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Consciousness and the Paranormal — Part 11

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Constance

Paranormal Adept
I'm not sure I understand your question re the origin of the attraction to symmetry. A just so story might be that perceived symmetries are probably related/synonymous to adaptive patterns in the environment, thus organisms are attracted to them.
I posed the question to you because I think that Livio's approach to consciousness and mind is similar to yours. If you reread the eight or nine paragraphs of the LiveScience article that both quote and describe Livio's operating premises, I think you'll see what I'm getting at. I think the question Livio raises is an important one that is relevant to the various issues we've discussed in this thread over the last few years.

As to your last paragraph: I think as we've been discussing—especially at the end of the last thread—that cognition is indeed grounded in perception. It seems that that there is a growing, mainstream consensus on this as well.
I think that's true, but it still leaves the nature and meaning of 'perception' and its relationship to consciousness wide open, thus the issue we have to keep coming back to. Hope this makes sense.
 

Soupie

Paranormal Adept
I posed the question to you because I think that Livio's approach to consciousness and mind is similar to yours. If you reread the eight or nine paragraphs of the LiveScience article that both quote and describe Livio's operating premises, I think you'll see what I'm getting at. I think the question Livio raises is an important one that is relevant to the various issues we've discussed in this thread over the last few years.
I didn't interpret Livio's work to be an approach to consciousness and mind per se; however, his exploration of the idea that reality and our perception of reality may be drastically different is indeed similar to ideas I've explored in trying to understand the relationship of mind and body.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
I didn't interpret Livio's work to be an approach to consciousness and mind per se; however, his exploration of the idea that reality and our perception of reality may be drastically different is indeed similar to ideas I've explored in trying to understand the relationship of mind and body.
Here is the philpapers description of the book by Livio cited by the author of the LiveScience article on symmetry. Philpapers provides a link to the book at Google Books, here: Is God a Mathematician?

Is God a Mathematician
Mario Livio
Simon & Schuster (2009)

Abstract:

Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner once wondered about "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in the formulation of the laws of nature. Is God a Mathematician? investigates why mathematics is as powerful as it is. From ancient times to the present, scientists and philosophers have marveled at how such a seemingly abstract discipline could so perfectly explain the natural world. More than that -- mathematics has often made predictions, for example, about subatomic particles or cosmic phenomena that were unknown at the time, but later were proven to be true. Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered? If, as Einstein insisted, mathematics is "a product of human thought that is independent of experience," how can it so accurately describe and even predict the world around us? Mathematicians themselves often insist that their work has no practical effect. The British mathematician G. H. Hardy went so far as to describe his own work this way: "No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world." He was wrong. The Hardy-Weinberg law allows population geneticists to predict how genes are transmitted from one generation to the next, and Hardy's work on the theory of numbers found unexpected implications in the development of codes. Physicist and author Mario Livio brilliantly explores mathematical ideas from Pythagoras to the present day as he shows us how intriguing questions and ingenious answers have led to ever deeper insights into our world. This fascinating book will interest anyone curious about the human mind, the scientific world, and the relationship between them

Keywords Mathematics Philosophy Logic, Symbolic and mathematical Mathematicians Psychology Discoveries in science

Mario Livio, Is God a Mathematician? - PhilPapers


A review of the book posted at Google Books:

"Eugene Wigner, a Nobel laureate in physics, wondered about the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in explaining the nature of the universe. Mario Livio, in Is God a Mathematician?, demonstrates how unreasonably effective math (or as the British say, “maths”) is [or is it, “are”?]. Livio shows that Newton’s inverse square law of gravitation has proved to be correct to better than one part in a million, while the measurements available to him were correct only to 4%. Even more extraordinary is the prediction of the magnetic moment of the electron, which the equations of quantum electrodynamics predict with the accuracy of 11 decimal places!!

Livio points out an even more extraordinary power of pure math when he shows how concepts explored by mathematicians with absolutely no application in mind have turned out decades (and sometimes centuries) later to be unexpected solutions to problems grounded in physical reality! For example, “group theory,” developed by Evariste Galois 1832 to determine the solvability of algebraic equations has become the language used by physicists, linguists, and even anthropologists to describe all the symmetries of the world. And a non-Euclidian geometry outlined by Riemann in 1854 turned out to be the tool Einstein needed 60 years later in his general theory of relativity.

Physicist Roger Penrose identified three different kinds of “worlds”: (1) the world of our conscious perception; (2) the physical world; and (3) the Platonic world of mathematical forms. These in turn produce three enigmas: (1) why does the world of physical reality seem to obey the rules of the Platonic forms; (2) how do perceiving minds arise from the physical world; and (3) how did those minds gain access to the Platonic world by discovering or creating and articulating abstract mathematical forms and concepts.

Livio devotes the book to the question that has bedeviled philosophers from Plato to the present: whether the mathematical world we perceive is a preexisting entity that is “discovered” by humans or whether, instead, it is “created” from scratch by mathematicians. Before attempting to answer the question, he takes the reader on a quick (200 or so pages) tour of the history of the great mathematicians. He explores the relationship between math and pure logic, illustrating Russell’s paradox and Godel’s incompleteness theorem.
He treats us to lively descriptions of the biographies and work of many mathematicians from Pythagoras to Godel, ranking Archimedes, Newton, and Gauss as the three greatest. [He also seems to hold rather fond opinions of Galileo, Russell, and Godel.] One suspects that the real purpose of the book is to acquaint the general public with the history of math rather than to answer the deeply profound question of its very nature.

