Friday, May 24, 2013

Binding Problem

I am still evolving, as I read all this NCC stuff, but in testing myself and my thinking, I find that I produce something very similar to what I have produced several times in the past year or so (also under the Vision tag):

My view has been that the phenomenal visual scene can be likened to a stack of qualia or phenomenal properties, all simultaneously experienced or bound together in such a way that it is often difficult to see the bound parts as distinct from one another, although they are distinguishable in principle. The root of this stack is the set of phenomenal properties that I believe are most often identified with ‘qualia’, i.e. properties that have scalar magnitudes or intensities. Brightness and darkness, color, contrast, and then at a slightly higher order, orientation, scale, direction, speed. These are familiar as physical objects of study either in the psychophysical field of spatial vision, or as determinants of sensitivity in the neurophysiology of the first few synapses of the initial retinocortical pathway for visual encoding. But they are not the only phenomenal properties of visual scenes, and in fact they are not the properties of scenes that we spend the most of our ordinary visual time analyzing. Instead, we spend most of our visual effort attending to more fuzzily inferred properties of the scene: identities, utilities, depths, valences, affordances. These are the properties of a scene that are immediately apparent to us, but they are the ones that require the most inference: the shape and meaning of a word; not so much its contrast or color, which we can easily adapt to and forget, although they remain in our phenomenal consciousness. I am reminded what Foucault said regarding the multiple layers of a calligram: “As a sign, the letter permits us to fix words; as line, it lets us give shape to things.” All these things are simultaneously present and part of the seen scene, but we tend to attend selectively to certain levels.

I think it is clear from this conception of the phenomenal scene that indicating the presence of phenomenal properties, i.e. that something is present in consciousness, requires the presence of the higher level inferences, but not necessarily of the lower level ‘root’. I can daydream or close my eyes and continue to experience visual phenomena, although they are indistinct and insubstantial, and I can tell you about what I experienced, and then we can argue over whether or not visual imagery constitute visual phenomena. However, if all I have is the spatial scene, but I am unable to make any inferences about it, then I cannot report anything about it – reporting presumes context, or cause, or object, and these all require higher level inferences. Or rather, perhaps I could report, but my reports would be nearly meaningless, not least because objective meaning is tied to subjective meaning, which is what we have removed in this example. My reports would, at best, maybe with some minimal inferences, allow me to transmit information about the perceptual magnitude of local, ‘low-level’ features. I would then be performing in a psychophysics experiment, and you would probably be using signal detection theory to interpret my responses. Norma Graham noted the strange convenience of this situation more than 20 years ago, when she noted, “It is (or we can hope it is) as if the simplicity of the experimental situation has made all the higher level stages practically transparent.”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

[last Monday, the 13th,  I woke up with a great headache that lasted more than 48 hours. left side on the first day, right side on the second. nothing else particularly interesting.]

notes after midnight on May 17, 2013

When I was about 12, I could go outside some afternoons, in my backyard, and see giant helicopters flying across the sky, with what looked like trucks and tanks suspended below on long cables, in long processions, one giant helicopter after another. That would have been nineteen-ninety, ninety-one, the Gulf War. Just now, on my last night in this house, to which my family moved in winter of nineteen eighty-five, when I wasn't yet six years old, I went out to the car to get the computer that I'm now writing on, and I hear a roar, a helicopter, coming from the southeast. I stand and wait to see it, and can't find it, as it's getting so loud that I can feel the vibrations. I'm confused at the conflict between what I hear and what I don't see, just a sky of stars, and then I see it, an enormous shadow, a blank space against the stars, flanked by dim lights, and the sound I hear finds its match.

Now I lay on the floor of the living room, what we called the room where my mother's pianos sat for more than 25 years, which is now empty but for little piles of human junk here and there. I'm sleeping here just for the strangeness of it, and because I figure if I sleep in my old bedroom, a smaller space as the boy who painted cats might advise me, I will get a cave cricket in the mouth. Usually a room looks larger when you clear it out, but the piano room looks smaller without the pianos. The true nature of the house is revealed in this room, a set of almost ramshackle wooden boxes, this room the boxiest of all of them.

I get to hear the crickets and frogs outside, and the constant truck of I-40. I mentioned the stars. And I get to spend one last night in this string of boxes in the countryside, set in an undrainable swamp, in the Harpeth hills. Only yesterday did I get that cliched phrase - you have these hills or those hills, hills is an appendage for a pleasant or obscure prependage. But this place is in the hills, and it was flooded by the Harpeth only 3 years ago, so I think it deserves the name.

I'm not sure what to make of all of it. I never quite understood my surroundings when I lived here, I only saw what was just at my nose and never questioned it or looked further, though I thought I did. Now I think I know how to see further, but coming back here and wandering around, I feel the old ignorance surface, and it's a strange feeling of simultaneously knowing where I am and never having known, and really only knowing that I'll probably never be back.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

may may may

May's a slow month even when I don't go to VSS, I guess. One post last year in May, and may be this is the only one for 2014.

Bunches of stuff going on. Flying into Huntsville Wednesday. Procrastinating on a short fellowship application to go to Melbourne. Pestering a professor in Nashville for a job. Doing lots of cleanup work in Boston, finishing big papers, reviewing other people's papers, fixing RA projects, starting little papers. Practicing Chopin waltzes and Bach sinfonias to pass the time. Read Plato's Apology and Crito last week, still haven't committed to Phaedo. Started playing RoTK XI again this weekend. Cleared out of the kitchen on orders from my landlord. Playing with natural scene statistics, inventing new analyses. Always, always trying to learn Chinese.

Despite all this, I feel as though I'm doing nothing at all. Perhaps this is an explanation? I don't know, I haven't read it.