Sei sulla pagina 1di 32

Philosophical Issues, 21, The Epistemology of Perception, 2011

PHENOMENAL PRESENCE AND PERCEPTUAL AWARENESS:


A SUBJECTIVIST ACCOUNT OF PERCEPTUAL OPENNESS TO
THE WORLD
1
Martine Nida-R umelin
University of Fribourg
1. A Puzzle about Perception
After a longer stay in Australia where I learned to deeply enjoy the close
presence of magpies and cockatoos, I took the habit, back in Switzerland, to
put pieces of cheese in front of the window to attract the black crows living
in the neighborhood. One of them discovered the new source of food very
quickly and he returns to the window almost every day. When I watch the
crow outside the window I am perceptually aware of it and I have, in some
sense, direct access through the senses to that beautiful animal.
Suppose that after having worked through several nights in order to
finish this paper I take a drug with the intention to enhance my concentration
on the topic of perception and that the drug has, unbeknownst to me,
psychedelic side effects. It might then happen that during my work I look out
of the window and seem to see a crow approaching the window, hesitating in
the air before landing and finally picking up the pieces of cheesealthough
in reality no crow has yet discovered the cheese on that particular morning.
The two experiences, seeing a crow and hallucinating a crow are, or so
we may suppose, phenomenally alike. There is no difference in phenomenal
character, or so I assume, between the experience I have when I actually
see the approaching crow and the corresponding pseudo-perception which I
have in hallucinating an approaching crow. There is no difference, as I think
one should put the point, with respect to my experiential properties. My
experiential properties are those that characterize the way it is like for me to
see (or to hallucinate) a crow. I have the same relevant experiential properties
in both cases.
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 353
These two kinds of crow experiences can be used to illustrate a puzzle
about perception. In my perception of a crow I am, in some sense, directly
aware of something. I am, for instance, directly aware of a crow approaching
the window. The phenomenal character of my experience is fully determined
by what I am directly aware of in that perception. In general, when we
perceive or pseudo-perceive (I will use the term pseudo-perception for cases
where the subject is the victim of an illusion or a hallucination and takes
the experience to be a genuine perception), the phenomenal character of
the experience is fully determined by what the subject is directly aware of,
or so one might wish to say. But this assumption leads to trouble if we
wish to acknowledge that seeing the crow and hallucinating a crow can
be phenomenally alike. Only in the case of perceiving the crow but not in
hallucinating a crow I am directly aware of a real animal approaching the
window. So there is a difference between these experiences in what I am
directly aware of. It follows, according to the principle just formulated, that
a perception of a crow and a hallucination of a crow cannot be phenomenally
alike after all.
Different views about perception can be characterized by the way they
react to this puzzle. I will propose a simple solution: we have to distinguish
perceptual awareness and phenomenal presence. Phenomenal character is
determined by what is directly present to the subject in the sense of
phenomenal presence. The two experiences are not distinct with respect
to phenomenal presence; they are only distinct with respect to perceptual
awareness.
Perceptual awareness is constituted by causal relations between the
object perceived and what is phenomenally present to the perceiving subject.
Phenomenal presence, by contrast, is not a relation between the subject and
some external object. Phenomenal presence, as I propose to understand it, is
not a relation at all. When we talk about what is phenomenally present to a
subject we thereby describe the subjects intrinsic, non-relational properties;
we do not thereby establish a relation between the subject and something
else.
I propose to accept the notion of phenomenal presence as a fundamental
notion and to understand it in a purely phenomenological way. The notion of
phenomenal presence cannot be avoided, or so I suggest, if we wish to think
clearly about phenomenal consciousness. The notion has general application
and is not restricted to the domain of perceptual experience. The ongoing
debate about whether thinking is a case of phenomenal consciousness is
about what it phenomenally present in thinking. I side with those who
argue that when a thought pops up in ones mind that popping-up itself
is phenomenally present to the subject and the propositional content is, or
can be, phenomenally present to the thinker as well.
2
Other non-perceptual
cases of phenomenal presence are to be found in the phenomenology of
agency. I agree, for example, with those who defend the view that, in acting,
354 Martine Nida-R umelin
we experience ourselves as the causal origin of what happens.
3
Being him-
or herself the causal origin of what happens is phenomenally present to the
agent in acting.
Phenomenal presence characterizes all episodes of phenomenal con-
sciousness. Whenever a subject undergoes a conscious experience something
is phenomenally present to the subject in having the experience.
4
To be a
subject of experience is to have the potential to be phenomenally presented
with something. If this is correct then the notion of phenomenal presence
and what it refers to deserves the closest attention of philosophers interested
in issues about consciousness.
The distinction between phenomenal presence and perceptual awareness
just sketched will raise the suspicion that the view here advocated implies
that we are only indirectly aware of the objects surrounding us. The view
may seem to imply thatin watching the crowI am directly aware only of
what is phenomenally present to me and only indirectly aware of the crow. I
will argue that this is not so. Phenomenal presence correctly understood does
not involve the introduction of an extra level of representations between the
subject and its perceptually accessible environment. The distinction between
phenomenal presence and perceptual awareness is not in conflict with the
intuitive idea of openness to the world through the senses.
5
The view developed in this paper is an attempt to reconcile two basic
ideas: the conviction of what one might call the ontological primacy of
consciousness and the conviction that we have direct access to the world
via the senses. The first element of the view might be briefly described
as follows: the phenomenal character of experience is neither conceptually
nor ontologically reducible to anything more fundamental. Experiential
properties are basic properties of experiencing beings (subjects of experience);
phenomenal presence cannot be reduced to representation in any relational
sense nor can it be conceptually or ontologically reduced in any way suitable
for the philosopher pursuing the so-called naturalistic program concerning
consciousness. Phenomenal presence involves a subject to whom what is
present is present; subjects belong to a specific ontological category different
from the category of material objects. I developed this view in some detail in
other places.
6
The second element the view is supposed to fully endorse is the insight
that we are not looking at the world through a veil of mental images;
we are directly aware of what we perceive, we have direct access to what we
perceive and there is no illusion involved in our impression that we do have
such direct access. I will propose what one may call a subjectivist account of
this idea of perceptual openness to the world. The account may be called
subjectivist since it incorporates the first basic idea sketched above.
Phenomenological arguments play an important role in the philosophy
of perception; nonetheless phenomenological reflection is often done only in
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 355
passing and often superficially with a specific argumentative goal in mind.
It would be fruitful, I believe, for the discussion about perception if more
attention would be given to the question of how and in what language
the phenomenology of perceptual experience can be adequately described.
By proposing and motivating a number of distinctions that appear to me
necessary for an adequate description of perceptual phenomenology, I hope
to contribute to attracting attention to this particularly intriguing area for
phenomenological reflection.
2. Philosophical Presuppositions and Terminology
I start with a few remarks about the terminology used in this paper. The
choice of terminology is partially motivated by the view here adopted about
consciousness. I hope that those who reject that terminology will still be able
to identify, in their own perceptual phenomenology, those aspects I will be
trying to draw attention to.
Every experiencing subject when awake or dreaming is in a state with
some overall phenomenology. A subjects overall present phenomenology
consists in being phenomenally presented with a complex, rich and constantly
changing totality through perceiving or pseudo-perceiving, imagining, think-
ing, being active, remembering, etc. We can focus on elements in that totality.
A subject can focus, for instance, on the element phenomenally present to
it in a visual experience of a tree with moving leaves at a certain apparent
distance, or on the element present when the subject vividly remembers a
childhood episode. The common metaphor of a stream of consciousness
involving elements flowing by is not a bad metaphor. One should, however,
keep in mind that the stream stands for what is phenomenally present to the
subject and that the subject is not just a passive observer but that it is rather
actively involved. The subject is not part of the stream nor is the subject the
whole stream, the subject is the one to whom the stream occurs.
Conscious experience, quite generally, has the structure of something
being given to a subject. But this structure is not to be understood in the
sense of a relation between the subject and something else, or so I propose.
The subjects being presented with a stream of consciousness should be
understood as a succession of instantiations of non-relational experiential
properties by the subject. I hereby presuppose the following understanding of
experiential properties: a property is an experiential property of a subject if
and only if its instantiation in a given moment partially constitutes the overall
phenomenology of the subjects state in that moment. Talking of experiential
properties of subjects replaces, in the terminology here proposed, talking of
phenomenal properties of experiences. I thereby wish to avoid the mistaken
perceptual metaphor for phenomenal awareness.
7
356 Martine Nida-R umelin
The inner structure of consciousness which consists in there being a
subject and something phenomenally present to the subject is not to be
interpreted metaphysically: it is not a relation between the subject and some
thing beyond itself. According to this view, we need to combine the following
insights: (a) in being phenomenally conscious we exhibit a basic form of
intentionality: something is phenomenally present; (b) to be in that way
phenomenally conscious is not to stand in a relation to some entity; it is to
instantiate an intrinsic, non-relational property.
