- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st Ed. edition (8 May 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199385157
- ISBN-13: 978-0199385157
- Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 2.3 x 14.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,54,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Seeing Things as They Are: A Theory of Perception Hardcover – 8 May 2015
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Seeing Things As They Are is full of interesting ideas. It is engagingly written, and deals with big questions about the mind-world relations and the relation between the phenomenology and intentionality of perception. I recommned it to anyone interested in what makes perceptual contact with a mind-independent world possible. (Kirk Ludwig, The Philosophers' Magazine)
... offers a straightforward, realistic account of how one perceives objects and states of affairs ... Highly recommended. (Choice)
Searle's book is a wonderful addition to the philosophical discipline of perception, and a useful way for someone who is not well versed in the subject to receive and extensive overview of the historical arguments. The overarching thesis is a strong defense of Direct Realism that will inspire the reader to contemplate the ways they discern meaning through experience. (Tyler Campbell, Englewood Review of Books)
About the Author
John R. Searle is Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. His previous publications include Making the Social World (2010) and Mind: A Brief introduction (2004), both from Oxford University Press.
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As so often in philosophy, the title not only lays down the battle line but exposes the author’s biases and mistakes, since whether or not we can make sense of the language game ‘Seeing things as they are’ and whether it’s possible to have a ‘philosophical’ ‘theory of perception’ (which can only be about how the language of perception works), as opposed to a scientific one, which is a theory about how the brain works, are exactly the issues. This is classic Searle—superb and probably at least as good as anyone else can produce, but lacking a full understanding of the fundamental insights of the later Wittgenstein and with no grasp of the two systems of thought framework, which could have made it brilliant. As in his previous work, Searle largely avoids scientism but there are frequent lapses and he does not grasp that the issues are always about language games, a failing he shares with nearly everyone. After providing a short outline of Searle’s framework, I give a detailed analysis of the book from a Wittgensteinian and a dual systems of thought viewpoint.
As with Wittgenstein (hereafter W), everything that Searle (hereafter S) writes is a treasure and it is wonderful that he remains sharp as he nears 80. Unlike most, even his early work is still relevant and he is working on several other books. I also suggest his 100 or so lectures and interviews on youtube, vimeo etc., which, though inevitably a bit repetitious, contain many statements not in his writings. I have read almost all of his work, and listened to all the lectures, most of them 2 or 3 times. These are of special interest as (like Wittgenstein) he does not read from notes, and so each is unique and not a replica of a paper, and he is a superb extemporaneous speaker who mostly uses unpretentious language (both so different from most others). The recent lectures given at European Universities are superb, but don’t miss the old ones such as the BBC lecture “A Changing Reality-the science of human behavior”, which gives an excellent account of why the lawful repetitious causality of the brain’s fast automatic, nonlinguistic system 1 (S1) is fundamentally different and not describable in the same way as the limitless complexity of reasons characterizing the slow deliberative, linguistic conscious system 2 (S2), which generates a combinatorial explosion not usually representable in a useful way by scientific laws. The dual system (S1, S2) method of describing thought used in this review, common to reasoning research for some 20 years now, is my own and not Searle’s. Since I have recently posted at several places on the net an 80p article analyzing Searle’s work in comparison with that of Wittgenstein (The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language as Revealed by Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle) I will not repeat it and will concentrate on this book only.
First, let us remind ourselves of Wittgenstein’s (W) fundamental discovery –that all truly ‘philosophical’ problems (i.e., those not solved by experiments or data gathering) are the same—confusions about how to use language in a particular context, and so all solutions are the same—looking at how language can be used in the context at issue so that its truth conditions (Conditions of Satisfaction or COS, a term not used by W and popularized principally by S) are clear. The basic problem is that one can say anything but one cannot mean (state clear COS for) any arbitrary utterance and meaning is only possible in a very specific context. Thus W in his last masterpiece ‘On Certainty’ (OC) looks at perspicuous examples of the varying uses of the words ‘know’, ‘doubt’ and ‘certain’, often from his 3 typical perspectives of narrator, interlocutor and commentator, leaving the reader to decide the best use (clearest COS) of the sentences in each context. One can only describe the uses of related sentences and that’s the end of it—no hidden depths, no metaphysical insights. There are no ‘problems’ of ‘perception’, ‘consciousness’, ‘will’, ‘space’, ’time’ etc., but only the need to keep the use (COS) of these words clear.
