Notes toward a structuralist theory of mental representation

In Hugh Clapin, Phillip Staines & Peter Slezak (eds.), Representation in Mind: New Approaches to Mental Representation. Elsevier. pp. 1--20 (2004)
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Any creature that must move around in its environment to find nutrients and mates, in order to survive and reproduce, faces the problem of sensorimotor control. A solution to this problem requires an on-board control mechanism that can shape the creature’s behaviour so as to render it “appropriate” to the conditions that obtain. There are at least three ways in which such a control mechanism can work, and Nature has exploited them all. The first and most basic way is for a creature to bump into the things in its environment, and then, depending on what has been encountered, seek to modify its behaviour accordingly. Such an approach is risky, however, since some things in the environment are distinctly unfriendly. A second and better way, therefore, is for a creature to exploit ambient forms of energy that carry information about the distal structure of the environment. This is an improvement on the first method since it enables the creature to respond to the surroundings without actually bumping into anything. Nonetheless, this second method also has its limitations, one of which is that the information conveyed by such ambient energy is often impoverished, ambiguous and intermittent



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Gerard O'Brien
University of Adelaide
Jonathan Opie
University of Adelaide

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