Just the Phacts, Ma’am.




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Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik

Eric Schwitzgebel and I have been having an interesting (to us, at least) exchange in the comments on his recent post “Three Reasons to Mistrust Reports about Ongoing Conscious Experience“. At issue in our exchange are questions concerning introspective reliability concerning phenomenological facts or “phacts” as I called them. Eric is somewhat famous now for his many interesting arguments against introspective reliability. I tend to side with people who think that there are important senses in which introspective judgments can’t be wrong.

An interesting case, and one that Eric raises, concerns people’s judgments about the nature of their visual field. More specifically, people tend to vary over times and across subjects in their judgments concerning how much of the visual field is clear. The determinate colors and shapes of peripherally presented objects cannot be seen clearly. But people vary in their opinions about whether this is so.

Key question: do people vary in their accuracy of judgments of the phacts of the matter? That is, do some but not all of them get the phacts right?

The answer to the key question depends, of course, on what the phacts are. And one possibility that needs to be dealt with is that the variation in judgments is matched by a corresponding variation in phacts. On an extreme version of this possibility, everyone is right, they’re just right about different phacts.

One way to characterize resistance to this possibility is as interposing a third realm between a first realm constituted by objective facts concerning stimuli and sensory receptors and a second realm constituted by various conceptualized reactions to stimuli. Supplying a third realm gives something for items in the second realm to be mistaken about yet, unlike items in the first realm, look like candidates for genuine phenomenology. A lot of what Eric claims people to be mistaken about look to me to not be mistakes about phenomenology, but instead mistakes about what’s going on in the first realm (or mistakes about relations between the first and second realms).

Worries about a third realm can be put by saying that we really have no idea what sorts of denizens would populate it. In the case of the visual field, third-realm denizens would include peripheral objects that are colored and shaped but have no determinate color and no determinate shape. Do we really understand the suggestion that there can be such objects? And aside from questions about what objects would be, there are the various questions that arise about where they would be. No one’s ever found anything like that in anyone’s brains, and the items that populate our external environments certainly don’t fit the description.

It’s not enough to motivate the postulation of the third realm to say that we already know what it is, that it’s whatever makes it the case that there’s something it’s like to be conscious. Nor is it enough to counter skeptical resistance by characterizing that resistance as requiring reductive definitions. Reductive definitions are beside the point at this stage in the game, we just want something informative to “what are you talking about?” kinds of questions. No one has a reductive definition of a duvet, but could probably say something more informative about duvets beyond “if ya gotta ask, ya ain’t ever gonna know” kinds of responses.

The most pressing challenge for friends of the third realm is to say something informative about it such that it would be something separate from the second realm. This is because the second realm seems to be best suited for handling the sorts of weird indeterminacies that arise for phacts – indeterminacies like being indeterminately colored or having an indeterminate number of speckles.

See also:
[How do you know that you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?]
[Transcending Zombies]

12 Responses to “Just the Phacts, Ma’am.”

  1. Hi Pete,

    You say:

    A lot of what Eric claims people to be mistaken about look to me to not be mistakes about phenomenology, but instead mistakes about what’s going on in the first realm (or mistakes about relations between the first and second realms).

    I agree with you on this. I’m skeptical though on accepting existance of any phacts, which wouldn’t be about the first realm, and our access to it (seeing, hearing, etc…)?

    Some examples of mistakes about phacts, are I think easily translated into first/ subject-access-to-first-realm talk…. As I said to Eric, being mistaken about the clarity of the visual field, can be worded into being mistaken about the maximum angle by which we can see things clearly.

    It is of course much harder for some illusions, hallucinations and dreams.

    However let’s take some visual illusion where we say “the things looks green, but it is gray”. Can’t we rephrase it along the following lines? “the thing in this particular context have same appearence as a green thing has in normal circumpstances. But I know that those are not normal circumpstances, so I don’t judge that it is a green thing.”
    Of course, “the trick” would be to phrase “appearence” in first-realm terms.

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Tanasije,

    It’s precisely these sorts of difficulties that make rephrasing in second-realm terms way more appealing.

  3. Thanks, Pete, for the interesting discussion. It deserves a post in reply. I’ll work on it!

    I definitely think there is a third “realm” as you call it (though I think the word “realm” is potentially misleading here). How could there not be facts about experience (”phacts”!) distinct from — though of course closely related to — facts about about stimuli and sensory receptors and facts about our judgments about stimuli? This has seemed to me so transparently obvious that I haven’t really thought about how to argue for it — but it does need to be argued for, so you’re inspiring me to try to rise to the occasion.

  4. Jason Zarri says:

    Hi, Pete. You say:

    “Worries about a third realm can be put by saying that we really have no idea what sorts of denizens would populate it. In the case of the visual field, third-realm denizens would include peripheral objects that are colored and shaped but have no determinate color and no determinate shape. Do we really understand the suggestion that there can be such objects?”