It will sometimes be convenient to have a name for the totality of what is
phenomenally given to a subject. I will use the term the experiential quasi-
object: experiential is intended to remind us of what is given is given in
experience (that is it is phenomenally given), object is intended to remind
us of the general subject-object-structure of phenomenal consciousness just
alluded to and quasi is used to stress that there is no entity or genuine
object involved. To say that there is no genuine object or entity involved is
to claim that we should not accept the experiential quasi-object as a further
piece of reality over and above material objects and experiencing beings. We
should not commit ourselves to the existence of experiential quasi-objects.
The subject is phenomenally presented with a rich, complex and constantly
changing experiential quasi-object, but the subject is not thereby related to
some thing. The totality of what is phenomenally present to a subject is not an
object in the sense of being an entity which needs to be recognized as a further
piece of reality. Nor should any element of that totality be so recognized.
Furthermore, talking of elements of that totality must be understood
as a metaphor. I do not mean to imply that these elements are parts of
the experiential quasi-object in any literal sense. The only way to grasp the
locution of elements in the relevant sense is to understand it, on the basis
of examples, as a purely phenomenological notion. Using the notion to
describe phenomenology does not involve any ontological commitment to
these elements.
Elements of the experiential quasi-object are not sense data in the
sense in which they are postulated by the sense datum theory as usually
understood: they are not entities and, in the case of perception, they do not
have the properties things appear to have in the perceptual experience at
issue. One may pick out an element of a subjects experiential quasi-object
saying that the subject is phenomenally presented with a black, cheese-
eating crow. In being presented with that element the subject is under the
impression of there being, in a certain location, an animal which is black
and eating cheese. Obviously, the relevant element of the experiential quasi-
object is neither black nor is it eating cheese. It is not an entity and therefore
incapable of instantiating properties. Nor is the subject under the impression
that an element of what is phenomenally present to it is black or is eating
cheese. We are not under the impression that elements of our stream of
consciousness are black or eating cheese.
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 357
Some seem to be attracted by the following idea: in visual experience
we are presented with certain items (e.g., with a black crow) and these
items can turn out to be real things (as when the subject discovers that it is
genuinely perceiving).
8
This is not the view I will advocate. Even in genuine
perception we are phenomenally presented with elements of the experiential
quasi-object and even in that case these elements are not pieces of reality.
We can distinguish different kinds of such elements. Some of them come
with the impression of there being something independent of ones own
experience and to which one appears to have direct access through the senses
(e.g., in hallucinating a crow); some such elements do not come with the
appearance of reality but nonetheless with the impression of being presented
with countable individuals (like in afterimage experience or when presented
with red points with the eyes closed). As underlined above, it is a mistake
to reify these elements. Still, we can quasi-refer to them (see section 3) and
we can talk about them in the description of how it is to be phenomenally
presented with them.
3. Quasi-reference
Example 1: Seeing a Red Ball
Looking at a red ball, we are under the impression that the ball has a certain
surface property: it appears to be red. The redness of the ball appears to be there
out there on the surface of the object and the one who looks at the ball is under
the impression of being directly presented with that property of the surface.
The following descriptions are adequate according to the way I understand
phenomenal presence. A red ball is phenomenally present to the subject. The
color of the ball, redness, is phenomenally present to the subject. The color of
the ball being a property of the object perceived is phenomenally present to the
subject. Furthermore, the subject appears to have direct visual access to the color
of the ball, so we can say: it is phenomenally present to the subject that he or
she has direct access to the balls color simply by looking.
The property attributed saying the person is phenomenally presented
with a red ball is a property the perceiver shares with the person who
undergoes a corresponding hallucination. According to a common version
of disjunctivism, the person hallucinating a red ball and the person seeing a
red ball have the following common feature: they both have an experience
which is indistinguishable for the subject from a genuine perception of a red
ball. This claim is undoubtedly correct. One should, however, disagree if the
disjunctivist makes the further claim that this is the only relevant property
they share. If hallucinating a red ball is indistinguishable for the person
concerned from perceiving a red ball in a given case, then this is due to
358 Martine Nida-R umelin
the fact that the hallucinating person shares a complex set of experiential
properties with the one who genuinely perceives a ball: both are under the
impression that there is a ball with the surface property of being red, both
are under the impression that the ball is a piece of reality which exists
independently of their experience, both are under the impression of having
direct visual access, to that object. According to the view here adopted,
having these properties is to instantiate substantial non-relational intrinsic
properties.
9
The description
(S1) A red ball is phenomenally present to the subject s.
is meant to describe a common feature of people who perceive a red ball
and people who only hallucinate a red ball. Therefore (S1), as it is here
intended, does not state a relation of being conscious or aware of a real ball;
this relational interpretation, since it is true only of the case of a genuine
perception, could not capture the common feature at issue. (S1) attributes
an experiential property to the subject s which is shared by people who seem
to see a red ball. It follows that (S1) does not have the logical structure
it appears to have. A red ball is not used to refer to an object of which
the sentence then would say that it is related in a particular way to the
subject s.
But this raises a question. If a red ball in (S1) has no referential
function, how should we then understand its semantic role? The intentionalist
has an answer that may appear to be in agreement with the view I am
trying to articulate. The intentionalist might propose to paraphrase (S1)
by (S1)
10
:
(S1) It is phenomenally present to the subject s that there is an object which is
a ball and which is red.
I agree that (S1) implies (S1). But something is lost in the transition
from (S1) to (S1), or so I would like to insist. The hallucinating and the
perceiving person are both presented with a concretum, as one might try to
put the point. (S1) does not appear to capture this common feature. Maybe
this is a way to put what I have in mind: (S1), if true of a person, is made true
by something that (S1) but not (S1) explicitly mentions: it is made true by a
certain specific element of the experiential quasi-object, an element which is
present to the mind in the visual phenomenology of the person concerned.
The person can attend to that concrete element by visually attending to a
particular part of its visual field. One may describe the semantic function of
a red ball in (S1) as follows: it has the function to pick out the particular
element in the experiential quasi-object which is responsible for the truth
of the whole sentence and it is used to specify the experiential property
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 359
attributed by the whole sentence. A red ball, according to this proposal,
has a double function: it contributes to the meaning of the whole sentence
by specifying the experiential property which is attributed and it quasi-refers
(picks out) the element in what is given to the subject which makes it the
case that the whole sentence is correct (if it is correct).
Quasi-reference is not genuine reference since reference requires a
referent. But quasi-reference has features in common with genuine reference.
A first common feature might be described along the following lines. When
an existentially quantified sentence There is an x such that Fx is true then
there is an individual which renders the sentence true by having property F;
in many cases we can refer to such an individual. In a somewhat analogous
manner, we quasi-refer in (S1) to the element in the experiential object which
makes it the case (S1) is true. This similarity between reference and quasi-
reference sheds some light on the earlier issue about the difference between
(S1) and (S1). The difference cannot be brought out by finding a case
where (S1) but not (S1) applies since (S1) can only be rendered true by the
presence of some concrete element in the experiential quasi-object which is
quasi-referred to by a red ball in sentence (S1).
A second similarity between reference and quasi-reference has to do with
demonstrative thought. When a person who hallucinates a red ball and knows
that she does thinks or talks about her experience, she can use a sentence
like (S1) (A red ball is phenomenally present to me) in order to describe
the phenomenology of her hallucination. She then quasi-refers to a specific
element of the totality of what is phenomenally present to her using A red
ball; she refers to an element she can visually attend to. This is similar
to the case where a person refers demonstratively to a perceptually given
red ball. She thereby refers to a real ball to which she can visually attend.
(I will come back to issues about attending and demonstrative reference in
section 9).
An account of the semantics of sentences like (S1) would have to avoid
a number of dangers and solve tricky problems. Although a red ball is
used to quasi-refer to a specific phenomenological element, as one might
say, it does not say of that element that it is red or that it is a ball. Nor
does it say of that element that it appears to the subject to be red or to be
a ball for the same reasons mentioned earlier with respect to the example
of perceiving or pseudo-perceiving a cheese-eating black crow. The account
must do duty to the idea that the role of the red ball is the same when
(S1) is used to describe a pseudo-perception as when it is used to describe a
perception. In both cases the expression quasi-refers. This is to say, to repeat
a point made earlier, that the expression a red ball in (S1) does not refer
to something which might turn out to be a real red ball. It quasi-refers to
an element in what is phenomenally given to the subject and does not refer
to a real thingregardless of whether we use the sentence to talk about a
perception or a pseudo-perception or a dream.
11
360 Martine Nida-R umelin
4. A Note on Natural Language
Sometimes it is necessary in philosophy to depart from natural language.
When one tries to think clearly and talk precisely about phenomenal presence
one quickly arrives at such a point. It is hard or impossible to unambiguously
paraphrase (S1) when one limits oneself to the tools of natural language. One
might try, for instance, the following paraphrase:
(P1) It appears to s that there is a red ball in front of her.
