Wednesday, 14 June 2017

hallucination as unrelinquished anticipation

notes for talk this week: a phenomenological theory of hallucination 

Posted here to supersede and collate previous musings on hallucination.

1. ontological question of hallucination

What is it to hallucinate? What is the being of hallucination? This not an empirical question about psychological precipitants or associated neurological events.

2. against dualistic answers to the ontological question

If you espouse dualism of inner (mind/brain) and outer (world/body), then you hardly need a theory of the being of hallucination. Your conception of perception will likely already reference an inner mental item of some sort ('inner representation'/'percept'/'sense datum'/'idea'), so: hallucination becomes simply the inner item in absence of outer stimulus. (You'll also be likely to: take seriously the problem of constancy, be drawn to Helmholtzian theorising, talk of unconscious inferences etc; Gibson won't speak to you.)

But perception and experience are not just caused by their worldly objects; they take them in. Not hybrids of i) non-mental causal outer interactions with a world (the mechanics of vision and audition etc) plus ii) mental upshots of 'loud and glowing sense data' in an internal world. Instead perceptual experience is our openness to the world; it is originary transcendence. In this sense of 'perceptual experience' a hallucination is precisely not a perception or experience; paradoxical to talk of 'an experience of a horse in the absence of a horse'.

'Inner representation', 'sense datum', 'inner image' etc are simply philosophical inventions which themselves cry out for explication before they themselves can feature in explanations. What use is a visual representation if one can't see it? Doesn't the concept of a 'representation' - e.g. of a picture - presuppose rather than explain the capacity to see what is thereby pictured? Such notions need explaining before being put to use to 'explain' perception. But why do we even need an explanation? The felt need had better not be a result of a theoretically contrived dualism between mind and world (the unnecessary explanation being of how it is possible for such an alienated subject to reach the world; ... dude, we're not world-alienated subjects, it's ok).

Non-disjunctivism says: the visual perception of a horse, and a hallucination of a horse, have something psychological/inner in common. 'Psychological': not just that they have in common the atemporal fact that the right way to describe their content is 'a horse'. Instead: they (allegedly) have in common something experiential and episodic. They are not just both experiences of horses; they are both - some or other allegedly illuminating sense - experiences of horses. 

Disjunctivism: it is no more illuminating to say this than to say that a real horse and a plastic horse are both horses, or that a standing bridge and a bombed out bridge are both bridges. We can say that a hallucination is a perceptual experience, just as we can also say that a bombed-out bridge is yet a bridge. But in both cases what is essential to the being of the perceptual experience (openness to the world) and the bridge (forging a connection between two sides of a river) has been lost. The reason why we identify the broken bridge as a bridge, the plastic horse as a horse, the hallucination as an experience, has to do with their ontological dependence on real bridges, horses, perceptions. We can call both veridical perceptions and hallucinations 'experiences', but this is not because they share something episodic in common, but instead because additive mention of all such phenomena gives us the extension of one concept of 'experience'. 

3. differences to hallucinators of hallucinations and perceptions

Not elucidatory to say that in both real and hallucinatory cases it seems to us that there is a horse in front of us. For it may not seem to the hallucinator that there's a horse in front of her. Perhaps it seems to her that she's hallucinating a horse. 

Merleau-Ponty: examples of hallucinators being able to tell the difference between hallucinations and his perceptions. Early 20thC French and German psychiatrists playing tricks on psychotic patients with mock-ups of hallucinations, and reporting how taken aback the patients were, and how differently they related to their real and hallucinatory experiences with the same object.

Also: unclear what it means to say of someone who clearly sees a horse that it seems to him that he sees a horse. This because part of the work that the concept of 'seeming' does is to distinguish between, for example, when something 'really is' the case and when something 'just seems' to be the case. To say that there is a 'seeming' alive in both cases sublimes the logic of 'seems'.

4. existential phenomenology - thinking form and content together

Value of existential-phenomenological theory is that it thinks hallucinatory form and content together. Dualistic theories, by contrast, typically chalk up form to neurological factors alone, and view content as epiphenomenal or to do with psychologically intelligible preoccupations, traumas, complexes, self-esteem, etc.

In thinking form and content together we also aid rapprochement of psychiatric understanding of form with psychoanalytic understanding of content.  (Thinking them together: we can ask: why would that be the content of a hallucination? The form of our embodiment is central to answering this.)

I will call hallucination: an embodied expectation of hearing (or seeing, being touched, etc.) uncancelled by (unrelinquished despite) the absence of a stimulus; a 'negative' (quasi-photographic) or 'anti-'experience, an ungraspable absence registered as a presence. This an existential-phenomenological characterisation, not a reductive explanation. Merleau-Ponty: We need to understand - to 'live' - hallucination without reductively 'explaining' or psychologically reducing it. 

Talk of 'embodied and cancelled expectations' is not straightforwardly perspicuous. We instead arrive at sense through analogies, disanalogies and examples. (Similarly for perception - to say it is our 'originary openness to the world', that it 'takes us out to the objects', that it involves an 'originary transcendence', hardly conveys positive information. Instead: reminders not to make a travesty of our concept of perception by espousing dualism of inner mental domain enjoying merely external relation to an external world.) Of course one can have unrelinquished anticipations which do not constitute or coincide with hallucinations! I am truly aiming at an identity claim, but the particular meaning of 'unrelinquished' and 'anticipation' will emerge as we proceed.

5. hallucination as uncancelled anticipation

Hallucination: an embodied expectation of hearing, seeing, being touched, etc., uncancelled by the absence of a stimulus; a (quasi-photographic) 'negative' or 'anti-' experience; an ungraspable absence registered as a presence.

Anticipation: Merleau-Ponty follows Husserl in describing how perception has built into its structure a large array of 'promises' - if I move over there, and my vantage changes, or if I pick this up and turn it over, that I will encounter this or that. An interconnected protentive structure of experience constituting our normal perceptual world. Objects offer what Gibson calls sensori-motor affordances. M-P: 'I can feel swarming beneath my gaze, the countless mass of more detailed perceptions that I anticipate, and upon which I already have a hold'.

Merleau-Ponty on hallucination: 'The illusion of seeing is ... much less the presentation of an illusory object than the spread and, so to speak, running wild of a visual power which has lost any sensory counterpart. There are hallucinations because through the phenomenal body we are in constant relationship with an environment into which that body is projected, and because, when divorced from its actual environment, the body remains able to summon up, by means of its own settings, the pseudo-presence of that environment.'

Walk along - expect the floor to stay still. Get onto an escalator, expect it to move thus and so. Turn an object over in your hand: expect it to appear thus and so. Self usually rapidly and automatically adjust to various environmental changes. 

Selfhood and perceived object are two correlative moments in perception. What belongs to whom - this is what must be divvied up by the intentional arc which subtends and (at the 'chiasm') divides the two subject and object poles: I've moved further away? Or: it's got smaller / moved away?

Spinning: spin around a lot - then stop - the world appears to spin. You've set up certain expectations of self/world movement in your lived body. These expectations are not visually met with (because you stopped spinning). They're not immediately relinquished/cancelled. So then, instead, the world appears to move. In intoxication we have the same difficulty. Expectation and world are not so tightly coupled. Maximal grip is degraded.

Broken escalator: your body carries expectations of movement even if you can see escalator is static. Get on the escalator - it appears to lurch in the opposite direction. Your body stumbles. Why isn't it like getting on a normal staircase?

Jewellery removed: take off a watch or bracelet before swimming or before doing the washing up. Normally you don't feel it. But now you feel an anti-bracelet around your wrist!

Sensory deprivation: nothing to entrain the web of anticipations; nothing to cancel them (no staircase fully visible where a person would otherwise occlude it). Hallucinations spring up from fleeting unrelinquished sensory anticipations.

Phantom limb: the expectations that constitute the body schema can't be readily relinquished. 'Knowing that your limb is gone' is not a neurological unity - various disjunctive criteria for that, some of them verbal and some motor-habitual. (Harder to adjust if unconscious when amputation happened.) 

Rubber hand illusion: disturbance of sensory integration. Tickling of feather is not where body expects it when body takes rubber hand for own hand. So position of hand in body schema is adjusted. (Can cause OBEs in schizophrenics.)

Ghosts: my beloved has died but this understanding has not propagated through my set of reactive dispositions. That is: I still expect her to come through the door. She does not. Yet the expectation does not immediately relinquish: instead I 'see' a 'negative' of her.

