Science and Sensibilia or How I Spent My Summer Vocation

It shews a fundamental misunderstanding, if I am inclined to study the headache I have now in order to get clear about the philosophical problem of sensation.  (Wittgenstein 1958: §314)

Dramatis SubPersonae
[C]onfusion was at once facilitated and complicated by the curious neglect of many generations of philosophers and psychologists, following Descartes' example, to distinguish sharply in their terminology between the –ings and the –eds (to adopt an expression of Professor S. Alexander's) – between the terms “sensation," “perception," or “though” as signifying the event, function, or act of sensing, perceving, thinking, etc., and the same terms as signifying the items sensed, perceived or thought. (Lovejoy 1930: 6)

Oh Behave

Dualism: “A picture held us captive.  And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”  (Wittgenstein 1958: §115)

The Revolt Against Dualism:
“The last quarter-century, it may fairly confidently be predicted, will have for future historians of philosophy a distinctive interest and instructiveness as the Age of the Great Revolt against Dualism.” (Lovejoy 1930: 1)

o        “What does one behaviorist say to another?” jokes (see Ziff 1958 for discussion).

o        Behaviorists accused of  "affecting general anesthesia" (Ogden & Richards 1926: 23)

o        Behaviorism “likened to Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.”  (Ryle 1949: 328)

The Counter Revolt against Behaviorism

§         Sensation the unconquered territory:

·         “Imagery from Galton on has been the inner stronghold of a psychology based on introspection" (Watson 1913: 421).  "I may have to grant a few sporadic cases of imagery to him who will not be otherwise convinced, but I insist that the images of such a one are as sporadic and as unnecessary to his well-being and well-thinking as a few hairs more or less on his head" (Watson 1913: 423n.3)  if there are sensibilia they’re epiphenomena.

·         “[T]here is something seriously amiss with the discussions occupying this [Sensation and Observation] chapter” (Ryle 1949: 240)   “I do not know the right idioms to discuss these matters, but I hope that my discussion of them in the official idioms may have at least some internal Fifth Column efficacy" (Ryle 1949: 201). 

·         “And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a nothing.” -- Not at all.  It is not a something but not a nothing either!  The conclusion was only that a nothing would serve as well as a something of which nothing could be said.  We have only rejected the grammar that tries to force itself upon us.”  (Wittgenstein 1958: §304)

·         It may be urged that the hero (experience) was never wholly extruded but has been lurking all along in the caves of psychophysics (e.g., in correlations of physical stimulus variations with noticed differences in sensation).

§         The Cognitivism Schism

·         Watsonian/Skinnerian hedge around the law: bar talk of inner (neurophysiological) processes no less than hypotheses about inward (experiential) ones: strong  reading of Watson’s second clause.

·         Cognitivism (softening the Watsonian S-R clause)

o        Identifies cognition, perception, and sensation with inner computational processes.

o        Continues to disallow recourse to inward experiential processes.

·         Cogntivism rules … sort of

o        Mandates talk of inner processes

o        Sheds no more light on their inwardness than Behaviorism

§         Inverted qualia problems: possibly same computation & different qualia.

§         Absent qualia problems: possibly same computation & no qualia.

Back to the Future?
“Now, however, that no one accepts the behaviourist doctrine any more the introspectionist psychologist is free to come out of the shadows.”  (Smythies 1994: 116)

·         Dualistic Metaphysical Revival: John Searle's (1992) brief in favor of "ontological subjectivity" and David Chalmers' (1996) defense of "property dualism" represent recent major philosophical attempts to revive dualistic metaphysical bifurcation and the "Cartesian theater" picture. 

·         Consciousness Gold Rush: would-be scientific approaches to consciousness (Smythies 1994, Crick 1994, Edelman 1989, 1992, Edelman & Tononi 2000, Penrose 1989, 1994, and others [see Horgan 1994]).   Research programme of choice:

o        Correlations between (observed) brain variables and (introspected) experiential variables a la classical Wundtian Introspectionism.

o        Psychology as psychophysics: scientific gold (another Nobel prize?) in them thar psychophysical hills?

·         Cartesian Theatrics: send in the sensibilia (Smythies 1956, Jackson 1977, MacLachlan 1989, Robinson 1994) again?

o       “My general opinion about this doctrine is that it is a typically scholastic view, attributable, first, to an obsession with a few particular words, the uses of which  are over-simplified, not really understood or carefully studied or correctly described; and second, to an obsession with a few (and nearly always the same) half-studied 'facts'.” (Austin 1962, p.3)

o       Its intrepidness is what makes Smythies’ attempt so instructive a would-be scientific expedition into those very "fields" of consciousness some philosophers (notably, Searle and Chalmers) have urged reopening for scientific investigation, and Nobel Prize laureates (Crick and Edelman) have recently rushed into.