More than most, S avoids scientism but there are frequent lapses which I have pointed out in my many reviews of his work and in spite of his being perhaps the best all around philosopher since W, he does not fully grasp that it is all about language games, a failing he shares with nearly everyone.
The subtitle (A theory of Perception) is likewise contentious (for Wittgensteinians at least) since W warned repeatedly against theorizing and even insisted it was impossible to produce theories about behavior, as everyone would agree with them—i.e., they would be truisms about our use of language. Anything that looks like a theory of higher order thought (mind, behavior) is really just a description of what we do, unless of course they are making the near universal mistake of giving a scientific theory of how the brain or the world works-a different kind of ‘philosophy’ entirely—i.e. ‘Scientism’. Searle is well aware of this and has commented on it many times, insisting W is wrong about theories, but I don’t think so. Only science has theories, i.e., propositions that can be shown true or false and often new evidence leads us to change or even abandon them, while philosophy proper (the elucidation in a given context of a language game describing our higher order behavior) will be obviously correct and not subject to revision as we all recognize it as true—i.e. as a correct use of language. But if S wants to call his generalizations about language use ‘theories’ that’s fine, just so long as we are not led astray. I have dealt with these issues at length in my other writings and in particular my review of Carruther’s ‘The Opacity of Mind’.
I will make minimal comments here since those wishing further description may consult my articles and reviews of books by Wittgenstein, Searle and others on academia.edu, philpapers.org, researchgate.net, vixra.org.
Thus when Searle introduces some terminology on p6 of STATA we see that VisExp(it is raining) is S1 while Bel(it is raining) or Assert(it is raining) is S2.
To understand ‘STATA’ it is essential to have the general framework Searle uses, which I have explained and enlarged upon in my other reviews and articles.
One needs to remember that dispositions (e.g., thinking, knowing) that state a COS are thereby true or false and a function of S2 (as opposed to S1 which are true only). And the “radical underdetermination of meaning” aka “the combinatorial explosion” was first solved by W who noted that S1 can be true only.
Assuming one has grasped the framework, we can consider Searle’s comments on the nature of perception.
As one expects from any philosophy, we are in deep trouble immediately, for on page 4 we have the terms ‘perception’ and ‘object’ as though they were used in some normal sense, but we are doing philosophy so we are going to be undulating back and forth between language games and have no chance of keeping our day to day games distinct from the various philosophical ones. Again you can read some of Neuroscience and Philosophy’ or ‘Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience’ to get a feel for this. Also a quick review of the table of Intentionality above will place his terms, ‘causally self-reflexive’ etc. in context. Sadly like nearly all philosophers, Searle (S) has not adopted the two systems framework so it’s much harder to keep things straight.
So on p6, Believing and Asserting are part of system 2 which is linguistic, deliberative, slow, with no precise time of occurrence and ‘it is raining’ is their public Condition of Satisfaction (COS2) (Wittgenstein’s transitive) –i.e., it is propositional and representational and not a mental state and we can only intelligibly describe it in terms of reasons , while Visual Experience (VisExp) is system 1 and so requires (for intelligibility, for sanity) that it be raining (it’s COS1) and has a determinate time of occurrence, is fast (typically under 500msec ), nontestable (Wittgenstein’s true-only), and nonpublic, automatic and not linguistic i.e., not propositional and presentational and only describable in terms of causes of a mental state. In spite of this on p7 after crushing the horrific (but still quite popular) term ‘propositional attitude’, he says that perception has propositional content, but I agree with W that S1 is true-only and hence cannot be propositional in anything like the sense of S2 where propositions are public statements (COS) that are true or false.
On p23 he refers to private ‘experiences’ but words are S2 and describe public events, so what warrants our use of the word for ‘private’ S1 ‘experiences’ can only be their public manifestations—i.e., language we all use to describe public acts as even for myself I cannot have any way to attach language to something internal. This is of course W’s argument against the possibility of a private language. He also mentions several times that hallucinations of X are the same as seeing X but what can be the test for this except that we are inclined to use the same words? In this case they are the same by definition so this argument rings hollow.
On p33 his ‘basic forms’ of intentionality are S1 while the ‘derivative forms’ are S2 and the two modes ‘seeing’ and ‘thinking’ as used here are S1 and S2 but the universal problem is that these words can be used for either S1 or S2 and nobody keeps them distinct.
