Sunday, November 28, 2010

Neuromythology and Neurocriticism

Recently in the context of comments about brain "maps" in the visual cortex, I quoted from the book Critical Studies in Neurology (1948) by Sir Francis Walshe whom, it seems, was also John Smythies' neurology teacher University College Hospital in London. The interesting title of the book requires some explanation, which he provides in his Foreword, "The Function of Criticism in Medicine":
When we bear in mind, as we may so profitably do, the salutary and powerful influence which critical thought and writing have had upon the development of literature, and recall the stature of some of the figures who had been both outstanding critics and creative writers in literary history, it is with a strong sense of contrast that we recognize how rarely we meet the critical in the literature of science, and how minor a role it plays in our time.

In any case, we may well ask ourselves whether, despite the many and obvious differences between literature and science, it can be altogether wholesome to find that the unresting collection of new facts in science is to so relatively slight a degree accompanied, or illuminated, by the critical assessment and synthesis of all this new information, or at least by some deliberate search after synthesis. Here, surely, integration is not keeping pace with differentiation (pp. vii-viii).
I suspect that more than one reader here may agree that now over half a century later the situation still leaves much to be desired, if anyone has ever seen the gallery of brain scans that adorn the poster presentations at annual conferences of the Society for Neuroscience. As Walshe noted: "For new facts, or what claim to be such, the editor of the scientific journal has an insatiable appetite, but to anything in the nature of critical writing, he is often found to be acutely allergic, and at the writer thereof he instinctively looks askance (p. viii)" So criticism is by no means welcome in the field, even if it is badly needed, and should rightly be seen as integral to the scientific method, rather than as something external to it, as Walshe maintained:

Facts, after all, are not science but only the raw material of that ordered knowledge which is science, and in the ordering of facts, in the capacity to choose the significant amongst them, to apply the inductive process to them and to make those syntheses which are the natural starting points for further planned experiment and observation, there also we find the highest role of the trained critical faculty. Discrimination of true from false depends upon a practiced faculty of criticism, and upon a firm grasp of the rules of evidence (ibid.)
It interesting, too, that Walshe associates critical thinking with literary criticism, rather than being one of the primary roles of philosophy, which his statements seem to imply is not part of scientific education or the practice of science itself as a discipline, but must be cultivated by the individual himself. Walshe observes: "[T]here is not a little in our literature that is inaccurate, slovenly and redundant, and, after all, our literature is but the expression of our thinking," and referring to a critical paper by Lashley and Clark on cortical cytoarchitectonics, he comments:

[T]his body of knowledge is to a grave degree illusory in its apparent precision, is based upon the study of an inadequate number of samples by methods which lack any constant standards of observation and result in conflicts of statement that have gone far too long uncriticised, even, indeed, unnoticed by workers in the field. Cortical cytoarchitectonics may not unfarily be said to have reached a degree of pseudo-precision and unreality unprecedented in neurological science (p. xif)

Given the example of brain mapping Walshe mentions, which I quoted in previous comments, one cannot help wonder if conditions since he wrote his book have really changed significantly, if one juxtaposes the following remarks with those of Hubel and Wiesel which I also quoted:

In certain other problems that have confronted the neurologist it is rather naivety than manifest inaccuracy and slovenliness that our thought and literature from time to time have displayed. For example, the hypothesis that consciousness is to be "located" in the hypothalamus reveals a crude conception of this function that might almost have derived from the animistic mythology of some savage tribe. It appears that the word "consciousness" has but to be uttered, read or heard for us to find ourselves irresistibly entertaining the illusion that some perfectly simple and unitary state is involved. This is at once dubbed an "entity" which we are impelled to "locate" tidily and compactly within some easily definable structure in the brain. In this facile process of anatomizing an abstraction, the hypothalamus finds itself the somewhat unpromising site of this profoundly complex phenomenon, and also the ark within which "centres" of sleep and of wakefulness have been reverently deposited. (p. xii)
Further bemoaning this state of affairs in terms of the "mysterious viability of the false," "repositories of obsolete lumber," "facile allegory," and a "medley of ad hoc hypotheses," Walshe concludes that "[I]t is temping, and a humbling exersise, sometimes to see the humorous side of our interests and activities, and in this mood it is not altogether inapt to say that there are chapters in neurological literature that might justly be styled 'neuromythology'" (p. xiv). But as much as anything, what Walshe has "diagnosed" is just poor or untrained critical reasoning.

