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Summary

This topic concerns with the interaction between consciousness, action and behavior.  It explores questions such as: Does consciousness cause behavior? Can an action be executed in the absence of consciousness?  Does every action have a conscious purpose?  What psychological mechanisms or motivations inspire the different types of actions? These questions are fundamental to the understanding of when, how and why actions are produced.   

Key works

This is a relatively broad topic but a good place to start is the edited book Pockett 2004.  Another critical work is that of  Libet 1982 whose seminal experiment drew the temporal relationship between intention, causation and action. 

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  1. Jesús H. Aguilar & Andrei A. Buckareff (2009). Agency, Consciousness, and Executive Control. Philosophia 37 (1):21-30.
    On the Causal Theory of Action (CTA), internal proper parts of an agent such as desires and intentions are causally responsible for actions. CTA has increasingly come under attack for its alleged failure to account for agency. A recent version of this criticism due to François Schroeter proposes that CTA cannot provide an adequate account of either the executive control or the autonomous control involved in full-fledged agency. Schroeter offers as an alternative a revised understanding of the proper role of (...)
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  2. Maria Alessandria, Roberto Vetrugno, Pietro Cortelli & Pasquale Montagna (2011). Normal Body Scheme and Absent Phantom Limb Experience in Amputees While Dreaming. Consciousness and Cognition 20 (4):1831-1834.
    While dreaming amputees often experience a normal body image and the phantom limb may not be present. However, dreaming experiences in amputees have mainly been collected by questionnaires. We analysed the dream reports of amputated patients with phantom limb collected after awakening from REM sleep during overnight videopolysomnography . Six amputated patients underwent overnight VPSG study. Patients were awakened during REM sleep and asked to report their dreams. Three patients were able to deliver an account of a dream. In all (...)
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  3. Bernard Baars, Part IV. Goals and Voluntary Control.
    So far we have considered what it means for something to be conscious. In this section we place these considerations in a larger framework, exploring the uses of consciousness. Thus we move away from a consideration of separate conscious events îï to a concern with conscious îaccessï, îproblem-solvingï and îcontrolï. Chapter 6 describes the commonly observed "triad" of conscious problem assignment, unconscious computation of routine problems, and conscious display of solutions and subgoals. This triadic pattern is observable in many psychological (...)
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  4. Bernard J. Baars (1993). Why Volition is a Foundation Issue for Psychology. Consciousness and Cognition 2 (4):281-309.
    Since the advent of behaviorism the question of volition or "will" has been largely neglected. We consider evidence indicating that two identical behaviors may be quite distinct with respect to volition: For instance, with practice the details of predictable actions become less and less voluntary, even if the behavior itself does not visibly change. Likewise, people can voluntarily imitate involuntary slips they have just made. Such examples suggest that the concept of volition applies not to visible behavior per se, but (...)
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  5. Bernard J. Baars (1992). Experimental Slips and Human Error: Exploring the Architecture of Volition. Plenum Press.
    This work makes three valuable contributions to the study of human slips and errors.
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  6. Bernard J. Baars (1987). What is Conscious in the Control of Action? A Modern Ideomotor Theory of Voluntary Action. In D. Gorfein & Robert R. Hoffman (eds.), Learning and Memory: The Ebbinghaus Centennial Symposium. Lawrence Erlbaum.
  7. Alan Baddeley (2007). Working Memory, Thought, and Action. Oup Oxford.
    'Working Memory, Thought, and Action' is the magnum opus of one of the most influential cognitive psychologists of the past 50 years. This new volume on the model he created discusses the developments that have occurred within the model in the past twenty years, and places it within a broader context.
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  8. William P. Banks (2006). Does Consciousness Cause Misbehavior? In Susan Pockett, William P. Banks & Shaun Gallagher (eds.), Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? MIT Press. 235-256.
  9. John A. Bargh (2004). Being Here Now: Is Consciousness Necessary for Human Freedom? In Jeff Greenberg, Sander L. Koole & Tom Pyszczynski (eds.), Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology. Guilford Press. 385-397.
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  10. John A. Bargh (1996). Automaticity in Action: The Unconscious as Repository of Chronic Goals and Motives. In P. Gollwitzer & John A. Bargh (eds.), The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. Guilford. 457.
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  11. C. BeCchio, L. Sartori, M. Bulgheroni & U. Castiello (2008). The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Kinematic Study on Social Intention. Consciousness and Cognition 17 (3):557-564.
