At the Risk of Alienating the Two of You Who Read My Blog

Here’s the essay I wrote for my Philosophy course on Hallucination. The claim: All emotions of salience are hallucinatory. The essay:

definition of hallucinatory: OED defines hallucinatory as “characterized by, pertaining to, or of the nature of hallucination, and google search, “of or resembling a hallucination”.

definition of hallucination: Oliver Sacks defines hallucination as “percepts arising in the of an eternal reality–seeing things or hearing things that are not there”

The National Library of Medicine defines hallucination as “sensing things while awake that appear to be real, but instead have been created by the mind”.

I have to prove that our visual perception is one big hallucination constructed by the brain from crude information. Therefore, emotions could be said to pertain to a hallucination as they are the result of sensory input from the outside world, and are not they themselves hallucinations.

Daniel Dennett writes that the brain does not trouble itself with filling in all the information coming from the outside. In fact, it leaves out information. He provides an example of walls covered in Marilyn Monroe Warhol images. According to Dennett, the brain does not photocopy the pictures, but instead “jumps to the conclusion” that the rest of the blobs are Marilyn (355). These other marilyns are not represented in the brain despite the vividness of detail. Dennett claims that the “details are in the world, not in your head” (355). An example of the brain filtering out information I can think of involves the editing process when writing an essay. I can scan a document for the dozenth time, but I’ll still miss errors whereas my friend can easily spot an error after a quick search. The brain can autocorrect, or give an appearance of a word or phrase I wrote twice in a row as appearing only once.

Pinker simply states, “all speech is an illusion”. He explains that the sound wave of a string of words runs continuously without breaks between words. There are no “little silences”. We hallucinate word demarcation when “a stretch of sound matches some entry in our mental dictionary”. What dictates word boundaries is culture/society. He notes that when listening to a foreign language, “it is impossible to tell where one word ends and the next begins”.

Dominic Ffytche postulates, “ our conscious visual experience is no more than a model constructed by our brains from surprisingly crude information”. We have, what Ffytche calls, an “illusion of seeing”. Ffytche (pronounced “Fitch”) explains that the “visual brain estimates textures, shadows surfaces, and objects from partial information, infers spatial relations from hardwired rules, creates colour from mathematical (ratio) computations, and edits out blinks, eye movements, and viewing position from the stream of visual consciousness” (FFytche).

David Hume writes that all we have are ideas. He implores us to “chase our imagination to the heavens, or to the utmost limits of the universe”. What we discover is that “we never really advance a step beyond ourselves”.  Hume concludes, “The farthest we can go towards a conception of external objects…is to form a relative idea of them…” (Hume 1.2.6).  If we are unable to go beyond ourselves, then we are forced to rely upon our brain to construct a correct visual perception of everything “out there” and to trust that what the brain shows us is really there. Emotions must necessarily be hallucinatory because the brain displays a visual perception which results from what Hume outlines in four parts–that is, the imagination creating an appearance of continuous, coherent, and independent objects in the world.  Much like an identity ascribed to discontinuous sequence of images, a hallucinatory object in the world is the result of images taken from the imagination and rearranged.

A possible objection to my argument reads as follows. Emotions are appropriate responses to the information relayed by the brain regardless if the sensory input comes from nonexistent percepts. Emotions are not the result of hijacked sensory organs; they are commonplace responses; They typically do not have the mystical, out-of-body qualities of a hallucination. Therefore, they are not hallucinatory.  I contend that while emotions may not be hallucinations in themselves, they are the result of illusory perceptions. In fact, if we take Pinker to be true–that “all speech is an illusion–unless you’re living on a an island without any companions, we are constantly hallucinating word boundaries in the endless stream of speech sound. We watch television and Youtube videos, listen to the radio, surround ourselves with people, peers and friends. We require language for most part of the day. We might have heard something wrong and gotten upset or happy over a misunderstanding. We encounter and experience misperceptions everyday, which I contend are mini-hallucinations, tiny hiccups in the brain’s stage illusion.

Another objection that may arise against my argument dictates that a person cannot say their reality is one big hallucination because, well, “that’s absurd!”. Even if some emotions were hallucinatory, not all emotions can be hallucinatory. At least some of them should be real and suitable according to their circumstances. For example, hitting a pedestrian causes panic, fear, and (hopefully) concern for the injured person. Those reactions should certainly be the desired response to the situation. How could they not? To them I would say, “touché”. My claim is that emotions are part of the hallucination we call “visual perception;” they themselves may not be hallucinations. In fact, they could be suitable responses to events from “out there”.

