This use of the term recognition is an analogy. Neuronal pattern-recognition systems are part of what makes our genuine recognition possible. Genuine recognition is attained, however, only when those subsystems are hooked up in the right ways in a high-level animal brain.

 

Is it possible that activity patterns in some of the neuronal subsystems subserving our perceptions are representations? I agree with Merlin that such neuronal subsystems’ activity patterns cannot be an interpreter of representations, for they cannot genuinely recognize anything. Can they be representations?

 

They meet Fred Dretske’s requirement for a representational system. They are systems having functions “to indicate how things stand with respect to some other object, condition, or magnitude” (1988, 22). The sense of indication here is simply causal. Rabbit tracks naturally indicate a rabbit whether or not they are recognized as indicators of a rabbit. As a result of plant evolution, the collumella region of the cap of a gravitropic root has the function of indicating the direction of gravity. The collumella region of such a root of such a plant is a representational system, on Dretske’s view.

 

To count as a representational system, I think we need Dretske’s requirements, but we need more besides. Animals such as us, and even birds and insects, have more indirect and more complex reactions to their external environment than gravitropism. Behavior of these organisms is very active compared to plant tropisms. Such animals actively search out information from the world, information that is needed for them to perform successful actions.

In many mammals (and especially in humans), the retina is nonuniform, with a fovea that provides particularly detailed information about the visual scene. Thus, the successive fixations must be integrated, with the information acquired with the eyes in one position remapped as the eyes move. Other sensory modalities, such as audition and touch, also must be integrated into this evolving representation of the visually perceived world. (37)

 

In the saccadic system, the brainstem saccade generator converts space (retinotopic code) to time (firing of the excitatory burst neurons). The working memory holds a “plan” (the retinotopic position of targets) until it is executed, whereas dynamic remapping updates the plan as [saccadic] action proceeds. (67)

 

Neural Organization: Structure, Function, and Dynamics

Arbib, Èrdi, and Szentágothai

MIT 1998


 

Saccades are essential to the formation of our integrated percepts of visual scenes. These coordinated actions in the visual system can perform automatically for us, without our conscious direction of the steps. In this context, we find the scientists quoted above talking of information, remapping (so mapping), representation, and retinotopic code. These are legitimate concepts in this context. They are not concepts merely analogous to representation in Merlin’s sense, the sense entailing conscious action. (And they are not ‘stolen concepts’.)

 

Neuronal subsystems subserving our perceptions do have indicating functions that feed into our perceptions. So they meet Dretske’s condition for being representational (sub)systems. The representations subserving perception are neither iconic nor language-like. They are distributed computational representations. The sense of representations here is the mathematical one (cast perhaps very generally, say perhaps the one in terms of objects and morphisms in mathematical category theory), but instanced in the operational setting of functioning neuronal systems. So the morphisms, or mappings, of the mathematical representations are actually being performed by physical neuronal activity.

 

I do not have an argument to the effect that all of our conscious representations—imagination, memory, conceptualization, planning—must be held by neuronal processing that is representational in the mathematical sense. But one notable research program progressing under the hypothesis of such a dependency is displayed in this book:

 

The Harmonic Mind

From Neural Computation to Optimality-Theoretic Grammar

Smolensky and Legendre

MIT 2006




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Post 7

Sunday, June 1, 2008 - 6:53amSanction this postReply
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Newly released:

 

The Case for Qualia

Edmond Wright, editor

MIT Press (2008)

 

From the back cover:

Many philosophers and cognitive scientists dismiss the notion of qualia, sensory experiences that are internal to the brain. Leading opponents of qualia (and of indirect realism, the philosophical position that has qualia as a central tenet) include Michael Tye, Daniel Dennett, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and even Frank Jackson, a former supporter. Qualiaphiles apparently face the difficulty of establishing philosophical contact with the real when their access to it is seen by qualiaphobes to be second-hand and, worse, hidden behind a "veil of sensation" . . . . In The Case for Qualia, proponents of qualia defend the Indirect Realist position and mount detailed counterarguments against opposing views.

Table of Contents

(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 6/01, 7:08am)


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Post 8

Thursday, January 22, 2009 - 7:07amSanction this postReply
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See also:

Sensory Qualities



Post 9

Thursday, January 22, 2009 - 8:42amSanction this postReply
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In the earlier views of peceptual responding, is this taking into account the higher animals' perceptual responding, or are the two considered somehow different? I ask because almost all discussions of this deal with humans, omitting it seems the evolutionary development prior, that conceptualness is a layering over, and that the perceptualness is the same for all...

Post 10

Saturday, March 28, 2009 - 5:47amSanction this postReply
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Another realist with new book:

Perception, Hallucination, and Illusion
William Fish (Oxford 2009)

“The Direct/Indirect Distinction in Contemporary Philosophy of Perception”

“Disjunctivism”

“Disjunctivism, Indistinguishability, and the Nature of Hallucination”


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 3/28, 5:49am)


Post 11

Saturday, March 28, 2009 - 8:45amSanction this postReply
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From the on-line, book-seller's description of Fish's book:
"...[H]ow perception and hallucination could be indiscriminable from one another without having anything in common..." I know disjunction is the whole point, but really...  It isn't a puzzle book, is it? ;-)


Post 12

Saturday, June 20, 2009 - 12:01pmSanction this postReply
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At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
is a Review of The Case for Qualia.


Post 13

Saturday, June 27, 2009 - 6:25amSanction this postReply
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Finally, I have followed up in a substantive way on this note and this note.

Here it is: Direct Realism.


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Post 14

Tuesday, July 3 - 6:00amSanction this postReply
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This new one looks to be mighty illuminating.

Coming this fall from Oxford University Press:

 

The Unity of Perception

Content, Consciousness, Evidence

Susanna Schellenberg

 

From the publisher:

"Perception is our key to the world. It plays at least three different roles in our lives. It justifies beliefs and provides us with knowledge of our environment. It brings about conscious mental states. It converts informational input, such as light and sound waves, into representations of invariant features in our environment. Corresponding to these three roles, there are at least three fundamental questions that have motivated the study of perception. How does perception justify beliefs and yield knowledge of our environment? How does perception bring about conscious mental states? How does a perceptual system accomplish the feat of converting varying informational input into mental representations of invariant features in our environment?

 

"This book presents a unified account of the phenomenological and epistemological role of perception that is informed by empirical research. So it develops an account of perception that provides an answer to the first two questions, while being sensitive to scientific accounts that address the third question. The key idea is that perception is constituted by employing perceptual capacities - for example the capacity to discriminate instances of red from instances of blue. Perceptual content, consciousness, and evidence are each analyzed in terms of this basic property of perception. Employing perceptual capacities constitutes phenomenal character as well as perceptual content. The primacy of employing perceptual capacities in perception over their derivative employment in hallucination and illusion grounds the epistemic force of perceptual experience. In this way, the book provides a unified account of perceptual content, consciousness, and evidence."



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