    The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of social intentions on action. Participants were requested to reach towards, grasp an object, and either pass it to another person or put it on a concave base . Movements’ kinematics was recorded using a three-dimensional motion analysis system. The results indicate that kinematics is sensitive to social intention. Movements performed for the ‘social’ condition were characterized by a kinematic pattern which differed from those obtained for the ‘single-agent’ condition. (...)
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  12. Cristina Becchio & Cesare Bertone (2005). Beyond Cartesian Subjectivism: Neural Correlates of Shared Intentionality. Journal of Consciousness Studies 12 (7):20-30.
    In the present paper we present a short review of some recent neuro- physiological and neuropsychological findings which suggest that self-generated actions and actions of others are mapped on the same neural substratum. Since this substratum is neutral with respect to the agent, correctly attributing an action to its proper author requires the co-activation of areas specific to the self and the other. A conceptual analysis of the empirical data will lead us to conclude that from a neurobiological point of (...)
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  13. Cristina Becchio & Cesare Bertone (2004). Wittgenstein Running: Neural Mechanisms of Collective Intentionality and We-Mode. Consciousness and Cognition 13 (1):123-133.
    In this paper we discuss the problem of the neural conditions of shared attitudes and intentions: which neural mechanisms underlie “we-mode” processes or serve as precursors to such processes? Neurophysiological and neuropsychological evidence suggests that in different areas of the brain neural representations are shared by several individuals. This situation, on the one hand, creates a potential problem for correct attribution. On the other hand, it may provide the conditions for shared attitudes and intentions.
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  14. Susan J. Blackmore (2005). Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
    Consciousness, 'the last great mystery for science', has now become a hot topic. How can a physical brain create our experience of the world? What creates our identity? Do we really have free will? Could consciousness itself be an illusion? -/- Exciting new developments in brain science are opening up debates on these issues, and the field has now expanded to include biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers. This controversial book clarifies the potentially confusing arguments, and the major theories using illustrations, (...)
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  15. Sarah-Jane Blakemore (2003). Deluding the Motor System. Consciousness and Cognition 12 (4):647-655.
    How do we know that our own actions belong to us? How are we able to distinguish self-generated sensory events from those that arise externally? In this paper, I will briefly discuss experiments that were designed to investigate these questions. In particularly, I will review psychophysical and neuroimaging studies that have investigated how we recognise the consequences of our own actions, and why patients with delusions of control confuse self-produced and externally produced actions and sensations. Studies investigating the failure of (...)
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  16. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore & Chris Frith (2003). Self-Awareness and Action. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Special Issue 13 (2):219-224.
  17. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Daniel M. Wolpert & Christopher D. Frith (2002). Abnormalities in the Awareness of Action. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6 (6):237-242.
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  18. Bruce Bridgeman (2003). Grammar Originates in Action Planning, Not in Cognitive and Sensorimotor Visual Systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (3):287-287.
    While the PREDICATE(x) structure requires close coordination of subject and predicate, both represented in consciousness, the cognitive (ventral), and sensorimotor (dorsal) pathways operate in parallel. Sensorimotor information is unconscious and can contradict cognitive spatial information. A more likely origin of linguistic grammar lies in the mammalian action planning process. Neurological machinery evolved for planning of action sequences becomes applied to planning communicatory sequences.
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  19. Robert Briscoe (2014). Spatial Content and Motoric Significance. Avant (2):199-216.
    According to “actionism” (Noë 2010), perception constitutively depends on implicit knowledge of the way sensory stimulations vary as a consequence of the perceiver’s self-movement. My aim in this contribution is to develop an alternative conception of the role of action in perception present in the work of Gareth Evans using resources provided by Ruth Millikan’s biosemantic theory of mental representation.
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  20. Robert Briscoe (2011). The Elusive Experience of Agency. Topics in Cognitive Science 3 (2):262-267.
    I here present some doubts about whether Mandik’s (2010) proposed intermediacy and recurrence constraints are necessary and sufficient for agentive experience. I also argue that in order to vindicate the conclusion that agentive experience is an exclusively perceptual phenomenon (Prinz, 2007), it is not enough to show that the predictions produced by forward models of planned motor actions are conveyed by mock sensory signals. Rather, it must also be shown that the outputs of “comparator” mechanisms that compare these predictions against (...)
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  21. Berit Brogaard (2011). Conscious Vision for Action Versus Unconscious Vision for Action? Cognitive Science 35 (6):1076-1104.