Contrary to (S1), however, there is no quasi-reference to a concrete ele-
ment in the experiential quasi-object involved. (P1) is better as a paraphrase
of (S1) than as a paraphrase of (S1). In order to capture the concreteness of
what is given in the experience one might think of a different paraphrase:
(P2) There is an object which appears to s to be a red ball.
Obviously, (P2) is incompatible with the present account of phenomenal
presence since it presupposes an existing object that the subject is related to.
To avoid this flaw one might put the concreteness of the object within what
appears to be the case:
(P3) It appears to s that there is a real object which appears to be a ball and
which appears to be red.
But (P3) is in no way better than (P1) as a paraphrase of (S1). The
concreteness of phenomenal presence, in particular the concreteness of
object-like individuals in phenomenal presence, must not be confused with
the appearance of reality (see section 4). To see this one might think of a
case of lucid dreaming where the person is aware of dreaming and where this
awareness enters the phenomenal character (the whole scene is experienced
as unreal). The person is not under the impression, in that case, that there is
a real object but still (S1) may be true of her. One might think that it helps
to talk of apparent objects and their apparent properties. One might then
propose something like this:
(P4) S is confronted with an apparent ball that has the apparent property of
being red.
The main problem with this reformulation (which is of course quite
remote from natural language anyway) is that the apparent property of
being red is treated as if it was a property of the apparent ball. But, as stressed
earlier, there are no apparent balls capable of instantiating properties and
the subject satisfying (S1) is not under the impression either that some such
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 361
object (an apparent ball) is red. It might be objected that (S1) raises the same
kind of problems. The answer is that (S1) introduces technical terminology
which then can be protected against possible misunderstandings by explicitly
addressing them (in the way started in the preceding section).
4. Appearance of Reality
In a natural understanding of (S1) the subject is phenomenally presented
with a real object. To say this involves attributing to the subject the
impression that there is a real ball; it is not to say that the subject is related
via phenomenal presenceto a real ball. Assertions of phenomenal presence
are made true, not by a relation between subjects and objects, but by non-
relational properties of the subject; this is so independently of whether the
experience at issue is a case of perception or pseudo-perception. The locution
(S2) A real ball is phenomenally present to the subject (the subject is phenome-
nally presented with a real ball)
is not declared unacceptable or false, according to the proposal here pre-
sented. Rather (S2) is interpreted as a purely phenomenological description.
In perceiving or pseudo-perceiving we are under the impression of being
presented with real objects in the space around us, with objects that exist
independently of our perceptual experience. On a natural reading of (S2),
and according to the reading here proposed, the adjective real in (S2) has
the function of attributing to the subject the impression of there being a
real object which exists independently of its experience.
12
The appearance of
reality need not disappear when a hallucinating person realizes that she is
hallucinating.
5. The Appearance of Unreality
Example 2: Afterimages
When you look for a while into a red light and then look at a white wall you will
see a green shiny patch which changes position depending on the movements of
your head and eyes. These afterimages are at an apparent distance in a funny
way: they are located in some sensethey are located in a specific area in
the visual field with a specified distance from the perceiveryet, they do not
appear to be in a specific spatial location. They do not appear to be actually
there, out in ones environment, nor do they appear to be in any internal space;
no such internal space is phenomenally present to the perceiver. Afterimages
have an apparent location without appearing to be in space. Afterimages do
not appear to actually be anywhere. They are experienced as something which is
only apparent; they are experienced as unreal.
13
362 Martine Nida-R umelin
In an afterimage experience the subject is visually aware of the fact that
she is not seeing something flexibly attached to the wall and moving on
its surface. The afterimage, as one may say, is presented as unreal in the
visual experience of the person concerned. One might propose the following
formulation in an attempt to capture that specific feature of the afterimage
experience.
(S3) The afterimages being unreal is phenomenally present to the subject.
(S3) picks out a specific element of the subjects experiential quasi-
object (the element the person herself could quasi-refer to in a demonstrative
thought about the afterimage) and makes a statement about that elements
contribution to the overall phenomenology of the person. (S3) affirms that
the person is under the impression that there is nothing real out there that she
is perceptually related to in having the afterimage experience. According to
(S3) the afterimages unreality is positively present in the experience.
14
6. Veridicality Conditions for the Appearance of Unreality: A Problem
for Intentionalism
The appearance of unreality is not limited to extravagant cases like
afterimages. It occurs in everyday experiences such as seeing red points with
ones eyes closed. Some intentionalist philosophers hold that phenomenal
character is exhausted by veridicality conditions (plus, possibly, the phenom-
enal character associated with the mode of representation). I would like to
consider a rather weak consequence of this view and argue that even this
weak consequence has trouble in accounting for experiences which include
the appearance of reality. The weak intentionalist claim I wish to consider
is this: all differences in phenomenal character within a given modality (e.g.,
vision) are differences with respect to representational content specifiable in
terms of veridicality conditions. This weak claim is false if there are visual
experiences with a specific phenomenal character that cannot be specified by
their veridicality conditions. Plausibly the after-image case is an example.
The reason is quite obvious: there simply are no conditions under which
an afterimage experience would be veridical. The person is phenomenally
presented with a red patch moving in front of the wall in a specific manner
and, in the very same experience, that patch is presented as unreal. There
is no possible situation in which that visual experience is veridical since the
experience itself contains the impression that what is experienced is, so to
speak, not realized in the surrounding world. I note this difficulty for a weak
intentionalist claim only in passing. To make this argument convincing I
would have to elaborate its details and reject a number of possible replies.
(There is no room to do this in the present paper.)
15
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 363
7. Object-likeness and Appearance of Reality
In some sense, elements present in the totality of what is given to a subject
can be object-like even when there is no appearance of reality involved. This
can be illustrated, again, by afterimages and red points visually experienced
with the eyes closed. In these experiences afterimages (or red points) can
be counted; they have, in a sense, a location although they do not appear
to be genuinely localized; they can change their position relative to one
another. Furthermore, in the way they are phenomenally presented, they
have an astonishing concreteness and an apparent individuality. We may
say, for instance, quasi-referring to red points visually experienced with the
eyes closed that the first one just disappeared while the second is now moving
in circles around the third. This makes it clear that, in a sense, identity over
time is attributed in experience to these items. Let us say that an element
of the experiential quasi-object is object-like when it is associated with these
aspects: apparent location (sometimes without apparent real location),
apparent identity across time (sometimes without apparent real existence
across time) and being countable (sometimes without the impression that
there really is something to be counted). As the two examples used show,
object-likeness does not include the appearance of reality.
The opposite direction should not be assumed as obvious either. Ar-
guably, melodies and smells are experienced as existing independently of
ones own experience but they do not fulfill the criteria for object-likeness, or
so I tend to think. The direction of the origin of a smell (the basil plant, for
instance) and the direction of the violin used to play the melody may well
be phenomenally present, but this is not to say that the smell or the melody
itself appears localized. Both are experienced as located around the subject;
but this is not the kind of experienced location relevant for object-likeness.
Smells and melodies are not countable in a way analogous to the one in which
afterimages are. Smells may be experienced as remaining here over time; but
this is not to be confused with experiencing them as persisting through time
in the sense in which an individual is experienced as numerically identical to
itself across time. Similar remarks apply to melodies. (Melodies might be said
to be experienced as extended in time, but this is different from experiencing
them as existing, identically to themselves, over time.)
16
8. Objections from Demonstrative Thought and Attention
It may seem that the view proposed has unacceptable consequences
related to demonstrative thought. Suppose that in hallucinating a crow I
entertain the thought this crow is looking for cheese and suppose that,
on a different occasion, while actually seeing the crow, I entertain, once
again, the demonstrative thought this crow is looking for cheese. The view
364 Martine Nida-R umelin
proposed may appear to imply that I quasi-refer on both occasions to the
common element in both experiences: to the relevant item in the experiential
object. But this would be a reductio ad absurdum. Obviously, when I perceive
the crow, my demonstrative thought is about the real crow.
My answer to this objection takes into account the fact that the referent
of demonstrative thought depends on the thinkers intention. Both subjects
intend to refer to the real crow which they appear to see. In the case of
the perception, there is a real crow and the act of demonstrative reference
succeeds. In the case of the hallucination there is no such real animal and
the thinker fails to refer to anything in his or her demonstrative thought.
Both can of course also intend to only describe how things appear; in this
case they both quasi-refer to the relevant item in their respective experiential
object. The view here proposed is perfectly compatible with this assessment
of demonstrative reference in perception and pseudo-perception. So the
challenge can be met quite easily.
It might however be suspected that the view proposed has a similar
but more serious problem with the object of attention. It is impossible to
successfully turn your attention upon a non-existent object, or so someone
may argue. Therefore, so the objection continues, either you must accept that
we cannot turn our attention towards an element in the experiential object
or you must accept that the elements in the experiential object have to be
accepted as genuine entities.
