Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Judgment, Attunement, and Introspection

I've argued that we have only very poor knowledge of our own stream of conscious experience. When asked to form judgments about our visual experience, our auditory experience, our inner speech and imagery, we're prone to gross mistakes. But don't we have some sort of accurate responsiveness to our stream of experience (and not just the grossest features of it)? I'm not sure I want entirely to let go of that idea.

To the rescue (maybe!): the concept of attunement.

I catch a baseball in the net of my mitt. I don't see it go in. I don't feel the baseball directly, or even through a thin layer of leather. But I know it's in there. How do I know? My judgment about the baseball's presence in the net is in some way based on knowledge of what is going on with my mitt.

But is "knowledge" the right word here? If someone were to ask what about my mitt permits me to know so confidently that I caught the ball, I might easily stumble. Is it that the mitt tugged against my hand in a certain way? Is it that it has a kind of weighty inertia to it? I might not only fail to express it in words, but I might really have no real idea at all. And yet, some epistemic relationship I stand in with respect to my mitt seems to serve as the basis of my knowledge that I caught the ball.

Let's say that I am "attuned" to certain things that happen to my mitt, and this attunement grounds my knowledge that I caught the ball.

Or: I can see from my wife's face that she's feeling a bit edgy and tired. But what exactly in her face reveals this to me I don't know. Or: I know that someone is standing behind me. But whether I hear his breathing, or detect a sound-occluding object through echolocation, or have tuned into a difference in lighting, or have paranormal powers, I don't know. Let's say it's by echolocation. I'm attuned to the sound occluding properties of his body, but have no idea that this is the case.

Might we, then, be attuned to our stream of experience, in this sense, without being able to make accurate judgments about it, as I don't make accurate judgments about the mitt or my wife's face?

(I do worry, though, that if so, this might lead too quickly to something like an "indirect perception" theory of perception, according to which my knowledge of external objects is grounded in knowledge of -- in this case, attunement to -- the sensory experiences those objects produce in me. I'm not sure I want to go there....)


Justin Kalef said...

Cool. But is there really cause for worry that this commits one to a theory of indirect perception, as you say?

What about this: "I perceive the baseball (directly) through being attuned to the goings-on in my mitt". Sounds like something Reid would say, no?

michael metzler said...

This is a great post. A lot of stuff here. (Is ‘attunement’ a common technical term as used here?). A few thoughts:

First, I think some of us would be inclined to say that we “know that” the ball is in our mitt before I able to form a judgment that the ball is in our mitt. Searle might consider this the right kind of unconscious state that has the capacity to cause the conscious judgment. If so, I would agree with him up to the point that he claims this is so literally speaking; on my view this is rather metaphorically speaking of the far more sophisticated intentional tracking of the ball by my unconscious mind (via calculating its trajectory, priming skill schema for the catch, and unconscious ‘feeling’ of the ball land in the mitt). Hence, this ‘knowledge’ about the ball comes in complex information processing and is not ‘propositional’ in nature.

Second, I think that some of our judgments after the fact about catching the ball lead always to at least mild forms of confabulation. Well of course I knew that I caught the ball only after the fully conscious experience of deliberating its movement through the air and feeling what it was like to grab it in my mitt. Right? Wrong. At best, my judgment is formed from conscious and unconscious information in parallel – and I think we miss the role of the unconscious information.

Third, I think we are limited in our application of these points to the trouble of making judgments about conscious experience. This is because I do not see ‘judgments about’ conscious experience to be what is important about our ‘knowledge’ of what it is like; this kind of knowledge is more immediate, given, and primitive than our ad hoc attempts at muttering about what it is like to be while catching a ball; but just because I can’t describe it, precisely, doesn’t mean I don’t have a good knowledge of what it is like. It just means I have to simulate via the imagination and employ episodic memory. E.g., I can simulate from my wife’s facial expression what it is like to be my wife and predict behavior, while not being able to tell you what kind of mood my wife is in. No?