That some indeed acknowledge now that there exists something akin to a "Emperor's New Clothes" situation in neuroscience today, there are now commentators who explicitly espouse neurocriticism. Here is an example from a link given on a "Neuroanthropology" blog to a blog entitled "Critique of Neuroscience":

Cornelius Borck, professor for history of medicine and science at Luebeck University, investigated the “neurorevolution” from a historical perspective. The promises for brain researchers were now repeated already for 200 years: Scientists kept repeating over and over again the imminence of a major breakthrough concerning the understanding of human mind, consciousness, and that of mental disorders. By contrast, Borck argued, the “new knowledge” often reproduced what had been known already, referring to the recommendation – recently supported by neuroscience – to teach foreign languages in early childhood. Also the language of brain researchers were noteworthy: Functional magnetic resonance imaging, for example, investigated physiological processes; nevertheless, many studies relying on this method explained their data not in physiological concepts, but in those stemming from everyday life.
What strikes me as very curious, too, is how uncritical most of so-called neurophilosophy is of neuroscience!


  1. The "Critique of Neuroscience" website includes a link to an enterprise calling itself "Critical Neuroscience," but the link doesn't seem to be working. Here is a working link to the site for those who may be interested:
    Apparently they have their own blog, too:

  2. Sir Francis Walshe was not only a great clinical neurologist he was also, in the true sense of the word, a great neurophilosopher. My use of that term has no relation to the debased pursuit that passes as ‘neurophilosophy’ today. What I mean is that he had the capacity and motivation to criticize the statements, presented as ‘true science’, made by neuroscientists that flagrantly ignore basic logic, philosophy, ethics, morals and common sense. Walshe was a strong opponent of materialism. He was an Irishman and had all the literary brilliance and power of invective of the Irish. His review in “Brain” of J.Z. Young’s awful book “Doubt and Certainty in Science” is a classical example of how, with utmost elegance and finesse, to tear your opponent to pieces.
    In spite of Bill’’s urging that we should try to keep to the point of this blog, namely the structure of visual space, I feel that we need to air at least one aspect of this endeavour, that, at times, entails people taking up positions that are critical of contemporary scientific Orthodoxy. Bill’s timely call to subject science to “a practiced faculty of criticism” is very relevant here. Some members of the Orthodoxy have used their ideas and positions to set up what they see as a high moral ground. We need to examine this high moral ground that disapproves of such criticism.

  3. I have just finished reading John Cornwell’s book “Hitler’s Scientists”. He relates the sorry story of non-Jewish German scientists during the Third Reich, who did almost nothing to protect their Jewish colleagues, or to thwart Hitler’s plans in any way. Their excuse was that they were ‘above’ politics. Ironically the worst of the lot were the physicians. Cornwell concludes “The best defence against the prostitution and abuse of science is for scientists to unite in small and large unofficial constituencies, to create communicating communities of scientists who, in the words of Joseph Rotblat, ‘are human beings first and scientists second’.” (Rotblat was the only American scientist who resigned from the Manhattan Project in 1944, when it became clear that the Nazi’s were nowhere near producing nuclear weapons. He went on to found Pugwash and win the Nobel Peace Prize.)

  4. Cornwell specifically mentions giant military-industrial complexes, and corrupt political ideologies based on scientism, as the evils to be combated. To this list today I feel we should add the corrupt neuroscientism, which promotes the dogma that human beings are nothing more than machines. Of course, many neuroscientists are modest and reasonable folk, who do not support neuroscientism. However, there are a number that do. This movement has congealed into a fanatical self-perpetuating Orthodoxy that refuses to debate the issue, that does not tolerate dissent of any kind, and that punishes heretics by any means that it can. One of its leaders has recently published a paper that claims to base all human morality theory on biological and neurophilosophical factors, taking a passing swipe at Plato as the writer does so. The names of Prince Gautama, Moses, Solon, Socrates, Jesus, Muhammad. Gandhi, Mandella and Schweitzer do not occur in the exposition! I have attended a number of seminars in such Departments of Philosophy, and vividly recall one in which the presenting grad student foamed (metaphorically) at the mouth when he expressed his outrage, hatred, and contempt for Sir John Eccles and all his works. I was reminded of Torquemada making plans to burn the Protestants and Jews, who were unfortunate enough to fall into his clutches.

  5. It is surely true that one cannot deduce what one should do solely from neurobiological knowledge of what is the case: all systems of relative ethics are vulnerable to Hitlerian and Stalinist viruses. The large numbers of German scientists and doctors, who eagerly carried out the Nazi program of eugenics—murdering hundreds of thousands of ‘undesirable’ human beings in the process—saw themselves purely in the noble role of benefiting the human race.
    As Viktor Frankl (Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna), who survived two incarcerations in Auchwitz, said that the Holocaust was—
    “…the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazis liked to say ‘of Blood and Soil’… I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz…were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers”.
    I am making the point that our current brood of nihilistic promoters of Scientism, however laden with honors they may be today, are merely termites eating at the fabric of civilization and preparing the ground for Big Brothers and Holocausts to come. How Walshe would have slammed into them!

  6. Bravo, John. I think that in a very basic way there is something insidious (and invidious) about neuroreductionism in general, as I have opined here already. The experience-denying aspect of science in general, that it "knows better" by its means rather than the evidence of the senses, must surely erode our humanity at the most fundamental level.

