Can Representationism Explain how Attention Affects Appearances?

In Adam Pautz & Daniel Stoljar (eds.), Blockheads! Essays on Ned Block’s Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness. new york: MIT Press. pp. 481-607 (2019)
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Recent psychological research shows that attention affects appearances. An “attended item looks bigger, faster, earlier, more saturated, stripier.” (Block 2010, p. 41). What is the significance of these findings? Ned Block has argued that they undermine representationism, roughly the view that the phenomenal character of perception is determined by its representational content. My first goal in this paper is to show that Block’s argument has the structure of a Problem of Arbitrary Phenomenal Variation and that it improves on other instances of arguments of the same form along several dimensions (most prominently, these are arguments based on the possibility of spectral inversion). My second goal is to consider responses to Block’s version of the arbitrariness problem. I will show that most of them have serious drawbacks. Overall, the best view is to accept that attention may distort perception, sacrificing veridicality for usability. I end my discussion by showing how to develop that view.

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Sebastian Watzl
University of Oslo


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