We know that experiences, and by experiences I mean the contents of experience, are different and similar to each other. Even if we are being deceived by a demon, the demon seems unable to deceive us in a way that doesn't demonstrate the fact that there are differences and similarities among experiences.
It could be that the world is in a pure state, and we are being deceived and our experience is constantly changing and altering in an attempt to manifest or disguise that pure state. It could be the demon is an angel that is hiding a direct experience of void and nothingness from us by thrusting us into an ever changing virtual environment. This angel could be warping our thoughts so that we do not perceive that emptiness by creating a panoply of experiences.
Even if one of these situations are true, we are still having different and similar experiences. We see that one part of a wall is similar to another. Our ideas about the world seem consistent from moment to moment. Moving an arm is different than moving a leg, even though both are movements. We see that black is not white, but both are visual perceptions.
We confront a reality of experiences, but no mattter what kinds of experience occur, experiences are always both different and similar to each other. Even if we were to suddenly perceive a singular void, or infinite single state manifestation, we may have a moment in that transition where we see that this singularity of experience is different from the multivariate experience we had been having before.
Or perhaps, instead of a void, we would perceive all the variety of experience in absolute detail, so that no experience, no part of experience was like any other. That the universe behind a hypothetical virtual reality is not a singularity but a maximally differentiated fractured experience. No one thing like another, an experience that transcends categorization that our virtual environment forces upon us. These extremes of possible experience. singularity and maximal differentiation, are the logical endpoints of similarity and differences.
Our experience, however simulated, virtualized, or deceptive, everywhere manifests the premise that experiences, of whatever kinds, are similar and are different from one another. Differences and similarities may change. Experiences may change because our awareness of those experiences changes, or experiences may change of their own accord and thereby change our awareness. But these changes are all demonstrate that there are differentiations or similarities of experience.
Acts of recognition (eg. "I thought that was you!") and acts of differentiation ("oh, you are not who I thought you were!") occur when similarities and differences are made or apprehended as being changes of our awareness of some object. That is, we see differences and similarities as our experience of contents change and when the contents seem to change our experience.
We cannot speak about the universe, about reality, in any way without MAKING associations and distinctions, without experiencing similarities and differences.. Our use of language creates similarities and differences. Our proofs, our conjectures, our ideas rely on the underlying proposition that not only are there experiences but that there are differences and similarities in the experience of experiences/ That is, we see that we can experience differently, while the objects experienced are the same. This a meta experience, where the content of experience are experiences.
"There are experiences" and "Experiences have contents". This is a verb/object structure. "I have experiences" is a subject/verb/object structure. These statements are ways of talking and thinking. a medium/message is another way to look at experience and contents of experience. That is, the medium is experience, the message is the content of experience. Static produced by a medium is a kind of content.
What ways do we distinguish experiences?
One way to distinguish them, as with sensory experiences, is via the "medium" of experience. But how do we distinguish non-sensory experiences? How do we distinguish ideas from memories? We distinguish them based on their contents too.
For instance, memory experiences vary, because the content of memories vary. Our ideas are varied because the content of ideas vary. In each of the senses, what we encounter are variations in sensation because the contents of the sensation vary. Our vision varies because the contents of vision, the things that are seen, vary. In each "medium" or "modality" of experience, we make distinctions based solely on the content of the experience.
Everywhere we look in experience we find variation. Not only do we see variation in the contents of an experience, we distinguish our various senses based on their contents. We do not distinguish experiences by how they "come to us" but by "what they are". Vision is different then smell, or hearing because the content of the experience is different. We say these experiences occur in different "mediums" but this occurs, within each of us, after the fact of an experience. We do not make a medium distinction of sight and smell prior to the sight and smell, we assert experiences are smells and sights after experiencing smells and sights.
