The Elements of Phenomena

Brentano (1982: 138-139) holds that in general the merely physiological expla­nations fail to account for the inherent articulation of perceptual phenom­ena. Regardless of the physiological level at which the correlates are identified, perception is treated as a simple state while the plurality of its constitutive elements and their connection is overlooked. However simple they may seem, even seeing a color or hearing a tone consists of a plurality of phenomenal elements through which both the psychic reference and the appearance are articulated.

Brentano (1982: 139) defines perception by using the common term “sensation” (Empfindung) as “the fundamental presentation of real physic phenomena.” The presentation is the psychic reference to something through the phenomenal acquaintance with it. It is fundamental because any judge­ment or desire implies a presentation as a constitutive part that provides the appearing object as the necessary referent, while no presentation requires instances of other kinds of psychic reference to be part of it. If the account of perceptual reference in ordinary experience is to be complete, the judge­ment must be considered along with presentation. Nevertheless, Brentano’s account is different from von Helmholtz’s inferential theory. On the one hand, the judgement is not an inductive interpretation of sensations. In general the judgement consists of accepting or rejecting something on the grounds of its appearance. In particular, in ordinary experience the judgement is implied by the belief that things exist with the same physical properties as those that ap­pear (1982: 86-88). On the other hand, Brentano (1982: 144) emphasizes that the perceptual presentation is never a deception or an error. If one feels the water in the same basin first cold with one hand and then warm with the other, there is no contradiction in the experience in which those temperatures are perceived, like black and white in contiguous parts of the visual field. It is the succession of the presentation that induces one to attribute the appearances of cold and warm water to the same state, as if the adjacent black and white were able to be located in the same point of the visual field. Likewise, in the so-called illusion of the Brentano/Muller-Lyer or the Zollner figure, there is no illusion in the appearances of length and straightness (1982: 140, 144, 1892). Brentano calls these cases “visual paradoxes” in the sense that the properties of appearances are taken as inconsistent with the geometrical concepts only after applying metric determinations to them, based on the naive belief that they have to conform to physical objects. Indeed, physical phenomena are “real” in the above-mentioned definition because they are forced upon subjects without any modification of their sense as false, impossible or non-existent by the judgement or the association with non-perceptual contents as, for in­stance, in memory ([1982] 1995: 148).

Considered as such, physical phenomena are a “concretum,” that is, an indi­vidual thing with a plurality of features and connections ([undated] 1979: 167, 1982: 88-98, 115-120). Brentano calls “element” a necessary feature in the sense that it is the fundamental bearer of the homogeneous variation of an appear­ance according to its very nature, rather than in the usual sense of something that cannot be analyzed further. He identifies the fundamental elements of every appearance with the spatial localization, the lightness (or brightness), the “saturatedness.” Since these elements belong even to the simplest appear­ances, Brentano (1896: 66) contends that von Helmholtz’s classification in terms of difference in modality and quality does not live up to the demands of rigorous analysis.

Brentano (1982: 104, [undated] 1979: 164th.) holds that every appearance of any perceptual modality necessarily has a spatial element as part. For instance, as one opens one’s eyes, the visual field appears filled with manifold visible qualities. Among them, lightness and color may vary until they disappear, while the localization is preserved so that it provides the ground for further variations of the position in the field. This independent variability shows that the spatial element is an inherent feature of appearances, rather than estab­lished by association through temporal contiguity or the repeated experience of regularities. The association can only explain that any time the same quality appears, it is attached to the same spatial value and that the converse is true. However, as the same color can appear in different points of the visual field, the same place can be occupied by different qualities that then either compete as in the visual rivalry or gain distinct ordered spatial values, as when an elec­tric spark yields a blue spot upon a red one. The spatial element is an inherent part of appearances, a feature that is connected with the color or sound qual­ity, as form or size is with the area of figures. In both cases, the connection is founded on parts belonging to one another and separable by abstraction rather than holding detached pieces together. For this reason Brentano (1896: 70) claims that in general the concept of phenomenal space must be admit­ted, regardless of the opposition between nativists and empiricists who hold different views on spatial perception. At any rate, he contests the account of von Helmholtz and the empiricists (1896: 66-70, [undated] 1979: 166). If the phenomenal space is a projection on the basis of voluntary movements and muscle sensations, it remains unexplained how they are interpreted with a definite spatial meaning. Therefore, even empiricist accounts presuppose the connection of spatial and qualitative features.

