Colors perceived but not remembered.
Conceptualized content plays a central role in both the Transcending Zombies argument and my Allocentric-Egocentric Interface theory of consciousness. One of the main lines of resistance to such views hinges on an alleged fineness of grain of sensory experience that outstrips conceptual resources. In this and the next post, I suggest that such allegations are overblown. I develop this suggestion by examining a line of thought concerning color experience.
There exist color pairs sufficiently similar to be indiscriminable across a memory delay while sufficiently distinct to be discriminable when presented simultaneously (Perez–Carpinell et al., 1998; Raffman, 1995). So, for example, two paint chips presented side by side will be clearly and correctly distinguished as having distinct colors, but if presented one after the other, the viewer will be uncertain whether they have distinct colors. Though, for simplicity, I’ll just be focusing here on color, the point generalizes to aspects of vision other than color and also to other sensory modalities besides vision. There are thus a wide variety of stimulus pairs that are discriminable in simultaneous presentations but indiscriminable in serial presentations.
As Raffman (1995) argues, if we make certain natural assumptions concerning the relations of concepts to memory, then the existence of such stimulus pairs puts pressure on the suggestion that conceptual contents exhaust the contents of experience. If the conceptualized is to be equated with the remembered and the recognized, then the existence of such stimulus pairs suggests that experience outstrips our concepts. Whatever constitutes the awareness of the chip that is not sufficiently remembered, that awareness fails to count as the application of a concept since that awareness fails to satisfy the re-identifiability criterion on concept possession.
I want to attack Raffman’s argument by calling into question what seems to be one of its key assumptions. The conclusion that conscious experience has non-conceptual content seems to depend on assuming that the colors are present in consciousness in the same way regardless of mode (simultaneous vs serial) of presentation. The assumption seems to be that in every case in which the paint chips are different there must be corresponding elements in consciousness that are different and in every case in which the paint chips are the same there must be corresponding elements in consciousness that are the same.
The assumption works in the context of an argument for nonconceptual contents of consciousness as follows. If I am not able to correctly conceptualize, that is, correctly judge that the second of a pair of serially presented chips is a different color, even though I can distinguish the pair members in simultaneous presentations, then how can this serve as a basis for the conclusion that there is a non-conceptual consciousness of the distinct colors? Such a conclusion would follow if it were further assumed that in spite of the colors of the chips not being available to conceptualization they were available to consciousness. Putting this in terms of qualia, the simultaneously presented and distinguishable chips, chip 1 and chip 2, give rise to corresponding qualia, quale 1 and quale 2. When the chips are presented serially, the subject is unable to correctly judge/conceptualize the difference between the chips, but the chips nonetheless make a corresponding difference in consciousness by triggering, serially this time, quale 1 and quale 2.
(Indeed, in a version of the argument due to Kelly (2001, see especially p. 398, fn. 2), it is experiences, not paint chips (or emulating Kelly’s lingo “shades as the subject experiences them” not “shades that the subject experiences”) that are distinct and serially presented.)
However, such an assumption is questionable. We may begin to appreciate what’s questionable about it by noting that differences in presentation often result in differences in color perception. Context effects are well known in the literature on color perception. In normal lighting conditions, one and the same paint chip may seem gray or bright yellow depending on what else is present in the visual field. And these context effects need not involve a difference in what light arrives at the eye from the paint chip in question. Nor are they explained by interactions between retinal cells. The perceptual effects of context depend on higher levels of the visual processing hierarchy than the retina.
We may model an explanation of the failure to serially discriminate simultaneously discriminable chips as due to different perceptions arising from the same chips presented in different contexts. Presenting a chip by itself on one occasion and with another chip on another occasion is to present the chip in two different contexts, contexts that give rise to differences in the perception of the color of one and the same chip.
It is open, then, for the conceptualist to explain the relevant cases as follows. Serially presented paint chips are experienced/conceptualized simply as e.g., blue regardless of whether they differ in reality with respect to shade. Simultaneously presented paint chips are experienced/conceptualized as one being e.g., a darker shade of blue than the other. Of course, it is in no conflict with the account I am defending in this paper to posit sub-personal and/or unconscious intermediaries that are non-conceptual. So perhaps it is the case that presenting the same color on different occasions or in multiple locations results in the color being present to the sub-personal or unconscious mind as the same, regardless of whether the color is presented in the simultaneous or the serial context. However, what I am keen to deny is that what makes it into consciousness will be the same regardless of simultaneous versus serial context.
1. Introducing Transcending Zombies
2. Anti-Skeptical Maneuvers
3. I Know I’m Not a Zombie
4. Some Remarks on Phenomenal Knowledge
5. The Egocentricity of Phenomenal Knowledge
6. The Knowing and the Known
7. My Physical Properties Fix My Conceptualized Contents
8. My Physical Properties Fix My Egocentric Contents
9. TZ & AEI