In finally proposing a solution to Wigner’s enigma of whether math is created or discovered, Livio concludes that math is partly discovered and partly created. Since our brains evolved to deal with the physical world, it should not be surprising that they developed a language (math) well suited for that purpose. Mathematical tools were not chosen arbitrarily, but on the basis of their ability to predict correctly the results of the experiments at hand. Livio argues that some math is “created”: “…through a burning curiosity, stubborn persistence, creative imagination, and fierce determination, humans were able to find the relevant mathematical formalisms for modeling a large number of physical phenomena.” On the other hand, for math to be “passively” effective (i.e., solve physical problems that had not been anticipated when the math was first articulated), it was essential that it have eternal validity, and those aspects of math have been “discovered.”

In all, this is a clearly written, fascinating book that is accessible to non-mathematicians.

(JAB) (
)"
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
I didn't interpret Livio's work to be an approach to consciousness and mind per se; however, his exploration of the idea that reality and our perception of reality may be drastically different is indeed similar to ideas I've explored in trying to understand the relationship of mind and body.
Livio might not direct his attention to consciousness per se, but the issue he explores -- "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in explaining the nature of the universe" [Wigner] -- ultimately requires that we address perception and consciousness at/as the empirical and epistemological 'intake' level of our species's mathematical, physical, social, and aesthetic thought and expression.
 

Pharoah

Paranormal Adept
Thanks @Pharoah. While you're here would you look over my post #17 above and my unclearly posed question to @Soupie following it and give us your thoughts on this question of symmetry in nature and how it affects our, and likely other species', behavior? I was about to do a search on Mario Livio's speculations, cited in the LiveScience article I cited in post 17 and will follow through with that tonight.
@Constance
The book by D'Arcy Thompson "On Growth and Form" addresses such things as symmetry in nature. It is my favourite book ever and I recommend it. The main thing I took from reading it was the notion of complexity from unity: Discover the unity and you can explain great complexity.
Of course, it all depends on what symmetry you are referring to exactly...

Oh, and God is not a mathematician. Isn't maths prdicated on the notion of quantities of things classed as instances of many such kinds? i.e. of equitable relationships between different things where one kind is a number of many such equal kinds. The assumption of maths is that this constitutes an accurate reprsentation of reality... so of course, reality must conform to this notion as an accurate description. But if we assume the contrary that there is no example of any kind that is a number of many such kinds, i.e., that every kind is unique, then mathematics does not exist as an accurate description of reality, just an accurate description of the reality we assume reality to be.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
@Constance
The book by D'Arcy Thompson "On Growth and Form" addresses such things as symmetry in nature. It is my favourite book ever and I recommend it. The main thing I took from reading it was the notion of complexity from unity: Discover the unity and you can explain great complexity.
Of course, it all depends on what symmetry you are referring to exactly...
I've seen your references to Thompson's book and have made a note to read it. {Is it really 1700 pp. long? Time waiteth for no man or woman, so I have ask if someone has written a less lengthy exposition of Thompson's work?} But that aside, I do think that you would particularly enjoy and appreciate the Livio book, which is not an argument for God or Intelligent Design but rather a learned, historical, inquiry into "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” [both descriptively and predictively, almost presciently] and the question of how members of our species from early to late have been capable of their increasingly complex mathematical discoveries.

Oh, and God is not a mathematician. Isn't maths predicated on the notion of quantities of things classed as instances of many such kinds? i.e. of equitable relationships between different things where one kind is a number of many such equal kinds. The assumption of maths is that this constitutes an accurate representation of reality... so of course, reality must conform to this notion as an accurate description. But if we assume the contrary that there is no example of any kind that is a number of many such kinds, i.e., that every kind is unique, then mathematics does not exist as an accurate description of reality, just an accurate description of the reality we assume reality to be.
I don't know enough about mathematics to answer that question, and am currently incapable of theorizing about mathematics, though it seems that Steve [@smcder] is. (looking forward to his return) In high school I was very good at geometry and abysmal at algebra, and thenceforth avoided mathematics at the university. What interests me in Livio's book is the question of how mathematical knowledge relevant to scientific descriptions of nature has been achieved in the development of human thinking since the ancients. In our time physicists rely on mathematics while mathematicians recognize its incompleteness. As a phenomenologist I've become convinced that nothing comes to mind without having first been sensed in and through embodied consciousness and perception functioning in an actual, physically environing, 'world'. So from Livio I hope to gain some insights into the capacities and limitations of mathematics as a partial pathway toward our current theories about the nature of reality, of what-is.

Here's a link to the Livio book at amazon, which includes an extract from its first chapter and several in-depth reviews, particularly one from the Washington Post.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743294068/?tag=genesteinbergina
 

Pharoah

Paranormal Adept
I've seen your references to Thompson's book and have made a note to read it. {Is it really 1700 pp. long? Time waiteth for no man or woman, so I have ask if someone has written a less lengthy exposition of Thompson's work?} But that aside, I do think that you would particularly enjoy and appreciate the Livio book, which is not an argument for God or Intelligent Design but rather a learned, historical, inquiry into "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” [both descriptively and predictively, almost presciently] and the question of how members of our species from early to late have been capable of their increasingly complex mathematical discoveries.



I don't know enough about mathematics to answer that question, and am currently incapable of theorizing about mathematics, though it seems that Steve [@smcder] is. (looking forward to his return) In high school I was very good at geometry and abysmal at algebra, and thenceforth avoided mathematics at the university. What interests me in Livio's book is the question of how mathematical knowledge relevant to scientific descriptions of nature has been achieved in the development of human thinking since the ancients. In our time physicists rely on mathematics while mathematicians recognize its incompleteness. As a phenomenologist I've become convinced that nothing comes to mind without having first been sensed in and through embodied consciousness and perception functioning in an actual, physically environing, 'world'. So from Livio I hope to gain some insights into the capacities and limitations of mathematics as a partial pathway toward our current theories about the nature of reality, of what-is.

