In evolutionary biology, niche construction is sometimes described as a genuine evolutionary process whereby organisms, through their activities and regulatory mechanisms, modify their environment such as to steer their own evolutionary trajectory, and that of other species. There is ongoing debate, however, on the extent to which niche construction ought to be considered a bona fide evolutionary force, on a par with natural selection. Recent formulations of the variational free-energy principle as applied to the life sciences describe the properties of (...) living systems, and their selection in evolution, in terms of variational inference. We argue that niche construction can be described using a variational approach. We propose new arguments to support the niche construction perspective, and to extend the variational approach to niche construction to current perspectives in various scientific fields. (shrink)
Physics tells us what is objectively there. It has no place for the colours of things. So colours are not objectively there. Hence, if there is such a thing at all, colour is mind-dependent. This argument forms the background to disputes over whether common sense makes a mistake about colours. It is assumed that..
I introduce the notion of a ‘control variable’ which gives us a way of seeing how mental causation could be an unproblematic case of causation in general, rather than being some sui generis form of causation. Psychological variables may be the control variables for a system for which there are no physical control variables, even in a deterministic physical world. That explains how there can be psychological causation without physical causation, even in a deterministic physical world.
But say you,surely there is nothing easier than to imagine trees,for instance,in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody by to perceive them. I answer, you may so, there is no dif?culty in it:but what is all this,I beseech you,more than framing in your mind certain ideas which you call books and trees, and at the same time omitting to frame the idea of anyone that may perceive them? But do you not yourself perceive or think of (...) them all the while? This therefore is nothing to the purpose: it only shows you have the power of imagining or forming ideas in your mind;but it doth not shew that you can conceive it possible, the objects of your thought may exist without the mind: to make out this, it is necessary that you conceive them existing unconceived or unthought of, which is a manifest repugnancy. (shrink)
Sensory experience seems to be the basis of our knowledge of mind-independent things. The puzzle is to understand how that can be: how does our sensory experience enable us to conceive of them as mind-independent? This book is a debate between two rival approaches to understanding the relationship between concepts and sensory experience.
It’s often said that relational view of experience can’t provide an explanation of mode of presentation phenomena: the idea is that if experience is characterized merely as a relation to an object, then we can’t make sense of the idea that one and the same object can be given in perception in many different ways. I show that we can address this problem by looking at the causal structure in relational experience. Experience of an object is caused by experience of (...) particular properties it has, such as its color and location, and experience of the object is in turn a cause of experience of its properties as characteristics of that object. We can explain mode of presentation phenomena as a matter of there being different sets of properties that can cause perception of one and the same object. I discuss how experiments in vision science and computational models of vision can underwrite this way of finding the causal structure in experience, relationally conceived. I look at an alternative, internalist approach to mode of presentation phenomena, in terms of ‘mental paint’, and suggest that the internalist approach is simply incoherent. Finally, I point out that we have mode of presentation phenomena for the spatial aspects of vision, such as perception of spatial relations and spatial location, but that these phenomena resist analysis in any of the terms proposed so far.On a relational view, visual experience is a relation between the perceiver and the scene observed. It’s often said, quite wrongly, that relational views of experience cannot reckon with mode-of-presentation phenomena. I begin by explaining how a relational view of experience can make sense of the idea of the ‘way’ in which an object is given to the perceiver, in terms of the properties used to single out the object. I explain why relational views are to be preferred to approaches in terms of ‘mental paint’. I then sketch the problem posed by spatial perception. Spatial perception is peculiarly difficult to characterize on a relational view, because it’s difficult to characterize the way in which spatial locations and layouts are given to the subject. (shrink)
