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A Secondary Subwaking Self?

What are the functions of perceptual awareness?

Simple Hypothesis

Perceptual awareness enables us to identify and report the letter.

k  k  k  k

Identify this letter ...
Against the Simple Hypothesis, consider an older experiment, first reported in 1898 by Boris Sidis. Sidis showed subjects cards containing a single printed digit or letter ...
“The subject was placed at such a distance from the card that the character was far out of his range of vision. He saw but a dim, blurred spot or dot” (1898: 170).
In fact, “subjects often complained that they could not see anything at all; that even the black, blurred, dim spot often disappeared from their field of vision” (1898: 171). Some people said “that they might as well shut their eyes and guess” (1898: 171).
However, when Sidis asked his subjects to name the characters on the cards, their responses were correct more often than would be expected if they were just guessing. This is surprising, because it’s natural to assume that what you consciously see determines what you write down; the Sidis’ results show that this isn’t always true.

‘the presence within us of a secondary subwaking self that perceives things which the primary waking self is unable to get at’


Sidis, 1898 p. 171

Apparently, Sidis interpreted these and related experiments as revealing “the presence within us of a secondary subwaking self that perceives things which the primary waking self is unable to get at” (1898: 171). In other words, it isn’t you who is responsible for writing down the letters at all: it is another person who shares your body and sees things you don’t.
Postulating a secondary self seems to make these results more, not less, confusing.
Not many people would accept Sidis’ suggestion, but it does show how radically the discovery of nonconscious causes of action undermines a very intuitive idea about how consciousness and action are related. Ordinarily we think that we act on what we consciously see. This is bound up with the sense we have of being in control of what we do, and of knowing what we are doing. If some actions are based on information we don’t even know we have, there is a sense in which these actions are not our own. So you can see why Sidis thought he had discovered a second person within his own body.
Natural thought is that there are many perceptual processes which do not involve awareness at all ...


Sidis’ subjects are not perceptually aware of the letter but can identify and report it.

So we are left with the question ...