    On behalf of the proponent of phacts (who we can call a ‘phenomenist’), I would ask why it is they can’t just say that our access to phacts is imperfect; that the denzines of the third realm do have determinate colors and shapes, but we just can’t discern them. If the phenomenist is already prepared to acknowledge that we can be mistaken about such things, why not those aspects as well? Also, there are those who hold quantum mechanics to involve indeterminicies of the sort you mention. If it can be shown to make sense there, why not in the case of visual expereince?

    You also say:

    “No one’s ever found anything like that in anyone’s brains, and the items that populate our external environments certainly don’t fit the description.”

    Granted. But things like Churchland’s Chimerical Colors –e.g., hyperbolic orange or pitch-black yellow– have also never been found in anyone’s brain (at least, if we looked in their brain during the experiment, we wouldn’t see them), and I doubt that the items that populate our external environments will ever be found to be qualified by such colors. Yet it seems we have to make room for them *somewhere* in our ontology. Whether the phenomenist accounts for them as properties of a subject as being appeared-to in a certain way, as properties of sense-data, as points in a subject’s color space, etc., I think it is clear that some account must be given. And if an account can be given of them, why not of other denzines of the phenomenal realm?

  5. Badda Being says:

    In the discussion over at Eric’s blog he writes:

    “[I]t’s key to my argument that people change their views as a result of introspecting in the right (or at least different) way.”

    But I’m not sure that people change their views of what the phacts are, hypostatically speaking, by introspecting differently so much as that they’re put through specific exercises (tests) to leverage a different — and equally arbitrary — conceptualization of what Eric calls the “region of clarity.” I mean, you could actually put this technique to work in the opposite direction. For example, you could take someone who initially reports far fewer than 100 degrees of clarity and instruct him to identify in detail the various objects spread around him while restricting movement of the head but not of the eyes. When he acknowledges that he has, in fact, correctly identified those objects within 100 degrees, he will have been surreptitiously acculturated into a different conceptualization of what the region of clarity signifies and will revise his report accordingly. He will, in effect, simply be readjust his vocabulary.

    So now you could say that discrepancies in reports are no real reason to mistrust those reports since they’re nothing more than an indication of differential concepts, and at the same time dispense with invocations of an occult third realm.

  6. Badda Being says:

    If beliefs are dispositional, then beliefs about phacts in particular are also dispositional, which, furthermore, would seem to become knowledge only when they start to conform with dispositional norms, including norms for describing states of affairs. But there are very few dispositional norms imposed on us concerning phacts and their descriptions, and none whatsoever outside of philosophical contexts, so it’s only natural that there would be discrepancies between phactual reports, yes no? It doesn’t mean that people are mistaken about the phacts. They couldn’t be mistaken because there are no uniform standards of signification. However, this doesn’t stop philosophers from covertly establishing those norms through a battery of introspective tests. In a way, this makes you true pioneers of discourse.

  7. By the way, I don’t know if I got your view right, Pete. You describe the second realm as “various conceptualized reactions to stimuli”. This phrase is too vague to really nail down what you’re after, I think — since Charles Siewert and I, who think there definitely are phacts in the sense you want to deny and think most or all of those facts are in some sense “conceptual” — might see a sensory experience as typically a kind of “conceptualized reaction” to stimuli.

    It seemed to me rather that the core issue was whether there’s anything above (1) facts about stimuli and sensory organs, and (2) judgments about stimuli and sensory organs — so that’s how I framed the issue in my post. If I’ve missed the target, please let me know!

    And also: Thanks for the interesting post and criticism.

  8. Pete Mandik says:

    Eric,

    Thanks for your remarks here and over at Splintered Mind. I’ll reserve further responses for a near-future Brain Hammer post.

    Jason,

    Regarding your first suggestion, do we really understand what it would mean for something to be determinately colored and shaped, but indiscernibly so? What would block discernability? It can’t be that the object is so far away that it’s outside of all observers’ light cones. And the proposal that it’s locked in an impenetrable box can’t be taken seriously. No person has parts that are literally impenetrable.

    Regarding your second proposal, I don’t see that QM is well poised to come to the rescue. To my knowledge, it’s not part of QM that things have indeterminate colors or indeterminate shapes. What little I do know of QM that comes close to something having to do with indeterminacy is the proposition that a particle’s position can be measured with precision at the expense of precision about its momentum and its momentum can be measured with precision at the expense of precision about it’s position. Has it really been settled to everyone’s satisfaction that when position is measured precisely that the particle has an indeterminate position as opposed to a position that is measured only imprecisely? Even if it were settled, I’m not sure how to go about building third-realm phacts out of QM indeterminacies. I have a much clearer grasp on how one would reduce phacts to second-realm entities: representations of something being colored without representing it as having some particular color.

