The Nature of Knowledge

Dr. Binswanger's View of Perception

Dr. Binswanger's view of perception is somewhat perplexing. In some places he seems to be describing a physicalist view of perception, in spite of the fact, he explicitly states that consciousness is not reducible to the physical.

From the section, "Consciousness as Irreducible" (Pages 42-48) Dr. Binswanger's defense of consciousness as non-physical is very good. his clearest statement on page 45 is, "Consciousness exists and matter exists. Each is what it is, and neither is a form of the other."

I would completely agree with Dr. Binswanger arguments in this section with the exception of his one concession to physicalism. Using the analogy of how a "magnetic field [is] produced by an electric current," he writes: "In a similar way, brain actions may produce awareness, but they are not identical with awareness."

No configuration or action of the physical can produce life, much less consciousness. [See the chapters, "Life" and "Consciousness."]

Dr. Binswanger's argument is different from mine, but we are in agreement. My arguments are based on what we know about consciousness and its actual ontological nature. Dr. Binswanger's argument is more technical, but still depends on one of the aspects of consciousness I emphasize, the nature of consciousness as it is subjectively experienced.

"An overall conscious activity—e.g. a thought process—can be analyzed into its stages or aspects, but not into any physical events, not even brain events. ... there is no way to reduce the seeing, or the internal "hearing," or the understanding to one or more physical sub-actions—not without leaving out the essential, conscious aspect. ... There are indeed unconscious sub-processes occurring—notably, the brain processes ... The sum of small-scale physical processes is merely a large-scale physical process. The state of consciousness is left out." [Page 43]

That is the essence of Dr. Binswanger's argument with which I completely agree.

"This raises the question: If consciousness is an action, what is the entity that acts?" [Page 43-44]

This is actually a good question and it can be asked of either Dr. Binswanger's view of consciousness, or of my own; but the question is very different in each case. Dr. Binswanger holds that conscious perception is active, that it does something in order to be consciously aware of existence. But perception is only consciousness of physical existence and nothing more, according to my view. The question for Dr. Binswanger then is what is it exactly that acts if consciousness is some kind of action? For me, the question is, if consciousness is only direct awareness of existence and nothing more, what is it that chooses, learns, and thinks, and how are these things done consciously. I'll address Dr. Binswanger's views first.

"One can say that the entity that is conscious is the mental entity, the self. But clearly, one cannot reduce the self to little sub-selves. The self, the ego, the "I," is an indivisible whole. Awareness is an organic unity; it has aspects, but no component parts. [Page 44]

Consciousness is an attribute of an organism, and it is itself an existent, because it exists. It is not an entity (which is physical) but it is an existent.

Then he says, "the relation of the aspects of a state of awareness to the whole awareness is similar to the relation of the attributes of an entity to the whole entity; an entity is its attributes and a state of awareness is its aspects."

I'm not sure what the point is here, but it is interesting that he says, "an entity is its attributes," an ontological fact which he and other Objectivists ignore in most places. What distinction he is attempting to make by saying entities have "attributes" but consciousness has "aspects" is not apparent. An aspect is an attribute (though I'd prefer the term quality). Consciousness exists and is therefore an existent, and all existents have attributes and those attributes are what an existent is, and consciousness has attributes (qualities) as every existent must.

I think the point he is trying to make is this: in order for a thing to act it must have parts. This is certainly true of the physical. But his whole point is that consciousness is not physical. Physical action requires parts, but consciousness has no physical attributes, and action associated with consciousness has no physical attributes either. I would think he was trying to solve a non-problem except for the following:

"Consciousness is an Active Process" [Page 35 ]

He quotes Rand:

"Awareness is not a passive state, but an active process. On the lower levels of awareness, a complex neurological process is required to enable man to experience a sensation and to integrate sensations into percepts; that process is automatic and non-volitional: man is aware of its results, but not of the process itself. On the higher, conceptual level, the process is psychological, conscious and volitional.In either case, awareness is achieved and maintained by continuous action." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, page 29]

I have no idea what Rand is getting at here. It is obvious, at least at the physiological level, since life itself is a process, and that same process is continuous in all aspects of an organism, including the entire neurological system, that however that system is involved in conscious awareness there is at least the life process supporting it. It is also obvious that the neurological system and the brain are doing something, even if it is not understood. But the Objectivists specifically say, "awareness is an active process," which would mean that "consciousness itself is an active process."

If consciousness is awareness of existence exactly as existence is, what else must it do? If it does anything other than just being conscious of existence as it is, it would be a distortion of that awareness. It better be still.

However much the neurological system must "act" to enable conscious awareness, it is not conscious action. As for what Rand mistakenly calls awareness at the, "conceptual level," the action is described as, psychological, conscious and volitional. Anything human beings do as human beings is volitional, and human beings are conscious of all their choices, and if by "psychological," she means as an aspect of human reason and knowledge in contrast to the physical, none of that is actions of awareness. Conscious awareness makes them possible, and we are conscious of doing them, but it is not consciousness itself doing any of them. Consciousness doesn't do anything, it is only awareness, and nothing more. [See the last section, "Consciousness Not Action," in the chapter, "Consciousness."]

The whole thing is wrong. There is no, "complex neurological process ... to enable man to experience a sensation [which Rand herself denies is possible] and to integrate sensations into percepts," because percepts are our direct consciousness of existents by means of being consciously aware of the perceivable attributes of existent which are the existents. [See the chapter, "Perception."]

Binswanger does quote one interesting statement attributed to Rand, however:

"Consciousness is metaphysically passive, but epistemologically active."

This is quite confused and is not made any clearer by Dr. Binswanger's explanation:

"That is, consciousness does not create or alter its object (consciousness is passive, metaphysically), but awareness is achieved by an active process (consciousness is active, epistemologically)."

