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The geometry of visual space and the nature of visual experience

Abstract

Some recently popular accounts of perception account for the phenomenal character of perceptual experience in terms of the qualities of objects. My concern in this paper is with naturalistic versions of such a phenomenal externalist view. Focusing on visual spatial perception, I argue that naturalistic phenomenal externalism conflicts with a number of scientific facts about the geometrical characteristics of visual spatial experience.

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Notes

  1. Here, and in what follows, my use of ‘in virtue of’ signifies a constitutive relation.

  2. See Nagel (1974), Jackson (1982), and Chalmers (1996).

  3. In what follows I shall use the term object as an umbrella term.

  4. This strategy is implicit in the works of externalist representationalists such as Tye (1995, 2000, 2002), and naïve realists such as Martin (2002) and Campbell (2002). For explicit discussions of it see Fish (2009) and Langsam (2011).

  5. This intuition is often put as the claim that experience is transparent.

  6. See McDowell (1994, 2008) for a defense and Wright (2002, 2008) for a counter.

  7. Drawing on empirical findings and actual cases many have argued that phenomenal externalist views are problematic. See Block (2007, 2010), Pautz (2006, 2010), Peacocke (1997). Many have also relied on thought experiments to do so. See Block (1990), Chalmers (2006, 2011), and Thompson (2003).

  8. Chalmers Ibid. Thompson Ibid.

  9. I shall explain what I mean by this in the relevant section.

  10. Here and elsewhere by “experience” I mean perceptual experience unless otherwise indicated.

  11. See Jackson (1977) for an instructive discussion of various ways to define a direct object.

  12. On some views, perceptual experiences can have aspects that do not pertain to presenting qualities as qualities of objects. An example can help clarify this idea. Suppose that you are projecting an image on a screen. Compare two cases that you might say that you have a blurry visual experiences of the image. In the first case you experience the image as blurry, but in the second case experience it as perceived in a blurry manner; you do not experience the image as blurry. Your response to the first type of experience is to adjust the projector to get a sharper image. Your response to the second case might be to seek your eyeglasses. In the former cases blurriness would belong to the presentational phenomenal character of experience, but in the second case it would not. In the first case we can say that blurriness is part of the presentational phenomenal character of your experience. In the second case although blurriness is an aspect of the phenomenal character of your experience, it is not part of its presentational aspect. Those who are skeptical about the distinction are so probably because they think all cases of blurriness are presentational blurriness.

  13. For the ease of exposition, I shall henceforth use “the properties of objects” in place of the “directly perceived properties and relations of objects”. The two locution should be taken as equivalent unless otherwise indicated.

  14. See Jackson (1977) for an instructive discussion of various ways to define a direct object.

  15. Proponents of these accounts do not always explicitly articulate this commitment. But the commitment is obvious given the way these accounts explain the qualitative character of experience.

  16. See, for instance, Ayer (1956) and Russell (1997).

  17. Campbell (2002), Martin (2002). Naïve realists often hold that the metaphysical nature of non-veridical experiences need not be the same as veridical experiences. Their commitment to Inheritance is thus restricted to veridical experiences. Similarly, externalist representationalists who hold that perceptual experience is a matter of representing objects and their properties hold that.

  18. Dretske (1995), Harman (1990), and Tye (1995, 2000)

  19. Lycan (2001).

  20. Chalmers (2004), Thompson (forthcominga, b).

  21. McDowell (1984) and Travis (2005) dispute the reading of Frege that attributes to him what I am calling a Fregean view.

  22. Non-relationalism can be divided into adverbial and state views. Chisholm (1957), Sellars (1963), and Kriegel (2007) defend adverbial views. Block (1996, 2003) defends the state view.

  23. Shoemaker (1994, 2001, 2003) and Kriegel (2002, 2011) hold that colors are mind-dependent in the sense that they are dispositions to cause this or that type of experience. On neither of these views colors are mind-independent in the sense that I am using.

  24. See Masrour (forthcoming) for an extended defense of this claim.

  25. Euclid’s version of the fifth postulate is slightly different, but it has been proven that it is equivalent to what is now called the parallel postulate.

  26. Helmholtz showed that when subjects are asked to organize three points on a straight line the resulting configuration depends on the distance of the points from the observer’s point of view; it is concave for near points, convex for far points and straight for points located in intermediate distances.

  27. Wagner (2005) provides an excellent summary of the literature on this topic.

  28. The experiments where performed in a dark room.

  29. We have to make the additional assumption that the projections are symmetric around the X axis.

  30. Higashiyama et al. (1990), Indow, Inoie, and Matsushima (1962a, b), and Indow and Watanabe (1988) replicated Blumenfeld’s results.

  31. The horizontal panel is an imaginary plane that passes through the subject’s eyes and extends forward parallel to the ground.

  32. Foley performed the experiments two times, varying the distance of A from the subject. The average ratios were respectively 1.23 and 1.20 for the large and small configurations.

  33. See Koenderink et al. (2002, 2008, 2010).

  34. Shoemaker (2001).

  35. For an extended defense of this claim see Masrour (under review).

  36. See for example Tye (2009). I owe this last point to a discussion with Adam Pautz.

  37. For example, see the exchange between McDowell (1994, 2008) and Wright (2002, 2008).

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Correspondence to Farid Masrour.

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Masrour, F. The geometry of visual space and the nature of visual experience. Philos Stud 172, 1813–1832 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-014-0390-0

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Keywords

  • Spatial perception
  • Phenomenal character
  • Phenomenal externalism
  • Consciousness
  • Visual space
  • Geoemetry of visual experience
  • Externalism
  • Naturalism