In a synesthete, the contents of experience meld together regardless of the sensory "modality" or "medium" where the sensory experience "originates". So a sight might also involve a sound. An idea, might be "colored" or a tone might induce a certain smell. This sort of sensory mixing is not limited to synesthesia, but applies to hallucinations, and to dreams, and to other experiences. Thus a "medium" or "modal" model of experience is flawed because it discounts or disallows experiences where different kinds of experiences mix together.
As an example there is an experimental prosthetic used to help blind people see. The subjects use a small ball that is held with their tongue. This ball creates sensations on the tongue based on an image processed by a camera. The person using that little ball, and by feeling with their tongue, learns to "see". The language the experimenters and subjects use for these type of experiences is sight and vision oriented, even though it's obviously impossible, from a modal perspective, to "see" with a tongue.
This sort of shifting of sensory modalities can be achieved with simulations. Simulation experiences, and simulation thought experiments illustrate that we distinguish not only our non-sensory experiences based on contents but also our sensory experiences based on their own contents.
When we dream, are we experiencing external sensations that arrive in our experience via a "medium"? No, we dream of colors, or smells, or tastes, or feelings, or actions DIRECTLY.
When we refer to the "big" monster in a video game or a giant monster on TV, we make a contextual fabrication. The monster is only as big as the screen it is seen on. Which is really not very big at all. We feel it is big in the context of the game or show. Ask yourself, how big is Godzilla? The last time you saw Godzilla destroy Tokyo, how big was he? As most people have only ever seen Godzilla on TV, Godzilla cannot be larger than a TV screen.
If we consider possible simulations like those in the Matrix movies, or from Star Trek holo-decks, or by Descarte's sneaky demon, we see that simulations force us to consider a world that is not in fact encountered via our senses, but is one we experience directly. That is, our senses as a medium of experience may not actually exist, but are side-effects of content separation in a simulated world. We may be living in a simulation right now, how can we tell? Is it even important to tell?
Even in a simulation we distinguish our experiences by their contents. Our strongest distinctions are sensory distinctions. But if we are living in a simulation, what does that mean? If we are not living in a simulation, how do we make sensory distinctions? For instance, how does the brain make sensory distinctions?
Consider that the brain is roughly the same kinds of cells throughout. Certainly that is true of the cortex. There may be more of one kind of neuron or another kind of neuron, or their may be be variations of other cells in the visual cortex or the olfactory regions of the brain. But the cortex is primarily the same kinds of cells and cell structures that produces RADICALLY different experiences. Does this happen because certain parts of the brain do certain kinds of processing? Perhaps, but what does that even mean? If we clump together some cells we get vision, if we clump together another group of cells we get touch?
Smells are not sights and are not sounds. And a red Volkswagen Bug is certainly not Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But the neural and brain structure is roughly the same for the regions that seem to produce all the variety of different experiences. Do the brain structures produce that variety? That one part of the brain does one kind of sensory processing and another part of the brain does another kind, does not tell us how distinctions between "modalities" of sensation exist, nor does it tell us what produces the variation of contents. Why should the visual cortex let us experience color, line, shape, movement and not bitter, hot, loud, and effervescent?
When we learn we learn to distinguish, to perceive differences between the contents of experience. One idea or experience may at first seem identical, but with repeated experience or practice or exposure, the content of experience differentiate into a multitude of separate experiences. A child does not initially distinguish or see yellow or blue or green. A child learns to see yellow and blue and green. A child learns the difference between those experiences through interaction. This is why we teach children to recognize colors.
I'm not suggesting that children do not have the capacity for varying responses to different wave lengths of light, what I am saying is that color is not a feature of light wavelengths. This is well demonstrated by any cursory look at visual illusions. Our ability to see (modality) develops with experience (content).* [see the discussion of whites. ]
A variation on this experience can be had by doing things with your opposite hand. Drawing with your opposite hand, or batting with your opposite hand, or writing with your opposite hand produce sensations of a same activity but somehow a completely different activity. Our brains may be less developed in the unused hemisphere to deal with these sorts of switch ups. And we accept that as the reason to explain differences in experience and performance.