I would agree with the first part of Rand's quote as well as Binswanger's explanation that consciousness does not create or alter its object, that is, what is being perceived; but in that case, the second part makes no sense at all. If consciousness is perfectly aware of existence just as it is, metaphysically, that is by its own ontological nature, in what possible way does knowledge (epistemology) come to be the way awareness is achieved. Doesn't awareness precede knowledge? Isn't it what we are aware of that our knowledge is about? I think Rand must have had the fact that knowledge is achieved by a process of concept development and reason, which process we are conscious of and would normally say perform consciously, but must be careful not to make the mistake of saying, as both Rand and Binswanger do, that it is consciousness itself that is performing the process. All that is done volitionally is done consciously, and could not be done without our being conscious of it, but it is not consciousness itself doing it. Consciousness is simply our awareness of it.

Consciousness Not Biological

On page 332, Dr. Binswanger wrote: "Consciousness is biological equipment. Awareness evolved for its survival function&mdsh;to guide the actions of conscious organisms. Directly or indirectly, the motive for knowing anything is to use it in action."

He also asserts that consciousness is a biological faculty. Biology is a physical science. It is the study of the physical nature of a living organism. It studies the heart by means of hearing (a stethoscope) by sight (sonograms and x-rays) by direct examination (surgery) and other instrumentation. Consciousness cannot be examined by any physical means. It is not physical, it is not biological, it is psychological. The entire neurological system can be studied because it is physical, that is, biological, but consciousness itself is not physical (biological), not a biological process and not produced by any biological process. Consciousness cannot be studied by any scientific means because it has no physical attributes, it cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled or tasted, it has no color, size, weight, dimensions, or any other physical attribute. It is obvious the neurological system is the physiological means by which living organisms are conscious, but no behavior of the neurological system describes any attribute of consciousness itself.

Consciousness and Conscious Actions

If consciousness is only direct conscious awareness of physical existence just as it is, which is my view, not Dr. Binswanger's, how are those actions we associate with consciousness such as consciously choosing (volition), thinking, (reason), and learning (knowledge) to be understood? We do not, and cannot, know what an animal's conscious experience is, but based on what we assume is their experience from observing their behavior and knowing they are living, and that their behavior is determined by their instinct, we can say an animal's behavior is determined by its instinct in response to what it perceives. Even in animals, it is not consciousness that does anything. What motivates and determines an animals behavior is instinct. In human beings, it is not instinct, but the human mind that determines human behavior. We do not know what an animal's instinct is, but we know it is infallible within the limits of its nature. Where an animal's instinct lies between consciousness and action, a human being's mind lies between consciousness and action and we are conscious of all it does, because we are conscious of all we do.

Confusing Conscious Conceptual Processes with Consciousness Itself

"And, of course, neuro-physiological action underlies conceptual processes." [Page 36]

There will be neurological and brain events associated with our conceptual processes, because the processes are constantly accessing memory, which is physiological, but the processes of choosing, thinking, and learning are psychological, operations of the mind, neither made possible by or caused by the neurological system. The brain is not conscious and does not choose, think, or learn, because it is a physical organ that is physically determined.

"Awareness is not a passive state, but an active process. On the lower levels of awareness, a complex neurological process is required to enable a man to experience a sensation and to integrate sensations into percepts: that process is automatic and non-volitional; man is aware of its results, but not of the process itself. On the higher conceptual level, the process is psychological, conscious and volitional." [Page 35]

We are apparently back to being able to experience a sensation. Here is Dr. Binswanger's confusion. If we can "experience" a sensation, is it the sensation as experienced or the sensation itself that is integrated into percepts. Binswanger never says whether "experience" of sensation is a conscious one or not, but since he's talking about awareness, it seems that must be what he means. If a sensation itself is consciousness, then what he is saying is that perceptual consciousness is produced by the integration of bits of sensational consciousness. This is, of course, absurd.

Percepts are of perceptual qualities, such are red, hot, loud, sour, etc. What "sensations" are integrated into such percepts? None. All that can be perceived are perceptual qualities. And exactly what is this magical "unknown" automatic process that keeps being mentioned, and how does it work, and how is it known there is such an integrating process?

This also confuses conceptual processes with the neurological, and his mistaken view of actions of consciousness.

"Consciousness requires contrast, change, difference. Consciousness is a difference-detector. The primary function of consciousness is to differentiate, which is an active process." [Page 36]

Dr. Binswanger does not mean this as a definition of consciousness, but a description of what it does, how it functions. It is not necessary for any difference to exist for a color to be perceived. It is only necessary that the color be there to be seen. This mistake is no doubt related to the mistaken view that human perception is of, "entities," directly, instead of being perceived as configurations of their perceptual qualities. Entities are perceived directly only in the sense that their perceivable attributes are perceived, which is the only way anything can be perceived. An entities attributes are the entity, if it is not the entities attributes that are being perceived, since they are the entity, the entity would not be perceived at all. There is no such thing as an entity sans attributes, or just some kind of, entity as such.

"The biological function of consciousness is to guide action, and basic source of guidance is cognition. A cognitive process is one devoted to gaining information about reality. Cognitive activities range from an animal's perception of the entities in its immediate environment to man's complex processes of scientific investigation. However primitive or advanced, the cognitive functions of consciousness are directed toward providing awareness of what things are, of their identities." [Page 57 "PERCEPTION"]

This has already been discussed in the "Knowledge" chapter, but is worth repeating here:

Consciousness is not a "cognitive function." Consciousness (perception) is awareness of existence and nothing more. [See the chapter, "Perception."].

Consciousness does nothing but be aware of existence; it does not guide anything, provide any kind of information about reality or anything else. This is another attempt to conflate all consciousness with human knowledge, ignoring the fact that animal instinct neither requires or is capable of acquiring knowledge. Consciousness is incapable of providing awareness of what things are, only that they are. "Awareness," of a thing's identity is only possible by means of concepts. Except for those existents an animal's instinct has provided an automatic recognition of (response to), animals cannot "identify" anything. A dog, for example, cannot identify the difference between a tree, a telephone pole, and a fire hydrant.

