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Why Direct Perception Puzzles so Many People

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Proving, entirely from consciousness, that there is a world outside of consciousness, is not as straightforward as other philosophical issues. This is because the arguments for the primacy of consciousness do not always immediately strike rational people as unjustified, even if they hold the opposite view.

In such cases, analysing those claims can help us grasp exactly where the uncertainty about 'direct perception' comes from, and why it occurs.

In ITOE, Chapter 6, Rand mentions:


Consciousness is an attribute of certain living entities, but it is not an attribute of a given state of awareness, it is that state.

In other words, consciousness is a specific instance of seeing, tasting, feeling something. An awareness-as-such is the same as 'feeling without feeling'.

With that in mind, we can explore various statements that occur in arguments for the primacy of mind.


Table of Contents:

1. Awareness of sense objects
2. I am the Seer
3. A consciousness independent of the brain
4. Why is there qualia?
5. I am consciousness
6. Reality is hallucinated
7. Consciousness is not a thing
8. Time is ideal, not real
9. Space is ideal, not real
10. Free will is an illusion
11. The self is an illusion
12. Matter must be formed by Universals
13. Hegelian coherentism
14. Mind-independent causality = no free will
15. Why are things the way they are?
1. I am aware of sense objects.
Not true. The sensory field is not located outside of the sensory field, waving at us from the next room. Awareness is the sensory field.

2. I am the Seer.
In eastern philosophy, this means: do not identify with what you perceive (the embodied person of a certain sex, age) and instead recognize yourself as the Eye who is seeing, perceiving that person from afar.

Here, awareness (the Seer) and the sensory field (the seeing of an embodied man) are separated like previously. They are, in fact, not separate.

Note that this applies even to states of consciousness where sensory awareness is suspended, or minimal. In such cases, the Yogic sense of 'I am' or 'am-ness' is the relevant instance of consciousness.

3. Why does consciousness need to be connected to a brain or a man? Can't instances of it simply exist independently of some other agent?

Whatever exists, is what it is (lawful). It doesn't matter whether it's made of matter, energy, or neither. Sensory experience is not less real than the brain's electric signals and synapse firing.

Normally, we can point out that actions are the actions of entities, such as the rolling of a ball, or the waving of a hand. But here, we are not connecting an object with its motions. We are linking two kinds of motion: the motions of the brain, and the motions of sense data (colors, tastes etc.)

However, consciousness cannot create an instance of seeing color, because consciousness is that instance of seeing color. A perception that already is, needs not create, because it is itself the product of some external condition.

4. Biological organisms can pick up data, and act on it, without an accompanying sensation, such as pain or sound (qualia). So what's the point of having any sensation at all?

Humans have a limited alphabet of sensations, which are arranged into various combinations to 'tag' received information, the same way concepts tag percepts, and letter-combinations tag concepts.

This allows the mind to store information, and locate it, by means of its specific 'qualia-combination'. It also enables it to link certain qualia-codes to other information, such as 'danger'.

Without memory, an organism cannot combine pieces of information to expand the range of its awareness.

5. I am consciousness
The argument states that a good life would be irrelevant if we didn't experience it. Therefore, we can say that we are not the material body, we are consciousness - the experiencing of this raspberry, or of this mountain hike.

Except, 'I am the experiencing of this raspberry' is not true. The correct statement is: 'the experiencing of this raspberry, is the experiencing of this raspberry' (A=A)

Awareness is a specific instance of awareness, not an independent entity which takes the form of all experiences, like water takes the form of snow, vapor and ice.

The closest referent to a concept of 'awareness as such' is not an instance of experiencing, but the totality of existents and processes that lead to consciousness.

6. What if what we perceive is all a hallucination, like in the Matrix? Are we a brain in vat?

This argument assumes the existence of brains, vats, and Matrix techology, even though we got this belief from our (possibly hallucinatory) perception.

Philosophy can show that the base of cognition (sense perception and its corresponding axiomatic concepts) grounds all arguments - and so, no arguments can be made through cognition against cognition.

This puts the question outside of philosophy, and within the onus of proof.

7. Consciousness is not a thing; all things are its perceptions. It's not subject to time and space. Time and space are notions of consciousness.

Consciousness cannot create its own instances of sense perception, such as that of a color, thing, or space-time notion. Put differently, it can't create its own self. The reason is covered in point 3.

Note that 'consciousness is not a thing' assumes that it is, in fact, a thing: 'the identity of X is not this, but that'.

8. Motion is actually a sequential view of an unmoving thing, hence Time is an illusion.

No, relating a sequence of mental pictures mistakenly implies that the pictures are outside of awareness, and you are relating them from afar. We grasp motion directly. If you study a painting sequentially, it does not follow that you've seen a movie.

An unmoving consciousness is a consciousness that does not grasp (move), i.e. not consciousness.

9. Space is a perspective on a non-spacial thing. In awareness, separate perspectives on that thing, are spread out like photos in a collage, making it seem as if there are many things. Space is just a snapshot's position relative to the other within the totality of the sensory field.

We do not spacially relate the contents of perception, because that implies that the objects of perception are situated outside perception. We relate actual positions of objects, by means of direct perception.

10. If the source of consciousness is not within itself, how do you prove that your brain isn't tricking you into believing that your choices are free?

