Memory, “Alternative Facts,” and the Political Philosophy of Cognition, #3–Strong Non-Conceptualism and Radically Naïve Realism about Sense Perception and Memory.

By Robert Hanna

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APP EDITORS’ NOTE:

This installment contains section 3.

But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete text HERE.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

2. Varieties of Memory

3. Strong Non-Conceptualism and Radically Naïve Realism about Sense Perception and Memory

4. The Political Philosophy of Memory

5. Conclusion

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3. Strong Non-Conceptualism and Radically Naïve Realism about Sense Perception and Memory

(i) whether human cognition is necessarily determined by our concepts and our conceptual capacities, yes or no, and

(ii) whether human cognizers share a fundamental pre-conceptual/pre-intellectual or “purely sensible” capacity — or a set of such capacities — with non-rational or non-human animals, that operates in some substantive way independently of our intellectual/logical capacity for conceptualization, judgment, believing, etc., while still also being able to combine substantively with those latter capacities for the purposes of socially and linguistically-mediated “rational” cognition, yes or no.

Conceptualists, aka intellectualists about human cognition, say yes to (i) and no to (ii); but Strong Non-Conceptualists, aka non-intellectualists about human cognition, say no to (i) and yes to (ii).

For reasons that I present and defend at length in Cognition, Content, and the A Priori — but in order to keep things fairly short-and-sweet, I will not re-present or re-defend here — I hold the thesis of Strong Non-Conceptualism.

Strong Non-Conceptualism, in turn, implies a fundamental distinction between conceptual content on the one hand, and essentially non-conceptual content on the other. Now by conceptual content I mean the inherently general, descriptive information that is expressed by one-place predicates in natural language, and correspondingly plays an essential role in logically-structured propositions, especially analytic propositions, and inferences. Granting that, then here is the distinction between conceptual content and essentially non-conceptual content in a nutshell:

The theory of rational human cognition, content, and knowledge that I am proposing … is, in part, a “bottom-up” theory about the nature of minded animals that anchors conceptual content in the primitive fact of essentially non-conceptual content. Essentially non-conceptual content … is a kind of mental content that is categorically different from conceptual content, in the sense that both its underlying semantic structure and also its characteristic psychological function or role are inherently distinct from those of conceptual content. Furthermore, essentially non-conceptual content is a kind of mental content that rational human animals or real human persons share with non-rational minded animals, whether non-human (e.g., cats) or human (e.g., infants), who, it seems, do not possess conceptual capacities. So essentially non-conceptual content epitomizes the specifically non-intellectual or sensible,embodied, perception-based, phenomenally conscious side of human mindedness, whereas conceptual content epitomizes the specifically intellectual or discursive, reflective, judgment-based, self-conscious side of human mindedness…. [B]y way of a preliminary or working characterization to have in front of us, I will say that essentially non-conceptual content is mental content that necessarily includes essentially indexical formal spatiotemporal and dynamic representations that are fully sensitive to complex thermodynamic asymmetries in perceptually manifest natural objects and processes, and also that the primary psychological function or role of essentially non-conceptual content is to account for directly referential cognition, and to guide and mediate the sensorimotor processes constitutive of finegrained intentional body movements in rational minded animals or real persons.[i]

How does Strong Non-Conceptualism relate to what I call radically naïve realism?

Direct or naïve realism about perception, in general, makes two claims:

(i) rational and other minded animals stand in immediate, unmediated cognitive relations to external real objects that are consciously and correctly perceived by them, and

(ii) these external real objects partially constitute those veridical perceptual acts or states.

Radically naïve realism, in turn, is direct or naïve realism plus a thesis called disjunctivism.

What is that thesis?

Disjunctivism about perception, which is both an intensification and also a specification of direct or naïve perceptual realism, posits a categorical or essential and mutually exclusive (that is, either-or, and not both) difference between direct, veridical perception on the one hand, and non-veridical conscious experiences — for example, complete or partial hallucinations — on the other hand. Anti-disjunctivism about perception, by an opposing contrast, claims that not only is there no categorical or essential difference between direct, veridical perception and hallucination, but also that there is something inherently shared in common between direct, veridical perception and non-veridical conscious experiences like hallucination, such that the two either actually always are, or at least can be, epistemically indiscriminable.

Predictably, in the relevant philosophical literature there are different versions of disjunctivism, including epistemic and metaphysical versions, stronger and weaker versions, and so-on. But my specifically Strong Non-Conceptualist, radically naïve realist version of disjunctivism says that although direct, veridical perception and non-veridical conscious experiences are indeed sometimes, for various context-sensitive reasons, undiscriminated, nevertheless they are in principle discriminable.