"The same is true of hearing and touch. We hear the actions of things. Despite some marginal cases, as when one is aware of a background hum whose location and source are not apprehended, the normal case is hearing things that make sounds, not just the sounds: a slamming door, a barking dog, the click of keys on the computer keyboard." [Page 61]

All the sounds we hear are sounds made by something, so we can say we hear the things that make the sounds, but that certainly cannot mean we are aware of what those sound producing things are. In fact, most sounds are not so distinct that their source or cause is immediately identifiable, and it is not the things that make the sounds we hear, but the sounds themselves, which we have to learn (conceptually) to identify the source for. Many sounds are quite ambiguous. How often is there a loud report, a ringing, or a whistle for which there is the response, "what was that?" This whole paragraph is not well thought out. When listening to a symphony orchestra on the radio, during the violin solo, is it the radio we are hearing, (that's where the sound is really coming from), or the violin? If the sound is recorded on a CD, which "things" do we hear, which entity does the sound make us conscious of, the CD player, the CD, or the individually recorded instruments?

"Touch also discriminates entities, unless the conditions of perception are impoverished. We feel the table, the spoon in our hands, the keyboard under our fingers—all of which is quite different from simply feeling pressure on our skin. ..." [Page 61]

Of course whatever we feel is something, usually an entity, but we feel wind, heat and cold, vibrations, and acceleration, none of which are entities. [Do not say they are made of entities, No one can perceive that. It has to be discovered conceptually.] What we feel when we feel a spoon is the coolness and hardness of the metal, the curvature of the bowl and straightness of the handle all of which we have learned to identify as a spoon, but the coolness is a temperature sensation, nothing more, and the roundness is a configuration of touch and the way our muscles are moved to stay in touch with the object, which is how we feel the straightness of the handle as well, and hardness is also sensed by the fact the spoon does not bend under the pressure of our fingers. To perceive a spoon by touch is the sum of all those separate perceptual qualities; it is no doubt a spoon that we are perceiving, but it is unlikely that we could identify it as a spoon simply from what we feel, if we had never seen a spoon or ever learned what a spoon is.

The following, Dr. Binswanger says, distinguishes perception from sensation:

"Perception is awareness of entities—of things (including their characteristics). ...human vision provides man with awareness not of stimuli but of the objects in the world, but objects that are responsible for the patterns in the light received by the eye. We see trees, dogs, books, clouds—rather than just discriminating a general level of illumination. Human eyes ... respond to light, but the human visual system is able to detect and exploit patterns in the light." [Page 60]

[NOTE: If the "visual system" is able to detect and exploit patterns in the light, and from those patterns "discriminate entities from each other," wouldn't that "visual system" have to know what patterns of light were entities and which were not? How does such a system work? Human intelligence has to go to great extremes to make such discriminations.]

Of course perception is perception of entities because that is all there is to perceive. This is obviously not what Binswanger means, because he adds: "including their characteristics." Though Binswanger himself actually said, "an entity is its attributes," (page 44) he apparently is unaware of its ontological importance to perception.

There is no direct perception of entities as entities. There is no dog percept, house percept, car percept, person percept, etc. Even though he makes a point of saying the perceptual field is perception of all the entities in the scene being seen, that can only mean he believes perceiving the scene is like a stage set with a person percept here, a chair percept there, a chandelier percept up there.

This has to be what he means. On pages 60 and 61 he says, "human vision provides man with awareness not of stimuli but of the objects in the world, the objects that are responsible for the patterns in the light received by the eye. We see trees, dogs, books, clouds..." ... "the human visual system is able to detect and exploit patterns in the light. The nature of these patterns is determined by the layout of the objects that reflected the light. Detecting these patterns enables the visual system to discriminate entities from each other. Thus, the content of visual perception is a world of entities."

Since the physical world is a world of entities, to see that world would be to see a world of entities. Though only implied by Binswanger (but made explicit by Rand and Peikoff), he says that somehow the neurological system has a way of detecting "patterns" in the light being seen and it uses that information to produce "percepts" of individual entities. Somehow, he says, the "visual system ... discriminate[s] entities from each other. How the neurological system does that, he does not even pretend to explain. How he knows this is what happens he also does not explain. He just says that is what happens.

[NOTE: This is less precise than Rand's explicit explanation that the neurological system automatically produces percepts of entities, but it is the same mistake. There is no way the neurological system could discover that the perceptual qualities perceived by the various nerve endings belong to specific entities without either being prescient or already aware of what is being perceived. This view of Rand's and Peikoff and (less explicitly) by Binswanger is nothing short of mysticism.]

It is absolutely certain that what we perceive are the entities which are existence, but they are not perceived as some kind of perceptual objects produced by the neurological system. Things are what they are, and since anything is whatever its attributes (qualities or characteristics) are, to see an entity, all one has to see, and all one can see, are that entity's perceptual attributes. [Explained fully in the "Perception" chapter.]

"2. A point essential to understanding perception is that perception is spatial; it presents a world of entities arrayed in space--i.e.. in their relative positions." [Page 61]

The real world that is perceived is, "spatial," if by spatial is meant three dimensional, which he says it is, so in a sense, if it is the real world that is being perceived (and it is) one might say that which is perceived is three dimensional.

It sounds, however, very much like he is saying that perception itself is in some way three-dimensional. Whatever could that mean? Perception is just perception of whatever there is to be perceived. Perception does not have dimensions. (Dimension is a physical attribute. Perception is not a physical phenomenon and has no physical attributes.)

[NOTE: Much of this three dimensional emphasis may be based on the fact that human vision is usually stereoscopic. The world for a one-eyed person is, visually, two-dimensional.]

"The three-dimensional spatial array given in perception is what fundamentally distinguishes perception from sensation." [Page 61]

This is backwards. Entities, in reality, are spatially arrayed, but that is discovered from what is perceived. The concept of three dimensions is derived from the perceptual field, but the perceptual field is not direct perception of three dimensionality, just of whatever is there. The world we perceive is three-dimensional but there is no attribute of consciousness itself that is dimensional.

