Thursday Sep 06, 2007

iPhone and the Midas Touch

Some say that the problem with the iPhone was its high introductory price or its play in a dangerous and crowded market infused with break-neck innovation. Others may have conjectured that its UI choice (the HMI of a touchscreen) relied on a dumbing down of that most sensitive of all senses—the touch. (To be fair, the screen actions remain superb.) The iPod, in its original models, remembered this sensitivity.

Friday Oct 27, 2006

Modes of Perception

Some scientisms claim that there's no truth out in the world to be found and that we simply have some descriptions, in science, of what is going on, at any given time during the course of the evolution of science as a human activity. While this claim has its proponents, it does not quite jive with the reality of human existential experience, a good part of which seems to be summed up in understanding the truth of what is out there.

Although proponents of various scientisms may deny such existential experience, all human beings seem to experience it given some level of maturity and emotional preparation. So, in philosophical discourse, some philosophers are keen on talking of prephilosophical understanding or perception. For example, in the preface to his The Tasks of Philosophy, Alasdair MacIntyre writes:

For the last three hundred years the project of explaining human thought and action in natural scientific terms has been an increasingly influential aspect of the distinctively modern mind. The sciences to which appeal has been made have undergone large changes. But the philosophical questions posed by that project have remained remarkably the same. So Hegel's critique of the claims advanced by the pseudosciences of physiognomy and phrenology in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century is still to the point. And in “Hegel on faces and skulls” I conclude that Hegel provided us with good reasons for rejecting the view that human attitudes and actions are explicable by causal generalizations of the kind provided by the relevant natural sciences, in our day neurophysiology and biochemistry. In “What is a human body?” I argue further that we all of us have and cannot but have a prephilosophical understanding of the human body that is incompatible with treating its movements as wholly explicable in natural scientific terms. This understanding is presupposed by, among other things, those interpretative practices that make it possible for us to understand and to respond to what others say and do. So that in and by our everyday lives we are committed to a denial of the basic assumptions of much contemporary scientific naturalism.

This kind of view is not unique to McIntyre or the strand of Western philosophy to which he belongs.

Very recently and quite accidentally I got hold of a translation of a theosophical treatise prepared by a Berkeley scholar of Islam and Persian which opens up and addresses the same question.

A series of special modes of perception exist in man's being that are rooted in themselves, arise from the very stuff of man's nature, and do not owe their emergence to any external factor. Among these perceptions are the sense of commitment to trust, justice, veracity and honesty.

Before he enters the realm of science and knowledge with all its concerns, man is able to perceive certain truths by means of these innate perceptions. But after entering the sphere of science and philosophy and filling his brain with various proofs and deductions, he may forget his natural and innate perceptions or begin to doubt them. It is for this reason that when man moves beyond his innate nature to delineate a belief, differences begin to appear.

...The roots of innate feeling in the disposition of man are so deep and, at the same time, so clear and evident that if a person purges his mind and his spirit both of religious concepts and of anti-religious thoughts and then looks at himself and at the world of being, he will clearly see that he is moving in a certain direction together with the whole caravan of being. Without any desire or will on his part, he begins his life at a certain point, and again without willing it, he advances toward another point, one which is unknown to him. The same reality can be observed in all natural creatures, operating in a precise and orderly way.

Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari, Lessons on Islamic Doctrine (translated by Hamid Algar)

For other writings by Hamid Algar, see here.

Tuesday Oct 04, 2005

Perception vs. Conception

In his 2005 presidential address to the American Philosophical Association, Hubert Dreyfus draws on a large number of sources to clarify the distinction between perception and conception.

We're in the world primarily as perceiving bodies.

Dreyfus suggests further research needs to be conducted both by the analytical philosophers and the phenomenologists in order to better disclose how conceptual thinking arises from coping action and perceptual experience.

Given the availability of rich descriptions of perceptual affordances and of everyday know-how, however, couldn’t analytic philosophers profit from pursuing the question of how these nonconceptual capacities are converted into conceptual ones — how minds grow out of being-in-the-world — rather than denying the existence of the nonconceptual?

To demonstrate the subtlties of this question, he reviews how experts become experts, and what it means to act expertly. (See section IV of his APA presidential address.)

While infants acquire skills by imitation and trial and error, in our formal instruction we start with rules. The rules, however, seem to give way to more flexible responses as we become skilled. We should therefore be suspicious of the cognitivist assumption that, as we become experts, our rules become unconscious. Indeed, our experience suggests that rules are like training wheels. We may need such aids when learning to ride a bicycle, but we must eventually set them aside if we are to become skilled cyclists. To assume that the rules we once consciously followed become unconscious is like assuming that, when we finally learn to ride a bike, the training wheels that were required for us to be able to ride in the first place must have become invisible. The actual phenomenon suggests that to become experts we must switch from detached rule-following to a more involved and situation-specific way of coping.

Indeed, if learners feel that they can act only if they have reasons to guide them, this attitude will stunt their skill acquisition.




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