The fourth session of the 2016 Minds Online Conference is about perception, featuring a keynote talk from Ophelia Deroy (University of London), with contributed papers from Bartek Chomanski (University of Miami), Dimitria Electra Gatzia (University of Akron, University of Antwerp), Laura Gow (Cambridge), and Maarten Steenhagen (University of Antwerp).
This session is open for discussion from September 26 – 30.
Ophelia Deroy (University of London)
Introduction: The paradox of spatial pitch
Try, for a moment, to imitate an orchestra conductor while listening to a familiar classical tune. Didn’t you find your hands moving up and down in time with the high- and low-pitched notes respectively? Or just try singing in a high and then a low pitched voice instead: now it is your eyebrows that will likely have gone up and down. This spontaneous behavior might not come as a surprise: After all, a series of tones increasing in frequency are almost universally described as ‘rising’: The handful of languages, including Zapotec and Farsi, which preferentially refer to pitch as ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ still use the vertical metaphor, every now and then. An increase in pitch is not just described as rising, it is also heard as a continuous ascending movement. The linguistic and perceptual connections between the notes and these spatial dimensions, however, are highly paradoxical. Musical notes are a perfect illustration of this paradox: after all, they are not played from higher or lower locations in space, and yet spontaneously interpreted through what seems, at best, a metaphor, at worse, a total inaccuracy. The tension is noted by Zuckerkandl, in his book Sound and Symbol (1956, p. 270): “On the one hand music appears as the art that…is perceived solely in and through time, to the complete exclusion of space; [while] on the other hand, it is full of phenomena that seem to presuppose a spatial order and that in any case are wholly incomprehensible if space is completely excluded”.
The “paradox of musical motion”, as it is sometimes known, has attracted the attention of many thinkers and philosophers and has also been seen as a topic worthy of investigation ever since the pioneering early work of Carl Stumpf on the psychology of the tone. However, far from solving the paradox of musical motion, the scientific investigation of tonal perception initiated by Stumpf has actually moved it toward different, and, as it happens, no less challenging problems: by attempting to decompose the problem into more and more specific parts, cognitive scientists have shown that the spatial interpretation initially observed for music and sequences of tones also holds for individual tones. Continue reading...
Bartek Chomanski (University of Miami)
1. Seeing “What” without Seeing “Where”
Consider the scene before your eyes. There’s probably a computer screen you see right in front of you; a coffee cup to your right, within easy reach; a wall behind the computer screen; a stack of papers to grade on your left. In a typical visual experience, you see objects at particular, egocentrically specified locations in external space. But, for broadly Kantian reasons, this (seeing objects at locations in space) doesn’t seem like a merely contingent feature of our experience. It appears unimaginable, perhaps even inconceivable, that we could ever visually experience objects without experiencing them as occupying space at all. Yet, this position has recently come under sustained attack by John Schwenkler (2012). Schwenkler enlists the results of some experiments carried out on a patient with Balint’s syndrome (Friedman-Hill, Robertson, & Treisman, 1995) to show that they constitute a counterexample to the claim that the experience of space is necessary for visual spatial awareness of objects.
One of the best-studied patients with Balint’s syndrome is known in the literature as RM. RM’s performance in various experiments seems to suggest that his ability to perceive spatial objects does not require the ability to perceive “absolute space” (Schwenkler, 2012). In particular, RM seems unable to locate the objects he’s perceiving anywhere in space, and yet, he’s able to accurately identify the objects’ shapes. This has led Schwenkler to postulate that RM doesn’t perceive the objects as in space at all.
In this paper I argue that Schwenkler’s conclusion is premature. Continue reading…
Dimitria Electra Gatzia (University of Akron, University of Antwerp)
Abstract: Cognition can influence action. Your belief that it is raining outside, for example, may cause you to reach for the umbrella. Perception can also influence cognition. Seeing that no raindrops are falling, for example, may cause you to think that you don’t need to reach for an umbrella. The question that has fascinated philosophers and cognitive scientists for the past few decades, however, is whether cognition can influence perception. Can, for example, your desire for a rainy day cause you to see, hear, or feel raindrops when you walk outside? More generally, can our cognitive states (such as beliefs, desires or intentions) influence the way we see the external world? In the first part of this paper, I present evidence of top-down modulation in early vision. In the second part of the paper, I make a distinction between two types of top-down modulation. The first pertains to the unconscious visual ‘inferences’ the visual system makes as it ‘chooses’ among many possible representations to arrive at one that we experience as a conscious precept (or back-end effects). The second pertains to the cognitive states of perceivers, which may be used to alter the function the visual system computes (or front-end effects). I use this distinction to argue that evidence for top-down modulation in early vision need not threaten the Cognitive Penetrability Thesis (CIT). Colour vision is used as a case study to show how empirical findings suggesting that colour experience is cognitively penetrated can be better explained without reference to cognitive penetration.
Laura Gow (Cambridge)
Abstract: The idea that perceptual experience is transparent is generally used by naïve realists and externalist representationalists to promote an externalist account of the metaphysics of perceptual experience. It is claimed that the phenomenal character of our perceptual experience can be explained solely with reference to the externally located objects and properties which (for the representationalist) we represent, or which (for the naïve realist) partly constitute our experience. Internalist qualia theorists deny this, and claim that the phenomenal character of our experience is internally constituted, and our relation to the objects and properties in our environment is merely causal. However, my concern in this paper is not with the metaphysical debate, but with transparency as a phenomenological feature of perceptual experience. Qualia theorists have presented a number of examples of perceptual experiences which, they claim, do not even seem to be transparent. They argue that it seems to subjects undergoing such experiences that they are aware of internally realised features of their experiences (or ‘qualia’). By making a distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming I am able to provide an alternative, and more nuanced, analysis of these alleged counter-examples. Transparency is revealed to be a phenomenological feature of all perceptual experiences.
Keywords: Perception, Perceptual experience, Transparency, Qualia, After-images, Blur Continue reading…
Maarten Steenhagen (University of Antwerp)
Abstract: Sounds enable us to hear things. But in what way? Source representationalism, as I will call it, is a view about how sounds can make other things audible. It says that sounds can fulfil a representational function in perception. In this paper I defend this position by reflecting on the possibility of sound reproduction. That possibility lies at the heart of all sound recording and playback technology. Because of this possibility, the sounds that reach our ears can act as perceptual representations of the sources that emit them, making those sources audible despite their absence from the perceptual situation. Continue reading…