As for how three-dimensionality distinguishes sensation from perception? I have no idea what it is supposed to mean. If something is only, "sensed," wouldn't that part of the organism's body that sensed it have three-dimensional import, at least to the organism? (Although there is no such thing as a mere "sensation." I agree with Rand.)

Perhaps the following will illustrate what he means, and reveal his mistake:

"Contrast discriminating spatially arrayed entities with discriminating the taste of one flavor element, say cinnamon, from others in what one is tasting. Such discrimination does not rise to the level of perceiving the cinnamon, precisely because the cinnamon is not given as spatially discriminated from the other flavors that one is also tasting. The perceptual word is spatially arrayed." [Page 61]

Good grief! If I taste cinnamon, and it is not a perception, what is it? He rejects that there are sensations (correctly so). Then what does he call one's consciousness of the taste of cinnamon? It's not a sensation, because we are not conscious of sensations and it's not a percept because it's not arrayed in space. Then what is it?

Binswanger seems to be implying that things that are not spatially differentiated are not really perceived, which would mean nothing is really perceived if only smelled, tasted, heard, or felt (which would contradict his contention that it is entities that are directly perceived by hearing and feeling).

As for cinnamon, I have no idea how keen Dr. Binswanger's sense of taste and smell are, but I can distinguish almost all the individual flavors in anything I am tasting. I have reproduced countless recipes simply by tasting food and identifying the ingredients, all of which I can directly perceive. It is true, they are not spatially discriminated, they are chemically discriminated. Space is not the only attribute which differentiates things. Things are also differentiated by weight, temperature, charge, viscosity, hardness, pressure, etc., none of which can be seen and have no spatial attributes.

"Perception is not a momentary, static impression but a continuous process over time. In the process of perceiving the world, the animal or man is an active exploring observer." [Page 63]

Well some are "active exploring observers," others seem to be almost oblivious to all they perceive. If you read the rest of the paragraph, Binswanger is referring to some observations about how perception works neurologically, which is really not the business of philosophy.

Nevertheless, I agree that perception is continuous. If he's going to call it a process, however, he is obliged to say what that process is, that is, how it works and how he knows there is such a process.

Philosophically all that can be said is what I wrote in the chapter, "Perception:"

"The neurological system, which includes the sense organs, both internal and external, as well as the entire nervous system and brain, is the means of providing to consciousness all those qualities and attributes of reality that can be perceived in their exact total context, including the state and nature of the perceiver.

"This system makes available to consciousness everything pertinent to the organism that is in any way physically related to it. The "system" presents to consciousness the light that is reaching the eyes, how and where anything is touching the organism, the sound that is reaching the ears, the chemicals in the air it is breathing, and those in whatever substances it puts into its mouth, as well as its internal physiological states; and it does this simultaneously and continuously.

"Philosophy does not know how the system does that, and at the present time neither does science (physiology and neurology). It might be a process, or it might just be a transmission method, or something else we do not yet understand. This is what it must do, however, since what we are conscious of is existence itself, that is, of all the existents available to the neurological system of an organism at any time. Since an existent is its attributes, to perceive those entities it is their attributes we must perceive. If the neurological system did not provide direct perception of existents perceivable attributes there would be no perception; there would be no consciousness."

"To summarize in a preliminary definition: "Perception" is the ongoing awareness of entities in their relative positions, gained from actively acquired sensory inputs." [Page 63]

Dr. Binswanger's definition of perception is not a definition of any normal human being's perception. If perception were only aware of entities, there would be no consciousness of temperature, weather, the sounds of nature, thunder, wind, and humidity, for example. I know all these things can ultimately be explained in terms of existents, but the direct perception is certainly not of entities arrayed in space.

Binswanger's Refutations

The rest of his chapter on perception is an attempt to refute other views of perception. Nevertheless, he makes additional claims about his view within those refutations which need to be addressed. He begins, on page 64 with "Sensationalism."

I do not agree with Binswanger's representation of what sensationalism actually says. It is a bit of a straw-man which he refutes, but we'll go with his explanation.

"According to most philosophers and psychologists perceptions are constructed out of "sensations." This approach, known as "sensationalism," holds that when looking at an apple, we have now, or had in infancy, separate sensations of color, brightness, roundness, etc. the mind or brain supposedly puts together those separate sensations into the sight of the apple." [Page 64]

Well, exactly what is it that can be perceived about an apple if it is not its color, brightness, shape, etc.? Binswanger is right if his objection is that the brain or anything else "puts together those separate" attributes perceived to provide a, "sight of the apple," but is wrong if he thinks the sight of an apple is anything other than seeing its perceivable attributes. That the brain or neurological system somehow produces a "sight of the apple" from "nerve information," is the very mistake that Binswanger makes. He actually has the nerve to chide Rand for her much more rational version of the same mistake:

"This marks one of the very rare occasions on which I differ with Ayn Rand; she wrote 'A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism.' Possibly she meant to a group not of sensations but of sensory input, since it is hard to see how bits of awareness (sensation) could be integrated by the brain, which is physical. In the same passage, she speaks of 'sensations as components of percepts.'" [From footnote 22, Page 64]

The real disagreement here is that Binswanger thinks "sensations" are, "bits of awareness," that is, consciousness. Rand makes it very clear that Perception is the only form of consciousness there is. I do not blame Binswanger for this confusion, however, because Rand was not always careful to distinguish between sensations and percepts.

"This notion (sensationalism) is completely mistaken. Perception is a unitary phenomenon; it does not have sensations or anything else as components. It is not the case that sensations are cognitive "atoms" out of which perception is built up whether by the brain or the intellect." [Page 64]

That is true. Perception is not "made up" of anything, not sensations as bit of awareness or "cognitive atoms" or anything else. It is simply awareness of what there is to be aware of exactly as it is. But Binswanger wrote, (page 61) "Human eyes ... respond to light, but the human visual system is able to detect and exploit patterns in the light."