But the contents of an experience when switching hands is different. It isn't only that writing is difficult when switching hands, but that writing itself feels different. Letters are suddenly different. of course, if writing felt the same, or even familiar, our difficulties would seemingly disappear (to ourselves).
Try this experiment: Spend a day and refer to something with a different name. For instance call your spouse or child or yourself or your car a completely different name. Notice how your feelings and perception of the newly named thing change. If you expand this naming activity to use names that have sinister or sacred connotations, how does it change your perception of the thing or of yourself? This is something you should actually try. Naming alters the reality we experience.
Giving things new names, make believe names, makes those things unfamiliar. Familiarity with contents may benefit or hinder performance. This is what switching hands shows us. And this is what we see with the use of language. Language both produce abilities in us, and limits our understanding. [* see scientific american article: Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities Beyond Normal Limits - http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=your-thoughts-can-release-abilities-beyond-normal-limits&print=true]
Savants are interesting precisely because they show a deep familiarity with one kind of experience. But this familarity does not translate into the familiar qualities of another experience. The contents of one type of experience to the savant is very different from contents of the talent they possess. For most people, there is a commonality between different experiences that let an ordinary person apply skills learned in on one area across other areas of experience. This is not true with the savant.
When switching hands, or using new names, or watching a savant struggle with the unfamiliar we begin to see that another aspect of experience which varies is the perception of the difference and similarity of the contents of experiences. That perception is not contained in the contents themselves but is another experience each of us has. One experience affects, or infects another. The content of one experience(say a belief) affects the content of other experiences.
But this way of talking about contents of experience is misleading. There is no ACTUAL separation from the content of an experience and the experience itself. If there were, where would it be? What could the separation be?
There is no "experience center" of the brain or the self. Experiences ARE their contents. There is no experience separate from the contents of that experience. We can talk about "contents" because we can see a similarity or similar content across experiences. There is some sameness about similar experiences. But, in fact, each experience is it's contents. A distinction between experiences is always a distinction of contents. Just as a similarity of experience is a similarity of contents. There is no distinguishable element of an experience that is not part of the contents of that experience.
We cannot point to an experience as separate from it's contents without pointing to different contents. The idea that experience is a thing apart from contents is an idea we also experience. We point to the idea or feelings or awareness of having an experience and claim that the contents of the experience are somehow nested inside that experiential feeling, because it feels like the objects of experience are contained in the state of awareness. But the idea that experience and the contents of experience are somehow separate occurs after the fact of an experience. The idea occurs fter the fact of contents, including the content of what state of awareness is happening are experienced.
This is what it is like to dream. When we see and feel or run with legs made of molasses in our dreams, we have those experiences. When we fly in a dream, we are flying. The dream is the content of dreaming. We say that we are in a dream state, but that is added on at the end. In the dream, there is flying, or the feeling of running with legs that barely move. It is only when we add some extra feeling or idea, some content, that we become aware of the dream as a dream.
Adding more content is what it means to wake up. The contents of waking experience are richer. Which means, there is more content in our experience. The contents also "feel" differently than the contents of dreaming experience, but that feeling is also content. Sometimes the contents of dreaming are a verisimilitude of our waking experience, such that we may wake up inside the dream, then later we wake up from that waking up when our alarm goes off.
These layers of experience, or layers of awareness, are only layers because the contents are different. Most good hallucinogen experiences produce this experience of layers or levels of awareness and the sense of shifting between layers. But what are the contents of different levels of awareness? The contents are the contexts of each levels experience. The connections, associations, and ideas of one layer have different meanings in the contexts of another layer. Levels of awareness are a common feature of many areas of understanding. For instance, military training involves distinguishing between tactical levels of thinking and strategic levels of thinking. The difference of the contents in this sort of layered perception are what the contents mean. The context of identical experiences change between levels or layers of awareness. Context ideas plus the content of experiences themselves form the content of different layers of experience.