Discussion of J. Kevin O’Regan’s “Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness” Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-20 DOI 10.1007/s13164-012-0090-7 Authors J. Kevin O’Regan, Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, CNRS - Université Paris Descartes, Centre Biomédical des Saints Pères, 45 rue des Sts Pères, 75270 Paris cedex 06, France Ned Block, Departments of Philosophy, Psychology and Center for Neural Science, New York University, 5 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003, USA Journal Review of (...) Philosophy and Psychology Online ISSN 1878-5166 Print ISSN 1878-5158. (shrink)
Many current neurophysiological, psychophysical, and psychological approaches to vision rest on the idea that when we see, the brain produces an internal representation of the world. The activation of this internal representation is assumed to give rise to the experience of seeing. The problem with this kind of approach is that it leaves unexplained how the existence of such a detailed internal representation might produce visual consciousness. An alternative proposal is made here. We propose that seeing is a way of (...) acting. It is a particular way of exploring the environment. Activity in internal representations does not generate the experience of seeing. The out- side world serves as its own, external, representation. The experience of seeing occurs when the organism masters what we call the gov- erning laws of sensorimotor contingency. The advantage of this approach is that it provides a natural and principled way of accounting for visual consciousness, and for the differences in the perceived quality of sensory experience in the different sensory modalities. Sev- eral lines of empirical evidence are brought forward in support of the theory, in particular: evidence from experiments in sensorimotor adaptation, visual “filling in,” visual stability despite eye movements, change blindness, sensory substitution, and color perception. (shrink)
The paper proposes a way of bridging the gapbetween physical processes in the brain and the ''''felt''''aspect of sensory experience. The approach is based onthe idea that experience is not generated by brainprocesses themselves, but rather is constituted by theway these brain processes enable a particular form of''''give-and-take'''' between the perceiver and theenvironment. From this starting-point we are able tocharacterize the phenomenological differences betweenthe different sensory modalities in a more principledway than has been done in the past. We are also (...) ableto approach the issues of visual awareness andconsciousness in a satisfactory way. Finally weconsider a number of testable empirical consequences,one of which is the striking prediction of thephenomenon of ''''change blindness''''. (shrink)
When looking at a scene, observers feel that they see its entire structure in great detail and can immediately notice any changes in it. However, when brief blank fields are placed between alternating displays of an original and a modified scene, a striking failure of perception is induced: identification of changes becomes extremely difficult, even when changes are large and made repeatedly. Identification is much faster when a verbal cue is provided, showing that poor visibility is not the cause of (...) this difficulty. Identification is also faster for objects mentioned in brief verbal descriptions of the scene. These results support the idea that observers never form a complete, detailed representation of their surroundings. In addition, results also indicate that attention is required to perceive change, and that in the absence of localized motion signals it is guided on the basis of high-level interest. (shrink)
Observers inspected normal, high quality color displays of everyday visual scenes while their eye movements were recorded. A large display change occurred each time an eye blink occurred. Display changes could either involve "Central Interest" or "Marginal Interest" locations, as determined from descriptions obtained from independent judges in a prior pilot experiment. Visual salience, as determined by luminance, color, and position of the Central and Marginal interest changes were equalized. -/- The results obtained were very similar to those obtained in (...) prior experiments showing failure to detect changes occurring simultaneously with saccades, flicker, or “mudsplashes” in the visual scene: Many changes were very hard to detect, and Marginal Interest changes were harder to detect than Central Interest changes. -/- Analysis of eye movements showed, as expected, that the probability of detecting a change depended on the eye’s distance from the change location. However a surprising finding was that both for Central and Marginal Interest changes, evenwhen observers were directly fixating the change locations (within 1 degree),more than 40% of the time they still failed to see the changes. It seems that looking at something does not guarantee you “ see” it. (shrink)
