Anosognosia

Back: Table of Contents for 1st Draft of Monograph

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 8 of the first draft). 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. I think that 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 from which one considers questions about consciousness.

But, that doesn’t really solve the problems with it(and so I have told Coltheart that I will probably drop 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’. Further to the reasons above:

1. I don’t think what I describe here is simply ignorance of what is the case regarding one’s experience (which was one of Coltheart’s worries).

2. Nor do I think anosognosia is so defined by others that it must include confabulation (as, e.g., as found in anosognosic sufferers of Anton’s Syndrome(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 the syndrome are associated, not identical.

3. 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.

…and Simplicity-illusions

Final point: there are connections with ‘illusions of simplicity’ discussed in an earlier post. In the monograph, I discuss how anosognosia and illusion (but not hallucination) can be related. I would say now that where there are simplicity-illusions, there are cases of anosognosia as well. As a result, I don’t define simplicity-illusions separately anymore in the monograph. 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.

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5 thoughts on “Anosognosia

  1. Pingback: Table of Contents for Monograph’s First Draft | Time and Illusion

  2. Jordan Feenstra

    1. I can’t wait to read this–I’m currently researching McTaggart’s–as well as refinements, replies/objections, and additions of other scholars, like Dummett–argument for the unreality of time. I fear this book might completely render my conclusions innocuous or completely obsolete (haha)!

    2. As someone with a BA in Philosophy and a BS in Psychology, I share the same concern with Coltheart–there’s nothing more frustrating in both philosophy and psychology than when 1) a term is coined that means the same thing as an old term (unless the new term is coined as (a) a subtle hyponym of the old term/hypernym or (b) a meronym of the hypernym) or 2) a term is misappropriated, stolen, hijacked from another discipline and subsequently given a new meaning (e.g., the flagrant misuse of “cognitive dissonance” outside of social psychology/group dynamics).

    So, instead of just telling you “No!” or “Bad!”, I’ve done some research for you: how do you feel about coining a new term to describe this Husserlian idea? If you like the idea so as not to garner any, or anymore, unwanted criticism, then I think I have a solution–combining the Greek roots “opisth(en)”, meaning “behind”, “mer(os)”, meaning “part”, “a”, meaning “not”, and “gnosia”, meaning “knowledge”, to form opisthmeragnosia. You can also drop the -th off opisth, or add an -o, -os, -i, or -e to mer as well.

    Opisthmeragnosia… It’s a mouth full, but I like it better than Opismeragnosia…

    Sincerely,
    Jordan Feenstra

    Reply
  3. timeandillusion2012 Post author

    Hi Jordan,

    Thank you very much for your suggestions. They are very helpful.

    I sympathize with yours (and previously Coltheart’s) concerns. I would happily coin a neologism if it avoids unnecessary and persistent confusion (which I am worried about here). As said, however, given how it is used in the medical literature, I think anosognosia can be separated from its use in and extended beyond the medical cases. But I would prefer some other term so that I just don’t have to get into it.

    I like the meaning and construction behind your suggested term. I take it then that ‘opisthmeragnosia’ would mean ignorance, unawareness or non-experience of ‘behind-parts’, i.e., parts which, in some cases, one experiences (in some way) amodally or as ‘presence-in-absence’? E.g., when I look at a tomato (to use a common example), beyond what I seem to visually perceive of the tomato, I am also in some way aware of the part of the tomato that is behind or on the other side (the ‘opisthmer’, I guess). Here, we have a case where one is unaware of this extra part — hence, ‘agnosia’ appended to the end.

    So, thank you very much. I will definitely consider using it. However, I should say that my main concern with your suggested term — and it is one with anosognosia as well — is that it is not as easy a term in English as illusion and hallucination. And as you can see even from the table of contents I use it all throughout the work. Indeed, if I could, I would title the work after it. I am in many ways arguing that, given eternalism and tenseless theory, one should interpret many cases of erroneous experience as being this kind of experience, rather than illusion or hallucination.

    Given your clear knowledge of how to construct such terms, have you any suggestions of how I might Anglicize or compress the term in some way?*

    Again, I very appreciate this suggestion; it’s meaning, I think, is spot on.

    Sean

    *(Not having much Latin or Greek, I thought I’d use my home language of Irish and try something like ‘aneolas’, which means lack of knowledge. But that is not precise enough; it just means ‘ignorance’).