What patterns? How does it detect them? How does it exploit them? How does he know this? Isn't he just replacing the sensationalists cognitive "atoms" with "patterns detected by the visual system?"

"The nature of these patterns is determined by the layout of the objects that reflected the light. Detecting these patterns enables the visual system to discriminate entities from each other. Thus, the content of visual perception is a world of entities." [Page 61]

The light reaching the eye is not just reflected light. Some entities emit light, translucent and transparent entities transmit light and some crystalline entities refract light. I do not intend this as a serious criticism, however. Just indicating an oversight.

What does he call the "patterns in the light," from which the "visual system" is able to discriminate entities from each other? Wouldn't that visual system be building up percepts of entities from the detected patterns of light, whatever those patterns of light are? How does detecting said patterns enable the visual system to discriminate entities? This seems fantastic. The visual system seems to have some kind of pre-visual means of detecting entities, not in existence but from some kind of patterns in the light. Binswanger does not explain what those patterns are, how he knows there are such patterns or how those patterns, whatever they are, inform the visual system about the existence of entities and their relationships to each other, or how the visual system then uses that information to produce percepts of entities. If the visual system is producing visually perceived entities from some detected patterns, those percepts are not of reality, but of something the visual system produces. Binswanger has not solved the problem originated by Rand and perpetuated by Peikoff.

Neither the sensationalists or Dr. Binswanger's version for perception as something the neurological system produces from "information" (sensations or detected patterns) provided by the sensory system is correct.

"The danger in using the term 'sensations' is that it suggests that the infant starts life with an experience of disembodied qualities, which he (or his nervous system) then has to join together to reach awareness of entities. This is a pervasive and seductive error. Brightness and the like are abstractions, not of the 'original stuff' of awareness, not material that gets assembled into a constructed whole. In fact, perception of entities is the given; individual qualities, such as brightness, are what we later analyze out as a single dimension variable." [Page 65 and 66]

This is impossible. Which entities are "the given?" Most entities are constructed of other entities. How does the supposed "perceptual system" decide which entities are "the given" entities? If looking at a bookshelf, is it the entire bookshelf that is the "given" entity, or is it the individual books and the shelves they are on it that are the "given" entities? Is it the bowl of fruit that is the "given" entity, or each piece of fruit, the apple, the orange, the banana, the bunch of grapes, and the bowl, that are the "given" entities, and, if it is the fruit that are the given entities, is it the grapes as a bunch or the individual grapes that are the "given" entities of perception?

How does the nervous system know from what is presented by the nerves what the entities are? It is impossible unless the system knows a priori what are entities and what are not.

It is Binswanger who thinks of sensations as "perceptual bits." No one perceives anything, including entities just as featureless entities. If entities' qualities (color, brightness, shape) are not part of the perception of entities from the beginning how are they later identified and "analyze out as single dimension variable(s)?"

This sentence captures the error perfectly: [from the top of page 66] "Brightness and the like are abstractions, not of the 'original stuff' of awareness, not material that gets assembled into a constructed whole."

But "brightness and such" are the actual attributes of entities, the perceivable attributes. If it is not an existent's perceivable attributes, it's colors, shading, shape, etc. that is seen, what else is there to see? When the visual system finally gets around to presenting its percept of an entity, as Binswanger describes it, doesn't the percept have to be the actual entity with all its perceptual qualities, its colors, shade, intensity, and shapes? If they aren't exactly the same as the actual entity, then the percepts would not be reliable awareness of reality at all.

"By analogy: we can analyze a force into its vector 'components,' but these are not actual constituents of the force. When a wind is blowing to the northeast, physics finds it helpful in calculations to analyze that force into two 'components,' a north component and an east component. But in reality the northeast wind has no components--it is not a combination of a northward wind with an eastward one. In the same way, your perception of an apple is not a combination of sensations of color, brightness, texture, etc.

"The error in sensationalism is reification: the fallacy of taking an aspect of a thing, grasped by mental analysis, as if it were an entity capable of separate existence. The simplest example would be thinking that a coin is a combination of heads and tails, rather than realizing that heads and tails are not entities put together to form a coin, but are aspects of the actual entity, the coin--aspects that we mentally isolate. Likewise, sensory qualities like brightness and softness, are aspects of the perceptual whole, which we mentally isolate but which never existed as separate phenomena." [Page 66]

This is Binswanger's problem. A thing's attributes do not have to be PUT TOGETHER by anything. They are already TOGETHER in the actual entity, only they aren't "put together" they just are together because they are the attributes of the entity, and the entity is its attributes. Without those attributes, all of an entity's attributes, it would not be that entity. An entity's attributes are what it is, are its identity, and all the can be perceived, and all that can be known about the entity, including its relationships with everything else.

Ontologically, a thing is whatever its qualities (attributes, characteristics, and properties) are. A thing's qualities do not make a thing what it is, they are what it is. A things qualities do not exist independently of the existent they are the qualities of, but the existent cannot exist except by having those qualities. If it did not have those qualities, or had different ones, it would not be that existent.

To perceive an entity it is its actual qualities that must be perceived. It would be impossible to perceive a red apple without perceiving its actual qualities, that is without perceiving its redness, roundness, etc. Perceiving an entities qualities is perceiving the entity, because its qualities are what it is.

Not all of an existents qualities can be perceived, only those qualities which are perceivable. All the other qualities of existent are discovered and understood by means of and in terms of their perceivable qualities.

