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The Problem With Perceiving Entities

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When we perceive an entity, then either

  1. we perceive all of its characteristics, or
  2. we perceive some of its characteristics, or
  3. we perceive none of its characteristics

If 3 is true, then an entity exists separately from its characteristics, which violates the Identity Axiom.

1 seems implausible, because when we perceive an entity, we are never able to perceive the back of it at the same time as the front. Nor do we perceive its insides unless we open it up somehow.

This leaves 2 which also reduces to absurdity. Since an entity just is the sum total of all of its characteristics, when we perceive an entity, it must be that we perceive all and not all of its characteristics at the same time, and so we have a contradiction.

Therefore, since 1,2, and 3 above are jointly exhaustive, by modus tollens, we do not perceive entities at all.

There seem to be only two obvious ways out of the paradox:

4. An entity is not simply the sum total of its characteristics

5. The perception of any characteristic of an entity is also a perception of the entity as a whole

Number 4 above contradicts the Identity Axiom.

That just leaves 5, which I will now show leads to an infinite regress.

Since the perception of any characteristic of an entity is also a perception of the entity as a whole, that means that a perception of a characteristic x of an entity X must be analyzed more accurately as the perception of a characteristic (x,X) (which we read as "the characteristic x of X"). This should make sense because a characteristic is never just a characteristic, but always a characteristic of. But this then implies that the characteristics of an entity such as X themselves also have at least the characteristic (-, X) (the characteristic of being a characteristic of X). Characteristics now become a kind of entity (with their own characteristics) since we can predicate something of them. But now the problems mentioned above repeat. We would then be forced to posit the existence of still higher characteristics forever, and we have an infinite regress.

The only way to break out of the regress is to retreat all the way back to the axioms. In the argument above, we go from

  • The characteristic x of X

to

  • The characteristic x of X is a characteristic of X

But this has the form "It (the characteristic) is". This means that a characteristic is something with its own existence and identity separate from the entity which has that characteristic. Thus, the ontological order of characteristics and entities is reversed. Characteristics are primary and entities are secondary.

With this knowledge we can finally explain how it is that we see an entity (which is a whole) even if we only ever perceive some of its characteristics. Since characteristics are primary, the perception of a single characteristic x is a completed perception. The perception of the entity X comes from yet another completed perception: namely, the perception of the characteristic (-,X) of x, i.e. (x,X), which points out the entity of which x is a characteristic. In conclusion, the perception of an entity merely requires the perception of two characteristics as described above. And the paradox is resolved.

 

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Scientific support of the above:

Spoiler

People with primary visual agnosia may have one or several impairments in visual recognition without impairment of intelligence, motivation, and/or attention. Vision is almost always intact and the mind is clear. Some affected individuals do not have the ability to recognize familiar objects. They can see objects, but are unable to identify them by sight. However, objects may be identified by touch, sound, and/or smell. For example, affected individuals may not be able to identify a set of keys by sight, but can identify them upon holding them in their hands.

Some researchers separate visual agnosia into two broad categories: apperceptive agnosia and associative agnosia. Apperceptive agnosia refers to individuals who cannot properly process what they see, meaning they have difficult identifying shapes or differentiating between different objects (visual stimuli). Affected individuals may not be able to recognize that pictures of the same object from different angles are of the same object. Affected individuals may be unable to copy (e.g., draw a picture) of an object.

So people with apperceptive agnosia can see characteristics, but are unable to put them together either at all or in the right way. That means that they have lost the ability to perceive the (-,X) characteristic. If characteristics were secondary, then people with apperceptive agnosia would be completely blind.

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SK, thank you for this contribution, the two posts preceding this one.

Why couldn't we say that any perceived item is an existent and that existents come in various basic sorts, such as Rand's sorts: entity or attribute (characteristic) or action. Whether that is the best scheme of what are the basic sorts and whether it succeeds in covering all the sorts of perceived items, all the sorts of existents, is debatable. But Rand has this system of categories in her 1957, and takes it there that in infancy one can perceive motions without perceiving them as of an object. So she could say that we know the infant is perceiving a swish of Mother's skirt, but does not yet know the item perceived---the swish---belongs to an object. The order of first experience of the various categories need not be the same as the ordering discerned in mature thought concerning ontological dependencies among the various categories.