Proof means: 'self-verify the properness of your argumenting'. The ability to do so is presupposed by all proof demands, i.e. is already accepted by the question.

11. By introspection I only see various sense data, thoughts, feelings. I see no self. The self is a superstition. Various brain processes work in concert to give rise to the unitary experience of self, but that self has no referent in reality.

(An instance of seeing color, does not act. It is the act of some existent.)

The existent which performs judgements, chooses values, and is aware of doing it, is a self. Existents which perform action, but are not aware of it, are not a self.

Involuntary processes - such as sense data, feelings, and the sense of being/existing - are not a self.

If that which acts and is aware of it (the self), stops being aware that it is acting, then it is no longer a self.

12. Is something that is continually renewing itself, or changing, the same thing throughout? That's not possible unless that object is a concept whose elements self-organize to bring that concept into existence.

Changes are undergone by entities.

If a ship changes, e.g. gets slightly damaged, then it is the same ship. If the ship is completely pulverized, its components no longer form a ship, but a dust pile.

If part of a ship is changed, then the ship is partially not the same. If all of its parts are changed, then it is a completely different ship.

If a kidney is renewing itself, then it is the same kidney. If that kidney is replaced with another kidney, then it is obviously not the same kidney.

One can't describe reality in terms of disembodied universals. For example, If things are what they are because of an Universal of Identity, it means that the Universal in question can be what it is without the legislation of a second Universal of Identity. Platonic universals disprove themselves.

Universals are epistemological (see Rand's ITOE).

Natural laws, and categories such as 'potentiality', are not independent existents which legislate things. E.g. 'potentiality' is an identification of what things can do in a specific situation.

13. Aren't the 'categories' (being, becoming, quality, quantity etc.) merely the same category viewed from less or more comprehensive viewpoints?

Knowledge is indeed hierarchical, since it is relational. Understanding the concept 'life', for instance, is rooted in concepts such as: existence, alternative, goal-directedness.

However, concepts condense percepts. When we think a concept, we involuntarily need to recall the percept for which it stands. This is especially true of abstract concepts, like 'relation', because one can only grasp them by observing things acting - using that as a 'perceptual aid' to hold the meaning of such abstractions in mind.

(Concepts, also, cannot be recalled without a concrete perceptual code, such as spoken or writen word.)

One can only go from categories like 'quality' to 'quantity' if he already holds perceptual knowledge. Considering concepts in their 'pure' form is akin to reaching 'xxq, from yqz, because qqw'.

14. Causality disproves free will. Freedom requires a mind-first universe.

Causality means that how a thing is, affects how it acts. Biological structures act in a goal-directed fashion. Rocks act with no goal directedness.

Goal-directed organisms are made out of particles which are not capable of goal-directedness. Consciousness is enabled by neurons which are not capable of consciousness. Free will results from structures of elements which are not capable of free will.

The cause of human action is motives. One's legs do not randomly start walking by themselves, without their owner's volition, i.e. without an intention motivated by a goal (such as reaching the refridgerator).

Man can question his motives. He is forced by nature to make a choice between grasping reality clearly (conceptually), in honest fashion, or not. He can choose either, but cannot choose not to choose. Free will, like everything, is an instance of the law of identity.

15. Why are emergent properties, as described in the previous point, possible?

This is akin to asking why the universe exists, or why do things move. 

There is no why. Causes are rooted in entities. Entities are not rooted in disembodied causes. Philosophy describes what is. What is, is.


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1. Makes me think of Aristotle when he portrays perception as a relationship between the perceived and the perceiver. You cannot separate the them.

2. I think it depends on which Eastern philosophy. Some are more holistic where you are an inseparable piece of existence, with more extreme beliefs denying that there is any type of you that can be actually distinguished from the rest of existence. 

4. I'm curious about how you define 'information'.

5. The idea of awareness as an independent entity is something like what Aristotle said about the intellect. But he had no concept of consciousness or awareness per se, so it makes sense that he wouldn't quite get this right.

8. What you say about an unmoving consciousness is like what Aristotle says about the unmoved mover, in the sense he doesn't claim that it grasps anything, or even able to do anything directly.

9. I don't see why the objects of perception cannot be situated outside perception. And anyway, this sounds more like a scientific claim that you are making. You could establish spatial relationships either way, and there's a lot of research about this.

11. As a devils advocate here, couldn't you say that having thoughts in general is not voluntary? I can't actually empty my mind, I can't make it truly blank. If involuntary things are not a self, it seems like the self would be a superstition because its foundation would not be voluntary even if you say that subsequent thoughts might be voluntary.

Edited by Eiuol
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3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Proving, entirely from consciousness, that there is a world outside of consciousness, is not as straightforward as other philosophical issues. This is because the arguments for the primacy of consciousness do not always immediately strike rational people

I'm a little unclear about this part of what you're saying. Sounds like you're saying proving this would be straightforward, or more well known, except for the bad arguments that are hard for people to see are bad. (?)

But "proving, entirely from consciousness, that there is a world outside of consciousness" is not what you're trying to do, I assume? I mean that is impossible to do and faulty to attempt. That's definitely not what an Aristotelian-Randian approach would attempt, anyway (not sure if that's what you're going for then), but maybe if you were going for a Cartesian-style approach.

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