In this post I will be collecting thoughts as they occur to me, regardless of whether I am able to fit them into any argument for a larger, more comprehensive and therefore more serious view. These will be like odds-and-endsy scraps of lumber of varying dimensions that the furniture-maker does not want to throw away now because they think there is always the chance a use for them might be found later. But for now none fits into any furniture project they have going on now.
Most of these (maybe all of them!) will be drivel, of course, and I will be continually updating this post as it becomes blindingly obvious to me that a given thought is completely unsustainable, at least in its current form.
Lumber Scrap #1: Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Searle on pains:
Stephen Priest on Merleau-Ponty:
Although the body-subject is the ‘percevant-percu’ (VI, 202) ‘perceiving-perceived’ (VIT, 248) it is paradigmatically the sensed (‘le senti’ VI, 302) which is the synthesis of the subjective and the material. We can appreciate this already if we consider that the sensed seems to have both experiential and physical properties. For example a pain both hurts and is spatially located in a part of the body. Merleau-Ponty speaks of the sensed as ‘at the same time the culmination of subjectivity and the culmination of materiality.’ (VIT, 248).
Stephen Priest, MERLEAU-PONTY, THE ARGUMENTS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS, Routledge, 1998, p. 74
John Searle on two different senses of the phrase aware of:
I now want to expose the fallacy in the argument [against naive or direct realism]. One could object to various steps, but the crucial step is number three, which says that in both the hallucination and the veridical case we are “aware of” or “conscious of” something. But this claim is ambiguous because it contains two senses of “aware of,” which I will call respectively the “aware of” of intentionality and the “aware of” of constitution. You can see the difference if you contrast two common-sense claims. First, when I push my hand hard against this table, I am aware of the table. And second, when I push my hand hard against this table, I am aware of a painful sensation in my hand.
a) I am aware of the table.
b) I am aware of a painful sensation in my hand.
Both of these are true and though they look similar, they are radically different. (a) describes an intentional relation between me and the table. I had a sensation where the table was its intentional object. The presence and features of the table are the conditions of satisfaction of the sensation. In (a) the “aware of” is the “aware of” of intentionality. But in (b) the only thing I am aware of is the painful sensation itself. Here the “aware of” is the “aware of” of identity or the constitution of the experience. The object I am aware of and the sensation are identical. I had only one sensation: a painful sensation of the table. I was aware of (in the sense of identity or constitution) the sensation, but I was also aware of (in the sense of intentionality) the table.
John R. Searle, SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 14-15
Contra Searle, however, it is clear that when one has a pain in their hand, a certain part of their body gets presented to them under (among other things) the aspect ‘having such and such spatial location and extent.’ One ‘condition of satisfaction’ for this presentation is ‘this part of my body exists at this location’; another is, perhaps, ‘something is wrong with that body part’. Were one suffering from a phantom limb, the first of these conditions of satisfaction would not be satisfied, but perhaps the second would be (“Hell yes something is wrong with that body part! It doesn’t exist any more!!!”) At any rate, having conditions of satisfaction that can be satisfied/fail to be satisfied, one’s sensation of pain is just as intentional as their seeing or feeling the table.
As of this writing, I do not know whether this point poses any threat at all to Searle’s Theory of Perception. Incidentally, I also don’t know what threat, if any, the phantom limb poses to the various Disjunctive Theories of perception Searle expends so much energy sneering
Lumber Scrap #2: John Searle on the subjective visual field:
This book is about perception….I want to begin by identifying the territory. Close your eyes and put your hand over your forehead, covering your eyes: you will stop seeing anything, but your visual consciousness does not stop. Though you do not see anything, nonetheless you have visual experiences which are something like seeing darkness with yellow patches. Of course you do not see darkness and yellow patches, because you do not see anything; but you still have visual consciousness. The area of visual consciousness is quite constrained: In my case, it extends, roughly speaking, from the top of my forehead down as low as my chin. I am here speaking about the phenomenology and not about the physiological forehead and chin. I am talking about how it seems to me consciously. But the area of my visual consciousness is limited in that, for example, I have no visual consciousness behind my head or under my feet. But I definitely have visual consciousness in front of my face even with my eyes closed. That conscious area I just identified I will call the “subjective visual field.”
John R. Searle, SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 3-4. I will sometimes reference this work as SEEING THINGS.
Searle seems to want to identify not one, but two distinct kinds of visual fields: a subjective visual field and an objective visual field. And he seems to think we can identify both kinds within our ordinary, waking experience. Let me start with the subjective visual field.
The subjective visual field is that kind of visual field in which, while one has visual experiences, one does not actually see anything. The visual experiences have no objects. Just as one sees nothing when they hallucinate a pink rhinoceros at their side (but they do have a visual consciousness that is like the visual consciousness they would have were they actually to be seeing a pink rhinoceros), one does not see anything in the subjective visual field.
Much of this book is about the relationship between the subjective visual field and the objective visual field. The most important point I can make right now is: in the objective visual field everything is seen or can be seen, whereas in the subjective field nothing is seen nor can be seen.
John R. Searle, SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 4
Distinct from the subjective visual field is another kind of visual field, the objective visual field. Searle defines one’s objective visual field as the set of identifiable-by-a-third-person objects and states of affairs that are visible from their point of view given the current lighting conditions in their environment and given their present physiological and psychological state (SEEING THINGS, p. 106). Apparently, then, the objective visual field is just that section of space and the objects within it that are visible from one’s point of view (and given….and so on). These are objects and space existing (normally) outside of one’s cranium. Needless to say, one can identify the objective visual field in one’s experience because one does have experience of things and space outside of one’s cranium.
