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« Featured Early-Career Author: Helen De Cruz | Main | A cognitive account of skilled expertise »



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Elisa Freschi

Thanks for this stimulating post, Helen!
A few thoughts from a Sanskrit perspective:

1. The topic of the expert's perception is very much discussed in Sanskrit sources (the standard example being the one of the expert jeweller, who immediately recognises a real gem). The idea there is that their sense-perception has been enhanced and made more acute by repeated practice, so that, just like an athlete can spring higher than me, they can see more than I can. A related topic which is also intensely discussed are the limits of sense-perception (can one enhance one's sense-perception ad infinitum?).*

2. I am not sure that sense perception is so constant across cultures. Apart from the McGurk illusion (see here: http://elisafreschi.com/2015/03/25/is-there-non-processed-perception-the-mcgurk-effect/) one is reminded of the Tibetans' lack of distinction between green and blue and the variablity in the distinction among colours (different cultures acknowledge a different number of colours, both as distinct names and as the corresponding entities).

3. Right, they have some prima facie justification and all explanations are probably all a posteriori rationalisation. However, this could be the case for all epistemic enterprises (since extrinsic justification risks to be circular: What guarantees that the cognition justifying a previous cognition is justified?).

*For skeptics: you can find a discussion of the jeweller's case in a rough English translation in section 2.1 here: https://www.academia.edu/1735126/Ved%C4%81ntade%C5%9Bika_on_Intellectual_Intuition_yogipratyak%E1%B9%A3a_

Helen De Cruz

Hi Elisa - thank you for your insights and the reference to the jeweler's case - I will check this out. About (2) I agree basic perception (what Reid called "original perception") is variable across cultures, lots of interesting Whorfian effects, for instance. Still, I'm wondering if one can't make the case skilled perception is more variable. But maybe it's better to see this at the individual level rather than the cultural level. For instance, I have difficulties distinguishing between 2 closely matching hues of blues which speakers of Russian will easily tell apart because they correspond to different basic color terms. But try as I might, I cannot tell a piece of colored glass from, say, a sapphire (or pick any gem resembling glass somewhat). I will deal with the problem of (3) in one of my next posts! The problem of circularity is indeed there - and it's a bigger problem than for basic perception, but I think it can be solved.

Michel X.

I'm afraid I don't have much to contribute, but I did want to sound a small cautionary note with respect to the art-expert examples, which do a fair bit of work marshaling intuitions. My reservation is this: I'm not sure that those really *are* cases of exercising a skilled epistemic practice. In fact, I rather suspect it's rather more like wine-tasting--i.e., total BS.

Now, to be fair, I'm not aware of any literature that definitively debunks the myth of expert opinion in the arts, but I *am* aware of several cases that cast some doubt upon it. One such anecdote comes from the case of Hans van Meegeren, who passed off his creations as original Vermeers; the "experts" in this case thought these were the finest of Vermeer's paintings (some were copies, some works of HvM's passed off as Vermeers). Another case is recounted in the documentary "Who the fuck is Jackson Pollock?", and chronicles the importance of provenance in art authentification, and art experts' resistance to physical evidence (or, perhaps, their faulty reliance on "expertise").

Art experts *might* do better than a 50-50 guess with Morellian analysis of fairly low-level forgeries, where close inspection can detect anachronistic details or techniques. Quality forgeries like van Meegeren's, however, would seem to call for forensic analysis instead. And both the van Meegeren and the Pollock cases I cited cast doubt on experts' abilities to make reliable judgements based on style and other such visible features of works.

I totally believe the other examples, though, and find the non-transferability pretty fascinating.

Elisa Freschi

I was so intrigued by the topic that I ended up dedicating a short post to it: http://elisafreschi.com/2015/07/10/expert-knowledge-in-sanskrit-sources/

Helen De Cruz

Hi Elisa: Thanks so much! I just read your post - do you have, next to your blogpost, any articles on this that I could cite?

Helen De Cruz

Hi Michel X - that's a good point (and people now wonder how anyone could have been fooled by van Meegeren - it does not look like Vermeer at all). Morellian analysis by itself does not work, and we need other tools (such as dating techniques), still, I regularly see art appraisers who are used to, say, assess whether a small etching found in an attic is by Rembrandt or by an obscure contemporary. Maybe appraisers do better with this sort of thing than with deliberate forging, in any case, one can be wary about whether skills are really reliable. I'm going to address this in one of my follow-up posts here

Elisa Freschi

thanks Helen! This discussion reminded me of an article I have never finished, so I just put it on academia (hoping that someone will steal it and free me from the responsibility of sending it for peer review and the usual stuff:-)) https://www.academia.edu/13882847/The_refutation_of_any_extra-sensory_perception_in_Veda_nta_Des_ika_a_philosophical_appraisal_of_Ses_varami_ma_m_sa_ad_MS_1.1.4

Elisa Freschi

A reader prompted me to signal a further source on extraordinary perception being reachable through continuous exercise of one's faculties:

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