    Regarding your remarks on chimerical colors, I don’t think we need to make any more room for them in our ontology than an atheist needs to make room for God or a nominalist for universals. The way I think of, e.g. pitch-black yellow - and Paul Churchland has confirmed in a personal communication that he thinks of it this way too - is that it involves the representation of an impossible color. It’s impossible for anything to have a surface that is pitch-dark yellow, but this doesn’t stop us from representing surfaces as such. So, on my view as well as Paul’s, phacts are denizens of what I’m calling the second realm. No need for a third realm for them to live in.

    BB,

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but I find your remarks quite congenial to my own views of these and related matters.

  9. Jon says:

    Maybe the whole thing is just a fabrication of your mind to complicate the simple truths and that the phacts are simply that. The physical response of cones and rods to light IS dependent on the individual as is the range in which that response is observed. The ability to discern shapes, colors and in turn, objects stems from the individual’s overall awareness of their surroundings. I would postulate that one who is overly observant of what is directly before them would be able to determine in a wider range with the person that misses simple details, such as eye color of the person to whom they are conversing with would have a narrower range of view.

    Or I’m totally of base as you liked to tell me.

  10. Jason Zarri says:

    Hi Pete,

    Sorry for the long delay in response. You say:

    “Regarding your first suggestion, do we really understand what it would mean for something to be determinately colored and shaped, but indiscernibly so? What would block discernability? It can’t be that the object is so far away that it’s outside of all observers’ light cones. And the proposal that it’s locked in an impenetrable box can’t be taken seriously. No person has parts that are literally impenetrable. ”

    I guess I was thinking of the “third realm” in the same way that sense-datum theorists traditionally did, as consisting (in the case of vision) of sense data in the form of variously shaped patches of color arrayed in a “phenomenal space” which is completely disjoint from physical space. Since phenomenal space is disjoint from physical space, there would be no possibility of searching physical space to find them. Assuming the sense-datum theorist doesn’t want to posit indeterminacy in the sense data, they could maintain that one’s judgments concerning the shape and color one’s current sense data are progressively less and less accurate the further the sense data are from the center of the visual field. As to why this should be so, the details of an explanation would very much depend on the sense-datum theorist’s account of cognition. But I don’t see why an account couldn’t be given.

    As to QM, you say: “Has it really been settled to everyone’s satisfaction that when position is measured precisely that the particle has an indeterminate position as opposed to a position that is measured only imprecisely?” The answer is no, but the views on which a particle does have a definite position–primarily on the Many Worlds and Bohmian interpretations–are much less popular (as far as I’ve heard, anyway, but I’m no physicist!). Also, I would agree with you in not building the indeterminacies in third-realm entities out of QM ones–since I think a proponent of the third realm is most likely committed to some form of dualism, these would be indeterminacies specifically at the mental level. I invoked QM simply to make plausible the idea that there may very well be ontic indeterminacies.

    As for chimerical colors– to clarify my position, I’m against color physicalism. I don’t think that colors of *any* sort qualify the surfaces of objects, so on that score I think all colors are equally chimerical and/or impossible. A physicalist account of colors (as well as other qualia) might nevertheless be given, I just don’t think it can be given in terms of “external” properties which we judge objects to have. So I would, for example, count an adverbial account of qualia as one that accomadates the “third realm” in physical terms. The main thing I object to in your account is that it seems it would have to treat qualia in intentionalist and/or representationalist terms– a view which may be better characterized by saying that there really are no qualia (as philosophers conceive of them).

  11. Pete Mandik says:

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for your further thoughts. I like when discussion threads have a life beyond just a few days.
    Here are three further thoughts.

    1) I’m having a difficult time taking seriously the version of sense-data theory you are keen on defending. What’s the difference between a space completely disjoint from our own and a space that doesn’t exist? What is it about perception that positing such a space could possibly help to explain? Suppose Jones witness a robbery and can identify the gender of the robber but is unsure whether the robber was closer to 175 or 200lbs. It strikes me as the height of absurdity to explain Jones’s mental life in terms of relations that he bears to a robber that has no determinate weight or has a determinate weight but exists in a physical space disjoint from our own. (And the invocation of QM makes it no less absurd.) If your point is simply that such an ontological extravagance can be described without logical contradiction, I’m happy to concede that it probably can. But it would still remain that we could raise questions about whether we really understood what it would mean for it to be true.

    2) I find your remarks about adverbialism and the third realm puzzling. I would have thought adverbialism would involve recasting qualia talk in terms of abveribial modifications of the activities of first-realm and/or second-realm entities. As such, then, it doesn’t seem particularly welcome to third-realm conservation.

    3) What you describe as your main objection to my view (that it’s intentionalist) is what I would describe as my view, so I’m kind of not seeing what the objection is. Or was the main thrust that I’m saddled with eliminativism instead of reductionism?