Succubi, incubi, old hags, alien visitors: sleep paralysis undermines ability to update the body schema. Corollary discharge of the motor intention plus no change of retinal stimulation due to paralysis naturally gives rise to hallucinatory experience - projection of body image. Sense of evil - self-disintegration (terror - see below) and hallucinated body shape combine in the night terror. 

AVHs: perhaps not so easy to generalise to 'hearing voices'? The model would be: I have a latent anticipation of hearing my name being called. And in cases of mental illness, a latent anticipation (in the complexes) of receiving hostile criticism, of being talked about, etc. I do not manage to experience silence - in other words my latent anticipation is not relinquished. I then 'hear' an 'anti-voice' saying what I expect to hear. AVHs are auditory ghosts. Why expect criticism? This is the 'introjection of the bad object' to form persecutory superego.

Addendum: Charles Bonnet Syndrome visual hallucinations - in some of those with significant retinal damage - i.e. with partial blindness. Standard theory: impairment of normal visual stimulation unconstrains the brain from producing 'images' (of little people, of objects, landscapes, and repeating visual patterns). Alternative: hallucination here too is result of 'anticipations' uncancelled by normal sensory input. Question remains: why does person have such anticipations - of encountering people etc.? Well: of course we have expectations of encountering people, objects, landscapes, etc. And if we experience a little bit of a pattern it may be natural to expect this to continue as well (in the absence of the cancelling effect of regular visual input). Elaboration of a partial visual stimulus into a face, person, object, pattern ought to happen, and is what subtends normal protentive dimension of visual experience.

6. hallucination as failed grieving 

Failing to smoothly update body schema: caused by identificatory failures of mourning, by intoxication, by tricking the body (psychologist's rubber hand illusion etc), by schizophrenic fragility.

Easy to update, to 'grieve', when the lost phenomenon not really a part of who one is. 

Grieving: not an emotional experience that sits on top of the letting go of reactive dispositions to encounter the departed other / the amputated limb. Grieving is the embodied relinquishing of these expectations. Grieving tears at the fabric of our self, allowing it to adjust to new situation without the lost object. (You can't ask: 'why does mourning (letting go) involve feelings like that (grief)?' because the feeling is the experience of the adjustments within the mourning process.) 

Ghosts: intrinsically mournful phenomena. Beckon to the living from 'another world'. They still have something they want to say. They can 'haunt' - won't leave you or this world alone, trapped between the worlds. All of these properties in fact belong to the bereaved: it is we who can't let go of the beloved, we who want to say something to her, we who can't relinquish our expectations. The ghost is the reverse of these - rather than grieve we hallucinate. Ghosts - so-called presences - are, in fact, unmanageable absences.

This is not wish-fulfilment. It is a direct product of the non-relinquishment of the anticipations. It is no more wish-fulfilment than our lurch on the static escalator. 'Ghosts' are lurches on the static escalators of our animal souls.

7. hallucination, terror and self-dissolution in schizophrenia

Self and perceptual object are correlatively enacted structures.

If we can't achieve self-world stability - grip (as in maximal grip) - then disintegrative terror looms. Not being able to attain object-stability is also disturbing. Because of their correlative enactment, not two alternative scenarios.

Schizophrenia - especially coenaesthopathic schizophrenia - involves a fragility to slippage of body schema - and by implication a vulnerability to disturbed self-world enactments (hallucinations, autoscopies, passivity experiences, coenaesthopathies, OBEs).

Parts of body schema become sheared off. Transitivism, appersonation, passivity experiences, alien hand, coenaesthopathies develop as body is no longer 'lived', alien invasions, electrical experiences, kundalini, etc.  Or displacement of point of perception - autoscopies, OBEs.

Terror is the experience (the undergoing - i.e. non-transitive experience) of self-dissolution. (The identity claim matters - now you can't say 'but Richard why is that so scary?') 

Delusionality: the relinquishing of the attempt to solve for self-world discrepancies, the retreat into autism / detachment from reality / disconnection of sensori-motor feedback cycles / diminished fonction du reél. Delusion is a way to not experience terror of self-dissolution (persecution is better than disintegration).

8. hallucination and therapy: between identification and grief

Compared to perception (reality contact) and self-world adjustment, hallucination is failure.

Compared to introjective identification with bad object, hallucination is a success!

That is: the hallucinator who 'hears' a persecutory voice is at least now not completely identified with it.

Hallucination can be seen like psychoanalytic symbolism (in dreams, images, preoccupations, obsessions, delusion-like ideas, etc): as a stage between illness and health. Both regressive and progressive moments possible. Recognition and encouragement of it's progressive dimension is the therapeutic task.

Therapeutic task is: relinquishing the anticipation! This may be updating the body schema with mirror boxes etc for phantom limb sufferer. It may be grieving the beloved, realising what one oneself wants to say to him or her, in those who see ghosts. It may be taking care to stabilise body schema, and sharing understanding about this, in schizophrenia.  

This contrasts with a conception of hallucinations as 'inner images'. On that conception we're likely to see them as psychologically unmotivated brain events, or as wishfully motivated (since imagination is often under control of the will). By contrast the anticipation account provides a clearer therapeutic direction.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

a ghost is a failed goodbye

Ghosts, I want to say, are intrinsically mournful phenomena. Their very form speaks essentially of loss. They seem to beckon to us from another world. They might reach out to touch us, but are yet pulled back into their spirit realm. A realm that is out of the reach of the quick. (They always come to us.)

I offer such thoughts not because I or you 'believe in' ghosts. Of course we don't. Instead I'm trying to find some words which attach themselves naturally to the very idea of the ghost. I go on below to ask into the significance of such natural attachments.

Another important concept here is that of 'haunting'. The ghost is a departed spirit who won't leave the living alone.

I wrote before that a ghost is a failed goodbye. A phantom limb is another example of this: this leg or arm that the brain can't mourn, this body schema that can't be updated despite the patient's best conscious efforts. (Two other examples already given: the habitually worn bracelet taken off, or the broken escalator mounted: we feel a phantom bracelet on our arm; we feel a disconcerting lurch on embarking the static escalator.)

In certain conditions absence is experienced as haunting presence. Which conditions? Conditions when the expectations which structured our relationship with the departed are not extinguished, not worked through. Conditions of failed mourning. These expectations are scattered across the gamut of our bodily anticipations, and do not belong properly simply to what we can verbally express. The criteria for mourning are diverse and dissociable.

So a ghost is generated by the clash between latent expectation and the reality of absence. They speak essentially of loss because of this. We have a folklore and the folklore has ontological significance. The folklore is that ghosts aren't, say, simply beings from 'another realm', nor gaseous beings from this 'realm'. Instead they are most definitely the spirits of the departed. The spirits have not managed to let go of this world. Perhaps they still have something to tell us. Perhaps they still have a grievance against us. Perhaps they beckon to us from beyond the grave.

The question is what all this means. Freud had a thought about melancholia which we can adapt here. The thought was that the depressed bereaved may find it hard to mourn when they had unresolved (unconscious) ambivalent feelings toward the departed. There is something that we have or need to say to the departed, something which our relationship (in its positive elements, say) and their demise have thwarted. We want to call out to them. We want to summon them.

The ghost is the inverse of our unconscious desires. It is easy to say something lazy like: 'it is the projection into the world of our unconscious desires (to see, to harangue, the person again)'. But it just isn't a 'projection' in any meaningful sense. (This is to think like the cognitivist who says that we 'project' the 'colourful visual image' into the world where we then 'see' it.) What it is, I claim, is the admixture of uncancelled anticipation with null sensory fulfilment. And the ghost's 'negative' character - in the sense of a photographic negative - is manifest in all these ways: the ghost is lighter than its surroundings whereas the quick would be darker; it calls to us when we want to call to it; it beckons when we wish to beckon; it won't leave us alone when we can't let it go; it can't leave the world of the quick when it is really we who can't let it depart; it beckons to us from its 'other world' when we impossibly want to beckon to it from within this world. It is an intrinsically mournful phenomenon - whilst we are struggling to mourn.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

ontology of hallucination

When thinking of hallucination I'm drawn to a set of questions which we might summarise with 'What is the being of hallucination?' The question itself naturally invites another question, which is: 'What is it to ask into the being of a thing?' And: how does this differ from an empirical-psychological inquiry?