When Binswanger writes, "your perception of an apple is not a combination of sensations of color, brightness, texture, etc." what does he believe the perception of an apple is? (He's right that they are not sensations, they are percepts, else one could not be conscious of them, and they are not little bits of consciousness, they are the direct consciousness of the entity's qualities, which are the existent.) The colors perceived are not "sensations," (they are perceptual qualities) and they are not just, "combined," they are the perception of the apple's color, brightness, and texture in the exact relationship that is in the actual apple. If that isn't what is perceived, what is being perceived is not an apple. An apple is whatever its properties are, and the properties of an apple that can be directly perceived visually are its color, intensity, brightness, texture, and shape. These are all that it is possible to perceive about an apple visually, and all that is necessary to perceive an apple perfectly. If one perceives an apple, since an apple is an entity, one is perceiving an entity. It is not perceiving an entity by means of something else, perceiving an apple by perceiving its attributes (which is all there is to perceive) is perceiving an entity directly and exactly as it is.

"Take another example: color perception. Although color seems at first to be a single quality, analysis identifies three factors: hue, saturation, and brightness. But we do not begin by having separate sensations of each factor. Nor does our experience of color require that we put together any such hue-sensations, saturation-sensations, and brightness-sensations. Only minuscule percentage of the human race even knows about the these three aspects of color." [Page 66]

Well, he doesn't know either. He makes a similar mistake here as he does about color and computers. The human eye is only capable to detecting three colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow. If there are any "sensations," those are it. Each has a range of sensitivity centering on these three colors. The colors we see are always combinations of these three colors (where anyone one or two of them can be zero) The colors perceived are the actual colors of the entities being seen.

He repeats his earlier mistake of calling the colors actually perceived "sensations." When the color of something is perceived it is perceived as a color "percept," and that color percept is the perception of the color of the entity in the exact position in/on that entity which is that color. The color does not need to be "put together with" any other colors or percepts by the brain or visual-system, it only has to be perceived where it is in the entity that is being perceived. It is by means of all the colors of the entity being perceived exactly where they are in the entity that is seeing the entity itself.


"There are differences in degree (of color) along the three measurable axes: hue, saturation, and brightness. Modern computers usually provide a color-setting dialog box that uses numbers from 0 to 255 to specify the setting of each of these three parameters. Any of the colors that we can see can be specified by a trio of these three numbers. (On my monitor, blueberry blue is approximately 139, 142, 74; sky blue is 139, 200, 160.) Color differences are a matter of measurements. [Page 111]

This is entirely wrong. The three numbers are not "hue, saturation, and brightness," but "red, blue, and green," which is why computer colors are called RGB colors. The numbers 0 to 255 are the decimal representation of octal numbers (eight bits) which have 256 possible combinations, 00000000 through 11111111. These numbers can also be (and usually are) represented hexadecimally, 00 through ff. A hexadecimal number represents the decimal values, zero through 15, designated by the characters 0, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,a,b,c,d,e,f. B is eleven, e is fourteen, and f is 15. 0 through 15 is 16 combinations. 16 times 16 (f times f) is 256. Counting 00 through FF hexadecimally is the equivalent of counting 0 through 255 decimally.

Additionally, RGB colors do not make "any" of the colors that we can see, only some of them. It only makes 2563 = 224 = 16,777,216 different colors. The number of different colors that can be seen is indefinite, because the color "range" is analog (infinitely divisible). A digital computer can only approximate analog values.

RGB colors can be converted to hue, saturation and brightness, but the math is quite complex, and cannot be represented as three sets of numbers in the same range. (Some computer programs make those conversions by means of programmed algorithms.)

Obviously this is not, "a measurement" of color. If color is measured, it is its wavelength that would be measured, but no one perceives the wavelength of a light wave. The attempt to force everything under the "measurement" concept makes it absurd.

[NOTE: Hue, saturation and brightness may be computed from R, G and B values as follows:

H (hue) = 0 (grey), if R = G = B, otherwise a value between 0 and 255, with the range of 0 to 255 being split into three values for G to B, B to R and R to G gradients.

L (Lightness) = (M + m) / 2, where M is max(R, G, B) and m is min(R, G, B).

S (saturation) = 0, if R = G = B, otherwise 255 * (M - m) / (M + m), if L < 128, otherwise 255 * (M - m) / (511 - (M + m)).

(Lightness = brightness, and is used to prevent confusion between the initial "B" for brightness and the "B" of RGB colors.)]

Unless one has a full understanding of a technology or field of science, it is dangerous to use technology or science to illustrate philosophical principles, and always wrong to use either as a basis for philosophical principles. [See the chapter, "Science and Philosophy."

"For the higher animals, those capable of perceiving entities, sensory qualities are given as inseparable aspects of the whole entities, not as their parts. To isolate in awareness of a given color from the entity possessing it, such as the fire truck's red color from the fire truck, is a relatively sophisticated feat, requiring an act of abstraction. In perceiving the fire truck, one sensory quality, such as its color, is not set off against its other qualities, such as its size or shape. What perception isolates are not qualities but entities. The fire truck is automatically discriminated from the other cars and trucks, the road, the buildings, etc. The spatial discrimination of entities from each other is given in the perception; it is not the outcome of some higher act of cognition. Perception presents us with an array of entities, each set off against the others in a three-dimensional world." [Page 67]

Perception does not "isolate" anything.

Is the ladder on the fire truck perceived as an entity? How about the hose, or the tires, or windows? Are these also automatically discriminated? Are they discriminated from the fire truck itself, or just from each other?

What could this possibly mean? "... one sensory quality, such as its color, is not set off against its other qualities, such as its size or shape." It cannot mean the truck's color, size, and shape are jumbled together. The phrase, "set off against," is ambiguous. Either the qualities are different or they are not. Either they are perceived (in which case they must be different) or they are not. Nothing needs to "set them off" against anything else. Everything that exists, and qualities exist, must be different from everything else that exists, and it is an existent's own qualities that make it different. [Qualities themselves have qualities as existents. Color has the quality of being directly perceivable, size has the quality of linear measurement, and shape has the quality of geometric dimension, for example.]

Since perceiving an entity is perceiving its perceivable qualities (since that is what an entity is) if they are perceivable they are already "set off" (differentiated from) all the entity's other perceivable qualities. [See the chapter, "Perception."]