What knowledge of the colors does perception of the colors provide? My first aim in this essay is to characterize the way in which color experience seems to provide knowledge of colors. This in turn tells us something about what it takes for there to be colors. Color experience provides knowledge of the aspect of the world that is being acted on when we, or some external force, act on the color of an object and thus make a difference to (...) the experiences of people looking at it. It is in this sense that the nature of the colors is transparent to us. For there to be colors is for there to be the qualitative categorical properties that we encounter in perception, action on which affects the color experiences of observers. This line of thought contrasts with the idea that color experience reveals the colors to us, in the sense that it provides knowledge of a number of necessary truths about the colors. In a recent paper, Alex Byrne and David Hilbert provide a careful exposition and critique of this way of developing the idea of color experience as revelatory of the colors. In this paper my main aim is simply to contrast the idea that experience makes the colors transparent to us, with the idea that color experience provides us with knowledge of truths relating to the essences of the colors. (shrink)
It seems a compelling idea that experience of colour plays some role in our having concepts of the various colours, but in trying to explain the role experience plays the first thing we have to describe is what sort of colour experience matters here. I will argue that the kind of experience that matters is conscious attention to the colours of objects as an aspect of them on which direct intervention is selectively possible. As I will explain this idea, it (...) is a matter of being able to use experience to inform linguistic or conceptual thought about what would happen were there to be various interventions on an object. Against this background, I will review Locke’s fundamental argument that since we can change the colour of an almond by pounding it, there must be an error embodied in our ordinary concepts of colour: there is no such thing as intervening directly on the colour of an object. The analysis I present brings out the force of Locke’s argument. But I will propose a vindication of our commonsense conception of colour as an aspect of objects on which direct intervention is selectively possible. (shrink)
Ordinary common sense suggests that we have just one set of shape concepts that we apply indifferently on the bases of sight and touch. Yet we understand the shape concepts, we know what shape properties are, only because we have experience of shapes. And phenomenal experience of shape in vision and phenomenal experience of shape in touch seem to be quite different. So how can the shape concepts we grasp and use on the basis of vision be the same as (...) the shape concepts we grasp and use on the basis of touch? I think this is the intuitive puzzle that underlies the question sent by the Dublin lawyer Molyneux to John Locke. This concerns a man born blind, who learns by the use of his touch to discriminate cubes from spheres. Suppose him now to gain the use of his sight. And suppose him to be presented with a cube and a sphere, of nighly the same bigness. Quaere, will he be able to tell, by the use of his vision alone, which is the sphere, and which the cube? (Locke 1975, II/ix/8.). (shrink)
I set out two theses. The first is Lynn Robertson’s: (a) spatial awareness is a cause of object perception. A natural counterpoint is: (b) spatial awareness is a cause of your ability to make accurate verbal reports about a perceived object. Zenon Pylyshyn has criticized both. I argue that nonetheless, the burden of the evidence supports both (a) and (b). Finally, I argue conscious visual perception of an object has a different causal role to both: (i) non-conscious perception of the (...) object, and (ii) experience, e.g. hallucination, that may be subjectively indiscriminable from, but is not, perception of the object. (shrink)
This chapter makes the case for a relational version of an experientialist view of joint attention. On an experientialist view of joint attention, shifting from solitary attention to joint attention involves a shift in the nature of your perceptual experience of the object attended to. A relational analysis of such a view explains the latter shift in terms of the idea that, in joint attention, it is a constituent of your experience that the other person is, with you, jointly attending (...) to the object. We need such an analysis of joint attention to explain the possibility of success in tasks such as coordinated attack. (shrink)
Philosophers often discuss altruism, how it is to be understood, explained, justified, evaluated, etc. Few refer to any experimental data on helping behaviour. I will argue that some of these data seem at least initially to present a challenge to various philosophical accounts of altruism. Put very broadly, when one looks at various philosophical accounts of altruism in light of various data on helping behaviour, one might wonder whether many philosophical accounts fall prey to the 'fundamental attribution error', overestimating people's (...) character and personal dispositions as the basis of their actions and underestimating the role of persons' situations and their construals of them in determining what they do. (shrink)
Our use of ‘I’, or something like it, is implicated in our self-regarding emotions, in the concern to survive, and so seems basic to ordinary human life. But why does that pattern of use require a referring term? Don't Lichtenberg's formulations show how we could have our ordinary pattern of use here without the first person? I argue that what explains our compulsion to regard the first person as a referring term is our ordinary causal thinking, which requires us to (...) find a persisting object as the mechanism that underpins the causal structure we naturally ascribe to the self. I thus argue against Peacocke's picture (2012), on which it's the cogito that explains one's knowledge of one's own existence. (shrink)