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Perceptual Intentionality. Attention and Consciousness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2010


A representative expression of current thinking on the ‘problem of consciousness’ runs as follows. There is one, impenetrably hard problem; and a host of soluble, and in this sense easy problems. The hard problem is: how could a physical system yield subjective states? How could there be something it is like to be a physical system? This problem corresponds to a concept of consciousness invariably labelled ‘phenomenal consciousness’. It is here, with respect to phenomenal consciousness, that we encounter an ‘explanatory gap’, where it is this gap that makes the problem so hard. Nothing we can say about the workings of a physical system could begin to explain the existence and nature of subjective, phenomenal feel.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 1998

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1 The labels ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ are David Chalmers' in Chalmers, D., The Conscious Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)Google Scholar. See, for example, p. xiii. They reflect a generally accepted bifurcation among problems of consciousness, a bifurcation very clearly described by Martin, Davies in the introduction to Consciousness, ed. M., Davies and G., Humphreys (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1993)Google Scholar.

2 Block, N., ‘On a Confusion about a Function of Consciousness’, Behavioural and Brain Sciences (1995), 18, 227–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Ibid., 234.

4 On this difference between his own account of ‘awareness’ and Block's account of access-consciousness see Chalmers, ,The Conscious Mind, p. 228Google Scholar.

5 B. Brewer, ‘Experience and Reason in Perception’ in this volume. My approach to the relation between experience and knowledge owes much to Brew's work in this area.

7 Strawson, P. F., ‘Perception and Its Objects’, in Perception and Identity: Essays in Honour of A. jf. Ayer, ed. G., Macdonald (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 45Google Scholar.

8 On this, see McDowell, J., Mind and World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994)Google Scholar, Lecture 1, and Brewer, ‘Experience and Reason’.

9 McDowell, , Mind and World, p.9Google Scholar.

10 Ibid., p.10.

11 Evans, G., ‘Things Without the Mind’, in Collected Papers (Oxford: Oxford Universith Press, 1985), pp. 249–90Google Scholar. On the role of such a theory in providing for our grip on the idea of an objective world see John, Campbell, ‘The Role of Physical Objects in Spatial Thinking’, in Spatial Representation: Problems in Philosophy and Psychology ed. Eilan, N., McCarthy, R. and Brewer, B. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 8893Google Scholar.

12 I borrow the phrase ‘interrogation of the environment’ from unpublished work by Rowland Stout, in which he employs it to describe the relation between attention and perception. The link with attention will be taken up shortly.

13 See, for example, Gibson, J. J., ‘The Perceptual Systems’, in The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (LondonGeorge Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1968), pp. 4758Google Scholar.

14 This is made explicit in Koffka's Principles of Gestalt Psychology (New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1935)Google Scholar. See also Kanizsa, G., Organization in Vision (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1979)Google Scholar, ‘Seeing and Thinking’, pp. 14–24.

15 Kahneman, D. and Henik, A., ‘Perceptual Organization and Attention’ in Perceptual Organisation ed. Kobovy, M. and Pomerantz, J. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981), p. 201Google Scholar.

16 John Campbell, ‘Wittgenstein on Attention’, submitted.

17 Dreyfus, H., Being in the World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991)Google Scholar, chapter 4, ‘Availableness and Occurrentness’, pp. 60–87.

18 Campbell, , ‘The Role of Physical Objects’, pp. 82–8Google Scholar.

19 Kahneman, and Henik, , ‘Perceptual Organization’, p. 201Google Scholar.

20 Rubin, E., ‘Figure and Ground’, in Readings in Perception, ed. and trans: Beardslee, D. C. and Wertheimer, M. (New York: Van Nostrand, 1958), pp. 194203Google Scholar. For an excellent account of Rubin's own work, and reports on experiments designed to update his findings and to give them computational underpinnings, see Jon, Driver and Gordon, Baylis, ‘Edge- Assignment and Figure-Ground Segmentation in Short Term Visual Matching’, Cognitive Psychology 31 (1996), 248306Google Scholar.

21 See Kahneman and Henik, ‘Perceptual Organization’, and also for a wide range of other examples, including auditory ones. Also Garner, A. W., ‘The Analysis of Unanalysed Perceptions’, in Perceptual Organization, ed. Kubovy, and Pomerantz, , pp. 141–80Google Scholar.

22 See e.g. John, Duncan, ‘Selective Attention and the Organisation of Visual Information’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (1984), 113, 501–17Google Scholar; Baylis, G. and Driver, J., ‘Visual Attention and Objects: Evidence for Hierarchical Coding of Location’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 21 (1995), 1323–42Google Scholar.

23 Ulric, Neisser, Cognitive Psychology (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1967)Google Scholar.

24 Ullman, Shimon, ‘Visual Routines’, in Visual Cognition, ed. Pinker, S. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), pp. 97160Google Scholar.

25 The need for the use of such routines for the purposes of action is made explicit by Ullman, in ibid., p. 98.

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