Seeing as a Non-Experiental Mental State: The Case from Synesthesia and Visual Imagery

  • Berit BrogaardEmail author
Part of the Studies in Brain and Mind book series (SIBM, volume 6)


The paper argues that the English verb ‘to see’ can denote three different kinds of conscious states of seeing, involving visual experiences, visual seeming states and introspective seeming states, respectively. The case for the claim that there are three kinds of seeing comes from synesthesia and visual imagery. Synesthesia is a relatively rare neurological condition in which stimulation in one sensory or cognitive stream involuntarily leads to associated experiences in a second unstimulated stream. Visual synesthesia is often considered a case of illusory visual experience. This, however, turns out to be a questionable characterization, as there is evidence suggesting that the brain must cognitively process the stimulus in order for the associated synesthetic experience to arise. Furthermore, some very vivid, visual forms of synesthesia do not involve additional processing in the visual cortex. Visual synesthetic experience is likely to be a non-veridical state of seeming rather than an illusory visual experience. Visual seeming states are cognitive states distinct from visual experiences in terms of their representational richness and their neural correlates. Visual seeming states that are non-deviantly causally related to the states of affair they represent constitute a type of non-experiental seeing. Introspective seeming states that are non-deviantly causally related to underlying visual images constitute a second type of non-experiental seeing. The English verb ‘to see’ can denote all three types of seeing, which is to say that ‘to see’ is polysemous.


Visual Experience Belief State Visual Imagery Gang Member Visual Cortical Area 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to David Bourget, Alex Byrne, David J. Chalmers, Ophelia Deroy, David Eagleman, Kristian Marlow, Sydney Shoemaker and Juha Silvanto for discussion of these and related issues. Special thanks to Ophelia Deroy for written comments on the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Philosophy, Center for Neurodynamics & Brogaard Lab for Multisensory ResearchUniversity of MissouriSt. LouisUSA

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