Squeeze a Sponge, Drive a Porsche

J. Kevin O’Regan

in Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199775224
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919031 | DOI:
Squeeze a Sponge, Drive a Porsche

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Imagine you are squeezing a sponge and experiencing the feel of softness. What brain mechanism might generate the softness feel? The word generate seems inapplicable here, and so this seems to be the wrong kind of question to ask about softness. Softness is a quality of the interaction you have with a soft object like a sponge. Feeling softness consists in the fact of your currently being in the process of noting that as you press the sponge, it squishes under your pressure. Having the feeling of softness does not occur in your brain; rather, it resides in your noting that you are currently interacting in a particular way with the sponge. Take another example. Most people would agree that there is a sensation involved in driving a car, and that different cars can have different “feels.” What is the distinctive feel of driving a Porsche? Is it an accumulation of Porsche-specific sensations like the smell of the leather seats or lowness of the bucket seats or the whistling wind as you speed down the Autobahn? No, each of these is an individual experience in itself—an experience of smell or touch that can be obtained in other situations. The “feel of Porsche driving” is the critical aspect that concerns how, compared to other cars, Porsches handle when you drive them. This chapter suggests a solution to the four mysteries of feel. It argues that, like sponge squishing and Porsche driving, feels in general are simply not the kinds of thing that can be generated. Instead, feels should be conceived of as qualities of our mode of interaction with the world. Taking this view will provide a way of overcoming the four mysteries of feel defined in the last chapter.

Keywords: feel; consciousness; interaction; four mysteries

Chapter.  6346 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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