Note: The ideas in this post are part of the backbone for my 2018 book, Philosophy of Time and Perceptual Experience. For a more detailed and rigorous discussion, see that book.
In this post, I want to make a brief comment on something I think important to what I’m doing in the monograph I’m currently completing (of which I recently posted the table of contents).
In the monograph, I define, describe and use a kind of erroneous experience that I refer to throughout as ‘anosognosia’. Although I describe it as a kind of erroneous experience, I do not consider it as either identical to or a sub-species of the commonly conceived erroneous experiences of illusion or hallucination.
By ‘anosognosia’, I mean an error related to some experience of x which is this: it seems to the subject of the experience that they experience everything that is there, suitably qualified by experiential mode (e.g., memory/perception; visual perception/auditory perception).
So, I look at an apple’s surface under bright light, and it seems to me that I see the whole of the apple’s surface, contour and colour. But I don’t see it all: there is more surface, contour and colour to the apple, revealed through microscopes or different ways of shining light upon it (or whatever you like).
Still, in my seeing the apple, it does not seem as if there is more of what I seem to see (e.g., colour, or shape) there; I seem to see all the colour, shape or contour belonging to the apple.
The point is not that I do not know that there is more to the apple’s colour, shape, contour etc. (intellectually, as it were); it is not about my beliefs generally about experience. I may very well know or believe there is more to it (which is in fact the case). It is that this ‘more’ does not seem that way through my seeing it.
I need to introduce this kind of error because of amodal completion. With amodal completion, there seems to be more to what I experience than what I perceptually experience (I discuss this in Chapter 5 of the 2018 book). So, I see the apple’s surface, and although I believe I see all its colour and shape of what faces me, it also seems to me that there is more to the apple’s colour and shape than what faces me; there is what faces away from me (the ‘presence in absence’, as some theorists put it).
I am not happy with the term ‘anosognosia’. It is usually associated with serious atypical impairments in subjects rather than typical human functioning.’Anosognosia’ is quite a technical term, of which its uses in the relevant literature I have not fully explored.
A recent very helpful email discussion with Max Coltheart (of Macquarie University) has given me a taste of why I feel cautious and unhappy with it. His worry is that how I use it here doesn’t fit right. For example, it will apply to anyone who doesn’t have technical knowledge about experience, i.e., almost everyone’s beliefs about experience, or else only to particularly confabulating conditions, and so no-one with ‘normal’ perception.
Although I can see the worry, I’m not sure I agree the concept is problematic. The concept I’m using the term for has a precise and important role in understanding consciousness, particularly in light of evaluating different ontologies and metaphysical systems when one considers questions about consciousness. Also, despite Colheart’s misgivings, when I’ve found anosognosia discussed in descriptions of psychological or neurological conditions, the unique and problematic aspects of conditions are nearly always more than merely anosognosia. For example, Anton’s Syndrome (or Anton-Barbinski Syndrome, or ABS) is anosognosia and confabulation (Journal of Medical Case Reports; wikipedia)). In the JME case report linked here, the authors conceptually separate confabulation from anosognosia: ‘Visual anosognosia, that is, denial of loss of vision, associated with confabulation in the setting of obvious visual loss and cortical blindness is known as Anton’s syndrome.’ These two features of ABS are found in ABS, not one and the same.
In this way, anosognosia is like hallucination or illusion: a facet of uncommon conditions, but not the whole of it – and, as I argue, more common and typical than just these conditions.
This doesn’t solve all problems with it. Like ‘phenomenal’ (as discussed in an earlier post), how ‘anosognosia’ is used by everyone else may be drifting to settle far from my use. The result will be that, however coherent or useful my concept might be, my use of this term will only end up seeming either idiosyncratic and/or cause confusion (this is why I’ve dropped ‘phenomenal’ for ‘obvious’, as discussed in that earlier post).
But for now, I am using ‘anosognosia’. So:
- What I describe here is not simply ignorance of what is the case regarding one’s experience (which was one of Coltheart’s worries).
- Anosognosia is not so refined or in use by others that it must include other aspects of specific or uncommon conditions, such as confabulation.
- As with many deficits, e.g., such as blindness, that it applies to uncommon, atypical or pathological cases does not mean that it must be kept for strictly referring only to these cases. If something in common, typical, non-pathological cases is found to be exactly the same, I think we should carry the terminology over; again, we do it all the time, as with blindness.
Final point: there are connections with ‘illusions of simplicity’ discussed in an earlier post and in my 2018 book. In my 2018, I discuss how anosognosia and illusion (but not hallucination) can be related. I would argue now that simplicity-illusions just are alternatively described cases of anosognosia: something simple is said to be illusory, rather than something complex said to be hidden (giving the mere appearance of something simple). As a result, I no longer define simplicity-illusions separately in my work. But, importantly, in cases of simplicity-illusion and anosognosia, there is not illusion and anosognosia of the same thing. It’s almost the contrary: if there is an illusion of not-B, there is anosognosia of B.