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Everything is Clear: All Perceptual Experiences are Transparent

Laura Gow (Cambridge)

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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

1. Introduction

According to the transparency claim, when we introspect our perceptual experiences we do not seem to be aware of qualities of our experience.[1] We seem only to be aware of externally located objects and properties. Gilbert Harman provides us with one of the most frequently quoted examples of the transparency claim:

When Eloise sees a tree before her, the colors she experiences are all experienced as features of the tree and its surroundings. None of them are experienced as intrinsic features of her experience. Nor does she experience any features of anything as intrinsic features of her experiences…Look at a tree and try to turn your attention to intrinsic features of your visual experience. I predict that you will find that the only features there to turn your attention to will be features of the presented tree… (Harman 1990: 39)

In previous work (Gow forthcoming) I have made a distinction between phenomenological and metaphysical transparency. To endorse the phenomenological transparency claim is to agree that it seems to us that we are only aware of externally located objects and/ or properties during our perceptual experiences. To endorse the metaphysical transparency claim is to agree that we are in fact only aware of externally located objects and/ or properties during our perceptual experiences. Most philosophers who appeal to transparency have the metaphysical notion in mind, since they want to promote a particular metaphysical framework. (There are two positions in the philosophy of perception which make use of transparency in this way: naïve realism, which is the view that perceptual experiences are partly constituted by external objects and properties (Brewer 2006, Campbell 2002, Martin 2002); and externalist representationalism, which is the view that the phenomenal character of our perceptual experiences does not depend on internal ‘qualitative’ properties (qualia), but rather on the externally located properties which are represented during perceptual experience. (Dretske 1995, 1996, 2000, Lycan 1996, Tye 1995, 2000, 2014)

In this paper I want to take a step back from questions about the metaphysics of perceptual experience and consider whether perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. In any case, since we are to use introspection to determine whether or not our perceptual experiences are transparent, claims about transparency must begin with the phenomenological transparency claim. That is, the debate over whether our perceptual experiences exhibit transparency must begin as a debate about whether it seems to us that we are only aware of externally located objects and properties during our perceptual experiences. In which case, to affirm that perceptual experiences are transparent is to affirm that it seems to us that we are only aware of externally located objects and properties; and to deny that perceptual experiences are transparent is to deny that it seems to us that we are only aware of externally located objects and properties.[2]

Qualia theorists have proposed a number of phenomena which they argue are counter-examples to the phenomenological transparency claim. A refutation of phenomenological transparency would be significant even if we discount the impact it might have on the metaphysical debate.[3] Perceptual experience has a presentational phenomenology which is essential to its functional characterisation as the means by which we experience ourselves in the world. If perceptual experience seems to involve the direct awareness of internal properties, our functional characterisation will require major revision.

I will argue that a careful analysis of the cases presented by internalist qualia theorists as counter-examples to phenomenological transparency reveals that the sense in which these experiences do not seem to involve externally located objects and properties is cognitive, not perceptual. That is, perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. I will conclude by pointing out the obvious (but underappreciated) fact that philosophers who are internalists about the metaphysics of perceptual experience (whether they subscribe to internalist representationalism/ intentionalism (Horgan & Tienson 2002, Crane 2006, Pautz 2014, Loar 2003) or whether they subscribe to the qualia theory (Block, 1996, 2003 Kind 2003, 2008, Boghossian & Velleman 1997, Peacocke 1983)) have no need to deny that perceptual experiences are phenomenologically transparent. Internalism is entirely compatible with its seeming to the subject that they are only aware of externally located objects and properties during perceptual experience.

2. Phenomenological Transparency

Internalist qualia theorists have gone to great lengths to argue that perceptual experience is not phenomenologically transparent. They argue that there are a few kinds of perceptual experience where introspection will reveal properties that do not seem to be externally located; more specifically, these properties will seem to be features of the experiences themselves. For the purpose of the following discussion, it will be useful to adopt (and adapt) a distinction given to us by Martin (2002), between two claims involved in the transparency idea – a positive claim and a negative claim.[4] Since we are restricting our analysis to phenomenological transparency, the positive claim is:

(P+) Introspection shows us that perceptual experience seems to involve the awareness of externally located objects and properties.

The negative claim is:

(P-) Introspection shows us that perceptual experience does not seem to involve the awareness of features of our experience.

If perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent, then both of these claims must be true. That is, if one of these claims is false then perceptual experience cannot be phenomenologically transparent.[5] In general, the positive claim is not thought to be particularly contentious – those philosophers who deny that perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent are usually happy to endorse the idea that perceptual experience generally seems to involve an awareness of externally located objects and properties.[6] Indeed, there are a number of proposals regarding how we are to capture the phenomenological fact that perceptual experience seems to involve externally located objects and properties. Farid Masrour discusses this phenomenon using the term ‘phenomenal objectivity’ (Masrour 2013); Michelle Montague claims that perceptual experience is ‘object-positing’, and seems to involve a relation to particulars – a phenomenological feature of all perceptual experience which she describes as ‘phenomenological particularity’ (Montague 2011); and, drawing upon the work of the psychologist Anton Aggernaes, Katalin Farkas describes perceptual experience as seeming to involve objects which are public and ‘real’ (Farkas 2013).

Typically, those philosophers who reject phenomenological transparency do so by rejecting the negative claim. In other words, internalist qualia theorists agree that we seem to be aware of externally located objects and properties during perceptual experience, but they claim that we also seem to be aware of properties of our experiences (or qualia). In the next section I will describe a general method for dealing with all the qualia theorist’s alleged counter-examples. I will then go on to explain how this general method is to be employed in each individual case.

3. Perceptual Seeming and Cognitive Seeming

My claim in this paper is that all perceptual experiences are phenomenologically transparent; they seem only to involve externally located entities. I would therefore like to make an important distinction between (what I will call) perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming. The distinction is simple and intuitive: perceptual seeming describes how things perceptually seem to one, and cognitive seeming describes how things cognitively seem to one. The latter kind of seeming is cognitive because it is belief-like, and is usually the result of our considered beliefs about our environment. An analogy might help to clarify this distinction: to those of us who are very familiar with the Müller Lyer illusion it cognitively seems to us that the lines are the same length. (This cognitive seeming state is the result of our belief that the lines are the same length.) However, this seeming is not perceptual seeming. It does not perceptually seem to us that the lines are the same length. On the contrary; it perceptually seems to us that the lines are different lengths. This is one of the interesting features of certain illusions – our perceptual experience remains unchanged even when the illusion in question is so familiar to us that things no longer cognitively seem the way they perceptually seem.

Perceptual seemings just are perceptual experiences. However, cognitive seemings are not the same as beliefs. Although in the example given the content of our cognitive seeming state is the same as the content of our belief (namely, that the Müller Lyer lines are the same length), this need not always be the case.[7] We can have beliefs about how things are that conflict with how things cognitively seem to be. Let me give a few examples. We may believe that physicists are right when they tell us that time is not constant, yet it certainly cognitively seems to us that time is constant.  Similarly, we may believe that objects with different masses will fall at the same rate, even though it cognitively seems to us that the heavier object will fall faster. Lastly, even to those of us who understand that we should switch doors in the famous Monty Hall problem, it will probably cognitively seem as if switching should not make a difference to our chance of winning the prize.[8]

It is essential to the framework I am proposing in this paper that our overall experiential state is (at least phenomenologically) separable into distinct kinds of experience. Here I am concerned with perceptual seemings and cognitive seemings; however, we also enjoy proprioceptive seemings, emotion seemings and mood seemings.[9] I am not committed to any particular way of understanding this arrangement – perhaps our overall experiential state is a collection of distinct seeming states, or perhaps these seeming states stand in a part-whole relationship to our overall experiential state. It is important to note that I intend this framework to apply at the level of phenomenology only; whether it applies at the metaphysical level is not my concern. I do not, therefore, expect it to be particularly contentious.[10] Now that this framework with its distinction between belief, cognitive seeming, and perceptual seeming is reasonably clear, I will explain how the distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming can be used to deal with the internalist’s alleged counter-examples to the phenomenological transparency of perceptual experience.[11]

4. After-images

A number of philosophers have appealed to after-images as potential counter-examples to the phenomenological transparency claim. (Boghossian & Velleman 1997, Block 2003, Kind 2008) Some of the reasons provided for thinking that after-images do not perceptually seem to be externally located are the following: the apparent position of an after-image changes with the movement of one’s eyes, their vividness diminishes over a relatively short period of time, and they do not exhibit size constancy. (Siegel 2006, Masrour 2013) However, the fact that after-image experience is characterised by these features has given rise to a debate about whether after-images qualify as perceptual experiences at all. Some philosophers argue that they should instead be categorised as sensations. (See Siegel 2006, and Phillips 2013 for a detailed discussion of this debate.) If after-images are not perceptual experiences, then they cannot be counter-examples to the claim that all perceptual experiences exhibit phenomenological transparency.

It is interesting to note that the debate over whether after-images qualify as perceptual experiences seems to turn on the extent to which after-images are experienced as being externally located. Indeed, Phillips argues that after-images are perceptual experiences rather than sensations by arguing that experiencing after-images is sufficiently like experiencing something which is externally located (namely, light phenomena). If one of the criteria for qualifying as a perceptual experience is that the experience seems to be of something externally located, then this would seem to add weight to my claim that all perceptual experiences exhibit phenomenological transparency.

I do not intend to take the easy way out and simply deny that after-images are perceptual experiences. What is more, I claim that as long as we restrict our attention to perceptual seeming, an after-image experience can be exactly the same as an experience of something one takes to be externally located.[12] I hope that the following thought-experiment might help to motivate this, initially rather counter-intuitive idea. Imagine the following experimental situation: a subject is asked to look at a bright red image on a screen. She is told that after a short period of time the image will be replaced by a similar image, but it will be green. She is asked to report whether the second image is the same size as the first. Perhaps the subject is told that the purpose of the experiment is to investigate the effect of colour on perceived image size. The real purpose of the experiment would be to see whether the subject notices that there is no second image, and that she is experiencing an after-image caused by focusing on the red image. I predict that the subject would not notice that the second image is really an after-image. If I am right, then this would suggest that other (non-perceptual) factors are responsible for the fact that we do not ordinarily judge that our after-image experiences are experiences of externally located entities. If this information was contained within perceptual experience itself, the subject in our experiment should be able to tell in virtue of their perceptual experience that they are seeing an after-image.

Of course, there are certain complications which would need to be overcome if this thought-experiment were to be put into practice. For example, the subject would notice that their green experience was an after-image if they changed the direction of their gaze, since the apparent location of the after-image would move with the movement of the subject’s eyes. Even so, it seems to me that the subject’s knowledge that they are not aware of something which is actually externally located does not derive from their perceptual phenomenology. We can imagine a modification of the experiment described above which would support the idea that the sense in which it seems to us that after-images are not externally located is cognitive, and due to our beliefs. If the subject is told that the movement of her eyes is being monitored and a green image will be projected onto the wall in front of her at whichever location she is looking, I predict that the subject would not know that her experience is really an after-image. In other words, the fact that after-image experience does not involve the awareness of something which is externally located is not present within perceptual phenomenology.