In response to this objection I deny its central premise. We can correctly
say of a person that she is directing her attention to red points seen with
closed eyes without thereby being committed to introducing these points into
our ontology.
But the opponent may now take a different line of thought still related to
the topic of attention. A commonly recognized flaw of the sense datum theory
is its commitment to something between the subject and the perceived
object. The present view, so the opponent might argue, has a similar
consequence. When Hans, a person who hallucinates a raven, and Peter,
a person who perceives a raven, both attend to the raven which appears to be
there, then, according to the view presented, they both attend to an element
in their experiential object. Peter thereby also attends to the real raven. But
his act of attention is indirect: he attends to the real raven only by attending
to the element in his experiential object.
The answer, I think, must be this: Peter attends to two objects. He
attends to a pseudo-object (the element in his experiential object) and he
attends to the raven. But this does not make his attention to the raven indirect.
Peter attends to the raven by attending to a specific aspect of his overall
phenomenology (by attending to the relevant element in his experiential
object) and he attends to that element by attending to the raven. In normal
cases, these two acts of attention are even one and the same. If X is an
element in the experiential object and Y is a real object, then S attends to
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 365
X and S attends to Y can describe one and the same act of attention
(they can be made true by the same act of the subject).
17
9. The Appearance of Having Direct Access through the Senses
Example 3: Feeling the Position of Ones Legs
I once had to undergo an operation of my left leg with local anesthesia. I was
awake during the whole operation. Due to the effect of the anesthesia I felt no
pain and could not move my legs. I could hear but not see what was going on. At
some point I realized that I felt the position of my legs. I felt my left leg turned
to the right side and lying heavily on the other leg. I wondered about how this
was possible despite the effect of the anesthesia. I asked a friendly young lady
assisting in the operation and sitting next to me for an explanation. She answered
very kindly in the following way: You do not actually feel the position of your
legs. It only appears to you that way. We learned in medical school that the brain
retains the last information it gets before the onset of the anesthesia.Your legs
have been moved since then. I had no reason to doubt what she said but I was
deeply puzzled. I seemed to directly feel the position of my whole body but, as
I just learned, that impression was illusory.
In imagining the relevant features of this situation you must just focus
on your proprioceptive experience of the position of your limbs and try
to imagine that you learn by a reliable source that their actual position
is radically different. This exercise might make you realize how hard it
is to believe that one is wrong about the position of ones own body
in proprioception. It is almost as if one experiences oneself as infallible
with respect to proprioception. When focusing with ones eyes closed on
the position of ones own body the position of ones limbs appears to
be so directly available that an illusion appears to be an absurd idea.
However, as the example shows and as one should have expected anyway,
misrepresentation is, of course, not excluded.
Based on the example and further reflection on how it is to feel ones
body via this inner sense, one can realize that a phenomenologically
adequate description of proprioception must mention this impression of
direct access. In feeling the position of ones arm as lying above the head in
a particular way when one wakes up in the morning one is phenomenally
presented with a specific position of that arm; in addition, one is presented
with something else: one appears to have, in that experience, direct access
to the position of ones arm and that additional impression is part, or so
I claim, of the experience itself. That additional aspect of proprioceptive
experiences can easily go unnoticed. Proprioception in adult humans never
comes without that impression of having direct access; therefore, we cannot
366 Martine Nida-R umelin
discover the aspect by contrasting experiences having it with experiences
lacking it. One way to become acutely aware of being under the impression
of having direct access is to undergo a proprioceptive experience, as in
example 4, of which one knows while having it that it misrepresents. What
was puzzling for me in the situation reported was not so much the fact in
itself that my legs were in a position other than I thought on the basis of my
feeling. What was so puzzling or even bewildering was to learn thatdespite
the clear appearance of having direct access to the position of my bodyI
actually did not have direct access to the position of a great part of my
body.
I have been using the example in order to pick out a specific aspect
of proprioceptive experience. If I succeeded in doing so then the reader
will be able to focus on that aspect in his or her own proprioceptive
experience. Describing the experience as an impression of direct access is
to introduce a name which captures quite well its phenomenal character by
characterizing in a preliminary manner what appears to be the case in being
under the impression at issue. But the characterization is only preliminary.
Once this particular aspect of the phenomenology of proprioception has
been identified one may further reflect upon how what appears to be the
case in that impression of direct access can be more fully and more precisely
captured. Theoretical considerations can enter in that process of finding an
adequate description of the corresponding veridicality conditions.
18
It is part
of the impression of direct access that we seem to be able to track the
position of our own bodywhere to be able to track ones bodily position
includes that the way we appear to be positioned is due to the way we are
positioned. Understood in that way, a specific counterfactual dependence
(of how our position appears to be in proprioception on how the body
actually is positioned) is essential to having direct access to ones bodily
position in proprioception. To say that we are under the impression of having
direct access to the position of our limbs in proprioception then amounts to
something like this: we are under the impression that any relevant change in
our actual bodily position would result in our noticing that change; should
such a change occur then the change would be phenomenally present to us.
The appearance of direct access, or so I suggest, is present in other
modalities of perception as well and, arguably, it is an essential feature of
what it is to perceive.
19
In visual perception we appear to have direct access
to the things around us. This includes the impression that we are sensible
in an appropriate way to relevant changes. When a subject puts its hand
into water and perceives its temperature as warm, then it is part of that
experience, or so I would like to suggest, that the experience would change
if the water were to change with respect to the property thus felt. Arguably
this is so at least in the human case. In mature human visual experience,
visual perceptions appear to provide access to the colors, forms and position
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 367
of things and many other properties. When I see a crow in front of the
window, I am, for instance, under the impression that I would notice the
change if the crow where to turn white (that the color phenomenally present
to me would change accordingly); and I am under the impression that I
would be phenomenally aware of a crow flying away if the crow were to fly
away.
As example 4 illustrates, the impression of direct access can be illusory.
It was impossible for me to free myself from the impression of having direct
access to the position of my legs in proprioception during the operation.
Yet the impression of direct access was an illusion and I even knew that it
was; I was not in a position to track the position of that part of my body
via proprioception. Under normal circumstances the impression of having
direct access to the things around us through vision, for instance, is largely
veridical: we can track an immense amount of properties of things through
vision; we are visually sensible to the relevant changes and being so sensible
is precisely what appears to be the case in the impression of having direct
access. The properties we can visually track go far beyond colors, forms and
spatial relations. We can, for instance, visually track finest emotions in the
faces of other humans. We are often under the impression of having direct
access to what another person feels looking into her face. Arguably, this
impression is, in most cases, veridical.
20
I will come back to the impression
of having direct access in section 14 below.
10. Phenomenal Presence of Qualia
The following is a clear example of phenomenal presence of a quale in
the way in which I will use the term:
Example 4:
There is a picture painted by Karl-Theodor Piloty in 1855 entitled Seni vor dem
Leichnam des Wallenstein (Moderne Pinakothek, Munich) in which you can see
a huge golden tissue when you look at it from a certain distance. The picture has
a horrible theme and if your art taste is similar to mine then you will not like it.
The picture is, however, interesting: when you approach it you will detect that the
painter hasnt used a single golden pigment in order to produce the impression
of gold. All there is on its surface are patches of brown, orange, yellow and
white. Yet, when you go back a few steps, shining gold will be phenomenally
present to you (and no orange, yellow, brown or white).
21
This example renders the notion of being presented with a quality quite
clear, even clearer, I believe, than ordinary color perception. But any color
368 Martine Nida-R umelin
experience is an example of being presented with a quale; further examples
are being phenomenally presented with a melody, a sound, a smell or a taste.
(I use gold and golden in what follows as color terms, no reference to
the chemical substance is intended.)
The term qualia is usually introduced as referring to properties of
experiences which are constitutive of the phenomenal character of the
experience. On the other hand, qualia are usually understood as something
that is directly present to the mindin the way in which colors, smells and
sounds are present in experience. These two characterizations of qualia
as specific properties of experiences on the one hand and as something
directly given in experience on the otherare, however, incompatible. When
looking at Pilotys picture, the color gold is phenomenally present to the
subject. But that color is not thereby a property of the experience (it is not
a property of the event consisting in the subjects experiencing that color).
Nor is gold a property experiences appear to have. When a person sees the
picture she is not thereby confronted with a mental item, an experience,
which appears to be golden; no golden items appear to float inside. The
closest one can get to attributing gold or mental gold or any other
qualitative property to the experience itself is to say that the experience
has the property that having that experience is to be presented with gold.
But any understanding of this complex property of an experience E (to be
such that having E is to be presented with gold) is based on an understanding
of what it is to be phenomenally presented with gold. Therefore, the notion
of a quale as something that can be phenomenally present is conceptually
more fundamental than the notion of qualia as properties of experiences.
