The phenomenal unity of perceptual experience

Crutchfield, Stuart (2011) The phenomenal unity of perceptual experience. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis is concerned with phenomenal unity, a salient and important feature of our conscious lives, albeit one which has gone somewhat under-explained. My focus will on the phenomenal unity of perceptual experiences at a time, which is best illustrated by the following kind of example: whilst walking through the park, you notice a particular tree, whose foliage and bark have a particularly intense hue and strange texture. At the same time, there is a strong scent in the air, and you can feel the heat of the sun on your arms. Alongside this, birds are calling loudly… whilst undergoing all these different perceptual experiences, it strikes you that although these experiences correspond to different senses, they seem to be tied together in some important way: there is a unity to your overall perceptual experience at this time.
Even in this mundane case, there are various ways in which my experiences are unified: the various properties of the objects that I represent via vision and touch are unified in the sense that they seem to inhere in the same object (and so are object unified), the various objects that I am seeing and touching all seem to me to be located in the same space (and so are spatially unified), and further, I can jointly attend to several of these experiences together at will (and so these experiences are introspectively unified). Over and above this however, we might think there is a distinct other kind of unity. This is a unity of phenomenology, the subjective character of perceptual experience. There is something it is like for me to hear the birds calling, and there is something it is like for me to see the leaves on the tree. But there is also currently something it is like for me to hear the birds and see the foliage, together. Further, this togetherness is such that it is an integral part of my current experience.
This final kind of unity is phenomenal unity, and providing a full description and explanation of this phenomenon will be my task in this thesis. In doing this I will address the following two questions: ‘what is phenomenal unity?’ and ‘how should we explain phenomenal unity?’. I will show that phenomenal unity is best thought of as a relation that holds between token perceptual experiences, answering the first question, and in answering the second question, will consider various reductive and non-reductive explanations of phenomenal unity, before arguing that we should explain phenomenal unity in terms of the unified states being the potential parts of the same overall phenomenal state.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: philosophy of mind, philosophy of perception, consciousness, unity of consciousness, phenomenal unity, perceptual experiences
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Supervisor's Name: Macpherson, Prof. Fiona
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Mr Stuart A. Crutchfield
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2951
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:02

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