How a pheomenalist view of experience denies solipsism

March 10, 2007 at 10:36 am (general philosophy)

In a phenomenal view of experience, what happens when I perceive a book is that I have a set of experiences in the n-dimensional continuum of experiences (where n is the number of types of experience; I suggest 1 for each sense and 1 for each type of emotion) which it is suitable to label as ?that book?. The reason the book appears to maintain its identity over time, even when its qualities change, giving me a different set of experiences, is that there is more than one set of experiences which it is suitable to label ?that book?.

So far, so good. But this starts to get very confusing when we consider the self. If an object?s identity is its potential for experiences of it to be labelled in a particular way, how do we develop self-identity? In other words, what is the set of experiences that it is suitable to label ?I??

The problem, you see, is that we do not experience experiences. We conceptualise experiences, for sure, and one set of experiences can cause another set of experiences (I see a snake, I get scared), but it seems very clear to me that we do not experience experiences. Perhaps what we label ?I? is the whole set of experiences, but this would provide no way of separating ?I? from what we see as being outside ?I?, and we do see ourselves as being something distinct.

It is my contention, then, that the only way we can form an ?I? is for us to truly believe that there are other entities who experience that ?I?. That is the only way in which there could be a set of experiences suitable to label ?I??that the set of experiences exists in others? minds. The existence of a concept of ?I?, then, precludes the solipsist?s conclusion that I am the only experiencing entity.

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18 Comments

  1. doitintheroad said,

    I was reading Antonio Demasio’s account of the self, and he distinguishes between core consciousness and an extended consciousness. The CC is something we all have ( “the real self” as some say) and experiments were done on people with lesion damage to their brains to test for CC- and indeed, they had it just as us- their brains recognized colour, recognized words, and recognized objects, however with EC we have ( what he calls) an autobiographical self and it is this which both remains constant “I” and also is forever changing- as we enter into different realms of experience. With the CC, people lacked the EC- with no memory there is no self; so the inferrence is thus: what we generally call “consciousness” is an aspect of the extended consciousness i.e., reading this book feels such-and-such to me, whereas the CC would only see words, colour, shapes and they would not enter into his EC.

    I hope that makes sense.

  2. soniarott said,

    It makes sense, but it definitely doesn’t go against my own conclusion. The question is not what consciousness is, but how we come to label consciousness as “I”. I’m arguing that we can only do that if we believe that others experience our behaviour.

  3. yyfer said,

    But solipsists also have a sense of self. In fact the observance of a sense of self is a necessity in order to deny it in others.

  4. soniarott said,

    yyfer wrote:
    But solipsists also have a sense of self. In fact the observance of a sense of self is a necessity in order to deny it in others.

    Quite. So something’s obviously wrong here—that is, the solipsist’s conclusion. They couldn’t have that sense of self unless they believed that others experienced them.

  5. glaucox said,

    Not at all.
    One’s sense of self could hardly be said to be contingent upon others’ knowledge of them. All that is required is that one come to differentiate themself from anything else they interact with. To move to suppose that ‘those similar looking beings’ experience in the same way I do is a much larger jump than to say that it’s only my experiencing I can be sure of. Sonia, in your 3rd paragraph of your opening post you noted that perhaps it is we ourselves who grant the label ‘I’, and this is partially correct. More preoperly, what is going on is a labelling of ‘I’; a constant maintenance. Our ‘I’ is never static; constantly changing, being revised and updated. We do indeed have the ability to separate ourselves: we can only control ourselves, nothing more. That is all that’s required.

  6. no soul said,

    soniarott wrote:
    If an object’s identity is its potential for experiences of it to be labelled in a particular way, how do we develop self-identity? In other words, what is the set of experiences that it is suitable to label “I”?

    The problem, you see, is that we do not experience experiences. We conceptualise experiences, for sure, and one set of experiences can cause another set of experiences (I see a snake, I get scared), but it seems very clear to me that we do not experience experiences. Perhaps what we label “I” is the whole set of experiences, but this would provide no way of separating “I” from what we see as being outside “I”, and we do see ourselves as being something distinct.