Furthermore, the term qualia is not suited for the complex properties
(illustrated above) that might be considered constitutive of phenomenal
character. I therefore reserve the term quale for qualities that can be
phenomenally present in experience. Qualia in this sense are not properties
of experiences.
22
When qualia are understood as those properties of experiences which
constitute phenomenal character then, by definition, there can be no
difference with respect to phenomenal character unless there is a difference
with respect to qualia. But let as ask the corresponding question using the
term qualia in the sense here adopted. Are all differences with respect to
overall phenomenology differences with respect to phenomenal presence of
qualia? If so, then any difference in phenomenal character between subjects
X and Y is either constituted by a quale being phenomenally present to X
which is not phenomenally present to Y or by a different distribution of
qualia over items in the experiential object (e.g., a red square and a blue
circle is phenomenally present to X while a blue square and a red circle
is phenomenally present to Y). The answer, or so I claim, is clearly no. A
great many phenomenal differences do not involve differences with respect to
phenomenal presence of qualia. The following example 6 is a typical case.
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 369
Example 5: Hearing Directions
When you sit on a beach with your eyes closed you might hear a wave breaking
to your left and then hear a wave breaking to your right. You can distinguish
just by listening where the sound comes from. In both cases the sound might
otherwise be exactly alike. But there is a phenomenal difference between the two
cases. It is phenomenally different to hear an otherwise qualitatively identical
sound as coming from the right side as opposed to hearing it as coming from
the left side.
Example 5 illustrates that two experiences can be phenomenally different
(which means that it is different for the subject involved to have the
first as opposed to the second) without any difference with respect to
the presence of qualia. There is no quale (in the sense exemplified by
colors and smells) associated with hearing a sound as coming from a
certain direction. Qualia occur in experiences which present the world in a
certain way to the subject but they are separableat least in thought
from the way the world appears to be in that experience. There is no
quale which is separable from being under the impression that the sound
comes from the left hand side. In the case of a perceptual experience of
gold, for instance, we can isolate the purely qualitative aspect of what
is phenomenally present (the gold). (There are experiences where gold is
phenomenally present and yet nothing appears to be golden.) In the case
of a perceptual experience of a given sound coming from the left, there is
no purely qualitative aspect of hearing it as coming from the left which
could be isolated and then imagined as occurring in an experience where
the subject is not under the impression that the sound comes from the left.
No quality can be separated in thought from being under the impression
that a sound comes from a specific direction. The separation in thought of
a pure quality is impossible, or so I claim, for a simple reason: there is no
such pure quality phenomenally present to the subject when a subject hears
directions in addition to the other qualities of the sound such as pitch and
loudness.
11. The Appearance of Three-dimensionality
There is on-going discussion about whether, in visual perception, the
hidden part of an object is phenomenally present. When I see the red ball
on the grass, am I then phenomenally presented only with the part which is
visually accessible to me or is the rest of the ball also phenomenally present?
It is certainly misleading to say that the hidden part of the balls surface
is phenomenally present. Another description is more adequate: in visual
perception we are phenomenally presented with three-dimensional objects.
370 Martine Nida-R umelin
When, for instance, I see the crow outside the window, I am phenomenally
presented with a three-dimensional crow-body. The phenomenal presence of
the whole crow-body in a given moment is certainly created by the visual
system due to the fact that the experience in that moment belongs to the
experience of a scene in which the crow is moving and I have visual access
from various perspectives to its body.
23
Differences in phenomenal presence of three-dimensional form are
differences in phenomenal character. But again, these differences are not
due to differences in phenomenal presence of qualia. Compare a case where
a person seems to see a whole apple (an object with the three-dimensional
form of a normal apple is phenomenally present) with a case where a person
seems to see one half apple cut into two from a perspective which renders only
the intact surface visible (the three-dimensional form of a half of an apple
is phenomenally present). The two experiences are phenomenally different
but the difference cannot be explained by a difference with respect to the
phenomenal presence of qualia. There is no whole-apple-quale separable in
thought from the impression of there being an object with that particular
form.
Three-dimensional form is sometimes phenomenally present in a highly
specified and distinct manner, and sometimes only vaguely present and quite
unspecified. Phenomenal presence of three-dimensionality in perceptual
experience is hard to deny, and seems quite obvious to me. Lack of
agreement about this point is likely to be due to misunderstandings. Some
may suppose, for instance, that accepting phenomenal presence of three-
dimensional form commits one to accepting qualia of three-dimensionality.
But this supposition is based on the mistaken assumption that there are
no phenomenal differences without a difference in phenomenal presence of
qualia.
12. Interpretations Entering Phenomenal Presence
Under the heading cognitive penetration philosophers of perception
argue about what can enter the content, as they say, of perceptual experience;
the question is about to what extent cognitive elements, or interpretation,
can alter what is present in the perceptual experience itself.
24
I would like to
ask the question (or at least a related question) as follows: to what extent
can interpretation (in a wide sense where interpretation can be the result of
unconscious neural processing but also the more or less voluntary application
of concepts) enter the phenomenal character of perceptual experience via
phenomenal presence? In other words: what properties are such that their
instantiation in an object can be phenomenally present to a subject in
a perceptual experience?
25
Several examples have already been discussed
above: phenomenal presence of three-dimensionality must be due to some
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 371
interpretative work of the perceptual system; the same must be assumed for
the appearance of reality or unreality and for the impression of having direct
access. These interpretations enter the phenomenal character of perception
according to what has been said earlier. Furthermore, interpretation at a
high conceptual level enters the phenomenal character when I see the crow in
front of the window as an experiencing subject with certain intentions (when
the crows being an experiencing subject and its having certain intentions is
phenomenally present to me) or when I see the crow as the one I have met
so many times before (its identity with a crow met earlier is phenomenally
present to me). There is no room in the present paper to defend the view
that these complex interpretations enter what is phenomenally present. Here
I will just briefly comment on example 7 with the aim to thereby further
explain the notion of phenomenal presence.
Example 7: Artificial Trees
In some restaurants a comfortable atmosphere is produced by the presence of
small trees. You might be disappointed when you touch them and when you
thereby discover: these are not trees, they are fake trees made of plastic. You
can see an object as a real tree and then, after having learned that it is not
real, see it as a fake tree. Even when you have learned that the apparent tree is
artificial you might still be able to switch back and forth between seeing it as
a real tree and seeing it as a fake tree. The switch makes a difference in visual
phenomenology, or so I would like to claim. The object looks different to you
according to whether you see it as a real tree or as a plastic object. The difference
is due to a Gestalt switch and need not go along with any change in the way
the object is presented to you with respect to color and form.
There are of course different views one might take about the example.
Some will deny that there is any phenomenal difference involved here
and say that the difference lies in some cognitive element (a thought, for
instance) which does not have any influence on overall phenomenology.
Others may acknowledge that there is a phenomenal difference between the
experience before and after the switch but they will locate the phenomenal
difference in the cognitive element itself (e.g., in having the thought that the
plant is artificial). Still others mightaccepting that there is a phenomenal
differencelocate the phenomenal difference in the way the plant appears
to be with respect to color and shape. They might argue that other details
about color or shape become salient after the switch and insist that this is
what the phenomenal difference consists in.
The view I would like to look at here is different from all these positions.
It does not deny that a phenomenal difference with respect to salience of
details about color and shape may occur with the Gestalt shift. It does
deny, however, that the difference consists in these changes. And it involves
372 Martine Nida-R umelin
the claim that the difference lies in the phenomenology of vision, not in the
phenomenology of some co-occurrent thought. The view may be put like
this: the plants being real is phenomenally present in the visual experience
in the first case and the plants being artificial is phenomenally present
in the visual experience in the second case. According to the view here
presented, an experience with the same phenomenological aspect of being
under the impression of seeing an artificial plant may occur in pseudo-
perception, although, in that case, it is not a result of interpreting visual
informationit then is the result of a free construction achieved by the
brain.
Using the notion of phenomenal presence as it has been introduced in
the preceding sections, I will now (in the sections 13 and 14) sketch a way in
which the intuition of openness to the world can be accounted for within
the present subjectivist framework.
13. Weak Direct Awareness of Features of the World and Weak Transparency
Suppose that, with my eyes closed (but without being aware that they are
closed) I hallucinate >a crow< >in front of the window< which >looks< a
particular way and >behaves in a particular way<.
26
Suppose that by sheer
luck my hallucination is, with respect to the properties of the crow, perfectly
veridical: the crow actually in front of the window is exactly like and behaves
exactly like >the crow< phenomenally present to me in the hallucination.
Obviously, in that case, I only seem to have visual access to a real animal;
with respect to direct access my experience is non-veridical.