The actual or possible epistemic indiscriminability of direct, veridical and non-veridical conscious experiences like hallucinations, in turn, not only requires concepts but also is a necessary condition of classical Cartesian skepticism about perceptual knowledge. Hence a Strong Non-Conceptualist and radically naïve realist approach to sense perception is especially well-positioned to avoid classical Cartesian skepticism about perceptual knowledge.[ii]

More precisely however, my version of disjunctivism about sense perception (aka DSP) makes the following three claims.

(DSP1) A consciously experiencing animal subject can be either perceiving directly and veridically, in which case the subject stands in an immediate, unmediated cognitive relation to an individual causally efficacious macroscopic material being that is consciously and correctly perceived by her in that context and which partially constitutes the mental content and phenomenal character of that direct, veridical perceptual act or state or else consciously experiencing in a non-veridical way (e.g. a complete or partial hallucination), in which case the experiencing subject does not stand in a direct cognitive relation to an individual macroscopic being that is consciously and correctly perceived by her in that context, but not both.

(DSP2) Direct, veridical perception and non-veridical conscious experience, e.g., hallucination, are categorically or essentially different, hence they share no mental content or phenomenal character whatsoever, and in fact share only whatever it extrinsically or non-essentially is that makes them sometimes undiscriminated, namely the variable abilities of the conscious animal subject to attend to the inherently different phenomenology of the experiences and to discriminate between these in different contexts.

(DSP3) Direct, veridical perception and non-veridical conscious experience, e.g., hallucination, are inherently discriminable by a suitably attentive, self-conscious, and self-reflective conscious animal subject, even if not always discriminated by that subject, or indeed by any other such subject, at any given time, due to context-sensitive failures of the subject’s ability to discriminate. This discriminative ability, therefore, is authoritative but not infallible.[iii]

Now, applying these Strong Non-Conceptualist, radical naïve realist ideas to the capacity for memory, my account of essentially non-conceptual egocentric episodic and skill-memory, as foundational and primitive, would start with what I call the essentially embodied V-Relation (veridicality relation) that is loaded in basic sense perception, and then stretch it out over time, with updated content moment-by-moment, and correspondingly updated formal (spatio)temporal representations, in a way that it is similar to Kant’s threefold idea in the Transcendental Aesthetic section of the first Critique that our representation of time is the immediate form of inner sense, that our representation of space is the immediate form of outer sense, and that our representation of time, again, is the mediate form of outer sense.

Correspondingly, here are the basics of a Strong Non-Conceptualist, radically naïve realist theory of memory.

First, egocentric episodic memory and egocentric skill-memory are grounded on essentially non-conceptual sense-perceptual content. In this way, there is a disjunctivism for memory that runs parallel to my version of disjunctivism for sense perception. According to the Strong Non-Conceptualist, radically naïve realist theory of memory I am proposing, then, the fundamental cognitive activity of memory is preserving a V-Relation over (space)time, via essentially non-conceptual content.

Now any mental state that lacked the preserved V-Relation over (space)time wouldn’t be real memory, but in fact only “false memory,” even if it had some superficially similar features that allowed, in context, for failures of discrimination by the subject. So false memories are the analogues of perceptual hallucinations. Misremembering, correspondingly, is the analogue of perceptual illusions: preserved V-relations with significantly false conceptual/propositional content.

Second, allocentric/semantic episodic memory, and semantic memory more generally, are doubly grounded,

on (i) egocentric episodic memory and egocentric skill-memory, hence on essentially non-conceptual content,

and also on (ii) conceptual content.

To the extent that memory is grounded on conceptual content, it involves significant “cognitive penetration” — which is just a recent, newfangled term for the use of concepts in cognition under the thesis of Conceptualism. But to the extent that memory is grounded on essentially non-conceptual content, it is inherently resistant to, that is, necessarily underdetermined by and cognitively autonomous from, conceptualization and cognitive penetration.

In this way, then, what holds for the radically naïve realist theory of sense perception that I developed in Cognition, Content, and the A Priori must also hold for the radically naïve realist theory of memory I am sketching in this essay. Here, disjunctivism for memory says:

EITHER I am in a veridical memory state, aka real memory, grounded on essentially non-conceptual content,

OR ELSE I am in a categorically different state that may superficially resemble real memory in various ways, sufficient to fool me in certain contexts, but it is not really memory, rather it is only “fake memory,” and the difference between veridical, real memory and non-veridical, fake memory is in-principle epistemically discriminable.

The in-principle epistemic discriminability of veridical, real memories and non-veridical, fake memories is crucially important in what follows.

NOTES

[ii] Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, p. 42.

[iii] Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, p. 119.

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