We fret about first and third person perspectives. Some work on second person perspectives. Let’s stop this constricting tyranny of linguistic number and allow the perspectives to multiply freely. Let us encourage multiplicity of perspectives.
I prick my finger. The pain is tiny and intense and brief. It is small and focussed. It is all that is there, for just an instant. Then it abates, and the finger itself comes into focus. Tiny, trivial, and briefly, all that exists.
Billions of years from now, the Earth is a dead ball, to be consumed by a solar cataclysm. Nobody cares, because somewhere along the line, everyone died and nobody replaced them.
Between these two, there exists an infinity of perspectives, each with its own causal structure, its own rationality, its own story.
We wrestle, and fail to topple, hard questions of the other and the view of the other. We fight military battles, insurgent battles, domestic battles, political battles, all with right on our side, and not on the side of the other. The other does the same. Right, it seems, is everywhere.
Me against my brother. Me and my brother against my cousin. My cousins and brothers against our neighbours. Our family and neighbours against those from the next town. All the local townspeople against our more distant countryfolk. All the people of the country against the foreigners (near). Us and near foreigners against the distant foreigner. Where do we stop? Do we wait until the alien attack to talk some sense? Or do we recognize that this was ever so, and that the gradient goes further, beyond the species boundary. Limited human rights for Apes. Primates over mammals. Mammals over reptiles. Vertebrates over invertebrates. Animals over fungi and plants. Life over . . .
And there it ends.
We are witnessing the birth of a new theory of the person: the Non-Cartesian view. This view eschews solipsistic thought while paying respectful dues to the notion of the phenomenal. It is a fundamental shift in perspective that encourages us to read our own lives and world as collectively constituted out of the multiple patterns of coordination we live in. The notion of agency is reduced to an admission of ignorance and a recognition that the only possible agreement on this topic is one of consensus.
This view must be contrasted with the Cartesian view, to establish which frame of reference is being used. Neither may claim an absolute hold on truth. Only so can we harbour hopes of creating a Human Science.
Thoughts are like a laying down of paths. Each train of thought creates its own trail, influencing future thoughts, not of the same notional subject, but of the collective. The thoughts you experience are causally related to the thoughts others had in the past, that we see manifested in behaviors, and their mutual coordination.
David Bohm is truly remarkable. A brilliant physicist, with a command of both relativity and quantum mechanics, and yet he somehow always managed to relate the business of physics to concerns of human experience. Here is a little clip of him talking about his views on perception. It is part of a more comprehensive offering hosted at this blog.
The idea seems to recur to me that good dynamical modeling needs to not only define its systems with care, and their dynamics, but it also needs to pick its variables with care. They should be as meaningless as possible. This is why we can see something interesting in the blinking of the eye, the twitching of the thumps on the video controller, the synchronization of eye movements in/as film… Being entirely non-specific, they might appear the same to everyone.
Don Norman had the notion of weak general interfaces. The keyboard and the video game controller are good examples. But so are the eyeballs. Are the hands acting as sensory devices as they play GTA? Why yes! Looking at it like this makes it clear that there is no ‘perception’ that is differentiable from action.
Susan Hurley said that the ecological approach was instrumental, and the dynamic approach was constitutive. Perhaps these two approaches see the same relation from different sides, as it were. The ecological approach points out the lawfulness inherent in the P/A relation. Lawfulness is boring. No information, because it behaves as expected. That is one view. Like looking at the single cell from the outside, knowing all about its metabolism, the glucose and the gradient. It looks mechanical. It is too, given some very important presuppositions. One of which is that there is something it is like to be the cell.
Dynamics ought to allow one to keep that in mind, while simultaneously acknowledging the view from the inside. Hence it allows the constitutive to appear.
How might one investigate more specific instances, such as dance, in which there is more feeling, and sensory-motor skill is required? We have meaningless ones of these too, in sport.
There is a clash at the moment: two ways of knowing about ourselves are on offer, and they are very incompatible. From where I’m standing, it looks as if both grew out of psychology, but in fact one *is* latter day cognitive psychology and much attendant baggage, while the other looks Eastern, almost Taoist at times. The latter emerges from a consideration of the combined insights of the enactive tradition (both Noë and Varela), Harry Heft’s synthesis of Gibsonian Ecological Psychology and Barker’s Ecobehavioral Psychology, Coordination Dynamics and similar Dynamical approaches, Radical Constructivism, and more besides, I’m sure. Full Story »
Conventional psychology condems its believers to solipsism. P-world theory may look similar at first blush, but it is important not to identify with the P-world. The P-world is all that is first-person: born of the lawful relation between sensory flux and attendant movement that arises in an animate being. It brings forth the raw material for a world, but that, alone, could never account for the world we encounter. Our world, in turn, arises from our collective constitution. Collective constitution is the means by which we escape the prison of solispsim built by psychology. Full Story »
In my current draft of “On the Origin of the Phenomenal” [A manuscript elsewhere], I am at pains to claim that the P-world of present experience arises based on a bedrock of the perception-action relation, which is heavily mediated and embedded in time through the nervous system.
Part of the supporting argumentation stems from the good offices of Ecological Psychology, in which lawfulness in the Perception/Action relation is a major concern. The paradigmatic case of diving gannets seeks to relate overt action (wing folding) to the energetic flux on the receptor surface. Similar concerns arise in the entire literature on affordance, in Turvey’s pendulum work, Bingham’s hefting, etc etc. The swaying room of Lisker and Lee is my favourite illustration.