Change-blindness occurs when large changes are missed under natural viewing conditions because they occur simultaneously with a brief visual disruption, perhaps caused by an eye movement, a flicker, a blink, or a camera cut in a film sequence. We have found that this can occur even when the disruption does not cover or obscure the changes. When a few small, high-contrast shapes are briefly spattered over a picture, like mudsplashes on a car windscreen, large changes can be made simultaneously in (...) the scene without being noticed. (shrink)
The sensorimotor theory of perceptual consciousness offers a form of enactivism in that it stresses patterns of interaction instead of any alleged internal representations of the environment. But how does it relate to forms of enactivism stressing the continuity between life and mind? We shall distinguish sensorimotor enactivism, which stresses perceptual capacities themselves, from autopoietic enactivism, which claims an essential connection between experience and autopoietic processes or associated background capacities. We show how autopoiesis, autonomous agency, and affective dimensions of experience (...) may fit into sensorimotor enactivism, and we identify differences between this interpretation and autopoietic enactivism. By taking artificial consciousness as a case in point, we further sharpen the distinction between sensorimotor enactivism and autopoietic enactivism. We argue that sensorimotor enactivism forms a strong default position for an enactive account of perceptual consciousness. (shrink)
Following arguments put forward in my book (Why red doesn’t sound like a bell: understanding the feel of consciousness. Oxford University Press, New York, USA, 2011), this article takes a pragmatic, scientist’s point of view about the concepts of consciousness and “feel”, pinning down what people generally mean when they talk about these concepts, and then investigating to what extent these capacities could be implemented in non-biological machines. Although the question of “feel”, or “phenomenal consciousness” as it is called by (...) some philosophers, is generally considered to be the “hard” problem of consciousness, the article shows that by taking a “sensorimotor” approach, the difficulties can be overcome. What remains to account for are the notions of so-called “access consciousness” and the self. I claim that though they are undoubtedly very difficult, these are not logically impossible to implement in robots. (shrink)
How could neural processes be associated with phenomenal consciousness? We present a way to answer this question by taking the counterintuitive stance that the sensory feel of an experience is not a thing that happens to us, but a thing we do: a skill we exercise. By additionally noting that sensory systems possess two important, objectively measurable properties, corporality and alerting capacity, we are able to explain why sensory experience possesses a sensory feel, but thinking and other mental processes do (...) not. We are additionally able to explain why different sensory feels differ in the way they do. (shrink)
When brief blank fields are placed between alternating displays of an original and a modified scene, a striking failure of perception is induced: the changes become extremely difficult to notice, even when they are large, presented repeatedly, and the observer expects them to occur (Rensink, O'Regan, & Clark, 1997). To determine the mechanisms behind this induced "change blindness", four experiments examine its dependence on initial preview and on the nature of the interruptions used. Results support the proposal that representations at (...) the early stages of visual processing are highly volatile, and that focused attention is needed to stabilize them sufficiently to support the perception of change. (shrink)
We address the thesis recently proposed by Andy Clark, that skill-mediated access to modality implies phenomenal feel. We agree that a skill theory of perception does indeed offer the possibility of a satisfactory account of the feel of perception, but we claim that this is not only through explanation of access to modality but also because skill actually provides access to perceptual property in general. We illustrate and substantiate our claims by reference to the recently proposed 'sensorimotor contingency' theory of (...) visual awareness. We discuss why this theory offers a distinctively attractive access-based approach to perceptual consciousness because it 'dereifies' experience and permits otherwise problematic aspects of phenomenal perceptual consciousness to be explained. We suggest our approach thus offers the prospect of 'naturalizing phenomenology'. (shrink)
The most important clarification we bring in our reply to commentators concerns the problem of the “explanatory gap”: that is, the gulf that separates physical processes in the brain from the experienced quality of sensations. By adding two concepts (bodiliness and grabbiness) that were not stressed in the target article, we strengthen our claim and clarify why we think we have solved the explanatory gap problem, – not by dismissing qualia, but, on the contrary, by explaining why sensations have a (...) “feel” and why “feels” feel the way they do. We additionally clarify our views on: internal representations (we claim internal representations cannot explain why sensation has a feel), on behaviorism (we are not behaviorists), on perception and action (we believe there can be perception without action), and on the brain (we believe the brain does do something important in perception). (shrink)
