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Does synesthesia have any significant implication for philosophies of perception

Does synesthesia have any significant implication for philosophies of perception?

Synesthesia is a phenomenon in which the activation of one sensory modality leads to experiences in a second sensory modality: one common form of synesthesia is the perception of letters or numbers as inherently colored. This phenomenon has, I think, received relatively little attention from philosophers--although there are related remarks scattered throughout Wittgenstein's 'later' writings--in part because after years of neglect by psychologists, it has only relatively recently begun to receive sustained attention from them. Consideration of the phenomenon may well offer insights into a range of questions in the philosophy of mind, including the philosophy of perception, such as: the relation between different sensory modalities; whether different sensory modalities represent the world differently; and even the nature of consciousness, insofar as one problem for accounts of consciousness is explaining the experience of sensible qualities--sometimes called 'qualia', for qualitative experiences, a topic that consideration of synesthesia might well illuminate.

Would the idea of 3 dimensional space be possible without vision?

Would the idea of 3 dimensional space be possible without vision?

The answer seems pretty clearly to be yes. Touch and hearing both convey information about dimension. Think, for example, about the fact that a sound can be above you, or in front, or two the side. Or think of how you could tell that object A is taller than object B, but object B is wider than object A just by using your sense of touch.

If you're interested, here's a link to a video about a remarkable Turkish painter, blind from birth but able to convey subtle information about perspective.

Most foul odors we smell that give us all a shock of disgust seem to come from

Most foul odors we smell that give us all a shock of disgust seem to come from bacteria (at least before our mastering of chemistry). We can explain this evolutionarily as a means for making us avoid the most salient disease vectors from our humble origins (excreta, spoiled meat, putrid water, etc.). My question is this, did the selection pressures of evolution act to assign the awful olfactory sensations to the particles emitted by dangerous bacteria and their waste, OR did we evolve the response of disgust to those already-assigned sensations? In other words, does my dog experience a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SENSATION when smelling (and rolling in) a dead animal - one that's not so bad, or does he experience the smell like I do he just LIKES IT BETTER than I do? I think this question might be about qualia, and whether there's a two-step process in how we perceive them. Do evolving organisms just shift around the few bad smells there are to the stimuli that best deserve them, or are smell sensations and...

"Different qualia or different attitudes to the same qualia?" That seems an intractable question. It should make us suspicious. Maybe the very idea of qualia (as postulated by some philosophers) is the source of the problem. For sceptical thoughts along these lines, see Dan Dennett's justly famous paper, "Quining Qualia", readable here.

What is reality? Why cant we ever truly experience what is really out there

What is reality? Why cant we ever truly experience what is really out there since we are stuck behind our own perceptions created by our mind.

Interesting question! There are philosophers who would seek to undermine the whole picture of ourselves that is presupposed by your question. Some of them argue that we do make direct contact with the objects we touch, feel, smell, hear, and taste and that the idea that we only directly deal with sensations (or what is sometimes called "sense-data") is an illusion brought on by people like Descartes or, in the 20th century, by Bertrand Russell or A.J. Ayer. But I am inclined to think we do not directly feel and see what is around us; while I think we do (under normal circumstances) relaibly see and feel "what is really out there" this is mediated (in my view) by sensations, our visual field and so on. On this view, skepticism of an even very radical sort is conceivable. It is logically possible (I suggest) for the movie the Matrix to be right; we merely think we see what is really there, but we are being manipulated by complex computers to have the sensations we are having.

One other matter to consider: Your first question "What is reality?" has been at the heart of a great deal of philosophy historically. One of the important points that has been made is that when people worry whether they only face a world of appearance, they can at least be confident in the reality of appearances. Augustine used such reasoning in his reply to the skeptics of his day who seemed keen on doubting everything. Augustine countered that there are some things that cannot be doubted (the self, and appearances, among other things).

Asking this as a self-described masochist: Is pain purely physical, or is there

Asking this as a self-described masochist: Is pain purely physical, or is there a psychological component, too. And is it inherent in pain that it is avoided/disliked? Is it possible for a person to truly enjoy pain, or is a masochist's experience with pain transformed by the fact that they enjoy it that the experience can't really be called "pain" at all?

great question -- though it's not like there is 'an' answer here, though there is much to be debated as you formulate your own anwer. For one thing one must try to separate 'the 'experience from the language we use to speak about it and focuse on the experience. And anecdotal (incl medical) evidence seems to suggest it's no uncommon for people to report things, under anesthetics of various sorts, that they are having terrible pains but somehow don't mind them. That prima facie suggests that that very experience, the painful one, doesn't have to be a cause of pain, so to speak -- which suggests it is NOT inherent in pain to be avoided/disliked. (Lnguage complicates this b/c we might choose to use the word pain in that restrictive manner and thus claim those un-minded experiences do not earn the label 'pain' -- that's a semantic choice but it doesnt seem to effect the ontological conclusion.)

hope that is helpful ...

If you look at the leaves of a tree, they are seemingly randomly arranged. We

If you look at the leaves of a tree, they are seemingly randomly arranged. We call it chaos. If you take 100 pennies and arrange them on a flat surface in rows and columns of 10 it's called order. We assign the label chaos to something that occurs naturally and has done so for billions of years. Wouldn't that occurrence be considered order if it had been there a long, long time and the human species and our perceptions are very new in comparison?