After-images are very familiar phenomena. Experience has taught us to believe that after-images are not in fact externally located.[13] Therefore, we almost never judge after-images to be externally located – that is, we do not think that after-image experience is metaphysically transparent. I have used the though-experiments described above to motivate my claim that perceptual phenomenology does not inform us of the fact that after-images are not externally located. It is true that after-images do not appear to be occludable, their apparent location changes with the movement of the subject’s eyes, and they do not appear to be the kinds of things that can be viewed from different perspectives. While Phillips’ argument for his version of the illusion theory involves denying that after-images seem to possess these features, I claim that after-images do (typically) seem to have these features.[14] However, we perceptually experience after-images as being externally located nonetheless. On my account, it perceptually seems that we are aware of externally located entities (possibly light phenomena) which behave in a very unusual way. We can be almost certain that nothing which is actually externally located will behave in this way, and so we have a cognitive seeming state according to which after-images do not seem to be externally located. (In this case the content of our cognitive seeming state and our belief state will be the same.) It is our cognitive seeming state which prevents us from judging in accordance with our perceptual experience. However, if we were to take our perceptual experience at face value, it would perceptually seem to us that after-images are externally located entities that behave in an unusual manner.

5. Phosphenes

Phosphenes are experiences of coloured swirls and flashes of light that can be induced by applying slight pressure onto one’s closed eyes. This kind of experience may seem to be an example of a type of perceptual experience which does not seem to involve the experience of externally located objects and properties. (See Kind 2003, Block 1996, Siegel 2006) It could be argued that such experiences are better candidates than after-images for qualifying as sensations rather than perceptual experiences, which would mean that they cannot be counter-examples to my claim that all perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. However, in the spirit of being maximally charitable to my opponent I will assume that phosphene experiences do qualify as perceptual experiences.

My positive argument for the claim that we perceptually experience phosphenes as being externally located begins with an admittedly rather jejune observation: whereas after-images are usually experienced when one’s eyes are open (although they do persist when one closes one’s eyes), phosphenes are usually experienced with one’s eyes closed. I suspect that this fact plays a central role both in explaining why it does not cognitively seem to us as if phosphenes are externally located, and also in accounting for the strength of this cognitive seeming state. Indeed, the cognitive seeming state is so compelling that we tend to ignore the phenomenological transparency of our perceptual phenomenology.[15]

It is reasonably easy to imagine a situation where a subject would not be in a position to know whether they are experiencing phosphenes with their eyes closed, or experiencing actual flashes of colour in an otherwise dark room with their eyes open. This would simply require blocking the signals from proprioceptors in the eyelids, so that our subject would be unable to sense whether their eyes were open or closed. In this situation, the subject would be left with only their perceptual phenomenology, and I predict that their phosphene experience would perceptually seem to involve the awareness of externally located flashes of colour. To avoid the charge that my argument is grounded on a merely hypothetical situation, there is some empirical evidence for my conclusion that phosphenes perceptually seem to be externally located. There is a medical condition called retinal detachment which involves the retina becoming thinner and more brittle, and breaking away from the underlying blood vessels. Subjects suffering from this condition undergo phosphene experience when their eyes are open.[16] It is revealing that these subjects invariably take the flashes of colour and light to be externally located when they first experience them. This lends credence to my claim that the sense in which phosphenes do not ordinarily seem to be externally located is cognitive.

My argument in this section and the previous section includes an appeal to intuitions about possible experimental situations. In the scenarios I have described, the subjects’ beliefs have been manipulated so that it no longer cognitively seems to them that their experiences are not experiences of externally located entities. The perceptual seeming state is thereby isolated, and I have claimed that it would perceptually seem to those subjects that they are aware of externally located entities. While I think that we can indeed rely upon the intuitions arrived at through a consideration of these cases, I would like to add an additional point in favour of my claim that perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. The point begins with a question: what would it be like for it to perceptually seem that one is aware of entities which are not externally located?[17] Perceptual experience is presentational; that is, something seems always to be presented during a perceptual experience, and it is difficult to understand how something could be perceptually presented as being internal.[18] Indeed, I would like to suggest that it is in fact impossible for it to perceptually seem to one that the colours and shapes one experiences during after-image and phosphene experience are internal. Such considerations are supported by our everyday way of describing these experiences. We say that one after-image is to the left of the other, is square shaped, is blue, and we say that phosphenes are colourful and bright. These are all properties we ascribe to externally located objects. It is difficult to make sense of the idea that it might perceptually seem as if there is something internal which is square, coloured and bright, and it only makes sense to use concepts of size and location if we are talking about something which seems to be externally, and spatially, located.

6. The Perky Experiment

During the famous Perky (1910) experiment subjects were asked to visually imagine an object, an image of which was (unbeknownst to them) very subtly projected onto a screen in front of them. Subjects believed that they were visually imagining even though they were, in fact, perceiving an image. This looks to be a counter-example to my claim that all perceptual experiences are phenomenologically transparent since the subjects did not take their perceptual experience to be an experience of an externally located entity. Once again, I propose that we must distinguish the subjects’ cognitive seeming states, stemming from their beliefs and judgements regarding their situation, from their perceptual seeming states. I submit that the image did perceptually seem to be externally located for the subjects involved in the experiment. However, because they had been asked to imagine certain objects, they had a very strong belief that they were not perceiving something externally located, and this led to its cognitively seeming to the subjects that they were not experiencing something externally located. The cognitive seeming overrides the perceptual seeming. Interestingly, one of the comments of the subjects involved in the experiment suggests that my analysis of this experiment is exactly right. She says: ‘if I hadn’t known I was imagining, [I] should have thought it real.’ (Perky 1910: 433) In other words, it perceptually seemed to the subject that she was experiencing something externally located, but, because of what she had been told by the experimenters, she had a cognitive seeming state which overruled the verdict of her perceptual seeming state.

7. Blurry Experience

If we let our gaze become unfocused we experience blurriness. The qualia theorist claims that we experience this blurriness to be a feature of our experience rather than a property of externally located objects.[19] (See Boghossian & Velleman 1997, Block 1996, 2003) Blur is a much better candidate for being a counter-example to phenomenological transparency than the other phenomena we have considered. This is because after-image and phosphene experiences seem to involve the awareness of entities whereas blur is experienced as being a property. As I mentioned at the end of section five, it is difficult to reconcile the idea that some entity seems to be presented during after-image and phosphene experience, with the idea that what is presented is not externally located. As such, these experiences make for rather unconvincing examples of the purported failure of phenomenological transparency. When it comes to blur experience, everyone can agree that externally located entities seem to be presented. The qualia theorist simply wants to claim that the blur is perceptually attributed to the experience rather than the object that the experience seems to be an experience of.

Adam Pautz suggests one possible anti-qualia response: we could understand the phrase ‘there is blur everywhere’ non-predicationally, like when we say ‘it is raining’. (Pautz 2010: 304) This allows the blur to seem to be externally located even though we do not attribute the blurriness to objects. I think this response is too concessive since it grants the qualia-theorist’s claim that we do not attribute blurriness to objects. My response involves a rejection of this claim – I maintain that perceptual experience does in fact attribute blurriness to objects.

We can use the same method for dealing with blurry experience that we used for dealing with the other proposed counter-examples. I submit that our perceptual seeming state attributes blurriness to objects, but our belief that objects are never (or only very rarely, in the case of images or printed text) actually blurry ensures that we also have a cognitive seeming state according to which the objects in question do not seem to be blurry. Our cognitive seeming state overrides our perceptual seeming state, and so it does not seem – all things considered – that the objects around us are blurry.

I suspect that there is no difference at the level of perceptual phenomenology between seeing something that is genuinely blurry and seeing an ordinary object as blurry. Imagine an experimental situation during which our subjects look at (sharp or blurry) images on a screen while wearing goggles (which they are told might or might not be blur-inducing). I submit that the subjects would not know whether they are seeing sharp images blurrily or seeing genuinely blurry images.[20] In other words, whether an object or image is genuinely blurry is not something that can be determined by perceptual phenomenology. My claim that we perceptually attribute blur to the objects around us is not an original view; it has been defended by Fred Dretske (2003) and Tim Crane (2001).[21] However, my distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming enables me to avoid the objections which have been levelled against the standard formulation of this position.

Smith criticises the view on phenomenological grounds – he claims that it simply does not seem to us that the objects around us are blurry when we are having a blurry experience. (Smith 2008) It should be obvious that my account is immune to this objection, for I can agree with Smith that there is a sense in which the objects around us do not seem to be blurry: they do not cognitively seem to be blurry. Although the objects around us perceptually seem to be blurry, our cognitive seeming state overrules our perceptual seeming state, which means that our experiential state as a whole is such that the objects around us do not seem blurry. Crane allows that we will not believe or judge that the objects around us are blurry, but as it stands, his account does not explain the sense in which it does not seem to us that the objects around us are blurry. For this, we need a cognitive seeming state.[22]

Keith Allen has criticised the view that perceptual experience attributes blur to the objects around us for the following reason: perceptual experience generally inclines one to believe that things are the way they perceptually seem, even when (for other reasons) we fail actually to form the relevant belief. So perceiving the Müller Lyer lines inclines one to believe that the lines are unequal even when we know (hence believe) that they are in fact the same length. Seeing blurrily does not, according to Allen, incline one to believe that the objects around us are blurry – not even in the minimal sense associated with the Müller Lyer case. (Allen 2013) Since my framework includes cognitive seeming states as well as perceptual seemings and beliefs, I am able to respond to Allen’s point. Let me begin by pointing out the simple, yet significant fact that we almost never encounter genuinely blurry objects, whereas we often encounter two lines that are different lengths. Indeed, except for printed images and text, it is extremely unlikely that it will ever cognitively seem to us that the objects around us are blurry. Because of this, our cognitive seeming state will be extremely compelling when faced with objects that perceptually seem to be blurry. Our cognitive seeming state typically overrules our perceptual seeming state, and when it comes to potentially blurry objects our cognitive seeming state will be particularly effective at supressing the judgement that we are naturally inclined to make in response to its perceptually seeming to us that the objects around us are blurry. Given that it often cognitively seems to us that two lines are the same length, our cognitive seeming state in the Müller Lyer case will not be quite so forceful. Consequently, the judgement that we are naturally inclined to form as a result of our perceptual seeming state is not quite so effectively supressed.

Michael Pace criticises the view that blur is perceptually attributed to the objects around us for having ‘the implausible consequence that it convicts the visual system of producing illusions in cases where it is functioning optimally’. (Pace 2007: 14) Pace’s objection turns on the widely-held assumption that success (or ‘optimal functioning’) requires accuracy. While this assumption is extremely intuitive, it is (as Nietzsche pointed out a long time ago) nevertheless mistaken.[23] There is no reason to think that illusions cannot be useful. Indeed, if scientists are right that objects do not have colours in the way our everyday experience suggests, then our colour experiences are, to some extent (depending upon one’s theory of colour), illusory. They are, of course, extremely useful nonetheless. (See Gow 2014 for discussion.) This point notwithstanding, according to my account our experiential state taken as a whole does not attribute blur to objects. Although it is true that it perceptually seems to us that objects are blurry, and so our perceptual system is indeed in error, it does not cognitively seem this way. Since our cognitive seeming state will typically overrule our perceptual seeming state, our overall experiential state (which comprises the two kinds of seeming state) is not in error.

