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 thenelli01

Did Ayn Rand commit the fallacy of reification?

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Rand was not always careful about the meanings of the words she used. The word "sensation," is a good example:

"Sensations are the primary material of consciousness and, therefore, cannot be communicated by means of the material which is derived from them. The existential causes of sensations can be described and defined in conceptual terms (e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the sensations of color), but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind. To define the meaning of the concept "blue," for instance, one must point to some blue objects to signify, in effect: "I mean this." Such an identification of a concept is known as an 'ostensive definition.'"

[introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "5. Definitions"]

She specifically says that color is a sensation and uses blue as an example in the first case. In the second case she says we are not directly aware of sensations at all. Which is it?

 

To be fair -- she says [they] produce the sensations of color. Not that color is a sensation.

Edited by thenelli01

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Well, thenelli01, on my second reading, I've come up to this point again. Binswanger specifically states that the reification charge is against 'sensationalism'. Your addressing of the issue clearly shows that reading the footnote provided in conjunction with his writings can produce such a question as you ask. In consideration of the other passages I've cited, I have, however, not arrived at the same question. Thank you for providing the opportunity to re-examine the text in such a light. Dr. Binswanger's studies over the years appear to  have culminated in a usage of 'sensation' I've not adopted. Lacking the knowledge of the further senses of sensation referenced later, makes it difficult to assess this particular at this point -, for me. Your attention to the nuance in this matter is well noted.

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Its probably a good idea to rephrase because I'm having trouble getting much of anything from your statement. As is, you sound like you are rejecting presentationalism for representationalism, which would be besides the point. That something is a process doesn't tell us what sort of process it is..

Nope, but it needs content. Sensory input straight to perception skips anything that the inputs are converted into to even establish perception. Dualism, then, is in the sense that there is a sudden conversion of inputs from the world into a whole and complete perceptual entity. It's a scientific question to say how, but not that you need something intermediary. The the inputs have to be individual inputs that are represented/presented (isomorphic) mental content of some kind. Then perception can happen.

 

Also, that paper, the experiment it cites is irrelevant to my idea. The interesting part is the idea that not all mental states are conscious states.

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To be fair -- she says [they] produce the sensations of color. Not that color is a sensation.

No, she specifically refers to, "the sensations of color," What else can that mean but that color is a sensation.

 

Here's where she said it:

 

The existential causes of sensations can be described and defined in conceptual terms (e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the sensations of color), but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind. [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "5. Definitions"]

 

And that contradicts, "When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensation, are the given, the self-evident. The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later; it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." [introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, "1. Cognition and Measurement"]

 

Why are Objectivists reluctant to admit the truth? Isn't truth the objective of philosophy?

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No, she specifically refers to, "the sensations of color," What else can that mean but that color is a sensation.

 

Here's where she said it:

 

The existential causes of sensations can be described and defined in conceptual terms (e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the sensations of color), but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind. [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "5. Definitions"]

 

And that contradicts, "When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensation, are the given, the self-evident. The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later; it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." [introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, "1. Cognition and Measurement"]

 

Why are Objectivists reluctant to admit the truth? Isn't truth the objective of philosophy?

 

I'm not reluctant to admit any truth? Why do you choose to put me in a category with people with whom I haven't any association? You don't even know me.

 

I was pointing out that she says sensationS (i.e. plural). I don't see how that contradicts the next passage where she clearly states that sensationS are components of percepts. We see percepts, which are an integration of sensations, according to Rand. So it is not contradictory to say: they produce the sensationS of color. If she said sensation (i.e. singular) of color, as you claimed, then I would agree. 

Edited by thenelli01

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The entire dispute would evaporate by elaborating on the distinction between the implicit and the explicit, and its reapplication to sensation.

 

And that contradicts, "When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensation, are the given, the self-evident. The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later; it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." [introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, "1. Cognition and Measurement"]

Sensations are implicit in every percept.  The explicit knowledge of that fact is a derivative realization.

It's only a contradiction if you equate "every part of my mind" with "everything that I know about".  These are not synonymous (although the error therein is an old and common one); the first group is larger than the second.

So while we know that sensations are part of every percept, we still don't see them as self-evident; we aren't aware of their processing (unless we focus on it deliberately).

 

Why are Objectivists reluctant to admit the truth?

I'm not; you're simply wrong.  But now you have the opportunity to remedy that.

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Step 1- Turn on the television.

Step 2- Watch something interesting.

Step 3- Realize that all you actually see is a field of colored dots; everything else is inferred.

Step 4- Induct.

That's not self-evident though. That's a high level abstraction involving knowledge that is derived via science alone.