On p35 top he again correctly attacks the use of ‘propositional attitude’ which is not an attitude to a sentence but an attitude (disposition) to its public COS, i.e., to the fact or truthmaker. The way I see this is that the ‘object’ is normally in the world and creates the mental state (S1) and if we put this in words it becomes S2 with COS2 (i.e., a public truthmaker) and this does entail the public object , but for an hallucination (or direct brain stimulation etc.) the ‘object’ is only the similar mental state resulting from brain activation.
As W showed us, the big mistake is not just about understanding perception but not understanding language—all the problems of philosophy proper are exactly the same—failure to look carefully at how the language works in a particular context so as to yield clear COS.
On p53 what exactly is the test (COS2) that shows that the cause of or mental state of an hallucination is the ‘same’ as that when there is no hallucination? Even if we ‘see’ our long dead mother, with a few possible rare exceptions of insanity, brain damage etc., we know it’s not her—i.e., it’s false and we take the failure to distinguish the two as a sign of illness. So the COS2 in hallucination is only that we feel as if she were present, though we (normally) know it cannot be, while the COS2 when she was alive is that we can confirm by a public test it is her. But he is correct that there is a more or less common percept in the two cases so that the presentation or COS1 is similar and conceivably could sometimes be as identical as any two mental states, thoughts, feelings etc. ever get—i.e., not very.
On p59 I believe that the argument from transparency originated with W. "The limit of language is shown by its being impossible to describe a fact which corresponds to (is the translation of) a sentence without simply repeating the sentence ..." (Wittgenstein CV p10). At the bottom of the page, once again the presentation is S1 and the description or representation is S2.
Middle of p61 we see the confusions that arise here and everywhere when we fail to keep S1 and S2 separate. Either we must not refer to representations in S1 or we must at least call them R1 and realize they have no public COS—i.e., no COS2.
On p63 nondetachability only means that it is a caused automatic function of S1 and not a reasoned, voluntary function of S2. This discussion continues onto the next page, but of course is relevant to the whole book and to all of philosophy, and it is so unfortunate that Searle, and nearly all in the behavioral sciences, cannot get into the 21st century and use the two systems terminology which renders so many opaque issues very clear. Likewise with the failure to grasp that it’s always just a matter of whether it’s a scientific issue or a philosophical one and if philosophical then which language game is going to be played and what the COS are in the context in question.
On p64 he says the ‘experience’ is in his head but that is just the issue—as W made so clear there is no private language and as Bennett and Hacker take the whole neuroscience community to task for, in normal use ‘experience’ can only be a public phenomenon for which we share criteria, but what is the test for my having an experience in my head? At the least there is an ambiguity here which will lead to others. Many think these don’t matter, many think they do. Something happens in the brain but that’s a scientific neurophysiological issue and certainly by ‘experience’ or by ‘I saw a rabbit’ one never means the neurophysiology. Clearly this is not a matter for investigation but one of using words intelligibly.
On p65 indexical, nondetachable, and presentational are just more philosophical jargon used instead of System 1 by people who have not adopted the two systems framework for describing behavior (i.e., nearly everyone). Likewise for the following pages if we realize that ‘objects and states of affairs’, ‘visual experiences’, ‘fully determinate’ etc., are just language games where we have to decide what the COS are and that if we just keep in mind the properties of S1 and S2 all of this becomes quite clear and Searle and everyone else could stop ‘struggling to express’ it. Thus (p69) ‘reality is determinate’ only means that perceptions are S1 and so mental states, here and now, automatic, causal, untestable (true-only) etc. while beliefs, like all dispositions are S2 and so not mental states, do not have a definite time, have reasons and not causes, are testable with COS etc. On p70 he notes that intentions in action of perception (IA1 in my terms) are part of the reflexive acts of S1 (A1 in my terms) which may originate in S2 acts which have become reflexive (S2A in my terminology).
On the bottom of p74 onto p75, 500 msec is often taken as the approximate dividing line between seeing (S1) and seeing as (S2) which means S1 passes the percept to higher cortical centers of S2 where they can be deliberated upon and expressed in language.
Regarding p100, see W’s ‘On Certainty’ and DMS’s papers and books on it or just my brief analysis of their efforts in my LSR paper. On p101 we can usually substitute COS for ‘truth conditions’.