Earlier (footnote 19) I mentioned Smith’s claim that we use the term ‘blur’ to refer to a quality of our experience, whereas we use the term ‘fuzzy’ to refer to a property of objects. He says:

The reason why we employ the term ‘blurred’ in this way—the only plausible reason—is that while we are acquainted with blur, it does not—apart from the special case of pictorial representations—appear to be a quality of objects themselves. (Smith 2008: 202)

Even if we grant this fact about our language use, my account remains untouched by this criticism. On my account it is only perceptual experience which attributes blur to the objects around us, our experiential state taken as a whole is not one in which objects seem to be blurry. If Smith is right that we (almost always) employ the term ‘blur’ to describe our experiences rather than to describe the objects the experience is of, this is simply because blur does (all things considered) seem to be a property of experiences rather than of objects. Typically, the cognitive seeming state dominates the overall phenomenology of our experiential state taken as a whole, which means that Smith is quite right to say that our experiential state does not attribute blur to objects. To reiterate: my claim is only that perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. It is only perceptually that objects seem to be blurry.

8. Perceptual Seeming, Cognitive Seeming and Cognitive Penetration

I introduced the distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming in section three, and have relied on it to respond to the qualia theorist’s alleged counter-examples to the claim that all perceptual experiences are phenomenologically transparent. My alternative analysis of these cases depends on the idea that things can perceptually seem to us to be a certain way, even though they do not cognitively seem to us to be that way; indeed, even if they do not seem – all things considered – to be that way. Many of the examples I have discussed concern familiar experiences, where we possess the belief that the relevant objects and properties are not externally located. Consequently, it does not cognitively seem to us that we are experiencing externally located entities during these experiences. This cognitive seeming will override the perceptual seeming.

It is important to note that my analysis of the phenomena I have discussed entails a rejection of the idea that these particular perceptual experiences are cognitively penetrated by our beliefs. In other words, I deny that our belief that the after-image (say) is not externally located infects our perceptual experience. I have argued that the opposite is true; it perceptually seems to us that the after-image is externally located, and, at the same time, it cognitively seems to us that the after-image is not externally located. Of course, proponents of cognitive penetration do not think that all of our perceptual experiences are, or can be, cognitively penetrated. So my claim that the perceptual experiences in question are not penetrated by our beliefs does not require the denial of cognitive penetration in general. I think it is clear from the phenomenology of the experiences I have discussed that they perceptually seem to involve something externally located, even though they do not cognitively seem to involve something externally located. Our belief that the objects around us are not blurry, or that the blue shape that seems to be on the wall is really a mere after-image does not change our perceptual phenomenology. These cases are analogous to the Müller Lyer illusion and it is uncontroversial that cognitive penetration does not occur here. Indeed, during after-image experience (for example) one can choose to focus either on one’s perceptual seeming state (according to which one does seem to be aware of something which is externally located) or on one’s cognitive seeming state (according to which one does not seem to be aware of something which is externally located). This is not possible for experiences which have been cognitively penetrated.

I am unable in the space remaining to investigate further the impact my distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming may have on the cognitive phenomenology debate. It may be that some of the cases in which cognitive penetration is said to occur would find an alternative explanation on my framework. That is, it could be that one’s perceptual experience stays the same after acquiring the relevant belief, and the change in the phenomenology of one’s overall experiential state is due to the simultaneous instantiation of a cognitive seeming state. I intend to investigate this potentially fruitful line of research in future work.

9. Conclusion

A careful analysis of the qualia theorist’s proposed counter-examples reveals experiential states which involve both a perceptual seeming state and a cognitive seeming state. Perceptually it will seem to the subject of the experiences in question that they are aware of externally located objects and/ or properties, but this is not how it will cognitively seem to them. Because cognitive seeming usually overrules perceptual seeming, it will not seem all things considered that the subject is aware of externally located objects and/ or properties. However, since our focus is perceptual experience, we can conclude that perceptual experience is indeed phenomenologically transparent.

Although qualia theorists have failed to refute phenomenological transparency, they need not be too disheartened. The reason for this is simple: qualia theorists want to defend internalism about phenomenal character, and internalism is a thesis about the metaphysics of perceptual experience. It is the view that the phenomenal character of perceptual experience is wholly internally constituted. As such, internalists are only committed to denying that perceptual experience is metaphysically transparent. The idea that perceptual experience seems only to involve externally located objects and properties is entirely compatible with the internalist’s claim that perceptual experience is, in fact, wholly internally constituted. Indeed, as I have argued in previous work (Gow forthcoming) the internalist can say that seeming to be aware of externally located objects and/ or properties just is being aware of internally constituted features of experience.

 

 

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Notes

[1] My concern in this paper is the transparency of perceptual experience and not the general claim that all mental states are transparent. (For a discussion of this subject, see Byrne 2011.)

[2] It is best to frame the transparency debate as a debate over whether all the objects and properties one experiences are experienced as being externally located rather than as a debate over whether we seem to be aware of properties of our experiences. This is because, for the naïve realist, externally located objects and properties partly constitute our experiences, so in being aware of externally located objects and properties we are also aware of properties of our experience. Kennedy also makes this point in his 2009.

[3] See (Gow forthcoming) for an argument that the metaphysical transparency claim cannot in fact be derived from the phenomenological transparency claim.

[4] Siewert (2003) and Stoljar (2004) also make this kind of distinction.

[5] This is not to say that denying one or other of these claims is the only way to deny phenomenological transparency – one might think that perceptual experience involves the awareness of objects and/ or properties that neither seem to be externally nor internally located. (I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for Minds Online for this point.)

[6] Here I understand the term ‘perceptual experience’ in a maximally inclusive way – an experience which is phenomenologically speaking, a perceptual experience. Some philosophers will deny that some of these experience (e.g. hallucinations) are genuine perceptual experiences. Disjunctivists hold that genuine perceptual experiences have objects and their properties as constituent parts. (See Brewer 2006, Campbell 2002) Since hallucinations do not have objects and their properties as constituent parts, such experiences are not perceptual experiences. However, since the focus of this paper is on phenomenology rather than metaphysics, it seems reasonable to use a more inclusive sense of ‘perceptual experience’. In addition, my aim in this paper is to show that all perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. Therefore, the more experiences which are allowed to qualify as perceptual experiences, the more challenging my task becomes.

[7] Indeed, if we are new to the Müller Lyer illusion then it may perceptually and cognitively seem to us that the lines are different lengths, even once we have acquired the belief that they are, in fact, the same.

[8] See http://marilynvossavant.com/game-show-problem/

[9] Proponents of phenomenal conservatism also appeal to these different sorts of seeming state. I should point out that my argument only requires that we do indeed enjoy such states, it is no part of my view that these seeming states perform the justificatory function ascribed to them by proponents of this view. (See Huemer 2001, 2007 and Tucker 2013)

[10] This framework is clearly compatible with the idea of cognitive phenomenology (see Bayne and Montague 2011, Horgan and Tienson 2002, Pitt 2004 and Strawson 1994). However, even those who deny the existence of a distinct, sui generis phenomenology of cognition can endorse my framework – they would simply claim that cognitive seeming states are composed of non-cognitive phenomenology. I only require that our overall experiential state at a time is not exhausted by our occurrent perceptual experience.

[11] To clarify; my claim is not that perceptual experiences are themselves composed of different components. I am not defending what A. D. Smith has called a ‘dual-component theory’ – the view that perceptual experiences consist of a sensory aspect and a cognitive aspect. (Smith 2002: 67) My claim is that our experiential state at any given time will be composed of a number of different experiential states. Ordinarily this will include a perceptual seeming state and a cognitive seeming state, and probably other experiential states as well, such as moods and proprioceptive seeming states.

[12] My claim is only that after-images are perceptually experienced as being externally located – they are therefore perceptual illusions. I do not intend to offer a positive account of what kind of entity they are experienced as being, although I think that Phillips’ ‘light illusion’ account is very plausible. The argument Phillips gives for his version of the illusion theory is, however, rather different from my own.

[13] One might hold that after-images do in fact involve externally located properties. Such a view could be endorsed by those who posit relations to uninstantiated properties/ abstract objects to explain the phenomenal character of illusory or hallucinatory experiences. (See Bealer 1982, Bengson et al. 2011, Dretske 1995, 2000, Forrest 2005, Johnston 2004, McGinn 1999, Pautz 2007, Sosa 2007 and Tye 2000, 2014.)

[14] I allow that the experiments Phillips describes show that this isn’t always the case. (Phillips 2013: 19-26)

[15] It is worth pointing out that one can, of course, have visual perceptual experiences that perceptually and cognitively seem to involve the awareness of externally located objects and properties with one’s eyes closed. It is possible to see bright light and the shadows caused by passing objects even if one’s eyes are closed, for example.

[16] See https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health-eye-conditions-z-eye-conditions/retinal-detachment for a brief description of this condition.

[17] The internalist cannot argue that the sense in which we seem to be aware of internal features involves a different kind of awareness from the sense in which we seem to be aware of externally located objects and/ or properties. This is because we are only considering transparency as a claim about the phenomenology of perceptual experience, and phenomenologically, the awareness involved seems to be the standard two-place sense of awareness. It is entirely consistent with this point that we are in fact aware of internal features during perceptual experience; my claim is only that it cannot seem that way.

[18] I would like to thank Li Li Tan for raising this issue.

[19] A. D. Smith (2008) claims that we attribute blur to experiences and fuzziness to objects. He draws a substantive point from this observation which I will discuss in due course, for now I wish to note that I will continue to use the term ‘blur’ as a property which (I will argue) perceptual experience attributes to objects rather than to experiences. Smith is right that the two terms name qualitatively distinct properties, and my claim will be that blurry experience attributes blur to externally located objects, not fuzziness.

[20] Michael Tye mentions a similar experimental situation. However, according to Tye, it does not perceptually seem to us as if the objects around us are blurry during blurry experience. Instead, our perceptual experience simply fails to specify where the boundaries of the objects lie. In other words, blurry perceptual experience does not involve misrepresentation (as it does on my account), it involves a lack of information. (Tye 2000: 80-83)

[21] Crane holds a different account in his 2006 according to which we do not perceptually attribute blur to objects.

[22] Note, as I pointed out in section three, cognitive seeming states are not the same as beliefs. Recall the examples I gave which demonstrate that the contents of our cognitive seeming states can conflict with the contents of our beliefs.

[23] Nietzsche 1966 (1886): Part One

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Laura

I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. My work focuses on issues in the philosophy of perception, and I have published papers on perceptual transparency, and on the philosophical theories of colour properties. I defend a strongly internalist account of perceptual experience, according to which perceptual experiences are non-relational neural states/ processes. I am currently working on a paper about absence experience which has developed from the ideas presented in my Minds Online paper.

21 thoughts on “Everything is Clear: All Perceptual Experiences are Transparent”

  1. ‘Everything is Clear’ presents a novel and well-argued defence of the transparency of experience. Laura argues, in response to a range of putative counter-examples, that all perceptual experiences are transparent, in the sense that we are only aware of ‘externally located objects and properties’ (p. 2). Central to Laura’s argument is a distinction between perceptual seemings, cognitive seemings, and beliefs: perceptual seemings are perceptual experiences, and cognitive seemings are related to, but distinct from, beliefs (something can cognitively seem to us to be a certain way, even if it is not). She argues that experiences of after-images, phospenes, the experiences of Perky subjects, and blurred experiences—which are sometimes thought to pose a problem to the transparency claim—all perceptually seem to us to be transparent; however, they do not cognitively seem to us to present external objects, we so are not typically inclined to believe that they do. And although this is not her main focus here, Laura differs from other defenders of the phenomenological transparency claim in emphasising that the claim that perceptual experiences are phenomenologically transparent does not entail the claim that perceptual experiences are metaphysically transparent: even if it perceptually seems to us as if we are only aware of external objects and their properties, it is possible to hold that perceptual experience nevertheless involves being aware of internally constituted features of experience.