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Nope, but it needs content. Sensory input straight to perception skips anything that the inputs are converted into to even establish perception. Dualism, then, is in the sense that there is a sudden conversion of inputs from the world into a whole and complete perceptual entity. It's a scientific question to say how, but not that you need something intermediary. The the inputs have to be individual inputs that are represented/presented (isomorphic) mental content of some kind. Then perception can happen.

 

Also, that paper, the experiment it cites is irrelevant to my idea. The interesting part is the idea that not all mental states are conscious states.

 

I agree with this fully and is what I was attempting to say in the other thread.

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Nope, but it needs content. Sensory input straight to perception skips anything that the inputs are converted into to even establish perception. Dualism, then, is in the sense that there is a sudden conversion of inputs from the world into a whole and complete perceptual entity. It's a scientific question to say how, but not that you need something intermediary. The the inputs have to be individual inputs that are represented/presented (isomorphic) mental content of some kind. Then perception can happen.

 

Also, that paper, the experiment it cites is irrelevant to my idea. The interesting part is the idea that not all mental states are conscious states.

Louie, I have no idea what your saying. I still don't know how you are categorizing this as dualism. And it looks like you are making presentation and representation the same thing??

Are you talking about substance dualism? If so I don't see how anything your saying applies.

On the paper, my point is, philosophy is defined by how the subject matter is available to us. If its not available without specialized knowledge its not philosophy.

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Regi the first is referring to a conceptual explanation of the cause of a sensation the second refers to what the mind actually perceives pre-conceptually. There is no contradiction.

Edited by EC

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Don't want to speak for Eiuol but since I agree with what he/she says I think the main point is if there wasn't a transition process and mechanism for transition from sensation to percept, if it was instantaneous and uncaused then this would be a form of dualism. 

 

I agree that explaining this transition or cause if a scientific issue and not part of philosophy.

Edited by EC

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Don't want to speak for Eiuol but since I agree with what he/she says I think the main point is if there wasn't a transition process and mechanism for transition from sensation to percept, if it was instantaneous and uncaused then this would be a form of dualism.

This is partially right; any process must have content, so sensations are the content. There has to be mental content between sensory input (the event as Binswanger described) and perception. That paper is not based on specialized knowledge, you can avoid even mentioning the experiment. There is nothing specialized to say not all mental content is conscious.

 

Representation and presentation aren't the same. I should've said isomorphic.

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This may be a fine distinction (and perhaps is not correct) which may be specialized science or knowledge (i.e. not within the purview of philosophy or Objectivism as such) but I propose and ask whether the following distinction valid:

 

(This is a gross paraphrasing, and may lack the technical jargon of a reeeel GenU-Ayn philosopher...)

 

 

Percepts are products of both perceiving apparatus and objects effects on them, and as such are a form of pre-conceptual knowledge which is objective and has a certain form.

 

Sensation is more about how percepts are "experienced" by an individual perceiver.

 

In any case consciousness can identify percepts content in relation to the object independently from the particular subjective "feeling" of "what it is like" to see violet.

 

Just a thought

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Sensation is more about how percepts are "experienced" by an individual perceiver.

The word sensation is sometimes used to mean "what it feels like", but I don't think that's what Rand meant. She was talking about the components of perception, and probably that you can't experience sensations. You can infer that you have sensations, but the sensation itself has no feeling that you are directly experiencing. Perception is what "feels like" something, at least that's what I infer about Rand's statements.

 

"Sensations, as such, are not retained in man’s memory, nor is man able to experience a pure isolated sensation."

 

"A “perception” is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things."

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/sensations.html

Edited by Eiuol

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thenelli01, Harrison Danneskjold, EC
 
"I was pointing out that she says sensationS (i.e. plural). I don't see how that contradicts the next passage where she clearly states that sensationS are components of percepts. We see percepts, which are an integration of sensations, according to Rand. So it is not contradictory to say: they produce the sensationS of color. If she said sensation (i.e. singular) of color, as you claimed, then I would agree."

The passage says specifically, "... which produce the sensations of color", but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind." Why would anyone need to communicate anything about that which no one could not see, if she were only talking about what produced the perception of color. She definitely says "sensations of color" are what one sees. I know this is only a mistake in terminology on her part, and if she had been more careful, she would have said the perception of color or percepts of color. But as it stands, she was definitely referring to sensations of color as the conscious perception of color.

We do not see just one color, and in our field of vision there are many different colors in many different places. To refer to each of those colors as a single sensation would have been bad English in the context of her statement.

"Why do you choose to put me in a category with people with whom I haven't any association? You don't even know me."