    I can still remember when I first met Rama, many moons ago when we were both at Caltech, and how he could not understand why I was so preoccupied with perceptual space and understanding it, and its implications for knowledge, not only of geometry, but of the world as we know it. I had been complaining about two papers critical of the whole notion of "phenomenal space" by British psychologist, Michael Morgan, one of them in a volume Rama had co-edited with the Cambridge Nobel laureate physicist, Brian Josephson, which is entitled "Consciousness and the Physical World" (Oxford, 1980).

    When I expressed my perplexity about Morgan's skeptical position, Rama retorted impatiently, "There is no perceptual space in the brain!!!" Of course, what he meant by that was pure neuroreductionism: If it doesn't exist in the brain, it doesn't exist at all. But saying that in one gesture swept away the most real thing we have: Sensory experience, something that is more real than any abstraction from which it borrows its lineaments. In a way, science has stolen from us what is most real and perhaps most valuable.

  7. William, is that what all the controversy has been about? Is this what stands behind all your objections to classical realism? No, it is not science per se but scientism that has stolen away the proper import of sensory experience. A classical realist who also follows classical monotheism (such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas) could affirm legitmate science but still honor your concerns by saying something like this. "Yes, the perceptual world is the realm of colors, tones, flavors, et cetera, and these are not really present among observed objects in the same way they are present in consciousness. But even so, to perceive in terms of colors and so on is to perceive correctly, which is to say, as the Creator intended. God set up observable objects on the one side, and human faculties on the other, in order that people should find themselves living within a world of rich qualities in that way." Along this line, Aquinas said beauty is one of the perfections of being. Specifically, beauty is the power of being to make the mind rejoice as it informs the mind. On this basis, one who agrees with Aquinas might say an observable object is fulfilled only when this power is exercised by having the object consciously experienced by an appropriate mind in this way. To be sure, this line is not really in keeping with what John calls the "contemporary scientific Orthodoxy" that includes neuroreductionism. But then why should a classical realist follow neuroreductionism?

  8. Perhaps at this point, David, it might be best if you stated briefly your understanding of classical realism as a position today, because not all of us may not fathom its implications for scientific endeavor. For example, does the classical realist necessarily believe in God? I thought the main belief of realism was the believe in reality.

    Because there are no clear markers where science leaves off and scientism (as a kind of cult) begins, making that distinction depends upon a keen mind to observe it, and probably one trained in philosophy, which apparently most scientists today are not, thanks largely to the eclipse of liberal arts education by science and technology and other "social" factors.

    I have given reasons as to why I believe sensory qualities are the foundation of the perceptual world, because if you remove them, there is no perceptual world at all. In turn, sensory qualities (again as I have already argued) indeed seem to be the "carriers" of the "objective" attributes we ascribe to physical reality as well, so therein is the conundrum as I see it. No one yet has responded to this point, which I feel is quite important to our main topic.

    Whether one attributes this state of affairs to the Creator or not seems to me immaterial (pun intended), because the recognition of the problem is ours to have after eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

    If my own understanding of classical realism is correct, I cannot think of a single scientist working today who adheres to it, and I should like to think there must be a reason for that other than my own ignorance.

  9. Even the term "classical realism" today seems mainly associated with a movement in art, secondly a political position.

  10. No, classical realism does not involve saying there is God. It may be the thesis that there is God is a further implication of classical realism, but that is another question. On this basis, what I said about Augustine and Aquinas should be taken merely as an obvious example of how classical realism might be reconciled with your concerns.

    Evidently, we understand very different things by the phrase "classical realism." Given what I mean by the phrase, it might be surprising to find a scientist working today who does NOT adhere to it. What then do I mean? First of all, I do not mean naive realism, although I mean something fairly close to naive realism. I have in mind a "reconstructed" version. As I said, the perceptual world is the realm of colors, tones, et cetera, and these are not really present among observed objects in the same way they are present in consciousness. In what way, then, can people be said to perceive correctly, apart from any reference to what the Creator intended?

    There is the real world of real observable things, which world is prior to and independent of sensory experience. This real world stands behind experience in the sense that experience is causally derived from the functioning of this world. This experience may be said to be correct or veridical when, and only when, it corresponds appropriately to that real world. Corresponding appropriately is to be understood in terms of having the facts and features of the perceptual world map into the facts and features of the observable world. All this is known on the basis that one must refer to observable things in order to describe sensory experience. (People speak of their perceptual impressions as impressions *of* this or that object.) That is all.

    Given all this, there is no need to dishonor or downgrade the rich qualities given in sensory experience. Indeed, these qualites are the basis for knowing anything at all about the observable world, as you said. To be sure, these qualites are not present in the world in the same way, but that is nothing in this context. By way of analogy, if someone conveys in sign language what I uttered orally with spoken words, the report is still accurate even though the medium for conveying it is very different from what I used in uttering it.