On p100-101 the ‘subjective visual field’ is S2 and ‘objective visual field’ is S1 and ‘nothing is seen’ in S2 means we don’t play the language game of seeing in the same sense as for S1 and indeed philosophy and a good chunk of science (e.g., physics) would be different if people had realized they were playing language games and not doing science.
On p107 ‘perception is transparent’ because language is S2 and S1 has no language as it’s automatic and reflexive so when saying what I saw or to describe what I saw I can only say “I saw a cat”. Once again W pointed this out long ago as showing the limits of language.
On p108 we can say that deliberate acts (A2) always must happen by activating S1 just as must reflexive acts (A1). On p109 we might rephrase ‘…whenever you consciously perceive anything, you take the cause of your perceptual experience to be its object’ as ‘perceptions, like all functions of S1 are nontestable’.
P110 middle needs to be translated from SearleSpeak into TwoSystemsSpeak so that “Because presentational visual intentionality is a subspecies of representation, and
because all representation is under aspects, the visual presentations will always present their conditions of satisfaction under some aspects and not others.” becomes “Because the percepts of S1 present their data to S2, which has public COS, we can speak of S1 as though it also has public COS”. On p111 the ‘condition’ refers to the public COS of S2, i.e., the events which make the statement true or false and ‘lower order’ and ‘higher order’ refer to S1 and S2. On p112 the basic action and basic perception are isomorphic because S1 feeds its data to S2, which can only generate actions by feeding back to S1 to contract muscles, and lower level perception and higher level perception can only be described in the same terms due to there being only one language to describe S1 and S2. On p117 bottom it would be much less mysterious if he would adopt the two systems framework so that instead of “internal connection” with conditions of satisfaction (my COS1), a perception would just be noted as the automaticity of S1 which causes a mental state.
On p121 to say it’s essential to a perception (S1) that it has COS1 (‘the experience’) merely describes the conditions of the language game of perception—it is an automatic causal mental state.
On p123 the ‘background disposition” is the automatic, causal, mental state of S1 and as I, in agreement with W, DMS and others have said many times these cannot intelligibly be called ‘presuppositions’ as they are unconsciously activated ‘hinges’ that are the basis for presuppositions.
Section VII and VIII (or the whole book or most of higher order behavior or most of philosophy in the narrow sense ) could be titled “The language games describing the interaction of the causal, automatic, nonlinguistic transient mental states of S1 with the reasoned, conscious, persistent linguistic thinking of S2” and the background is not suppositional nor can it be taken for granted but it is our axiomatic true-only psychology (the ‘hinges” or ‘ways of acting’ of W’s ‘On Certainty’) that underlie all suppositions. As is evident from my comments I think the whole section, lacking the two systems framework and W’s insights in OC is confused in supposing it presents an “explanation” of perception where it can at best only describe how the language of perception works in various contexts. We can only describe how the word ‘red’ is used and that’s the end of it and for the last sentence of this section we might say that for something to be a ‘red apple’ is only for it to normally result in the same words being used by everyone.
Speaking of hinges, it is sad and a bit strange that Searle has not incorporated what many (e.g., DMS an eminent contemporary philosopher and leading W expert) regard as maybe the greatest discovery in modern philosophy—W’s revolutionizing of epistemology in his ‘On Certainty’ as nobody can do philosophy or psychology in the old way anymore without looking antiquated. And though Searle almost entirely ignored ‘On Certainty’ his whole career, in 2009 (i.e., 6 years before publication of this book) he spoke at a symposium on it held by the British Wittgenstein Society and hosted by DMS, so he is certainly aware of the view that has revolutionized the very topics he is discussing here. I don’t think this meeting was published, but his lecture can be downloaded from Vimeo. It seems to be a case of an old dog who can’t learn new tricks. Though he has probably pioneered more new territory in the descriptive psychology of higher order behavior than anyone since Wittgenstein, once he has learned a path he tends to stay on it, as we all do. Like everyone, he uses the French word repertoire when there is an easier to pronounce and spell English word ‘repertory’ and the awkward ‘he/she’ or reverse sexist ‘she’ when one can always use ‘they’ or ‘them’. In spite of their higher intelligence and education, academics are sheep too.
