Wednesday 29 May 2024

Transparency and mindfulness

Today's post is by Victor Lange (University of Copenhagen) and Thor Grünbaum (University of Copenhagen) on their recent paper, "Transparency and the mindfulness opacity hypothesis" (The Philosophical Quarterly, 2023) 

Victor Lange

Imagine that you are standing in front of Delacroix’s famous painting, Liberty Leading the People. In one situation, you might perceive the lines and colours as objects and properties of objects. The yellowness appear as the woman’s dress and the thin light blueness appear as the sky above her. In such a case, we say that these properties appear as representational properties. 

In another situation, you might perceive the lines and colours as merely paint on the canvas. Say that you are interested in Delacroix’s technique, so you move closer to examine his brush strokes. Here, the yellowness and light blue do not appear as objects or properties of objects. Instead, they appear as features of the painting itself. In such case, we say that the properties appear as non-representational properties.  

Thor Grünbaum

Philosophers disagree about whether our own experiences are like paintings in the sense that the properties of our experiences can appear both as representational and as non-representational properties. For example, can the redness of the apple in front of me appear both as a representational property (i.e., a property of the apple) and a non-representational property (i.e., not as a property of the apple but as a property of something else, e.g., my mental state). 

Many philosophers have argued that the properties of our experience can only appear as representational properties. That is, when we introspect our own experience of the apple, we ‘look right through’ our experience. We simply become more aware of the apple and its properties. Philosophers sometimes call this view the Transparency thesis (TT). 

Although TT has been popular, it is controversial. In our paper, ‘Transparency and the Mindfulness Opacity Hypothesis’, we investigate an idea that is prominent in the scientific mindfulness literature. This is the idea that mindfulness meditation enables states of introspective awareness where some properties of our experience genuinely appear as non-representational properties. Call this the Mindfulness Opacity Hypothesis (MOH). Even though MOH is widespread among researchers, it has remained philosophically underdeveloped. 

Building upon a review of relevant mindfulness literature, we argue that (i) mindfulness meditation involves a shift in experiential perspective; (ii) individuals differ in the scope of how many properties shift from appearing as representational to non-representational properties; (iii) this scope depends upon an individual’s skill in mindfulness meditation. 

TT-fans and strong representationalists will most like not be persuaded. They might object that we build (i)-(iii) upon a dubious philosophical interpretation of the current mindfulness literature. We reply that future work in experimental philosophy is relevant in investigating whether there is any force in this objection. 

They might also object that MOH and (i)-(iii) make controversial assumptions about the nature of introspection. We argue that this is not the case. We assume nothing that is controversial or outrageous. In fact, trusting the science of mindfulness, philosophical theories of self-awareness and introspection leave plenty of room to develop MOH in terms of various forms of introspective dynamics. 

In conclusion, MOH is a novel and well-grounded objection to TT.

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