By contrast, the subjective visual field exists solely within the confines of one’s cranium:
My subjective visual field, on the other hand … exists entirely in my brain.
John R. Searle, SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 106-107
The subjective visual field is two-dimensional, but in a sense Searle feels the need to qualify:
Crudely, the subjective visual field is, so to speak, two-dimensional. … [Of course t]he subjective visual field is not a visible object having two dimensions…. [But] … any impression of depth can be created by two-dimensional surfaces, as is shown by, for example, trompe-l’oeil paintings.
John R. Searle, SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 138-139
And, as we have seen in the first passage quoted above, Searle feels confident he has identified, and has given instructions for identifying, the subjective visual field by providing an example of one in his experience. To repeat:
But I definitely have visual consciousness in front of my face even with my eyes closed. That conscious area I just identified I will call the “subjective visual field.”
John R. Searle, SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 3-4.
But, as I am about to show, Searle has identified no such thing.
For contra Searle’s claim that one does not see objects in the subjective visual field, one does in fact see objects when they follow Searle’s instructions to identify a subjective visual field and closes their eyes (the instruction he gives at the end of the first passage quoted above), or closes their eyes and places their hand over their eyes (the instruction he gives towards the beginning of that passage). One sees objects in a clearly degenerate, drastically attenuated, highly defective way when they follow either one of these instructions, but they do see objects nonetheless.
For at the very least, one is seeing the shadow-side of their eyelids when they follow either of Searle’s instructions.
Let me explain. And after explaining, let me politely suggest towards the end of this lumber scrap that in fact there are not two kinds of visual field, one objective and the other subjective, but just one single kind of visual field normally comprising both objective and subjective elements. In certain unusual circumstances, this visual field might conceivably degenerate into one comprising subjective elements only; nonetheless, there is just one kind of visual field. In claiming there are two, Searle is seeing double.0
Through A Glass Darkly: My Explanation: When I slowly, gradually close my eyes, I visually experience a single horizontal band of somewhat warm darkness moving down at the same rate as my moving my eyelids down. Along with and “entangled with” (as George Berkeley would say) my visual experience is a tactile experience of this band’s location. For the band feels like it is on roughly the same vertical plane as my eyelids. I get additional confirmation of this ‘feeling of location’ when I move my finger down with my eyelids, my finger touching the lids. The same sense of tactile location and the same method of confirmation give me the sense that the width of the band is the same as (on the left) the outer edge of the eyelid of my left eye and (on the right) the outer edge of the eyelid of my right eye. But there is no determinate visual terminus defining the band’s left and right sides. (Promissory note: this indeterminacy is extremely important, and will need further detailed discussion sometime.) By contrast, there is a much more determinate, though still rather blurred edge at the bottom of the band. This bottom edge gets more determinate, a bit less blurred as it moves down, and becomes more like the somewhat rounded edge of a body part such as an eyelid. In certain lights, I see in a blurred way some striations when the dark band has come close to completing its downward movement. These striations I confidently identify with my eyelashes.
Clearly the dark band is identical with the shadow-side of my eyelids. Since this is a single band, not double, two views of my the shadow-side of my eyelids are getting merged into a single visual presentation.1 I am seeing the shadow-side of my eyelids when I see the downward-moving dark band.
That I am in fact seeing a physical object (actually, two physical objects the views of which have been merged into a single view or presentation) is strongly confirmed by the fact that when I move so that I am facing a direct light source, I sense light filtering through and visually experience a lighter, warmer, orangier color. I am experiencing the visual effect of translucency — of light going through a not-100%-opaque flesh-colored object. Skin, after all, is just a little bit transparent, as shown by the bluish veins one can see in one’s hand through a thin layer of skin. Surely the most plausible explanation of this effect is that I am indeed seeing some translucent objects — my eyelids — presented in a single view.
That I am experiencing translucency in this situation is further confirmed when I move my eyebrows up and down, I experience a darker band at the top of my visual field going up and down, along with (when the movement is down) a darkening, bluing, and cooling of the formerly lighter, warmer, fleshier and orangier color I had been experiencing. Clearly, my retinas are picking up the shadow cast by my eyebrows where less light strikes them relative to what filters through my eyelids.
Again, when I touch my index finger to my eyelid. I then see a cooler, darker shadow on my eyelid. (Naturally, I sense the size of this shadow as equal to the felt size of my fingertip.) This could not happen if my eyelid were not translucent and therefore visible to me even when it is covering my eyeball.
And again, when, both eyes shut, I partially follow Searle’s instructions above and cover my right eye with my right hand, the color of the dark field on the left remains warm and orangish, but the color on the right side of the field turns cooler and one notch darker. Clearly my right hand is hindering light from entering through my right eyelid and casting a shadow.
The experience is very similar to pressing the shower curtain as close to my (open) eyes as I can get it. The individual patterns on the curtain become very, very vague. I lose most or all sense of the curtain’s texture, so that the curtain becomes (in this particular case) a whitish field of color occupying the entirety of my visual field, with its indeterminate boundary. Objects beyond the curtain, such as my cat Munti, cast moving shadows across it.