In her 1957, Rand used "entity" at times in the usual way of meaning "any item" such as any item in perception, any existent. But she stopped that usage in later writing, reserving "entity" to mean only a member of her ontological category of that name. In her ITOE, she set forth one elaboration of her category entity that is really an error on her part. She tried to capture "entity" in her special categorical sense by linking it specially to nouns. That was a mistake because any item, of any category, can be the subject of a sentence and have things said of it in the sentence, as when I say "Swinging on the big swing out at the old cemetery is fun." "Swinging" is a noun, but is an action, not an entity in Rand's special sense.

After we have reached the resolution at the end of your reflection, should we go back upstream and use the resolved picture to criticize the formulation of 2 as ambiguous? Also, it seemed that the immediate argument you gave against 2 is circular. I'd have to think about both of these issues further, but first I need recharge my higher brain with a little more sleep.

I notice that the ecological psychologists have it that perception of the entity as a whole is only possible (i) with attendant perception of it as in an environment and (ii) with a self as in an environment and (iii) with characteristics of the entity as affording this or that action. There is an up-to-date book (unfortunately expensive) on this conception of perception. Its title is The Philosophy of Affordances

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1 hour ago, Boydstun said:

SK, thank you for this contribution, the two posts preceding this one.

Why couldn't we say that any perceived item is an existent and that existents come in various basic sorts, such as Rand's sorts: entity or attribute (characteristic) or action.

I'm not ready to address this question in its totality. In all likelihood, I think there is a plurality of basic sorts, but that's only a guess.

But the OP can address the question with regards to the ontological status of objects (i.e., the stricter sense of "entity"). What I think it shows is that, if we apply the Axiom of Identity consistently, then objects are really just certain second-order characteristics. And so, any division of existents into basic sorts must exclude a category of objects.

Quote

After we have reached the resolution at the end of your reflection, should we go back upstream and use the resolved picture to criticize the formulation of 2 as ambiguous?

I'm not really sure what you mean. But if we go back to the original question of how it is that we can perceive a whole entity without perceiving all of its characteristics, then the answer is that, in any perception of an entity, we have, at minimum, one characteristic of that entity, and a kind of "key" to finding all the other characteristics. So, in some sense, this is perceiving the whole but without perceiving the whole in all of its potentially infinite detail.

Quote

Also, it seemed that the immediate argument you gave against 2 is circular.

I don't think so. I will spell it out a little more clearly, and then you can try to find the circularity if you're still not convinced:

P1. Every entity X is the sum total of its characteristics (Axiom of Identity)

P2. We perceive an entity X. (by assumption)

C3. We perceive all of X's characteristics. (by substitution of P1 in P2)

C4. We perceive at least one of X's characteristics, but not all of them. (from P2 and 2 above)

C5. We do not perceive all of X's characteristics. (by detachment from C4)

C6. We perceive all of X's characteristics and we do not perceive all of X's characteristics. (C4 and C5)

C6 is a contradiction.

@Boydstun

Also, a question for you: Do you believe that the Identity Axiom implies the Leibnizian principle of the identity of indiscernibles?

 

Edited by SpookyKitty
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2 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Since the perception of any characteristic of an entity is also a perception of the entity as a whole, that means that a perception of a characteristic x of an entity X must be analyzed more accurately as the perception of a characteristic (x,X) (which we read as "the characteristic x of X"). This should make sense because a characteristic is never just a characteristic, but always a characteristic of. But this then implies that the characteristics of an entity such as X themselves also have at least the characteristic (-, X) (the characteristic of being a characteristic of X). Characteristics now become a kind of entity (with their own characteristics) since we can predicate something of them. But now the problems mentioned above repeat. We would then be forced to posit the existence of still higher characteristics forever, and we have an infinite regress.

