The rest of the back story is pretty quick: Someone named "ledge" started saying things that sounded in line with William James, to which I replied...
have you read much William James? (Late career William James?) I think you would like it. He makes the types of points you are making, and places them as the basic facts philosophers have to work with. (e.g., When I experience something as red, the one thing we shouldn’t deny, for God’s sake, is that I am experiencing something as red!)…Charles Wolverton (who also asked a question that also lead to the first post on this blog) wanted me to elaborate on the parenthetical. As he put it:
I’d like to understand precisely what you mean by this. In one interpretation, it seems to me a fundamental error.
... once you’re past light emitted by an object and stimulating the retina, and focus on the brain, there’s nothing to observe but neural activity. Ie, there’s nothing (and in particular, no thing) to “experience as red” in any sense that involves color other than some words uttered (or written, etc) in response to that activity (eg, “red”, “rot”, “czerwony”, etc)....
Since it’s considerably more likely that I would make a fundamental error than that you would, probably I’m misinterpreting that quote. But if not, I’d like to know where you think I’m on the wrong tack."Odd," I must reply, with my William James hat on, "it seems to me that the basic fact of experience we have been asked to explain is that we see a red object, and I think all types of trouble enter psychology when we lose track of that basic fact."
It took me a while to wrap my head around this way of thinking, and when I finally did, I had a big "Aha!" moment regarding William James. Not necessarily "Aha, he is right!" but definitely an "Aha, THAT is what he's trying to do!"
Imagine if I was a car repairman, and you came into my garage and asked me to fix his engine because it is making odd knocking sounds. In response to your request, I replied, "Well, you don't really have an engine, just a collection of metal bits. And, there isn't a knocking sound, just some oddly compressed air waves." You insist that you hear the engine knocking, and I keep trying to explain that there is no engine, and, even if there was, you certainly couldn't "hear" it knocking because there is no such things as "knocking noises", only airwaves. You might, at some point give in and ask me to fix your metal bits and airwaves. As soon as you do, I ask on what basis you judge the metal bits flawed and certain airwaves more desirable than others - especially given that you can never know anything about cars based on them. We would certainly be at an impasse, wouldn't we?
This same problem happens all the time to psychologists. You ask "Can you explain what is happening when I see the red apple?" and the first reply you get is "On what basis do you determine the category 'apple.' Oh, and by the way, there is no such things as 'red' so you certainly couldn't have seen it." At that point, any attempt at doing psychology is at an impasse.
After a few back and forths, you might give in and ask "Can you explain my belief that I am seeing an apple and my belief that it is red?" When you do that, the first reply you are likely to get is "Well, you don't have a justified belief that it is 'an apple', that's for sure. And what do I care how people form un-justified beliefs? Oh, and you believe you see 'red' because you have neurons that are configured in some way I don't care to specify and firing in some way I don't care to specify." Again, we are at an impasse... and it is no longer clear we even have psychological questions! We are going down some odd philosophical rabbit hole and some odd neuroscience rabbit hole, and whatever we find at the bottom, it will not do much to answer your original question, which we have both given up on.
To answer your original question, at some point we must allow that you saw a red apple. That is the basic, factual, thing-to-be-explained. We might well explain your seeing the red apple by reference to photons of a given wave length, photo-receptors in the retina, neuronal firings, etc. But we can't let such explanatory attempts "explain away" the descriptive fact that you saw a red apple. This is in the same sense that basic premises of physics can't be allowed to paralyze the automobile repairman, or our cars will never get fixed.
Imagine if we really took the "you only see photon's" talk seriously. A preschool teacher asks a perceptual psychologist the best way to teach colors to her students. I.e., she wants them to say "red" when she holds up the red card, and "green" when she holds up the green card... But we tell her that's impossible because there really is no red card or green card. That would be, to say the least, Not Helpful.
No, something else must be possible. What if, when you ask "Can you explain what is happening when I see the red apple?" I say, "Sure." And then we go about trying to explain how you see the red apple. That seems like the only way to create a science of psychology - we determine which factors affect your perception, how their relate at the moment and in the course of development, etc. So long as we allow that you see a red apple, we can do these things... but as soon as we let someone assert a priori that you do not see a red apple... even when a red apple is right in front of you and you are looking at it... then we have a big problem.
Sure, at some point we will have to reconcile our findings with physics and neuroscience, but that is a completely separate issue. Nobody makes the biologist stop doing biology until they can translate their work into some other science's language, and we shouldn't refrain from doing psychology just because a bunch of neuroscientists and physicists have their panties in a bunch.
Does that make any sense?