Section IX to the end of the chapter shows again the very opaque and awkward language games one is forced into when trying to describe (not explain as W made clear) the properties of S1 (i.e., to play the language games used to describe ’primary qualities’) and how these feed data into S2 (i.e., secondary qualities’), which then has to feed back to S1 to generate actions. It also shows the errors one commits by failing to grasp Wittgenstein’s unique view of ‘hinge epistemology’ presented in “On Certainty”. To show how much clearer this is with the dual system terminology I would have to rewrite the whole chapter (and much of the book). Since I have rewritten sections here several times, and often in my reviews of Searle’s other books, I will only give a couple brief examples.
The sentence on p129 “Reality is not …” and ending “perceptual experience”, can be rendered as “S1 provides the input for S2 and the way we use the word ‘red’ mandates it’s COS in each context, so using these words in a particular way is what it means to see red. In the normal case, it does not ‘seem’ to us that we see red, we just see red and we use ‘seem to” to describe cases where we are in doubt.”
The first paragraph of Section X ‘The Backward Road’ is perhaps the most important one in the book, as it is critical for all of philosophy to understand that there cannot be a precise 1:1 connection between or reduction of S2 to S1 due to the many ways of describing in language a given event (mental state, i.e., percept, memory etc.). Hence the apparent impossibility of capturing behavior in algorithms (the hopelessness of ‘strong AI’) or of extrapolating from a given neuronal pattern in the brain to the multitudinous acts (language games) we use to describe it. The ‘Backward Road’ is the language (COS) of S2 used to describe S1
Again Searle misses the point in Sect XI and X12 –we do not and cannot ‘seem to see’ red or ‘seem’ to have a memory or ‘assume’ a relation between the experience and the word, but as with all the perceptions and memories that constitute the innate axiomatic true-only mental states of System 1, we just have the experience and “it” only becomes ‘red’ etc., when described in public language with this word in this context by System 2. We know it’s red as this is a hinge—an axiom of our psychology that is our automatic action and is the basis for assumptions or judgements or presuppositions and cannot intelligibly be judged, tested or altered. As W pointed out so many times, a mistake in S1 is of an entirely different kind than one in S2. No explanations are possible—we can only describe how it works and so there is no possibility of getting a nontrivial “explanation” of our psychology.
On p150, the point is that inferring, like knowing, judging, thinking, is an S2 disposition expressed in language with public COS that are informational (true or false) while percepts are non-informational (see my review of Hutto and Myin’s book) automated responses of S1 and there is no meaningful way to play a language game of inferring in S1. Trees and everything we see is S1 for a few hundred msec or so and then normally enter S2 where they get language attached (aspectual shape or seeing as).
Regarding p151 et seq., it is sad that S, as part of his lack of attention to the later W, never seems to refer to what is probably the most penetrating analysis of color words in W’s “Remarks on Colour’, which is missing from nearly every discussion of the subject I have seen. The only issue is how do we play the game with color words and with ‘same’, ‘different’, ‘experience ‘etc. in this public linguistic context (true or false statements—COS2) because there is no language and no meaning in a private one (S1). So it does not matter what happens in the mental states of S1 but only what we say about them when they enter S2. It’s clear as day that all 7.6 billion on earth have a slightly different pattern of neural activation every time they see red and that there is no possibility for a perfect correlation between S1 and S2. As I noted above it is absolutely critical for every philosopher and scientist to get this clear.
Chapter 6: yes disjunctivism (like nearly all philosophical theses) is incoherent and the fact that this and other absurdities flourish in his own department and even among some of his former students who got top marks in his Philosophy of Mind classes shows perhaps that, like most, he stopped too soon in his Wittgenstein studies. Also we all start with default language use which is full of confusions or as W likes to say it is not ‘perspicuous’.
On p188, yes veridical seeing and ‘knowing’ (i.e., K1) are the same since S1 is true-only- i.e., it is the fast, axiomatic, causally self-reflexive, automatic mental states which can only be described with the slow, deliberative public language games of S2.
Sadly, on p211 Searle for maybe the tenth time in his writings (and endlessly in his lectures) says that ‘free will’ may be illusory, but as W from the 30’s on noted, one cannot coherently deny or judge the ‘hinges’ such as our having choice, nor that we see, hear, sleep, have hands etc., as these words express the true-only axioms of our psychology, our automatic behaviors that are the basis for action. Libet’s famous experiments have been debunked in various ways by many philosophers and by other experiments.