Aren't you imposing the process of abstraction on the entity itself? These characteristics don't exist as separate entities. The so-called "higher characteristics" are still characteristics of the one, original entity, since an entity is all of its parts or attributes. The infinite regress is merely an abstraction in your mind.

As for the problem you present, it's true that, in any particular moment, we generally perceive only part (or some) of an entity. However, perception is a process over a period of time, and with some investigation we might perceive enough of the parts to conceive the whole. Notice that we do not arrive at the law of identity through perception alone. Man also relies on his faculty of conception for that level of knowledge.

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To perceive an entity is not to perceive all of it or all of its characteristics.  It is to perceive that there is something there and to perceive at least one of it characteristics.  We can probably never perceive all of its characteristics, but we still perceive the entity.

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5 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Aren't you imposing the process of abstraction on the entity itself?

If I am right, then, yes, even conceiving of a single entity would require some amount of abstraction. I think this might be the key to solving a whole bunch of Parminidean paradoxes. For example, it might help to explain what we mean when we say that the "same" apple is red at one time and green at another time. But that's a story for another day.

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These characteristics don't exist as separate entities. The so-called "higher characteristics" are still characteristics of the one, original entity, since an entity is all of its parts or attributes.

This is definitely false. Higher characteristics cannot be predicated of the entity. They are therefore not characteristics of the entity at all. Another way to look at this is, if higher characteristics were the characteristics of the underlying entity, then it you would be able to say that an entity is a characteristic of itself. Which is nonsense because entities are not the characteristics of anything.

Quote

The infinite regress is merely an abstraction in your mind.

This isn't an argument. Everything I think is "merely" an abstraction in my mind.

Quote

As for the problem you present, it's true that, in any particular moment, we generally perceive only part (or some) of an entity.

Think about what the Axiom of Identity says. An entity just is the sum total of all of its characteristics. If you are not perceiving the whole entity at any particular moment, then you are not perceiving the entity at all. The only way to get out of the contradiction is to clarify what it means to perceive the whole entity at any particular moment. Perceiving the entity does not mean perceiving all of its characteristics, nor does it mean perceiving only some of its characteristics. As the argument in the OP proves, it must mean to perceive at least one characteristic of the entity AND to also perceive a higher order characteristic which is itself the means of finding all of the other first-order characteristics.

Quote

However, perception is a process over a period of time, and with some investigation we might perceive enough of the parts to conceive the whole.

Without being able to perceive the whole entity, it is impossible to establish that the parts of the entity are, in fact, the parts of the same whole.

 

41 minutes ago, Doug Morris said:

To perceive an entity is not to perceive all of it or all of its characteristics.  It is to perceive that there is something there and to perceive at least one of it characteristics.

No. The "perception" that there is something there is implicit in the perception of anything, but it is not by itself a perception. Perception is always a perception of something specific, and never a vague identityless "something".

Quote

We can probably never perceive all of its characteristics, but we still perceive the entity.

That's what I am arguing for.

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

. . .

Also, a question for you: Do you believe that the Identity Axiom implies the Leibnizian principle of the identity of indiscernibles?

I take as included in the thesis “Existence is Identity” the thesis “An existent is things, and its existence is only the existence of all the things it is”. The self-sameness, the just-one-thingness, of two hypothetical such existence-sets of all the things a thing is, if proven, would yield the Identity of Indiscernibles principle at least among existents. But I have not attempted such a proof. When I do, I’d like to run it both taking existents as exhaustively parsed among Rand’s categories (entity, action, attribute, relationship - ITOE) and as exhaustively parsed among my categories ([enlarged] Entity, passage, character, situation). I expect the answer will be Yes for both hers and mine or No for both hers and mine. (The significance of the categories is that supposing the category lists are exhaustive of the types of existence, the attempts at proof of Identity of Indiscernibes can be run by cases, like Euclid does in some proofs. Also, not getting both Yes or both No for our two sets of categories would indicate that one set or the other is not an exhaustive category-set of existents.)