An empirical theory of hallucination might have it that hallucinations are caused by stress, have a symbolic content related to the hallucinator's complexes, involve abnormal activity in the superior temporal gyrus, etc. Such theories are all well and good, but here I note them only to provide a contrast to the kind of enquiry I'm instead inclined to pursue. They are answers to a different question (to a question individuated differently at the level of sense if not at the level of surface expression). They tell us, one might say, what happens when you hallucinate, but not what it is to hallucinate.

An empiricist might show impatience with the question of the being of hallucination, and propose a definition, after which we can (it is suggested) move swiftly on to the more important empirical matters at hand. You know the kind of thing: 'A hallucination is a perception / sense datum / inner experience / inner representation - in the absence of / not caused by - an outer object'.

Yet our question has its place precisely because of the futility of those kinds of answers, because of how wedded they are to a bankrupt inner/outer picture which reifies the inner and correlatively constitutively divorces experience as such from our world-involvement. For perception and experience are not just caused by their worldly objects; they take them in. They are not hybrids of i) non-mental causal outer interactions with a world (the mechanics of vision and audition etc) plus ii) mental upshots of 'loud and glowing sense data' in an internal world. Instead perceptual experience is our openness to the world; it is the originary form of intentionality. In this sense a hallucination is precisely not a perception or an experience of anything. For there is, one could say, something simply paradoxical in talking of 'an experience of a horse in the absence of a horse'.

Furthermore the concepts of 'inner representation', 'sense datum' etc are simply philosophical inventions which themselves cry out for explication before they themselves can feature in explanations. After all, one could say, what use is a visual representation if we can't actually see it? Doesn't the concept of a 'visual representation' - e.g. of a picture - presuppose rather than explain the capacity to see what is thereby pictured? (Consider our ability to see the pictures hanging on the wall, and how derivative this ability is of our ability to first see, directly, the kinds of things the pictures picture.) So we can't just help ourselves to such notions to explain perception. We need first to explain them. It won't do to say that an inner representation is self-perceiving or self-interpreting, since to say such things is far less perspicuous than talk of perceptual experience itself.

Consider too the arguments for disjunctivism in the philosophy of perception. The non-disjunctivist, to rehearse, has it that the visual perception of a horse, and a hallucination of a horse, have something psychological in common. The term 'psychological' there is doing the work of: they don't just have in common the atemporal fact that the right way to describe their content is 'a horse'. It is saying: they have in common something experiential and episodic. They are not just both experiences of horses; they are both - some or other allegedly illuminating sense - experiences of horses. Yet the disjunctivist will demur that it is no more illuminating to say this than to say that a real horse and a plastic horse are both horses, or that a standing bridge and a bombed out bridge are both bridges. We can of course say that a hallucination is a perceptual experience, just as we can also say that a bombed out bridge is a bridge. Yet in both cases, the disjunctivist insists, what is essential to the being of the perceptual experience (openness to the world) and the bridge (forging a connection between two sides of a river) has been lost. The reason why we identify the broken bridge as a bridge, the plastic horse as a horse, the hallucination as an experience, has to do with their ontological dependence on real bridges, horses, perceptions.

A hallucination, on this natural understanding, is a particular kind of disturbance in a perceptual modality. There is no more an experience left to it than there is a bridge left in the case of the bombed out bridge, or a horse in the plastic horse. We can call both veridical perceptions and hallucinations 'experiences', but this is not because they share something episodic in common, but instead because reference to all such phenomena gives us the extension of the concept of 'experience'. It wouldn't be elucidatory to say, for example, that in both real and hallucinatory cases it seems to us that there is a horse in front of us. For first of all it may not seem to the hallucinator that there is a horse in front of her. It may instead seem to her just that she is hallucinating a horse. (Merleau-Ponty is very clear on this.) And second it isn't clear what it means to say of someone who clearly sees a horse that it seems to him that he sees a horse. And this is because part of the work that the concept of 'seeming' does is to distinguish between, for example, when something 'really is' the case and when something 'just' seems to be the case. To say that there is a 'seeming' alive in both cases sublimes the logic of 'seems'.

It is for reasons such as these that I consider it important to ask 'what is being of hallucination?' In spelling this out it will naturally be fine to say things like 'It's kind of like seeing something but that something isn't actually seen'. In such cases we often talk about 'hearing things' and 'seeing things'; more specifically we talk of 'hearing voices' and 'seeing visions'. In doing this we indicate that other sensory modalities are not involved. That is the force of talk of 'hearing voices'. After all it could be said that in one sense we all hear voices everyday; or, at least, we listen to what people are saying. But the talk of hearing voices indicates that the talker is not visually or otherwise present to us. It is in the spirit of this question that I propose my answer: to hallucinate is to have an embodied expectation of hearing (or seeing, being touched, etc.) uncancelled by the absence of a stimulus. I do not offer that as an empirical theory but as a phenomenological characterisation. I do not imagine for a moment that such talk of 'embodied and cancelled expectations' is straightforwardly perspicuous. Instead I illustrate it with examples (such as the static escalator appearing to lurch when we embark it, or the world appearing to still spin around after you've stopped spinning around).

What I am not doing is providing necessary and/or sufficient conditions for 'hallucinate'. Such an analytic approach would, I believe, radically underestimate the fundamental nature of hallucination as a disturbance of experiential world engagement. As for perception itself, to take the question of the being of perception as a request for necessary and sufficient conditions for perception is to tacitly imagine that there are floating about some more fundamental concepts which we can independently grasp and then put to use in our characterisation of what it is to perceive. That, I submit, is self-evidently absurd. If one says that 'perception is our originary openness to the world', that it 'takes us out to the objects', that it involves an 'originary transcendence', I hope it is clear how these can hardly be taken as statements conveying positive information. Instead they are reminders not to make a travesty of our concept of perception by closing us in to an inner mental domain in a merely external relation with the world about us.

No, we mustn't here try to achieve an illuminating definition, but instead accommodate to, find our way about with, the concept of 'perception' in practice. The same goes for 'hallucination'.

risky dreams

Telling and listening to a dream is a curiously intimate business. On the one hand it's part even of our pre-Freudian understanding of dreams that they can reveal more about us than we realise. Still, as it were, dreaming the dream, still caught up within its interiority, we tell it to someone, only to realise that we might have well have just blurted out our most intimate wishful fantasies, might have well have called a current lover by the name of a lost but unrelinquished love. Caught up still within the dream we don't notice until too late the latent meaning which then bangs us on the forehead as we clothe it in words which are not under our omnipotent control, as we are forced now to mean - to acknowledge the previously unevident implications in - what we say. A meaning which bangs us on the forehead in the same way in which a fish finally comes to understand it has been swimming in water only when for a moment it jumps out of the pool. Here the intimacy is part function of the inherent riskiness of the dream.

Yet telling a dream is also intimate just because it truly does speak to our ownmost preoccupations. And the risk we take here in telling the dream is not the negative one of exposing our shameful fantasies, but the positive one of someone welcoming us, accepting us, in our anxieties and longings.  This, I think, is the most powerful dimension of psychoanalysis or person-centred psychotherapy: a therapist listens to the patient's productions without judgement, accepting them as moments in the evolution of their soul. This loving attitude then becomes internalised in the patient's mind's fabric. Then they can allow themselves to be at the developmental level, or to have the preoccupations, they really are at and do have. And so, because of that, sequestered regions of the psyche start to rejoin the gang, and become once more live components of its self-becoming.

fifty quid, pfff

Catching up with an old friend after a conference this week I was struck by the different ways we were disposed to understand dreams - and other phenomena which I naturally take to manifest the dynamic unconscious. Where I saw a domain of personal meaning he saw largely an epiphenomenon; where I saw self-evident truth he saw interesting but generally unlikely hypothesis. "If I were entering the pearly gates and about to hear the truth of the matter from the Almighty, I'd lay fifty quid on it", he said of the psychoanalytic theory of dream symbolism, "but nothing more".

