Representation and deliberate action

Shaun Gallagher
University of Memphis
Dreyfus enlists the aid of Merleau-Ponty in his critique of representationalist theories of cognition. Such theories posit a representational element at some level of cognitive activity. The nature of the representation and how we think of it will depend upon the level at which one claims to find it. If we consider the case of perception, at one extreme it might be claimed that the representation is a conscious one, that is, that the perceiving subject is conscious of a representation, a _Vorstellung_ in the Kantian sense. In this case, it would clearly come between the perceiving subject and the world and in that sense interfere with a direct perception of the world. This sort of representational theory would be equivalent to idealism, and for good phenomenological reasons it is rejected by Merleau-Ponty and Dreyfus. At the other extreme, it is possible to find cognitive scientists talking about representations at the level of brain activity. Neural representations, either firing patterns or the actual "hard wiring" of neuronal connections (as, for example, neural maps in the somatosensory and motor areas responsible for the experience of the subject's own body), in some way enable perception. At this level of description there are various debates about how these mechanisms can be called representational. If the concept of representation involves reference to the perceptual field, in what sense does a neuronal pattern refer? There are also the familiar debates about how such mechanisms actually function, as well as the difficult problem of how such functions actually translate into personal level experience. Before these debates get off the ground, however, Dreyfus wants to steal the ammunition. He denies that there are representations at the level of brain processes.
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