    Laura’s approach to diffusing counter-examples to the transparency claim is interesting and potentially fruitful; at the same time, she presents an important challenge to those that attempt to use the phenomenological claim to draw metaphysical conclusions. In what follows, I want to raise some questions for Laura’s approach.

     

    1. Laura understands the claim that experience is transparent as the claim that in perception we are only aware of external properties and objects, rather than the claim that we are not aware of ‘properties of our experience’ (p. 3 n.2), which is how the transparency claim is sometimes formulated.

    An initial concern is whether this might stack the decks in her favour. We cannot automatically assume that because something is external to us, it is thereby independent of our experience; as Evans (1980) points out, for instance, colours as the dispositionalist traditionally conceives of them are ‘without the mind’ spatially but not ‘without the mind’ metaphysically. Employing the distinction between the external and the independent, it may be possible for the critic of the transparency thesis to agree with Laura that we are only perceptually aware of external properties and objects, but nevertheless deny that we are only perceptually aware of independent properties and objects – and so suggest that in a more ‘robust’ sense, the transparency claim may therefore still be false.

    So, for instance, in defending the phenomenological transparency claim, Laura argues that after-images perceptually appear external to us, in the sense that they appear to be experiences of things that are spatially located. But as she notes, there are peculiar aspects of these experiences: their apparent position changes with the movement of your eyes, their vividness diminishes over a relatively short period of time, and they do not exhibit size constancy (p. 8). Even granting that after-images perceptually appear external to us, it may be possible for someone who denies the phenomenological transparency claim (like a sense-datum or qualia theorist) to take these perceptually apparent features of after-images to show that they nevertheless depend on our experience of them, and as such argue that they are properties of our experience.

     

    2. Setting this concern aside, Laura’s response to the putative counter-examples to the transparency claim makes use of a distinction between perceptual seemings, cognitive seemings, and beliefs. Because she applies this distinction at the phenomenological level, rather than the metaphysical level, she hopes that it will not be ‘particularly contentious’ (p. 8). But it isn’t clear that the distinction is entirely innocuous.

    Cognitive seemings are important to Laura’s account because they supposedly contribute to the phenomenological character of the overall experiential state of which they are a part. In the case of blurred experiences, for instance, Laura argues that even though objects perceptually appear blurry, they do not cognitively appear blurry – that is, we are not inclined to judge that they really are blurry. As such, it is true of our experiential state as a whole (of which the perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming are components) that objects do not appear blurry, because the cognitive seeming overrides the perceptual seeming. This allows her to avoid Smith’s phenomenological objection to the view that perceptual experiences attribute blurriness to objects: that it simply does not seem to us as though the things we see are blurry. On Laura’s account, this is true of cognitive seemings, but not perceptual seemings.

    But granting that there is a distinction between what we are inclined to believe and what we believe—for instance, that we might be inclined to believe that time is constant even if we believe that it is not—it is contentious whether inclinations to believe are associated with distinctive phenomenology. Is there something that it is like to be inclined to believe that objects are not blurry—as opposed to being inclined to believe that objects are blurry? Laura notes the possibility of holding that ‘cognitive seeming states are composed of non-cognitive phenomenology’ (p. 8n10). But it would be interesting to hear how this could be fleshed out in more detail. In particular, the non-cognitive phenomenology could not relate to how things seem perceptually, since cognitive seeming states are supposed to explain the difference between the phenomenal character of the perceptual experience and the phenomenal character of the overall experiential state.

     

    3. The basic structure of Laura’s response to putative counter-examples to the transparency claim is to argue that things perceptually appear external, but do not cognitively appear external because of relevant collateral information. So, for instance, because we know that after-images behave in ways that external objects don’t, it does not cognitively seems to us as though they are external to us (even though this is how it perceptually appears to us).

    But given the distinction between perceptual seemings, cognitive seemings, and beliefs, is there anything to stop the qualia theorist from turning this general framework on its head, and insisting that perceptually things do not really appear external after all, but only cognitively seem to be external, for instance because of an overriding independent belief in the existence of an external world?

    Mirroring Laura’s response to Smith’s phenomenological objection, such a view could concede that it does not seem to us that objects and their properties are internal to us – but this is just because of way things cognitively seem, rather than the way that they perceptually seem.

    At one point, Laura argues that we cannot so much as make sense of the view that something could be perceptually presented as being internal. Her reason is that we attribute to things like after-images and phosphenes properties that we standardly attribute to external objects, like shape, size, colour (pp. 13-14). But the qualia theorist could concede that we standardly attribute these properties to external objects, because (all things considered, once the cognitive seeming overrides the perceptual seeming) these appear to be properties of external objects – even if they don’t perceptually appear to be properties of external objects.

    If this is right, is there any reason for preferring Laura’s view over the corresponding qualia theorist’s view?

     

    5. Let’s grant, at least for the sake of argument, that there is no way of choosing between these hypotheses. Would this pose a problem for Laura? Given her wider aims, I think the answer is no. Laura suggests that we cannot infer from the phenomenological transparency of experience to the metaphysical transparency of experience: even if perceptual experience appears to present external objects and properties, it doesn’t follow that it does. The basic idea is that if we are interested in giving a philosophical account of perceptual experience, then we should be more interested in how things are than how they seem. This argument presents an important challenge to the way that the transparency thesis has been used in recent philosophy of perception, and raises interesting questions about the reasons for resisting error theories about phenomenal appearances. But supposing it turns out that we cannot even decide phenomenological questions, then it certainly seems true that we should be more interested in how things are than how they seem.

  2. First off, I want to thank Laura Gow for her excellent paper, “Everything is Clear: All Perceptual Experiences Are Transparent,” and thank the organizers of Minds Online for inviting me to comment on it. Gow draws many useful distinctions in her paper and I agree with much of what she says. But I’m ultimately not persuaded that all perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent, as she argues, and I want to highlight a few of the ways in which we disagree.

    Gow’s strategy centrally relies on a distinction between perceptual and cognitive seemings. I think this is a helpful distinction, which, as she points out, can go a long way to clarify confusions regarding many phenomena. Regarding the Müller-Lyer illusion, for example, Gow urges plausibly that the lines perceptually seem to be different lengths, although they do not cognitively seem that way to perceivers who understand the illusion.

    With respect to the transparency debate, Gow’s goal is to show that “careful analysis of the cases presented by internalist qualia theorists as counter-examples to phenomenological transparency reveals that the sense in which these experiences do not seem to involve externally located objects and properties is cognitive, not perceptual” (p. 4).

    For instance, Gow discusses the well-known phenomenon of after images, which many qualia theorists offer as an example of an experience that seems not to be transparent—where one is seemingly aware of internal qualitative properties, qualia, and not external objects and qualities (I use ‘one is seemingly aware’ and related expressions throughout, rather than ‘one is aware’, to respect Gow’s helpful distinction between phenomenological and metaphysical transparency. What is at issue in Gow’s paper is only whether or not we ever seem to be aware of qualia—and not whether or not we in fact ever are).

    Gow argues—persuasively to my mind—that we could have after-image experiences that are phenomenologically indistinguishable from perceptual experiences that seem to present only external objects/properties. To illustrate the point, she proposes a clever experiment (which I think that she should run!) that would elicit participants’ reports of awareness of external objects when they have after-image experiences. It would thus seem that, as Gow puts it, “the subject’s knowledge that they are not aware of something which is actually externally located does not derive from their perceptual phenomenology” (p. 10, emphasis hers). She argues that, while it perceptually seems that after images are “out there” in the world, it is only through the vagaries of learning that it cognitively seems to us that they are not. And, crucially, she thereby concludes that all perceptual experiences are phenomenologically transparent—they seem not to involve awareness of qualia.

    But, and perhaps I’m misunderstanding Gow’s reasoning here, I’m not sure that her conclusion about transparency follows. I’m inclined to grant to Gow that perceptual experience does seem to present us only with external properties and objects. Indeed, I’m inclined to go further, insofar as, unlike Gow, I think perceptual experience in fact presents those external properties and objects (whereas she thinks qualia theorists can plausibly endorse a kind of projectivist error-theory about external qualities, wherein perceptual experiences present qualia, which mistakenly seem to be externally located).

    But the issue of phenomenological transparency, as I understand it, does not concern what kinds of properties perceptual experiences seem to make us aware of, but what kinds of properties introspection seems to make us aware of (see Gow’s glosses of the positive and negative claims of transparency on p. 5). Qualia, I take it, are qualitative properties of perceptual experiences, properties manifest in introspection, not qualities of objects that are seemingly presented by perception. If there are qualia, I wouldn’t have thought that we would ever seem to be aware of them in perceptual experience; rather, I would think that we seem to be aware of them in introspection. And, as Gow herself grants, qualia theorists can happily allow that perceptual experiences not only have qualia, but also content—and so seem to present us with external qualities of objects such as their colors and shapes. Thus it seems to me that qualia theorists could consistently hold that perceptual experiences seem to make us aware of external objects and properties only, but that introspection seems to render us aware of those experiences’ qualia.

    Perhaps that position will strike some as odd, insofar as it is commonly assumed within the contemporary philosophy of mind that there is only one kind of quality: either quality predicates such as ‘red’ apply only to external objects such as apples or to internal mental states (the latter is the so-called secondary-quality view). But there is a long tradition, tracing back at least to Reid (but also, e.g., Austen Clark, Christopher Peacocke, David Rosenthal, and others), who regard quality predicates as ambiguously referring either to the qualities of external objects or to the qualities of mental states, qualia. If there are two kinds of quality, then it is open that we might seem to be aware of the former in perception and the latter in introspection. I can seem to be aware of the external redness of an apple in perceptual experience and seem to be aware of the mental redness of my experience in introspection (I recognize that to many it may not seem that we are ever aware of these two distinct kinds of redness, but that could simply be because we often mistake one for the other). Even those error theorists about external qualities who maintain there are only qualia can consistently maintain that perception erroneously seems to present qualia as properties of external objects, though one can in introspection seem to become aware of those qualia as such (I think this was Wilfrid Sellars’ view).

    Gow may be correct that qualia theorists often intend their appeals to counterexamples (such as blur or after images) to reveal that perceptual experience itself seems to involve awareness of qualia. And if qualia theorists do hold that position, then I think Gow has convincingly shown that the purported counterexamples are on a par with ordinary perceptual experiences such as experiences of red apples, insofar as they seem to present only external objects/properties. But I do not see why the view that perceptual experience seems to make us aware of qualia is mandatory for the qualia theorist. Indeed, I’ve always found the appeals of qualia theorists to counterexamples to be somewhat misleading: I think we can seem to be introspectively aware of qualia even in ordinary cases of perception too; for me, the force of such counterexamples is to highlight to skeptics what we seem to be aware of in ordinary cases.

