TA112  (Müller)


Response 10 (to C10 and C11 by Richard W Moodey)




by Herbert FJ Müller

7 April 2009, posted 11 April 2009



Thank you for your interesting comments.  I respond here to points you bring up in C10 and 11.



Re C10 <1> RWM   ‘The position I take might best be characterized as "critical realism."   and C11 <5> ‘My visual apparatus is stimulated by light, and transforms information about my environment into information that allows me to know things about my environment. 


[HFJM] The classical cat experiments on vision of Hubel and Wiesel have been criticized, for instance by Alva Noë and others.    We have in the past discussed this in the KJF.  For simplicity’s sake I copy here the following abstract.




A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness




J. Kevin O’Regan

Laboratoire de Psychologie Expérimentale, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Université René Descartes, 92774 Boulogne Billancourt, France oregan@ext.jussieu.fr http://nivea.psycho.univ-paris5.fr


Alva Noë

Department of Philosophy, University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064 anoe@cats.ucsc.edu http://www2.ucsc.edu/people/anoe/


Abstract: Many current neurophysiological, psychophysical, and psychological approaches to vision rest on the idea that when we see, the brain produces an internal representation of the world. The activation of this internal representation is assumed to give rise to the experience of seeing. The problem with this kind of approach is that it leaves unexplained how the existence of such a detailed internal representation might produce visual consciousness. An alternative proposal is made here. We propose that seeing is a way of acting. It is a particular way of exploring the environment. Activity in internal representations does not generate the experience of seeing. The outside world serves as its own, external, representation. The experience of seeing occurs when the organism masters what we call the governing laws of sensorimotor contingency. The advantage of this approach is that it provides a natural and principled way of accounting for visual consciousness, and for the differences in the perceived quality of sensory experience in the different sensory modalities. Several lines of empirical evidence are brought forward in support of the theory, in particular: evidence from experiments in sensorimotor adaptation, visual “filling in,” visual stability despite eye movements, change blindness, sensory substitution, and color perception.




Although they seem to maintain an MIR-view, I agree with their statement that seeing (etc) is a way of acting.   In fact that is a principle of constructivism, and it replaces the older idea that we receive a ready-made environment by perception.   The world requires our structuring.  Thus it is not likely that we know something that is not in our mind; and if something is in our mind, it is not mind-independent.


And secondly:



Re C11 <6> RWM: ‘If Jaspers’ view necessarily implies the denial of differences between person and environment 


[HFJM]  It does not imply that, but instead that the differences are pragmatic and not ontic. 



Re C10 <3> ‘RWM:  I understand “creationist” to mean those who reject the theory of evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.  I doubt that they feel the need you attribute to them.  I’m not sure how you are using “need,” here.  It seems to me that given their premises, the creationists are being logical. ’


[HFJM]  ‘Need’ in order to be taken seriously in discussion with others.  In Canada we have an important federal minister who is a creationist, and I am not happy that he somehow ‘represents’ me. 



Re C10 <4> ‘RWM:  Is how to include subjects a question for the natural sciences ? 


[HFJM]  It is indeed.   Just consider the enormous output of papers and books by physiologists and others who want to solve the mind-brain problem.  The difficulty is that they mostly do not consider that a question of epistemology is also involved here.



Re  C10 <5>  ‘RWM:  I agree that such theories are impossible, but for a different reason.   They are impossible because of limitations in human cognitive powers and limitations of language.    I have two analogies to your notion of an unstructured subject that cannot become structured.   The first is Aristotelian prime matter, totally without form.   That doesn’t work, because prime matter is an analytic notion, which never exists without being informed.   The second is the notion of pure spirit, which, having not parts, can have no relationships among parts.   My guess is that your notion is closer to that of pure spirit.’


[HFJM]   I am more inclined to say that we have to create all mental structures in an unstructured background (like apeiron, or nirvana, for instance).  The unstructured background cannot be ‘structured over’ because then it is no longer there.



Re C10 <7> RWM: ‘I am willing to bracket ontological questions temporarily, but not permanently. ’


[HFJM]  The problem as I see it is that ontology (= metaphysics) in the traditional meaning is a mistake and causes conceptual problems, such as the mind-brain problem, among others.  For this reason it needs to be replaced by something more helpful, such as reality-design, which includes the subjects.  But I agree that one can do the opposite :  use  ontology in an as-if- or temporary way (‘working-ontology’), provided one keeps in mind that one is pretending.



Re C11 <2> RWM:  When I reflect upon my subjective experience, it becomes and object (of reflection) for me.  But by thus objectifying my experience, I transform it.  The “I” that does the reflecting can never be reduced to the “me” upon which I reflect.  I think this is similar to what you are saying, but it isn’t exactly the same.


[HFJM] This is a helpful way of putting it.   The  ‘I that does the reflecting’  corresponds to the unstructured matrix and cannot become structured, for instance as an object.



Re C11 <3> RWM:  We probably disagree seriously about the status of phenomenology.  I regard it as a method of describing subjective experience, but I see it as but one method among others.  You seem to see it as the “master method,” “all encompassing,” within which other modes of inquiry are specializations.


[HFJM]  I don’t see it so much as a master method than as the only available one.  If you think you can know things outside you,  that requires firstly the assumption of an ontological subject/object split and secondly a leap of faith to the ontological outside.    For me both are extrapolations from (or ‘transcendence’ of) ongoing experience by means of reality-design, thus methods structured within experience, and thus within phenomenology.  One can use as-if-MIR as a temporary instrument.



Re C11 <4>  RWM: ‘On my desk in front of me is my computer, my printer, several sheets of paper, a book, and a box of facial tissues (aka Kleenex).  They all look different to me, and I am not going to give up my belief that the differences my perceptions of these objects are partially the result of real differences in the structures of these objects.  Those differences are aspects of MIR.


[HFJM] They are aspects of your reality, as you have structured it.  They are as real as you wish, or as you find them.  My point is that ‘reality’ does not require metaphysical separation from you.  A toothache is also real.



Re C11 <7>  RWM: ‘(1) Who are “we?”  You and I were not around at the dawn of the universe to impose structure on the “unstructured origin.”  (2)  Did we (whoever “we” are) also produce the “unstructured origin?”


[HFJM]  WE are subjects (who communicate, for instance).  The ‘dawn of the universe’ is our structure, as is the ‘universe’.  The structures are in our mind, which encompasses all of them.  Secondly,  one needs to distinguish between structuring (we have to structure all experience if we want to deal with it) and  inventing.   We invent a good number of things, such as language, music, airplanes, religion, and what not, and when using them we find out how helpful they are.   Others we don’t invent, like the optic nerve, but we have to structure it if we want to think about it.  The ‘dawn of the universe’ is a bit of both;  maybe there was a ‘big bang’  -  this is a structure to be tried out.   Or maybe there were (and are) ‘branes’, etc.   Rival ideas include the creation of everything by God    that one is nowadays quite limited in usefulness I would say.  The unstructured origin is if you like also an invention, and for a variety of reasons I find it more helpful than structured origins of various types. 




Herbert FJ Müller
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>