"It is often asked: 'why don't we see the table's shape change as we approach it, since the image projected on the retina changes shape with the perspective?" The question assumes that what we perceive is a rendition of the image on the retina. But perception is not of an image, nor is perception a passive transmission of receptor events. Perception is an integrated form of awareness, one that responds to patterns automatically extracted by the brain from the ongoing flow of sensory input. As a result, we experience the table shape as being constant." [Page 71]

He says, "perception is not ... a passive transmission," but it is much more like that than anything Dr. Binswanger has suggested. [See the chapter, "Perception."]

Whoever asks this question? I've never known anyone to ask the question, but then I'm not as familiar with academic sophists as perhaps Dr. Binswanger is. If we saw a table's shape as constant as we approached it, that would invalidate perception. Perception must perceive everything in its exact total metaphysical context. A table that appeared the same from a distance and when one is close to it would be a deceptive percept.

We do not, as a matter of fact, see a table or anything else as a constant shape with a change of perspective. Whenever we move, everything in our visual field changes its shape or size consistent with the perspective our moving changes. This is all a result of fixing on some premise with no objective basis and then using all of one's reason to support that premise. It is the worst of rationalism or rationalization.

We learn that these changes in perspective are not changes in the nature of the entities conceptually, not perceptually. One of the great discoveries almost all children make at one time or another is that when riding in an automobile, the things closer seem to moving past faster than the things that are further away. The realization that neither the closer or more distant things are moving at all is a wondrous thing to learn, but it cannot be directly perceived.

Perhaps some individuals are unaware of the changes in perspective of the things they see, but the changes are there nevertheless. No artist would ever be able to paint or otherwise represent anything in reality if they were not keenly aware of the difference in things' appearances that depend on even very slight changes in perspective.

On Page 72 he begins his arguments for perception being inerrant. Perception is inerrant, and his arguments are sound enough, but since he does not understand the nature of perception itself, he is unable to provide the fundamental reason perception is inerrant. [See the chapter, "Perception," where the correct explanation is provided.]

There is a slight mistake under,"Perception vs. Hallucination" "Take the extreme case. Suppose someone swallows LSD and 'sees' ants crawling on his arm. But there are no ants. Isn't he mis-perceiving? No, because what he is doing is not 'perceiving'—not in regard to the phantom ants. He is hallucinating. Hallucination is not a kind of perception. It is an experience in consciousness, the hallucinatory content does not represent awareness. The LSD-ingester is not "seeing ants"--because there are no ants." [Page 84]

Perception is the only kind of consciousness we have. Consciousness is perception. [I think he supposes that perception only means perception of external things, which would mean all conscious awareness of remembered things would not be perception. All that we can be conscious of is the physical, the external physical world, the internal physical states of the body (including feelings and emotions) and those aspects of the physical brain which are the source of memory. No doubt hallucinations are created from memory data, the physical source of which is the brain, just as the content of dreams and imagination are. Memory brain functions operating under the influence of LSD is the context in which hallucinatory ants (or almost anything else) may be perceived.

It is certainly true there are no ants being perceived anymore than what one perceives in a dream {or even things one imagines} are actual physical existents.

[Even in these cases, what is being perceived is what is being perceived. The perception of hallucinatory ants is what is perceived, the context of that perception is a brain misfunctioning under the influence of LSD. The perception of ants that do not exist is an appropriate (correct) perception in that metaphysical context.]

[On the bottom of page 85 Dr. Binswanger says this is his, "more advanced, definition of 'perception.'"]

"'Perception' is the direct awareness of reality, in the form of spatially arrayed entities, that results from the automatic neural processing of actively acquired sensory inputs." [Page 86]

That would mean almost everything we believe we perceive is not perceived at all. It would mean we cannot perceive vertigo, a stomach-ache, the fact we are blushing, thirst, the individual colors in anything (because they are not entities spatially arrayed). It would mean no part of an entity which is not itself an entity, can be perceived, that none of its properties could be perceived because while those properties are and must be properties of an entity, they cannot themselves be "spatially arrayed entities."

You would not be able to perceive the cold of a piece of ice, or the weight of a bottle of milk, neither of which is an entity, much less one arrayed in space. You would not be able to perceive the relative position of anything (so even though entities are spatially arrayed you would not be able to perceive that). You would not be able to perceive shadows, or the contents of photographs, or movies, or television, because none of those are entities. You would be able to perceive a television, but not the television picture, which is not an entity.

This idea that there is some kind of automatic system that produces percepts of entities from, "actively acquired sensory inputs," is impossible. How would such a system be able to tell what things were entities, and where they belong relative to each other, and which things were entities and which things only parts of entities, or attributes of entities. How would it be possible to perceive an entity and its reflection in a mirror. The mirror is surely an entity, but is the reflected image also an entity? If not, what does the automatic system do with it. It cannot make it perceived as an entity arrayed in space, because it isn't one. Or if it is an entity, then there are two entities occupying the same space, (the mirror and the image) which would surely confuse a system attempting to array entities in space.

This unnamed unexplained automatic process producing percepts of entities is the same as Rand's, only not as clearly or precisely stated, and is wrong for all the same reasons. [See the chapter, "Perception," for the true nature of perception.]

"1. Objectivism: consciousness as identification" [Page 86]

Rand said this too, but it is wrong. Consciousness is awareness of what exists, and nothing more. No identification of what exists is made by consciousness, identification is only possible by means of concepts. Rand referred to consciousness of concepts as conceptual consciousness (to distinguish it from an animal's consciousness I suppose, though there really is no such difference in an animal's and a human's consciousness), but there really is no such thing as conceptual consciousness. Volition makes it possible for human beings to have concepts by which things seen are identified. Since concepts are perceived, or at least the word which is the symbol part of a concept, is perceived.

(A very young child clearly perceives a page in a book, including all the text on the page. The child cannot identify any of that text, though it can clearly see (perceive) it. It might ask, "what's that?" while pointing at some of the text, but cannot look away and ask what any of the text was, because the child has no way to identify it.)

