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Sean Enda Power

Hi Luis,

Thanks for the very interesting post. I agree with the general sentiment, although I think that I hold that, if there Are illusions, then they are a big deal. They are a big deal because, since how things seem is Not how things are, then we cannot trust how things seem.

However, I think I disagree on a few of your points.

(a) In my above statement, I am taking it that, if we cannot trust seemings (or appearances, as I prefer it), then this is a problem. One reason it might be a problem is that one wants to take seemings as evidence. You put that aside, and note lots of people of do. However, why put seemings aside?

Here's one reason: because there are illusions. Illusions give us reason to hold that we cannot trust how things seem.

In that case, if we reject the 'big deal' of illusions, then we lose reason to distrust seemings.

I think that we can't trust seemings is a problem -- at least for naive realists, but also I think for anyone trying to ground their epistemology in experience (e.g., as some foundationalists might, including one reformed coherentist, BonJour). I take it that, although seemings may not always be sufficient as evidence, they are necessary for evidence.

Further, if one's theory, in most cases, saves the seemings, then this is a good-making feature of the theory. It is a reason to pick it over alternative theories which do not save this way (of course, such a theory may be rejected for lots of other reasons).

I also assume it is not a bad-making feature of a theory if it has (a) any account of seemings and (b) does not have an account of erroneous seemings -- such as illusions or hallucinations. That is, I think we should try save the appearances but we have no obligation to do so erroneous appearances.

This is why I appreciate the desire to get rid of illusions, to make them no big deal. However, I'm not sure your approach is enough.

(b) I think that, if you are reject illusions, it isn't enough to point out that there are well-developed physical theories, e.g., of optics. Given there are illusions (or hallucinations) in the first place, and seemings are unreliable, that we have a physical theory of how they come about won't eliminate them. It will just be a physical explanation of how they come about. What is needed to save the seemings (again, my motivation, not yours) is an account in which the seemings correspond to how things are.

Does that happen with bent sticks in water, mirages, and so on? My thinking is you might be able to develop some account by going back to the Berkeley-ian arguments regarding the relationship between how things 'look' (i.e., seem) and how things are.

E.g., what is the correct way for a stick in water to LOOK so that it appears as it really is? Or: what is the correct way for an island over the horizon to LOOK so that it appears as it really is?

My thought here is it might do more than eliminate the need to talk of illusions as mysterious or problematic. It might also rehabilitate seemings/appearances.

Louie Favela

Hi Sean,

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post. I am sympathetic to a lot of what you’re saying. I don’t think this will alleviate much of your concerns, but upon retrospect, I think I should have titled my post: How to not make illusions a big deal for direct perception. At the core of a lot of what I said was an attempt to motivate the claim that illusions need not be a big deal for theories of direct perception. Moreover, those disjunctivists of the direct perception persuasion are going about it wrong. With that said, let me respond to some of your other points.

I mostly agree with your point that a well-developed theory of visual perception can give a physical account of illusions, but will not do much to account for the phenomenal experience of said illusion. I think we both agree that the physical account makes illusions not a “big deal” in the sense that we know why they are experienced as they are (e.g., light refraction at the air-water boundary in the case of the stick in water), and knowing why makes them less mysterious.

What I want to get away from is appearance/reality distinctions in matters of perception. I think that’s where a lot of our disagreement lies. “Sure, we have a physical account of how the stick looks bent in water, which could explain why the sense data seems the way it does. But it’s still an illusion—i.e., a big deal—because the appearances (“seeming”) are not revealing of the reality.” I guess I want to skip around the point and respond in a deflationary kind of way: “Well, if perception is direct, then the appearance is the reality. As a source of visual perception, it doesn’t just seem to be bent, but the stick really is bent in water.” Moreover, if the stick were to serve as a source of other kinds of perception, then those need to be involved as well, which would change the nature of the perception. For example, if the stick will be engaged with visually and haptically, then grabbing the stick, manipulating it, and placing it in and out of water will reveal that the stick—as a source of combined visual and haptic perception—is straight.

This is a very systems-based approach to perception, and is inspired by the ecological psychology approach to perception, which says that all perception requires taking into account that the organism-environment is a single system, where the features of the environment and capacities of the organism constrain what is perceived, and where perception and action are inextricably connected. In this way, perhaps we can save “seemings” if we allow that perceptual appearances are the reality—that is, until more perceptual information is available; and at that time the appearances will change, as will the reality.

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