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Keynote Talk 5

An empirical argument that perception is non-conceptual

Ned Block, New York University, USA


The view that perception is non-conceptual has been advocated on armchair grounds but I will present actual experimental evidence for it.  I will review evidence that infants between the ages of 6 and 11 months can see colors but normally cannot notice them and so normally cannot accomplish even the simplest kinds of cognition involving colors.  By contrast, children of the same ages can see shapes and also exhibit rudimentary cognition using shape concepts.  I will argue that the upshot is that the color perception of these infants is non-conceptual.  I will also present evidence that adults do not have conceptual perception of colors and then explore the extrapolation of these findings to all of perception.

Bio sketch

NED BLOCK (Ph.D., Harvard), Silver Professor of PhilosophyPsychology and Neural Science, came to NYU in 1996 from MIT where he was Chair of the Philosophy Program. He works in philosophy of perception and foundations of neuroscience and cognitive science and is currently writing a book on the perception/cognition border, The Border between Seeing and Thinking.

He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society; has been a Guggenheim Fellow; a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Language and Information; a Sloan Foundation Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley; a faculty member at two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes and two Summer Seminars; the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Science Foundation; a recipient of the Robert A. Muh Alumni Award in Humanities and Social Science from MIT; the Jean Nicod Prize (list of past recipients of the Jean Nicod Prize), Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris; and the 2021 Dr. Martin R. Lebowitz and Eve Lewellis Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution jointly with Ian Phillips.  The Philosophers’ Annual selected his papers as one of the “ten best” in 19831990, 19952002 and 2010

He is a past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, a past Chair of the MIT Press Cognitive Science Board, and past President of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. He is co-editor of The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates (MIT Press, 1997).

The first of two volumes of his collected papers, Functionalism, Consciousness and Representation, MIT Press came out in 2007. 

Blockheads! Essays on Ned Block’s Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness, edited by Adam Pautz and Daniel Stoljar came out in January, 2019 from MIT Press.  It contains 18 articles each of which is replied to by Ned Block.

 Ian Phillips’ review of Blockheads, in Mind, 2020

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