As to my claim that our visual perception is a stage hallucination, the problem stems from the connotations attached to the word (black markings on white stuff) “hallucination”. The issue with hallucinations is that they are associated with madness thanks largely to the medicalization of the phenomenon. In popular and medical minds, hallucinations are for the most part still connected with this idea. Oliver sacks characterizes ‘hallucination’ as a reality synthesizer. For him, hallucination is not a dreamstate or something imagined. Hallucinations are overwhelming and supernatural reality; they are the HD version of ‘regular’ reality. The brain, reacting to loss of visual input,  takes ordinary images from the imagination and scrambles it. When asked what happens in the brain during a hallucination, Dominic Ffytche explained, “It’s the same as when you experience real things”. Sensory organs are hijacked and used to create a form of perception with detail far greater than mere imagery. Individuals are powerless once a hallucination begins, but they are conscious of the fact that these hallucinatory objects are not real unless they appear part of normal day-to-day life. For example, an individual could hallucinate a lamp on a table but not know the object was not real until another person disagrees with what she or he is experiencing.

Works Cited

Ffytche, Dominic. “Hallucinations and the Cheating Brain.”World Science Festival. N.p.. Web. 3 Apr 2013. <http://worldsciencefestival.com/blog/hallucinations_and_the_cheating_brain>.

Hume, David. Of the Idea of Existence, and of External Existence

Dennett, Daniel. “‘Filling In Versus Finding Out”. The Philosophical Problems of Consciousness

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct.

Sacks, Oliver. Hallucinations

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “At the Risk of Alienating the Two of You Who Read My Blog

  1. You seem to have a couple of typos in your second definition of “hallucination.”

    Also, was the claim to be proved assigned to you? I find that a horrendous and bizarre claim to have to “prove.”

    I’ll respond to the essay as though you believe what you’re arguing, even though you might not:

    Just because you see and hear things around you in a certain form, does not mean that the things around you are unreal. If what you see and hear isn’t there, (is a “hallucination”) what is it that you are seeing and hearing?

    If you don’t generally perceive reality in some way, then what basis do you have for concluding anything about reality, including that hallucinations exist or that “our conscious visual experience is no more than a model constructed by our brains from surprisingly crude information”? If you are actually perceiving reality, then there’s no reason to call that perception “hallucinatory.” What you see and hear is real.

    You may find this post of interest in regard to philosophy: Taking Philosophy Seriously…

    • Z

      Hey “Sword of Apollo,” (nice moniker…)

      Can you prove what you see and hear is “real”?

      P.S. Bizzare and horrendous? Yup, sounds like Philosophers and Phil Prof.s

      • ‘Can you prove what you see and hear is “real”?’

        There’s no need to prove it conceptually. It’s a self-evident starting point (an axiom.) Every sight you see and sound you hear is all the validation you need. Every statement you make and every thought you think presupposes that the universe you perceive is real.

        See: The Axioms of Objectivism.

  2. Z

    Not really. All you have are ideas of the universe. Can you ever separate your thoughts from your experience of the world? External reality can only be perceived by our consciousness and our consciousness exists in the mind. Therefore, you haven’t given me sufficient proof there’s an external world of physical objects.

    • ‘Can you ever separate your thoughts from your experience of the world?’

      Yes, if by “experience” you mean perceptual experience. Stare at something. That image is separable from your thoughts. Your thoughts (and all proofs) are ultimately based on images like that, (and sounds, smells, etc.) If those perceptions are constantly lying to you, then you don’t even have a basis to talk about “external reality” or “consciousness” or “mind.”

      ‘Therefore, you haven’t given me sufficient proof there’s an external world of physical objects.’

      All the “proof” you need of the perception of reality is right there in the perceptions themselves. To deny that you’re perceiving is to effectively contradict yourself and obliterate the ultimate basis of all proof. Because what it means to prove a statement is to reduce it to sensory evidence.

      See: Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

      • Z

        How is an image separable from thoughts? The only way to have an image is to visualize it in your mind.

      • You can be seeing a lamp in your field of view, yet be contemplating a class presentation or a philosophical question. You can see an object that looks like a book, but understand that it’s not a real book, but a hiding place for liquor.

        While concepts are based on perceptions, they can take you beyond the perception of the immediate moment. Conceptual thought, mental visualization and perceptual attention are distinguishable mental activities.

  3. Z

    That doesn’t answer my question. You still”see” the lamp or “book/hidey place” which require the image to be present in the mind’s visual perception.
    And while concepts ” take you beyond the present moment,” you can’t escape the fact that you’re still sitting in the chair thinking about the concept ” gone someplace else”. All three you listed are still mental activities; they don’t go beyond yourself.

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