    David Milner and Melvyn Goodale’s dissociation hypothesis is commonly taken to state that there are two functionally specialized cortical streams of visual processing originating in striate (V1) cortex: a dorsal, action-related “unconscious” stream and a ventral, perception-related “conscious” stream. As Milner and Goodale acknowledge, findings from blindsight studies suggest a more sophisticated picture that replaces the distinction between unconscious vision for action and conscious vision for perception with a tripartite division between unconscious vision for action, conscious vision for perception, and (...)
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  22. Andrew Brook & Kathleen Akins (eds.) (2005). Cognition and the Brain: The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement. Cambridge University Press.
    This volume provides an up to date and comprehensive overview of the philosophy and neuroscience movement, which applies the methods of neuroscience to traditional philosophical problems and uses philosophical methods to illuminate issues in neuroscience. At the heart of the movement is the conviction that basic questions about human cognition, many of which have been studied for millennia, can be answered only by a philosophically sophisticated grasp of neuroscience's insights into the processing of information by the human brain. Essays in (...)
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  23. Celia Brownell (2011). Early Developments in Joint Action. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2 (2):193-211.
    Joint action, critical to human social interaction and communication, has garnered increasing scholarly attention in many areas of inquiry, yet its development remains little explored. This paper reviews research on the growth of joint action over the first 2 years of life to show how children become progressively more able to engage deliberately, autonomously, and flexibly in joint action with adults and peers. It is suggested that a key mechanism underlying the dramatic changes in joint action over the second year (...)
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  24. Justin Capes (2012). Action, Responsibility and the Ability to Do Otherwise. Philosophical Studies 158 (1):1-15.
    Here it is argued that in order for something someone “does” to count as a genuine action, the person needn’t have been able to refrain from doing it. If this is right, then two recent defenses of the principle of alternative possibilities, a version of which says that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have refrained from doing it, are unsuccessful.
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  25. D. P. Carey, H. Chris Dijkerman & A. David Milner (1998). Perception and Action in Depth. Consciousness and Cognition 7 (3):438-453.
    Little is known about distance processing in patients with posterior brain damage. Although many investigators have claimed that distance estimates are normal or abnormal in some of these patients, many of these observations were made informally and the examiners often asked for relative, and not absolute, distance estimates. The present investigation served two purposes. First, we wanted to contrast the use of distance information in peripersonal space for perceptual report as opposed to visuomotor control in our visual form agnosic patient, (...)
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  26. Glenn Carruthers (2013). Toward a Cognitive Model of the Sense of Embodiment in a (Rubber) Hand. Journal of Consciousness Studies 20 (3-4):3 - 4.
    The rubber hand illusion (RHI) is the experience of an artificial body part as being a real body part and the experience of touch coming from that artificial body part. An explanation of this illusion would take significant steps towards explaining the experience of embodiment in one’s own body. I present a new cognitive model to explain the RHI. I argue that the sense of embodiment arises when an on-line representation of the candidate body part is represented as matching an (...)
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  27. Wayne Christensen (2007). 12 The Evolutionary Origins of Volition. In Don Ross, David Spurrett, Harold Kincaid & G. Lynn Stephens (eds.), Distributed Cognition and the Will: Individual Volition and Social Context. Mit Press. 255.
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  28. Andy Clark (2007). What Reaching Teaches: Consciousness, Control, and the Inner Zombie. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58 (3):563 - 594.
    What is the role of conscious visual experience in the control and guidance of human behaviour? According to some recent treatments, the role is surprisingly indirect. Conscious visual experience, on these accounts, serves the formation of plans and the selection of action types and targets, while the control of 'online' visually guided action proceeds via a quasi-independent non-conscious route. In response to such claims, critics such as (Wallhagen [2007], pp. 539-61) have suggested that the notions of control and guidance invoked (...)
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  29. Andy Clark (1999). Visual Awareness and Visuomotor Action. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (11-12):1-18.
    Recent work in "embodied, embedded" cognitive science links mental contents to large-scale distributed effects: dynamic patterns implicating elements of (what are traditionally seen as) sensing, reasoning and acting. Central to this approach is an idea of biological cognition as profoundly "action-oriented" - geared not to the creation of rich, passive inner models of the world, but to the cheap and efficient production of real-world action in real-world context. A case in point is Hurley's (1998) account of the profound role of (...)
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  30. Axel Cleeremans (2010). Action Blindness in Response to Gradual Changes. Consciousness and Cognition 19 (1):152-171.
    The goal of this study is to characterize observers’ abilities to detect gradual changes and to explore putative dissociations between conscious experience of change and behavioral adaptation to a changing stimulus. We developed a new experimental paradigm in which, on each trial, participants were shown a dot pattern on the screen. Next, the pattern disappeared and participants had to reproduce it. In some conditions, the target pattern was incrementally rotated over successive trials and participants were either informed or not of (...)