In other words, attenuated as this visual experience is, I am still seeing a (somewhat) translucent objects even when it is extremely close to my eyes. For one, the shower curtain is causing my visual experience of it by transmitting light through it, light that hits my retina. For another, my experience changes as this causal action changes — my cat moves this way and that, partially blocking this light. For yet another, I am experiencing (in a defective way) a property of the curtain — its whitish color. For still yet another, my visual experience occurs in the context of my being situated in a wakeful manner in an actual setting I am in contact with — the bathtub in my bathroom. It is not like my “hearing” in a dream a lion roaring in a savanna, which sound turns out to be, upon my wakening, the roar of a car engine. I am seeing a field, a ground, not a figure with demarcated limits on a ground. But fields aka grounds are also things that I see — for example, the dark green blackboard around and running underneath the chalk figure visible on top of this ground. Clearly, I am seeing the shower curtain, attenuated and defective as that vision is.
Likewise, I am seeing my eyelids when, in the circumstances described above, I close my eyes. My eyelids are causing my visual experience by transmitting light through them, light that hits my retina. My visual experience changes as this causal action changes — my eyebrows moving this way or that, my finger touching an eyelid. I experience in a defective way the fleshy (though very much darkened and enshadowed) color of my eyelids, a color that, just like my flesh tones as seen normally, varies from orangish to bluish depending upon how the light hits/goes through them. My visual experience occurs in the context of my continuing to be situated, even with my eyes closed, in the wakeful world of real, solid, tangible objects. I don’t have any visual sense of the texture of my eyelids, a circumstance that probably lessens the chances that I will recognize that it is, indeed, my eyelids that I am seeing. Indeed, I have probably spent most of my life not recognizing this. But this absence of seen texture only means that my visual experience of my eyelids is highly attenuated so that my eyelids, like the shower curtain, get presented as a (single) field or ground, not as objects on a ground. I am seeing my eyelids just as I would be seeing the shower curtain were snippets of that curtain were to replace the flesh of my eyelids. (Imagine the transplanted snippets gradually getting more flesh-colored and thicker, so that the experience when I close my eyes becomes identical to that which occurred when my normal eyelids made of flesh were in place.)
Likewise, I am seeing the shadows cast by my eyebrows onto the translucent surface of my eyelids, and the shadow of my fingertip in the situations described above, just as I see the shadow of my cat on the shower curtain.
As Searle’s case clearly demonstrates, one can be seeing one’s eyelids and the shadows cast upon them without seeing that or recognizing that it is one’s eyelids and their shadow-play that they are experiencing. This fact, though, does not mean that one is not seeing the shadow side of their eyelids when they close their eyes. For of course one can see x without knowing that it is x. Seeing is referentially opaque. When at night, for example, I see a dark shape, just barely distinguishable from the enveloping darkness, I am in fact seeing my friend Chris even though I do not know who or what I am seeing, or even that it is a tangible being and not, for example, a ghost. And since one’s cognitive concerns in the world almost always go past one’s eyelids and out into the world, it is perhaps not surprising that one’s perception of their eyelids is (perhaps normally and usually) cognitively as well as straight-up visually poor.
My eyelids are translucent. I am seeing the shadow side of a translucent object, namely, my eyelids, when my eyes are shut and I am facing a direct light. And even when I am not facing a direct light, it seems to me that I am always seeing the faint shadow, the slightly darker area, at the top of my visual field where my eyebrows — at least at the very upper edge of the eye-socket — are casting a shadow. I submit, then, that there are no ordinary circumstances in waking experience when one sees nothing when they close their eyes. I will go out on a limb and assert that, in ordinary circumstances, some light always gets through one’s eyelids. (This is, of course, an empirically falsifiable statement.) One can doubtlessly construct a situation in which no light gets through. But this would be an unusual situation, and therefore useless for an appeal to identify in our ordinary waking experience something that Searle thinks he can identify, name, an object-less visual experience.
One sees the shadow side of their eyelids. Case closed. — Almost.
Of course, there is at least one problem here. Initially, as I have said, the dark band as confirmed by my fingers is about the length from one outer edge of one eye to the outer edge of the other eye. But when my eyes are completely closed, the length (as determined by my fingers as I press them on one part of the darkness I am presented with and then on another), the darkness I am visually presented with seems more extensive both horizontally and vertically than my eyelids (whose extent I also confirm with my fingers). How could this be if I am seeing the shadow side of my eyelids?
An autobiographical note is in order here. Yesterday, on November 26, 2015, I, Clifford Engel Wirt (Sometimes Cliff Engel Wirt, sometimes Clifford Engle Wirt, sometimes Cliff Engle Wirt, much of the time I pronounce the last name as the English ‘Wirt’, but sometimes, when I am tired, I pronounce it as ‘Veert’ … but I digress….) was completely convinced that the extent of this dark area was identical with the extent of what I see of my face when both my eyes are open. In my case, that is the left edge of my left eye socket and the right edge of my right eye socket, the lower part of my eyebrows, and part of the area where my cheek bones start jutting out. (All of these I see in a rather blurry, undefined way, of course.) This extent was, I assert confidently, was given through a tactile feeling, a feeling that was entangled (Bishop Berkeley again), or, as I prefer, integrated with my visual experience.
But today, on November 27, 2015, I am absolutely convinced that the upper area of the darkness I experience when my eyes are shut is co-extensive with my forehead. I try to tap the upper part of this dark area, and I end up tapping the middle of my forehead. Go figure. I must have been influenced by the description Searle gives in the first passage quoted above. — Please, Lord, don’t ever cause me to experience this dark area as in front of my face, as Searle would have it, as opposed to the way I currently experience it as coextensive with part of my face! — Clearly the entanglement in/integration of my visual experience into the tactile sense of the location of the various parts of my face is a highly variable phenomenon, much open to suggestion.