Here's a link to the Livio book at amazon, which includes an extract from its first chapter and several in-depth reviews, particularly one from the Washington Post.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743294068/?tag=genesteinbergina
1700 pp.!!?? nah. about 1 inch thick. i can assure you that as a dyslexic I generally don't get far with books without pictures so Thompson's must be fine... the Greek was a bit offputting though
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
.... To me that experience bears out the phenomenological recognition that whatever appears to living animals appears by virtue of the light and shadow within which they/we are able to discern things and gestalts in the world, and the continual changing of the available light in which the world appears is the veritable sense of the temporality within which we and the world exist. The mobility of animals is the means by which the embodied senses of the environing world's 'depth' first arise prereflectively -- in moving, and observing motion, within three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time as temporality. Thus what we can think [mind] is constructed out of that which we experience in prereflective consciousness of being-in-the-world. I'm interested in any responses to this paragraph.
Whether or not shadows make it easier or more difficult to estimate distance is entirely dependent on how one is used to estimating distance in the first place. The context of the comment is obviously visual, so one might hypothesize that someone used to estimating distances without shadows might be as confused by the appearance of shadows as someone who is used to estimating distances with shadows suddenly not having them. So that poses an interesting dilemma. When does what we're doing become so automatic that it moves from being reflective to prereflective?
 
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smcder

Paranormal Adept
@Constance
The book by D'Arcy Thompson "On Growth and Form" addresses such things as symmetry in nature. It is my favourite book ever and I recommend it. The main thing I took from reading it was the notion of complexity from unity: Discover the unity and you can explain great complexity.
Of course, it all depends on what symmetry you are referring to exactly...

Oh, and God is not a mathematician. Isn't maths prdicated on the notion of quantities of things classed as instances of many such kinds? i.e. of equitable relationships between different things where one kind is a number of many such equal kinds. The assumption of maths is that this constitutes an accurate reprsentation of reality... so of course, reality must conform to this notion as an accurate description. But if we assume the contrary that there is no example of any kind that is a number of many such kinds, i.e., that every kind is unique, then mathematics does not exist as an accurate description of reality, just an accurate description of the reality we assume reality to be.
@Pharoah, I was the one asking about Thompson's book ... I found it in my college library, it is very beautiful.

@Pharoah writes:

"Oh, and God is not a mathematician."

smcder Yes, she is. ;-) Did you say your wife was too? Or had some background in it?

@Pharoah

"Isn't maths predicated on the notion of quantities of things classed as instances of many such kinds? i.e. of equitable relationships between different things where one kind is a number of many such equal kinds."

smcder no

@Pharaoh "The assumption of maths is that this constitutes an accurate representation of reality... so of course, reality must conform to this notion as an accurate description. But if we assume the contrary that there is no example of any kind that is a number of many such kinds, i.e., that every kind is unique, then mathematics does not exist as an accurate description of reality, just an accurate description of the reality we assume reality to be."

No. Or not necessarily or it depends on what mathematician you ask ... but I know where you are going! ;-)
 

smcder

Paranormal Adept
I've seen your references to Thompson's book and have made a note to read it. {Is it really 1700 pp. long? Time waiteth for no man or woman, so I have ask if someone has written a less lengthy exposition of Thompson's work?} But that aside, I do think that you would particularly enjoy and appreciate the Livio book, which is not an argument for God or Intelligent Design but rather a learned, historical, inquiry into "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” [both descriptively and predictively, almost presciently] and the question of how members of our species from early to late have been capable of their increasingly complex mathematical discoveries.



I don't know enough about mathematics to answer that question, and am currently incapable of theorizing about mathematics, though it seems that Steve [@smcder] is. (looking forward to his return) In high school I was very good at geometry and abysmal at algebra, and thenceforth avoided mathematics at the university. What interests me in Livio's book is the question of how mathematical knowledge relevant to scientific descriptions of nature has been achieved in the development of human thinking since the ancients. In our time physicists rely on mathematics while mathematicians recognize its incompleteness. As a phenomenologist I've become convinced that nothing comes to mind without having first been sensed in and through embodied consciousness and perception functioning in an actual, physically environing, 'world'. So from Livio I hope to gain some insights into the capacities and limitations of mathematics as a partial pathway toward our current theories about the nature of reality, of what-is.

Here's a link to the Livio book at amazon, which includes an extract from its first chapter and several in-depth reviews, particularly one from the Washington Post.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743294068/?tag=genesteinbergina

A delicious quartet of mathematical books (@Constance could you select an appropriate piece of music to accompany?)

1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/462d/7b6b1ee8243b6aa8897be3cf306239fb43c6.pdf

2. Innumeracy : mathematical illiteracy and its consequences : Paulos, John Allen : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive God bless you, John Allen Paulos and bless you, archive.org. @Constance you are probably a better mathematician than you know. *update: apparently you can't get to the PDF from here ... :-(

3. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1400079101/?tag=genesteinbergina Berlinski may be too clever for his (and our good) ... see also his books The Advent of the Algorithm and, if you are feeling brave, A Tour of the Calculus

4. http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~nunez/web/FM.PDF (excerpt) if you read the book, you will know a little mathematics @Constance - this comes at maths from the embodied cognition perspective - and it takes you all the way to Euler's Identity - a beautiful piece of mathematics from the beautiful mind of Leonhard Euler, the mathematician's mathematician. Euler was a man of extraordinary genius, with an exceptional memory, mental calculation skills and linguistic ability.