Another fundamental element of appearances is lightness. Brentano (1896: 67, 1982: 115ff.) claims that colors and tones are distinguished as lighter or dark­er than one another because they are ordered in-between the maxima of black and white. Each grey appears as a darker or lighter mixture according to the ratio of the mixture of black and white. In general, any pure color allows for varying degrees of lightness and darkness. Each saturated chromatic color lies at a distance from black and white so that the ratio of its distance from both gives a measure of its lightness. If the ratio of the distance of pure red from black and white amounts to 3:2, this means that it has the same lightness as the grey whose black-white mixture gives a 3:2 ratio. Brentano (1905: 93-94) claims that this distinction can be applied to sounds. However simple each tone into which a chord is decomposable may be, it is bound to vary further according to pitch. To obtain a unified treatment of the visual and auditory ap­pearances, Brentano denotes as lightness and darkness the ends of the dimen­sion of pitch variations. Brentano (1982: 116-117) concedes that the maxima of pitch are not like those of colors. Still, he holds that it is not contradictory to conceive of tones that vary in direction of the highest and lowest ends of the pitch dimension in infinitum. Although no tone is perceived to be a maximal end like the black and the white are for colors, tones can be perceived as a series of octaves whose pitches appear to rise and sink in infinitum, notwith­standing that perceivers do not notice the repetitions of previous octaves. It is noteworthy that Brentano seems to talk here of what is now called the pitch class of tones, which is a different ordering relation from the pitch height along which tones increase (decrease) solely along a vertical dimension (for a mod­ern treatment of the appearance of infinite pitch rising or falling, cf. Deutsch, 2013). Brentano remarks that this does not mean that light and dark tones re­sult from a combination of pitch values, as occurs between colors from black and white. Otherwise, each tone in the scale would be equivalent to a grey shade, and a Beethoven symphony would be like depicting a grey image with grey colors. Unlike for Mach (1886: 222f.), lightness and darkness are neither the auditory effect of opposed pitch values, which would cause a simultane­ous contrast as for a grey on a black or white field, nor a composite quality of simple additive sensory ingredients. They denote the ends of variation of a fundamental element of tones along a definite direction.

Finally, the saturatedness makes the account of the fundamental features of appearances complete. As regards tones, it accounts for the variation according to tonality, that is, the degree to which the quality of sound is phenomenally pronounced in a tone or a series of tones. Unlike lightness, the saturated­ness is a privative dimension (1982: 117ff.). Brentano considers the tonality of sounds equivalent to the chroma by means of which blue, red and yellow, as elementary chromatic colors, are opposed to black and white as elementary achromatic colors. As saturated blue shows a pronounced chromatic character that distinguishes it from both dark and bright blue, so a middle octave C is distinguished from Cs at deeper and higher octaves, for the character of being, as it were, a C-sound is perceived more conspicuously in the former than in the latter. If tonality corresponds to chromaticity, the noise is given the role of the achromatic black and white. The less the quality of being a sound is conspicu­ous, and the less the tones appear as such, the more the tonality decreases and tones appear as noise.

Brentano holds that this view of saturatedness does not contradict the observation that different higher and deeper C tones are nonetheless all per­ceived as C more than the fact that more or less blackish and whitish blue are all perceived as blue. As variously saturated instances of a color are arranged according to the degree of mixture with the achromatic elements black and white, which respectively darkens or brightens them up, so a tone in the deeper octaves sounds darkened as if it were veiled by black, and in the higher octaves sounds brighter as if it contained white. Therefore, the Cs at different octaves appear as the same sound with different mixtures of unsaturated noise, like various shades of blue with different mixtures of white, grey or black. The con­spicuousness of the sound quality of tones tends to be lost in the homogeneity of a dull noise at deeper octaves and to fade at higher octaves.

This phenomenon accounts for the shrinking of the upper and deeper octaves (1905: 94k, 1982: 118). The same tones recur in every octave, but they appear pure in the middle octave while more and more mixed with unsatu­rated noise in the higher and deeper octaves. This has implications for the perception of such magnitudes as the distance between tones. Unlike what is expected on the grounds of musical theory, although the same sounds are preserved across the octaves, the phenomenal distances between the repeated tones change. In the following sequence C-G, G-Q, Q-Gj, Gj-C2 the chords, which alternate between fourths and fifths, appear to resemble each other more than the chords of the sequence C-G, G-Dp Dj-Aj, A1-E2, which consists of fifths. The same holds for the chords C-H and H^Q, which resemble each oth­er more than the chords C-H and H-Q, even if the latter is a seventh with even a tone in common. Brentano claims that the shrinking of distances depends on the increasing mixture with unsaturated tones, which allows perceiving ever less intermediate tones like for colors. He points out, indeed, that one sees fewer intermediate colors between a red which is darkened toward a brown tinge and a blackish blue, or between a whitish pink and a whitish blue, in comparison with the stages that are discerned between a pure bright red and a pure saturated blue.

Source: Calì Carmelo (2017), Phenomenology of Perception: Theories and Experimental Evidence, Brill.

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