I found myself trying to argue the case but quickly got trapped between two unappealing alternatives. On the one hand I wanted to offer evidence for the theory, but it became clear that this wasn't really going to help. For, in relation to the theory, it would always be natural - from within such an epistemological framework - to take the psychoanalytic explanation as something reaching beyond the facts in an hypothetical way. As positing a hidden mechanism behind them. Thus when I started talking about the primary processes which (as I see it) underlie the formation of what I see as dream symbols, the question quickly became "And what's the evidence for that being true?" "What's the evidence for that mechanism actually being instantiated". On the other hand I was honestly tempted to pull the Freudian fast one - of saying that my friend was unwilling to grasp the theory because he was defended against an acknowledgement of the dynamic unconscious itself. (I somewhat embarrassedly admit that I actually think there's often something right about this latter option, appalling as it is as a dialectical move!)

It strikes me now that when I normally think about dream symbolism, about the operation of defence mechanisms, about the transference, I don't for one moment think of these as consisting in posits or scientific claims. Sure, in individual cases we may have to do with hypotheses and guesses. For example I may not know you well enough to know that your tense relationship with your boss is a function of your expectation of him to act erratically or capriciously - as you tend to discern in your relationships more generally with the men in your life from your father onwards. I get some kind of a feel for that, but more observation is required! But in general I would tend to view my thinking in terms of the dynamic unconscious as on pretty much the same footing as (or, if you like, no more the kind of thing that requires footing than) my thinking about our conscious lives. I no more take it that my general thinking about the dynamic unconscious involves hypothesis than I do my conscious life. I no more take it that, on entering the pearly gates it would seem natural to me to ask if dreams really do manifest a range of defence mechanisms, psychoanalytic symbolisms, repressed emotions, etc, than it would to enter the pearly gates and ask God whether beliefs and thoughts really exist. The latter question is, I take it, simply a bad question. You'd have to subscribe to some kind of metaphysical Realism to get it off the ground, which is to say that you'd have to sublime the logic of the 'real' before you can generate the illusion that such an inquiry makes sense. It's a bad question because once you know how to ascribe beliefs then you know what the reality of believing amounts to, and there's no more question about whether believing itself is real than that.

This was the point I didn't appreciate at the time in what my friend was saying. For what the little celestial gambling parable was clearly designed to do was to indicate that the dynamic unconscious is here being taken as a posit. In effect it amounts to a kind of cognitive over-reach - a positing something which seems beyond our ken. Something which God can know about but not us.

This is where I should have demurred. For it seems to me that there are no less ascription conditions for unconscious beliefs, for condensation, for displacement, for phantasy, for psychoanalytic symbolism, than there are for conscious beliefs! "Look!", I should have said, "this is what is called displacement", "this is what it is for one thing to 'symbolise' another in the mind", etc. Psychoanalysis is phenomenology, not speculative psycho-mechanics. But here's the rub: you can't just do this phenomenological inspection by way of simple examples talked about over dinner. You certainly can't dispose of it through definition either ("an unconscious desire is a disposition with features xyz" etc). Grasping the ascription conditions for unconscious mentality involves a deepening immersion in a set of phenomena, a deepening development of a sensibility for the affective undertow of our lives. (This is why I think that Freud's "you're just defended against my theory!" canard is kinda right. Except it's not Freud or the theory that the sceptic here is defended against, but the unconscious itself. And, well: of course!) An enhanced memory for all one's: evasions, moments of humbling acknowledgement, collapses of defences into honesty, social anxieties that hardly show their face for all one's accomplished pseudo-maturity, yet which still show something of their coat tails. A live experience of the transference and countertransference - not, I hasten to add, some kind of over-familiarity with a psychological explanatory system which familiarity just churns out sentences concerning some putative background mechanism underlying the more straightforwardly observable phenomena of our lives; that kind of positing is religious cultishness (again, another reason, I suspect, for my friend's paltry celestial wager) - but instead noticing how one is pulled to believe and feel things of oneself and of the other in emotionally intense relationships (such as therapeutic relationships).

No, in fact if such ascription conditions were not available to us then they'd hardly be available to God either - for what we would have, instead of a genuine discourse regarding the dynamic unconscious, would simply be the illusion of such a discourse. All God could say, in such a circumstance, is not whether there really is or isn't a dynamic unconscious or a symbolic content to dreams, but rather "I'm sorry chum, we'll let you in, but you really gotta acknowledge that you don't even know what you're asking about when you put that wager down."

Now how about this idea that dreaming is an epiphenomenon? Surely, I want to say, we just know that this is largely correct! For what gives it its sense here is something which is evident to waking reflection on our dreaming alone: in our dreams we arrive at various predicaments, we can't think properly about them (because we're asleep!), yet we are to some degree anxious, so we anxiously try out various of the options that seem to present themselves, and the dream unfolds thereby out of our ongoing anxiously clumsy attempts to manage the dream predicament. There is a narrator function, a visual (and sometimes auditory) imagination function, and an anxiety response which are somewhat switched on in dreams, despite a shutdown of many other parts of brain function. In fact, unconstrained by reality contact, and utterly lost within the first-person narrator's perspective, the visual imagination function in dreaming can quite outstrip what it can achieve during the day, and this is surely one of the reasons that our dreams can seem wonderful and numinous to us.

Yet so far as I can tell none of this detracts from the psychoanalytic theory. Our personal anxieties and wishes have particular shapes, and the ongoing reactive dream landscape is a perfect one for them to automatically show themselves in. Some of these anxieties and wishes will be unconscious. Yet because of the dreaming state - because of the absence of imagination-constraining reality-contact - they still find some kind of expression in the dream (which is why the dream is the royal road to the unconscious). My wishes and counter-wishes are no longer simply blocked, but tend to play out, and the playing out may even contribute some of the creative energy of the dream itself.

Here, I believe, is a place where the epiphenomenal and the dynamic understandings don't clash: in the idea of dream genesis. You can imagine someone trying to stage a clash using the word 'just', as in: 'But what supplies the dream content is not my day residue plus longer-term unresolved issues - it is just a matter of random neurons firing off in your head.' This might look like competing hypotheses, but nobody wants to subscribe to dualism. Psychoanalysis is the name we give to one of the forms that the rejection of such dualism takes. 'Look', it says 'you really are all that too'. 'You are your id and not just your ego'. 'You are the dreamer of the dream. This is your mental life. These images and feelings and preoccupations are moments of your biography'.

can't bear very much (more talk of) reality

The enigmatic and subtle Oskari Kuusela came to talk to the Jowett Society this week. His theme: how to explain that peculiar feature of philosophical statements which is their intention of exceptionlness generality. Philosophical pronouncements typically tend to an explanation of what things are in their essence, what they necessarily are. But what is the status of these statements? What is it that makes for this necessity? (The cleverest part of Oskari's talk was its very raising of this question. He thereby already pricked philosophical pretension using nothing beyond its own form of enquiry, inviting metaphysics to answer for itself and to us in a way in which it is not accustomed to do but which, if it is really fearless, it can hardly just shirk. ... I remember Galen Strawson once arguing that individual consciousness has a 'pfff' factor which is its unique intrinsic unexplainability. I asked why he was prepared to allow this sui generis unanalysability to consciousness but not, as Wittgenstein and Heidegger did, to, say, the multiform manifestations of motor intentionality, language, our relational lives, etc. What principle, I asked, could we appeal to to decide which of these philosophies was the right one? The question did not go down well - it's the one you're not supposed to ask. Oskari was, precisely, asking, in the largest possible way, the question you're not supposed to ask the metaphysician.)

One answer to Oskari's question has it that what we have to understand is that they are not empirical statements about what happens to be the case, but metaphysical statements about the non-contingent nature of reality. But as he pointed out, this really just restates the problem by giving it a name. Or perhaps we aim to delineate the essential structure of reality a la Plato (forms), Aristotle (form), Kant (transcendental structures), Husserl (pure essences), Russell (logical forms), Heidegger' (existentialia). Well, ok, but how do we know that these exist? Sure, they in their turn seem to explain these necessities allegedly to be found in the superstructure of reality or in the substructure of intelligible thought. But it is not enough to give content to a notion that it seem to explain something, for something can itself be an explanation if we already have some idea of what that something is. Otherwise one might as well, say, substitute a mere variable. As with the notion that here we meet with 'metaphysical' pronouncements, here in truth we are doing nothing more than naming the phenomenon that still wants explaining. 'That sounds like an explanation, sure', the thought goes, 'but now show me why it is not simply a set of words aping an empirical generalisation with an alleged non-empirical property the justification for which is yet unforthcoming'.