    That is to say, I’m not sure that Gow’s arguments cut ice: even if in her proposed experiments we were to get her predicted results, they would only reveal something about what perceptual experiences seem to present, not what introspection of those experiences seem to reveal. In other words, qualia theorists can grant her premise that perception does not seem to involve awareness of qualia, but reject her conclusion that perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent.

    As I see it, the fact that perceptual experience does not perceptually seem to involve qualia would only bear on the issue of phenomenologically transparency only if introspection were itself perceptual, which it arguably is not. Though some in the history of philosophy such as John Locke have assumed that introspection is a quasi-perceptual process, there are good reasons to doubt that (e.g., there is no relevant sense organ in the case of introspection). I’m myself drawn to Rosenthal’s view according to which introspection involves a suitable kind of higher-order thought about one’s experiences. I understand that this view is controversial. But whatever the mechanism of introspection may be, if experience (introspectively) seems to involve awareness of qualia, then it plausibly only cognitively (and not perceptually) seems that way.

    So I think Gow and I have a fundamental disagreement: she thinks that the fact that perceptual experience—if it seems to involve awareness of internal qualities—only does so because of how things cognitively seem, and that this demonstrates that perceptual experience seems transparent. By contrast, I think that, if qualia exist, we can be aware of them only cognitively in introspection—and since we do seem to be aware of them, perceptual experience does not seem to be transparent. Interestingly, though, Gow and I agree that something in experience may be misleading: she thinks that perceptual experience arguably in fact presents qualia, which seem to be external (cf. Sellars’ view); I think introspection in fact presents qualia, which may seem (to transparency theorists) to be external.

    To determine whether or not it ever cognitively seems to us in introspection that there are qualitative features of our experiences is doubtless harder to test than Gow’s position that perceptual experience seems to present us with external qualities only. For one thing, introspection itself is not well understood and ordinary people often do not know what to do when you ask them to introspect. Moreover, since I think introspection is cognitive, I think how introspection presents our mental lives is sensitive to our background beliefs and is thus liable to misconstrue what it is that we’re aware of.

    One potential way to show that introspection cognitively seems to present qualia would be to investigate whether or not there are instruction effects in experiments such as the ones that Gow proposes. Consider Gow’s test on pp. 9-10, wherein a participant is shown a colored stimulus and then asked to judge whether or not a subsequently presented color (which, unbeknownst to the participant, is an after-image experience for which there is no presented stimulus) is the same as the first. Gow hypothesizes that participants will make same-different judgments and, moreover, could remain unaware that they are comparing experiences of presented stimuli to after-image experiences—that is, that after-image experiences can be phenomenologically indistinguishable from ordinary perceptual experiences.

    My concern is that Gow’s set up stacks the deck to elicit the conclusion that perceptual experience seem to present only external qualities. For example, Gow proposes that a subject might be “told that the purpose of the experiment is to investigate the effect of colour on perceived image size” (p. 9). But this would lead the participant to expect that the colors of which she is about to be aware are external. Suppose instead we instructed participants that they will have two similar experiences—and their task to judge whether or not they are the same experience. Like Gow, I would guess that subjects could make such judgments about their experiences. But I would think that from the participants’ perspectives it would seem equally open that they are comparing qualities of their experiences (qualia) or qualities of what is experienced (external qualities), and not that everything seems external. It seems to me that naïve introspection alone is silent about where qualities are located—and only once we’re lead to believe that qualities are internal or external does introspection make it cognitively seem that there are qualia or not.

    That is, I agree with Gow that phenomenology alone cannot settle whether or not perceptual experience is metaphysically transparent. But I doubt naïve appeals to introspection can even settle whether or not perceptual experience is phenomenologically transparent. This conclusion might again strike many as strange, insofar as many assume that the only evidence we could have for whether or not it seems that there are qualia is introspection. But for reasons I cannot get into here, I doubt that. What I think we need instead are third-person arguments that there are or are not qualia, which can substantiate why many claim to be aware of qualia in introspection. To her credit, Gow does not rely on naïve experiential reports, and instead offers insightful arguments (including appeals to potential experiments) to establish that perceptual experience seems to present external objects/properties. I’m not sure her arguments settle the issue. But they may certainly play a role in the debate going forward.

  3. Building on previous work in which she’s argued for a distinction between phenomenal and metaphysical transparency, Laura Gow aims in this paper to show that all perceptual experience is phenomenally transparent.  To do so, she considers a series of prominent alleged counterexamples to phenomenal transparency that appear in the literature.  In each case, she suggests that the apparent problem for phenomenal transparency rests on a conflation between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming.  As she argues, though it may cognitively seem to us that after-images, phosphenes, blur (and so on) are not externally located, it does not perceptually seem to us that way.  But since phenomenal transparency is not threatened by cognitive seemings, the force of the alleged counterexamples is dissipated.

    As even this very brief summary makes clear, the distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming plays a very important role in Gow’s argument.  Gow takes this distinction to be “simple and intuitive” (p. 6), and she claims that she does not expect it to be “particularly contentious” (p. 8).  To my mind, however, this distinction is considerably less simple and intuitive than Gow takes it to be, and I find myself having considerable difficulty latching on adequately to the notion of cognitive seeming.  I’ll thus use these comments to give voice to my puzzlement.  Though I don’t have any argument to show that there is no such thing as cognitive seeming, I hope that this expression of my puzzlement about the notion will at least suggest that its introduction needs considerably more defense than Gow gives it.

    To motivate the distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming, Gow relies almost wholly on an analogy:

    to those of us who are very familiar with the Müller Lyer illusion it cognitively seems to us that the lines are the same length. (This cognitive seeming state is the result of our belief that the lines are the same length.) However, this seeming is not perceptual seeming. It does not perceptually seem to us that the lines are the same length. On the contrary; it perceptually seems to us that the lines are different lengths. This is one of the interesting features of certain illusions – our perceptual experience remains unchanged even when the illusion in question is so familiar to us that things no longer cognitively seem the way they perceptually seem. (p. 7)

    Unfortunately, however, I don’t find this example particularly illuminating, for despite my familiarity with the illusion I struggle to find any meaningful sense in which it does seem to me that the lines are the same length.  I’d be happy to grant the claim about cognitive seeming if it were simply shorthand for belief, i.e., if it simply meant that those of us who are familiar with the illusion believe that the lines are the same length.  But Gow is explicit that cognitive seemings are not beliefs.  I’d also happy to grant the claim about cognitive seeming if it were simply shorthand for some cognitive attitude other than belief (acceptance, perhaps).  But Gow would be no happier with this interpretation.  For her, the sense of seeming involved in cognitive seeming is meant genuinely to be a seeming, i.e.,  it is meant to be experiential in nature.  Such seeming must contribute along with other kinds of seemings to our overall experiential state; indeed, it is crucial for her overall argument that cognitive seeming can override perceptual seeming.

    So we are supposed to be able to capture a sense in which the lines experientially seem to us to be the same length even though they don’t perceptually seem to be that length.  And I just can’t hold on to what that sense might be.  Gow gives us some other examples to help show that our cognitive seemings might conflict with our beliefs that one might look to in an effort to cash out the notion of cognitive seeming:

    We may believe that physicists are right when they tell us that time is not constant, yet it certainly cognitively seems to us that time is constant.  Similarly, we may believe that objects with different masses will fall at the same rate, even though it cognitively seems to us that the heavier object will fall faster. Lastly, even to those of us who understand that we should switch doors in the famous Monty Hall problem, it will probably cognitively seem as if switching should not make a difference to our chance of winning the prize. (p. 7)

    But I don’t find these examples to be any more illuminating than the Müller Lyer case.  Let’s start with Gow’s second and third cases – the falling objects example and the Monty Hall problem.  Because such cases are non-perceptual, we would not be able to explain any seeming here as perceptual seeming.  But why think that these cases involving seeming at all?  Why aren’t they simply cases of conflicting beliefs?

    The time case is importantly different from the other examples, since it’s antecedently plausible to think that it presents us with a case of seeming, i.e., it’s antecedently plausible to think that we have temporal experience.  But this case strikes me as no more successful in motivating cognitive seeming than the other two cases.  Anyone puzzled by the notion will undoubtedly question why we should understand the sense in which time seems to us to be constant as a cognitive seeming rather than a perceptual seeming.  At the very least, we need to be given some reason to treat it as a cognitive seeming rather than a perceptual one, and Gow does not give us any such reason.

    At this point, one might take a step back and ask oneself:  Why does one need to introduce the notion of cognitive seeming in the first place?  What is it capturing that can’t be wholly captured by perceptual seeming on the one hand and cognitive attitudes like beliefs on the other?  What is the gap that cognitive seeming needs to fill?  Absent answers to these questions, the postulation of cognitive seeming strikes me as unmotivated.

    Thus, my puzzlement.

    But let me end on a more constructive note, since having raised various questions I do have one possibly helpful suggestion about how Gow might try to go about answering them.  In an effort to try to clarify and defend the distinction between perceptual and cognitive seeming, Gow might find it useful to connect it with (or differentiate it from) some other distinctions in the philosophical literature on perception that seem to be related.  For example, Roderick Chisholm famously drew a distinction between three senses of “looks”-talk – the epistemic sense, the comparative sense, and the non-comparative sense (Chisholm 1957, 43ff).  In a related vein, we have Fred Dretske’s distinction between the doxastic and phenomenal sense of “looks” (Dretske 1995) and M.G.F’s Martin’s distinction between how things seem epistemically and how things seem phenomenally (Martin 1997).  To be frank, I’ve long found some of these other distinctions puzzling as well – so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m also puzzled by Gow’s distinction.  But insofar as arguments have been offered to defend the need to make various differentiations in this general vicinity, Gow might be able to advance her own project by re-purposing some of the arguments already on offer.

     

    References

    Chisholm, Roderick M.  1957.  Perceiving: A Philosophical Study.  Cornell University Press.

    Dretske, Fred.  1995. Naturalizing the Mind.  The MIT Press.

    Martin, M. G. F.  1997.  “The Reality of Appearances.” In M. Sainsbury, ed., Thought and Ontology, pp. 81-106.  Franco Angeli Press.

  4. Laura Gow offers an interesting and detailed defence of what she calls phenomenological transparency:  the thesis that “when we introspect our perceptual experiences we do not seem to be aware of qualities of our experience”  (p.1; page refs are to Gow’s paper). Her discussion raises too many issues for me to discuss properly, so I will focus here on the part about blurred experiences.  (She herself says (p. 15) that this is the strongest sort of counter-example to phenomenological transparency.)

    In thinking about Gow’s view on this matter, I find it helpful to focus first on a simpler view defended—as Gow notes—by Dretske (see Dretske 2003, cited in Gow’s paper.)  This view can be formulated this way:

    1. S has a blurred experience if and only if it seems to S that something is fuzzy.

    Here ‘blurred’ expresses a property of an experience, while ‘fuzzy’ expresses property of external objects, something represented by experiences.  (On the blurred/fuzzy distinction; see Smith 2008, cited in Gow’s paper.  I am not sure exactly of Gow’s attitude to this distinction, but will use it to formulate both Dretske’s view and hers, and will return to it below.) The expression ‘seems’ is used uncritically to refer to the sort of representational state one is in when one has an experience (at least according to many philosophers).