from Wikipedia

Eyesight deterioration[edit]
Euler's eyesight worsened throughout his mathematical career. In 1738, three years after nearly expiring from fever, he became almost blind in his right eye, but Euler rather blamed the painstaking work on cartography he performed for the St. Petersburg Academy for his condition. Euler's vision in that eye worsened throughout his stay in Germany, to the extent that Frederick referred to him as "Cyclops". Euler later developed a cataract in his left eye, which was discovered in 1766. Just a few weeks after its discovery, he was rendered almost totally blind. However, his condition appeared to have little effect on his productivity, as he compensated for it with his mental calculation skills and exceptional memory. Upon losing the sight in both eyes, Euler remarked, "Now I will have fewer distractions".[24] For example, Euler could repeat the Aeneid of Virgil from beginning to end without hesitation, and for every page in the edition he could indicate which line was the first and which the last. With the aid of his scribes, Euler's productivity on many areas of study actually increased. He produced, on average, one mathematical paper every week in the year 1775.[5] The Eulers bore a double name, Euler-Schölpi, the latter of which derives from schelb and schief, signifying squint-eyed, cross-eyed, or crooked. This suggests that the Eulers may have had a susceptibility to eye problems.[25]
 
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Pharoah

Paranormal Adept
@Pharoah, I was the one asking about Thompson's book ... I found it in my college library, it is very beautiful.

@Pharoah writes:

"Oh, and God is not a mathematician."

smcder Yes, she is. ;-) Did you say your wife was too? Or had some background in it?

@Pharoah

"Isn't maths predicated on the notion of quantities of things classed as instances of many such kinds? i.e. of equitable relationships between different things where one kind is a number of many such equal kinds."

smcder no

@Pharaoh "The assumption of maths is that this constitutes an accurate representation of reality... so of course, reality must conform to this notion as an accurate description. But if we assume the contrary that there is no example of any kind that is a number of many such kinds, i.e., that every kind is unique, then mathematics does not exist as an accurate description of reality, just an accurate description of the reality we assume reality to be."

No. Or not necessarily or it depends on what mathematician you ask ... but I know where you are going! ;-)
Yep... my wife is God.... no, no, I mean my wife is a mathematician. Did physics at Cambridge.
As to your "no" response, what then is 1, 1 of? @smcder? The premise is that it is 1 example of 1 of such kind, otherwise it is impossible to have 2, and if it is impossible to have 2, then you lack the ability to sequence quantitatively or qualitatively. The assumption of maths is that quantity and quality can be quantised... that there is a relation of equalities between things... otherwise you can't go beyond 1 or reduce 1 to parts.
Explain your no please.
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
Whether or not shadows make it easier or more difficult to estimate distance is entirely dependent on how one is used to estimating distance in the first place.

Randal, I was referring to the primordial condition essential for the evolution and development of visual perception itself, which could not occur in a world without light. Depth perception of objects, others, and gestalts is enabled by light and consequent shadows and enhanced by variations in resulting hues and saturation levels of colors. My comment was meant to address how the sensing of 3D space and of time/temporality begins at the prereflective level of awareness and seeking behavior in the primordial experiences of living organisms -- how they inchoately begin to sense their existence as continually taking place within and toward an environing 'world' that itself exists, and changes, in time. MP refers to these gradual awakenings as constituting "the perceptual faith" that the world we experience is real {actual} and navigable by beings existing within it.


This paper presents an argument for 'critical direct realism':

Philosophy of Perception and the Phenomenology of Visual Space
Gary Hatfield University of Pennsylvania, [email protected]

Extract:

". . . Phenomenal experience does present object-properties and perceptually segregates things that are objects, making them available for cognitive affirmation as individuals. Critical direct realism handles perceptual relativity not by positing intermediate objects that have the varying properties, nor by attempting to account for the variation wholly in terms of the changing physical relations between things and perceivers, but by positing appearances that are object-presenting.25 These appearances needn’t copy the object (as with Smith’s allegedly perfect phenomenal constancy) in order to be presentations of objects and their properties. Rather, they present object properties in a functionally adequate manner, that is, in a manner that can guide action and serve to make individual objects and their properties perceptually available.

In the case of objects at a distance, the contracted spatial appearances described in the previous section present the objects accurately in several respects. Directions from the perceiver to all visible portions of the object are veridical (within very close tolerances). The relations among the visible parts of objects are veridical. The proportionate relations among the parts of the object and between the object and other things at the same distance are preserved; this is known as proportional or relative size constancy (Palmer 1999, 319). Up to some point (perhaps somewhere near the horizon), things appear at a phenomenal distance that is proportionate to physical distance, so that if one thing is nearer than another, it appears so (within tolerances). Metacognitive skill of the kind Granrud tracked developmentally allows individual perceivers to recognize cognitively the constant physical size of objects that look smaller with increasing distance. Figure/ ground organization tends to segregate things that are objects as perceptual units. These segregated volumes can then serve the purposes of object recognition and identification (see Hatfield 2009, ch. 7). Nonetheless, the appearances, even in the case of primary qualities, bear a subjective and mind-dependent aspect.26 As regards their spatial relations, objects are not only presented from a point of view, but also with a contracted spatiality that is peculiar to perceivers.

Some questions do remain for the critical direct realist. What are these appearances? If they are not literally brown or rectangular, how is it that they phenomenally present such properties? The critical direct realist does not posit a relation of acquaintance between the perceiver and the object of perception and does not require that perceived properties such as color, shape, and size be literally present in the appearances. In this way, critical direct realism differs from naïve realism.27 But it does require that phenomenal brown and phenomenal size and shape be present in consciousness as phenomenal qualities that present object properties. As with the “content view,” the represented content accounts for phenomenal experience. But it does so by using subjective qualitative phenomenality to represent external properties. For size and shape, it does so by presenting subjectively qualified sizes and shapes as phenomenal content. To say more about the status of these qualitative states of experience is desirable. They have the status of Brentano (1874/1995, 88) intentionality: they are phenomenally characterized intentional contents.28 They make phenomenal brownness and phenomenal shape present to consciousness. In so doing, they represent physically brown and physically shaped things in the environment—not by copying them, but by presenting them in a subjectively phenomenal way that allows for successful action and cognition.