It should not surprise one that this should be so. For the visual experience I have when I close my eyes is highly degenerate. It is much like my visual experience of the shower curtain when I press it very, very close to my eyes. I lose all sense of the curtain’s texture and most of its patterning. It becomes just a white field. It lacks clear boundaries because those boundaries are the thoroughly indeterminate limits of the visual field. (See promissory note above.) The shadows cast through it, say, by someone’s finger pressing against the curtain on the other side, are extremely vague, just as are those I see when I press my finger against my closed eyelid. My visual experience of the shower curtain is very, very far away from the maximal perceptual grasp so famously discussed by Merleau-Ponty. As a visual experience it is highly defective.
Even more so, then, will my visual experience of my eyelids be defective. My eyelids, after all, are even closer to me than the shower curtain pressed to my eyes. I have even less of a Merleau-Pontyian maximal grasp on this rather amorphous dark field, rather prone to intrusions by afterimages, than I do on the shower curtain. The light coming in from the outside world and causing me to see my eyelids is, a bit like the light finally reaching that quasi-planet Pluto from the sun, a bit weak. The visual experience is therefore weak and more vulnerable both to disruption (the intrusive after-images) and to odd influences (passages from Searle’s book, for example). It should not surprise us, then, that the integration of this visual experience into my sense of bodily location and extent should also be highly variable and unstable. Degenerate to the utmost degree, we cannot demand of it that it give us an accurate sense of how large the area of darkness is. This would be contrary to its nature, as if we demanded of a horse that it lie down in a suitably genteel manner on a couch. I therefore dismiss the notion that one cannot possibly be seeing their eyelids when their eyes are closed because the extent of the dark area visually experienced may not agree with the felt extension of one’s eyelids.
If I see my eyelids when facing a direct light with my eyes shut, I see them even when I am not facing a direct light when my eyes are shut. The visual experience, after all, is not much different in the two cases. Would anyone really care to contest this?
I assert, therefore, that I normally see my eyelids when my eyes are shut.
That Searle does not merely suggest, towards the beginning of the first passage quoted above, that one close their eyes, but also has one cover their eyes with their hand, suggests that he may be at least vaguely aware of everything I have said so far. Searle seems to be aiming at a situation in which no light at all filtrates through the eyelids to strike the retina. As for myself, I never succeed in getting to this state just by using my hand. Some light always comes through no matter how hard I try, for example, through the intervals between the fingers which I cannot close completely, or from towards the bottom of the hand, which I cannot get to adhere to my face with suction-cup effectiveness. So the attempt to follow Searle’s instructions has miserably failed, at least in my particular case, to generate the identification of a purely subjective visual field in which visual experiences have no objects.
Maybe one could take fairly drastic measures to ensure that absolutely no light filters through the eyelids. I am sure that, with enough dedication and commitment,2 one could achieve this state. Maybe one would then have a purely subjective visual field in which there are visual experiences, but no visual experiences that have objects. But until I get into this state, and until Searle gets into this state, neither of us has identified a subjective visual field in the course of our experience. As I said above, Searle has identified no such thing, and he has not given instructions that would enable one to identify such a thing within their experience.
And even if one did have enough dedication and commitment to achieve this singularly unenlightened state, it is not obvious that one has enabled the identification within their experience of a subjective visual field considered as distinct in kind from an objective visual field. All one has done, I submit, is create an extremely abnormal situation that causes one single visual field to degenerate so much that it no longer contains any objective elements. All one would have created would be a bunch of flotsam and jetsam left over from the disintegration of a far richer, more integrated (integrating, for example, visual experiences with tactile experiences) visual field.
For it is certainly prima facie the case that in normal situations only a single visual field opens up for one. This visual field contains both objective elements (the coffee cup when my eyes are open, the shadow side of my eyelids when closed) and subjective elements (the various afterimages I may sense in both the eyes-open and the eyes-closed cases; the “snow” I always “see” that arises from a visual abnormality I suffer from, causing me to wonder sometimes if I am seeing a very light rain outside the office window or if I am just sensing “snow” as usual, showing that the “snow” at least seems to be in the space outside the window; the “fields of force” manifesting themselves in the pulling together of three angles drawn on paper to form a triangle in the illustration from Gestalt Psychology…”fields” that I do not see but which are definitely an element of my visual field…; the silly cat sitting in the bookshelf I am hallucinating with my eyes open (no, not really…what do you take me for?); the pink rhinoceros standing beside me as I write this (this is my study rhinoceros))….
Searle, then, has certainly not given sufficient warrant for the claim that there are two different kinds of visual fields, one subjective and the other objective. [Why this matters. Searle has not identified the territory — we are still lost without a map. ]
Although I am at the moment uncertain how to use the inability to distinguish two kinds of visual fields (one subjective, the other objective) to attack Searle’s theory of perception, the fact that Searle tries to distinguish and identify the two suggests the distinction is critical to his theory and that some sort of attack on these grounds should be possible.
Some strange compulsion forces me to add as a last note that ages ago, in a graduate seminar on St. Thomas of Aquinas, no one seemed to have the slightest idea of what I was talking about when I tried to describe what one sees when they close their eyes. I think the moral of this is that Thomism will skew one’s perception of absolutely everything. Or maybe that I am just nuts. I report; you decide.
