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Did Ayn Rand commit the fallacy of reification?

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Harry Binswanger made a claim in his new book, How We Know (p. 64-67), that Rand committed the fallacy of reification when she said:

 

"A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism." 

"...Sensations as components of percepts." [ITOE 5]

 

Any thoughts?

 

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Was much of the information Binswanger is parsing here available when ITOE was penned? He definitely states that the error in sensationalism is reification.

 

I've read your reference from ITOE 5 many times in the past, and up until now, have not tried to consider it so fully in this light. When we see an object for a second time or beyond and recognize it, something had to be automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, or where would the sense of familiarity come from? The main disagreement was not cited to be 'percept' albeit he identifies the Gibsonian objection to it.

 

Binswanger offers an alternative to what she may have meant, which makes it appear to me that his disagreement with this passage is of a technical nature, as he re-couches it. If a full substitution were made it would read:

 

"A percept is a group of sensory inputs, automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living being."

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Does Binswanger explain how this is reification? And what does he mean by sensationalism? Sensationalism is usually sensation and cognition are all you've got.

Edited by Eiuol

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Regarding reification, on page 66 he writes;

The error in sensationalism is reification: the fallacy of taking an aspect of a thing, grasped by mental analysis [color, brightness, roundness]1, as if it were an entity capable of separate existence.

 

As to what he means by sensationalism, page 64 states:

..."sensationalism," holds that when looking at an apple, we have now, or had in infancy, separate sensations of color, brightness, roundness, etc.; the mind or brain supposedly puts together those separate sensations into the sight of the apple.

 

Parsing your last sentence as: "Sensationalism is usually: sensation and cognition are all you've got."

Two paragraphs later:

Do not confuse sensations, which would be states of consciousness, with physical events at the sensory receptors.

 

And back on page 66 in the paragraph following the earlier snippet:

Analysis is indispensable to cognition, but analysis consists of breaking down [into form/.../sensory receptors/electromagnetic waves/.../object]1 what is given as a whole in perception.

 

1[added per how I'm clarifying this to myself.]

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For one, the brain does put together sensations (the particular way that your sense organs detects many features). The brain integrates, for instance, what is first taken in by rods and cones in your. The inputs become sensations. This is a scientific argument and not Binswanger's special area of knowledge. But Rand fortunately is only claiming that percepts are made up of something, lest we want to absurdly claim that we always see the totality of an entity instantly as a whole and all its pieces. That is essentialism, i.e. wrong.

Sensations are not states of consciousness. Rand doesn't claim this. I don't know anyone who says sensations are states of consciousness. Sensations in a basic way can't be noticed or accessed. Not all parts of the brain's functioning are accessible. Binswanger's claim, then, works out to be a claim that the contents of the mind are continuous - meaning if you can't access something, it doesn't exist in the mind. Thus, of course Rand is reifying. I find that Rand accepts a view that some aspects of the mind are inaccessible. For example, that's why you can't simply reason your emotions to be "correct". I think it's also why, according to Rand, you can't do anything with sensations as such.

Basically, although I should read his book, Binswanger has a notable disagreement. He's not improving Rand's position; he is taking a different position entirely. I don't know his exact argument, but I can argue that Rand didn't reify sensations.

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Do not confuse sensations, which would be states of consciousness, with physical events at the sensory receptors.

 

sensations (the particular way that your sense organs detects many features)

 

Binswanger seems to be talking about sensations as in, I enjoy the sensation of a cool drink (as opposed to the perception of a cool drink, which would simply be a matter of fact). You're using the word differently. There may be no actual disagreement here.

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Binswanger seems to be talking about sensations as in, I enjoy the sensation of a cool drink (as opposed to the perception of a cool drink, which would simply be a matter of fact).

I'm being technical, as Rand was in the relevant section. Rand, as I recall, meant it either as at most a fleeting feeling that you wouldn't be able to even remember, or simply completely inaccessible to conscious thought. Binswanger seems to believe that all mental states are conscious states, or that the only mental states that exist are consciously accessible (i.e. continuous). That's where sensory input was a clarification: if perception can't be broken down, then sensations by Rand's meaning are better thought of as a physical event (non-mental).

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To be technical too, a state of consciousness is a condition of the faculty which is aware of things. You are using the phrase "conscious state" to refer to consciousness of consciousness, AKA reflection.

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I'm using "conscious state" to refer to awareness of your being conscious, and also any state that you can access the contents of. Reflection is part of that, but so is the ability to move your eyes to focus on a tree.

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I'm having difficulty locating a reference on Sensationalism as a philosophic position. The Wikipedia entry on Sensationalism recommends Sensualism for the philosophical doctrine of the theory of knowledge.