Well I don't choose to categorize anyone, and if I've done that, I apologize. I really wasn't thinking about you personally when I wrote that, but about my more than forty year experience with Objectivists. I do truly apologize for that.

Harrison, I don't think you have been following this discussion. Maybe I'm wrong.   

EV said: "That's not self-evident though. That's a high level abstraction involving knowledge that is derived via science alone."

That's correct, but not totally germane to the discussion. Good point though.

EC also said: "Regi the first is referring to a conceptual explanation of the cause of a sensation the second refers to what the mind actually perceives pre-conceptually. There is no contradiction."

No, Rand just mistakenly used the wrong term. The whole point of my original post was not about what Objectivism finally believes about the nature of perception, but that Rand frequently mixed her terminology, and one has to be very careful to be sure they know what she is explicitly referring to in any passage. That is all. In the passage in question, she just used the wrong term, sensations where she would on any other occasion use perceptions.

 

Look she did this same thing within the space of a few paragraphs:

 

"When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensation, are the given, the self-evident. The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later; it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." [Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, Page 5]

 

Unfortunately, this is immediately contradicted:

 

"As far as can be ascertained, an infant's sensory experience is an undifferentiated chaos. Discriminated awareness begins on the level of percepts." [Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, Page 5]

 

But if perception is the only direct awareness we have, there is not such thing as "sensory experience" in infants or anyone else.

 

It's only a mistake, I know, but one will never understand Rand if such mistakes are ignored.

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Ooops.

 

I knew that, how could I have forgotten.

 

Right a percept is between sensations and concepts... a percept is a kind of integration of sense data but pre-conceptual.

Plasmatic,

This is what I was trying to communicate in the my other posts.  That the percept(s) (resulting from man's unique perceptual mechanisms) are different from the percept(s) formed by a  bat, a mole, a dog, etc.

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The passage says specifically, "... which produce the sensations of color", but one cannot communicate what color is like, to a person who is born blind." Why would anyone need to communicate anything about that which no one could not see, if she were only talking about what produced the perception of color. She definitely says "sensations of color" are what one sees. I know this is only a mistake in terminology on her part, and if she had been more careful, she would have said the perception of color or percepts of color. But as it stands, she was definitely referring to sensations of color as the conscious perception of color.

 

How did you get from "..e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the sensations of color.." [Rand] to "she definitely says 'sensations of color' are what one sees.."? [Regi]

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't her position that sensations are produced by an interaction between reality and man's sensory apparatus. That interaction produces sensations (e.g. the sensations of color), which the brain automatically integrates into percepts.

Edited by thenelli01

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The screen you are looking at now has only

 

Red

Green

and Blue

 

DOTS

 

You perceive yellow, orange, cyan, magenta, white... none of which comes from your screen

You also perceive lines, curves, continuous areas...

 

The sensations are caused by the R, G, B dots stimulating groups of rods and cones in your retina, registering R, or G, or B in close proximity to others sensing OTHERs of R, G, and B, and you perceive a new color (yellow) because of the way your perceptual apparatus works.  You also integrate dots into forms which are not in fact straight (they are jagged...) nor continuous (they are patchy)

 

what the bits of your eye sense are sensations (bits of R, G, and B ), which you integrate or perceive (non R, G, B colors and forms) as percepts

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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How did you get from "..e.g., the wavelengths of light and the structure of the human eye, which produce the sensations of color.." [Rand] to "she definitely says 'sensations of color' are what one sees.."? [Regi]

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't her position that sensations are produced by an interaction between reality and man's sensory apparatus. That interaction produces sensations (e.g. the sensations of color), which the brain automatically integrates into percepts.

Your statement is close to what I think her position is. It's not exactly what her final position is, because that concludes that the brain (or neurological system) performs some automatic process of integration which produces percepts of entities. Whether that includes percepts of attributes is never explicitly stated. I'll provide the quotes if necessary.

I was not talking about what her final position is, only how she was using the terminology. I do not see how you can make what she said in the quote mean anything else than "sensations of color" being "seeing colors."

You do not have to see it that way, of course, as others apparently do not. But I think not seeing it that way requires some suspension of reasonable interpretation of what one reads, or perhaps interpreting it in terms of what one wants it to say.

Edited by Regi F.

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Your statement is close to what I think her position is. It's not exactly what her final position is, because that concludes that the brain (or neurological system) performs some automatic process of integration which produces percepts of entities. Whether that includes percepts of attributes is never explicitly stated. I'll provide the quotes if necessary.

 

Yes, I thought that was what she concluded. Please do provide quotes.