  11. If classical realism does not require belief in God, why then all the talk of God here?

    Listening to the paper given by Olivier Boulnois entitled "The Image of the Invisible," which I referenced recently in commenting on David's posting, I was struck by the fact that all the philosophical analysis of Augustine that resulted in an early theory of images was focused on trying to explain the relationship between Christ and God, only secondarily to explain images in general, and to reconcile ideas about them with Plato's ideas.

    But in saying that it also occurs to me that Greek philosophy did not seem to revolve around explaining reality or perception in terms of their gods, and their metaphysics was more truly just the study of reality.

    I would counter that most scientists today operate on a semi-naive realist basis, not on one of critical realism, and see their work as just enhancing our perception of the world on the one hand, yet being prepared to reject perception altogether, should science somehow demand that. In other words, they sort of take the perceived world for granted, and probably don't even think about it very much!

    David, you write, "the perceptual world is the realm of colors, tones, et cetera, and these are not really present among observed objects in the same way they are present in consciousness." I would ask, how do you know that? How do you know that objects are not colored in the physical world? Then you assert, "There is the real world of real observable things, which world is prior to and independent of sensory experience." How do you know that if not *somehow* on the basis of sensory experience?

    Therefore I would also ask, how are these "facts" "mapped" to the world beyond the senses if we have no direct access to it in some way? "People speak of their perceptual impressions as impressions *of* this or that object." Yes, that is so--the objects to which they refer are *perceptual* objects. What are "impressions" then? I would say they are something within the perceptual world, not external to it.

    I maintain that some form of realism is required to make sense of perception and knowledge, but I am not convinced that we can dispense with some kind of direct relationship to the world beyond our senses for that to be possible. Therein is the essential conundrum, at least as I see it.

  12. How do I know the objects in the physical world are not colored in themselves? Well, all right. As near as I can figure, the claim that colors are there in the world in the same way they are in my consciousness would lead to irresolvable paradoxes. So, I conclude this claim is false, and similarly for tones, flavors, et cetera. What then? I figure that, to borrow from you, indeed we cannot "dispense with some kind of ... relationship to the world beyond our senses" and still make sense of perception and knowledge. On this basis, I figure that there is some sort of relation of experience to that world, largely comparable to what naive realism has, but more abstract in order to avoid the paradoxes. That is all. Now, if someone could get rid of the paradoxes and thereby vindicate naive realism, then fine and dandy. I should like very much to see that done. The one who did it would be a hero.

  13. As I turn it over in my mind, I believe an example may illustrate much. There is the case of sunspots. An arc welder is very bright, too brilliant to look at from nearby without special shielding. (I know this the hard way.) Now, people see sunspots as dark. Yet it turns out that a sunspot is in fact five times brighter than an arc welder. So, if naive realism were true, then a sunspot would be both dark and overwhelmingly brilliant. But no, this is just a little too ridiculous. What this shows is that naive realism is false. To be sure, people's experience may still be said to be veridical in that they perceive correctly the comparative brightness among patches on the sun, although not the absolute brightness of a given patch. Then again, this retreat to comparative brightness, leaving aside absolute brightness, involves going to an idea of having experience correspond to things that is at least one notch more abstract than what naive realism would say.

  14. 1. If colors are not in the physical world, what "qualities" do you see as the (physical) world containing that are also shared by the perceptual world? How can it be that in the visual world, if one has no color (even black and white) there just is no visual world at all? I would be interested in a sample irresolvable paradox as to why there are no colors in the physical world.

    The example of the relative brightness of an arc welder vs. sunspots is not so straight forward as you describe it, because whereas we can readily enough see with/without retinal/corneal blindness an arc welder, one do not see sun spots--except in photographs of them heavily filtered in order to make them visible and appear dark. How are those two conditions to be compared then?

    No one ever asserted (to my knowledge) that in directly perceiving the world one must perceive only absolute physical quantities, so I don't know that this necessarily deals a fatal blow to naive realism on the face of it.

  15. 2. As I have stated before, the philosophy of perception has made a sort whipping boy out of naive realism, a "little man of straw" (if I may allude to Fred Attneave's old tongue-in-cheek paper "In Defense of Homunculi"). That is because it may not ultimately be possible to dispose of naive realism without disposing of realism altogether at the same time, thus throwing the proverbial baby out with the wash. That point seems to have escaped much attention, at least of which I am aware.

    Is it thinkable--if not possible--that the physical world is realized as it is perceived, as Neils Bohr and John Wheeler have proposed, and that therefore the so-called "sense" organs are really performing a very different function than we have long assumed?

    On version of such a scenario (from science fiction) would be that physical reality--in toto--was somehow created with multiple outcomes long ago, and that we as consciousnesses somehow experience it rather like a video game, replete with Huxley's "feelies" (eh, John)?

    To retreat into abstraction is, to my way of thinking, a potential defeat in of itself, because it so readily leads to the fallacy of reification.

  16. Very good, sir. For the rest, I shall have to think about it and perhaps research further. But as for what qualities the physical world contains that are also shared by the perceptual world, I expect there may not be any such shared qualities. Only some fairly abstract structure seems to be shared.