 

That being said, in footnote 22 on page 64 Binswanger puts forth:

In the same passage, she speaks of "sensations as components of percepts." As explained in the text, I definitely disagree. However, this is not a philosophic issue, as she notes in the same article: "The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later: it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." [iTOE, 5]

 

Returning to the text, this paragraph may shed some insight:

A physical object is an organization of atoms. A table is a combination of atoms. And a certain combination  of atoms is a table. But consciousness is not matter. There are no consciousness "atoms," no particles of awareness. Consequently, it is a mistake to treat sensations as the "atoms" of awareness. More generally, it is wrong to treat consciousness on the model of matter by looking for any such "atoms" of awareness.

 

His treatment of consciousness as a 'stream of awareness' from which 'a sensation' is the product of analysis, isolating it out, and further wans that it should not be construed on the atomic model.

 

If the error of "sensationalism" is to treat "sensation" on the atomic model, it has not been shown that Miss Rand exercised it.

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Correction:

 

His treatment of consciousness as a 'stream of awareness' from which 'a sensation' is the product of analysis, isolating it out, and further warns that it should not be construed on the atomic model.

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Keep in mind I'm not arguing against Binswanger exactly, just the portrayal of his argument here in this thread. The point is that Rand didn't reify, and that if he thinks she reified, then he's arguing against some fundamentals that Objectivism holds as true. That is, Binswanger's recouching is a different viewpoint entirely (which incidentally is wrong).

I got some ideas from this paper.
https://wfs.gc.cuny.edu/DRosenthal/www/DR-Libet-Timing.pdf
I'll explain in a moment.

I believe Binswanger's thesis that "consciousness is not reducible" is essentially that if you are conscious, then that conscious state does not consist of any non-conscious components. Unlike my earlier characterization, by this view, some states might be non-conscious, while any conscious state only ever existed as a conscious. A state can't move from one to the other, because if it could, then consciousness would be reducible. More specifically, a percept that you are conscious of cannot have sensations as components - by Rand's view, you aren't conscious of any sensations in a meaningful way since a percept groups them automatically. For Binswanger, there is no in-between or transition.

But Rand's view can be rephrased a little. Percepts consist of non-conscious states; all sensations are non-conscious by virtue of being used automatically by the brain. Percepts are not necessarily conscious, but may be. This means that at least some conscious states are reducible. (I personally think all conscious states can be, but I'm not sure if it's entailed by Rand's view.) I find that all that relates to the choice to focus. Some states become conscious by some way of choosing to focus. Perhaps sensations are accessible to the degree that as soon as you focus, sensations are automatically converted into a conscious state of perception (not unlike how as soon as a word is formed, a concept is necessarily formed). The perhaps part doesn't matter, what I'm getting at is that the choice to focus is transforming a non-conscious state into a conscious one, and sensations are a form of non-conscious state required to reach a conscious state of perception.

The paper I linked is relevant because it makes the point that mental states can become conscious from a state that begins as non-conscious. Epistemologically, conscious states come first, as it is impossible to break a conscious state into a non-conscious state - you wouldn't be conscious of the non-conscious state! Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons to say the whole process involves more than what you are conscious of.

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"The error in sensationalism is reification: the fallacy of taking an aspect of a thing, grasped by mental analysis [color, brightness, roundness], as if it were an entity capable of separate existence."                      Ayn Rand never claimed that.

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all sensations are non-conscious by virtue of being used automatically by the brain

 

 Epistemologically, conscious states come first, as it is impossible to break a conscious state into a non-conscious state - you wouldn't be conscious of the non-conscious state!

 

By non-conscious, do you mean:

1) It is not consciousness, e.g. a rock

2) I am not directly conscious of it, e.g. my breathing (before writing this!)

3) I am never directly conscious of it, e.g. my fingernails growing

4) A form of consciousness that I am not (reflectively) conscious of, e.g. this sentence (before I proof-read it)

5) A form of consciousness that I am never (reflectively) conscious of, e.g. the method of automatic perception

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"The error in sensationalism is reification: the fallacy of taking an aspect of a thing, grasped by mental analysis [color, brightness, roundness], as if it were an entity capable of separate existence."                      Ayn Rand never claimed that.

You are correct, Ayn Rand did not claim this. This quote was extracted from Harry Binswanger's book entitled: How We Know

Edited by dream_weaver

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By non-conscious, do you mean:

1) It is not consciousness, e.g. a rock

2) I am not directly conscious of it, e.g. my breathing (before writing this!)

3) I am never directly conscious of it, e.g. my fingernails growing

4) A form of consciousness that I am not (reflectively) conscious of, e.g. this sentence (before I proof-read it)

5) A form of consciousness that I am never (reflectively) conscious of, e.g. the method of automatic perception

Rocks don't even have mental states, so they are non-conscious. The topic refers to any entity that is able to have conscious states, though.

 

2 is non-conscious, though you can become conscious of what it feels like.

 

3 is non-conscious, except you can't become conscious of what it feels like.

 

4 can be conscious or non-conscious. Reflection is one way to be conscious, but you can be conscious in the sense you are perceiving the world in a particular way. All reflection is a conscious state, but a lack of reflection doesn't always mean a mental state is non-conscious.