    It is my contention, then, that the only way we can form an “I” is for us to truly believe that there are other entities who experience that “I”. That is the only way in which there could be a set of experiences suitable to label “I”?that the set of experiences exists in others’ minds. The existence of a concept of “I”, then, precludes the solipsist’s conclusion that I am the only experiencing entity.

  7. no soul said,

    I think one problem might lie with this contention: “The problem, you see, is that we do not experience experiences. We conceptualise experiences…” For whatever reason, we do have memories, and expectations. IMO the conscious awareness of “a memory” or “an expectation” is an experience. Any conscious perception of anything, including of our own conceptions, is a type of experience.

    IMO a phenomenalist would be more like a Buddhist, and would disavow both the reality and the non-reality of everything that is experienced! In other words, the only really logical position is Agnosticism, which, logically, precludes Solipsism, which is a belief (according to phenomenalism & Buddhism) requiring a certain level of faith to maintain.

  8. ingrid said,

    glaucox wrote:
    One’s sense of self could hardly be said to be contingent upon others’ knowledge of them. All that is required is that one come to differentiate themself from anything else they interact with.

    But, you see, it’s not at all simple to do that “all that is required”. My phenomenalist contention is that the conceptualisation of an object is the partioning-off in language of a set of experiences; what experiences of ourself do we have that we can partition off and label “I”? We don’t experience the process of, or that which is doing the, experiencing.
    “The problem, you see, is that we do not experience experiences. We conceptualise experiences…” For whatever reason, we do have memories, and expectations. IMO the conscious awareness of “a memory” or “an expectation” is an experience. Any conscious perception of anything, including of our own conceptions, is a type of experience.

    What you describe here is not the experiencing of experience, though—they’re just other experience-producing processes.

    When we become aware of a memory, what we do is rehearse a particular experience. That’s not experiencing an experience; it’s reliving it. There’s nothing there to label “I”.

    When we become aware of an expectation, what we do is formulate that expectation in our mind using language. We actually hear internally the wording of the expectation (or else we formulate the expectation emotionally—another experience). Again, that’s not experiencing an experience; it’s reliving it. There’s nothing there to label “I”.

    An experience is the representation of something—a concept or a thing in itself—in the world of experience. What I contend is that we never represent an experience in the world of experience.

  9. yyfer said,

    ingrid wrote:
    But solipsists also have a sense of self. In fact the observance of a sense of self is a necessity in order to deny it in others.
    Quite. So something’s obviously wrong here?that is, the solipsist’s conclusion. They couldn’t have that sense of self unless they believed that others experienced them.

    It might your thesis that is in error.
    If an object?s identity is its potential for experiences of it to be labelled in a particular way, how do we develop self-identity? In other words, what is the set of experiences that it is suitable to label ?I??

    We, you, I do not develop self identity. That which develops (a sense of) self identity is not the object, or set of experiences or the I that is established.
    The problem, you see, is that we do not experience experiences. We conceptualise experiences, for sure, and one set of experiences can cause another set of experiences (I see a snake, I get scared), but it seems very clear to me that we do not experience experiences. Perhaps what we label ?I? is the whole set of experiences, but this would provide no way of separating ?I? from what we see as being outside ?I?, and we do see ourselves as being something distinct.

    The I that is identified with doesn?t experience anything, it IS an experience; the I or self does not see these words if it is an object of observation itself. That which does see and have experiences cannot be located, found or even thought of.
    It is my contention, then, that the only way we can form an ?I? is for us to truly believe that there are other entities who experience that ?I?. That is the only way in which there could be a set of experiences suitable to label ?I??that the set of experiences exists in others? minds. The existence of a concept of ?I?, then, precludes the solipsist?s conclusion that I am the only experiencing entity.

    The I is formed by identifying with body sensations and internal dialogue which appear distinct and separate from other bodies and objects. From that, most speculate that since other bodies appear and behave similar to ?this? body they to must house a self. Solipsists deny that assertion. Both are guesses.

    What it is that appears to identify, thereby creating a self or sense of self is unknown. NoSoul mentioned Buddhism. Eastern philosophies and sages in general would content that nothing identifies. The ground of being is non-being.

    you wrote to doitintheroad
    The question is not what consciousness is, but how we come to label consciousness as “I”.

    We don?t label consciousness as I. ?We? are an object to consciousness.
    Apart from being an identified object in the form of a self or I, we as consciousness have no identity. We are beyond distinction. Everything and nothing.

