Philosophical Studies 166 (3):429-454 (2013)

Anna Farennikova
Bristol University
Intuitively, we often see absences. For example, if someone steals your laptop at a café, you may see its absence from your table. However, absence perception presents a paradox. On prevailing models of perception, we see only present objects and scenes (Marr, Gibson, Dretske). So, we cannot literally see something that is not present. This suggests that we never literally perceive absences; instead, we come to believe that something is absent cognitively on the basis of what we perceive. But this cognitive explanation does not do justice to the phenomenology. Many experiences of absence possess immediate, perceptual qualities. One may further argue that the ability to detect certain absences confers strong adaptive advantage and therefore must be as primitive and fundamental to humans as seeing positive things. I argue that we can literally see absences; in addition to representing objects, perception represents absences of objects. I present a model of seeing absence based on visual expectations and a visual matching process. The phenomenon of seeing absence can thus serve as an adequacy-test for a theory of perceptual content. If experiences of absence are possible, then we have another reason (following Siegel) to reject the view that perceptual content is restricted to colors and shapes. Furthermore, if the proposed account is correct, then we have grounds for dissociating seeing absence from other imagery-based phenomena termed “perceptual presence-in-absence” (Noë, Macpherson)
Keywords Perceptual content  Visual experience  Perception of absence  Phenomenal character  Memory  Imagination
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-012-0045-y
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References found in this work BETA

Image and Mind.Stephen M. Kosslyn - 1980 - Harvard University Press.
The Contents of Visual Experience.Susannah Siegel - 2010 - Oxford University Press USA.

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Citations of this work BETA

Holes.Roberto Casati & Achille C. Varzi - 2019 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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Minding Negligence.Craig K. Agule - forthcoming - Criminal Law and Philosophy:1-21.

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