Update: September 16, 2017: Why should this matter? It undermines a bit Searle’s attempted distinction between the content (subjective) of an experience and its object (objective). (The purely subjective visual field versus the purely objective.) Searle cannot point to an example of this distinction that occurs within normal everyday experience. He would need to go to extra-ordinary breakdowns of normal experience — total sensory deprivation, for example, or hallucinations. (The pink rhino grazing peacefully at my feet while I write this.) Within normal, ordinary visual experience it is not easy to locate something purely subjective that is not a presentation of an object existing in the world. The tie to the world is not so easily cut.
Lumber Scrap #3: The coolness of a color and the warmth of a texture.
My Color Personality is Sea Glass (starting from various shades of Viridian Green and going bluer), says the online quiz sponsored by Better Homes and Gardens on FaceBook.
While I do have some doubts about the scientific validity of this personality test, I do find the below an interesting example of synaesthesia at work in everyday experience. The shades of the color sea glass have cool undertones. Textures such as weathered wood and rattan are warm. So pair the two!
Give beachy a sophisticated shake with a sea glass palette. These mellow shades of green have cool undertones (meaning they have hints of blue rather than yellow) and pair well with gray blues and light neutrals. Incorporate natural textures such as weathered wood and rattan to add warmth.
That a color can be paired with a texture suggests a commonality. Here the commonality is something belonging to the domain of tactile feeling: coolness/warmth.
Color and texture form the most common instances of synaesthesia. I see the roughness of the bark, the smoothness of polished marble. Perhaps little tendrils of nerve fibers are sprouting from the visual center of the brain and connecting to whatever tactile center, but however it is done, the tactile is integrated into the visual as a single visual experience of bark or marble. There are not little unitary bricks of Berkeleyian Minimal Visibiles existing “side by side” as it were with little unitary bricks of Berkeleyian Minimal Tactiles. There is no ‘and of sensations’ when one sees the bark or marble. Not matter how hard one tries to introspect (or, for that matter, look at the bark or marble), they will never be able to untangle a purely visual experience of color from the purely tactile experience of texture.
Berkeley actually comes close to this Merleau-Pontyian phenomenon when he tells us that the Visual is so much entangled (his word) with the Tactile in experiences such as seeing rough bark that it is next to impossible to disassociate the two and see them as separate. But he is incapable of actually arriving at that point. The two must be separate and distinct, he thinks. Supposing otherwise would be like accepting A and NOT A as true. So in his own introspection of his Ideas, he must have told the two (e.g., Visual Idea of a brownish color and Tactile Idea of the Imagination of roughness) apart. But whatever Berkeley told himself, he surely never did succeed in telling the two apart.
Lumber Scrap #4: Interesting that Searle’s graphic illustrations in SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE: A THEORY OF PERCEPTION always show the relation in breadth, from the view point of a third-person observer. None is presented in depth, from the view-point of the first-person observer/entangler-entanglee-in-the-world.
Lumber Scrap #5: A book on n-dimensional geometry I read in High School defined the different spatial dimensions in terms of the ability to move around obstacles. A point has 0 dimensions. Considered by itself, it has no freedom of movement at all. Now place the point inside a line. Since a line is a one-dimensional object, we have just introduced a higher dimension, going from 0 to 1. The point now has the freedom to move inside that line. Now imagine our point as encountering an obstacle in the line — another point — that obstructs its movement. Our point regains its freedom of movement when we introduce yet another higher dimension — a two-dimensional plane. The plane gives our point the freedom to move around the obstacle in the line. Now imagine our point as encountering yet another obstacle — a line in the plane. Introduce the third dimension. Voila! The point has regained its freedom of movement through its ability to bypass the line by moving around it.
Let’s apply this High-School geometry lesson to a phenomenological description of depth. I am about to argue that this description has to be done, not in terms of a static existing side-by-side of points, but in terms of motion. Motion of a point? Motion of my body?
I am sitting inside my car in the parking lot of the HEB on San Felipe and Fountainview in Houston, Texas. It is dusk. My head and eyes are positioned in a way such that I see the soft scrim of a tree’s foliage, and, beyond that, the glow (darker red against luminescent yellow) of some gas-station signage spelling out the word ‘SHELL’. The sign is some distance from me, across San Felipe. No objects are visible between the foliage and the SHELL signage.
I imagine a glass pane extending across my field of vision on the same plane as the foliage of the tree. Naturally, I have a (somewhat indeterminate — why this is important and why it makes life somewhat more difficult for me is to be explained later) sense of depth extending beyond this plane and towards the glowing signage. Taking my cue from my High School geometry — geometry is the science of space, right? — I try to construe the depth I sense as a line segment. Because I think this will be the purest example of depth, I choose that line segment which is situated in the exact middle of my visual field, extending from the plane in which the haze of foliage is situated, and ending up at the glowing signage across San Felipe Street. If one extends the line segment in the other direction, it would end up at my eye. To make things simple, lets pretend that I am looking with only a single eye open.
Of course, this geometrical line segment, lacking thickness, is an abstraction. It is not something I can sense. What, then, might my sense of depth consist in?
Well, I can visually imagine line segments of whatever color (wine red, sea-glass green, burnt sienna, white…) to represent the mathematical objects. Maybe my sense of depth consists in visual imaginings like these! So let me try to visually imagine a line that I can use to represent the line of depth that exists between my eyes and the gas station signage.