But there is a sense in which, despite my lack of access to the relevant
piece of reality, I am directly aware of features of reality. There is a rich variety
of propositions p such that, in this situation, I am phenomenally presented
with p and p is actually the case. I am visually under the impression of there
being a crow which is black and which behaves in a particular way; the crow
appears to be outside in the world, existing independently of my experience
and having those properties independently of my experience; and there is,
out there in reality a crow which is black and which behaves exactly in that
manner. In phenomenal presence what is phenomenally present is directly
before the mind, so to speak: it is directly given to the subject. In the case of
my hallucination >a crow eating cheese outside of the window< is directly
present to me and what is thereby directly present to me is the way things
really are. This is, it seems to me, a first weak sense of direct awareness
of features of the real world that we must recognize. When, in perception,
something appears to be the case which actually is the case, then the subject
concerned is, in a respectable sense, directly aware of features of the world.
With respect to these features, the world is then presented to the subject
exactly as the world actually is; there is a clear intuitive sense in which the
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 373
person is directly aware, in this case, of real features of the world since a true
proposition is directly present to the mind without any mediation.
One might think that the notion of weak direct awareness of features
of the world I am trying to capture here is constituted by phenomenal
presence plus veridicality. But this is not right. Not any kind of phenomenal
presence plus veridicality is enough to constitute, in the relevant intuitive
sense, weak direct awareness. When I sit in my room and simply consider
that the crow might be back and that it might be eating cheese in front of
the window in a moment where this thought is true, I do not have weak
direct awareness of features of the world. The true proposition that a crow
is eating cheese in front of the window is then, in thought, phenomenally
present to me (or so I claim), but there is no temptation to think of this
case as one of direct awareness of real features of the world even in the weak
sense I am aiming at. Only in perception, but not in thought, the subject is
under the impression of reality, under the impression of there being a real
thing out there with certain properties. Phenomenal presence must have this
feature, the appearance of reality, for beingin the case of veridicalityan
instance of weak direct awareness of real features of the world. I assume
that perceptual experiences (perceptions and pseudo-perceptions) and only
perceptual experiences include this aspect. Weak direct awareness can then
be defined as follows:
Definition 1:
A subject has weak direct awareness of the fact that p iff the subject isin having
a perceptual experience (a perception or a pseudo-perception)phenomenally
aware that p and p is the case.
Alternatively one might choose the following definition:
Definition 1:
A subject has weak direct awareness of the fact that p iff the subject isin
having an experience which includes the appearance of realityphenomenally
aware that p and p is the case.
In analogy to these notions of weak direct awareness of facts one might
introduce an equally plausible notion of weak direct awareness of concrete
objects. When I have weak direct awareness of a sufficiently rich class of facts
involving the crow, then I may be said to have weak direct awareness of the
individual involved in these facts, the particular crow. Of course, this is not
374 Martine Nida-R umelin
a case of genuine access via the senses to that particular individual. Genuine
access requires more, as will be discussed in the next section.
I hope the reader will agree, upon reflection on concrete cases, that the
notion so defined deserves its name. The adjective weak is unproblematic:
weak direct awareness need not involve genuine perceptual access; it is not
direct awareness of something in the strong sense of having direct perceptual
access. Nonetheless it is, in a sense, direct. The intuition of directness is
based here on three sources: (a) the proposition is phenomenally present
and so present without any mediation, (b) the proposition is present in the
perceptual way which includes the appearance of reality and (c) what is thus
presented without mediation and involving the appearance of reality typical
for perception is actually true.
Any case of phenomenal presence is one where what is so present is
directly there for the subject. This kind of directness is shared by all cases
of phenomenal presence, independently of whether they involve or do not
involve the appearance of reality, independently of whether they involve or
do not involve object-like items and independently of whether they involve or
do not involve phenomenal presence of qualia. When what is phenomenally
present is, for instance, >a real red ball< in perceptual experience, then
the directness of phenomenal presence is combined with the appearance
of reality. In that case, what is directly present to the mind, without any
mediation, is that there is an experience-independent object out there which
is a ball and which is red (and which has these properties in an experience-
independent way).
When the directness of phenomenal presence is combined with the
appearance of reality, then at least sufficiently sophisticated subjects will
be under the impression of being directly presented with the world through
the experience. A certain aspect of what has been called transparency of
perception in recent literature may be taken to be just this: it is the impression
of being directly presented with how things stand in having the experience
one is presently having.
I propose to distinguish the appearance of reality from this latter
impression, the impression of direct awareness. In the appearance of reality
things appear to be real and appear to really have certain properties. One may
express this appearance of reality adding that things appear to exist and to
have the properties at issue independently of ones own experience. But this
should not be understood as the claim that the appearance of reality contains
a reference to ones own experience. The appearance of realityor rather the
aspect I am trying to focus the readers attention on in using this termis
less sophisticated and might well be present in animals cognitively much less
complex than humans. Being real is attributedin the experienceto things
that appear to be out there and to their instantiation of propertieswithout
reference to the way ones own experience is related to them. Contrary to the
appearance of reality, weak transparencyas I understand the termdoes
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 375
involve reference to ones present experience. It is the impression that, in
having the experience, one is directly aware of how things stand. (It is an
impression that becomes salient only upon reflection.)
Once weak transparency is described in this way (as the impres-
sion of being directly aware of pieces of reality) the question arises
of how being directly aware should be understood in that context.
My proposal is to use definition 1 for that purpose and to under-
stand direct awareness in the sense of weak awareness there defined.
Weak transparency so interpreted is the impression of being phenomenally
presented with some proposition p in a way which involves the appearance of
reality where that p is a fact about reality. Weak transparency so understood
is an aspect of the phenomenology of perception and pseudo-perception.
Weak transparency is veridical when what is phenomenally present in an
experience exhibiting the appearance of reality is actually the case (the
subject is under the impression of being directly aware of a fact and she
is then directly aware of that fact, in the sense of definition 1).
Weak direct awareness of features of the world is veridical phenomenal
presence in perceiving or pseudo-perceiving, orequivalentlyit is veridical
phenomenal presence in an experience which includes the appearance of
reality. To sum up, one might say, simply: one has direct weak awareness of
features of the world when things perceptually appear the way they are
(where perceptually appear does not exclude pseudo-perception). Weak
transparency then is the impression, included in any perception or pseudo-
perception (and veridical in any case of perception), that things appear the
way they are.
14. Direct Perceptual Access and the Appearance of Direct Perceptual Access
Any philosophical view concerning perception must do duty to the
intuition of openness to the world through the senses. Weak direct awareness
as defined above only captures a small part of what must be said about that
openness. An important aspect is still missing in what has been said so far.
As illustrated by various examples above, we are phenomenally presented
with having direct access to the world around us (or, in proprioception,
to the position of our own body). We now need to find an adequate
understanding of direct access such that (a) it is plausible that we are
under the impression of having direct access in this sense in perception and
(b) we actually have direct access in that sense in perception.
In my perception of the crow I actually have direct access to the crow
in the following sense: changes concerning the crow result in changes in
phenomenal presence. When I am under the impression of having direct
access to the crow in the case of perception, my impression is veridical: I
do have that kind of access. The case illustrates a sense of direct access
376 Martine Nida-R umelin
which satisfies both constraints (a) and (b) above. I propose to call this
special relation, this special kind of direct access, which we have to objects
in perception perceptual awareness. One might define the notion along the
following lines:
Definition 2:
A subject s is perceptually aware of an object o in a given situation iff for any
property p of a sufficiently rich class of properties the following holds: (a) os
having p is phenomenally present to s; (b) the fact that (a) is caused, in the manner
typical for perception, by os having p; and (c) relevant changes concerning o with
respect to this class of properties would lead in that situationby the normal
causal process characteristic of genuine cases of perceptionto corresponding
changes in what would then be phenomenally present to s. (In other words, the
following holds for a sufficiently rich set of properties: would the object cease
to have property p then the subject woulddue to that change and as a causal
consequence of that changecease to be under the impression that there is an
object there having property p).
27
This is only a first sketch of a definition of perceptual awareness which
needs further elaboration. But the basic idea, I hope, is clear enough for the
present purposes. Perceptual awareness provides direct access to objects; it
captures a further aspect of our openness to the world.
Perceptual access would not be an intuitively satisfying account of an
important aspect of openness to the world through the senses if it wasnt
defined in terms of phenomenal presence. Phenomenal presence combined
with the appearance of reality and veridicality constitutes a weak but
important sense of direct awareness of features of the world. Perceptual
access guarantees that we are in genuine contact with the world in normal
cases where we have and appear to have weak direct awareness of pieces of
reality. It is only on the basis of the kind of directness provided by weak
direct awareness (which includes the directness characteristic of phenomenal
presence) that perceptual access deserves being regarded as direct access to
the world through the senses.
