We tend to think that perceptual experiences tell us about what the external world is like without being influenced by our own mind. However, recent empirical research indicates that that’s not true: our beliefs, expectations and other mental states can causally influence what we experience. My current project studies the epistemological implications of this phenomenon, which is called “cognitive penetration.” I think that some cognitive penetration drastically limits the evidential import of perceptual experiences. I am interested in explaining why that is the case and developing a view of when perceptual experiences are and are not evidentially valuable, drawing on current psychological research.
In my dissertation entitled Cognitive Penetrability and the Epistemological Significance of Etiology, I argue that there are some perceptual experiences such that if they are cognitively penetrated then they fail to justify beliefs about the external world due to their inappropriate etiology. I first reject an important view in the epistemology of perception that contrasts with this thesis from the epistemology of imagining. Then I develop the epistemological theory of imagining into an argument for the thesis. I also explore and criticize an alternative approach of defending the thesis.
In my future research, I would like to examine other instances where cognitive states influence our evidential sources. One potential instance is “amodal perception.” Some philosophers argue that what we experience outstrips what we receive sensory stimulation from. In looking at a dog behind a picket fence, we not only experience the visible parts of the dog, but also experience the parts that are occluded. Such an experience seems to depend on our cognitive states: if the dog’s tail was occluded but we lacked cognitions that dogs have tails, we probably would not experience the tail. A second potential instance is “constructive memory,” the effect that memory can incorporate contents other than the original input either before or at retrieval. Recent empirical work shows that the incorporated contents can come from our cognitive states. I am interested in whether imaginings are involved in these instances, in how cognitive penetration influences their evidential import, and in how the examination of these instances sheds light on the epistemology of perception.
Teng, L. (2018) "Is Phenomenal Force Sufficient for Immediate Perceptual Justification?" Synthese 195 (2): 637-656 Teng, L (2016) "Cognitive Penetration, Imagining, and the Downgrade Thesis," Philosophical Topics 44 (2): 405-426
Works in Progress
"Cognitive Penetration: Inferentialism vs. Fabricationism " "Sensory Imagining and the Significance of Etiology"