  17. As for the proposal that the physical world is realized as it is perceived, yes it is thinkable in some way. But in order for it to be possible, it looks like some sort of theism or idealism would have to be true. Along this line, what I said last night about combining classical realism with classical monotheism is perhaps the mildest version of this proposal.

  18. I have always been haunted by the passage I previously quoted from Isaiah 55:8, juxtaposed with J.B.S. Haldane's pronouncement in his book "Possible Worlds" that "I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

    Returning to our point of departure, I am reading the "sequel" to Francis Walshe's book, a volume of papers published in 1965 (17 years after the first) entitled "Further Critical Studies in Neurology and other Essays and Addresses." His diagnosis and prognosis seem virtually unchanged:

    "I am not asking for a mythology in medicine or in the medical sciences or for elegant literary carnivals of notions unrelated to facts. I have, indeed, in the past deplored the lush and unwithering growth of neuro-mythology in my own particular discipline of medicine and its basic sciences. I am pleading for the creation of ordered knowledge from facts and for the discouragement of the 'slovenly, the inaccurate and the redundant' by the intellectual method of discrimination and critical thinking and writing (p. 242)."

    Somehow we have to come up with a model of perception that will not only explain visual space, but will do so without either doing violence to it or presupposing its existence. As the title of the Wheeler Festschrift is entitled, what is required is "Magic without Magic."

  19. I prefer the name "physical realism" over "classical realism" for the position which I take it that David is referring to, since it makes clear a commitment to the existence of physical entities apart from our perceptions of them. I prefer this term for the same reason that I don't like the term "critical realism" these terms are just susceptible to too many different construals. To me it is amazing how many physicists are not physical realists, particularly in quantum mechanics,since under positivism (and the Copenhagen interpretation) something is often only claimed to exist when a measurement is made, and the claim is that there is no commitment to its existence apart from observations. In fact there is a danger of going in a circle here; i. e., for physicists to reduce physical entities to our observations, and then for at least some neurobiologists to reduce conscious observations to brain states. Something has to give here somewhere, and I, at least am a realist both about quantum states and consciousness, and don't reduce either one to the other, although I think that they are causally connected.

  20. One could just as well use the term "scientific realism" in this context which, as I have argued, probably entails an unintentional commitment to a form of naive realism, given the uncritical pragmatism science employs by and large. But why is it necessary to make a "commitment" to realism? Is it only a matter of belief?

    More than just the Copenhagen interpretation of QM is the fundamental role of observation in science because of its empirical foundation, i.e., the system is observing itself, as it were. How can it do that? Yet science (scientific empiricism) claims what is real is what is observed--and only that (the skeptics get a lot of mileage out of that, needless to say).

    The most basic aspect of ontology is the assumption that reality is foundational, that things "exist." But perhaps that is itself a questionable and even crude assumption, because it tends to lead to a black and white condition: either something exists or it does not. Why should we assume that is the case, when in the course of our daily lives we are constantly correcting mistakes we make about states of the world, even if it is that we falsely remembered writing something on a shopping list?

    Of course, going further with this train of thought may just open an enormous philosophical can of worms!

  21. Oh, dear! Do we have to go through all this baloney about "science" again? Their stuff about what is real is scientism not science. "Only what is observed is real." That assumption is just that, a philosophical assumption. How can the system observe itself? Yes, indeed. Self aware consciousness had better be real, and it looks like this cannot be constructed from or reduced to what they are ready to admit. Well, too bad for them, but then more is real than they want to admit. How such consciousness hooks into matter is a serious question, but their dogmatic denials are the wrong answer.

  22. The concern to correct mistakes does not count against realism. The truth is the other way round. The very fact that we are constantly correcting mistakes is itself one of the proofs of realism. In order to correct my mistake about something, I must come to realize that I was wrong about it. In order to realize that I was wrong about the thing, I must acknowledge that the thing is prior to and independent of my beliefs and impressions of it. Only by being prior and independent can it be the standard by which to evaluate my beliefs and impressions.

  23. Should I take it, David, that you reject the so-called "scientific method" (the "hypothetico-deductive" and supposedly self correcting method, as it was named and defined by Lange)? The relationship between observation and deduction comes from Aristotelian logic. Are your rejecting that, too?

    I'm not sure how self aware consciousness differs from consciousness in general, but I suspect it involves two different senses of the word "consciousness."

    What I have tried to argue, I suppose, is a kind of home grown phenomenalism--expressly for the purpose of undercutting the above. Mach, Schroedinger, and others have already done much the same thing, but no one seems to either be smart enough to "get it" or, perhaps, courageous enough to accept the epistemological and ontological consequences.