Oskari took us through the early Wittgenstein's failed attempt to explicate what a philosopher might be saying in saying that reality itself enjoys exceptionalness generality, to arrive at the later Wittgenstein's turnaround. In short this later view has it that statements of exceptionlness generality do not so much articulate a special and mysterious property of reality or of the cognising mind as express an unmysterious property of a mode of representation. (The same can be said of Wittgenstein on logical necessity quite generally. Logically necessary propositions are not true in virtue of correctly articulating the structure of reality or in virtue of correctly describing he structure of our thought or language. Instead they are a form of language. They are not, for example, true in virtue of 'how we go on' in language, for they are one of the ways we go on.) Whether we are talking of conceptual models, or grammatical rules, or simple language games, the necessity invoked is internal to the discourse. 'If you want to count as a good person, you must try to maximise human happiness.' That is what the utilitarian might say, as if it were a statement concerning the nature of morality, a statement intended to enjoy an exceptionlness generality in virtue of tracking an essential feature of morality per se. What Oskari offered was that, given the fact that utilitarian ethics appears to only capture some of our understanding of what it means to be ethical, leaving aside matters of intention for example, and so simply cannot achieve the kind of descriptive universality or descriptive exceptionalness generality it proposes, we do better to think of the utilitarian proposition as what he called a 'model'. In the model to be good is to aim at maximal happiness for all. The model's necessity does not derive from it accurately depicting a mysterious necessity encountered in the structure of moral reality (whatever that is). It derives from the fact that the model is providing a rule for the use of 'moral'. The exceptionless generality of the utilitarian claim thereby resolves into the unproblematic exceptionlessness belonging to principles.

Some confusion arrived in the questions concerning what being a 'model' amounts to, confusion later helpfully sorted out by Sebastian Grève. For it is natural to ask, of a model, whether it is accurate or not: does it correctly model the nature of (e.g. moral) reality? Is it true? And, if so, in virtue of what is it true? And when we ask that, we are right back with our old question which we were trying so hard to avoid! But the problem here arises from the use of the word 'model' rather than the more perspicuous phrase 'simple object of comparison'. Once we stick with the latter we also get clear what the point of deploying models in philosophy is: that we propose an artificially simple rule for the use of 'moral' and then gain clarity about the nature of our actual moral thought by comparing and contrasting the ways in which moral discourse and moral practice does and does not tally with such a prototype. In short, the point of the model isn't to 'fit reality', whatever that would mean (I come to this below). It's rather to provide a simple notion about which we feel utterly clear to use as a comparator - one we can hold up next to our actual practice about which we have become unclear, so that we can at least say 'Well, in these ways our actual practice, in all its depth and complexity, does, and in these ways does not, accord with our model. And in these ways it accords and contrasts with this other model as well'.

What interests me this morning is this very idea of 'fitting reality'. When we ask whether a model correctly corresponds to reality we are, I believe, subliming our concept of 'real'. I would like here to say something of what I mean by that.

If we think that the task of the model is here to try to correctly represent reality, or the nature of the cognising mind, then we will naturally wonder if it represents it correctly or incorrectly.  But this misses the way in which the model here is not itself a simple representation but a simple rule of representation; it misses the way in which the exceptionless generality it enjoys is not a feature of something it represents but rather an internal feature of a rule as such. 

One may as well ask whether our concepts - our moral concepts, for example - themselves conform to the nature of morality itself. Or whether our colour concepts correspond to anything real in some place we call 'the world'. Or whether there 'really are' animals or atoms 'out there', wherever that is. Talk like this and we'll soon also start talking about whether we're cutting something called 'nature' at its joints. And so on. And if we start to take such ways of talking seriously, and yet feel uncomfortable with the gulf that such a vantage point seems to open up between our basic understanding of things and how things really are, then we may be tempted by some form of idealism. 'No', we might say,  trying to stop the rot but mindless of the ensuing narcissism, 'that there are colours, animals, atoms, goodness, love, forgiveness, in the world is a function not of the world itself but rather of how we represent matters. Perhaps it's even a matter of how we can but represent matters.' Thus the debate descends into portentousness. The words 'reality', 'world', 'out there', 'nature' have taken on a life of their own beyond their natural conditions of application. 

Thus we normally take 'nature' to be the domain of plants, animals, fungi etc. But now we are pretending to seriously ask whether something called 'nature' really does contain plants, animals, fungi, etc., or whether this is just a 'projection' on our part into nature. What is lost here is any sense of what is meant by the 'nature' which is not to be already understood in terms of plants and fungi etc. Or similarly with the word 'real': we know perfectly well what it is for banknotes, smiles, Manet paintings, guns, gold, etc to be real rather than fake or pretend or forged or imitation or replicas. 'But no', the metaphysical realist says, 'I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about whether we are right in thinking that there really are even real guns or real smiles or real Monet paintings or real gold in reality itself'. But the problem is that we just don't know what is now meant by this word 'reality'. We have, as Wittgenstein put it, here sublimed the logic of our language - i.e. taken a term ('real') outside of its embedding context of application, and now try and apply it in a void over and above these contexts, inviting us to pretend to ourselves that we know what we are doing when we ask whether those contexts themselves enjoy 'instantiation'. In this way concepts are endlessly treated as if they were judgements.

I want to stress again that, as it seems to me, the problem is not at all best addressed by trying to stop the remove from us of the world/reality/nature by bringing it closer to home, by giving it a 'human face'. Such an idealist/conceptualist response still takes too seriously the underlying problematic and ignores the way in which an object of comparison, a rule, a norm, is itself no kind of description of anything. The only way I can see to get the metaphysical projects of Idealism and Realism going is to start by subliming the logic of the 'real', by ignoring the way the term gets its content in its sundry contexts of application, and then to imagine that it can lord it over such contexts. 

In his responses to questions Oskari aligned himself with realism - with the Wittgenstein who would say 'not empiricism but yet realism in philosophy, that is the hardest thing'. But we need to be clear how far this is from that metaphysical realism ('Realism') which would take it as coherent to ask whether our concepts actually find instantiation 'in reality'.  (The questioner suggested that realism involves a reality that transcends the models - that is something to which they and our concepts must answer.) What Wittgenstein is encouraging is rather thought that is realistic - that pays attention to what it really does mean to talk of, say, goodness or love or natural life. And nothing in that project supposes that it makes sense to ask whether either our concepts or our models of the phenomena correspond to something called reality or not. Again, this is not because, a la idealist, reality is mysteriously infused with our concepts. We don't here have to do with an occult penetration of nature by our mental or linguistic life. Instead we have to do with the difference between representations and simple (like grammatical objects of comparison) or complex (like the rich multiplicity of our moral life) normative structures. Oskari's 'models' do not correspond to reality as opposed to our concepts. When we use them as simple objects of comparison, for the purpose of becoming clearer about how our actual concepts work - noting the similarities and differences - it makes no difference whether we say, as I just did, that what we meet with here are 'concepts', or instead with phenomena. 

common sense

Common sense is getting a bad press. There are those who say we don't need experts; what we need is good old common sense. But these people - right-wing populist politicians mainly - are giving common sense a bad name. Suddenly all sorts of self-interestedness and wilful ignorance get proffered as examples of it. The basic form of such right-wing populism has it that knowledge about facts can be gained by simple intuition. Just learn to see aright, listen to your basic intuition, drop the self-deceptions of the liberal elite, and correctly align yourself again with the true nature of the world.

In response to their calumnies it's tempting for liberal elites to stress the essential value of experts. When dealing with a problem what we need to do is, allegedly, to listen to what well-educated experts have to say about it. They are the ones who know, and they know what to do because of their expertise in the various social, psychological and biological sciences. Because of their non-common-sense knowledge.

I want to take a stand against this. Yes, of course, it's absurd to think that you can figure out what is happening to something like the climate without listening to scientists. No amount of common sense can solve that kind of problem for you. Empiricism is needed when we have to do with empirical problems. But much of what we need to understand in life has little to do with empiricism. If you like, knowledge - whether gained through science or through simple intuition - is not what we need. What we need is not knowledge but goodness, honesty, care. Our problems are, often enough, not empirical, or not simply empirical - instead they concern matters of the heart. Here, what counts as open mindedness, as closed heartedness, as defensive, as a realistic spirit, is not something to be resolved by appeal to science or special or intuitive knowledge. For what we are really talking about is the character of the eye which sees any of the deliverances of the sciences and any of the facts of everyday life. Shine a light on the scientific findings or the everyday phenomena as bright as you like; if someone yet has their eyes closed - because they have their heart closed - then we will get nowhere. For what is at stake is in any case often or not not the obtaining of the facts but their human significance.

