Direct Realism 


As they say, better late than never: direct realism

Ah, yes, I can remember why I hesitate to plunge into this topic.  Why I am more of a radical realist than a direct realist. 

Here is the Wikipedia

A theory of perception that claims that the senses provide us with direct awareness of the external world. This is contrasted with indirect realism or representationalism, which claim that we are directly aware only of internal representations of the external world. Direct realists sometimes claim that indirect realists are confused about conventional idioms of perceptions. Perception is an exemplar of direct contact with something. Examples of indirect perception might be seeing something in a photograph, or hearing a recording of a voice. Direct realists often argue, contra representationalists, that the fact that one becomes aware of a tree in perception through a complex neurophysical process does not argue in favor of indirect perception. It merely establishes the method, undoubtedly complex, by which direct awareness of the world is secured. Arguing that perceiving a tree directly requires a magical, acausal mirroring of the tree in the mind is akin to arguing that traveling directly to grandmother's requires that one magically appear at her doorstep. The inference from the fact of a complex route to indirectness may be an instance of the genetic fallacy.

I'm not so big on sensations.  I believe more in telepathy than telephony.  And now I remember why we don't need to wait for God to give us free broadband service, because we already have it.  We just don't realize it; we go along with the Ma Bell version of reality because being a 'lineman for the County' has its diversions, not to mix electrical metaphors.   

Consider wireless, phonic conversation.  We don't really listen to the words, we perceive the ideas directly.  You are simply giving me a guided, telepathic tour of your mind, which is not really separate from my mind, anyway.  Words, letters, bits and the like are to communication, what atoms are to metabolism.  They are logically necessary props or epiphenomena of deeper and direct communication processes.  Materialists say that ideas are epiphenomenal and idealists return the favor. 

But then what is the point of communication, anyway.  If it's all just one big mind, why bother?  What is the point of shuffling ideas around, when there is really just one big Cosmic Omniscience?  

Good point!  I think it must have something to do with creation.  We make babies.  Why?  Because they're so cute, among other reasons.  Why are they so cute?  Because they act like ignorant little blank slates that we can cram full of our precious wisdom, among other reasons.  But how many of us really think that babies are that stupid?  Isn't it more like amnesia?  Remember how our souls have to swim across the River Lethe?  That is the real trick.  I sure don't know how it works, but it is usually pretty effective.  Every once in awhile, though, some smart ass soul does get through, just to keep us parents humble.  

Where were we?  Communication?  Disseminating and inseminating our precious seeds of wisdom.  Let's face it, we are all wannabe prophets, authors, artistes, etc., but we couldn't be that without the selective amnesia. Without the circulation of ideas, there would be no cosmic economy.  So there has to be planned scarcity.  Our holographic, microcosmic crystal balls have to be a bit cloudy to keep those ideas circulating.  

But there is more to it than that.  



There is only one Creation, as far as anything that we could imagine being called that.  There is no practice.  We and God learn on the job because that is the best possible, and really the only way to learn.  

Everything has to get sorted out right here, on the spot.  Everything that can happen will happen right here, and will be put in its proper place, as we move on up on the curve of history to the Eschaton, our final cause, our awakening. 

We have all sacrificed for this day, and for this End.   Everything we sacrifice we gain back many times, including God, her Son. Whoever tells you that God has not suffered is being criminally obtuse. 

Every bit of ignorance we endure, we gain back in knowledge by much more than a million-fold. 

This is the game of Creation.  It is the greatest show in the Cosmos; it is the only show.  God and we do not need to reinvent this best possible 'wheel'. 


Atoms, words, sense data all have a logical role to play in the game of Creation.  They are real only in that logically derivative sense.  They are props along our way to the Hierogamos.  As soon as they have done their job, they will be set aside.  Now we see through this glass darkly.  As soon as we are ready we will see clearly and directly.  That is direct realism.  It is here now in all its potency.  God is always totally present.  It is only our own illusory historical properties or baggage that ever come between us.  Telephones, books, paintings all point us toward the ultimate.  They are also crutches, ready to be set aside.  As we live and breath in that certain knowledge, we are becoming Real. 

Any 'realism' less real than this is incomplete and incoherent on its face. 


And back to the list, direct realism

Let us recallARISTOTLE'S DIRECT REALISM IN DE ANIMA -- by Michael Esfeld

Aristotle can be read as proposing a direct realism instead of a representationalism: a causal medium notwithstanding, perception and thought are directly about qualities, things, or events in the world. The received sensible or intelligible forms are instantiated in the acts of perception or thought. I argue that this direct realism presupposes Aristotleís ontology according to which the world has a somewhat conceptual structure: our percepts and concepts are qualitatively identical with the very forms of the things themselves. In conclusion, I point out that contemporary positions of a direct realism are committed to a conceptual structure of the world too. Thus, the challenge for a direct realist is to either accept such an ontology or to show how a direct intentional relation of thoughts to the world is possible without such an ontological commitment.

As stated earlier, Aristotle appears to be more of a realist than his earlier interpreters were claiming, bringing us all closer, hopefully, to a consensus on ultimate reality.  


With the above two exceptions, and having skimmed through the rest of the first seventy items under 'direct realism', I have to report a failure to link, in general, direct realism with idealism, latent or otherwise.  The 'realism' is generally taken to imply that the 'external' objects of perception are mind-independent or material objects.  This view is sometimes, even more ambiguously, called 'naive' realism.  It is a view that is alleged to be experiencing some revival.  Taken in this apparently dualistic sense, I am not able to comprehend it.  As long as mind and matter are taken as distinct then there is going to have to be some form of problematic mediation between the two.  There is no logic supporting direct perception.  I'll give the benefit of my incomprehension, however, to these struggling neo-realists, and hope to gain comprehension later.  

