Kinds of awareness

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2022-08-10

Authors

Ho, Ting Fung

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Abstract

There are various ways to be aware of things around us. When I gaze at a tree as an anchor point of meditation, the tree appears differently from the way it typically does. While typical perceptual awareness presents objects as external to the subject, meditative awareness – under certain Buddhist traditions at least – is marked by a diminished sense of boundaries between the subject and the external world. This dissertation is to understand how different forms of awareness are similar to one another. More specifically, it investigates the phenomenal, metaphysical and neural differences among three kinds of awareness: perceptual awareness, meditative awareness, and aesthetic awareness. A unified picture that will emerge in this dissertation is that differences among these three kinds of awareness are fundamentally differences in salience distribution. These kinds of awareness share a basic structure that consists of (1) the subject element, (2) the subjective aspect of experience element, and (3) the object presentation element. Each element can vary in degrees of salience. Typical perceptual awareness is characterized by the domination of the object presentation element; meditative awareness is characterized by the domination of the subjective aspect of experience element; and aesthetic awareness is characterized by an increased salience of the subject element. The first three chapters each focus on a kind of awareness. The first chapter develops a new interpretation of perceptual presentation. The second chapter takes insight from Vipassana meditation to revamp the idea of introspection as an inward-looking activity. The third chapter investigates the role of perceptual surprise in aesthetic appreciation. The last two chapters address the question: How does the structure of awareness help explain the value of awareness? These chapters mark the beginning of my exploration of this question, focusing on perceptual awareness. Chapter four argues that outward-directed attention, which is characteristic of perceptual awareness, is essential for sophisticated forms of agency that involves complex action-decision planning processes. Chapter five addresses the phenomenon that perceivers are apt to receive moral and epistemic blame for attending in inappropriate ways, arguing that inappropriate attention is blameworthy because it reflects the vicious character of the subject.

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