  10. glaucox said,

    Ingrid: wrote:
    But, you see, it’s not at all simple to do that “all that is required”. My phenomenalist contention is that the conceptualisation of an object is the partioning-off in language of a set of experiences;…

    With this, I fully agree.

  11. glaucox said,

    ingrid wrote:
    … what experiences of ourself do we have that we can partition off and label “I”? We don’t experience the process of, or that which is doing the, experiencing.

    Correct; we don’t experience the process. As well, we don’t have experiences that we can (or do) immediately partition off as ‘I’. Our genesis of the ‘I’ is a developmental manouvre dervived from differentiation. We move from simple observations that certain objects are under our direct control, and others are not. When this is coupled with the recognition of introspective acts, we move to identify an agent as ourself. We call this ‘I’. This “I’ can never be immediately recognized; it is always in the past, or the uncertain future, but it is the only common thread we find among our experiences.

  12. no soul said,

    ingrid wrote:
    .What you describe here is not the experiencing of experience, though?they’re just other experience-producing processes.

    When we become aware of a memory, what we do is rehearse a particular experience. That’s not experiencing an experience; it’s reliving it. There’s nothing there to label “I”.

    Unfortunately, that’s begging the question. If we begin from the Solipsist’s own assumptions (even from a Phenomenalist’s perspective), using them in the attempt to logically discredit them, we cannot distinguish between one experience as “live” and another one as “reliving it.” Any conscious apperception at all is an “experience.” Our faculties tell us, instinctually, that one experience is “real” (e.g. direct perception of the physical world), then tell us, instinctually, that another experience is “memory” or “desire” or “imaginary” or “conceptual.” Nonetheless, from both the Solipsist’s & the Phenomenalist’s perspective, there is nothing that logically, necessarily distinguishes these as anything other than simple experiences.

    My point is, there’s no way to tell, for a Phenomenalist, if any of what you perceive/experience is real or ideal (conceived/imagined). Because of this, the Phenomenalist cannot technically declare that the outside world exists; yet at the same time, he also cannot declare that the inside world (of the mind) exists, either. So I’m agreeing with you that the Solipsist-Phenomenalist cannot literally perceive an “I” — but neither can he literally perceive the world of external Reality. All he can perceive is a constant flux, a barrage of ever-flowing perception, a buzz and bloom. The only faculty that allows him to discern any of it, to slow it down & take control of it, is instinct, intuition, and induction/guessing.

  13. soniarott said,

    Yffer,

    Naturally, it may be that my thesis is in error. That’s why I’m posting it for criticism.
    The I is formed by identifying with body sensations and internal dialogue which appear distinct and separate from other bodies and objects. From that, most speculate that since other bodies appear and behave similar to ?this? body they to must house a self. Solipsists deny that assertion. Both are guesses.

    It may be that both are guesses. But what I am saying is that solipsist cannot have a sense of self unless he believes in external objects. Which would make him not a solipsist. Solipsism is self-contradictory.
    Our genesis of the ‘I’ is a developmental manouvre dervived from differentiation. We move from simple observations that certain objects are under our direct control, and others are not. When this is coupled with the recognition of introspective acts, we move to identify an agent as ourself. We call this ‘I’. This “I’ can never be immediately recognized; it is always in the past, or the uncertain future, but it is the only common thread we find among our experiences.

    This is an interesting alternative. It is again anti-solipsist, but instead of arguing that belief in external consciousnesses is necessary for an I, you argue that only belief in external objects is needed. I am not immediately convinced, but I need to give it some more thought first. I’ll get back to you.
    Unfortunately, that’s begging the question. If we begin from the Solipsist’s own assumptions (even from a Phenomenalist’s perspective), using them in the attempt to logically discredit them, we cannot distinguish between one experience as “live” and another one as “reliving it.” Any conscious apperception at all is an “experience.”

    Hmm, you’re right about a little question-begging going on, but it doesn;t disrupt the thrust of the point: that even the solipsist cannot argue that experience is being experienced.
    the Phenomenalist cannot technically declare that the outside world exists; yet at the same time, he also cannot declare that the inside world (of the mind) exists, either

    This is interesting; it adds an extra dimension. I understand that you agree with me that the phenomenalist cannot form a sense of “I” without believing that there is an external world; what you’re adding is that this provides no grounds for whether or not there is an external world. Fascinating!

