Can Synesthetic and Non-Synesthetic Perceptual Experience be identical?

Can Synesthetic and Non-Synesthetic Perceptual Experience be identical?

by Ben Conover and Tim Wu This question is philosophically interesting because it is closely related to the claim that synaesthesia might constitute a counterexample to functionalism. Roughly speaking, functionalism holds that the identity of a type of mental state is determined by its causal role. However, synaesthesia seems to be an example of the same type of mental state has different functional roles. For example, a sound-color synaesthete has a yellow color experience when hearing a certain sound and looking at a yellow patch, thus the mental state of experiencing yellow color is caused by two different stimuli. Jeffrey Gray (2003) argues that two experiences are of the same type but they have different functional roles and this contradicts functionalism’s claim. Gray’s objection is discussed extensively in Fiona Macpherson’s paper Synaesthesia, Functionalism and Phenomenology(2007). She objects that synesthetic experience is not “of the same kind” as non-synesthetic experience and that Gray does not provide arguments against weaker accounts of functionalism. More specifically, it might be said that, in the previous example of a sound-color synesthete, her yellow color experience caused synesthetically and experience caused non- synesthetically are different. Thus they are not the same type of mental state and do not constitute a counterexample to funtionalism. However, how does she argue that those experiences are different? One of the objective evidence she cites is the experiment conducted by Mattingley et al. (2001). Researchers found that while normal color perception and synesthetic experiences are similar in Stroop priming effects and letter-based covert intramodal priming, synesthetically induced colors do not give rise to covert intramodal priming effects. As argued by Susan Hurley and Alva Noë (2003), this might suggest that synesthetic color experience does not have all the properties of normal color experience, so synesthetic and non-synesthetic perceptual experience are not identical. However, Mattingley et al.’s experiment does not clearly show that whether the subject is consciously experiencing the covert priming, and under what level of exposure of covert priming can synesthetic color experience be induced. We want to know, under what level of exposure of covert priming normal subjects can display covert priming effects, and under what level synesthetes’ color experience can be induced so as to produce display covert priming effects. If no statistically significant difference between these two levels of exposure can be found, Gray’s criticism may hold. Further empirical work needs to be carried out to establish the correct...

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