  24. Here is a model of perception. The faculities of a given human subject strive to reconstruct what is going on in the real observable world by something like "reverse engineering" from the impressions received on the senses of the subject's body. The resulting reconstruction is presented within the subject's consciousness through the imagery of perceptual space and what is contains. As far as I can tell, this model stands at the heart of traditional realism (which Robert calls "physical realism"). Why should we not accept this model? To be sure, given what that guy Rama said, this model will not work. But then the whole thrust of the post that began this string is that contemporary neuroscience is largely a mess, and contemporary neurophilosophy is largely the uncritical acceptance of this mess. That being so, why should we give a rat's tail what Rama said?

  25. So far as one can tell, higher subrational animals (such as dogs and cats) are conscious but not self aware. Self aware consciousness is a subdivision or subset of consciousness in general.

    No, I do not reject scientific method. Insofar as this method may truly be said to be self correcting, that fact is one of the great virtues of this method. Then again, the point about being self correcting gets into the concern that the work of correcting mistakes is one of the proofs of realism. But, to recall what I said long ago, I am concerned that the provisional definitions and assumptions suitable for the limited purpose of scientific inquiry should not be projected beyond their legitimate sphere.

    So, you are concerned to promote phenomenalism. Good, at last it comes out plainly. The short answer is that phenomenalism will not work. Yes, it has been tried for many years, and it fails. Phenomenalism cannot be fully carried through. At best, it turns out to be an unstable compromise between idealism and realism.

  26. Note that I said "home grown phenomenalism," because what I had in mind by that is akin to "Wittgenstein's ladder" that can be discarded once it has been used to "climb up" to a better vantage point on a problem. This is because I believe that all forms of realism share the same circularity and self referentiality, and that that can be shown to refer only to the contents of the perceptual world (viz. perceptual reality therefore), not some higher order reality beyond it of which it is a representation or "reconstruction" as you suggest (whenever I can get my blasted old paper on some basic topological aspects of visual space converted, I can use it to illustrate this point with a concrete example bearing on the reality of cubes). I would even go so far to say that perceptual reality pointing to a separate independent objective reality is a sort of illusion, because it follows closely the reasoning we observe in defining illusions within the perceptual world.

    Though I formerly subscribed to the representative theory of perception, I have come to believe that any form of representationalism ultimately fails, and for reasons I find that Ray Tallis has given in his Lexicon, such as this one: "The fundamental flaw in representationalist thought is that it overlooks the primary sense of representation--that of *re-*presentation. A picture is a representation of something that may in its own right be present. Representation is secondary to presentation." In other words, representation without potential presentation is meaningless, because we cannot in principle compare the representation with the presentation (if there even is one) in this case (I have stated this before in other contexts here already with regard to the analogy of perception being a form of "virtual reality" that John has invoked).

    A similar kind of objection showing that the concept is useless in interpreting brain function was the subject of paper by William Gooddy in 1956, which I have mentioned previously without giving the citation: "Cerebral Representation," in the journal "Brain," Vol. 79 (167-187). The points Gooddy makes are similar to those of Walshe.

  27. Let me put forth another analogy I have been cooking for a while, and that is that the physical world is something like stagecraft in the theater, the theater being the perceptual world: The world of the play exists on the stage, and like visual space, it has no back side to it, just lathe and braces to hold it up. This is a little different take from Plato's Cave . . . .

  28. Yes, the stagecraft model is different from Plato's analogy of the Cave. I am concerned that the difference is enough to sink your proposal. After all, what are you proposing, William? Are you pushing for the absolute idealism of Hegel, with the human mind as a portion or manifestation of the Divine mind? Or perhaps for the full pantheism of Sankara the Hindu? Or perhaps the subjective idealism of Berkeley, with God the transcendent Creator at the top to impose the dreamscape on finite minds? These would seem to be all the choices your stagecraft model will allow that have any hope at all, when the model is taken strictly. Having examined all three, I have to figure Hegel's theory is the weakest of the three, and Berkeley's is the strongest. But even Berkeley's theory breaks down in the end. Yes, to be sure, there is also some difficulty about what I have called traditional realism. Then again, it is not at all clear that these problems are worse than those of Berkeley, to put it mildly. So, what then?

  29. Or do you perhaps mean there is only the play of shadows on the wall of Plato's Cave, with the prisoners sitting and watching, but with no solid objects casting the shadows?

  30. I would reply, "none of the above," because none of the existing "-isms" seem to quite do the trick IMO, as they are too fanciful to meet the facts, and because the facts themselves are simpler and/or stranger. How do we explain that visual space has only one side? Why not two? Let's come back to the experiential thing it is that we are trying to understand and explain. Thus far overall we are making very little headway toward doing that.

    If anything I tend to favor some form of panpsychism (of course, that probably reflects my bias being a psychologist!) Truly, I think we need to rebuild ontology from the bottom up starting with experience and introspection, a position I believe that David Berman would endorse (a little bird told me that he is one of our "lurkers" here). My view is probably closest to that of Whitehead in general.