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  31. Axel Cleeremans (2006). Time, Action, and Consciousness. Human Movement Science.
    Time plays a central role in consciousness, at different levels and in different aspects of information processing. Subliminal perception experiments demonstrate that stimuli presented too briefly to enter conscious awareness are nevertheless processed to some extent. Implicit learning, implicit memory, and conditioning studies suggest that the extent to which memory traces are available for verbal report and for cognitive control is likewise dependent on the time available for processing during acquisition. Differences in the time available for processing also determine not (...)
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  32. E. Daprati, N. Franck, N. Georgieff, Joëlle Proust, Elisabeth Pacherie, J. Dalery & Marc Jeannerod (1997). Looking for the Agent: An Investigation Into Consciousness of Action and Self-Consciousness in Schizophrenic Patients. Cognition 65 (1):71-86.
    The abilities to attribute an action to its proper agent and to understand its meaning when it is produced by someone else are basic aspects of human social communication. Several psychiatric syndromes, such as schizophrenia, seem to lead to a dysfunction of the awareness of one’s own action as well as of recognition of actions performed by other. Such syndromes offer a framework for studying the determinants of agency, the ability to correctly attribute actions to their veridical source. Thirty normal (...)
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  33. E. Daprati, D. Nico, N. Franck & A. Sirigu (2003). Being the Agent: Memory for Action Events. Consciousness and Cognition 12 (4):670-683.
    Whoever paid the bill at the restaurant last night, will clearly remember doing it. Independently from the type of action, it is a common experience that being the agent provides a special strength to our memories. Even if it is generally agreed that personal memories (episodic memory) rely on separate neural substrates with respect to general knowledge (semantic memory), little is known on the nature of the link between memory and the sense of agency. In the present paper, we review (...)
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  34. F. de Vignemont & P. Fourneret (2004). The Sense of Agency: A Philosophical and Empirical Review of the "Who" System. Consciousness and Cognition 13 (1):1-19.
    How do I know that I am the person who is moving? According to Wittgenstein (1958), the sense of agency involves a primitive notion of the self used as subject, which does not rely on any prior perceptual identification and which is immune to error through misidentification. However, the neuroscience of action and the neuropsychology of schizophrenia show the existence of specific cognitive processes underlying the sense of agency—the ‘‘Who'' system (Georgieff & Jeannerod, 1998) which is disrupted in delusions of (...)
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  35. E. B. Delabarre (1913). Volition and Motor Consciousness. Psychological Bulletin 10:441-44.
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  36. E. B. Delabarre (1912). Volition and Motor Consciousness: Theory. Psychological Bulletin 9:409-13.
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  37. E. B. Delabarre (1911). Volition and Motor Consciousness: Theory. Psychological Bulletin 8:378-82.
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  38. Judy S. DeLoache (2004). Scale Errors by Very Young Children: A Dissociation Between Action Planning and Control. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (1):32-33.
    Very young children occasionally commit scale errors, which involve a dramatic dissociation between planning and control: A child's visual representation of the size of a miniature object is not used in planning an action on it, but is used in the control of the action. Glover's planning–control model offers a very useful framework for analyzing this newly documented phenomenon.
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  39. Ezio Di Nucci (2013). Mindlessness. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    Thinking is overrated: golfers perform best when distracted and under pressure; firefighters make the right calls without a clue as to why; and you are yourself ill advised to look at your steps as you go down the stairs, or to try and remember your pin number before typing it in. Just do it, mindlessly. Both empirical psychologists and the common man have long worked out that thinking is often a bad idea, but philosophers still hang on to an intellectualist (...)
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  40. Digby Elliott, Luc Tremblay & Timothy N. Welsh (2001). A Fast Ventral Stream or Early Dorsal-Ventral Interactions? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (1):105-105.
    Several lines of evidence indicate that rapid target-aiming movements, involving both the eyes and hand, can be biased by the visual context in which the movements are performed. Some of these contextual influences carry-over from trial to trial. This research indicates that dissociation between the dorsal and ventral systems based on speed, conscious awareness, and frame of reference is far from clear.
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  41. Ralph D. Ellis (1997). Purposeful Processes, Personalism, and the Contemporary Natural and Cognitive Sciences. Personalist Forum 13 (1):49-67.
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  42. C. Farrer, N. Franck, J. Paillard & M. Jeannerod (2003). The Role of Proprioception in Action Recognition. Consciousness and Cognition 12 (4):609-619.