    A view of this kind faces two main problems.  First, it is possible for the right-hand side (RHS) of (1) to be true without your having a blurred experience; for example, if it seems clearly to you that something is fuzzy.  Second, it is possible to have a blurred experience without the RHS being true, i.e., without it seeming to you that something is fuzzy—indeed this is apparently the usual case with blurred experiences.  (These points are well made by Smith 2008).

    Gow’s proposal, as I understand it, is a more sophisticated version of (1), which avoids its problems (see, in particular, p. 16). Her view exploits a distinction between cognitive and perceptual seeming and may be formulated this way:

    1. S has a blurred experience if and only if (a) it seems to S perceptually that something is fuzzy and (b) it seems to S cognitively that that same thing is not fuzzy.

    I think there is no doubt that (2) improves on (1).  The first problem is avoided since (2) unlike (1) does not entail that seeming to you that something is fuzzy is sufficient for having a blurred experience. And the second problem is avoided since (2) unlike (1) entails that there is a sense in which things seem to you not fuzzy when you have a blurred experience.

    Still I wonder if variations of those problems remain.  First, it is possible for the RHS of (2) to be true without your having a blurry experience.   Consider the convinced but deluded eliminativist, Eli, who mistakenly thinks that “science has shown”—as Eli likes to put it—that there is no such thing as fuzziness.  When presented with something fuzzy, it may well clearly perceptually seem to Eli that something is fuzzy, and it may well cognitively seem to Eli that the thing in question is not fuzzy.  Yet Eli need not be having a blurry experience.

    Second, it is possible to have a blurry experience without the RHS of (2) being true.  When you first put on your new glasses, everything is suddenly clear, or at least clearer than it was before.  But consider now the experiences you had before you got new glasses:  these had to have been blurry, at least to some small degree. But it did not seem to you cognitively then that things were fuzzy; on the contrary, the hypothesis that they were fuzzy did not occur to you until after you had put your new glasses on—or so we may suppose.

    This last point is important because of Gow’s suggestion that we “almost never encounter genuinely blurry objects” (p. 17).  In the new glasses case, it might well be that every perceptual experience you had to that point was blurred at least to a small degree.  And in a possible world in which you never got new glasses, all of your experiences would have been blurred.  So at least in one sense of ‘encounter,’ it is true in these cases that we always encounter blurred (i.e. fuzzy) objects.

    I am sure that Gow has things to say in reply to these objections. Let me not try to anticipate what she might say, and instead end by noting three more general aspects of her discussion of blurred experiences that puzzle me.

    First, as noted above, I find it natural to think in terms of the fuzzy/blurry distinction and did so above.  But as I read her this is not quite how Gow thinks of the matter. She says in (fn. 19) that she will use ‘blur’ for a property of objects, and also says that the property in question is distinct from fuzziness.  I don’t think this affects the point above, which would go through if ‘fuzzy’ were replaced with ‘blur’ throughout; still I wonder what Gow’s considered view is here.

    Second, Gow’s discussion relies on the point that cognitive and perceptual seeming contribute to the overall experience one has when one has a blurry experience.  I agree there is a distinction here, and that this may well make a difference to experience, but I wonder how to square this with the sort of transparency Gow wants to defend.   On that view, as we have seen, one is never aware of any qualities of our experience.  But, on the face of it, ‘perceptual’ in ‘perceptual seeming,’ and ‘cognitive’ in ‘cognitive seeming,’ precisely mark such qualities.  Put it another way:  a perceptual seeming and a cognitive seeming may make you aware of the same external objects and properties; but then the difference between them must be something apart from these external objects and properties.

    Finally, Gow (fn. 20) mentions a view about blurred experiences defended by Tye 2000 (Tye attributes it to Jackson) according to which (roughly) blurred experiences are experiences that fail to represent in a distinctive way. Smith 2008 as I read him thinks this view is attractive but inconsistent with phenomenological transparency—I wonder if this is Gow’s view as well?  If so, the question of whether her view is itself consistent with phenomenological transparency becomes pressing.

    As I mentioned, there is much more in Gow’s paper apart from her discussion of blurred experience, but I hope that is enough to get some discussion going!

  5. Thanks to the organisers of Minds Online, and to Keith Allen, Jacob Berger, Amy Kind and Daniel Stoljar for their comments! I will try to respond to the main objections made, and hope that the other issues raised can be addressed in discussion…

    Keith Allen very rightly points out that we must not conflate ‘external’ with ‘independent’. Since I define phenomenological transparency in terms of objects and properties seeming to be external (rather than in terms of them seeming to be independent), it is open to the qualia theorist to grant that after-images, blur (etc) seem external, but insist that they do not seem independent (so perceptual experience isn’t transparent in this sense). This is an excellent point! I do think, however, that the phenomenology of the experiences I discuss involves ‘independence’ as well as ‘being external’ – as far as perceptual phenomenology is concerned, that is. Ultimately, I think that ‘seeming external’ and ‘seeming independent’ are actually built in to the perceptual system – so perceptually, things will always seem ‘out there and independent of us’. But I certainly need to amend my paper to deal with the ‘independence’ issue.

    I claim that the sense in which after-images, blur (etc.) don’t seem to be external is cognitive not perceptual – perceptually, such things seem external. Allen wonders whether the qualia theorist could flip my account on its head and say ‘perceptually, blur etc. don’t seem external, although cognitively they do’. I hadn’t thought of this! But actually, I think that the ‘experiments’ I describe in my paper support my account (and tell against this potential inversion of it). My experiments function to isolate the perceptual phenomenology, and I think that if we judged solely in accordance with our perceptual experience, then blur (etc.) would seem external. (My last point in the previous paragraph is relevant here too – I think the default position of perceptual phenomenology is that we experience things as being external.)

    (Allen also rightly makes a point which is Amy Kind’s main criticism, so I will address this when responding to Kind…)

    I found Jacob Berger’s comments interesting since it seems that we disagree over what the transparency claim is meant to prove. Berger thinks that the transparency claim is designed to tell us something about the properties we are aware of in introspection, whereas I think it is designed to tell us something about the properties we are aware of in perceptual experience (and introspection is just the method we use in order to discover these (alleged) truths about perceptual experience). I do think that the way the transparency claim has in fact been used justifies my interpretation – there would be no reason to talk about after-images and blur and so on unless qualia theorists were trying to motivate the idea that some objects/ properties in perceptual experience do not seem to be external. If the point was just about introspection, then the qualia theorist could make their point just as easily with any experience whatsoever (it wouldn’t even need to be a perceptual experience). However, taken as a suggestion of what the qualia theorist should be doing, Berger’s interpretation is interesting.

    Ultimately, I think that Berger and I agree – we both think that perceptual experience only involves properties which seem to be external, and we both think that the sense in which some properties do not seem external is cognitive, not perceptual. (I think we have a cognitive seeming state and Berger thinks that introspection (which tells us that the properties in question are not external) is cognitive.

    One problem with Berger’s picture is that it makes claims about how perceptual experience seems when we’re not introspecting our experience. And I’m not sure how we can make sense of this. Berger says: “I’m not sure that Gow’s arguments cut ice: even if in her proposed experiments we were to get her predicted results, they would only reveal something about what perceptual experiences seem to present, not what introspection of those experiences seem to reveal.” How are we to go about determining how our perceptual experiences seem to us when we are not introspecting them? I think that the judgements our subjects would make in response to their perceptual phenomenology depend upon their knowing how those perceptual experiences seemed to them, and this would require introspection (however we understand this latter notion).

    Amy Kind makes a very good point (which Allen also mentions) – that I don’t do a good enough job of describing and motivating the cognitive seeming states I draw upon to explain the sense in which blur (etc.) doesn’t seem externally located. This criticism is entirely justified!

    Here’s an attempt at a better characterisation: I describe an experiment in my paper where a subject is told that a green image will be projected wherever she looks (as the experimenter is tracking her eye movements). This is supposed to show that since the subject believes the green image is external she will allow her perceptual experience to overrule the cognitive seeming state, according to which the green image won’t seem external. The reason it won’t cognitively seem external even though it perceptually seems external, and even though the subject believes it is external, is that this is a very unusual situation! Our cognitive seeming states are inclinations to believe, and in this situation the subject will still be inclined to believe that the green image isn’t external, since external things never behave in this way. I think this case shows the need for perceptual seemings/ experiences, cognitive seemings and beliefs. I don’t make this at all clear in my paper – so I will certainly amend my paper in light of Kind’s pertinent criticism.

    I thank Kind for her suggestion (regarding Chisholm’s and Dretske’s well-known distinctions between different senses of ‘seem’), but these notions aren’t really what I have in mind. In a new paper I’m working on (where I apply my distinction to absence experience) I compare my sense of cognitive seemings to

    those posited by phenomenal conservatism (very similar, but I place no epistemic demands on my seemings at all).
    Indrek Reiland’s cognitive seemings (his are part sensory/ part cognitive whereas mine are wholly cognitive phenomenology).
    Tamar Szabó Gendler’s notion of ‘alief’ (aliefs are affective and seem usually to be involved with action, whereas cognitive seemings, as I understand them, are neither affective nor necessarily bound up with action).

    I hope that is helpful, and I fully acknowledge that I need to do more in my paper to characterise cognitive seeming states.

    Kind suggests that that the cognitive seeming state (“the heavy object will fall faster”) and the belief (“objects with different masses fall at the same rate”) could both be belief states. So what we have is a case of conflicting beliefs. I don’t think that this can be right – at least not from a phenomenological point of view. After all, I really don’t believe that the heavy object will fall faster! She also suggests that objects cognitively seeming to be solid/ impenetrable (while we believe they’re made of mostly empty space) could just be a perceptual seeming. I should have made this example clearer. I think the relevant cognitive seeming state is general; it cognitively seems to us (now) that pretty much all the relevant objects we have ever encountered, or will ever encounter, are solid in this sense. I don’t think that the content of the cognitive seeming state is restricted to the objects we are currently perceptually experiencing. We need a cognitive seeming state here because perceptual experiences cannot have this kind of general content. (At least, I don’t think that they can…)

    Daniel Stoljar provides a useful way of expressing my view of blur:

    S has a blurred experience if and only if (a) it seems to S perceptually as if something is fuzzy and (b) it seems to S cognitively that that same thing is not fuzzy.

    Stoljar presents two challenges. (1) the right hand side could be true without the subject having blurry experience. (Eli believes that there is no such things as fuzziness so the object in question doesn’t cognitively seem fuzzy to him, it does perceptually seem fuzzy yet he need not be having a blurry experience.) (2) someone can have a blurry experience even if the RHS is false. (When you get new glasses everything seems clear, so before then, your perceptual experience must have been blurry, but things didn’t cognitively seem blurry to you.)

    These are interesting examples! However, upon reflection, I don’t think that these cases challenge my view. The fault is mine, though, since I relegate an important point about the distinction between blur and fuzziness to a footnote. I think that blur and fuzziness are different qualities. Objects can be fuzzy (eg. Candy floss/cotton candy), but they can’t be blurry; that is, we probably cannot cognitively attribute ‘blur’ to external objects at all. (This is what I mean when I say we never encounter genuinely blurry objects – objects that are in fact blurry.) However, my claim is that perceptual experience nevertheless attributes blur to objects during blur experience. It never cognitively seems that objects are blurry so we never judge in accordance with our perceptual experience. I think the assumption is often made that perceptual experience could only attribute fuzziness to objects since objects can be fuzzy but never blurry. My position on this matter is different – I claim that perceptual experience can attribute blur and fuzziness to objects, but whenever it attributes blur to objects it will be misrepresenting those objects. (Incidentally, images and text can be genuinely blurry.)