What I am claiming is that liberal elites and reactionary rednecks both share an overvaluation of empirical knowledge in their political reasoning. The right-wing populist makes a dumb appeal to a putative cognitive intuition; the liberal elite substitutes calculation and knowing for love. What we need is something we might instead call 'ethics' - which involves no specialist knowledge or reasoning, but instead a willingness to navigate the terrain of the human heart. We do have it immanent within us, this common sense, and it's part of our common humanity. Yet we may fail to listen to it, and whats happening here is not that we've failed to grasp a fact, but rather than we've become blinded by self-interest and stunted by our defences. It might be our common humanity, but a lot stands in its way. Empirical ignorance, however - whether a failure of empirical intuition or of expert knowing - is not the problem.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

merleau-ponty on hallucination

Image result for phenomenology of perceptionMerleau-Ponty's principal treatment of hallucination comes pp. 334-345 of Phenomenology of Perception. So far as I know we yet lack a comprehensive exposition of it (cf Romdenh-Romluc 2009; Benvenuto 2015). Here at least are the main themes as I understand them:

a. The hallucinator can often tell the difference between his hallucinations and his perceptions. Merleau-Ponty gives dozens of examples of this - which basically seem to involve a bunch of early twentieth century French and German psychiatrists playing tricks on their psychotic patients with mock-ups of their hallucinations, and reporting how taken aback the patients were, and how differently they related to their real and hallucinatory experiences with the same object.

b. Hallucinations cannot be understood using either intellectualist or empiricist philosophies. Intellectualism: hallucinations are faulty judgements. Response: no, they're not. The hallucinator may or may not judge that their hallucinations are veridical experiences, but the hallucinations themselves are not judgements.

c. Empiricism: the mind relates to the body as follows. Physical stimuli affect the sense organs, give rise to neural excitation, this travels to the cortex, and then at this distal end arise sensory experiences, sense data. Hallucinations are the inner sensory experiences without their normal causes. Response: no, they're not. As in a. above, the hallucinator often readily distinguishes the two.

d. We need to understand - to 'live' - hallucination without explaining it, where by 'explaining it' he means reducing it to further items (e.g. to judgements or to sensory experiences which simply happen to obtain in the absence of their typical objects).

e. Genuine perception has built into its structure a large array of 'promises' - here Merleau-Ponty seems to draw on Husserl - that if I move over there, and my vantage changes, or if I pick this up and turn it over, that I will encounter this or that. This interconnected protentive structure of experience constitutes our normal perceptual world. Real objects also offer us what Gibson later calls sensori-motor affordances. Contrast hallucination, where there are not the same expectational pathways leading from the hallucinatory experience to other real or delusional experiences, and not the same affordances for action provided. 'I can feel swarming beneath my gaze, the countless mass of more detailed perceptions that I anticipate, and upon which I already have a hold'.

f. So, following Minkowski: 'Hallucinations are played out on a stage different from that of the perceived world'. 'The world has lost its expressive force, and the hallucinatory system has usurped it.' They 'lack the fullness, the inner articulation which makes the real thing reside 'in itself', and act and exist by itself. The hallucinatory thing is not, unlike the real thing, packed with small perceptions which sustain it in existence. It is an implicit and inarticulate significance.'

g. 'The illusion of seeing is ... much less the presentation of an illusory object than the spread and, so to speak, running wild of a visual power which has lost any sensory counterpart. There are hallucinations because through the phenomenal body we are in constant relationship with an environment into which that body is projected, and because, when divorced from its actual environment, the body remains able to summon up, by means of its own settings, the pseudo-presence of that environment.'

h. In real experience, the perceptual landscape 'opens on to a geographical world and tends towards absolute plenitude. The normal person does not find satisfaction in subjectivity, he runs away from it, he is genuinely concerned with being in the world, and his hold on time is direct and unreflecting, whereas the suffered from hallucinations simply exploits his being in the world in order to carve a private sector for himself out of the common property world, and constantly runs up against the transcendence of time.'

i. Underlying our experience of the world is a 'momentum' or 'faith' or 'primary opinion'. This deeper functions gives perception its reality quotient. The schizophrenic lacks this. So too is this faith insufficiently established in the child who 'attributes his dreams, no less than his perceptions, to the world ... he believes that the dream is enacted ... at the foot of his bed'.

j. 'the illusory thing and the true thing do not have the same structure, for the patient to assent to the illusion, he must forget or repress the true world, and cease to refer back to it, and retain at least the ability to revert to the primitive confusion of the true and the false.'

Sunday, 28 May 2017

why voices?

So, I'm wondering how much mileage I can get out of my theory of hallucination as constituted by latent un-cancelled lived-body expectations in perception, expectations not met by their objects yet nevertheless not quelled, resulting in an experiential (quasi-photographic) 'negative' of the perceptual object. What follows is sometimes speculative.

The theory seems to makes sense of 'seeing ghosts', and we can I think readily grasp a failure of complete mourning as the reason for the 'negative perception' of the deceased beloved. It ties the visual cases nicely to the haptic or vestibular cases (that odd jolt on embarking on the static escalator) - our lived body expected movement but met with none, giving rise to a kind of reverse experience of movement because of its own now otiose compensation.

But what about 'voices' (AVHs)? Can 'spirit beings' that one 'hears' be naturalistically understood to arise in the same manner as 'spirit beings' that one 'sees'? The theory will have to be something like: the patient is in some or other latent manner primed to receive auditory stimulation, yet receives none whilst that priming is yet uncancelled, and so they 'hear' a 'negative' of what they latently expected. But why would they be primed to receive something, not receive it, not have this non-reception cancel the priming, and so then inverse-hear what they were primed for, and what on earth is inverse-hearing?

Well, consider the commonest AVH: hearing your own name being called. Aren't we all maximally subconsciously primed for encountering our own name being called? This call on our being, this fundamental human address - isn't it inscribed in the latent body of our subjectivity? (NB I'm not talking here just of our disposition to mis-hear ('mis-interpret' as we incautiously say) other sounds as our own name, or as our infant's cry, though presumably that too is a function of the same priming. I'm simply talking about the priming.)

We can apply to hearing the general sensory formula: personal-level hearing equals subpersonal-level expectation minus subpersonal-level stimulation. One of the most significant sources of expectation will be sensory changes due to bodily movements and sounds. (Remember that at the subpersonal level we don't do well to talk of 'self-generated movements and sounds'. Selfhood and perception are co-constituted equiprimordial personal-level phenomena. Cognitive models typically disrespect these distinctions and presuppose rather than derive selfhood in their accounts. Not that selfhood is to be explicated experientially - precisely the opposite in fact. Transcendental selfhood is to be explicated precisely in terms of that which renders experience possible yet is precisely itself not experienced. It is the co-constituted 'from where', not the 'object', of experience.) The other source will be due to past sensory stimulations in the environment in question. (These two come together when the bodily movements in question are the efferent stimulations by the brain of the outer hair cells in the cochlear.)

Having no sensory stimulation (e.g. when dropping off to sleep) will, then, lead to an experience of hallucinating your own name being called - if the underlying readiness for receiving the sensory stimulation met with on someone calling one's name is not cancelled by afferent sensory stimulation. Experiencing silence is an achievement, if you like: it's the result of the successful cancelling of sensory anticipations by sensory input.

So, mightn't it be something like this (excuse the anthropomorphism; it's a metaphor, ok, I'm not setting out to commit the mereological fallacy!): one part of the brain is all excited, thinking 'ooh, maybe I'll hear my name called!', then the null sensory input comes in and tells that part 'calm down dude, nobody's interested in you'. The result is silence. (The deaf person does not live in silence.) And what makes it possible for me to hear meaningful speech is that such parts of the brain are all excited and kinda expecting them. Only if a spotlight is dynamically swooping back and forth across the courtyard can the absence of intruders be registered; a stable stasis presupposes an underlying medium in a dynamic equilibrium. These are the shaped holes in the mind all prepared for the distinctively shaped sensory inputs. When the null input is received, the anticipatory firings get cancelled. But when the null input is not received, then the anticipatory firings result in what I'll call an anti-sound. Such anti-sounds, I suggest, are AVHs.

