Thought and Sense Kickoff Workshop

The Thought and Sense Project (hosted at CSMN) kicks off its activities with a workshop that brings together a variety of perspectives on the interrelations between perception and cognition.

Speakers (for Programme and Abstracts, see below):

Mette Hansen, University of Bergen (Norway)

Michelle Montague, University of Austin (USA)

Susanna Siegel, Harvard University (USA)  -- via Skype

Maja Spener, University of Birmingham (UK)

Barry C. Smith, Centre for the Study of the Senses - Institute for Philosophy (UK)

Keith Wilson, Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience, University of Glasgow (UK)

and members of the local Thought and Sense crew. 


Tuesday, Jan 12

10:00                Welcome - Opening remarks

10:15 - 11:30    Barry C. Smith: ‘Perception and Expertise: perceiving better, or knowing more about what we perceive?’

11:45 - 13:00    Maja Spener: ‘Abilities and the nature of perception’

14:00 - 15:15    Kristoffer Sundberg: ‘A new time-lag argument’

15:30 - 17:00    Michelle Montague: ‘Perception and Cognitive Phenomenology’

Wednesday, Jan 13.

09:15 - 10:30    Anders Nes: ‘Particularity in Cognitive and Perceptual Phenomenology’

10:45 - 12:00    Mette Hansen: ‘The Ambiguity of Contrast Cases’

13:00 - 14:15    Keith Wilson: 'Is Perceptual Experience Representational? Travis’s Argument from Looks'

14:30 - 16:00    Susanna Siegel (via Skype) and Sebastian Watzl: 'Salience norms'

16:15 - 17:00    Roundtable discussion on the perception/cognition 


• Barry Smith: ‘Perception and Expertise: perceiving better, or knowing more about what we perceive?’

There is evidence to suggest that expert and novice tasters (tea, wine, coffee) don't differ greatly in their perceptual discriminatory capacities. The biggest difference is that experts know they can make fine discriminations and novices don't - though novices can discriminate finely. This difference in meta-cognitive awareness may allow experts to organize their knowledge better. But how? Experts also bring knowledge to bear on the relevant domain of expertise but how does that influence their tasting judgements if it does not lead to improved perceptual discriminative capacities? I will offer some possible answers.

• Maja Spener: ‘Abilities and the nature of perception’.
In this paper I put forward an argument for experiential pluralism about visual experience. Experiential pluralism is the denial that conscious visual experience has a single common nature. The argument rests on a claim about the explanatory role of visual experience in relation to our possession of certain kinds of ordinary abilities. In defending this claim, I will discuss the force and limits of appeals to common sense explanatory practice and intuitions in reasoning about the nature of experience.

• Kristoffer Sundberg: ‘A new time-lag argument’

A natural starting point when reflecting on perception is the view that perception gives us an immediate access to the external mind-independent world. A natural starting point for reflections on the nature of time is presentism. Presentism implies that we live in the present. The future does not yet exist, and the past is no more. Both assumptions can seem innocent. They certainly seem unconnected. The first is an assumption about the nature of perception (often called “direct realism”). The other (presentism) is an assumption about the ontology of time. The time-lag argument forces us to admit that all perception is perception of the past. Presentism implies that the past does not exist. Therefore, contrary to direct realism, perception cannot present us with existing mind-independent objects. The time-lag argument has classically been used as an argument against direct realism. I will present a new version of the time-lag argument where the conclusion is that, contrary to our initial assumptions, we have to give up either direct realism or presentism. Our two common assumptions, innocent and unconnected as they may have seemed, thus cannot both be true.

• Michelle Montague: ‘Perception and Cognitive Phenomenology’

In this paper I consider the uses to which certain psychological phenomena—e.g. cases of seeing as, and linguistic understanding—are put in the debate about cognitive phenomenology.  I argue that we need clear definitions of the terms ‘sensory phenomenology’ and ‘cognitive phenomenology’ in order to understand the import of these phenomena. I make a suggestion about the best way to define these key terms, and, in the light of it, show how one influential argument against cognitive phenomenology fails.

• Anders Nes: ‘Particularity in Cognitive and Perceptual Phenomenology’

I address in what sense, if any, cognitive or perceptual phenomenology may be said to involve particularity, i.e., roughtly, a directedness at outer particular objects, as the particulars they are. I distinguish, and set aside, two extreme views on this topic: anti-singularism and object-dependency. I then turn to two more moderate views, which I will refer to as the Indexical-Character View and the SDR (’sense determines reference’) View. I shall argue that concerns remain for each of the latter. Finally, I take some steps towards what I shall suggest as a promising middle ground, in the form of what I shall call the ‘Madagascar’ view of shiftable particularity.