Weak direct awareness and weak transparency can be present and weak
transparency can be veridical in the absence of perceptual awareness; this
may happen even in a case of perception. If my description of the fake
tree example is accepted, then it can be used to illustrate the claim: after
the switch, the objects being a fake tree is phenomenally present to the
subject and the experience involves the appearance of reality. Let us assume
that the object is a fake tree. Then the subject has direct weak awareness
of the trees being fake. Furthermore, the aspect of weak transparency may
well be present: the subject may be under the impression of being directly
aware of the trees being fake, and this impression is veridical according to
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 377
definition 1. However, it may well be that the subject is incapable of making
the difference, just by looking, between real and artificial trees. If the tree,
by magic, were replaced by a genuine tree, the subject would not notice the
difference, or so we may assume. In that case, the subject is not perceptually
aware of the trees being a fake tree.
It is psychologically plausible to assume that weak transparency nor-
mally goes along with what one may call strong transparency: the impression
of being perceptually aware of the relevant item in the sense of (b) and (c)
in definition 2. In the fake tree case it is quite possible that the subject is,
in addition to weak transparency, under the impression of having perceptual
access (in that sense) to the trees being fake. If so, her experience exhibits
strong transparency but that impression is non-veridical.
15. Full Direct Awareness or Openness to the World
All elements required for the account of openness to the world through
the senses which I would like to propose are now in place. In a normal
perception, e.g., when I observe the black crow eating cheese in front of
the window, I am phenomenally presented with there being a black crow
eating cheese and the experience comes with the appearance of reality: the
crow appears to be outside in the external, objective world and to have
the relevant properties independently of my experience. Furthermore, my
impression that there is a black crow eating cheese is veridical. So, I have weak
direct awareness of the crow and a number of facts about it. I also appear
to have that weak direct access: my experience exhibits weak transparency.
Furthermore, I am perceptually aware of the crow; I am in a position to track
relevant changes of the crow by looking at the crow; and I am under the
impression of having that access: my experience exhibits strong transparency.
When all this is trueveridical phenomenal presence plus the appearance
of reality plus veridicality plus weak transparency plus perceptual access
plus strong transparencythen the subject has full direct awareness of the
relevant object or fact. This is my account of openness to the world through
the senses: it consists in having direct access to a rich variety of objects and
facts about the world by being fully directly aware of them.
16. A Puzzle about Perception Revisited
To conclude I would like to come back to the puzzle with which I started:
Three initially plausible statements taken together lead into contradiction:
(1) The phenomenal character of perception is determined by what one
is directly aware of in perception.
378 Martine Nida-R umelin
(2) The phenomenal character of a perception and its corresponding
pseudo-perception is the same.
(3) In perception but not in pseudo-perception we are directly aware of
the perceived real objects (or of a fact).
The view here proposed solves the problem by distinguishing different
senses of being directly aware of something in perception: phenomenal
presence, weak direct awareness and perceptual awareness. The phenomenal
character of perceptual experiences is determined by what is phenomenally
present to the subject. So direct awareness in (1) must be read, according
to the view here proposed, in the sense of phenomenal presence. (1) is false if
direct awareness is understood either as weak direct awareness (definition 1)
or as perceptual awareness (definition 2). By contrast, (3) cannot be accepted
when direct awareness is read as phenomenal presence. No piece of reality is
phenomenally present, either in perception or in pseudo-perception. But (3) is
true when direct awareness is read as perceptual awareness. The problem
is thereby solved since no contradiction arises when direct awareness is
interpreted differently in (1) and (3).
The view here presented about perception is characterized by taking
phenomenal presence as basic. It shares with the sense datum theory its
emphasis on what is present in phenomenology while avoiding its well-known
errors, in particular the error of introducing entities which have the properties
objects appear to have in perception. It avoids, furthermore, the unwelcome
result that perception is indirect awareness of objects and facts. The view
here proposed shares with disjunctivism the idea that direct causal contact
is essential for direct awareness of perceptual objects. But it avoids the main
flaw of disjunctivism which consists in missing the substantial commonality
between genuine perception and pseudo-perception. The view shares with
intentionalism the basic idea that, at least in many cases, having a perceptual
or pseudo-perceptual experience with a given phenomenal character consists
in being under the impressionin a particular waythat such-and-such is
the case. It insists, however, that not all aspects of the phenomenal character
of perception can be captured in this manner. It rejects every version of
intentionalism which involves the claim that phenomenal presence can be
ontologically reduced to some relation satisfying the constraints a genuine
physicalist will impose. The view, furthermore, endorses the idea that what
has been called quasi-reference is necessary for an adequate description of
phenomenal presence.
The view presented in this paper contains a description of some basic
ideas for a solution to the so-called problem of perception. It would, however,
be ridiculous to pretend having presented a new and genuine solution given
the difficulty and the depth of the problem of perception and the enormous
effort past and present philosophers have invested in solving the problem. I
hope, however, that I succeeded in a much more modest enterprise. I hope
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 379
I will convince some readers that there is a further option which has not
been sufficiently thought through in the discussion about perception and
which incorporates elements in a coherent manner that may appear to be
in irresolvable tension at first sight: the subjectivist approach which takes
what is phenomenally given to the subject (understood in a non-relational
manner) as basic and the full acceptance of the intuition that we have direct
access through the senses to a mind-independent world.
Notes
1. The research in preparation of this paper is part of the project PDM-118610
funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Many elements of the view
here presented developed in exchange with my collaborator in the project,
Fabrice Theler about transparency and representationalism. The main ideas
here presented became clearer during the fruitful exchange in the worskop
on phenomenal presence (Fribourg, June 2010, organized by Fabrice Theler,
Fabian Dorsch, Fiona McPherson and me) which was part of that project.
I would like to thank all the participants in that workshop for the intense,
focussed and stimulting discussion. In developing my views about phenomenal
presence regular meetings with Laura Schr oter during her stay in Fribourg in
2007 (within a research project funded by the SNF) and with Daniel Stoljar
during my sabbatical in Canberra in 2009 were of great help. In the last few
months I profited enormously from the feedback received by the participants
in my two seminars on perception in Fribourg in spring 2011; I would like to
thank all the students who contributed to the discussion. I specifically remember
critical remarks that helped me a lot to articulate the view by Emmanuel Baierl e,
Benjamin Oswald, Julien Bugnon, Patrik Engisch, Josua Maurer and Benot
Pittet. Philosophical conversations with Coralie Dorsaz and Jacob Naito had
a lot of influence in finding a way to express the view here presented. I would
like to thank my colleague Gianfranco Soldati whose contributions in several
workshops and seminars in Fribourg helped me to clearly see the problem of
perception. I have to mention that the subjectivist approach to the problem of
perception here proposed has developed over many years in continous exchange
with my partner, the philosopher Max Dr ommer. I here give voice to ideas
present in the chapter Sinnesdaten of his book Philosophische Skizzen
(unpublished manuscript).
2. Compare Charles Siewert, 1999, chapter 8 for an illuminating discussion of these
issues and forceful arguments in favor of so-called cognitive phenomenology.
3. Compare Terrence Horgan, 2011, and for a view including doings which are not
actions M. Nida-R umelin, 2007a.
4. I do not wish to thereby imply that self-awareness is an instance of phenomenal
consciousness (which I take to be false). Arguably, however, self-awareness is
present only in episodes of phenomenal concsiousness.
5. Compare Tim Crane 2005/2011.
6. Compare in particular M. Nida-R umelin, 2006, 2007a, 2008a, 2001.
380 Martine Nida-R umelin
7. The perceptual metaphor involves thinking of phenomenal awareness in the
following way: in having an experience with a certain phenomenal character
we are presented with an event, an experience, and that event is presented as
having some qualitative property. This metaphor is so obviously misleading
that it cannot be assumed to be seriously adopted by philosophers. However,
the common picture that experiences (understood as events in the brain) have
qualia tends to favor errors that are close to implicitly presupposing this mistaken
perceptual view about phenomenal awareness. I discuss this issue at some length
in M. Nida-R umelin, 2007c and 2008a. For related considerations compare
Shoemaker 1994.
8. Moore appears to take this position in Moore 1914 and is interpreted by Katalin
Farkas in that way (see Katalin Farkas, 2010).
9. Disjunctivism is often characterized by its denial of the common kind assump-
tion: the assumption that a perception and a corresponding pseudo-perception
belong to the same psychological kind of experiences. I find this characterization
of little help since it tends to focus attention on a side issue about what it is to
belong to the same psychological kind. (In a sense, it is easy to admit that
perceptions and hallucinations are so radically different that they should be
put into different psychological categories.) The real issue is about the status of
experiential properties. The disjunctivist seems to be saying that people who share
a certain set of experiential properties do not thereby have anything substantial
in common. This claim is close to an eliminativist theory about experiential
properties. It has been argued that only disjunctivism can avoid the conclusion
that our apparent openness to the world is illusory (compare Mike Martin 2002
and 2004).
