Tag Archives: erroneous experience

Naivism and Realism

Lots of people think naive realism is important. But is it important because it’s naive or because it’s realist? Part of that answer depends on whether or not naivism is preferable to realism, or vice versa. Whichever one is, although one might be more important for other reasons, there will be resistance to it because we prefer the other.

We can distinguish between naive realism and naivism:

  • Naive realism concerns the view that what seems to be real is real: 

For example: if, on visually experiencing a coloured round object (such as a red balloon) that seems to be real, then naive realism is the position that, indeed, this apparently real and red balloon is a real and red balloon.

  • Naivism is more general: it is the view that what seems to be x is x: 

For example: if, on visually experiencing a coloured round object (such as a red balloon) that seems to be imaginary, then naivism is the position that, indeed, this apparently imaginary and red balloon is an imaginary red balloon.

That is, along with naive realism, one can also have naive idealism: what seems to be mind-dependent is mind-dependent.

One question such a categorisation raises is: Is naive realism true of our experience? When it comes to our experience, is everything apparent to us (everything in our phenomenology) also apparently real? If so, then naive realism and naivism are the same.

However, this doesn’t seem to be right. Lots of theorists of experience — phenomenologists such as Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre (thinking of his book Imagination) — think that some experiences are appearances of only imaginary things. If one is naive about this, then one holds that such things ARE imaginary — because that is how they seem.

Imagination isn’t the only possible case of non-perceptual experience. There is also memory experience — which, whatever else it seems to be, doesn’t seem to be perception (unlike memory hallucination).  And, recently, interest has resurged on the idea of cognitive phenomenology[1] –that there is a phenomenal character or experience to some instances of thought, an experience which cannot be reduced to other forms (such as perception, memory or imagination).

If these are all actually kinds of experience, then there are at least three forms of experience and appearance that are not perceptual.

Another question is raised out of that point: A naive theory is that you take appearances to correspond or, if you can, be identical to how things are. A realist theory is that you take things to be real (independent of human thought and experience). It is possible they can come into conflict. If they do, which is more important?

To answer this, we must first clarify how they could come into conflict. If they can’t conflict, then the question of importance is less important; you’ll never have to choose.

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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.