This line has to be imaged as thin as possible in order to make the image as adequate a representation of the geometrical object as possible. I am imagining a very, very thin line now. Of course, I can’t use it to represent the line of depth in question because it is, well, a line, extending to my left and to me right…in other words, situated before me. To make it represent the (geometrical) line of depth in question, I have first to place it in the middle of my visual field, and turn it away from me, a motion much like that articulated here in my thought experiment with the gold foil. When I have finished turning the line, I end up … with a single point! (More precisely, with an imagined spot of whatever color and made as tiny as possible to represent a geometrical point.) Voila! I have arrived at what I think is the kernel of truth lying in the second paragraph of Berkeley’s A NEW THEORY OF VISION:
II. It is, I think, agreed by all, that Distance [of an object in depth], of it self and immediately, cannot be seen. For Distance being a Line directed end-wise to the Eye, it projects only one Point in the Fund of the Eye, which Point remains invariably the same, whether the Distance be longer or shorter.
George Berkeley, AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF VISION, paragraph II, in The GEORGE BERKELEY COLLECTION: 5 CLASSIC WORKS, Amazon Print-On-Demand Edition, no pagination. Henceforth A NEW THEORY OF VISION.
As I’ve said before, I think George Pitcher has pretty thoroughly demolished the actual argument written down in black and white by the actual historical George Berkeley, but I do think that what I have presented above gets at the intuition animating this passage. And I am reasonably confident (yes, I can be just reasonably confident about this) that it lays out the intuition, the Aha Erlebnis, I experienced when I first encountered this passage some decades ago.
Since I can imagine just a single point (tiny spot image) of the line segment extending from the plane of the foliage to the gas station signage, clearly my sense of that depth cannot consist in the visual imagination of a static array of points, one behind the other. So I will take a cue from my High School geometry and postulate that what generates the (sensation) of the depth in question is the (imagined) motion of the point from the plane of the foliage towards the gas station signage.
The imagined point is ‘there before me’, in front of my body whose solidness and heaviness occupies a ‘position here’. The point facing me (in my imagination) is in a position not occupied by my body.
Jumping through a hoop.
More to come in this lumber scrap.
Lumber Scrap #6: John McDowell makes what many will regard as a striking claim that certain perceptual states are indefeasible. “But of course perception is always defeasible!” will be the typical response. “What I am seeing could be an illusion (for example, the weird ‘shape’ of the teapot handle seen through a wine glass), or even a hallucination (for example, the pink rhino I am seeing now grazing contentedly at my feet while I write this)!
Lumber Scrap #7: My hand is placed on the cool metal bar of the seat in front of me as the Metro train reduces its speed. As a physical mass with inertia, my my body continues to move forward at the train’s previous, faster speed, causing my hand to press into the metal bar with my body’s weight behind it. I daresay that I have the kinaesthetic sense of my body moving forward towards the bar; but even more salient than this is the sense of the inertial mass of the bar, in an equal and opposite reaction to my body’s moving forward, pressing into my hand.
When I am intentionally touching something — some smooth silk, for example, or the rough bark of this particular tree — I apply one degree or another, as is appropriate in each case, of pressure to the object or material felt.
In both these cases — the bar impinging upon my hand, my intentionally impinging myself upon the silk or bark — pressure occurs. The existence of this occurrent pressure highlights one facet of the sense of touch, namely, there is zero distance between the object felt and the sensing surface.
As an aside, I would like to note that in addition to the occurrent tactile pressure noted above, there seems to be also a virtual tactile pressure which, plausibly, constitutes the experience described by some blind people of remote objects. Through whatever sensory means (echos, differences in air drafts, or whatever else, means not necessarily known to them) these people become aware of an object — a wall, for example — as exerting a kind of virtual pressure on them:
What the blind person experiences in the presence of an object is pressure. When he stands before a wall he has never touched and does not now touch, he feels a physical presence. The wall bears down on him. … Perception, then, would mean entering into an equilibrium of pressure….
Jacques Lusseyran, THE BLIND, p. 31, as referenced by Miriam Helen Hill in BOUND TO THE ENVIRONMENT: TOWARDS A PHENOMENOLOGY OF SIGHTLESSNESS, an essay in DWELLING, PLACE AND ENVIRONMENT (ed. David Seamon and Robert Mugerauer, Columbia University Press, 1985)
Pressure is something sensed tactilely. So the pressure sensed virtually by some blind people of objects at a distance corresponds to the texture objects sensed virtually and at a distance by people gifted with sight when they see the smoothness of marble and silk, or the roughness of bark or of a stucco wall.
This virtual touch will turn out to be highly important.
End of aside.
So far, then, we have a 2-place relation comprising a thing occurrently felt, and a body with a sensory surface at which the thing is felt. The two terms of the relation are distinct in spite of the fact that zero distance exists between them.
, I feel my hand pressing against the seat. At the same time, I feel the seat pressing into my hand as it accomplishes its opposite and equal reaction that is to accompany every action on it.
There is just one tactile experience here, one tactile presentation, but encompassing two different things: the seat in its inertial mass engaging me in my physicality at and through a single “point”, my hand. The seat, and me, with my hand as a focus. This tactile presentation, in one stroke, reveals the hardness and mass of the seat and the mass and physicality of my hand.
Pretty much the same dynamic occurs every time I actively feel something with my hand. As I pass my hand along the small-pebble-ish-rough wall, for example, I unavoidably press my fingers ever so lightly into the wall. So part of the tactile experience consists in the wall ‘pressing’ into my hand in reaction. But now, instead of a presentation of a single spot of the seat pressing against a hand occupying throughout this time a single location, my hand covers a spatial range forming a line, or perhaps a linear square, triangle, circle or some irregular zig-zag. It is as if my felt hand/fingers-felt-press-of-the-wall were the head of a comet leaving a trail behind it to form a line, except that, while comet head and comet tail both exist in the present, the trail left by my fingers has already slipped into the very recent past. But it does so in such a way that it continues to inform the present, giving the current position of my hand the sense ‘at the head of this advancing line’.