We often talk to ourselves in foro interno. We say something and perhaps even respond to it. There are those who, in my view convincingly, think that much of what we mean by the act of 'thinking' (if not by the logical category of 'thought') is to be understood thus. This involves activation of parts of the cortex also involved in speech production. Thereby there is also, I imagine (yes, this is all 'armchair neuroscience' - or better, it is preliminary reflection on the form best taken for interpreting the deliverances of actual neuroscience), a readiness generated for the sensory stimulation arising from actual vocalisation; the readiness may extend all the way out to the cochlear, or may remain within the cortex. Yet there is, in the normal case, also a cancelling of the neural activation subtending such readiness - through the null sensory input, or through an absence of the typical feedforward from the motor cortex, etc.

World-disengagement (i.e. schizophrenic autism) is particularly important for voice-hallucinating. Voice 'hearers' do so far more in silence - whether we have to do with hypnopompic hallucinations, situations of sensory deprivation, or with schizophrenic voices. In world-engagement we have in place the range of sensori-motor feedback loops which maintain the normal updating of anticipations regime, along with those fulfilments of anticipation we call 'perceptual experiences'. Abstract oneself from this maximal grip, lose 'reality contact' or 'fonction du réel', and the conditions are perfect for the neurological activation underlying sensory anticipation to come adrift and give rise to auditory ghosts.

We may contrast the above theory with the cognitivist account. I find it impossible to state the latter without committing the mereological fallacy,  so built into the explanatory framework appears to be this assumption which yet vitiates it, but here goes: inner soliloquy is generated, there is no feed-forward so it is not inwardly expected, yet nevertheless it is inwardly encountered, and so is now taken as ego-alien. My phenomenological theory, by contrast, simply references the uncancelled subpersonal anticipations of sensory voice input themselves constituting the personal level AVH

Saturday, 27 May 2017

essences and family resemblances

don't gotta have a 'fro to be a jackson
(but it helps)
Investigations 65-71 introduce us to the concept of 'family resemblances'.

Wittgenstein in effect points out that for many concepts there aren't context-independent jointly sufficient conditions to be had, yet we operate with these concepts well enough. (This much is surely on target.)

However he voices this point in a particular way, saying things like: the range of phenomena that fall under a concept do not all have 'something in common'.  He implies that they may not share 'an essence'.

Instead the commonalities are like (likenesses of faces in a family, or) threads within a cord that run together for a stretch, but with no single thread running the whole length of the cord.

The idea that there may not be an essence ( = no general sufficient condition or conjunction thereof = no one feature in common to all the faces in a family (the big nose, the brown eyes are over-represented but not always all instantiated)) is taken by some cognitive psychologists and linguisticians and philosophers of language to invite the creation of the notion of a 'family resemblance concept'.

I realise I find this all a bit peculiar.

First off, it seems to take rather (too) seriously the idea of non-contextually-situated sufficient conditions. But how many of our more fundamental concepts could realistically be thought to work like that in any case?

Sure, technical concepts are often introduced through definitions. (f=ma, v=w*a, etc.) They are, if you like, pre-operationalised.

And other concepts may also be definable in terms of yet other concepts. (I've no idea but perhaps the concept of 'game', since it isn't all that fundamental to our conceptual scheme, can be reduced, through the provision of universal sufficient conditions, to other more fundamental concepts. (Rule-bound play, or something like that?))

But, I suggest, this isn't all that typical.

If we could provide sufficient conditions for many of our concepts it would make us wonder what the point of language was. As if life only had a smidgen of sui generisity to it, as if we only needed a few basic concepts and could build the rest out of these ('logical simples').

But language isn't like that - is it? We grasp the meanings of words - we grasp when it is correct and when it is incorrect to use them - we grasp their normative character - not, typically, through learning rules for their use. Such rules as obtain are often rather post factum, only apply to a degree, are hedged with defeating conditions, etc etc. Instead we just 'get' or 'grasp' the meaning; we take some examples and 'run with it'. This applies particularly to all the more fundamental concepts in our lives.

Or perhaps I'm cheating here, since what it might be to be a 'more fundamental' concept is to be a concept which is not to be defined in terms of other concepts and which in turn is used to define other concepts which we shall call 'less fundamental'.

Yet, well, at any rate, my question is: must we understand what it is for there to be an 'essence' of something in terms of that thing having sufficient conditions? I don't see why - it seems a very linguistic, rule-based, conception of 'essence'. My feeling, this morning, is that perhaps even Wittgenstein - but certainly those who have taken his ideas to warrant talk of types of concepts called 'family resemblance concepts' - stray too far towards equating essences and necessary/sufficient conditions. Just because various instances of a phenomenon may have no one thing in common apart from their being instances of that one phenomenon - no one further thing in common, one might say - does not, I contend, imply that the phenomenon has no essence. (I can't help but think that the difficulty here is related to Wittgenstein's not-always-so-helpful invocation of the normativity of rules to explicate the normativity of language.)

Dictionaries are 'rough and ready' only because, or in the sense that, for want of space, for want of a world beyond the page, they tell rather than show.

It goes like this: First off there's an unhelpful conception of essence in terms of sufficient condition. Then there's a discovery that many concepts aren't bound with sufficient conditions. Then there's a replacement of sufficient conditions with family resemblances. So we end up with the suggestion that we should do away with essences, acquiesce in the sometime unavailability of a supposedly helpful rule, and make do with mere family resemblances in our understanding of language. (Contrast Heidegger on the being of language.)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

wittgenstein, self-knowledge, sensations

Philosophical Investigations paras 246-7 has it that
...If we are using the word "to know" as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know when I am in pain. - Yes, but after all not with the certainty with which I know it myself! - It can't be said of me at all except (perhaps as a joke) that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean - except perhaps that I am in pain?
Other people cannot be said to learn of my sensations only from my behaviour,—for I cannot be said to learn of them. I have them.
The truth is: it makes sense to say about other people that they doubt whether I am in pain; but not to say it about myself.  
"Only you can know if you had that intention." One might tell someone this when one was explaining the meaning of the word "intention" to him. For then it means: that is how we use it.
(And here "know" means that the expression of uncertainty is senseless.)
I heard it said yesterday, at a conference, in the context of a discussion of John Hyman's analytical-philosophical 'account' or 'conception' (i.e. that project of answering the question 'what is something?' by citing general sufficient conditions or general proper definitions) of knowledge that p as having an ability to use (or be guided by) the fact that p as a reason (for doing or saying something), that Wittgenstein did not in fact give us reasons for thinking that 'It can't be said of [myself] that I know I am in pain'. And in the context of that discussion I took it that Wittgenstein was - aside from some possible face-saving reconstruction by Anthony Kenny - being taken to be failing to offer something which anyone, including Wittgenstein himself, might have thought sensible to offer - namely for him to say to us 'here is my general positive conception of knowledge, and behold, here we see that the alleged first person case of knowledge does not fall under that conception.' (... The point being that, by contrast, on Hyman's general 'account' of knowledge the person who says 'I know I am in pain' is perfectly entitled to say this since they may of course use the fact of their being in pain as a reason (why didn't you play badminton this week? I had a pain in my elbow).)

Yet one of the things which is clear from 247 is that Wittgenstein is not in fact always shy of letting us know what he takes 'know' to mean. ('And here "know" means that the expression of uncertainty is senseless.') And, in fact, given that this remark occurs in the very passage after the one in which he says that it can't be said of myself that I know I am in pain, the situation is really rather curious. After all is he really saying that it can't be said of myself that an expression of doubt by me regarding my sensation is senseless? That in fact would seem to be rather the opposite of what he is claiming!

What is going on here? First of all, why can't it, joking aside, be said of me that I know that I am in pain? Second, how can it be true that this can't be said when in the very next paragraph we are offered a use for 'know' which looks like it makes for the possibility of what was denied in the previous paragraph?