 

5 is a mental state that is non-conscious. That is, the percept is created without your being aware of the method happening as you would in concept formation, as automatic entails. However, once a percept is there, you will become conscious of your perception. I'm not liking the word 'of' since that implies reflection or ability to think about mental states. Basically, I mean conscious in the way you can know a fire is hot without having any concepts. And there is a potential to reflect upon the heat, i.e. a concept of heat can be formed. If it is impossible to reflect on a mental state at any point, and if it is content you can't access (like 3), then the mental state is non-conscious.

Edited by Eiuol

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I've been mulling this over for a while now, and the only way I've found to make any sense of it at all is:

 

"A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism." 

 

1-  Binswanger is using "percept" interchangeably with "entity"

2-  He consequently considers "percepts" to be metaphysical primaries, as opposed to derivatives of "sensations" (which ties into his treatment of "sensationalism")

 

If that is how he's integrated it then Rand's statement, about percepts being groups of sensations, would mean to him that entities as such are no more than aggregate sensations.  If entities were nothing but aggregate sensations then yes, it would beg the question- to whom?  And that would be reification.

 

I'm not sure if that's what he means but that's my best guess.  And if that's an accurate inference then I think he's absolutely wrong.

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Ayn Rand acknowledged, in the quoted passage, that our experiences of cohesively physical objects are caused by some automatic processing, within (although in a way beneath) our own minds.  Essentially, it seems to me like Binswanger wants to disregard that part and treat perception as if it involved no previous processing, of any sort.

That would account for the "reification" because, if one treats perception as the very first step of knowledge, any discussion of isolated sensations at all gets pushed one step backwards (into reality, itself).

 

But if that's the case then he's going to have some trouble explaining illusions of any sort.  He'll have arranged it such that any mistake in perception will have to be treated as "out there" where perceptions come from- at which point entities themselves will have to be accurate or inaccurate.

 

If that's the case (again, only my best guess) then by rejecting sensory-integration as "reific" he'll have left himself no choice but to reify it.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Harrison said: 

 

Ayn Rand acknowledged, in the quoted passage, that our experiences of cohesively physical objects are caused by some automatic processing, within (although in a way beneath) our own minds.  Essentially, it seems to me like Binswanger wants to disregard that part and treat perception as if it involved no previous processing, of any sort.

 

Binswanger has previously mentioned in a lecture that he considers this to not be a philosophic question. Any attempt to answer it from a non specific science context would arbitrary.

 

Harrison, could you supply the quotes you think support the integration-to-entity, first level entities are integrations, position you've made previously? I'm just curious what you are abstracting from.  

 

 

But if that's the case then he's going to have some trouble explaining illusions of any sort.  He'll have arranged it such that any mistake in perception will have to be treated as "out there" where perceptions come from- at which point entities themselves will have to be accurate or inaccurate

 

There is no such thing as a mistaken perception, only mistaken perceptual judgments. The form-object distinction takes care of this sort of thing. We are perceiving directly the effect of light travelling through two different mediums at different speeds in the stick in water observation.

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Binswanger has previously mentioned in a lecture that he considers this to not be a philosophic question. Any attempt to answer it from a non specific science context would arbitrary.

Not really, it would be dualism to suppose that there is not some process that creates a percept, i.e. establishes first-level entities. Inputs of some sort are needed for that to happen prior to your being conscious of them. Then inputs have to be put into some form, prior to your being conscious of something that exists. Otherwise, you would be immediately conscious of everything, basically fundamental with no components to it - as any dualistic theory of mind supposes. Besides, there appears to be no case for Binswanger that Rand made any error of reification on sensations.

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Not really, it would be dualism to suppose that there is not some process that creates a percept, i.e. establishes first-level entities. Inputs of some sort are needed for that to happen prior to your being conscious of them. Then inputs have to be put into some form, prior to your being conscious of something that exists.

Dualism in what sense? And how does the fact that perception is a result/ mediation of material causation between sensory apparatus and object makes this a philosophical topic? How the sensory apparatus does what it does is a scientific question. One has no self evident access to the process. Who denied inputs? What on earth does "basically fundamental with no components to it" mean here, and how could anything "first level" be non-fundamental?

 

 

 

Otherwise, you would be immediately conscious of everything, basically fundamental with no components to it - as any dualistic theory of mind supposes. Besides, there appears to be no case for Binswanger that Rand made any error of reification on sensations.

I'm not addressing the reification question at all here. I'm not following your dualist categorization here...?

 

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..

 

Edit: Louie you should ask yourself why you cited a scientific paper that involved experiments if you think this a philosophic topic? I've noticed cog. sci. fans make this move all the time.

Edited by Plasmatic

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Plasmatic:

"A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism." [ITOE 5]

That's my source.

And considering your brain's AUTOMATIC integration of these images into words and sentences, I think she was right.

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One has no self evident access to the process.

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.

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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"]

"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"]

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?

Isn't it necessary to first sort out which meaning of "sensation" is the Objectivist one before the Objectivist theory of perception can be understood?

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