Justin Kalef said...

I'm not sure about your second point, Michael. Even if (as seems to be the case) there is a serious risk of (and tendency toward) confabulation when people attempt to justify their beliefs or to reconstruct their chains of inference, it seems to me that the discussion of the cases in Eric's post bypasses both these things and discusses merely the actual beliefs and chains of inference.

Is there any reason why it's problematic to assume these might not be fully conscious?

michael metzler said...


I think you make a good point about confabulation; I tried to distance my point from perhaps the more traditional issue of my attempt to justify my silly behavior in light of all the obvious reasons I had for it. I see rather a “mild” and global confabulation of sorts. However, I’m not sure I’m willing to assume that the “actual beliefs” about my catching a ball are going to be much different from the stronger form of confabulation. I might not have any ‘beliefs’ at all about the fact that I ‘caught a ball’, and why I knew I caught it, while attuned to playing professional baseball, that is, while engaged in the effortless skill of precision catching. The same might go for cutting up an ox. But when someone asks me about it after I walk off the field, my tongue stumbles around, trying to find propositional assertions about ‘catching the ball’ and how ‘I knew’ I caught it. I have plenty of unconscious information and remembered images to work with to get the facts right, but I think this would be an ad hoc creative endeavor.

I’m not sure I understand the last question; could you expand it?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the interesting interchange, Justin and Michael! (I feel so lucky to have such quality comments on this blog!)

A few thoughts in response:

* I've never felt I fully understood Reid's theory of perception. It always seemed to me to leave something out or dodge the issue or something like that -- but maybe now that I've been thinking about "attunement" I should go back to it and see if I can understand it better!

* "Attunement" is not a standard piece of philosophical jargon. I doubt I invented it either. It's one of those things, I suspect, that worked its way into my mind without leaving much trace of its source. If this were a published article, I'd go digging through Dretske, James, and Dreyfus to start with....

* I'm inclined to accept something like your first two points, Michael. (I think Justin is right that the second -- I'd say also the first -- doesn't conflict with the original post.)

* On your third point, I'll have to disagree. I think we do have very poor knowledge of our experience -- just like we have very poor knowledge of what's going on with the mitt. This is reflected in our judgments about both. The fact that there is a kind of attunement (if there is) is a poor, modest, substitute. But some of this turns on distinctions among types of knowledge: "propositional" vs. "know-how" or whatever. I'm actually not too happy with the literature on that, either....

Clark said...

Dreyfus is a good bet. Attunement is a common word in Heidegger's trichotomy of what is primordial to being in the world. (Attunement, Understanding, Discourse) I can't recall if that's the word Dreyfus uses for the translation or not.

Clark said...

I'd note that the Heideggarian sense isn't what Eric is using though. Attunement for Heidegger is more "mood" or "state of mind".

michael metzler said...

One more follow up note here and then I leave this thread for others.

I don’t think we disagree about the knowledge-that about our experience. I think we have almost none really! As you suggest, I do want to change the knowledge type. In the past, this kind of knowledge, the knowledge of what it is like, seems often relegated to “mere know how”. This is what Frank Jackson pulled rhetorically in his classic essay. There might be a ‘know how’ involved with this knowledge type; I might need to “know how” to phenomenally simulate what it is like to catch a ball. But the important element in this sort of knowledge, on my view, is the simulation itself or the original conscious experience that allows for this later phenomenal simulation. And I do like where I see the ‘knowledge argument’ debate going; for instance, in a recent essay (2007) Dennett grants that Mary (and not RoboMary or SwampMary) must have the ability to simulate phenomenally what it is like to see red if Mary is to figure out what it will be like to have the experience of perceiving red in the environment. But it is this prior red phenomenology that seems to be the point. Talk of introspection here seems to me a bit confusing. Can’t Mary have important knowledge of redness, of what it is like to see red, while getting introspective ‘reports’ all wrong, wrong in the since that ‘redness’ can’t be translated to propositions in the first place? But through empathetic simulation or the private, ‘ah, this is red’, can’t we enjoy just the kind of knowledge we would expect and need?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I agree with you, Michael, that there's something amiss in calling this sort of phenomenon "mere know-how" -- both in the connotations of "mere" and in the assimilation of knowledge of this sort (if knowledge we want to call it) to know-how. It doesn't seem quite that; it seems somehow more factual. Does attunement *need* to be tied to practical action? But whether that factuality is "propositional" I don't know. I don't feel very comfortable with the language of propositions. I find it convenient to talk that way occasionally, but I don't want to put much theoretical weight on it. "Acquaintance" may be a little closer; but I'm not sure that's right either -- and philosophers have meant so many different things by the term. But propositional knowledge (as implying belief), know-how, and knowledge by acquaintance exhaust the standard species of knowledge discussed by mainstream analytic philosophers. Hence my dissatisfaction with that literature.