    This may provide some material for coherent-pragmatic truth theory . . .

  14. glaucox said,

    soniarott wrote:

    the Phenomenalist cannot technically declare that the outside world exists; yet at the same time, he also cannot declare that the inside world (of the mind) exists, either

    This is interesting; it adds an extra dimension. I understand that you agree with me that the phenomenalist cannot form a sense of “I” without believing that there is an external world; what you’re adding is that this provides no grounds for whether or not there is an external world. Fascinating!

    All of this depends on exactly whose definition of Phenomenalism you’re going with. Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre (usually classified as the big 3 herein..) all maintain that there must indeed be an external world. Remember: with Phenomenalists, it’s the experiencing of something that is key. We cannot confuse Phenomenalists with any empirical/ontological point of view: they are concerned with the phenomenon first and foremost.

  15. yyfer said,

    soniarott wrote:
    It may be that both are guesses. But what I am saying is that solipsist cannot have a sense of self unless he believes in external objects. Which would make him not a solipsist. Solipsism is self-contradictory.

    If a belief is not something that can obliterate a sense of self, then a solipsists sense of self can persist in the mist of the ‘belief’ that there are no external objects.

    ?Knowing? there are no external objects is to know there is no individual self (or others) distinct from the world. The ?I? shifts from being located and identified as a distinct ego-body center and becomes all observations and all experiences, including whatever remnants might remain of a sense of a separate self, which is now understood as illusory.

    With no sense of self, the assertion, ‘I alone exist? is not an I-exclusive but an I-inclusive. I becomes another name for consciousness, and solipsism takes on a different meaning.

    The contradiction inherent in solipsism is that when the solipsist belief becomes knowledge the sense self (as object) disappears. The world of phenomenal appearances remain but now it is recognized as nondual, as I.

  16. HamishMacSporran said,

    I think Ingrid is correct that our conception of “I” is related to our interaction with others (who also have “I”s).

    An important part of mental development is coming to recognise that there are other minds.

    For instance, young children fail to recognise that others may have different beliefs from their own.

    So, you show Alice and Bob a box with a sweet in it. Bob goes out the room. You take the sweet from the box and hide it in a drawer. You ask Alice “wheres the sweet?”. She says “In the drawer”. You ask “Where does Bob think the sweet is?” She says “in the drawer”. Bob comes back into the room and looks for the sweet in the box. Alice is unable to explain why.

    Children at this stage dont have the cognitive apparatus for recognising that another person may have a distinct mind from their own. If they ascribe their own beliefs to other people, I would say this is a clear failure to have a clear conception of “I”.

    It is only by recognising that Bob might reject the belief that the sweet is in the drawer, that Bob might regard this as false, that Alice can have a conception of her own and others minds. For Alice to recognise that Bob might reject her own beliefs as false, she is implicitly accepting that Bob regards her as an other entity.

    For Bob to regard her as another entity he must have experienced and labelled her in some way. Without a recognition of this on Alice’s part, I think her concept of “I” is incomplete.

  17. monroe said,

    One could still be a kind of solipsist by agreeing that using “I” invokes anti-solipsistic assumptions, and then moving to eliminate the use of “I,” or just say that “I” means “everything.”

  18. nomos said,

    Yes, to say that ‘I’ means everything seems to solve the problem. I feel that yffer has this right. Solipsism, according to mystics, is neither quite true or false. (This relates to the ‘nonduality’ that yffer mentions). It is false in the sense that the individual self is an illusion, something that does not exist and never existed (or, if you like, something that is merely epiphenomenal), and it is true in the sense that the basis of our individual ‘I’, the Being/non-Being yffer mentions, is all that is. That basis, however, is not unique to ‘me’ or ‘I’, but generic. (Thus all sentient beings are said to have ‘Buddha-nature’ and share the same identity, somewhat like the particles in a ideal gas). Buddhists, and all mystics and meditators, take the same view of the self as Dan Dennett – he likens it to a bower-bird nest, a construction of soemthing else. Sartre said it when he wrote (something like) the ego is not the owner of consciousness but the object of it.

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