To begin working on a proof, I’d first study a book waiting for me a long time on my shelf, whose title is Leibniz’s Principle of Identity of Indiscerenibles (Rodriguez-Pereyra 2014) to fully comprehend the reasoning of Leibniz to the truth of the principle. Where he relies upon the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I and Rand would require the correctness of it to range over a smaller domain than had Leibniz. So that sort of difference might play into a verdict on the Identity of Indiscernibles principle.

Then too, one needs to analyze in terms of all that, the identity facet of bosons. Get right with the bosons, we must.

One problem I’d have to dwell on also is my talk of “all the things something is” because that would have to include the potentials for all the ways intelligence could use the something, including in inventions. Makes me a little nervous.

Edited by Boydstun
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55 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

Without being able to perceive the whole entity, it is impossible to establish that the parts of the entity are, in fact, the parts of the same whole.

In most cases you can perceive enough of the whole to identify parts of it, since parts are integrated into the whole. Let's say I'm looking into the window of a house, and I can only see a torso with arms and a head. These must be parts of the same whole because they are one thing distinguishable from the space and other things around them.

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

In most cases you can perceive enough of the whole to identify parts of it, since parts are integrated into the whole. Let's say I'm looking into the window of a house, and I can only see a torso with arms and a head. These must be parts of the same whole because they are one thing distinguishable from the space and other things around them.

I think you are missing the point.

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9 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

This leaves 2 which also reduces to absurdity. Since an entity just is the sum total of all of its characteristics, when we perceive an entity, it must be that we perceive all and not all of its characteristics at the same time, and so we have a contradiction.

I don't see how this follows. Just because for an entity to be means that it is the sum total of all its characteristics, doesn't also mean that pereceiving the entity involves pereceiving all characteristics of it. After all, perceiving external objects doesn't cause those objects to be, or the characteristics of the object to be. As for internal objects, you do cause them to be, and the characteristics of those objects to be, but this isn't the perception you are talking about. That's imagination. What you are saying I think is interesting regard to imagination, and what it means to imagine something particular, but that's not the topic.

Also, this part of your argument sounds like abusing the ambiguity of saying "we perceive entities" - those sort of statements could be interpreted as 'all' of entities, or 'some' of entities. Since interpreting this as 'all' leads to absurdities as you said, we should interpret this as 'some'. So we are still left with 2. 

9 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

So people with apperceptive agnosia can see characteristics, but are unable to put them together either at all or in the right way.

I don't think a malfunction of perception is a good way to argue for the way perception operates. Literally speaking, it is how perception does not operate. Anyway, it might be more accurate to say that these people see a confusing array of parts, not integrated into wholes or entities. They are seeing objects of some sort, insofar as the characteristics are still on something (things that us with normal perception recognize as parts). Although maybe your point to something like "what we call an entity depends on perception, in the sense that calling something an entity depends how you can automatically integrate part of an entity into a whole". Then again, you aren't talking about the psychological process of automatic perceptual integration.

Edited by Eiuol
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If there is a problem in understanding here between the nature of existence and consciousness, i believe it is consciousness. The question really is: What is the nature of perception? How does it work? Whether it be for entities, attributes or actions.

Of the multiple items in the equation for perception (i.e. sense data, identity of the sensory system, focus of attention, comparative items, frame of reference, memory, prediction). To focus just on one aspect, it appears to me that you are trying to match perception of the item with only the item when there always is a comparative item(s) Perception uses the same foundational principle as concepts - comparative items. Things viewed in a context not just by themselves.

Why do you see five grey dots on a white piece of paper as the same? Each has the same wavelength of light (sense data) AND because you are using the same comparative item for each (white paper). If you use different comparative items i.e. black box around the first, then progressively lighter boxes on the next four, now the first grey circle looks lighter than the furthest on the right.

Don't forget that an essential element for perception and conception is the identification of one or more comparative relationships. A characteristic is the result of a context not a vacuum. When you use the term characteristic, you are on the consciousness side i.e. perception in this case, in that sense not fundamentally applicable to the existence "side". Characteristics require things or items viewed relative to other items or things. There are no characterin'tstics of an entity before perception. Characteristics don't precede perception.

 

Edited by mike o
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