    This study aimed at evaluating the role of proprioception in the process of matching the final position of one's limbs with an intentional movement. Two experiments were realised with the same paradigm of conscious recognition of one's own limb position from a distorted position. In the first experiment, 22 healthy subjects performed the task in an active and in a passive condition. In the latter condition, proprioception was the only available information since the central signals related to the motor command (...)
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  43. Keith Frankish (2006). Review of Consciousness in Action, by Susan Hurley. [REVIEW] Mind 115:156-9.
    Questions about the relation between mind and world have long occupied philosophers of mind. In _Consciousness in Action_ Susan Hurley invites us to adopt a ninety-degree shift and consider the relation between perception and action. The central theme of the book is an attack on what Hurley dubs the _Input-Output Picture_ of perception and actionthe picture of perceptions as sensory inputs to the cognitive system and intentions as motor outputs from it, with the mind occupying the buffer zone in between. (...)
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  44. Walter J. Freeman (2006). Consciousness, Intentionality, and Causality. In Susan Pockett, William P. Banks & Shaun Gallagher (eds.), Journal of Consciousness Studies. MIT Press. 11-12.
    According to behavioural theories deriving from pragmatism, gestalt psychology, existentialism, and ecopsychology, knowledge about the world is gained by intentional action followed by learning. In terms of the neurodynamics described here, if the intending of an act comes to awareness through reafference, it is perceived as a cause. If the consequences of an act come to awareness through proprioception and exteroception, they are perceived as an effect. A sequence of such states of awareness comprises consciousness, which can grow in complexity (...)
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  45. Michael Frese & John Sabini (eds.) (1985). Goal Directed Behavior: The Concept of Action in Psychology. L. Erlbaum Associates.
  46. Christopher D. Frith (2002). Attention to Action and Awareness of Other Minds. Consciousness and Cognition 11 (4):481-487.
    We have only limited awareness of the system by which we control our actions and this limited awareness does not seem to be concerned with the control of action. Awareness of choosing one action rather than another comes after the choice has been made, while awareness of initiating an action occurs before the movement has begun. These temporal differences bind together in consciousness the intention to act and the consequences of the action. This creates our sense of agency. Activity in (...)
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  47. Shaun Gallagher (2006). Where's the Action? Epiphenomenalism and the Problem of Free Will. In Susan Pockett, William P. Banks & Shaun Gallagher (eds.), Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? MIT Press. 109-124.
    Some philosophers argue that Descartes was wrong when he characterized animals as purely physical automata – robots devoid of consciousness. It seems to them obvious that animals (tigers, lions, and bears, as well as chimps, dogs, and dolphins, and so forth) are conscious. There are other philosophers who argue that it is not beyond the realm of possibilities that robots and other artificial agents may someday be conscious – and it is certainly practical to take the intentional stance toward them (...)
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  48. Shaun Gallagher & Anthony J. Marcel (2002). The Self in Contextualized Action. In Jonathan Shear & Shaun Gallagher (eds.), Journal of Consciousness Studies. Thorverton Uk: Imprint Academic. 273.
    This paper suggests that certain traditional ways of analysing the self start off in situations that are abstract or detached from normal experience, and that the conclusions reached in such approaches are, as a result, inexact or mistaken. The paper raises the question of whether there are more contextualized forms of self- consciousness than those usually appealed to in philosophical or psychological analyses, and whether they can be the basis for a more adequate theoretical approach to the self. First, we (...)
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  49. Vittorio Gallese (2000). The Inner Sense of Action: Agency and Motor Representations. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 (10):23-40.
    Discusses the possibility of reconciling different articulations of intentionality from a neurobiological perspective. The author analyzes the relationship between agency and representation and how representation is intrinsically related to action control. The author also presents a new account of action, arguing against what is still commonly held as its proper definition, namely the final outcome of a cascade-like process that starts from the analysis of sensory data, incorporates the result of decision processes, and ends up with responses (actions) to externally-or (...)
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  50. Vittorio Gallese & Thomas Metzinger (2003). Motor Ontology: The Representational Reality of Goals, Actions and Selves. Philosophical Psychology 16 (3):365 – 388.
    The representational dynamics of the brain is a subsymbolic process, and it has to be conceived as an "agent-free" type of dynamical self-organization. However, in generating a coherent internal world-model, the brain decomposes target space in a certain way. In doing so, it defines an "ontology": to have an ontology is to interpret a world. In this paper we argue that the brain, viewed as a representational system aimed at interpreting the world, possesses an ontology too. It decomposes target space (...)
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