    Re (1), if we keep the properties the same – so have ‘blur’ instead of ‘fuzzy’ on the RHS – then I would insist that Eli is having a blurry experience if his perceptual experience attributes blur to an object which does not cognitively seem blurry. (So I think this case won’t work as a counter-example to my view once we keep the properties the same on both sides.)

    Re (2) I think this example actually supports my view (so I have probably misunderstood it!) I think the RHS is true here, not false. It is claimed that the subject had blurry experience – it perceptually seemed as if things were blurry – but it didn’t cognitively seem this way. It seems that the RHS is true after all.

    Stoljar points out that my distinction between perceptual seeming and cognitive seeming requires that we experience the phenomenological difference between these two kinds of seeming state, and this would appear to conflict with the phenomenological transparency claim I defend. This is an excellent point!! I’m not sure that I have an adequate reply. I do think that everything one is aware of – in the ‘two-place’ sense of ‘aware of’ that is typically used in this debate –  seems to be externally located. I don’t think that one is aware of the kind of experience one is having in this ‘two-place’ way. Proponents of transparency typically allow that we are aware of our experiences, but this is a displaced awareness – we are aware of our experiences by being aware of (apparently) externally located objects/ properties. I would add that perceptual phenomenology presents its (seemingly external) objects in a certain way – involving colours and visual shapes for example – and so it is the (apparent) nature of the (seemingly externally located) objects we are aware of that determines perceptual phenomenology as perceptual.

    I should probably stop here! But thanks again for these comments. My paper will be greatly improved by having thought through the issues which have been raised.

  6. I think Daniel (if I may) makes a really important point (well, one of many), writing: “But, on the face of it, ‘perceptual’ in ‘perceptual seeming,’ and ‘cognitive’ in ‘cognitive seeming,’ precisely mark such qualities. Put it another way: a perceptual seeming and a cognitive seeming may make you aware of the same external objects and properties; but then the difference between them must be something apart from these external objects and properties.”

    On the ‘two-quality’ view I’m advocating, the difference between perceptually representing a perceptible property and cognitively representing that same perceptible property consists in the perceptual state’s having qualia. What a first-order perceptual (or cognitive) state renders one aware of, however, is only that perceptible property. But the introspective difference between being aware of oneself as perceiving (as opposed to thinking about) that property consists in being aware of the qualia.

    1. Hi Jacob, I agree that Daniel’s point was excellent! I don’t think I’ve successfully responded to it – but I’m thinking about it!

      I don’t think I quite understand your suggestion… Are you saying that only perceptual experiences have qualia, and so, since you become aware of them when introspecting your experience, you know you’re having a perceptual rather than a cognitive first order state?

      Thanks again for your comments too, by the way!

      1. Hi Laura,

        Sure thing–and thanks again for your great paper. I think that only perceptual experiences have qualia and that the introspective difference between being aware of having a perceptual experience of being aware of being in a cognitive state (at least partially) consists in one’s awareness of that qualia. I don’t know if that means you thereby know that you’re in a perceptual rather than a cognitive state, because you might not know about the nature of perceptual vs. cognitive states, you might be mistaken about the difference between perceptual and cognitive states, or something like that. But I don’t think we typically confuse perceptual states with thoughts and that’s because awareness of the former involves being aware of qualia whereas awareness of the latter does not. Does that help? Is there some lurking problem with that view?

        Picking up on your debate about the nature of cognitive seemings with Amy, as well as Luke’s idea that a dual-aspect theory of perception might hold that cognitive seemings are intimately intertwined with the sensory/qualitative aspects of perceptual experience, I want to make a suggestion that might split the difference between your (and others’) positing of sui-generis cognitive seemings and Amy’s proposal that such states are just beliefs. As I understand Reid’s old-fashioned version of dual-component view, the cognitive aspects of perception are simply occurrent beliefs of a certain kind. That is, they involve the assertoric belief attitude toward propositional contents. But, as Reid also noted, such perceptual beliefs are much more restricted than what we might call our ordinary ‘central beliefs’ (I borrow this expression from Jake Quilty-Dunn, who recently defends a version of this view). Among other things, perceptual beliefs only concern what is occurrently being sensed whereas central beliefs can concern practically anything. On this suggestion, you’re in some sense right that cognitive seemings are unlike ordinary beliefs, but Amy’s also right that fundamentally they’re just a kind of weak belief that are “overpowered” by our stronger central ones (which is why it seems that you really only believe the contents of the central ones). Perhaps that strikes you as verbal–but I guess the only way to settle this would be to have a fairly rich account of what beliefs are and show that what I’m calling ‘perceptual beliefs’ don’t count (though at present I don’t see why they wouldn’t).

        Cheers,

        Jake

        1. Hi Jake,
          I understand now – I guess we would need to get into a debate about what exactly qualia are meant to be! They are sometimes called upon to explain what is ‘experiential’ about experience, in which case your view would seem to be too restrictive (since then only perceptual experience can qualify as experience).
          But regarding your second point (and returning to one of Amy’s suggestions) I suppose I think that the difference between my view and (say) Jake Quilty-Dunn’s may just be terminological. My account requires that there are perceptual experiences (or seemings – I think these are the same) and two kinds of cognitive state – I call one kind ‘cognitive seemings’ and the other ‘beliefs’, but we could instead say that there are two kinds of belief. One reason to prefer my terminology may be that it sits better with cases where the contents of these two cognitive states clearly conflict. In my reply to Luke I mentioned briefly that I think the model I advocate in this paper can also be used to explain absence experience. (We perceptually experience the empty table top, and have a cognitive seeming state with the content ‘my laptop is gone!’) Farennikova (who provides that example) says, imagine you are told that your laptop is still there and a magician is playing an elaborate trick with mirrors – now you believe your laptop is there but it still cognitively seems to you that it’s not (so you still experience its absence). Basically, I think my way of describing what is going on is simpler than saying that you have two beliefs, one with the content that the laptop is there, and one with the content that it’s not (and these are different kinds of belief). I’d also say that cognitive seemings seem different enough from beliefs to warrant a different name! (I think cognitive seemings are closer to Gendler’s ‘aliefs’ than beliefs….)
          It may also be relevant that I think cognitive seemings need not have anything to do with perception at all (so I wouldn’t want to classify them as perceptual beliefs) One example I give, I think, is that it cognitively seems to us that we shouldn’t switch doors in the Monty Hall problem…
          I’d be interested to hear whether you think the two beliefs view has any positive advantages over the view I endorse…?
          And thanks for all your helpful and interesting comments!

          1. Yes, I think we then do need an account of what qualia are–and I’m partial to what David Rosenthal calls ‘quality-space theory’ (see, e.g., his 2010 “How to Think about Mental Qualities”). But I’m also inclined towards his higher-order thought theory of consciousness, on which a state’s being conscious (or experiential, if you prefer) depends on one’s having a suitable HOT that one’s in that state. So on this Rosenthalian combination of views, both thoughts and perceptual states can be conscious (if one has the suitable HOT), but only perceptual experiences are qualitative because they have mental qualities, while thoughts have only conceptual contents. It may sound odd that qualia aren’t what makes states conscious (as many assume), but notice that different perceptual experiences can have different qualitative characters, so it’s not so crazy to think that what makes a state conscious in general differs from what gives it the particular character it has. In any case, I know this is a controversial pair of views, but I figured I’d just throw them out there so you know what theoretical views are driving my comments.

            Regarding reasons to prefer the view that cognitive seemings just are suitably weak beliefs, I guess one thing in that view’s favor is that we know independently what beliefs are and how they work. For that matter, we have resources for explaining how beliefs might differ in the various ways that I’m suggesting. By contrast, I share Amy’s fundamental worry that we don’t really know what sui-generis cognitive seemings are. To put that another way, while many people in the philosophy of mind have focused on giving accounts of what it is for thoughts to have contents, there’s been much less focus on how to individuate mental attitudes. That, I think, has led to a kind of profligacy when it comes to positing new mental attitudes not found in folk psychology. I’m myself partial to a particular account of how to individuate them, but setting that aside, without such an account, it’s not so clear we’re permitted to just posit any kind of attitude we like. While I think it’s easy to individuate the belief attitude, I don’t know how to do that in the cases of the cognitive-seeming or alief ones (and I think aliefs are just weak beliefs too).

            1. Hi Jake,
              Re qualia – I’m inclined to think that a conscious thought (say) is just as ‘qualitative’ (in the sense that there’s something it is like to think it) as a perceptual experience. I would agree that conscious thought doesn’t have the ‘presentational’ phenomenology of perceptual experience….(do you think that this fact is explained by the latter having qualia and the former not?)

              Regarding the second issue – I am very sympathetic to your worry (and Amy’s) and I don’t think that we should conjure up these new kinds of mental attitudes based on small differences.. Ultimately, I think that in some situations we do, however, need to posit two kinds of cognitive state, and I guess we all agree on that! I will think more about whether we should think of them as being two kinds of belief or as being a belief and a cognitive seeming….. I suppose we have to determine what features we think are necessary for somethings being a belief…. Maybe for the purpose of my paper I can remain neutral on this. So long as the sense in which blur (etc) seem external is cognitive (and not a belief in the strong sense) I can make my argument…??
              Thanks again!
              Laura

              1. Hey Laura,

                Yeah, and perhaps this is getting a bit too far afield from your argument, I sort of assume that qualia are sensory in nature (what I guess you’re calling presentational), so there’s a difference between a state’s being conscious and its having qualitative (or sensory) character. On my HO view, both thoughts and perceptual states can be conscious insofar as we can be subjectively aware of being in them, but only the latter have qualia. But, as is the case with many (all? 😉 of my views, I know this isn’t the standard way people talk in this literature.

                On beliefs vs. cognitive seemings, I think we agree about what’s at stake. And I would think that your argument could go through even if cognitive seemings are simply beliefs, suitably distinguished from what I’m calling ‘central beliefs’. But perhaps best to stay neutral on that issue in the paper.

                Cheers,

                Jake

                1. Hi Jake,
                  Thanks, yes, I think you’re right that I can stay neutral re how we should classify these cognitive states which aren’t fully-fledged beliefs. I have a lot of work to do on the paper now, so it’s good I can stay neutral on something!
                  Thanks for all your comments this week. You’ve given me a lot to think about.
                  Best,
                  Laura

  7. Thanks for the paper Laura, and especially for the interesting cognitive/perceptual seeming distinction. But I’d like to try out a two-stage argument that once we recognise the importance of cognitive seemings in our overall experience, the very distinction between them and perceptual seemings starts to seem problematic.

    The first stage is to echo Keith Allen’s suggestion that, within your framework, we can equally reasonably claim that perceived qualities all perceptually seem to be internal, but cognitively seem to be external. Your reply seems to be that

    “My experiments function to isolate the perceptual phenomenology, and I think that if we judged solely in accordance with our perceptual experience, then blur (etc.) would seem external.”