I don't think that it's just a failure of propositional form behind our poor judgments about our phenomenology, though, Michael, if that's what you're suggesting. Our badly mistaken claims (as I see it) about peripheral visual experience run deeper than that. There's something deeply and substantively quite mistaken, I'd say, in the view that visual experience possesses a relatively stable center spreading out 30 degrees toward the periphery (as I argue in "The Unreliability of Naive Introspection", available on my website).

Yes, Clark, Dreyfus isn't a bad bet. It's possible that I'm borrowing the term "attunement" from him but using it to mean something rather different from what Drey-degger (Dreyfus's Heidegger) intends -- maybe something better captured by something in Dretske? Or, who knows? I suppose if I keep using the term, I should trace my sources a bit better!

Justin Kalef said...

Eric: as I understand Reid, he is saying that we perceive things directly, but he also accepts that there are intermediary objects (not unlike what you call 'attunement').

The story I tell myself when reading Reid that makes the whole thing clearest is that it's like when you formally invite someone to a party: the invitation you send in the mail is the means by which the person is invited, but a) you are still inviting the person directly, not indirectly; and
b) you are not inviting the invitation.

In the same way, to use your vocabulary, you are directly perceiving the baseball, and you perceive it through being attuned to the sensations you have in your hand (but it would be wrong to say that you _perceive_ this attunement: you merely _are_ attuned to the sensations, and what you _perceive_ is the baseball).

OK, if I've got that wrong I hope there are some Reid scholars here who can tell me so.

Michael: To answer your question, I should backtrack and clarify what I meant by the rest of my comment.

I took it that Eric's post -- despite his rhetorical move of explaining his meaning through the "If some one were to ask" locution at one point -- really was about the sorts of knowledge we have, not about the reliability of introspection.

By contrast, I took your second point in the first post you added to be raising doubts about our ability to know when and how we know.

So what I meant by asking my question was this: as regards our knowledge and reasoning as they are in themselves -- as opposed to our flawed descriptions of them -- do you see a reason for thinking that confabulation would be an issue?

Kevin Winters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Winters said...

Clark is right, attunement is one way of translating Heidegger's Gestimmtheit (Macquarie & Robinson translate it as "mood" in B&T). It is used more in McNeill and Walker's translation of Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, but again it refers to the a "mood," or establishing a mood in which philosophy (in Heidegger's sense) can be done.

I think Eric is getting closer to Merleau-Ponty's "motivation" as the thoroughly embodied grasp of the world outside of the notions of "cause" and "reason." It is our body's being geared (having "maximum grip," to use Dreyfus' translation of prise) toward our contexts/projects such that it 'knows' what to do, but not in the sense of a movement from premises to conclusions. It is more holistic. I would suggest Taylor Carman's “On the Inescapability of Phenomenology,” in Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Mind, Amie L. Thomasson and David Woodruff, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 67-89 and Mark Wrathall's "Motives, Reasons, and Causes," in Taylor Carman and Mark Hansen, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 111-128). Taylor's article in the latter deals with this issue as well (in relation to foundationalism) and Carman's article is also pretty good.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I love your invitation metaphor, Justin! That might well work its way into my permanent long-term memory. (Hopefully, I'll also remember to credit you for it!)