    Spiritualists and psychics have described the "other side" as being a world of thought, in which things change as rapidly as thoughts can. This suggests that reality is a kind of controlled subset of that condition, and that what happens when we die is that we simply become no longer real--we leave the world of reality. Whether we return to it again seems to be a matter of further debate, as a substantial portion of the Eastern population believes in reincarnation (doubtless Cousin Richard thinks that is a mass delusion).

  31. David, do you believe that the physical world has an appearance? If so, what is your response to Ray Tallis's posting from his book chapter "The Disappearance of Appearance"? If you agree with Ray that it has no appearance, what on earth is it like then?

  32. I am remembering something that UCLA philosopher Robert Yost said to me, having labored long and hard on a huge tome on visual appearance which, to my knowledge, was never published. He said to me that so much of what comes off the philosophy "production line" seems unsatisfactory, incomplete, incoherent, or just plain defective. He was at a loss to explain why that was the case.

  33. Oh, he was, was he? He should not have been, for at least a large chunk of it is obvious. A lot of the stuff is just some lousy slop they whip up in order to have something published and thus fill their quota to get tenure. That is the reality behind the phrase "production line" in this context. I expect you have the same kind of baloney in psychology as well.

  34. If I have understood rightly, I would not agree to representationalist thought. I would have to say the observable world is presented in my consciousness but not represented. By this, I mean that I think Aristotle was right and Locke was wrong. I do not perceive my sensory impressions and then conclude somehow that there are things that stand behind these impressions. No, but instead, I perceive things (real things in the real world) by means of my sensory impressions. The question is then how much of my experience is what might be called the straight reflection of the observable world versus how much is merely contributed by my own faculties instead.

    On this basis, why do I oppose naive realism? As near as I can figure, there is rather more variability in my experience of color and flavor than there is among the things themselves. At least, this is what looks to be true. So, I conclude that too much of my experience of color and flavor is based on the functioning of my faculties instead of being the straight reflection of the things. Something similar holds for temperature. But then, once the question has been raised by these attributes, it is the entering wedge for the whole range of perceived facts and features.

    In one obvious way, of course the physical world has an appearance. It is constantly appearing to me while I am awake. But what is its true appearance? This question could mean something like, What would my experience be if my faculties enabled me to experience the observable world by way of straight reflection? To tell the truth, I do not rightly know. But perhaps the question means, What would my awareness be if I could apprehend observable things directly as a pure intellectual act? Here too, I do not rightly know. But I might find it appropriate to object to this question, on the ground that what is proposed is a rdically unnatural mode of mental activity for a human subject.

  35. I am starting to get a bit confused about your position here David, but perhaps our positions are more different than I thought and I side with Locke in holding a representational theory while you do not. Do you hold that it is the physical object itself that we are immediately aware of, with our perhaps just being aware of certain aspects of it, as with Chisholm's adverbial theory of perception. Or is the object of immediate perception more like a picture, where the picture has certain projective invariants with the physical object being depicted but where it is at least numerically different? The latter is at least my position, but admittedly there are a lot of pitfalls with language here. Also, the former sounds an awful like direct perception, which I thought that you opposed.

  36. Comment on Bill' remark— "David, you write, "the perceptual world is the realm of colors, tones, et cetera, and these are not really present among observed objects in the same way they are present in consciousness." I would ask, how do you know that? How do you know that objects are not colored in the physical world?"
    It is perhaps relevant the Jean-Pierre reports that some of his NDE subjects report that the direct visual experiences (presumably not mediated by eye and brain) they have of their physical surroundings from a 5d perspective are colored—which supports Bill's case.

  37. Yost was not speaking of half-baked tenure-driven output (alas, found in every academic endeavor it seems, more and more), but philosophy itself--and that what was what troubled him deeply, a sense of futility. That said, yes, there is "junk" psychology as well as "junk" philosophy--all one has to do is walk into Barnes and Noble to see the mountains of books being published which nobody has time to read (or even the desire), not to mention the "superstars" who popularizing works in science are commissioned by John Brockman in NYC.

    That aside, you write David that "the observable world is presented in my consciousness but not represented." That does not quite correspond to my experience, which I would not even call a presentation. When I open my eyes, I see a world around me much larger than myself. I don't see it "in" my consciousness. In fact, I'm not sure how I would relate "my consciousness" to this experience at all, except to say in this context, "Yes, I am conscious, not unconscious," but that is, I think, another sense of the word consciousness than you mean. The construction "ego is conscious of X" seems to be something that is intellectually extrapolated, and it is *that* which might be called a "reflection," and it is one within experience, not outside it. I "reflect" on my experience, as it were. To call the visual world a "reflection" of something would pose the question, "What is it a reflection of?"

    I think a lot of traditional philosophical models of perception just don't do justice to ordinary experience. Since we supposedly have no direct access to physical objects (whatever exactly those are), how do we not know that they are constantly shifting in color and other aspects that science has not even detected because it has no way of detecting such changes of *quality*?

