The sensorimotor theory of perceptual experience
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The sensorimotor theory is an influential, non-mainstream account of perception and perceptual consciousness intended to improve in various ways on orthodox theories. It is often taken to be a variety of enactivism, and in common with enactivist cognitive science more generally, it de-emphasises the theoretical role played by internal representation and other purely neural processes, giving theoretical pride of place instead to interactive engagements between the brain, non-neural body and outside environment. In addition to offering a distinctive account of the processing that underlies perceptual consciousness, the sensorimotor theory aims to offer a new and improved account the logical and phenomenological character of perceptual experience, and the relation between physical and phenomenal states. Since its inception in a 2001 paper by O’Regan and Noë, the theory has prompted a good deal of increasingly prominent theoretical and practical work in cognitive science, as well as a large body of secondary literature in philosophy of cognitive science and philosophy of perception. In spite of its influential character, many of the theory’s most basic tenets are incompletely or ambiguously defined, and it has attracted a number of prominent objections. This thesis aims to clarify the conceptual foundations of the sensorimotor theory, including the key theoretical concepts of sensorimotor contingency, sensorimotor mastery, and presence-as-access, and defends a particular understanding of the respective theoretical roles of internal representation and behavioural capacities. In so doing, the thesis aims to highlight the sensorimotor theory’s virtues and defend it from some leading criticisms, with particular attention to a response by Clark which claims that perception and perceptual experience plausibly depend on the activation of representations which are not intimately involved in bodily engagements between the agent and environment. A final part of the thesis offers a sensorimotor account of the experience of temporally extended events, and shows how with reference to this we can better understand object experience.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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