Phenomenalism p227 top: See my extensive comments on Searle’s excellent essay ‘The Phenomenological Illusion’ in my review of ‘Philosophy in a New Century’. There is not even any warrant for referring to one’s private experiences as ‘phenomena’, ‘seeing’ or anything else. As W famously showed us, language can only be a public testable activity (no private language). And on p230 the problem is not that the ‘theory’ ‘seems’ to be inadequate, but that (like most if not all philosophical theories) it is incoherent. It uses language that has no clear COS. As W insisted all we can do is describe—it is the scientists who can make theories.
The bottom line is that this is classic Searle—superb and perhaps as good as anyone else can produce, but lacking understanding of the fundamental insights of the later Wittgenstein, and with no grasp of the two systems of thought framework, which could have made it brilliant.
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He does this first by attacking the notion that consciousness is some nonphysical entity that can’t react with physical entities. Instead Searle holds that consciousness is a biological property of the mind and is caused by neurons in the brain, just as digestion is a property of the stomach and is caused by glands and enzymes. As such consciousness belongs to the physical world and ultimately reduces to the particles and fields of atomic physics. But Searle is not a microbiologist or brain scientist and does not tell us how consciousness emerges from the brain, only that it does. He is a philosopher and here is interested in how consciousness works in perception.
In claiming that vision presents the real word to us, Searle relies on theories of causation and intentionality. An object causes light to be reflected into our eyes, and the resulting visual experience is an intentional one, by which is meant that it seems to us to be the object out there in the real world. In other words, the visual experience has conditions of satisfaction, or requirements of being a certain way, which are that it presents a real object to us. As Searle puts it, we use the same words to describe our visual experience as to describe the object we’re looking at. The result is that our experience seems to be caused by the object we are looking at, and is a presentation of that object.
In a fascinating discussion on hallucination, Searle says that when we are hallucinating, our visual apparatus works exactly the same as when we are having a true or veridical perception, except the cause of the perception shifts from the world to the mind, and the object of the perception out in the world goes missing.
Searle thinks that everything we think or perceive gives rise to a special feeling of what it’s like to do or think something. This seems to be part of his concept of intentionality. But Searle says some odd things in this connection. If he is married to one of two identical twins, for example, or presented with a car identical to the one he drives, he seems to believe that the phenomenology or appearance of one of the twins will change once he recognizes which is his wife, and the same for his car once he realizes that he’s looking at his very own car. I don’t get that, since by stipulation the identical twins and cars can’t be distinguished by appearance. Yes, the intentionality will change, since his feelings and attitudes will enter into his consciousness, but why the phenomenology also? I don’t see that he needs to say that.
Still that is a handy belief to have when you are refuting the idea that computers are conscious, as Searle does. Obviously a computer like the ones we have now do not have subjective, qualitative feelings about the world or about their computational chores, and so can’t be conscious. Searle has other arguments against the consciousness of computers as well, and it is quite refreshing to read a thinker who doesn’t subscribe to the belief that the brain is a computer and the mind some sort of computer program. Such writers as Dennett, who do hold that view, simply eliminate consciousness rather than explain it. I’m with Searle all the way here.
Searle is quite expert in zeroing in on the logical flaws in the theories of consciousness of others, and does so with a deadpan humor that can be quite amusing. He goes through the Greats we read in college, Descartes, Berkeley, Hume and Kant, and shows how their theories of the mind or skepticism have impeded understanding of what really goes on in perception. In contrast to the writing style of Dennett, he attacks the subject of consciousness in perception head on and stays with it, rather than writing about everything under the sun in a circuitous and ultimately inaccurate approach. The prose is clear if the arguments are sometimes dense, and free of jargon. Also included are helpful pictures and diagrams. It’s enjoyable when Searle challenges those with a different view of perception to draw a diagram that better explains it than his.
I would have liked Searle to talk more about so-called hardwiring in the brain, particularly as it relates to such things as language acquisition. Searle’s position is that there is no unconscious rule in the mind unless in principle it could become conscious. I don’t know if the innate rules of language acquisition could become conscious. What would that mean in the case of a two-year old leaning to speak English? Chomsky’s idea of innate but unconscious rules seem to be a given in philosophy these days, and if Searle doesn’t buy it, and I gather he doesn’t, I’d like to read more about why. Does he question all of Chomsky? How does he better explain language acquisition?