In perhaps much the same way a previously sounded but no-longer occurrent note lingers in the air so as to give the note sounding now a position in a melody. What gets presented is ‘note sounding now in relation to the notes that have just slipped into the very recent past and sounding therefore in the context of a melody’. Just so, what gets presented as I move my fingers along the slightly roughish wall (or the coolly smooth marble) is ‘fingers-pressing-upon-getting-pressed-upon-occurrently-in-the-context-of-a-trajectory-formed-by-their-just-past-motion-and their just-past pressing-in-upon-the-wall-and-the-wall’s-just-past-pressing-into-my-fingers’. This, I assert, is how the presentation of ‘slightly-roughish wall’ (or ‘coolly smooth marble’) is structured. This is a single presentation encompassing not just finger-spot and hard-surface-spot but also finger/hand trajectory and linear area of hard surface. Felt fingers/hand felt surface in a single presentation.
So what, exactly, am I arguing against? I am arguing against the idea that there would be two presentations occurring at the same time.
Lumber Scrap #8: Cryptic remarks, to be expanded when I am not spending all of my time working. Empty space plus ‘extending’ (vs. positing) oneself: one term of the relation drops out. leaving a one-place relation. A kind of tactile ‘buzz’ outlining a position here at which I am. When occurrent there is always another object (the ground underneath my feet, the bed underneath my body) distinct from me but no distance from me (two-place relation).
Spell out what Berkeley does not spell out, and see where we end up.
The emptiness of space makes itself a bit more salient to even my spectatorial awareness when I, for example, imaginatively move my hand underneath my table/desk at work and ‘feel’ its underside.
The “empty”, “massless” space before me (and around me) in which I can freely move is the counterpart of the the weight and mass of my body located at this unique position here, which weight and mass becomes manifest in my constant actual movements (no matter how small) and which ties me down, weighs me down at the aforementioned position here. The possible versus the actual. The emptiness of this space arises from its not being actual and present, its being potential and futural. It is a potential/futural position here and therefore an anti-mass, an anti-weight.
And its indeterminacy makes it a bit problematic to talk about a potential position here — the level of determinacy needed to talk about a position here belongs to the spectatorial imagination. A possible position here is this possible position here, one determined by the mind’s eye, not totally disassociated from the body’s kinaesthesia.
“A” possible position here automatically brings in the notion of the body’s possible movement.
Lumber Scrap #9:
The sense of ‘going out’ is especially keen — in fact, perhaps gets revealed — when there is a hole in, for example, the scrim formed by a tree or a bush, through which you see an object behind — a building, say, or the Shell Station sign. (Yes, I need to lead up to this very carefully.) The line of vision to the sign (to run with that example) is straight-to. There are no intervening objects in view. These conditions highlight one important feature of this vector, this ‘going-out’, this ‘ekstasis’ — it is indeterminate. I become a bit surprised when, after this exercise, I walk past the tree and gain a concrete, determinate sense of the distance from my truck to the sign. Then other tangible objects enter my visual field — for example, the asphalt pavement with the painted traffic lines — , with the result that the distance becomes much more available to an estimation of a determinate length — say, 6 body lengths (36 feet or so). The line of vision to the sign is no longer straight-on — other tangible objects appear at a slant. And I become slightly surprised by how much the real distance, the distance in the tangible world, really is. Before, tangible presence had not shown up in the ‘straight-on’ part of my visual field — there was only a futural possibility — the futural quasi-imaginative (I say quasi because this is not a positing imagination — not the spectatorial imagination) launching of my body through this hoop.
This brings me to Berkeley’s insistence in the NEW THEORY OF VISION that real measure is tangible measure. You have to slap a physical ruler onto the thing that can have something slapped onto it. Without the tangible measure bringing you into the present, you have only the futural intra-(quasi)-imaginative projection which is surely subjective in some sense, though not in what I take to be Berkeley’s sense in which to be subjective is to be locked up “inside” a mind (considered as a kind of container) in such a way that no part of the object thus locked up is accessible to any other mind. That there is nothing hidden in Berkeley’s Ideas entails there is nothing accessible in it to anyone else.
Without the intervening tangible things (‘entanglement’ of the tactile into the visual) in the visual field, there is only an in-a-way “subjective” visual field which, (more) divorced from the present and tangible [yes, I know, I need to explain this ‘more or less’ divorced — I do have the sense that the sign I see through the hole in the tree-scrim is further away than than the object I see through the hole in the bush-scrim… but I begin to get a ‘maximal grip’ on the distance only when tangible objects intervene] is indeterminate. It is therefore indeterminate in the same way that the “longer” line in the Mueller-Lyer illusion is in fact of no determinate, measurable length longer than the “shorter” line. The two vectors (the Mueller-Lyer illusion and the ‘going out’ in the visual field) are very much alike in this regard. The ekstasis is a kind of Mueller-Lyer illusion ‘going out’.
The fully-exposed, fully-existing-in-the-present units in a length. A plenum of brick-units. Depth introduces at the same time futurity, potentiality, and emptiness. The straight-on line of vision gets stopped by the opaque, tangible object. Futurity is the solvent creating emptiness and distance-away. [Yes, this is obscure right now, but I am hopefully not delusional in thinking I can unpack it.]