The positions and numbers of branches and leaves of trees and plants are governed by Fibonacci series: 1,1,2,3,5,8.13 . . . . , so there is order in their arrangement. Whether this pattern exists seems to have little or nothing to do with how used to it we are.

Hi my question is about what we know about things we know because they are what

Hi my question is about what we know about things we know because they are what they are or we know because they are what we perceive them to be. I came to thinking about this when I was thinking of spinning a cube fast enough to appear to be a sphere. The problem I had was that if what we know about things is gathered by how we perceive them, i.e. through empirical investigation, then the sphere/cube problem would lead to a contradiction in conclusions as one group of people (those that see the cube in motion) would say that it is a sphere whilst another group of people (those that see the stationary cube) would say that it is a cube. So our knowledge of things cannot have come from how we perceive them as our perceptions are obviously misleading and can lead to contradictions. This leads me to think that what is is separate to what our minds perceive or what our minds think is but then I come across the problem of the gap between reality and our minds. How do our minds detect what actually is in reality...

Wow, fantastic email -- getting at the heart of some major philosophical ideas and movements. Empiricists tend to stress the role of perception/experience in producing knowledge, while rationalists tend to promoe the role of reason, often arguing on the basis of such considerations as those you mention. A couple of quick thoughts about the specifics of your message. Your example of a problematic perception (spinning cube looks like sphere) doesn't quite/fully show that perception is problematic, partly because some other perception is relevant to getting at the truth, ie seeing the cube not spinning. The rationalist might say that reason is needed to process these otherwise conflicting perceptions, but even if this so, it does seem that perception is playing a key role in generating our knowledge of the world (that a cube exists, and that, when spun, it looks spherical) -- so what you've raised is a kind of problem for perception, but not one which obviously (to me anyway) undermines the importance of eprception in generation knowledge. Second, you mention the 'gap' between reality and minds -- and probably need to say more there. Even if everything we come to know about the empirical world were ultimately, in some way, derived from perception, it remains possible that perception is 'veridical' -- gives us true information about the world -- so the sheer fact that our access is mediated via perception does not entail that perception isn't veridical, or even direct .... This doesn't fully answer your excellent question -- how do we know we have knowledge not just perception? but aims to suggest that perception may well play important roles in generating knowledge despite the two kinds of worries you raise ....

hope that helps!



Is it possible to look at anything without labeling it and to simply look at it

Is it possible to look at anything without labeling it and to simply look at it as it just Is?

It's pretty clearly possible to look without verbal labeling, since animals and infants do that. But whether we can just look at something 'as it is' isn't so clear. One obvious problem: our sensory systems (brain included) do a lot of processing of the information they take in, and this starts early in the process - long before we get to anything over which we have conscious influence. So if that doesn't fit the "seeing as it is" bill, we're already out of luck. But there's another problem: what would count? My cell phone sits beside me. What would it mean to look at it as it is? Among other things, it is a cell phone. If I don't recognize that, there's an obvious sense in which I don't see it as it is - or at least, not for what it is.

But even if we stick to the intrinsic characteristics of the thing apart from its uses, which of the countless many count? There are far more physical facts about my cell phone than my beleaguered brain could ever cope with. Not only that; many of the really important properties of my cell phone are at the level of microchips and the like - not to mention that the thing is made of submicroscopic molecules.

We can certainly train ourselves to focus on "basic" features like color, shape, etc. An artist might need to do that to make a good drawing. So no doubt we can do some of what you probably have in mind. How much is partly a question for the psychology and physiology of perception. But just because our perceptions usually contain more "interpretation" doesn't mean we aren't seeing what is. After all: those interpretations may be true!

This is more of a scientific question perhaps -- not sure -- but how is it

This is more of a scientific question perhaps -- not sure -- but how is it possible that we can close our eyes and still see light i.e. how is it possible we close our eyes and think of images or memories in which the sun is shining and objects can be seen as if the real sun were shining? To see a postcard or a picture with our eyes open requires an outside light source, the sun or a lamp. But then I can close my eyes and see the same postcard and picture without any outside light source. How is that possible? Erik

Great question -- and in fact you have your finger on a version of what is ultimately perhaps the strongest argument for a mind-body dualism -- ie the view that mind and body/matter are completely distinct sorts of things. One way to put it is this way: with eyes closed I am seeing (say) a shining sun; but it isn't the real physical shining sun I am seeing (b/c my eyes are closed); therefore I am seeing some non-physical thing, a mental thing, a mental image or representation OF the physical shining sun. Therefore there exist mental things which are distinct from all physical things .... So the phenomenon you invoke is at least strongly suggestive that there are two kinds of seeing, or two kinds fo things seen: mental and physical .... Now, having said that, there are various ways phlosophers have resisted these kinds of arguments -- you might want to look up a philosohper named JJC Smart, and his work on the "identity theory" (denying dualism) to see how he resists these arguments .... Also one other point to make: the way you frame the question is that "I close my eyes and see the SAME postcard and picture ..." You might want to think about what you mean by "same" here -- the argument I just presented suggests that what we see with eyes closed is not literally the SAME things we see with eyes open (the former are mental in nature the latter are physical) -- so do you think these are literally the 'same', or merely (say) 'similar' or 'resembling'?


Andrew Pessin