Michael Madary: "Self, perception, horizon"

The self in perceptual content

Two central issues in contemporary philosophy of mind are perception and selfhood. With notable exceptions, the relationship between these two issues has remained somewhat unexplored. In this talk, I will deepen our understanding of the relationship between perception and the self with the help of Husserlian phenomenology. I argue that Husserl's later genetic phenomenology of the self answers a problem originally raised in his earlier static phenomenology of perception. This connection within Husserl's phenomenology reveals the deep relationship between perceptual content and the self.

First I will introduce Husserl's static phenomenology of perception and contrast it with less sophisticated contemporary approaches. After outlining some main issues in philosophy of perception, I will show how Husserl's appeal to intention and fulfillment in perception offers a preferable alternative to the contemporary theories. This alternative is silent, though, on the manner in which empty intentions become 'stirred up' in the process of perception.

Husserl finds a way to address this issue in his later turn to the method of genetic phenomenology, in which the continuous becoming of the self (the monad) is brought into focus. One result of this new method is an elucidation of the laws which govern the development of the self over time. These laws, I suggest, also answer the earlier question of how empty intentions become 'stirred up' in perception. Since these intentions partially constitute perceptual content, there is here a clear connection between the nature of the self and the content of perception. In the final part of the paper I will discuss this finding in relation to other recent work on in this topic, especially work by Zahavi and Legrand. I will also mention how my theme is relevant for other issues in the philosophy and neuroscience of perception.

The Dorsal Stream and the Visual Horizon

Evidence from cognitive neuroscience supports a distinction between two cortical processing streams in the human visual system. Some of the empirical literature on this topic includes claims about the roles that the two streams play in visual consciousness, but these claims remain somewhat controversial. One reason for the controversy, I suggest, is that the dominant understanding of visual consciousness rests on presuppositions which oversimplify and distort the phenomenology of vision. Here I will try to remedy this situation with help from Husserlian phenomenology. Husserl emphasized that visual phenomenology always includes a spatial and temporal fringe, or horizon. There is always an indeterminate periphery in space, and there is always anticipation of the next instant in time. These features of visual phenomenology are neglected in some of the most well known literature on the two visual streams. But, as I intend to show, it is precisely these features which best explain the differences between the two streams.

I am going sketch the evidence that the crucial difference between the two cortical streams is in their spatiotemporal processing, rather than functional output: the dorsal stream processes peripheral retinal input with a high temporal resolution, and the ventral stream specializes in foveal input with less temporal resolution. These suggestions about input differences can be found in the existing empirical literature, but there is yet no way to understand them in relation to conscious visual perception. That's where Husserl comes in. The contribution of this paper is to show how Husserl's phenomenology can actually help us make sense of the disparate bits of empirical evidence. One way to express my main claim, then, is as follows: dorsal stream processing makes a crucial contribution to the spatiotemporal limits of visual perception, to what Husserl identified as the visual horizon.