The trick to answering or perhaps, better, dissolving these questions is to note that Wittgenstein is not interested in providing general sufficient conditions. Nothing in what he says about our life-with-language would lend support to the idea that he thought that an intelligible philosophical project. He is at times (as in 247 concerning know and intention) happy to provide contextually situated sufficient conditions ('And here 'know' means...'), but nowhere does he defend the (to me intuitively implausible - but you might have other ideas!) notion that language is trans-situationally decomposable. As if, for example, one might intelligibly imagine someone who went through his earlier life never hearing the word 'know' used, but being perfectly proficient in understanding and deploying facts as reasons, could then be inducted into our knowledge talk at one fell swoop. (One natural thought is: might we not expect to encounter analogues of Gettier-type problems for Hyman's non-belief-involving account of knowledge? That is, cases of being 'guided by' facts in offering reasons, or however exactly the proposal is to be cashed out, which don't amount to knowledge or which tacitly and illegitimately build in a reference to knowledge in order to secure their fix on their target.)

But then, it might be suggested, the problem with 246 is not just that no general account of knowledge is given, but that we don't even have a specific account of what talk of 'knowledge' in the context of sensations would be. But then that seems absurd too. After all, if Wittgenstein had such a specific account then he could hardly go on to say that it is nonsense to talk here of knowledge! So what does he mean? What I propose (in a 'new Wittgensteinian' spirit) is that, far from saying that something in our general concept of knowledge rules out a coherent application of it to cases of my own relation to my own sensations, he is saying that nothing here has yet been 'ruled in' (as it were). That is, he is claiming, there is no obvious use to talk here of 'knowing that I am in pain', nothing that comes to mind when we try to imagine here what those words are supposed to be doing, no obvious contribution they make to our conversations, nothing they add to my merely saying 'I'm in pain'. 

Is Wittgenstein trying to say that we can't imagine uses for 'I know I am in pain'? In fact I think we can imagine uses for that sentence. For example you might be quizzing me about my grasp of the concept 'pain' and I kick myself and say to you 'I know I am in pain'. It's a bit odd, perhaps, but it seems to me not unimaginable. (We might also imagine someone insisting, to someone who is wrongly trying to generalise a situationally unhelpful conception of reason-giving to argue down someone who tries to appeal to their pain as a reason not to go into work, that they know they are in pain. Again, it's a bit odd, but I think we can probably get there!) Here I have made sense of the idea of knowing I am in pain by imagining a possible situationally specific use of the sentence. And surely - and this is the general 'new Wittgensteinian' point - nothing stops us from developing uses which, so long as we demonstrate them, show the contributions they can make to our conversations, are perfectly and (as it were) unaccountably fine. What he was disputing was not that we can't ever imagine helpful deployments of  'I know I am in pain' but that, in the context of our relation to the fact that I am in pain, talk of 'knowledge' seems to have yet no clear work to do. 

But, you know, feel free to invent some such a purpose. Wittgenstein surely wouldn't want to stop you! After all, he's got no general account about which to get defensively protective.

Saturday, 20 May 2017


An akratic gambler says (again) that he wants to quit gambling. For example, if you ask him this is what he will tell you. We might also say that it is what he 'says to himself'.

But then he starts to think of himself 'empirically' rather than 'practically'. He says 'ok, so this is what I intend, but what actually am I likely to do?' He then reasons 'in the past I haven't quit, therefore I probably won't quit.'

There are also many occasions when the gambler still wants to go gambling. (This, indeed, is what gives point to our talking here of addiction, of commitment to quit, etc.)

Richard Moran offers this:
For the gambler to have made such a decision is to be committed to avoiding the gambling tables. He is committed to this truth categorically, as the content of his decision; that is, insofar as he actually has made such a decision, this is what it commits him to. For him his decision is not just (empirical) evidence about what he will do, but a resolution of which he is the author and which he is responsible for carrying through.
What this made me think of is a predicament that can arise in psychotherapy. A patient says that he or she wants to overcome some problem, to quit a certain habit of thought or action. And he then engages the psychotherapist in a discussion the form of which is supposed to help him tackle this disposition within himself.

The patient is at war with himself. The therapist is engaged as collaborator with the patient to help him take a stand against himself. Hmm.

It all looks so reasonable.

Perhaps sometimes it is.

However there is I think also something disquieting about the way the patient moves into the 'empirical' rather than 'practical' stance. That very stance, I want to say, is already one which prescinds from the commitment to give up their addictive or other behaviour. After all, if he really has made up his mind, then what is the possible relevance of looking at past evidence? Acts of self-determination are precisely that.

But because the patient appeals to something which these days is a paradigm of reasonableness - namely an empirical, evidence-taking stance - we may be encouraged to overlook his irrationality in deploying it in the present case.

 Why is he irrational?

It is irrational not because it ignores evidence. It is irrational in the way that Moore's paradox is irrational. ('I believe it is raining but it is not raining'.) In effect, one feels, he is saying 'I make up my mind to not do this, but probably my mind isn't made up'.

If I make up my mind to do something, then I am committed to doing something. To be committed to doing something means to follow this through so long as the opportunity remains.

Now a further question might be thought to coherently arise. That question is 'ok, but might not the opportunity here include the absence of overwhelmingly compelling urges to gamble?'

But what is being said here? Is the idea that the person, in committing to stopping gambling, is really saying 'I now commit to giving up gambling, unless of course I have compelling urges to gamble'? Yet this is absurd - it seems to reduce a commitment to a wish. Or is he saying 'Despite and in truth because of the compelling urges to gamble I experience, I now commit to put this behaviour behind me'? Hopefully the latter if we're not to waste our time in listening to him.

The rationality-defeating narcissism in the akratic gambler's appeal to empirical considerations about his past behaviour consists in his overvaluation of what he says to himself or to us when he takes himself to be making a commitment. The irrationality is partly obscured from us because the word 'says' or 'tells' in the first paragraph has two meanings - to utter and to commit, and we flit between them without realising.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

not defensive

Why can it be hard to 'get in touch with your feelings', to 'feel what you need to feel'?

Psychodynamics offers one answer: it's because we don't want to feel pain, and so shy away from painful emotion and from the anxiety it causes.

No doubt that's sometimes true. Yet other factors suggest themselves. Thus what can make for the difficulty may not be so much the intrinsic pain, but the secondary shame, of the feeling. Or at least, what can make for the difficulty is not having a sense of an other who will accept one in one's feeling. That, I believe, is not so far from a difficulty in 'mentalising' one's emotions, so long as one resists the temptation to construe that phenomenon in a merely cognitive manner. Shame and acceptance enter into the heart of self-understanding; thus you enter into the ontological heart of I.

But what else needs considering is the intrinsic difficulty of transitioning between states. Being in an emotional state is being in a self-maintaining auto-enacted attractor basin of affect, thought, activity, etc. It is being in a mode which itself is one way of 'making sense'. My hypothesis is that it is simply difficult to move between states. Where by 'simply' I mean: not because of the pain of the shift, despite the shift being painful, but because we don't know our way around. You have to escape the self-maintaining attractor dynamics of one state, move over a threshold, and enter another state.

Moving between solitude and co-presence is a good example. Getting in touch with your latent anger when you are happy is another. We aren't obliged to think of this difficulty in motivational terms.

Often enough we are, when we arrive there, perfectly happy to be angry or sad or what have you. It was the transition, not the destination, that was troubling. Or, sometimes, not even troubling, but simply difficult.

So what we need to do is to cultivate our ability to move across thresholds between emotional states. We need to develop rites of passage. Micro-emotional forms of what anthropologists note regarding major transitions in life.

Some of these are simple. For example, we have rituals for saying hello and saying goodbye. These enable us to move between the radically different modes of being of solitude and company.

Moving between states can be troubling. I propose that 'anxiety' is the name of the stateless in-between, the state of upheaval we feel when we move out of one unanxious known into another such - but, since we must reconfigure ourselves - or better, since we must be reconfigured - in transit, we have to go through discombobulation. But, once again, I'm not proposing a psychodynamic theory - i.e. it isn't that we don't want to feel the anxiety - although that too may well sometimes be true. It is that we are designed to keep being pulled into the prior steady states. It is anxiogenic to get in touch with uncommon emotions, on this model, not because we don't want to be in the latter state, but because the process of auto-reconfiguration we must go through to get there is intrinsically jarring. But, again, it's not  necessarily that we act to avoid the anxiety, so much as that we get auto-configured by the attractor basin of the original affect state. We know our way around when we are in a steady affective state. That state reveals the world to us (as Heidegger contends regarding mood). We don't know our way around when we are transitioning between states. We lack an inner seer, an inner shaman, an inner spirit guide, to take us from one world to the next.

It's not that we don't want to travel, but just that having a home is having a place we are pulled back to. When we get there, finally, we're usually happy enough.