Lumber Scrap #10:
When the polyester-green bungee cord is stretched out lengthwise before me, I enjoy a presentation (much more rarely, should I be hallucinating, a mis-presentation) of (as of) an actual physical object existing in space in the present. Adopting the spectatorial attitude, I can imaginatively try to resolve this presentation into a series of points, as small as I can imagine them, lying side by side with no space between them. When the bungee cord is withdrawn, I can still posit these points lying side by side in ’empty’ space in a quasi-presentation.
The temporal dimension of presentation is, naturally enough, the present. What the presentation is of pertains to the actual, not to the merely potential. The presentation pertains to the full, to a plenum, not to an emptiness.
But as I think I have shown here, the more the bungee cord (or, to use the example used in the post referred to, the one-atom thick gold tape) is moved away from me, the less there is of a presentation of the cord (or tape). The more what we are talking about is potentiality, not actuality, the futural, not the present: the depth into which the gold tape has finally disappeared is something that I can (potentially) move my body (in particular, my arm and hand) through; restricting myself to the spectatorial attitude, and using the amazing powers of the mind’s eye, it is a field through which I can (potentially) move a posited, imagined point through. The potential is the futural — the future is its temporal dimension. The futural comprises all of the following: non-presentation, non-fullness and non-plenum(emptiness), the non-actual (the merely potential). The space in front of us (presentation mainly though not exclusively through vision) is spatial-temporal, that is to say, spatial-futural.
Lumber Scrap #11:
Space as the ‘through which’, the ‘across which’ — and, introducing a subjectivity of some kind — that which I (sometimes vertiginously) span:
Locality has such a pervasive importance because it is the essence of what space is. By “space” I don’t just mean “outer space,” the realm of astronauts and asteroids, but the space between us and all around us, the space that our bodies and everything else occupy, the space through which we swing a baseball bat or stretch a measuring tape. Whether you point your telescope at the planets or at the next-door neighbors, you are peering across space. For me, the beauty of a landscape comes from the giddy sense of spanning space, a sort of horizontal vertigo when you realize the little dots on the other side of a valley really are there and that you could touch them if only your arm were long enough.
George Musser, SPOOKY ACTION AT A DISTANCE, New York, Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, p. 7. Emphasis mine.
My project now (my Berkeley and Merleau-Ponty project) is to describe as best and as precisely as I can what this ‘spanning space’ is.
The question of whether space and time are absolute or relative has re-emerged in a new form in modern philosophy and physics as the question of whether space-time is absolute or relative. It remains to be seen whether a holistic unified science which allows the presence of the conscious subject in the universe will ascribe subjective properties to space-time.
Stephen Priest, THE EMPIRICISTS, Second Edition, New York, Routledge, 2007, p. 138.
Want to pin down, when I have time, a pertinent passage from Renaud Barbaras’ THE BEING OF THE PHENOMENON.
Lumber Scrap #12:
There is zero distance between me (my body) and the wooden board (say, the smooth, unobtrusively varnished, beautiful board of my ‘computer station’ desk) that I am pressing into/is pressing against me. Nonetheless, the board remains obdurantly outside me. It has not come so close to me that it now occupies the space that I occupy. Describing just what is tactically presented, there are two sides: the side of the board outside me — the ‘other side’ — and ‘this side’: my side. The ‘this side’, with all its weight and heft, is what is in my case the position here. It is that position (to bring sight into the picture now) from which I engage with, view, and sometimes confront visible things/objects.
Lumber Scrap #13: Outline:
The red and yellow apples example interpreted in the light of elementary probability theory. Intuitions. Then apply to the perhaps more solid examples of irrelevance.
Knowledge bzw ignorance needed for any probability less than one.
Lumber Scrap #14: Bishop Berkeley’s Visibile Ideas in the NTV:
In his NEW THEORY OF VISION, Berkeley starts off by presenting Visibile Ideas as rather robust creatures — the Visibile Moon, for example. But as he proceeds, Visibile ideas become more and more paltry, especially as they get stripped of their “entanglement” with Ideas of Touch. We end up not even being entitled to say of them that they have planar shapes! In their poverty, it seems to me, they match the visual presentation of darkness one experiences when they close their eyes, a presentation that can have an off-and-on relationship with potential tactile experiences that affect the perceived size of the dark area (identical, I argue above, with the shadow-side of one’s eyelids).
Today, for my Homage To Plato’s SYMPOSIUM3 I offer an image of someone who clearly participates in Plato’s Form Of Ginger Gorgeousness:
Clearly the Form Of Ginger itself participates in the Form of Absolute Beauty. How can anyone get anything done with Beauty like this walking the earth?
0 Hahahahaha. Seeing double. Get it? Get it? … Okay, okay, I’ll shut up….
1 This merging of two views is not a totally unheard-of phenomenon, given the stereoptical nature of normal vision
2 The phrase ‘dedication and commitment’ is, of course, a reference to a famous snippet of conversation overheard by a certain undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley. A certain phenomenologist told Searle: “Derrida is not a total fraud. He is good on Husserl.” Searle’s reply was: “No, Derrida is not a total fraud. It takes dedication and commitment to be a total fraud.”
3 Though perhaps professor Searle, who, unfortunately, at times performed homophobic speech acts in some of his classes in the late 1970s, would not approve.
November 26, 2015 and November 27, 2015: Drastically rewrote lumber scrap #2. It would be safest to assume the worst: namely, that I did so in a probably failed attempt to hide my lack of control over the subject matter and the confused nature of my thinking.