Traditionally, the “Imagery Debate” has opposed two main camps: depictivism and descriptivism. This debate has essentially focused on the nature of the internal representations thought to be involved in imagery, without addressing at all the question of action. More recently, a third, “embodied” view is moving the debate into a new phase. The embodied approach focuses on the interdependence of perception, cognition and action, and in its more radical line this approach promotes the idea that perception is not a process (...) involving internal world-models. The anti-representationalist version of the embodied paradigm covers, among others that we shall not discuss here, two quite different positions, namely the enactive approach and sensorimotor theory. Up to now these two anti-representationalist accounts have generally been confounded. In this paper we will argue that despite some important commonalities, enactive and sensorimotor accounts come with distinctive theoretical traits with regard to their approach to imagery. These become manifest when critically examining the role they assign to sensorimotor engagements with the world. We shall argue that enactive and sensorimotor approaches are different in their understanding of the role of embodied action, and these different notions of embodiment lead to different explanatory accounts of perception and imagery. We propose that, due to existing ambiguities in enactivism, the sensorimotor theory is a better framework for a skill-based approach to imagery. (shrink)
The target article appeals to recent empirical data to support the idea that there is more to phenomenality than is available to access consciousness. However, this claim is based on an unwarranted assumption, namely, that some kind of cortical processing must be phenomenal. The article also considerably weakens Block's original distinction between a truly nonfunctional phenomenal consciousness and a functional access consciousness. The new form of phenomenal consciousness seems to be a poor-man's cognitive access.
Call u the triplet of cone quantum catch for the light that is incident on a surface, and v the triplet of cone quantum catch for the light that is reflected off that surface. Philipona & O'Regan (2006) present results from numerical calculations showing that: 1. each surface can be associated with a 3 by 3 matrix A such that the relation v = A u to a very high degree of accuracy for any natural illuminant, 2. the vast majority (...) of such matrices associated with Munsell chips have three real eigenvalues, 3. Munsell chips that are most often given a name in the World Color Survey are chips whose associated matrices have a singular configuration of eigenvalues, as measured by a "singularity index". The conclusion of the paper is that this striking coincidence lends credence to the idea that data about color naming derive from facts about natural lights, surface reflexion properties, and human photopigments, rather than from facts about neural pathways or cortical representations. (shrink)
This paper looks at two puzzles raised by the phenomenon of inattentional blindness. First, how can we see at all if, in order to see, we must first perceptually attend to that which we see? Second, if attention is required for perception, why does it seem to us as if we are perceptually aware of the whole detailed visual field when it is quite clear that we do not attend to all that detail? We offer a general framework for thinking (...) about perception and perceptual consciousness that addresses these questions and we propose, in addition, an informal account of the relation between attention and consciousness. On this view, perceptual awareness is a species of attention. (shrink)
Word recognition performance varies systematically as a function of where the eyes fixate in the word. Performance is maximal with the eye slightly left of the center of the word, and decreases drastically to both sides of this 'Optimal Viewing Position'. While manipulations of lexical factors have only marginal effects on this phenomenon, previous studies have pointed to a relation between the viewing position effect and letter legibility: When letter legibility drops, the viewing position effect becomes more exaggerated. To further (...) investigate this phenomenon, we improved letter legibility by magnifying letter size in a way that was proportional to the.. (shrink)
Overview. Consciousness is often considered to have a "hard" part and a not-so-hard part. With the help of work in artificial intelligence and more recently in embodied robotics, there is hope that we shall be able solve the not-so-hard part and make artificial agents that understand their environment, communicate with their friends, and most importantly, have a notion of "self" and "others". But will such agents feel anything? Building the feel into the agent will be the "hard" part.
