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Video Presentation

By Frank Simons

The focus of this lecture on the Empiricist theory of perception, which argues that what we perceive are not things in the world but subjective sense–data—colored patches in our visual fields, for example. It is from these private sensations that we infer the existence of real things in an objective world. Core problems with Empiricism appear in the central concept of inference, in the reintroduction of the “little man” in the inner theater, and in the question of whether the theory does justice to the data of experience.

Video Presentation
Philosophy of Mind: Part 10, “Perception—What Do You Really See?”
By Frank Simons
Thu, Aug 10, 5:30pm
Meditation Center, Callejon Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

Three very different theories have been offered to explain perception: an Empiricist theory, an Intentionalist theory, and an Evolutionary theory. The naïve realist view says we see things in the world, a two-place relation. Do you hear the locomotive or just the rumble of the engine? Do you smell the cookies or just the aroma of the cookies? For seeing, touching, and perhaps tasting, perception seems to be two–place. For the other senses, it is tempting to think of perception as a three-place relation; among you, the aroma of the cookies, and the cookies themselves. Scientific knowledge pushes one to a three–place relation for all the senses.

In the Empiricist theory, perception is even less immediate, introduced in terms of illusion. Things at a distance look bluer. Orange under a green light appears gray. If you cannot tell the difference between something orange and gray under a green light, what is it that you really see? According to the theory, what you really see are sense-data. Everything else—your knowledge of the external objects you are looking at, for example—is the result of an elaborate inference from immediate sense-data. It claims all perception is a three-place relation among you, your sense–data, and the objects from which the data stem.

One problem with this theory is the use of the term inference, which may be more cognitive and deliberative than anything for which we have evidence. Doubting inference does not challenge the data, just the interpretation of the data. The story Empiricism tells about perception is a cognitive or rational story. Perception is portrayed as a rational inference from data. The history of philosophy is a history of people intensely devoted to rationality. It is not surprising philosophers portray perception as a rational process.

Professor Patrick Grim, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the University’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

 

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