One might also ask how it is that we see things directly by means of a mental content. Here the critical direct realist joins with some adherents of the “content view” to endorse nonconceptual content as the initial vehicle of perception. This content, however, has a subjective aspect and is introspectible. The phenomenal appearance of a trapezoidal brown expanse just is the phenomenal presentation of the table top. The subject can become aware of the trapezoidal shape of the top as it runs away in the distance (the table top is trapezoidal in 3D), and this is a subjective feature. But such features are object-presenting. Again, it is desirable to fill out this account, but that must await another occasion.

For the nonce, I have offered some reflections on the phenomenology of visual spatial perception that extend and articulate the notion of perceptual relativity. Things appear small in the distance not simply as a function of the mathematical laws of perspective, but in virtue of subject-dependent undervaluing of registered or perceived distance in the visual system. Naïve realism and the “content view” can’t handle these newly prominent facts. Critical direct realism can account for these facts of perceptual relativity, while offering a realism that is direct enough."

https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1054&context=phil_ex
 
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Constance

Paranormal Adept
Here is a paper by a Czech scholar that provides the clearest exposition I've come across of MP's phenomenology of perception:

Simona Erjavec, Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Visual Perception as a
Bodily Phenomenon

Summary: In her article the author focuses on Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of visual perception that arises from his original concept of the body which extends beyond the empiricist and intellectualist explanations of the body that rest upon Cartesian dualism. Instead, Merleau-Ponty discusses the live, active and cognizant body. He presents visual perception as a complex phenomenon which is neither completely objective nor completely subjective, but instead rooted deeply in the body schema which is of key importance for the understanding of space, depth and movement, i.e. phenomena that remain relevant today and due to which remains relevant also Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological existential approach that underlines the significance of prereflexive experience.
Keywords: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, visual perception, phenomenology of perception, space, depth, movement

"Although the interest in visual perception is with us since prehistory (an interest in optical phenomena can be documented since the emergence of writing) even today we still don’t possess satisfactory explanations of numerous visual phenomena that could aid us in adequate understanding of visual artworks. In spite of numerous and very heterogeneous theories which could be roughly divided into two theoretical paradigms, i.e. theories of indirect perception (the so-called top-down theories) and theories of direct perception (the so-called bottom-up theories), even in the twenty-first century visual perception remains hidden behind a veil of mystery. Among the unresolved phenomena belong issues such as the perception of space, depth and movement that are to be discussed below.

The research into theories that can be detected since al-Kindi (801–873) and Greek thinkers of antiquity to Newton, Kepler and Descartes is important for a better understanding of theories that have been developed in the twentieth century and that have led us to the currently predominant cognitive explanations of perception that take as their point of departure the analogy between the processing of information in computer software and the processing of information in the brain. Merleau-Ponty’s theory of visual perception that emerges from his original concept of the body also came into existence as a critique of previous theories which he divided into empiricist and intellectualist ones. The former he criticized for not discussing the live body but the abstract, dead body instead, while the latter were criticized for forgetting, in their accentuation of subjectivity, the actual body. Only via Gestalt theory that was developed in the beginning of the twentieth century, and phenomenology as his fundamental starting point, has Merleau-Ponty overcome the Cartesian dualist treatment of visual perception, thereby offering an alternative explanation of visual phenomena. Let me at this point underline that the understanding of the laws or rules of visuality is important both for painting as well as for the visual arts in general, for artworks themselves raise our awareness of the complexity of perception which is not reduced to optics in its mathematical-geometric sense. It is therefore not surprising that Merleau-Ponty found especially on the terrain of fine art (especially painting) the paradigmatic case that reveals the functioning of our pre-reflexive visual experience of which Merleau-Ponty says that it is "older than thinking".

Numerous factors affect our perception, such as consciousness, the unconscious (such as the unconscious reasoning mentioned already by Helmholz), experiences, cultural determinacy, etc. Nonetheless, all this does not signify that our perception is completely subjective, for the Gestalt theorists to whom Merleau-Ponty referred on numerous occasions have shown the validity of certain principles of cognitive organization. Our perception is not completely objective either, for our eye in contrast to a photographic camera very selectively records sensations. Merleau-Ponty’s theory is important for the understanding of visual perception especially since it also reveals via the works of fine art the complex nature of the visual that painters have often discovered and uncovered intuitively, through the process of painting.

In his The Structure of Behavior (1942) Merleau-Ponty described visual perception as a “beam of light that reveals objects where they are and announces their presence which was until then latent. No matter whether I perceive myself or observe another perceiving subject it seems to me that the gaze places itself on the objects and reaches them at a distance as expressed well by the use of the Latin word lumine, to mark the gaze.”1 Reading his description one is inevitably reminded of the so-called haptic theory defended already by the ancient Greeks, although not in literal but in metaphoric sense; the function of light as well as its source was well-known already at the time of Kepler and Newton. The metaphor 'touching with the gaze' is present in Merleau-Ponty from his early works up to The Visible and the Invisible where he wrote that “since vision is a palpation with the look, it must also be inscribed in the order of being that it discloses to us; he who looks must not himself be foreign to the world that he looks at.”2

It is typical for Merleau-Ponty’s theory of visual perception that he defines it in a novel and original way, i.e. as a corporeal and not a psychic phenomenon, the consequence of which is that his interpretation of perception differs completely both from Descartes’ understanding as well as contemporary dominant psychological theories (for example cognitive or INFOPRO theories) that defend perception as a mental event. Instead of subjective explanations or empirical theories Merleau-Ponty presents the “ordinary intuitive point of view from which we understand ourselves as neither disembodied intellects nor physical mechanisms, but living bodily subjects.”3 Merleau-Ponty highlights the importance of pre-reflexive sensual experience that is older than thinking, once again with such belief representing a continuation in his philosophical thought all the way to The Visible and the Invisible.