Also Searle still leaves us with a kind of dualism. After explaining our centuries-old failure to solve the mind-body problem as set up by Descartes and others, where mind is something nonphysical that in principle can’t react casually with the physical world, he opts for a kind of materialism with two different ontologies, or types of existence. There is the first-person ontology of an individual’s private conscious events, and the third-person ontology of the objective world. But somehow both are the same kind of stuff reducible to atoms and forces. Well, it sounds right. The trick, and I think Searle pulls it off, is to present a coherent theory of perception without tripping up, to do it better than the rest, and to do it with humor and style.
In an early chapter on consciousness in general Searle burnishes his materialist credentials by declaring (at least as concerns life on Earth) that consciousness is necessarily associated with brains (which is uncontroversial), but he also declares that brains alone are sufficient to produce consciousness, something that no one (on Earth) knows for sure. This precisely why there is a "hard problem of consciousness". He repeats this claim a few times but his theory of perception does not hang on it. Another quibble is that he is a little sloppy as concerns statements of cosmological fact. In one of his examples he says "I look at the star and know it ceased to exist millions of years ago". He could only mean "I look at the stellar explosion" (a nova or supernova) and know it ceased to exist millions of years ago." If he "sees the star" then the light of its demise has not reached us yet and he could not know that it has already ceased to exist.
Searle begins by recognizing that when we experience something visually, what we have is a "subjective ontology", a phenomenal experience that philosophers for centuries have called a "sense datum". The "bad argument" comes down to the belief that this sense datum is really all we KNOW and that for all we know there is nothing about "objective ontology", the structure of the mind-independent world, to which we have access unless the sense datum represents the objective to the subjective. What has confused philosophy for centuries is the matter of how (or if) this representation actually works. Searle's argument here is very simple. Our senses, particularly vision and touch, do not merely represent the world, but PRESENT it, presentation being a special case of representation. What constitutes presentation specifically is that there are "conditions of satisfaction" for the presentation. If I see a tree, the sense datum is satisfied (and so presented and not merely represented) by there being an actual tree where I see it. This accounts for hallucinations. If the identical sense datum is hallucinated then the satisfaction criteria are not met, no tree is present where I appear to see it.
Presentation is causal with the direction of cause going from world to mind, objective to subjective. Response (what Searle calls "direction of fit"), on the other hand goes from mind to world. Searle also gets a bit into "action" because it happens that its connection between mind and world is the inverse of perception. Cause goes from mind to world and the "direction of fit" from world to mind. This ties in beautifully with Ferraris' concepts "unamendability" (perception) and affordance (action). Searle recognizes the matter of will, free will, comes up here but he demurs. I would like to see him talk about it somewhere.
Searle goes on to flesh out perception with a distinction between basic presentational properties like shape, color, motion, and so on, and those properties that require background knowledge on the part of the receiver. Perception is hierarchical. This accounts for the distinction between seeing a shape and color (basic perception) and seeing "an automobile", and further up the hierarchy (additional background), recognizing "my car". Importantly, "conditions of satisfaction" lie all the way up the hierarchy and they really apply TO THE OBJECT. The base phenomenology is not only a black object of such and such a size, but a car, and furthermore, it really is my car! All of this makes perfect sense to me, but then I am also a realist. It is hard to imagine not living one's life in a realist mental environment. If you are about to step off a curb into a lane of traffic but have a visual experience of a black object about the size of a car hurtling down the same lane towards you, you likely ASSUME that the object IS a car and that it makes sense not to step into the lane. You take for granted that the object is being presented and not merely represented to you.
Philosophically though, Searle's perception requires two assumptions. First that your brain and sensory system are operating within normal parameters, and second that the mind-independent world is genuinely structured AS PRESENTED. It is this mind-independent structure (including I believe its causal relations) that constitutes the "conditions of satisfaction" of the presentation which rests also on the causal relations between perception and the perceived object.! For Searle to get his theory of perception out, he has to presuppose that the world is real and already structured having causal properties. The apropos structure must be present to be presented. This is the very assumption that anti-realists want desperately to avoid and it makes Searle's argument circular. Because of the causal properties, the demand that we live AS IF the world is presented breaks the tie in favor of Searle's position (and against anti-realism), but I do not recall him acknowledging this circularity..
Apart from this omission, the book is a very refreshing departure from all the anti-realism I've been reading lately. It is not a long or very technical read. I highly recommend it.