MQ Conference Abstracts

Mohan Matthen

Many Molyneux’s Questions

Molyneux asked a question about shape, but he is often taken to have asked a question about space. This is a mistake. I’ll show that there are many different formulations of his question, only some of which are about space as such. None of these questions can be answered a priori. However, bodily action requires that two quite different perceptual representations of space be coordinated. When Molyneux’s question is suitably restricted to these representations, the answer is a qualified yes. If it weren’t, bodily action would not be possible.

James Franklin

Molyneux’s Question, Neonate Intermodal Perception and the Objects of Mathematics

One reason for interest in Molyneux’s Question is that it requires an ontological question to be solved before an epistemological one. What properties of a cube and sphere are such that they could be accessible to both touch and sight? More generally, what properties of physical things can be the subject of intermodal perception? It is known that babies pay particular attention to intermodal properties (for example, the correlation between seen bounces of a ball and the boing-boing-boing sound). Those properties are crucial to their construction of objects and processes. Intermodally-accessible properties cannot be simple perceptual properties like colour. They are more quantitative and structural, in fact the properties that are the objects of mathematics according to Aristotelian (non-Platonist) realist philosophies of mathematics. Cognitively, they are registered by the mysterious “middle level” of cognition that mediates between early perception and object recognition.

L. A. Paul

Phenomenal Discovery

I argue that we can grasp distinctive, self-involving truths, or de se truths, through immersive experience, and that the discovery of new phenomenal truths can lead to the discovery of new de se truths. I also argue that imaginative immersion in one’s future experience is a distinctive, experience-based way we use to try to discover future de se truths. I close my discussion by exploring a case where an epistemic transformation from being blind to becoming sighted scales up into a personal transformation, that is, by considering a particular example where the discovery of new phenomenal truths leads to the discovery of new, previously inaccessible de se truths.

Becko Copenhaver

Berkeley, Molyneux, and Perceptual Learning

According to Berkeley, the Molyneux person differs from the typical adult human perceiver, immediately post-procedure: her newly acquired visual experience presents no spatial features whatsoever — not even a visual field. Thus Berkeley’s familiar “no” response to Molyneux’s famous question. The Molyneux person would not see squares, cubes, circles, or spheres. Neither would she be able to “tell” anything about squares, etc. based on what is given to her, visually — if “telling” includes inference, deduction, calculation, or other forms of reckoning. This is the story we know and expect from a paragon of empiricism.

But it is not Berkeley’s whole story. According to him, the Molyneux person differs from the typical adult human perceiver pre-procedure as well. Her tactile experience differs from the tactile experiences of sighted adults: she cannot feel how things look. And while it is true that Berkeley answers Molyneux’s question negatively, he uses it to explore how the Molyneux person nevertheless develops the ability to perceive spatial features by sight. Berkeley offers this account of the development of the Molyneux person as a model for how typical human perceptual systems develop in infancy. Like the Molyneux person, we also develop the ability to perceive spatial features visually.

Philosophers will be tempted to assimilate these developmental changes to differences in judgment or belief, in which case they are not genuinely perceptual, or they will think of them in terms of cognitive permeation (also known as cognitive penetration), where judgment or belief affects the contents of perception. I argue that the developmental changes described by Berkeley are best seen as perceptual learning, described by E.J. Gibson and others (Goldstone, Connolly): they are long-lasting changes in perception that result from practice or experience as a response an organism’s environment.

Alisa Mandrigin and Matthew Nudds

Place and Space Across the Senses

When we watch a film at the cinema we typically experience the speech we hear as coming from the mouths of the actors depicted on the screen rather than from the loudspeakers. This is an everyday example of the spatial ventriloquism effect. In this talk we are interested in the question of what it is for things that we are aware of through different senses to appear to be in a single space, or even—as in spatial ventriloquism—at the same place. The answer may seem trivial and obvious: all that is required is that we pick out places in the different senses in the same way. But what does it mean to say that we pick out places in the same way? By considering the spatial ventriloquism effect, we aim to show that providing an explanation of this feature of perceptual experience presents us with more of a challenge than it might at first appear.

Mike Martin

On ‘Molyneux’s Question’

Philosophical discussion of Molyneux’s Question has principally been stimulated in the last thirty years by the posthumous publication of Gareth Evans’s ‘Molyneux’s Question’. The paper forms a twin with his commentary on Strawson’s Individuals, ‘Things Without the Mind’. Evans himself is sceptical of us drawing any direct philosophical consequences from positive or negative answers to the original Irish question. In this talk, I want to look at the questions Evans thinks should frame our enquiries.