Don’t Go There

This conclusion [of the physico-physiological argument], moreover, is arrived at on the ground that events between the intended object and the percipient determine the character of what is given; but these intervenient events could, by the same reasoning, be shown to be themselves similarly conditioned, and therefore to be not directly or infallibly disclosed in perception – and so on, until the physiologically immediate is finally pursued to its lair in some cortical event which, unfortunately is not disclosed by perception at all. But the question whether the argument is in fact finally self-destructive belongs to a later stage of our inquiry. (Lovejoy 1930: 24-5)


  1. Existence of qualia: There is "something that it's like" (pace Nagel, 1974) to have a visual experience.  There are conscious experiences (e.g., of seeing) with distinct phenomenal "feels" (contrast, e.g., visual and tactual shape recognition). 
  2. Seeing v. “seeing”: disallowing The Sinful Inference:

I see a blue star.

Being seen entails being.

 :. There is this blue star.

  1. Scientific Authority re the facts

The Direct Question:

1.        distal stimulus (objective reflection or radiation) and optical-nervous transmission-transduction (to take the case of seeing);

2.        direct-experiencing of something besides the distal object, a sense-datum or percept or quale-instance;

3.        inference to the existence and properties of the distal object from the direct-experienced evidence.

Naïve Dualism

Location, Location, "Location"

Out-There: Physical Space

·         Crooks: “we cannot actually see into physical space, or directly observe distal stimuli" (original italics) because all perception must be transpiring within the CNS, though what this perception is of is external objects.  No sense-mode has left the CNS to do any observing out-there (in physical space)" (original italics)

·         Absent sensibilium argument:

1.        the same experience can occur in the absence of the distal object

2.        ING(p,t) => ED(p,t)

3.        :.  ED <> distal object

In the Head: Physical Space Too

“In” Consciousness

Don’t Go There

·          Contrary to Levine, it doesnot “seem possible to really separate the reddishness from the awareness of it,” not really yet it also seems impossible to tell a coherent story about how this could be so.” (Levine 2001: 9)

Go Adverbial

Your criticism of Crooks seems right on target to me. The only qualm I have is with the positive alternative you suggest. Not the direct realism, which seems to me right as the general direction to try to go in, but the Adverbialism version of it you suggest several places. I think there are troubles with adverbialism which probably make it unacceptable. I think those troubles are pressed by Frank Jackson, in his 1977 book Perception (or something like that). See if you can get that and look up his discussion of adverbialism ….  Of course if the direct realist gives up Adverbialism, that leaves him with the problem of explaining what's common or shared between MacBeth and somebody who's really seeing a dagger. So direct realism isn't obvious -- a direct realist story remains to be told. And maybe it can't be. But surely Crooks' story isn't the way to go, as you criticism shows. Ah, Philosophy. Its so hard. (Rich Hall)

Wouldn’t it be Lover-ly
Contrary to Levine, it doesnot “seem possible to really separate the reddishness from the awareness of it,” not really , since “ it also seems impossible to tell a coherent story about how this could be so.” (Levine 2001: 9)  Adverbialism is the story of how ED might not be a distinct existence, apart from ING, but how it might nevertheless seem so. 

1.        (ING => ED) & (ING <> ED)

2.        Possibly (ING & -ED) for any would-be distal ED.

3.        Possibly (ING & -ED) for any would-be neural ED.

4.        If physical then ED is either neural or distal.

5.        :. ED is not physical.

The Many-Property Problem







The Right-hand Hand, Left-hand hand Reply

·         “lines of objection to the arguments just given might be thought to arise from Terence Parsons' 'Some Problems Concerning the Logic of Grammatical Modifiers'” (Jackson 1977: 69) in particular from his scenario in which Parsons envisages a case in which an individual “on one and the same occasion … wrote painstakingly with one hand and illegibly with the other” (Parsons 1979: 331)

·         Solution: quantify over subagencies (instead of objects)

·         Compare seeing left-eyedly (or x-brainedly) and right-eyedly (or y-brainedly) to writing left-handedly and right-handedly. 

o        Suppose I am writing painstakingly and illegibly on the one hand and painstakingly and illegibly on the other.

§         conjunctive answer: I am writing slowly and legibly and quickly and illegibly cannot distinguish

·         slowly, legibly and quickly, illegibly

·         slowly, illegibly and quickly, legibly

§         disability due to the erroneous assumption that one can only write once at a time

o        disallowing this assumption, we reinstate the distinction:

§         I am, right-handedly, writing slowly and legibly

§         I am, left-handedly, writing quickly and illegibly

o        Similarly – disallowing the assumption that a person can only see once at a time

§         I am, left-eyedly (or x-brainedly) sensing yellowly, roundly.

§         I am right-eyedly (or y-brainedly) sensing pinkly, squarely.

Ghostly machinations?