But this claim is not going to reach many people who are not already familiar with the kind of lawfulness uncovered in such circles. The terms “Perception” and “Action” are loaded, and induce all kinds of unwanted and unwarranted associations in most readers.
“Perception” is probably being misapplied egregiously, not least by myself. We talk of perceiving when we discover events, things, and contingencies in our immediate environment. We perceive chairs, car crashes, storms, the misery and joy of others, and in talking of these remarkable feats, we label them, making use of a rich categorization scheme populated with uncontroversial categories such as chairs, car crashes, storms, misery, joy, and others. All of these are uncontroversial because they do fine service in our daily intercourse. We have language precisely because we can then use such terms efficiently, facilitating our mutual behavioral coordination, and getting on with the more pressing business of reaching our several goals. But for my purposes, in which I am considering the epistemological position of an abstract organism, O, in an abstract environment, E, we can not rely on any such categorization scheme. As argued elsewhere, we see chairs, …., others precisely because of the kind of thing we are, and not because there are chairs and others in some unobserved, objective, world.
Furthermore, the lawfulness to which I allude, is not rooted in a rich category structure like this. Rather, the lawfulness obtains between the informative flux at the sensory surfaces of an organism, and its attendant (not consequent) movement. (We will get to action in a minute.) It would be tedious to write “the physical, chemical, energetic gradients and their derivatives expressed at the sensory receptive surfaces separating the spatial domain of the organism, O, from its surrounding environment, E” all the time. This information (predicated upon the constitution, organization and capacity to act of the organism) is the “perception” end of that lawful relation that is the bedrock of experience. Without this information, there would be no perception. Calling it “sensation” does not help, but instead threatens to drag the discussion back to the 19th Century.
May that stand as a caveat for the term “Perception”. Now to “Action”.
As with perception, the term “Action” has many associations, and the word serves many functions, not all of which are required here. Although not as problematic as the previous case, there are pitfalls to be avoided. The main one lies in the presumption of intentionality, agency and goal-directedness. None of these are required. By “Action”, I mean observable movement. Even calling it “behavior” buys into a huge set of associations of plans, goals, and other mental constructs that have no place yet in the emerging vocabulary. Agency is the most problematic of these lurking assumptions, and relinquishing the notion of agency will be difficult as the discussion proceeds.
But one can not remain divorced from every day usage for ever. Somehow, it is necessary to build bridges back to our terms of convention, and our familiar situation. As we consider more complex explanation of more complex organisms, with nervous systems embedded in time, we will find it increasingly seductive to think of sensory information as input, and behavior as output. No matter how much we may be convinced that this is suspect, it is ingrained in our language. And as we do, the story being told will morph gradually until the organism seems to acquire goals, plans, and a stubborn independence of will. With that, the separation of organism from nature is complete, and we have reconstructed the duality we set out to banish. But hopefully we will remain conscious of the imitations of any account couched in such terms.
One of my main goals is to illustrate how to conceive of man as inseparable from his world. Our conventional linguistic habits introduce the tragic separation, even in consideration of the simplest of animals.
Look at this phrase. Look at this phrase. Try to see it as black marks on a screen or page. I doubt you will be seing it as white condensation trails in the sky, but if that is the case, try to see it as white condensation trails in the sky. Try not to read it. Try to see just the marks, and not the language, as if it were written in an unfamiliar script in a strange and inscrutible language. Look at this phrase.
Unless you are illiterate, or have some very specific kind of brain damage, you will not succeed. Seeing through the marks (vehicle?) to the words (content?) is obligatory.
Admit the words, but leave out the sentential meaning. If you can’t stop reading words, try to stop there, and do not let the words work together to form a meaningful phrase. Again, it fails. The words (now regarded as vehicles) can not be attended to without also admitting their content (the meaning?).
How far does this recursion go? Are there first, second, and higher order meanings, each acting as vehicles for further content, each at a greater remove from the physical and momentary reality of marks on a page?
We might claim that there is a basic reality, a fundamental vehicle, of marks on the page, but is that not itself a reified and abstract description, dividing the continuum of the world up, as it does, into a page, regarded as a surface, and marks thereon. Perhaps we can infer back to a more fundamental level, that of a flux upon your retina, induced by the reflectant properties of the surfaces and substances around you, and by the darting and fixations of your eyeball, located in a wobbling head. Perhaps this is the nearest we can come to identifying a basic level vehicle. This is the level chosen by Ecological Psychology. Cognitive Psychology would start with different primitives.
But when we talk of marks, pages, words and meanings, we are talking about things in the world (for the most part), things that we perceive, or believe we perceive. We do not perceive the changing flux on the retina.
There is no “hard problem”. The language used to set up the hard problem repeats all the known and fatal errors that arise when dealing with experience.
The supposed qualia are experiential, not observable. As used in standard discussion within the field of cognitive science and its philosophy, they are an attempt to take the domain of experience and treat it as a thing – as something to be found in the world. Worse, they partition experience, until all that is left is the poverty of the notion of “redness” or “sweetness”. Experience does not reduce in this fashion. This is the persistent problem: treating of mind, or consciousness, or qualia, as something to be found in the world.
My preferred term, because it helps to get things straight, is experience. Mind, consciousness and qualia are all just confused ways of acknowledging the reality of experience in the first person. And experience is not to be found in the world. Experience is what gives us a world in the first place.
Let us digress, before this becomes bitter, and go back to a fictional Isaac Newton, sitting under an apple tree in rural England, looking at apples, perhaps picking one or two up, feeling them, hefting them, throwing one up in the air and catching it, then biting into one.