• Mette Hansen: 'Phenomenal contrast cases and phenomenal contrast arguments'

Intentionalism is the view that all mental states have contents that represent actual or possible states of affairs. Experiences are intentional states that are phenomenally conscious in that there is something that it is like to be in them, that is, they have phenomenal characters. The relation between the phenomenal character of an intentional state and its intentional content is such that if two experiences e and e* differ in phenomenal character they also differ in content and visa versa. Two questions, among others, have generated debates with regard to intentionalism: Is the content of perceptual experiences rich or restrictive? Is there a cognitive phenomenology?

We can distinguish between two different views about the content of perceptual experience, the Rich view and the Restrictive view. According to the Rich view perceptual experiences can represent high-level properties. Example of such properties are natural and artificial kind properties. According to the Restrictive view perceptual beliefs may represent high-level properties, but perceptual experience does not.

Cognitive Phenomenology is the view that cognitive states have phenomenal characters when conscious. This is not merely the claim that there is something that it is like to be in cognitive states when conscious. Rather, there is a kind of phenomenology, a cognitive phenomenology, that is proprietary to cognitive states in that it is irreducible to other kinds of phenomenology.

The rich view and cognitive phenomenology are supported by similar types of arguments. One such type appeals to introspection – the primary method by which we under normal circumstances reach judgments about our own phenomenal states. A problem is that introspective disagreement can undermine such arguments. Another type of argument that is used to when arguing for both views appeals to phenomenal contrast cases. These are cases where one person at different times, or two persons at the same time have experiences as of the same object, sound or state of affair and the like, but where the phenomenal character of the experiences differ. Phenomenal contrast arguments take phenomenal contrast cases as point of departure, when arguing that a certain explanation of the phenomenal contrast is a better explanation than other available explanations. In this paper I consider three different phenomenal contrast cases and highlight two explanations of the contrast; one of these explanations appeal to rich perceptual content while the other appeal to cognitive phenomenology. These explanations take for each phenomenal contrast case the form of two different phenomenal contrast arguments that rely, according to Siegel (2010), only minimally on introspection. Phenomenal contrast arguments rely only minimally on introspection, if and only if only the explanandum in the argument relies on introspection.

I argue in this talk that one cannot decide which of these explanations that in fact best explains the phenomenal contrast case. Therefore, phenomenal contrast arguments alone cannot be used as arguments to support either the rich view or cognitive phenomenology. Consequently, phenomenal contrast arguments do not rely only minimally on introspection.

• Keith Wilson: 'Is Perceptual Experience Representational? Travis’s Argument from Looks'

In ‘The Silence of the Senses’, Charles Travis (2004; 2013) argues that perceptual experiences are radically different to cognitive states such as thought or belief in that they lack representational content. In this paper, I offer an interpretation of one of Travis’s central arguments—the argument from looks—which appears to present a genuine and important challenge to orthodox representational views of perception. While this challenge may (paceTravis) ultimately prove surmountable, it places a substantial burden upon the representationalist to explain how the alleged contents of perceptual experience come to feature in our conscious mental lives. Alternatively, if they do not so feature, then perceptual representation fails to play its intended role, and so is superfluous.

• Susanna Siegel (via Skype) and Sebastian Watzl: ‘Salience norms’

What should be salient to you? What should you notice? What should you pay attention to? Normative questions like these are questions about we will call salience norms. They are normative questions about what should get into your mind and about whether something that is it should be, as it were, its front pages or far into the ‘back of the mind’. This paper thus investigates the norms that govern salience structures, an ordering among the things a subject pays attention to (objects, features, thoughts), according to their relative centrality or peripherality to that subject at a time. What kind of norms govern such salience structures? Our investigation is guided by three parameter setting questions. (1) Are salience norms prudential? (2) Do salience norms govern anything besides salience structures? (3) Do salience norms derive from other kinds of norms, such as moral or epistemic norms? We argue that aside from prudential norms (good to notice/focus on what serves your goals and interests!), and moral norms (fitting to notice/focus on what matters morally!), there are two norms that are broadly epistemic: (a) Important to Understand Norm: it is fitting to notice/focus on what is important to understand, (b) Epistemic Branching Norm: salience structures that manifest an irrational outlook (e.g. bias, prejudice) inherit the irrationality of that outlook.



The local Thought and Sense crew: Sebastian Watzl, Anders Nes, Kristoffer Sundberg

Published Oct. 26, 2015 4:28 PM - Last modified Jan. 11, 2016 9:50 AM