Infants’ ability to monitor “sensorimotor contingencies,” i.e., the sensory effects of their own actions, is an important mechanism underlying learning. One method that has been used to investigate this is the “mobile paradigm,” in which a mobile above an infant’s crib is activated by motion of one of the infant’s limbs. Although successfully used in numerous experiments performed in infants’ homes to investigate memory and other types of learning, the paradigm seems less robust for demonstrating sensitivity to sensorimotor contingencies when (...) used in the laboratory. One purpose of the present work was to show that certain changes to the mobile paradigm would make it easier for infants to show their sensitivity to the contingency in the lab. In particular, we used proximal stimulation on infants’ wrists instead of the usual mobile, and our stimulation was coincident with the limbs that caused it. Our stimulation was either on or off, i.e., not modulated by the amount the infant moved. Finally, we used a “shaping” procedure to help the infant discover the contingency. In addition to these changes in the paradigm, by analyzing infants’ limb activity at 10-s resolution instead of the usual 1-min resolution, we were able to show that infants’ sensitivity to the contingency became apparent already within the first minute of establishment of the contingency. Finally, we showed how two alternate measures of sensitivity to contingency based on probability of repeated movements and on “stop and go” motion strategies may be of interest for future work. (shrink)
Sensory Motor Contingencies belong to a functionalistic framework. Functionalism does not give any explanation about why and how objective functional relations should produce phenomenal experience. O’Regan and Noe as well as other functionalists do not propose a new ontology that could support the first person subjective phenomenal side of experience.
O'Regan and Noe present a wonderfully detailed and comprehensive defense of a position whose broad outline we absolutely and unreservedly endorse. They are right, it seems to us, to stress the intimacy of conscious content and embodied action, and to counter the idea of a Grand Illusion with the image of an agent genuinely in touch, via active exploration, with the rich and varied visual scene. This is an enormously impressive achievement, and we hope that the comments that follow will (...) be. (shrink)
The catastrophe of the eye -- A new view of seeing -- Applying the new view of seeing -- The illusion of seeing everything -- Some contentious points -- Towards consciousness -- Types of consciousness -- Phenomenal consciousness, raw feel, and why they're hard -- Squeeze a sponge, drive a porsche : a sensorimotor account of feel -- Consciously experiencing a feel -- The sensorimotor approach to color -- Sensory substitution -- The localization of touch -- The phenomenality plot -- (...) Consciousness. (shrink)
In Disturbed Consciousness, philosophers and other scholars examine various psychopathologies in light of specific philosophical theories of consciousness. The contributing authors—some of them discussing or defending their own theoretical work—consider not only how a theory of consciousness can account for a specific psychopathological condition but also how the characteristics of a psychopathology might challenge such a theory. Thus one essay defends the higher-order thought (HOT) theory of consciousness against the charge that it cannot account for somatoparaphrenia (a delusion in which (...) one denies ownership of a limb). Another essay argues that various attempts to explain away such anomalies within subjective theories of consciousness fail. -/- Other essays consider such topics as the application of a model of unified consciousness to cases of brain bisection and dissociative identity disorder; prefrontal and parietal underconnectivity in autism and other psychopathologies; self-deception and the self-model theory of subjectivity; schizophrenia and the vehicle theory of consciousness; and a shift in emphasis away from an internal (or brainbound) approach to psychopathology to an interactive one. Each essay offers a distinctive perspective from the intersection of philosophy, consciousness research, and psychiatry. -/- Contributors Alexandre Billon, Andrew Brook, Paula Droege, Rocco J. Gennaro, Philip Gerrans, William Hirstein, Jakob Hohwy, Uriah Kriegel, Timothy Lane, Thomas Metzinger, Erik Myin, Inez Myin-Germeys, Myrto Mylopoulos, Gerard O’Brien, Jon Opie, J. Kevin O’Regan, Iuliia Pliushch, Robert Van Gulick . (shrink)
The problem of understanding how physical processes in the brain could give rise to consciousness has been identified with the 'comparative explanatory gap', the problem of explaining why different experiences have the differing qualities they do, and the 'absolute explanatory gap', the problem of explaining why anything can be conscious at all. The main innovation of the sensorimotor theory is that it provides a very appealing way of closing the comparative gap by postulating that the quality of experiences corresponds to (...) objective sensorimotor laws that characterize one's bodily interaction with the environment. Here I expound in greater detail how the approach deals with the absolute gap. I refine my previous efforts at understanding what we mean by 'being conscious of something' by abandoning my previous hierarchical approach; by introducing the concept of 'mental manipulation'; and by relying more on a notion of self than I have done previously. I end up with a more variegated notion of consciousness than in previous work, that includes the idea of a complex interwoven patchwork of consciousness with no simple conscious/nonconscious distinction across different species or agents. The approach suggests we need to review the links between consciousness and ethics. (shrink)