Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Optical delusion?

Here's today's "Dinette Set" cartoon:

Note the logo on our bearded pedant's shirt ("Fale University"), as well as the text on the wall behind him: ("Optical Delusion Fair: Ignorant Public Welcome"). Hmm, I do believe we pedants are being tweaked. Which is fine, of course, but I can't just let it go without piling on some more pedantry in response.

Naturally we here at DR are all over aspect perception. Still, I had never really paid that much attention to the differences between pure figure/ground cases (like this one) and cases like the duckrabbit. For example, it does indeed seem that at least some of the former cases might be perceived in what we might call a "figure/figure" way ("two weirdos kissing a vase"), while no such option is possible for the duckrabbit. That is, I can imagine, after having had the aspects flip back and forth for a bit, seeing the drawing in an indeterminate way, as neither duck nor rabbit. Even this would probably take a conscious effort, to keep the perception from resolving into one or the other figure.

But it's very hard to imagine seeing it as both a duck and a rabbit at the same time. Wouldn't they be taking up the same space? How would you feed "it"? Where would you aim your hand? Toward its "mouths", which are located at the back of each other's head? I'm sorry, that's trying too hard. (Note: this is of course different from seeing it as a "duckrabbit", on the one hand, or as indeterminate in the above sense, on the other). And even if it were possible to do this, this wouldn't "refute" Wittgenstein's use of the example, as people sometimes try to do (an advantage of the "quietist" reading of Wittgenstein is to bring out how pointless it is to try to do this). Wittgenstein's point, as I see it, is to introduce the notion of aspect, by investigating the experience of "aspect-dawning", i.e. when we suddenly see (what we can't help calling) the "same thing" in a different way (pp. 196-7, in Part II):
The change of aspect. "But surely you would say that the picture is altogether different now!"
But what is different: my impression? my point of view?—-Can I say? I describe the alteration like a perception; quite as if the object had altered before my eyes.

"Now I am seeing this", I might say (pointing to another picture, for example). This has the form of a report of a new perception.The expression of a change of aspect is the expression of a new perception and at the same time of the perception's being unchanged.

I suddenly see the solution of a puzzle-picture. Before, there were branches there; now there is a human shape. My visual impression has changed and now I recognize that it has not only shape and colour but also a quite particular 'organization'.—-My visual impression has changed;-—what was it like before and what is it like now?—-If I represent it by means of an exact copy—and isn't that a good representation of it?—-no change is shewn.

And above all do not say "After all my visual impression isn't the drawing; it is this —— which I can't shew to anyone."—-Of course it is not the drawing, but neither is it anything of the same category, which I carry within myself.

The concept of the 'inner picture' is misleading, for this concept uses the 'outer picture' as a model; and yet the uses of the words for these concepts are no more like one another than the uses of 'numeral' and 'number'. (And if one chose to call numbers 'ideal numerals', one might produce a similar confusion.)
In context, Wittgenstein's proximal target is of course, as it is in other parts of the book as well, the (Cartesian) idea of an "inner picture", as well as the Cartesian subject one would have to be in order to "look at" such a thing.

Yet I can't help thinking of the idea of aspect perception as much more central to the entire book than do most readers – for example, as directly related to the concept of "perspicuous representation" (or "presentation"), which in §122 he describes as "of fundamental significance for us. It earmarks the form of account we give, the way we look at things." The way we look at things. Given Wittgenstein's aims throughout the book, how could aspect perception not be central for them?


davey said...

McDowell has backed away from his earlier position on what we see, so that (in short) he used to think we see objects, now he thinks we see proper objects of sight. But, I think his earlier position is correct, so that, if we learn that what we are looking at is a robin, we can properly be said to now be seeing something different, not as McDowell now says the same thing but with recognitional capacity. Trying to figure out whether the phenomenolgy is different is not on for Wittgenstein, pace McDowell. The new way of referring to what we see when we know it is a robin is as a robin, what we see is therefore different than when we don't know the name. The addition of what is apparently something non-visual, a name, I would contend makes what we actually see different. Perception is more puzzling than we think! Do my reflections here seem anywhere near?

Duck said...

Thanks for your comment davey. I'm not sure what you're saying here -- and I'm not familiar with McDowell's recent work on perception (do you have a reference?), so these terms aren't helping me any. My sense is, as elsewhere, that you can say whatever you want (that we see the "same thing," or not, after a cognitive shift) as long as you don't get confused -- that is, as long as you address the potential confusion involved in coming down on one side rather than the other, whichever side you end up going for.

davey said...

Thanks, Duck. Here's a go at saying more, as you ask.

McDowell ref: "Avoiding the myth of the given". He says: "I used to assume that to conceive experiences as actualizations of conceptual capacities, we would need to credit experiences with propositional content, the sort of contents judgments have. And I used to assume that the content of an experience would need to include everything the experience enables its subject to know noninferentially. But both these assumptions now strike me as wrong."

He says, in effect: if two people see a robin, and only one has the concept 'robin', they see the same thing but one knows noninferentially it's a robin by some 'recognitional' capacity (I don't know what he means by 'recognitional' capacity). He doesn't think the concept 'robin' figures in the actual visual experience of the one who has that concept.

Since he doesn't think the concept 'robin' alters the experience, he also says the only kind that do are ''proper sensibles of sight and common sensibles accessible to sight'. And further, he says the content of my experience is not propositional but intuitional.

Anyway, my present view of things is that McDowell has latterly decided too fast what counts in experience as visual. As Wittgenstein says, the duck/rabbit cannot be drawn any other way than it is to show someone else that it is a duck or a rabbit - the visual experience goes beyond what anyone that way inclined (McDowell inclined, maybe) would want to say was properly visual about the figure. So, I have said about the robin, that simply knowing the word (concept) to apply to what is seen actually changes what is there visually. So, two people looking at a robin, one who only has the word 'robin' more than the other, actually see something different, and not just as a matter of some further recognitional capacity.

David Yates.

Duck said...

Thanks David -- I have read that article (with limited understanding); I just didn't recognize the term "proper objects of sight". People will accuse you of idealism or worse for saying what you do, but I have no problem with it if it is properly cashed out. Let me think about it (probably without going back to that article if I can help it), and maybe I'll post a few more rambling and highly qualified thoughts in a new post so maybe others will join in. Check back in a few days.