In his criticism of empiricism (that regards the world as an object while the subject is regarded as yet another object among many) and intellectualism (that defends absolute subjectivism) Merleau-Ponty argues that it would be necessary to highlight direct experience of things in which things reach beyond sensual manifestations and are not only the result of our judgments about individual units and their comparisons.4 In his opinion in experience as revealed by pure description, we meet natural, organic and mental events that mutually explain each other.

In his ontological discussion of perception the connection between the sensually given and meaning became important. According to the traditional interpretation the disturbances in perception are nothing more than sensual deficiencies, while, as Merleau-Ponty argued, clinical cases show that difficulties arise from the lack of connection between sensual perception and meaning. In spite of their injuries patients retained numerous motor abilities and were able to think abstractly, but they lost the intermediate intuitive, motor intentional sense of spatial orientation. A related problem is represented by the so-called phantom limbs which neither physiology nor psychology was able to clarify, something that was accomplished only by the holistic phenomenological approach.

Merleau-Ponty saw a promising solution to the problem of perception in Gestalt theory which instead of foregrounding the idea of meaning highlighted the idea of structure, which Merleau-Ponty described as an “indiscernible joint of an idea and of a substance, a contingent event on the basis of which contents in front of us start to acquire a meaning, an intelligibility in the process of becoming”5. By stressing the structure as the fundamental reality, Merleau-Ponty already in his book The Structure of Behavior dealt with the issue of the soul and the body as well as the notion of Gestalt of which he wrote: “Nature is, we say, the outside of a concept. Precisely the concept as a concept possesses no outside and we are left with the understanding of Gestalt as the unity of the outside, the nature and the idea. In a similar vein the consciousness too, for which the Gestalt exists, was not an intellectual consciousness but perceptual experience.”6 It is thus not surprising that precisely perceptual consciousness is in the opinion of Merleau-Ponty the realm that warrants a more detailed research.

The most important contribution of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1945) is its ontological description of perception which transcends subjective experience or objective property of the mind. In his view perception is always “immanent because the object that we see cannot be foreign to us since vision is always possessed by us, and transcendent because there is always more in a perception than is actually given”7. Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy thus leans neither toward psychology nor epistemology but toward ontology, for like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty believed that “an ontology of human existence must proceed from a phenomenological description of human experience”8.
Theory of visual perception in Merleau-Ponty rests upon the concept of the corporeal schema, which means that it is a form of intentionality with which motor intentionality is concerned. Carman Taylor claims: “Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology is neither an empirical theory of sensory mechanisms nor the logical analysis of our concepts pertaining to perception, but instead a concrete description of what perception itself is, namely the phenomenal and motor aspect of our bodily being in the world.”9

For Merleau-Ponty all the senses cannot be equated in the sense of an equal susceptibility to objectivity and intentionality for the very experience does not offer them as equal. In his opinion, the visual experience is the most important for it is more reliable than the tactile one. The visual experience “garners within itself its own truth and adds to it, because its richer structure offers me modalities of being unsuspected by touch”10. He claims that the unity of the gaze through two eyes is created because the body is not the sum of organs but a “synergic system, all the functions of which are exercised and linked together in the general action of being in the world, in so far as it is the congealed face of existence”11.

Although the visual experience possesses the most important role we should not forget that experience too begins with the aid of other senses, especially touch. “The senses intercommunicate by opening on to the structure of the thing.”12 Without other sensual experiences the visual experience too would not be what it is, for the overlapping of senses is an essential property of our experience. It is worth noting Merleau-Ponty’s statement that the senses translate mutually without any mediator: “Man”, says Herder, “is a permanent sensorium commune, who is affected now from one quarter, now from another.”13

On such basis Merleau-Ponty could be placed among the defenders of the direct perception which in the sixties started to be developed by J. J. Gibson (1904–1979). Merleau-Ponty ascribes to visual perception a certain historical density and perceptual synthesis which is also temporal synthesis. As we open our eyes and see in front of us a certain object our consciousness is first filled with colors and vague reflections. To the action of the gaze Merleau-Ponty ascribes prospectivity and retrospectivity. The former because our gaze is oriented toward an aim (toward the object) and the latter because the object “will present itself as preceding its own appearance, as the stimulus, the motive or the prime mover of every process since its beginning. The spatial synthesis and the synthesis of the object are based on its unfolding of time.”14

Temporality has a special place in Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of visual perception for it involves both vision and movement. Vision is conditioned by the movement of the eyes and the movement of the body and both are conditioned also by time, but in his opinion this does not concern the experience of time but its formation, for my body “takes possession of time; it brings into existence a past and a future for a present”15. This means that visual perception is a condensation of past perception and the present one, namely that the present perception took for its own the past one. There therefore exists a link between the past and the present perception, something that is obvious in paintings that Merleau-Ponty discusses; it is therefore not surprising that he finds in painting a paradigmatic example of a pre-reflexive visual experience. When we speak of perception we speak of syntheses, as for example in the case of works of fine art that he writes about. We arrive at an analysis with the aid of reflexive thinking and in such a case we raise the question as to “what I am really seeing.”16 In this way Cézanne’s works which Merleau-Ponty often discusses, on the one hand, offer synthesis reached by the painter, while on the other we, as viewers, undergo an analytical process that leads the painter to the final painting. In Merleau-Ponty’s opinion radical reflection must be concerned with pre-reflexive experience of the world if it wants to understand itself. But what does pre-reflexive experience mean? It is not plurality given by the synthesis of all understanding but “a certain perceptual field against the background of a world”17. The way that we arrive at the primordial perception which is “non-thetic, pre-objective and pre-conscious” is explained in the following paragraph:

“Let us therefore say provisionally that there is a merely possible stuff of knowledge. From every point of the primordial field intentions move outwards, vacant and yet determinate; in realizing these intentions, analysis will arrive at the object of science, at sensation as a private phenomenon, and at the pure subject which posits both. These three terminal concepts are no nearer than on the horizon of primordial experience. It is in the experience of the thing that the reflective ideal of positing thought shall have its basis. Hence reflection does not itself grasp its full significance unless it refers to the unreflective fund of experience which it presupposes, upon which it draws, and which constitutes for it a kind of original past, a past which has never been a present.”18

Perception of Depth and Movement

In philosophy and psychology of visual perception as well as in some other disciplines and realms dealing with the visual (such as artificial intelligence) perception of depth represents one of the fundamental questions and remains even today an unsolved riddle for its phenomenal existence is anything but obvious. Through his research into this phenomenon Merleau-Ponty found the essence of perception, for traditional theories (of Berkeley and Descartes, for example) negated its visibility. Radical empiricism attempted to prove the impossibility of seeing depth by focusing on the properties of the retina on which only a two-dimensional image can be drawn. According to the second doctrine, i.e. reflexive analysis, the depth in principle is not visible for it exists for the subject only. Although both doctrines negate the visibility of depth, we know from experience that depth exists. This means that the doctrines do not originate in our actual experience but acquire the position of an observer from the side, equating – according to Merleau-Ponty – depth with width, causing the latter to become invisible. Merleau-Ponty thus once more researched the riddle of the visibility of depth and critically evaluated theories dealing with it for in his view depth was neither a result of seeing the height and width from the side and nor the third dimension, but a key phenomenon of our perception instead and thus rather the first than the third dimension.

It is characteristic for Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of space that he distinguishes between spatialized space (espace spatialisé) and spatializing space (espace spatialisant). The first applies to physical space which is determined by concrete relations (below and above, left and right, close and distant) and which appears to us as an unsolvable multiplicity while the second applies to geometric space with its changeable dimensions. Space as discussed by Merleau-Ponty is neither real nor logical environment wherein things would be positioned, but oriented phenomenal space or means with which a certain position of things is made possible.

One of the main reasons for Merleau-Ponty’s interest in space is his wish to get with its aid closer to the new concept of intentionality, for “the classical conception, which treats the experience of the world as a pure act of constituting consciousness, manages to do so only in so far as it defines consciousness as absolute non-being, and correspondingly consigns its contents to a hylectic layer which belongs to opaque being”19. His discussion of space highlights the perception of depth, for in his opinion it is depth that directly reveals the link between the subject and space. Depth “forces us to reject the preconceived notion of the world and rediscover the primordial experience from which it springs: it is, so to speak, the most existential of all dimensions, because (and here Berkeley’s argument is right) it is not impressed upon the object itself, it quite clearly belongs to the perspective and not to things. Therefore it cannot either be extracted from, or even put into that perspective by consciousness. It announces a certain indissoluble link between things and myself by which I am placed in front of them, whereas breadth can, at first sight, pass for a relationship between things themselves, in which the perceiving subject is not implied.”20

Merleau-Ponty states that we usually interpret depth as a creation of reason while he regards it as a form of organization in our body. The first interpretation is relevant due to the phenomenon of illusions. We thus see the illusion of depth when, for example, looking through a stereoscope our eyes adjust to a certain degree of convergence, although in reality there is no actual depth. But if we assume “that it is not possible to see what is not there”21, thereby remaining on the level of defining visual perception with a sensible impression, Merleau-Ponty argues that the dispersion of images on the retina triggers the convergence [that] does not exist by itself. Dispersion, claims Merleau-Ponty, exists only for the subject that attempts to unite monocular phenomena of the same structure and who strives to[ward] synergy. Consequently, in his opinion, the depth is here from the moment when monocular images appear dispersed. Such phenomenon shows us how the unity of binocular viewing and of depth that is connected to it is possible.

The understanding of depth as a form of certain organization in our body appeared in Merleau-Ponty’s writings also under the influence of Gestalt psychologists who, when discovering that the apparent size and convergence are not present in perception itself as objective facts, distanced themselves from psychology and aided themselves with a phenomenological description that shows us the depth exterior to any geometry. . . ."

continues at: http://fmkjournals.fmk.edu.rs/index.php/AM/article/viewFile/19/pdf
 

Constance

Paranormal Adept
Question: can living beings such as our species become both preconsciously yet reflexively aware, and later reflectively conscious, of the depth structure of the environing world in which we are embedded -- indeed, from which we emerge -- without the structure of our own being, both physical and mental, becoming recognized as a part of that larger structure?
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
Question: can living beings such as our species become both preconsciously yet reflexively aware, and later reflectively conscious, of the depth structure of the environing world in which we are embedded -- indeed, from which we emerge -- without the structure of our own being, both physical and mental, becoming recognized as a part of that larger structure?
I'm not sure I understand the question as it might be interpreted a couple of different ways. For example it depends on who is doing the recognizing. Hypothetically we might have person ( A ) who is experiencing the environment and another person ( B ) who is also experiencing the same environment who is not aware of person ( A ). If we're only talking about a single person then it would seem that self awareness would be intrinsic to environmental awareness, in which case the answer would be "No.". However it is conceivable that person ( B ) might not recognize person ( A ) as part of the "larger structure" unless person ( A ) is visible to them, in which case the answer would be "Yes."
 

smcder

Paranormal Adept

Oh, and God is not a mathematician. Isn't maths prdicated on the notion of quantities of things classed as instances of many such kinds? i.e. of equitable relationships between different things where one kind is a number of many such equal kinds.