10. For a few more remarks about intentionalism see section 14.
11. The present view has similarities with adverbialism (as it has been advocated, for
instance by Roderick Chisholm, 1957). Like adverbialism the view includes the
claims that (a) elements of what is phenomenally given should not be given
the status of entities (for instance, no sense data should be accepted), that
(b) experiences should not be taken to have qualitative properties (experiences
are neither blue nor mentally painted) and that (c) differences in phenomenal
character between experiences should be understood as differences in the way
the subject experiences. The last point puts the present view particularly near
to adverbialism. Adverbialism, as commonly understood, appears, however, to
deny what I called here basic intentionality or the subject-object-structure
of experience (see section 2). As a consequence, there does not appear to
be room, within adverbialism as commonly understood, for admitting the
phenomenon of quasi-reference. If there was such room, then the problem
famously raised by Frank Jackson against adverbialism would not arise: Jackson
argues (see Jackson, 1977) that adverbialism cannot make the difference between
experiencing, for instance, a blue circle and a red square from experiencing a red
circle and a blue square. A view which, like the view here proposed, endorses
the necessity of quasi-reference to elements of what is phenomenally given for
adequate phenomenological descriptions, has the capacity to escape this sort of
objection.
12. Katalin Farkas has developed an account according to which this appear-
ance of reality (perceptual intentionality as she calls it) is constructed of
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 381
non-intentional features of sensory experience. Her account incorporates plau-
sible speculations about how the appearance of reality comes about in human
perceivers (compare Katalin Farkas, 2011 and Katalin Farkas, forthcoming).
13. I am grateful to Katalin Farkas for having attracted my attention to the
philosophical interest of afterimage experiences and, in particular, to that aspect
of not being real in a talk she delivered in Oslo in a conference on Sensation and
Perception in October 2006. She discusses the case in Farkas 2011.
14. An alternative would be to say that the experience simply lacks the appearance
of reality and to replace (S3) by (S4):
(S4) The afterimage is not phenomenally present to the subject as real.
(S4) is correct when affirmed of afterimage experiences but (S3) is more
accurate, or so I claim. This intuition can be supported considering a fake
afterimage case:
Example: Fake Afterimages:
A person has an experience which is just like the experience of a red
afterimage floating in front of a white wall. However the person has been
fooled. Due to some complicated mechanism there is a red transparent flat
piece of plastic actually moving on the wall depending on the persons eye
movements; it is floating around just like an afterimage typically does.
According to a description including (S4) and excluding (S3) the subject is
not suffering any illusionrather her experience is incomplete: something
which actually is the case (there is an experience-independent object out
there) does not show up in what appears to be the case in the subjects
experience. If, on the other hand, we accept (S4) as phenomenologically
adequate, then we can say that the subject suffers an illusion.
15. The intentionalist may, for instance reply that veridicality conditions specifying
phenomenal character need not be consistent. Experiences of impossible figures
(e.g., Escher drawings) may be used as illustrating examples. I do not find that
reply convincing. What is phenomenally present in an afterimage experience or
in the sensing of non-existent red points with the eyes closed does not, or so I
would claim, contain elements which are in contradiction with one another in
a way analogous to the experience of impossible figures. Furthermore, it might
be said that the content of an afterimage experience is some fact about ones
own visual experience. I do not find that possible reply convincing either. The
subject is not phenomenally presented with experiences and their properties in
the way the opponent would have to suggest.
16. I mentioned above that intentionalism and adverbialism do not seem to have a
place for quasi-reference. This observation might be elaborated using the notion
of object-likeness. Both theories, arguably, ignore that phenomenon (compare
section 3 and the footnote at the end of that section).
17. Compare for a more detailed discussion M. Nida-R umelin 2007c and 2008a.
18. For a discussion of the role of theoretical consideration in the description
of veridicality condition for experiences with a given phenomenal character
compare Terrence Horgan 2011.
19. One may doubt whether all non-human conscious animals or human newborns
are under this impression in getting phenomenally conscious information
382 Martine Nida-R umelin
through the senses. Perhaps it is safer to say that the impression of direct access
is not essential to perception but omnipresent in mature human perception. I
here assume though that in having an experience a subject can be phenomenally
presented with some proposition p which the subject itself cannot explicitly
conceptualize in thought.
20. The impression of having direct access to features of objects surrounding us
can be systematically illusory in a subject with respect to a certain piece of
reality. A good example is intercultural misunderstanding. A group of people
may systematically misread the expression of faces in a group of other people.
Despite this systematic error a member of one of the two groups can be under
the impression of having direct perceptual access to the expression of emotion
in members of the other group. In that case the subject is phenomenally aware
of the alleged emotional expression and thereby under the impression of directly
seeing it in the sense explained. This is, I believe, an important element for a
psychological explanation of the fact that intercultural misinterpretations tend
to persist and are so hard to correct on the basis of counterevidence.
21. It is not just that you see a golden tissue into the picture; rather you see the part
of the surface as golden. One should describe the case, I guess, as an example of
color illusion. There is really no golden patch anywhere on the surface you are
looking at. But you are clearly and in an astonishingly intense way phenomenally
presented with gold.
22. The question about whether qualia are non-intentional properties (or can even
be characterized as such) reoccurs in the here adopted perspective in a different
way: is being phenomenally presented with a quale necessarily an intentional
property? As far as I can see it is not: being phenomenally presented with red
with ones eyes closed (without object-likeness and without the appearance of
reality) is intentional only in the sense of basic intentionality and not in the sense
at issue in the relevant debate. However, when a person is presented with red in
a perceptual experience then the redness is phenomenally given as a property of
a real thing and the person is thereby in an intentional state (in a stronger sense
of intentionality).
23. I recently attended to two very stimulating talks about whether and how three-
dimensional form of objects is present in visual experience: to a talk by J er ome
Dokic in Geneva in a workshop on the Epistemology of Perception organized
by Pascal Engel and to Alexander Staudachers talk The Backside of the Apple
and the Darkside of the Moon in a conference in June 2010 in Fribourg (see
footote 1).
24. For an illuminating discussion of the issue see Susanna Siegel 2005.
25. The reader should keep in mind when reading this formulation that phenomenal
presence is understood non-relationally in the present approach (compare
section 2).
26. I put these expressions in brackets (>. . .<) to remind the reader that
these expressions are not used referentially in the context of descriptions of
phenomenal presence (compare section 2).
27. Perceptual awareness of facts could be defined in an analogous manner.
Phenomenal Presence and Perceptual Awareness 383
References
Chisholm, Roderick M., (1957), Perceiving: A Philosophical Study. Ithaca: Cornell University
Press.
Crane, Tim, (2005/2011), The Problem of Perception, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Farkas, Katalin, (2010), Independent Intentional Objects, in: Tadeusz Czarnecki, Katarzyna
Kijania-Placek, Olga Poller, Jan Wolenski (eds.), The Analytical Way, Proceedings of
the 6th European Congress of Analytic Philosophy, College Publications: 149165.
Farkas, Katalin, Constructing a World for the Senses in Uriah Kriegel and Terry Horgan
(eds.) Phenomenal Intentionality, New Essays. OUP forthcoming
Horgan, Terrence, (2011), Causal Compatibilism about Agentive Phenomenology, in T.
Horgan, M. Sabates, D. Sosa, Festschrift for Jaegwon Kim, MIT Press.
Jackson, Frank, (1977), Perception: A Representative Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.
Martin, Mike G.F., (2002), The Transparency of Experience, Mind and Language 17(4): 376
425.
Martin, Mike G.F., (2004). The Limits of Self-Awareness, Philosophical Studies 120: 3789.
Moore, G. Edward, (1914), The Status of Sense Data, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
New Series, 14: 355380.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2006), Dualist Emergentism, in Brian Mc Laughlin & Jonathan
Cohen, Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell, 2006: 269286.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2007a), Doings and Subject Causation, in A. Newen, V. Hoffmann,
M. Esfeld, Mental Causation,Externalism, and Self-Knowledge, Special Issue of
Erkenntnis 67(2), 2006, S. 147372.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2007b), Grasping Phenomenal Properties, in Torin Alter & Sven
Walter, Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge, Oxford University Press:
307338.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2007c), Transparency of Experience and the Perceptual Model of
Phenomenal Awareness, in Philosophical Perspectives, 21 (1): 429455.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2008a), An Argument from Transtemporal Identity for Subject Body
Dualism, in George Bealer & Robert Koons (eds.), The Waning of Materialism, Oxford
University Press: 191211.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2008a), Phenomenal Character and the Transparency of Experience,
in Edmond Wright (ed.), The Case for Qualia, MIT Press: 309324.
Nida-R umelin, Martine, (2011), The Conceptual Origin of Subject Body Dualism, in Annalisa
Colliva (ed.), Self and Self-Knowledge, Oxford University Press.
Shoemaker, Sidney, (1994), Self-Knowledge and Inner Sense, Philosophy and Phenomeno-
logical Research 54 (2).
Siegel, Susanna, (2005), Which Properties are Represented in Perception? In T. Szabo Gendler
and J. Hawthorne (eds.), Perceptual Experience, Oxford, Universty Press.
Siewert, Charles P., (1998), The Significance of Consciousness, Princeton: Princeton University
Press.