 

Edit: I could be wrong, I am asking you to provide quotes because I am interested, not to be snarky.

 

 

..But I think not seeing it that way requires some suspension of reasonable interpretation of what one reads, or perhaps interpreting it in terms of what one wants it to say.

 

I could say the same to you.

Edited by thenelli01

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Unfortunately, this is immediately contradicted:

 

"As far as can be ascertained, an infant's sensory experience is an undifferentiated chaos. Discriminated awareness begins on the level of percepts." [Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivism Epistemology, Page 5]

 

But if perception is the only direct awareness we have, there is not such thing as "sensory experience" in infants or anyone else.

 

It's only a mistake, I know, but one will never understand Rand if such mistakes are ignored.

RegiF, it is not a mistake if you understand that by infant she means a child that is hours and days old.  When a child is first born, he cannot focus his eyes and probably cannot locate sounds in three dimensions with his ears, or differentiate his mothers from his fathers voice.  Same with tastes and smells and touches.  ALL is new to a newborn.  His mind has to experience a multitude of sensations from various sources before it can begin grouping and differentiating them into the form(s) of percepts.

 

And your statement "perception is the only direct awareness we have" is incorrect, too.  Once we reach a certain level of cognitive development, our mind automatically perceives  observes things on a conceptual level. 

 

Added:  It is this atomization that forces her to say "as far as can be ascertained" -- because once we reach the conceptual level of development, there is no going back.

Edited by New Buddha

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Yes, I thought that was what she concluded. Please do provide quotes.

 

Edit: I could be wrong, I am asking you to provide quotes because I am interested, not to be snarky.

Here is the clearest statement by Rand, I think.

"The lower of the conscious species possess only the faculty of sensation, .... A sensation is produced by the automatic reaction of a sense organ to a stimulus from the outside world; it lasts for the duration of the immediate moment, as long as the stimulus lasts and no longer ... The higher organisms possess a much more potent form of consciousness: they possess the faculty of retaining sensations, which is the faculty of perception. A 'perception' is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things." [The Virtue of Selfishness, "1. The Objectivist Ethics"]

There are more instances, but you have to piece them together from separate assertions.

Peikoff reiterates the principles in the Rand approved OPAR:

"In order to move from the stage of sensation to that of perception, we first have to discriminate certain sensory qualities, separate them out of the initial chaos. Then our brain integrates these qualities into entities, thereby enabling us to grasp, in one frame of consciousness, a complex body of data that was given to us at the outset as a series of discrete units across a span of time." [ Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Page 72]

"The reason you see an entity is that you have experienced many kinds of sensations from similar objects in the past, and your brain has retained and integrated them: it has put them together to form an indivisible whole." [Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Pages 52-53]

And David Kelly, though not accepted as an Objectivist by everyone, repeats the theme:

"Perception is thus the awareness of entities as such, and the discrimination of objects requires a great deal of integration on the part of our sensory apparatus."

[The Evidence of the Senses, Page 47]

Harry Binswanger in his new book, How We Know, not only bases a large part of his hypothesis on the direct perception of entities, but makes it impossibly extreme.

"To summarize in a preliminary definition: "Perception" is the ongoing awareness of entities in their relative positions, gained from actively acquired sensory inputs." [Page 63]

Neither Rand or Peikoff explicitly say whether direct perception includes perception of attributes such as color, texture, temperature, and sounds, though it is assumed throughout the epistemology. Binswanger flat out denies attributes are perceptually "discriminated" and that we only perceive entities as wholes and must discover the attributes, which he also says we perceive, from those whole percepts. In fact he devotes a whole chapter to explaining how we discover characteristics (or form concepts of them) since they are not directly "given" [binswanger's word] in perception.

"The first concepts a child forms are concepts of entities--e.g., 'dog,' 'table,' 'cookie.' These concepts are formed directly from perception, rather than requiring prior conceptse, and perception is geared toward discriminating entities from each other. Though we also perceive attributes and actions of entites, perception does not discriminate attributes or action from entities. When we perceive a big dog barking, the dog is given as discriminated from the ground on which it is standing (and from every other kentity in the scene), but we are not given any discrimination of the dog's size from the dog; nore are we given any descrimination of the dog's action of barking from the dog." [Page 152]

 

You may decide what it means, but apparently Binswanger considers the perception of entities some kind undifferentiated whole.

"Concepts of characteristics are our means of identifying the nature of a thing, breaking down what is, perceptually, an unanalyzed whole." [Page 152]

 

"I could say the same to you."

 

Oh certainly. That's why each individual has to be so careful to not make those kinds of mistakes.

 

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