  38. In a way, John's sensory manifold separate from the physical one is the perfect topological/geometrical metaphor for this conundrum, because sensory qualities might as well be orthogonal in toto to the "objective" quantitative ones out of which physics has constructed its "picture" of the world (and what a funny "picture" it is!).

    I suspect that any language that entails optical metaphors like representation, reflection, projection, mapping, etc., shares the same conceptual defect, because it only *postpones* the problem of perception by using analogies to things typically known *within* the visual world itself. When I see a reflection of something in a mirror (or in a muddle puddle, like Escher's wonderful etching of the moon reflected in a puddle filling a tire track), ordinarily I can compare the reflection with the thing of which it is the reflection (in this case, the moon itself). So these are *all* relations within the visual world, not between it and something external to it.

  39. Well, yes, if it were to be proved -- really proved -- that near death experience is valid, then that would be some sort of serious reason in favor of what William said. But even then, many questions might remain, for there could still be much uncertainty about what is really going on in those cases.

    I think that, when I perceive veridically, there is in my consciousness something like a picture, with the projective invariants, et cetera, but numerically different from the object perceived. However, I think also that to have that kind of picture in my consciousness on that basis is already to be aware of the real object in the real world. No further mental act of perceiving the picture itself is involved. Is my perception direct? No, it has to be developed through a whole lot of internal functioning. Similarly, a photograph from a camera has to be developed through the functioninmg of the lens. In some cases, there may be some question about the lens, as being scratched or whatever. So here, there may be some question about my faculties, and that is why I think naive realism fails.

    Why do I stand with Aristotle against Locke? Because of Berkeley. I think Berkeley was wrong, but for all the right reasons, and this issue is one of the right reasons. If I have to perceive a picture in my consciousness, instead of perceiving an object by means of the picture, then the game is over, and traditional realism (which you call physical realism) has lost. Once perception is sundered from objects in that way, there is no getting them back together again, and the choice is between idealism and skepticism.

  40. Once again, David, talk of "veridical perception" (as opposed to--?) and being "in" consciousness does not obviously follow from visual experience itself. Just *where* is this consciousness of yours relative to the visual world, I ask? Superimposing the phrase "in my" on to the visual world, including the visual perception of ours bodies, quickly shows why those conditions do not readily lend themselves to the use of that phrase. I could say "I do not see in my line of sight object X" from vantage point A, but "my line of sight" refers to a relationship between my viewpoint and the visual world, not between it and my consciousness. This whole notion of "my" consciousness strikes me as pointing to formulations that are based on inadvertent naive realism.

  41. Perhaps at some point Lothar will chime in more fully to tell us how the same perceptual "machinery" seems involved in psi as in ordinary perception which, I think suggests that perception does not quite work the way we think it does, as Moncrieff among others argued. NDEs could be seen as exemplifying that point!

  42. Another phrase we sometimes use is "in my field of vision," which is just a spatial way of saying "what I see." There seems to be no need to alter those phrases to include the word "consciousness" in them, e.g., "in my (conscious) field of vision," or "what I (consciously) see." The word "conscious" here seems redundant or superfluous.

  43. Veridical perception stands opposed to hallucinations, illusions, et cetera. To be sure, the distinction between veridical and deceptive experience does not come out of visual experience in any simple way. It requires going to a higher level of abstraction. This distinction comes when the perceiving subject has learned and matured enough to engage in criticism of his own experience and thus to realize that some of his experience must be written off or thrown out.

  44. Of course this is just what J.J. Gibson's ecological theory of perception seeks to deny: There is no need for such "higher level of abstraction" at all, because the invariant properties *within* the perceptual world are self evident and don't need to be inferred. An example may serve to illustrate this point: There are lawful ways in which things appear and disappear in the perceptual world, and these have been studied extensively by psychologists for many years now. If a little green man suddenly pops into view "from nowhere," we know that he is probably something like a leprechaun, especially if he disappears in the same sudden way. On the other hand, if he appears from behind a rock and then disappears the same way, we would naturally be tempted to go look behind the rock. In the first instance there is nothing to "look behind." This is how we get to know what is constant and what is not in the perceptual world: by exploring it. It tells us how it works, we don't have to figure it out by thinking about it. These same sorts of ways of "reality testing" have been used in the study of lucid dreaming. But all of them occur within the perceptual world, not in relationship to something above and beyond it. This is old news.

  45. Are you suggesting to an Irish descendant that leprechauns are unreal?

  46. Thus the phrase "vanished into thin air" with reference to the first instance. Vanishing behind a rock is half way between something magical and something normal, because usually when something disappears behind a rock, we will find it if we look behind the rock. These simple examples of occlusion vs. disappearance are typical of the perceptual invariances Gibson enumerated.

  47. The idea that leprechauns live underground is no doubt a fanciful way of explaining their appearances and disappearance, i.e., they didn't disappear at all, but just went below (it has been said that to understand them better it is best to imbibe a little Irish).

  48. Well, what can I say--my Anglo-Irish grandmother was born in County Tipperary!


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