    Reply
    1. jmfeenst

      This is all a lot more clear to me now; I don’t think the reader gathers your juxtaposition from your entry here. That is, it is clear to the reader that you are concerned with finding an accurate addition to our vocabulary for the relevant concept and it’s important subtle differences from hallucination and illusion–what is NOT clear to the reader, which isn’t necessarily problematic but might help your own agenda along, is that, at the same time, you are dually worried about it’s acceptance into the relevant vernacular and it’s possible/hopefull migration into everyday folk vernacular.

      The latter problem is certainly justified. I have also seen it where a perfectly good term (well thought out in orismological terms as well as carefully constructed qua subtle differences to its parent or sibling terms) is ignored because of it’s 1) seeming pretentiousness (i.e., coining a term from root constructions from an ancient language can be perceived as arrogantly erudite) or 2) linguistic complexity (e.g., being too hard to pronounce, being too syntactically and or phonetically long, etc).

      Finally, having said all that, I can now properly see your concern. And I should note that I feel that your dual concern here is entirely warranted.

      My suggestion is to either look into the literature under epistemology and philosophy of perception as well as the psychology of perception, and try to see if there is an over-arching broad term that denotes this phenomenological concept that you’re getting at with time, or simply coin a less specific term that is either derived logically/orismologically from roots or is arbitrarily derived but nonetheless well defined.

      Hence, my suggestion is to first consider shortening my original suggestion (but that’s just because I’d be thrilled to see you endorse something that came from my brain, haha). So, like I said, taking Greek roots “opisth(en)”, meaning “behind”, “mer(os)”, meaning “part”, “a”, meaning “not”, and “gnosia”, meaning “knowledge”, you could drop the -th or -sth off opisth, and/or add an -o, -os, -i, or -e to mer as well. The smallest possible thing we can get is Opismeragnosia, but we could also drop the mereological connotation here and just drop “mer” to get “opisagnosia” or, similarly, drop the behind and just stick with the Husserlian idea of presence-in-absence in all experiential domains and get “meragnosia/meroagnosica/merosagnosia”. If that all seems too complex still, I would suggest just botching hallucination or illusion and adding something to denote a sense of time, phenomenology, perception, etc. and adding them all together to get something simple. For example, I’m thinking of something like hallucination, illusion, and “perlusion” or “delucination” or etc.

      All in all, I think the best means of anglicizing the shortest notion from before (i.e., ‘opismeragnosia’) is to do something like “opmerlusion” or opismerlusion”–the end root here being lusum, which means anything from “to play” to “to deceive”, which is most likely where lusion comes from in illusion and lucin comes from in hallucination. It also has the advantage of being a lot more recognizable as an addition to hallucination and illusion and being a lot easier to pronounce. I think I like it. What do you think?

      I hope at least some part of my ramble helped. Haha.

      Good luck,
      Jordan Michael Feenstra

      Reply
  4. timeandillusion2012 Post author

    Hi Jordan,
    Sorry for the VERY late reply — it has been a hectic few weeks (end of term).

    I have searched through the literature for an appropriate term, but have never found anything I think fits. In fact, my conversation with Coltheart comes from a posting to Philos-L asking about a covering term for blindness, deafness, etc., because I was hoping to us something like that for the experience — or really the lack of experience.

    What this all comes from originally is, since working on my Irish Research Council project on Temporal Illusion, I wonder if some of the alleged erroneous experiences of time were properly thought of as illusions. In particular, I think that an erroneous experience of simultaneity should not be thought of as exactly an illusion — of simultaneity — but as a failure to notice a duration (a point I’ve used since in my publications).

    For a while there, I referred to this as temporal blindness. Then that term’s visio-centrism began to bug me, especially as such failure to notice duration occurs in hearing, touch, and lots of other features. I’ve looked for a more general term since. Following other considerations, ‘anosognosia’ is what I have at the moment.

    I really like these suggested terms. My preferred ones are “opisagnosia” and “meragnosia/meroagnosica/merosagnosia”, although your later suggestions of “opmerlusion” or “opismerlusion” are also interesting. The ‘-agnosia’ of the first parts suggests to me a failure to be aware of something, which is what I’m looking for, while given what you say about its root, ‘-lusion’ suggests something more complex and I’d prefer to avoid, that one is either deceived or playing or being played with. Given this kind of error, it is more that one does not experience something that is there. The error is that one does not think that one does not experience something there; one thinks that there is nothing there to experience (and, perhaps, if there were, one would experience it).

    [I’ve also considered in my crude way putting ‘occult’ (as in hidden) with -agnosia’ (or some other appropriate term) to get, e.g., occultagnosia, but that would definitely, I think, send the wrong message.]

    Reply

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