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Along with consciousness, experience is the central focus of the philosophy of mind. Experience is easily thought of as a stream of private events, known only to their possessor, and bearing at best problematic relationships to any other events, such as happenings in an external world or similar streams in other possessors. The stream makes up the conscious life of the possessor. With this picture there is a complete separation of mind and the world, and in spite of great philosophical effort the gap, once opened, proves impossible to bridge: both idealism and scepticism are common outcomes. The aim of much recent philosophy, therefore, is to articulate a less problematic conception of experience, making it objectively accessible, so that the facts about how a subject experiences the world are in principle as knowable as the facts about how the same subject digests food. A beginning on this task may be made by observing that experiences have contents: it is the world itself that they represent to us as being one way or another, and how we take the world to be is publicly manifested by our words and behaviour. My own relationship with my experience itself involves memory, recognition, and description, all of which arise from skills that are equally exercised in interpersonal transactions. Recently emphasis has also been placed on the way in which experience should be regarded as a ‘construct’, or the upshot of the workings of many cognitive sub-systems (although this idea was familiar to Kant, who thought of experience as itself synthesized by various active operations of the mind). The extent to which these moves undermine the distinction between ‘what it is like from the inside’ and how things are objectively is fiercely debated. It is also widely recognized that such developments tend to blur the line between experience and theory, making it harder to formulate traditional doctrines such as empiricism.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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