Paul Coates "Hallucinations and the Intentional Directness of Perception: The Importance of Low-Level Conceptualization"

My main aim in this paper is to explore the way in which concepts (of a low-level classificatory kind) occur in hallucinatory experiences. I show that there are various different roles that concepts can play in relation to the phenomenal states that occur in such experiences. It is argued that a proper understanding of the role of concepts in hallucinations has important implications for theorising about the structure of ordinary, veridical perception.

Recent work has confirmed the view that complex visual and auditory hallucinations are not uncommon, particularly amongst subjects who have suffered some degree of visual or hearing degeneration (see especially Manford and Anderman, 1998, ffychte and Howard, 1999, and the work summarised in Sacks, 2007). This evidence suggests that neurological events within the subject’s body are causally sufficient to produce complex hallucinatory experiences that can, on occasion, be subjectively indistinguishable from the kinds of experiences that occur in normal veridical perception. A well-known line of argument concludes that veridical perceptual experiences also involve inner phenomenal (or sensory) states that are logically distinct from, and causally mediate, the perception of outer physical objects and events (see, e.g. Robinson, 1994). However, even if this view about the relation between hallucinatory and veridical experiences is accepted, the implications for the proper interpretation of normal, veridical perception are not clear-cut. This is because the essential role played by concepts in perceptual experiences, and also the intentional directedness of perceptual experiences, both need further clarification.

The phenomenology of hallucinatory experiences is explored in some detail. Classificatory concepts, of a low-level kind, can be applied in conjunction with the phenomenal (or sensory) aspect of experience in more than one way. The focus is mainly upon examples of subjects who report experiencing complex musical auditory hallucinations. Many subjects of musical hallucinations do not initially realise that their experiences are not veridical. I examine what happens when subjects re-assess their experiences of musical sounds, as they come to realise that their experiences are, in fact, hallucinatory. This re-assessment process involves a significant shift in conceptualisation on the part of experiencing subjects, when they no longer take their auditory states to relate to external objects and events. (Some parallels are noted with cases of visual hallucinations.)

This examination of the complex nature of hallucinatory experience has important consequences for the proper analysis of normal perception, and of the intentional directedness of experience.  Normal perception is not completely “direct”, as disjunctivists and some supporters of the “enactive view” claim, because even normal, veridical experiences involve inner, mediating, phenomenal states. Yet it is equally a mistake to hold that perception is “indirect”. This is because of the role of the subject’s classificatory concepts, which normally focus straightforwardly upon outer objects, “spontaneously”, and without inference. An adequate explanatory account of perception needs to incorporate elements of both “direct” and “indirect” approaches. The account of low-level concepts in perception that is suggested by the examination of hallucinatory phenomena, it is argued, lends support for the critical realist version of the causal theory of perception: perception is intentionally direct, yet causally mediated.  

Selected References:
Coates, P. (2007) The Metaphysics of Perception, Routledge.
Ffychte, D. H. and Howard, R. J. (1999) ‘The Perceptual Consequences of Visual Loss: “Positive” Pathologies of Vision’, Brain, 122.
Manford, M. and Andermann, F. (1998) ‘Complex Visual Hallucinations’, Brain, 121.
Rensink, R. (2000b) ‘Seeing, Sensing, and Scrutinising’, Vision Research, 40.
Robinson, H. (1994) Perception, Routledge.
Sacks, O., (2007) Musicophilia, Picador.
Sellars, W. (1978) ‘The Role of Imagination in Kant's Theory of Experience’ in Johnstone, H. W. (ed.) Categories: A Colloquium, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University.
Snowdon, P. (1990) ‘The Objects of Perceptual Experience’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, 64.