In support of incomprehension: Andrew Chrucky, "Critique of Wilfrid Sellars' Materialism", 1990: 

The global problem of materialism for Sellars is to combine, if possible, the Manifest and the Scientific Images-of-Man-in-the-World. He argues, however, that these Images are incompatible, and are, therefore, impossible to combine.

The Manifest Image includes the view of Direct Realism, which holds that physical objects have such continuous (homogeneous) secondary properties as colors. For example, a common sense table has a continuous brown surface; while the table as described in microphysics is a gappy, colorless swarm of molecules. Which table is real?

I wonder, too. 

Then, further down the list, we have 'Experience and the Mind: An Essay on the Metaphysics of Perception', by Robert Alva NoŽ, arguing for his version of direct realism: 

In Chapter One I argue that the content of experience (how experience represents things as being) is the same as the content of the judgments we would make on the basis of experience, were we to take experience at face value. The representational content of experience, like that of judgment, is fully conceptual. In Chapter Two I examine and criticize the view that experience has, in addition to representational content, irreducibly subjective, nonconceptual, phenomenal content.

The upshot of these discussions is that experience is an epistemic notion. To have an experience is not just passively to have sensations; it requires the exercise of understanding. The relation between experience and reality is not causal, but normative: to have an experience is to take things to be some way or other, and how things are gives us reasons for taking them to be that way. In Chapter Three I argue that the Causal Theory of Perception misdescribes the place of causation in an account of perception and that it relies on an unsatisfactory conception of experience.

OK, I can sort or understand this, but this is a highly nonstandard view of perception.  This seems to be a move toward the conceptual (direct) realism that Esfeld ascribes to Aristotle, above. But Robert, instead, goes on to take up computationalism.  

Is it not fair to say that these dualistic theories of direct realism are desperate attempts to avoid the obvious problem of regression that is inherent in any form of indirect or representational theory of perception?  These are then versions of the Higher Order Thought (HOT) theories of perception which are taken up by the AI community, as evidenced by Robert's computationalism.   

Does direct realism not distinguish between the ascription of quantitative and qualitative properties, in contrast with indirect realism?  

Larry Hauser, 'Don't Go There': 

What the direct realist denies is not intervening media of transmission between the distal object and visual experience thereof.  What she denies (at the very least) is any intervening medium of  pictorial representation....

Jerry Fodor, 'A Science of Tuesdays', 2000: 

Disappointingly, however, neither Putnam nor anybody else in his direct realist pantheon is prepared actually to offer an account of how perception works. Rather, 'in my opinion, "direct realism" is best thought of not as a theory of perception but as a denial of the necessity for and the explanatory value of positing "internal representations" in thought and perception.'

Is there any clear distinction between non-idealist direct realism and any of the varieties of eliminativism?  I don't think there is any cognitive difference.  That is why the AI crowd supports it.  Why are they being let off the reductionist hook? 

Thomas Reid, an 18th-century exponent of direct realism, says that 'the knowledge which I have of things past, by my memory, seems to me as unaccountable as an immediate knowledge would be of things to come; and I can give no reason why I should have the one and not the other, but that such is the will of my Maker.' There's nothing I admire more in philosophy than a well-bitten bullet.

;- ).  Fodor goes on to speculate that the argument over realism is really more about meaning than about perception.  The non-idealist direct realists are typically also eliminativist about meaning, along with the postmodernists.  They, consistently enough, wish to eliminate both mind and meaning.  They might say that words connect directly to (material?) objects rather than to meanings or to representations. 



A reasonable person might think that the bizarre quality of the arguments over non-idealist realism would be forcing the disputants into the arms of idealism.  I think that is probably happening, quietly.  Once people fully grasp the futility of the arguments, they drop out, and turn to other pursuits, one of which might be idealism.  Realism then comes more or less for free.  The interesting questions then do not concern analysis.  There is a visible weariness with these arguments that have been recurring at least since the time of Descartes.  There is a steady attrition among the disputants, simply through aging, if nothing else.  

Non-idealist realists are up against the wall.  The disputants will have to decide which is more important to them.  Realism or materialism.  They can't have it both ways.  

Postmodernist ranks are filled with those who have taken the implicit third option: anti-realism and, by the same token, anti-rationality.  This is clearly the most popular reaction to the futility of analytical reason: an anti-rational pluralism. This also describes much of what now passes for 'naturalism'.  

Some of us have taken the fourth option: pursue a speculative, synthesizing rationality.  This is just the pursuit of coherentism which leads quickly and inevitable to rational theism.  This is a big leap for those raised in the culture of secular philosophy.  The neo-theist philosophers who are trickling into the profession are evidently eschewing cosmological speculation.  They stick to quasi-analytic studies of mainly ethical concern.  Taking up cosmology would likely force them into the midst of the Creationist-Darwinist circus.  Not a career move.  

There is no fifth option of which I am aware, or which is even logically possible.  Back a ways I was able to count just 'two and a half' options: materialism, rationalism and mysticism.  That's just about what we have here.  

Where does that leave us immaterialist cosmologists?  It leaves us beyond the pale, but with lots of room for maneuver.  We can carry out raiding parties and maintain forward observation posts, with the impunity of invisibility.  At some point we will begin showing up on the Google radar screen, and then, well, God knows! 


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