The Indefinite in Phenomenal Experience
Dimitry Shevchenko, Dimitry Shevchenko

part of: Monsoon Ashoka Philosophy Festival
November 27, 2021, 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Department of Philosophy, Ashoka University


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Ashoka University (Sonipat, India)

Topic areas


Experience has a subjective character. In this sense, perception of colors, sounds, smell and touch, the feelings of pleasure and pain, thoughts and emotions do not merely occur, registered by neurological activity, but are phenomenally experienced. There is no doubt that experience is closely associated with physical processes in systems such as brains, and that contemporary cognitivism and brain sciences are fully competent in explaining these physical processes. What posits the hard problem for naturalist accounts of consciousness is how and why physical processes give rise to phenomenal experience. As David Chalmers puts it, "why do not these processes take place "in the dark," without any accompanying states of experience?"

The Indian philosophical tradition of Advaita Vedānta describes the unusual ontological status of phenomenal experience as anirvacanīya, the indeterminate or indescribable. Phenomenal experience can neither be said to exist like the reality it represents, nor can it be said to be a non-existent entity, like a hair's horn, because phenomenality appears and presents itself before our own eyes. In this talk, I will argue that rendering phenomenal experience and its relation to the noumenal reality in terms of ontological indefiniteness allows to avoid the explanatory gap of eliminativist and reductionist accounts of consciousness and qualia, that is the unsurpassable difficulty to explain phenomenality in natural terms. The indefiniteness of the phenomenal experience, on the one hand, accounts for the fact that it is not real in the same way as the natural world is, and thus cannot be "found" in nature. On the other hand, it can explain the appearance of phenomenality in metaphysical terms, which do not require a transcendentalist postulation of a different reality.

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