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Perception as Synthesis?

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, and Life

While checking some audio-books-on-CD, to make sure I was returning all the right discs to the library, I noticed something odd.

The slip covers/pages/whatever that the CDs are stored in (so you can flip through to the CD you’re looking for) are usually plastic and transparent. However, the audio book whose CDs I happened to be looking through used a kind of cloth mesh. The holes in the mesh were small and circular, but you couldn’t see through the cloth itself (only through the holes).

The problem with this is that you could not read the numbers on the discs (to make sure you were returning all eight, say) without pulling out the CD. You could see that the number was there, but the holes weren’t large enough or close enough together to be able to tell which number it was.

However, as you slid each CD out, the numbers on the discs became apparent through the holes before the CD had even exited the slip cover/pouch/thing. The numeral printed on each CD would pass beneath enough holes that enough parts of it would become apparent for you to be able to tell what the numeral was.

It was as if the opaque cloth (with holes punched in it) became transparent because what was behind it was moving, and thus what was behind it was being exposed in enough different ways to make it visible.

I suppose the standard interpretation of this is that we synthesize together each “frame” in such a visual experience to “construct” a “representation” of the number on the disc. This kind of interpretation goes back at least to the Empiricists.

I, however, am a Husserlian, so I begin with the assumption that we experience wholes first, and then articulate them into their parts. I wonder if I could find a way to interpret the experience just described in this standard Husserlian way.

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