Consciousness and the World

By Brian O'Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

15 'Blindsight' and the Essence of Seeing

The purpose of the ensuing discussion is to defend the doctrine that perceptions are essentially experiences. This theoretical position is what one would naturally assume if the conclusions of the previous Part II are correct. The theory there advanced characterized perception as an event in which a phenomenal item comes as object to the attention or awareness. And can awareness be so engaged in the absence of experience? Indeed, what else is 'experience' but precisely events of such a kind? All this strikes me as relatively obvious. However, phenomena like 'blindsight' (so-called) are thought by some to cast doubt on these near truisms. I shall argue in this chapter that those truistic propositions are part of the very foundation of the concept of perception, and that their abandonment would be tantamount to jettisoning an indispensable part of what one might call our 'conceptual heritage'. With this in view I propose to take a closer look at the phenomenon in question.


1 Introduction

(1) There are are at least two phenomena one might consider in this context, 'blind-sight' and 'subliminal seeing'. However, I will confine the discussion to the former phenomenon. But first, a preliminary word about each. In 'blindsight' subjects with damage to the visual cortex claim that they see nothing, yet upon being asked to guess whether (say) a light is before them make guesses which are (say) 80 per cent accurate. In 'subliminal seeing' visually normal subjects are confronted (say) with a light for so many milliseconds, and once again their experience is apparently of nothing yet their guesses are (say) 80 per cent correct.

Common to both cases is that the visual apparatus is affected by light, not quite as it normally is but similarly, that there occurs as a result a cognitively significant phenomenon whose content tends to match that present in normal visual situations, and that the subject claims to have had no visual experience. These cases seem as if they might show that the real nature of seeing cannot be what we naturally take it to be: an experience. They raise two important and closely related questions. First, do such phenomena demonstrate that seeing is not necessarily an experience, that seeing might occur without visual experience? Second, do they demonstrate the

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Consciousness and the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Consciousness and the World iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Consciousness 35
  • 1: The Experience 37
  • 2: The Anatomy of Consciousness 68
  • 3: Self-Consciousness and Self-Knowledge 102
  • 4: 'Translucence' 164
  • 5: Consciousness and the Mental Will 200
  • 6: Interiority and Thinking 233
  • Part II the Attention and Perception 265
  • 7: The Attention 275
  • 8: The Attention and Perception (1) 291
  • 9: The Attention and Perception (2) 302
  • 10: Perception and Truth 318
  • 11: The Imagination (1) 339
  • 12: The Imagination (2) 362
  • 13: Imagination and Perception 371
  • 14: Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action 379
  • Part III Seeing 407
  • 15: 'Blindsight' and the Essence of Seeing 415
  • 16: Seeing the Light 439
  • 17: Sense-Data (1) or the Ways of the Attention 465
  • 18: Sense-Data (2) 502
  • 19: Secondary Qualities 515
  • 20: The 'Perceptual Given' and 'Perceptual Mediators' or the Formation of the Visual Experience 538
  • 21: Appearances 570
  • 22: Perceptually Constituting the Material Object 592
  • Part IV Perception and the Body 621
  • 23: Proprioception and the Body Image 628
  • 24: The Sense of Touch 656
  • Conclusion 681
  • Index 697
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