Thursday 11 August 2016

Sensing Strange Things Workshop

On 4th–5th June, Arché at the University of St. Andrews held a workshop on Sensing Strange Things, organized by Patrick Greenough. In this post I summarise the seven papers given at the workshop. 

Fiona Macpherson (Glasgow) opened the workshop with her paper, co-authored with Clare Batty (Kentucky), ‘Redefining Illusion and Hallucination in Light of New Cases’. Fiona and Clare identified several new cases which put pressure on traditional accounts of illusion and hallucination. They suggested that such cases ought to be accounted for by theories of experience and perception. In light of these hitherto unidentified instances of illusion and hallucinations, Fiona and Clare offered new definitions of these notions. 

Next was Jennifer Corns (Lancaster) giving a talk entitled ‘Hedonic Qualities, Independence, and Heterogeneity’. Jennifer defended a version of hedonic internalism, the claim that the hedonic is best accounted for qualitatively. She considered the hetereogeneity problem for hedonic internalism, which is that there is no way of identifying what all pleasant or unpleasant experiences share, because such experiences are qualitatively heterogeneous. After considering and rejecting two kinds of response which went via appeals to the determinable—determinate relation, or moving to talk of feeling good and feeling bad, Jennifer offered a new solution. She introduced the Independence Claim: hedonic qualities are proprietary qualities which are qualitatively unique and irreducible to any other qualities. Her solution involved positing a distinct hedonic quality space such that hedonic qualities are characterized by their location in that space, where the dimensions thereof are neither cognitive nor sensory. 

Closing day one was Zoe Drayson (California, Davies) with her paper ‘Action-oriented Perception’. She began by introducing the idea of action-oriented content, that is, the idea that we perceptually experience the world in terms of the possible actions it affords us. Perception does not present us with action-neutral descriptive content. She turned to approaches in embodied cognitive science and asked what is it that is action-oriented, the vehicle of the representation, the content of the representation, or both? Next she surveyed some examples of Action-Oriented Representations (AORs) given by Andy Clark and Michael Wheeler. She claimed that Clark makes claims about the contents of AORs and about control structures, and Wheeler makes claims about both contents and vehicles. She asked why Clark and Wheeler think that these vehicles of content are action-oriented, in particular, why think that the contents themselves are action-oriented? She concluded by considering some problems for such a view. 

I (Birmingham) opened day two of the workshop with my paper, co-authored with Paul Noordhof (York), ‘Delusional Experience and Relationalist Accounts of Perception’. Our paper was in two parts. In part one we defended a one-factor account of monothematic delusion formation, arguing that the resources available to the one-factor theory had been underestimated by critics of it, and that once the explanatory potential of anomalous experiences is recognized, the one-factor account should be the default explanation for how we understand monothematic delusion. 

In the second part of the paper we introduced a distinction between positive and negative delusions, where the former involve experiences with positive hallucinatory elements, and the latter involve experiences of absence. We argued that a one-factor account of positive delusions is not available to a certain kind of relationist about perceptual experience, namely, she who denies phenomenal content in cases of hallucination. We argued that this is a significant theoretical cost to the relationist, since she is forced to recognize a distinction in kind in the class of monothematic delusion, a distinction not motivated by the study of these phenomena alone. 

Next was Anya Farrenikova (Bristol) with her paper ‘Invisible Art’. Anya was interested in the possibility of absence art, and what it is that we are aesthetically appreciating in such artworks. She gave several examples to demonstrate cases of mere absence from cases of absence where that absence is an aesthetic object. Anya suggested that a problem for all absence art is that absences cannot be experienced perceptually, and so cannot generate aesthetic experiences. This means that absences cannot contribute to the aesthetic value of an artwork. Anya canvassed a solution to this problem, namely, that we can think about absence art conceptually, which is to say that we appreciate absences by making cognitive inferences. She suggested that this solution fails to do justice to at least some instances of absent art, since it suggests that art is appreciated in the same way that ideas are appreciated. She closed by proposing a new model of absences, her mismatch model. This model had it that we perceive absences by registering mismatches between templates of missing objects and that which is actually presented in experience. 

The penultimate paper of the workshop, ‘Sensing Motion’, was given by Simon Prosser (St. Andrews). He was interested in two questions: 1. Does our perceiving motion show that experience has a temporally extended content? 2. What can we learn about perception from the fact that motion is perceived to have a rate? With respect to question 1, Simon argued that it is a mistake to think that because motion necessarily takes time, that experience of it must be temporally extended. Rather, he suggested, there is no reason that the content of an experience of motion might not be something like the following: (at time t) object O is moving with velocity V. This content attribution is compatible with the claim that the external stimulus must be temporally extended, but does not require the experience itself to be so extended. He called this the dynamic snapshot theory

With respect to question 2, Simon introduced Earth and Slow Earth, with inhabitants Horatio and Slow Horatio. These subjects were stipulated to be physical duplicates except on Slow Earth and for Slow Horatio, everything was at half the rate of on Earth and for Horatio. Simon suggested that Horatio and Slow Horatio could live psychologically identical lives, and yet, objects moving at the same speed could look different to Horatio and Slow Horatio. This means that we could get differences in phenomenal character when Horatio and Slow Horatio perceived objects moving at the same objective speed, and sameness of phenomenal character when perceiving objects moving at different objective speeds. Simon took this result to show that the phenomenal world is multiple realizable, and to threaten the idea that phenomenal charatcer of an experience depends entirely on its content. He finished by suggesting a functionalism about the content of experiencing motion, such that, what it is for an object to appear to be moving at a given velocity is for it to stand in a particular kind of functional relation to the subject. 

Matthew McGrath (Missouri) gave the final paper of the workshop, entitled ‘The Metaphysics of Looks’. Matthew was interested in looks of objects which are viewpoint-relative, specifically, in whether facts about their obtaining are reducible to facts about perception. He began by introducing some examples of the phenomenon, before moving on to offering an argument against reductionist strategies, and three further problems for reductionist positions. Towards the end of the talk, Matthew offered his positive proposal, that the viewpoint-relative looks of an object consist in features of the light, including relational features, coming from the object to the viewpoint. He finished by considering some objections to this proposal. 

The workshop ended with a roundtable discussion led by Fiona Macpherson, Jennifer Corns, and Anya Farrenikova, in which partcipants talked about recurrent themes of the workshop papers (results above).

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