The article by Keith Frankish dwells on the phenomenon of human consciousness and provides arguments for the theory, which views consciousness as an illusion. The idea behind this theory relies on the way our brains process information from the outside world to create a representation of the reality within which people function. However, the properties that people attribute to real-life objects are not necessarily there, and many of these features are created artificially as they are only features of human perception.
Examples, which are frequently used in the article are the perception of the redness of the apple, the perception of pain after stabbing the toe, and the smell of rose. The author refers to the works of other psychologists and neuroscientists who reinforce the notion that the apple that we see and perceive as red may not possess any properties associated with its color (Frankish, 2019). It is just the way our vision is wired and the way it reacts to the stimuli of the light reflected from the apple. This feature of our brain is designed to simplify our interactions with the real world in the same way the desktop of a computer is designed for users to use it without knowing everything behind the actual processes within the computer.
Such argument about the nature of the real world referred to ancient philosophy when thinkers like Aristotle tried to define the nature of things. He concluded that all the entities that people encounter in the world are substantial and consist of two things – form and matter. Substance theory sometimes referred to as substance–attribute theory, is an ontological hypothesis that all objects are made of a substance and characteristics carried by but distinct from the substance. In this role, a substance can be referred to as the substratum or a thing-in-itself. Substances are ontologically independent particulars: they possess the capacity for self-existence.
Aristotle’s legacy has influenced the philosophers for generations to follow. With further development of science and neurological discoveries, the philosophy has come up with a new definition to the effect, which acts as a foundation of illusionists theory. The subjective human experience of the objective reality and its attribution of certain qualities have been known as ‘qualia’ or ‘phenomenal properties’.
There are ways in which the subjective nature of our perception can be tested. For example, the hollow face illusion has been widely used to understand the difference in visual perception and action. The illusion tricks our brain when the hollow mask where the nose of the face is sticking in instead of out. Therefore, human brains reject perceiving an image as a face with an inward nose because all the faces it has ever seen throughout life are different. Hence, by rejecting the possibility of something being so unusual, people cannot see what the mask actually is. This correlates with what is being said in the article about the phenomenal properties that people attribute to the objects based on their previous experiences and associations.
In the article, the author elaborates on the reasons why our brains function like that. Although the properties are not there, they still serve human consciousness some function. This function is based on the certain conclusions that people draw from an object’s features that allow them to interact with an outside world effectively. Nevertheless, those qualities remain to be illusory, meaning that we operate in some sort of virtual realm created by our consciousness.
However, the article provides two counterarguments to the theory, which leaves readers confused. There are two realistic theories, which can act as an opposition to the illusionistic theory. The first one is phenomenal dualism, and it states that the human brain holds both physical and nonphysical properties. In other words, science describes the world as it is, but our brain provides us with extra information. The author states that nonphysical features do not have any effect on human behavior, so phenomenal dualism is invalid (Frankish, 2019). Personally, this theory seems the most convincing to me, but it is debunked in the article.
Indeed, the discussion about the nature of reality and the extent to which people can be confident in their adequate perception is ongoing in the scientific world. Our brains are very complex organs, which are not entirely studied. This leaves room for theories such as the illusionistic theory, which point out the possible flaws of the human consciousness in describing reality. In my opinion, the illusionistic theory is incomplete as it solely describes the paradox, which our brain has in its operations. The strongest counterargument to it is the existence of physical laws, which are also the product of observations and experiments of a delusional human consciousness. Therefore, constructing and discussing theories such as this can be considered a mental exercise, but it does not lead to any valid conclusions, which would affect human behavior.
Frankish, K. (2019). The consciousness illusion. Phenomenal Consciousness is a Fiction Written by Our Brains to Help Us Track the Impact that the World Makes on Us. Aeon, NW, Ed, 26.