"2, Naive Realism: consciousness as reproduction" [Page 86]

Binswanger's explanation is far too long and laborious to reproduce. His essential point is that naive realism is the view that perception is the reproduction of whatever is being perceived in consciousness, that seeing a tree is actually an image of the tree reproduced in consciousness. Binswanger's point is that seeing a tree is seeing the actual tree, not a copy of it in the head. On that point, Binswanger is absolutely correct.

But naive realism is not completely wrong. If one closes one's eyes after seeing something, one can often "see" that same something, perhaps trying to remember some specific fact about the object or entity. This we often do. "Was Sally sitting on Harry's right or left." We close our eyes trying to recall an image of the scene, and often can. That image is obviously not seeing the original entities, or any other entities, but it is certainly a conscious experience, therefore perception. What is being seen is a perceptual "reproduction" from memory, instead of from the perceptual nervous system.

Naive realism is actually much closer to the true nature of perception than the Objectivist view. What we perceive is reality itself, directly, exactly as it is. The neurological system no doubt is part of the method by which we have that direct perception, but it does not, as Dr. Binswanger says naive realism supposes, "reproduce," what is perceived, or as Dr. Binswager says Objectivism supposes, "create," perception of entities from patterns detected in the light. [See the chapter, "Perception," for the true nature of perception.]

"3. Representationalism: consciosness as self-consciousness."

"According to Representationalism, what we know directly are appearances, images in our minds, not the external world. We get the report of the senses, as interpreted by the processing, and we are aware of the report, not things—or not 'things as they are in themselves,' in Kant's phrase." [Page 88]

It is amazing that Binswanger does not recognize his own "theory" of perception here. His definition of perception on page 86 is: "'Perception' is the direct awareness of reality, in the form of spatially arrayed entities, that results from the automatic neural processing of actively acquired sensory inputs."

"But in fact, processing is inherent in the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is not mirroring but identification--identification achieved by specific means. The false assumption of both Naive Realism and Representationalism is if consciousness has an identity, if it is something that works by a specific causal means, it cannot be conscious of the identity of things in the world. ..." [Page 92]

This is very confused. Ontologically, a thing's "identity," where "identity" means, "what it is," is all of a things qualities (attributes). Identification, however is not what perception is. Perception is the direct awareness of entities. That of course means direct awareness of entities' qualities, because that is what entities are. Things can be consciously identified only conceptually, that is, a thing's identity can only be known by identifying its attributes. Perception, alone, cannot do that, it is only aware of attributes.

"The Naive Realist says: 'Rubies look red because they are red.' The Representationalist says: 'Rubies look red but maybe they are really some other color.' The proper view of perception holds: 'Rubies looks (sic) red because the human visual system produces that form of response to rubies under standard lighting and viewing conditions." [Page 95 and 96]

If the naive realist says "rubies look red because they are red," the naive realist is correct. Rubies are red. If perception perceives real rubies it must perceive their actual attributes, and since rubies are red, to perceive them in any other way in any context in which thing's colors can be directly perceived would be an illusion.

To say what one perceives is, "produced by the visual system in response to what is being perceived," separates perception from that which is being perceived by some unidentified and unexplained process which is just assumed to be there. There is no objective justification for such an assumption.

Perception is the direct awareness of existence by means of those attributes of existents which can be directly perceived, and since every entity is whatever its attributes are, it is those entities exactly as they are that are being perceived.

If perception must be described as a process, it is a process of transmission, and what it transmits are the perceivable qualities of the existents that make up that part of reality that is being perceived, and the transmission is directly to consciousness via the neurological system. It is because the perceivable qualities of existents directly interact with the sensory nervous system that they can be transmitted and directly perceived by consciousness.

[NOTE: It must be remembered that the human body is itself a physical entity, a physical, living conscious organism. It is because the human organism is the same kind of existent as all those it is conscious of, that even though perception is not direct, anymore than seeing things through a microscope or telescope is direct, the transmission of those qualities of things the sensory system can respond to is of those qualities exactly as they are. By analogy, the contextual variations in perception are like variations in the properties of the telescope and microscope and any variations in the atmosphere or light.]

Perception is not the product of some process performed by the neurological system, but the actual consciousness of what is being perceived. Certainly a process is necessary for that consciousness, but it does not lie between what is perceived and perception itself, it is only the physiological part or aspect of perception. What is perceived is not something produced by the neurological system, what is perceived is reality itself; the neurological system is only the physical means to that perception, in the same way (by analogy) a telescope, microscope, television camera, or even a pair of glasses are means of perceiving. None of these process anything, they simply make available to perception what is there to perceive.

"Concepts of characteristics are our means of identifying the nature of a thing, breaking down what is, perceptually, an unanalyzed whole." [Page 152]

Of course a thing is whatever its attributes are and we perceive it as a configuration of its attributes, and as that configuration, it is what it is. But it is that metaphysically as well as perceptually. If our perception of it left out any of its perceptual attributes, we could not perceive it.

What we perceive directly, however, are the existent's attributes. We perceive the existent exactly as it is, because its attributes are exactly what it is, but identifying it as an entity, even though that is what is perceived, is not a perceptual act, but a conceptual one. What is it these Objectivists believe is perceived if it is not the actual attributes of an existent which is what it is. When one perceives a red rubber ball, that is what they perceive, by means of perceiving its color, visually its shape both visually and by touch; its elasticity by touch and visually, and its texture by touch. That is how a red rubber ball is perceived, but that is not how it is identified. That requires the process of identification, which is conceptual. We perceive a red, round, elastic object, which is, "perceiving a red rubber ball," but we identify it as a red rubber ball conceptually.

As for how the qualities of perceived existents are identified, since they are directly perceived, it is those percepts that are identified. Since those qualities are the qualities of the existent, it is that perceived fact that is the basis of identifying an existent's qualities as the qualities of the existent that are that existent.