You have to put things in categories to count them. I can count two apples and three oranges or five fruits - I haven't made any metaphysical assumptions in doing this - I don't have to assert truths about fruits to claim that things can be put into categories to be counted ...I could also count orange and red things or fresh and rotten things ...

The assumption of maths is that this constitutes an accurate reprsentation of reality... so of course, reality must conform to this notion as an accurate description.

Can you give some support for this ... ? I've not seen that anywhere ... mathematicians worry all the time about their equations applying to the real world - but then again mathematicians (and you) drive over bridges built on assumptions all the time - on the other, other hand, bridges collapse, even when the mathematics is right - see the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse.

But if we assume the contrary that there is no example of any kind that is a number of many such kinds, i.e., that every kind is unique, then mathematics does not exist as an accurate description of reality, just an accurate description of the reality we assume reality to be.

One unique kind plus one unique kind equals - two unique kinds. That can be very useful whether or not it's an accurate depiction of reality.
 

smcder

Paranormal Adept
Yep... my wife is God.... no, no, I mean my wife is a mathematician. Did physics at Cambridge.
As to your "no" response, what then is 1, 1 of? @smcder? The premise is that it is 1 example of 1 of such kind, otherwise it is impossible to have 2, and if it is impossible to have 2, then you lack the ability to sequence quantitatively or qualitatively. The assumption of maths is that quantity and quality can be quantised... that there is a relation of equalities between things... otherwise you can't go beyond 1 or reduce 1 to parts.
Explain your no please.
I don't see where it follows that quality can be quantised is a metaphysical assumption of mathematics per se? Could you provide an example?

The argument undermines itself by asserting that each kind is "unique" which is differentiation - even if you are unwilling to go any further, you just got to one ... from zero.

If you want to count things, you put them in categories - as I mentioned above - apples and oranges can be:

1. fruit
2. two kinds of fruit
3. fresh or rotten things
4. red or orange things
5. big or small things
6. things with zest and things with peels
7.
things you would put in a Waldorf salad or things that you would squeeze to make orange juice
....

And at the same time, I can recognize the individuality of each item and still count them - there are three utterly unique kinds of things there. I don't have to operate metaphysically on the things, but on their arrangement - that's what permits mathematics, the abstraction - but it doesn't follow that I am quantising the quality of each object.

The two things come together in law - where our rights come from a recognition of both unique identity and common humanity.
 
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Constance

Paranormal Adept
I'm not sure I understand the question as it might be interpreted a couple of different ways. For example it depends on who is doing the recognizing. Hypothetically we might have person ( A ) who is experiencing the environment and another person ( B ) who is also experiencing the same environment who is not aware of person ( A ). If we're only talking about a single person then it would seem that self awareness would be intrinsic to environmental awareness, in which case the answer would be "No.". However it is conceivable that person ( B ) might not recognize person ( A ) as part of the "larger structure" unless person ( A ) is visible to them, in which case the answer would be "Yes."
See again this extract from the Erjavec paper (or, better, read the whole of her paper):

"Depth 'forces us to reject the preconceived notion of the world and rediscover the primordial experience from which it springs: it is, so to speak, the most existential of all dimensions, because (and here Berkeley’s argument is right) it is not impressed upon the object itself, it quite clearly belongs to the perspective and not to things. Therefore it cannot either be extracted from, or even put into that perspective by consciousness. It announces a certain indissoluble link between things and myself by which I am placed in front of them, whereas breadth can, at first sight, pass for a relationship between things themselves, in which the perceiving subject is not implied.'(MP)"

Even without encountering other 'human' beings like oneself and sensing that each bears its own perspective on its being-in-the-world, I think it's likely that a solitary human finding himself/herself without fellow humans from an early age would still sense the individual perspectives on the world taken by other animals in his or her environment by observing their interactions with one another and with things in the environment. Those 'other' perspectives on the selfsame environment would disclose the variety, the variousness, of the openness of all living beings to the environing conditions of their lives. A solitary human closely observing the activities of other living species would also recognize their capacities of will and intentional behavior as expressed, for example, in nest building and other engineering of their environments.

It's notable that many so-called 'primitive' humans have evidently developed deep respect for the creatures whose lives they take in order to survive as individuals, families, and tribes/communities. I think this is a mark not only of empathy for individual members of other living species, and for other species as a whole [why we lament the extinction of species of life on our planet], but an implicit early expression of the moral and ethical thinking developed in our species' philosophical and spiritual history within our development of societies and cultures. None of that would have taken place if we, and other species before us, had not sensed and 'known' to varying degrees the depth dimensions of the actual physical world we exist in and the multiple lived/living perspectives inherent in our mutual existence in it. What I find most satisfying in phenomenological philosophy is the evolutionary and historical coherence of its insights into the nature and capacities of life and evolving lived being in the world. Understanding phenomenology makes it impossible to believe that we exist in a 'virtual' reality, or that we can produce consciousness like our own in machines of our own devising. The world is real and the nature and ontology of life within it is existential.
 
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USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
See again this extract from the Erjavec paper (or, better, read the whole of paper): ... It announces a certain indissoluble link between things and myself by which I am placed in front of them, whereas breadth can, at first sight, pass for a relationship between things themselves, in which the perceiving subject is not implied.'" ...
Okay, but what's the point? Even if the relationship between the perceived and the perceiver isn't implied, it exists all the same. If it's not in one's mind then it's simply taken for granted.
 
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