How digital fluency isolates us

Just as fluent speakers hear meanings, not sounds, fluent tech users experience the digital world represented by their devices, not the devices themselves. For the person staring down at their phone, the real world likely has fallen out of their stream of consciousness.

My life as a super anosmic-smeller

A blindsighter is someone who can’t see in part of their visual field, but when given choices, can accurately guess what’s there. These individuals have damage to their primary visual cortex, but fully functional eyes. Their residual ability to (seemingly) “see unconsciously” derives from parts of the optic nerve which bypass the damaged brain region. … Read more

Depicting visual experience

Appearance and reality are not the same. If I take a photo of the cup next to me, that image may capture the physical features of the cup and surrounding scene, but in many ways it fails to reflect what it’s like for me to see the cup. Vision is dynamic and temporally extended. My … Read more

Touch as (the feeling of) reality

As you look at a nearby object, that object both looks as if you could reach out and grasp it, and it looks as if it’s an objective bit of reality that’s independent of your mind. Are these the same look? Before answering, here’s some quick context. Both looks are pretty clearly independent of a … Read more

Dream reports

I spend a lot of my professional life studying dreams. I also write down my dreams from time to time, when they strike me as particularly noteworthy or interesting. My focus is normally on capturing the phenomenology, i.e. what the dream was like, how things looked, felt, and sounded. Strange dog I’m at a hotel, … Read more

Could you be hallucinating right now?

Descartes famously claimed that “there are no definitive signs by which to distinguish being awake from being asleep” (Cress’s translation, Meditations on First Philosophy). There are a few possible interpretations of this claim, but an influential one is phenomenological. Dreams, and hallucinations of other sorts as well, do (or at least can) reproduce what it’s … Read more

How we’re mislead by representational transparency

People share memes all the time, even when those memes have tell-tale signs that they are inaccurate, incomplete, or in some way are trying to mislead. Similarly, people fall for advance-fee and password reset email scams all the time, despite these emails being formulaic and easy to spot. Why? I suggest here that it’s in part because of the way in which representations are transparent to us. We normally notice the message, not the medium, including tell-tale signs of falsity in the medium. I also suggest that transparency is part of why people often struggle to distinguish representation from reality.

Empty minds

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea that what we say using language is actually without meaning. For example, if I say “atoms of aluminum have 13 protons”, I seem to be using words to express, or describe, that atoms of aluminum have 13 protons. The quoted stuff—the words I speak—is a representation, representing some … Read more

Why demonstrative thought matters

My first two published papers were on demonstrative thought. At first glance, these papers are esoteric. The first argued that phenomenal consciousness guides voluntary attention in selecting targets of demonstrative thought. The second argued that an epistemically robust information link to a potential target is not necessary to select that target for demonstrative thought. That’s a lot of jargon. It may seem as if this is stuff only specialists could care about — and may be hard to see why they care.