Panos and Sylvia
Panos Aristocles stands naked, pot bellied, and balding at the window, watching the snow under the street lamp.
Sylvia: Panos, sweetie, step away from the window. Someone will see you.
Sylvia sits up in bed, her back against the wall. She has long since reached the age where her breasts point straight down, and further past the age where she cares.
Panos: Don't worry. We're on the second floor. No one ever looks up.
Sylvia: I wish I knew you when you had your buff, wrestler's body.
Panos, sounding less offended that you would expect: You are looking for younger men now?
Sylvia: No, the current you is beautiful. I was just imagining variations on the theme.
Panos: You want the version with the long permed hair and the silly tights? There's a Mexican version where a wear a mask, too.
Sylvia: They all sound delicious.
Panos: It was a preposterous body I had, muscles built for show. They gave the appearance of strength only. I'm surprised you are interested.
Sylvia: I'm a literature professor. Beauty is my business.
Panos: There was no beauty there, only spectacle. I'm glad I'm out of the business. The Mexican circuit didn't even pay well.
Sylvia: Your body would still speak of who you were. It couldn't help it.
Panos: What are you on about?
Panos: The body doesn't speak anyway. The mouth may form words and the hand may write, but these are accidents. The person speaks with the language.
Sylvia: I think I can see facts about who you are--your personality, your nature--by directly looking at you.
Panos: A preposterous thesis.
He is now seated on the window sill.
Sylvia: Your fat--particularly your arms and shoulders--says "athlete gone to fat" not "lifelong couch potato."
Panos: That's my nature?
Sylvia: It is a part of your history.
Panos: Do better than that. Look at my body and directly perceive a mental property.
Panos is standing straight at the foot of the bed, his shoulders square with Sylvia's.
Sylvia: Your pride is shouting at me. I think I will ignore it and say that I can see your playfulness instead.
Panos: And where is my playfulness? Where did you see it?
Sylvia: You were smirking. Slightly. You still are.
Panos: And how do you know that is playfulness, and not insolence or even a mask for anger?
Sylvia: I said this was direct perception. I don't need to give a reason.
Panos: You see it because of your past experience with me. Because we have played together and you know how I play.
Sylvia: Also your writing. You are the most playful writer working in pure metaphysics and formal ontology.
Panos: See, language!
Sylvia: But what is wrong with that? I'm allowed to use past experience to shape my perception. How could I see otherwise?
Panos: It certainly makes your perception less direct.
Sylvia: Whatever, the fact is I am not simply projecting something I already know onto the appearance of you.
Panos: Yes, you are.
Sylvia: Well, here's an easy case for me. If I saw you with your eyes wide open and your jaw agape, I would be directly perceiving that you are surprised, a mental property about you.
Panos: Actually, I don't believe that either, but in that case, I am the one being weird. Your view here is common sense, so i will stipulate it. Can you get from there to directly perceiving my playfulness.
Sylvia: Easy peasy. The cases are exactly the same. In both cases I might be mistaken, and in both cases I am relying in part on past experience and a well functioning biological system of perception. If one counts as direct perception, the other does too.
Panos: One case is an event and the other a disposition. Anyway, what do you mean by "direct perception" and how do you deal with the problem of error in perception.
Sylvia: Oh Pan, I don't have any fancy philosophical theories. I teach stories about people. Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to come to bed?
Panos: I'm going to stand here.
Sylvia, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders: Suit yourself. Look, all I meant by "direct perception" was that the objects of my perception are the ordinary things they seem to be, such as foolish naked men who won't come to bed. And when I perceive them as having a property, like being tall, or pale or devilishly handsome, it is my perception that gives me knowledge of these facts. I'm actually trying not to be philosophical here. I'm ruling out funny theories about sense data or qualia or whatever that I never understood or cared for anyway.
Wait, don't open your pretty little mouth. I know where you go next. You are going to bring up two cases. In one I see, oh I dunno, a snake. And in the other, I merely think I see a snake, but really I'm just looking at a rope on the ground in dim light. The perceptions in each case are indistinguishable, but the realities are different. From this you conclude not just that perception is different than reality, but that the object of perception is not the object in reality, because the object of perception is the same, but the reality changed.
Panos: A snake, Sylvia?
Sylvia: I've been reading Śaṅkara.
Panos: And yet you hate philosophy.
Sylvia: No, I just hate philosophers.
[To be continued. I need to read about direct perception (Jackson?). I've also written down that I should write about Bernard Williams, Problems of the Self .]