Thanks for the tips, Kevin. Bit by bit, I'm acquainting myself with the Continental tradition in phenomenology, since it's clearly very relevant to my interests. I must confess, though, that I often find it difficult to extract a clear meaning from the writings. Once Mark Wrathall gets here to Riverside, hopefully he'll help me see my way better through Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.

Kevin Winters said...

Mark will be a great addition to your faculty. And, hopefully, I can be a great addition to your student body in another year (UCR is one the philosophy PhD programs I'm applying to).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Great! Good luck with your application!

michael reidy said...

Very interesting post. The idea of attunement gave rise in me to the lateral idea of 'striking a chord'. Buried under the rubble may be a live idea. ' Striking a chord' will get us over the sense that corrosponding to the proposition 'the ball is caught' there is a single unique experience. What you have is rather a range of processes which working all together give the ball catching experience its entree into consciousness.

Now it seems, as you are well aware that, in consciousness, things are dealt with one at a time serially. As you point out in your very readable papers which I have scryed quickly before a more thourough read, thought is not a reliable guide as to what really happens. Striking a chord introduces the notion of their being a group of notes that we are attuned to; the whole tone of which, is there in the forefront of consciousness.

From a mention in one of your papers I know that you are familiar with awareness work in eastern meditation. One of the aims of ashtanga yoga is ekgratha or one- pointednesss. Now it could be said that this is a delusionary goal in that there is never a time when the mind is not one-pointed. Did the ancients know better in holding that those varying notes in the chord could be unified in a seemingly uncanny concentration?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael. The metaphor of "striking a chord" is an interesting one, suggesting multiple processes and resonances in a a nice way; but also, as typically used, it seems to suggest something more emotional than epistemic....

I'm not as sure about consciousness being one thing at a time, or necessarily "one-pointed". I think that's a very interesting and important question, though, that we have very little systematic evidence on. Is consciousness rich with many things going on at once? Or thin, with only one or a few things going on at a time. The metaphor of a "chord" interestingly suggests the possibility of a compromise between these positions -- multiple things unified into one, as it were.

Kevin Winters said...


For Heidegger, at least, being attuned is not emotional in nature, but rather receptive: I am attuned to beings in a particular way, therefore they can appear in that way. Take, for example, a philosopher: we are attuned to the world in a particular way such that some things are more 'apparent' (and others not). When I am listening to someone talk, even if they are not talking about philosophy, some things 'stick out' at me that will not to others because of my 'philosophical attunement' such that I will see things that others will view as inconsequential to the lecture. Thus, in listening to a geology lecture, things that are entirely relevant to the lectuerers pressuppositions will be more apparent to me, will be important to me, while the guy sitting next to me, not being attuned to such, will be oblivious to them; he is attuned merely to whatever will help him pass the class and that is, in effect, all that he 'sees.'

In this way, it is not so much epistemological as that which makes epistemology possible...insofar as we can only talk about the veracity of a claim when the matter at hand appears, which requires our being attuned to it in the way relevant to the claim. If the claim is, "This color is red-86," being attuned to how the color matches the furniture (like an interior decorator) will not be the proper attunement to judge the claim. This is very important for arguments about whether analyses are on the right 'level' (I'm busting my brain tyring to remember the name of the fallacy related to this...).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comment, Kevin! That's a helpful and appealing description of Heidegger's concept of attunement -- a description that makes it seem fairly close to the sense of "attunement" at work in this post. I'll have to go back and look at some of the original material on this....

ANNA-LYS said...

Attunement is related to "being" not really "knowing", its an ontological concept, not epistemological. But, knowledge (secondary) can't develop without the process of attunement (primary).