    But I don’t how the experiments ‘isolate’ perceptual phenomenology – they just ensure that a particular kind of cognitive seeming isn’t present (by having the subjects told authoritatively that things are a certain way). But isn’t that just as likely to mean that they have some relatively unusual cognitive seemings, based on what they’ve been told? Indeed, on the qualia-theoretic view that Keith suggests, where cognitive seemings are deeply and pervasively interwoven into all perceptual experiences, it might be very difficult or almost impossible to do away with cognitive seemings altogether and ‘isolate’ the perceptual phenomenology. So I’m not sure this response works.

    The second stage starts from the thought that we can’t rule out either your view (perceptually seem external, sometimes cognitively seem internal) or the rival suggestion (perceptually seem internal, usually cognitively seem external). If we can’t rule out either, then it looks as though the boundary between how things seem perceptually and how things seem cognitively isn’t one that can be drawn introspectively – or at least, it’s not an introspectively salient one. To put it figuratively, seemings don’t come to us pre-packaged into easily separable perceptual and cognitive layers.

    If that’s right, then why not say that the whole affair – perceptual and cognitive seemings together – is what best deserves the name ‘perceptual experience’, and the distinction is simply about particular aspects of perception and their causal origin? We’d have to allow that some cognitive seemings are non-perceptual, because they’re separate from any perceptual state – e.g. when I’m thinking about theories in physics – but the point might still hold for cases where perceptual and cognitive seemings are intertwined, involving the same properties and/or the same objects.

    (And in that case, it seems like the right interpretation of phenomenological transparency would pertain to the whole affair, including the cognitive seemings, because the narrower class of what you’re calling ‘perceptual seemings’ is an artificial fragment which can only with great effort be disentangled from the other seemings it always comes to us together with.)

    I’m not sure if I buy this argument but I would love to hear what you think about it, since there’s been so much discussion already of the two-types-of-seeming distinction.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Luke! Yes, I thought Keith’s query was very interesting…. I know that the ‘dual-aspect’ view has become more popular recently… Ultimately, I think that the cognitive seeming and the perceptual seeming can come apart, so we shouldn’t think of the former as being part of the latter. But I’m not sure I can prove it! And I agree that it’s probably impossible to have a perceptual experience without a cognitive seeming state….
      One reason I want to keep the two seemings distinct is that I think this model has wide application. So, I’m currently working on a paper about absence experience (when we discover our laptop is not longer on the cafe table we perceptually experience the table and the absence experience is constituted by a cognitive seeming state). In this case, I think that my view has an advantage over a view where the cognitive seeming is part of the perceptual experience. (I won’t go into it here – but I think there are serious problems with the perceptual view – we can talk more about it, if you’re interested!) I also suspect that colour constancy can be explained on the perceptual seeming vs cognitive seeming model.
      Another reason to think that the two seemings are distinct is that the alternative picture may result in arbitrariness. So, we can agree that cognitive seemings involved in folk physics don’t partly compose whatever perceptual experience we are having at the time, but what about the cognitive seeming state ‘I’m late’ had while looking at the clock (for example)? Basically, I think we have a simpler picture if the states are always (in principle) separable rather than if they sometimes are, and sometimes aren’t (and sometimes we’re not sure whether they are or not).
      Also, I find that when having an after-image experience I can ‘focus’ on the perceptual phenomenology (and it seems to me at least that the image seems external!), and I’m not sure if we would be able to do this if cognitive seemings partly constitute the perceptual experience…
      Lastly, one could argue that our perceptual seemings have evolved by being successful in getting us around in the world, so it makes sense to think that ‘representing things as being external’ would be built in to our perceptual system (which, I think, tells against the inversion Keith suggests).
      I am certainly going to think more about this…. I do think that in other cases (eg. absence experience) we should keep the seemings apart, but that doesn’t mean that keeping them apart in every case provides the best explanation. Having conceded that much, the dual-component theorist must explain why their story is positively better than mine!!
      Thanks again for your comment!

      1. Thanks Laura. But I’m not sure I’m following you entirely. The view I was thinking of accepts that perceptual and cognitive seemings are distinct, and separable, and that some of them can be singled out by attention to focus on, but adds that in other cases we can’t easily single them out or tell where one stops and the other begins, and so applies the label ‘perceptual experience’ to the whole thing – cognitive seemings being part of perceptual experiences but not part of perceptual seemings.
        (regarding what evolution is likely to have selected for, why think that evolution hasn’t had cognitive seemings of externality in the mix from the get-go, and so achieved the success it wants by a different route than the one you suggest. In particular, why not think that evolution has had organisms sort out their seemings of internality and externality based on the (presumably cognitive?) mechanisms that distinguish self-caused motion from externally-caused motion, or otherwise draw self/environment distinctions. If they need the latter mechanisms anyway (to prevent me from eating my fingers) it might seem economical to employ them also for the former task.)

        I am though rather interested in how absence experience fits into the account – could you say a bit about why you think the two-component approach doesn’t work for absences?

        1. Hi Luke,
          Thanks! (I concede the point re evolution!)
          The reason I think that absence experience is best understood as a cognitive seeming which accompanies the perceptual experience is actually very simple: very often, a perceptual experience is (at least partly) causally responsible for the occurrence of the cognitive seeming/ absence experience. So when you return to your table in the cafe your perceptual experience of the bare table top (partly) causes your absence experience. This happens extremely quickly of course, so it might seem simultaneous, but it could be that one returns to one’s table deep in thought and has a perceptual experience of the empty table top for a few seconds before the cognitive seeming state (i.e. the absence experience) occurs. If this is right, then it would seem simpler to suppose that the cognitive seeming isn’t part of the perceptual experience.
          I guess it’s possible to say that you have an empty table perceptual seeming which causes a cognitive seeming and then the two seemings then constitute a perceptual experience….but I’m not sure why that would be better (and it seems unnecessarily complicated)?
          It would be great to hear what you think about this….and thanks for the comments!

          1. Thanks Laura, that all sounds reasonable, and I don’t think I actually disagree, strictly speaking. It just seems to me that in the case you describe, one perfectly reasonable description would be:

            At each moment you are having a complex perceptual experience, with many aspects having different causal origins – there’s the experience of the colour of the table top (which we can call ‘visual’, and a fortiori ‘perceptual’) and of its size and shape (ditto), the experience of touching it as you sit down (tactile and perceptual), the experience of it as (looking like) a table (which depends on acquired knowledge and might deserve to be called ‘cognitive’), the affordance experience of as ‘something to put stuff on’ (cognitive?), the co-presentation of its concealed sides and legs (in between? an exercise of mental imagery?), and – the key phenomenon under consideration – the experience of the laptop as absent (say this aspect is cognitive, I have no problem with that).

            When we single out aspects, it makes sense to class each one as ‘perceptual’ or ‘cognitive’, to identify the mutual dependence of some aspects on others (e.g. I see the table as a table partly because of its shape and colour, or my tactile perception may be subconsciously influenced by vision), and (as you point out) to note that some aspects of later experiences might be absent in earlier ones.

            But if someone wants to make claims about ‘your perceptual experience’ at a given moment, the whole mess of these many bound-together experiences seems to me the best candidate referent for that phrase. The rival candidate ‘totality of your perceptual seemings, minus all your cognitive seemings’ seems ragged-edged by comparison – I can’t readily imagine what it’s like to have all the strictly perceptual seemings without any cognitive seemings at all, even if I can focus on particular perceptual seemings in isolation, or imagine removing particular cognitive seemings from the whole mess.

            This is basically a verbal point, I think, except insofar as it bears on the most reasonable reading of the transparency thesis: if it’s a thesis about ‘perceptual experience’, then my ‘the whole mess’ view would make it a stronger thesis than your ‘two separable layers’ view.

            1. Hi Luke,
              What you say is certainly important for my argument in this paper, since if the cognitive seemings are part of the perceptual experiences then I cannot say that perceptual experience is transparent. So I definitely need to come up with some better reasons for going with my picture! I think there are good reasons when it comes to absence experience (because I think there are lots of problems with the idea we can see/ hear/ touch (etc) absences.) But these reasons don’t apply to case of blur etc.

              Here’s one more thought – our overall experiential state probably also involves mood experience, emotion experience, proprioceptive experience… We don’t (I think?) want to say that these are part of whatever perceptual experience we are having, so how do we justifying thinking that the cognitive state is part of the perceptual experience when the emotional state (say) isn’t?
              (I’m not sure how convincing that is….)

              Thanks for pushing me on this!
              Laura

  8. Hi All, Sorry to be late to this interesting discussion! (And thanks Jacob for the following-up the point about transparency and the cognitive seeming/perceptual seeming distinction.)

    I mainly wanted to focus on Laura’s clarification of how she understands the blur/fuzzy distinction. Laura, you say that being fuzzy is a property of some things, like candy floss, while being blurry is property of other things, like texts and images. I can see that if you are thinking along those lines you will draw a distinction between these two properties. So that is very helpful! Still I had some concerns about this.

    First, you also say that blurriness is not a property of external things, which sounds a bit funny since images and texts are certainly external things. Maybe you meant: external things that are not images and texts?

    Second, I am not quite as clear as you are on why understanding the distinction this way helps with the problems for your view that I mentioned. In the new glasses case, you want to insist (I take it) that it is the case that it does not cognitively seem to you pre-glasses that things are blurry, and that in consequence you are having a blurry experience. But this seems to me to put the negation in the wrong place. What is important is whether it does cognitively seem to you pre-glasses that things are not blurry. It is that that claim that seems implausible to me, the reason being that pre-glasses you had no view either way whether things are blurry or not. And if that claim is not true, then you did not have any blurry experiences prior to putting on your new glasses, according to your account.

    Something similar is true in the eliminativist case. Eli might be quite convinced that no image or text is ever blurry (because allegedly nothing is). When shown a clearly blurry image, it will clearly perceptually seem to Eli that the image is blurry — but why does the further belief change a clear perception into a blurry one? Your view seems to entail that it does, but this still seems a pretty odd consequence to me.

    best,
    Daniel

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for this, and thanks again for your comments!
      First, yes, I meant to say that it cannot cognitively seem to us that external objects (like tables and chairs and so on) are blurry. Of course, text and images can cognitively seem blurry as this is a property we assume they can actually have. I will certainly make these points clearer in the re-write of my paper!

      Re Eli – I think I understand! Now I think I was too hasty in accepting (2) as a statement of my account! Do you think I need to accept (2) to run my argument? I want to say that IF you’re having a blurry experience (i.e. the kind of experience qualia theorists appeal to), then perceptually the blur will seem ‘out there’ and the sense in which it doesn’t seem ‘out there’ is cognitive. (Do you think I have to endorse the ‘if and only if’?)

      Re the pre-glasses case: it’s difficult as I don’t think it ever seems to us cognitively that external objects (as in tables and chairs etc) are blurry. (That is, I think it always seems to us that external objects are not blurry.) So I don’t agree that: “pre-glasses you had no view either way whether things are blurry or not.” Cognitively, it seems that things are not blurry. If the question is whether the subject knows how things PERCEPTUALLY seem to her, then I’m not sure what to say! Since the transparency debate presupposes that our subjects are introspecting their experiences, I can perhaps stay neutral on this?! Can my answer be this: It cognitively seemed to the subject that the objects around her were not blurry. Either it perceptually seemed to her that they were blurry and she was having a blurry experience, or it didn’t perceptually seem to her that the objects were blurry and she wasn’t having a blurry experience…??

      Anyway, thanks again! It has been really helpful thinking through these cases.

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