Is Experience Undefinable?

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    Michael James

    [caption id="attachment_5124" align="alignnone" width="225"] Michelangelo’s Oracle of Delphi[/caption]

    At some time in the long distant undatable past, an eye opened up onto the world and something different began to happen in this sector of reality possessing the principle of life. A rock is clearly not aware of its solidity but a life form with a complexity capable of generating eyes is aware of itself, is conscious of itself.
    O Shaughnessy in his work “Consciousness and the World” Perception is an experience as are mental images and shocks and beliefs intentions and memories are clearly not. How do we know this? Do we possess a philosophically defendable definition of experience which would justify a distinction between what is and what is not an experience?
    O Shaughnessy argues that we have no such definition but that this does not prevent us from linguistically acquiring the concept and employing the concept justifiably in our judgments. “experience” he argues may be unanalysable but it is a distinctive and simple designatum of an objective reality. But it is as important to know what an experience is not: it is not possible, it is argued, for an experience to involve holding a proposition to be true or believing something to be true. Experience is a genus concept which itself falls under the wider genus of the “psychological”. Perception is an experience and whilst one cannot say of perception that it is in a continuous state of flux it is continuously mutating:
    “leaves on a tree  are visibly waving in the breeze, even though the window that frames them advances steadily through time apparently unaltered…And while experience likewise need not change either in type or content, it characteristically also for much of the time is in flux in these several ways: the leaves move in our visual field, one walks across to the window and opens it, feeling the breeze upon ones face as one does.”
    Experience may not change in type or content but insofar as it is an event or a process it is consciously renewed at each moment, it is occurrently renewed. This is not the case for the other great half of the mind which is non experiential and does not mutate continuously, namely the cognitive part of the mind that knows , for example that 9+5=14 or remembers that Napoleon met his Waterloo. In this part of the mind time plays a different role and this is reflected in the difference in logic between a process and a state:
    “process is one mode adopted by phenomenal continuity which is to say that phenomenal continuity is a necessary but insufficient condition of process. A state of solidity endures continuously in a state of iron without doing so processively: process requires that the continuity be occurrent in nature. Moving through space, for example, requires both process conditions and state conditions to logically apply to the phenomenon. Here there is a difference in the temporally adjacent positions or values of the moving object at the same time as there is a single continuity in those values over a time interval.
    “Moving is shown to be nothing more than a continuity over time of different positions-values in a in a bearer entity”. At each instant t, the bearer of movement is at some position p in space and at the same time and without contradiction, moving at position p. This process of moving is constituted of both process and state parts. This is also true of experiential psychological processes such as forgetting something where being in a certain memory state m at time t is one thing and being in that state of forgetting some of that content is another. This shows that processes are occurring in the non experiential sector of the mind.

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