Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is conscious experience constructed?


Is conscious experience is constructed?

Yes and no, despite what my critical thinking textbook says.  The problem is that "construction" is a terrible metaphor once we get beyond an undergraduate understanding of experience.  I write on the matter from a pragmatist perspective.

What is constructed is not, foremost, its phenomenal quality.  There is a contribution of the body-mind, but "constructed" implies 1) a something that constructs, 2) some rule or reason to the construction, and 3) parts from which something is constructed, etc.  I will address each of these in turn.

First, "experience" by definition denotes the local transactive field of the organism and environment.  The field is called a "situation."  We could say that both the organism and environment collaboratively construct the experience, but that is poor wording because it splits into two parts what is actually a unity.  The situation constructs the experience if anything does, and is a better phrasing because it is closer to being a real distinction vs. the previous purely formal distinction (cf scholastic real vs. formal distinction per Duns Scotus).  However, since the situation is a transitive field, it belies the presumption that what constructs is an entity or agency; it is not.  Thus "construction" is not a good term.

Second, there is some rule or reason to the construction, but my implosion of the first point drastically alters the common conception of the second.  "Construction" having a "rule or reason" implies a blueprint or some plan that is consulted.  That is not the case; no one is consulting anything, and there is no pre-established plan.  Rather, the "rule" is habit (cf Peirce as biologized by Dewey).  A given environmental transaction is taken as a stimulus for some primitive or learned response, e.g., the sensation of the alternating patterns of visual intensity on this page is taken (after  some intervening phases) as a meaningful discourse on experience.  This is far from a Kantian schema or any "plan," although I have time only to hint at this.  Unlike a engineer consulting a blueprint, what invokes a taking of a transaction as (eventually) meaningful is a dynamic disequilibrium in the transaction as registered by the body.  "Consultation" or most rule-like interpretations of "constructing" experience are then inappropriate, because they presuppose much less contingency and dynamicity than occurs.

Third, following William James' "pure experience," experience is consciously experienced as a unity.  The discriminated parts cannot be said to exist prior to and independently of being discriminated, else one commits the "psychologist's fallacy" of presuming that discrimination is a discovery and not a creation, which is something to be independently verified and not assumed.  If experience has no parts, then there are not parts with which to construct.

Since I am time-limited, I shall add that it is not nothing that I shifted from writing "experienced" to "consciously experienced."  Consciousness is a latter phase of the experiential process that at first is not conscious but becomes so, and is centered in the locale of the situation.

Concerning phenomenal qualities, please peruse past entries for a discussion of them.

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