Context: The enactivist tradition, out of which neurophenomenology arose, rejects various internalisms – including the representationalist and information-processing metaphors – but remains wedded to one further internalism: the claim that the structure of perceptual experience is directly, constitutively linked only to internal, brain-based dynamics. Problem: I aim to reject this internalism and defend an alternative analysis. Method: The paper presents a direct-realist, externalist, sensorimotor account of perceptual experience. It uses the concept of counterfactual meaningful action to defend this view against various objections. Results: This account of experience matches certain first-person features of experience better than an internalist account could. It is fully tractable as “normal science.” Implications: The neuroscientific conception of brain function should change from that of internal representation or modelling to that of enabling meaningful, embodied action in ways that constitutively involve the world. Neurophenomenology should aim to match the structure of first-person experience with the structure of meaningful agent-world interactions, not with that of brain dynamics. Constructivist content: The sensorimotor approach shows us what external objects are, such that we may enact them, and what experience is, such that it may present us with those enacted objects.
Upshot: I offer responses to the commentaries on my target article in five short sections. The first section, about the plurality of lived worlds, concerns issues of quite general interest to readers of this journal. The second section presents some reasons for rejecting “enabling” as well as “constitutive” representational approaches to understanding the mind. In the remaining three sections, I clarify aspects of sensorimotor direct realism relating to the self, qualia, counterfactuals, and the notion of “mastery.”
Context: Direct realism is a non-reductive, anti-representationalist theory of perception lying at the heart of mainstream analytic philosophy, where it is currently generating a lot of interest. For all that, it is widely held to be both controversial and anti-scientific. On the other hand, the sensorimotor theory of perception (which is a specific development of Gibsonian approaches to perception) initially generated a lot of interest within enactive philosophy of cognitive science, but has arguably not yet delivered on its initial promise. Problem: I aim to show that the sensorimotor theory and direct realism complement each other, and that the result is a philosophically radical, but fully scientifically realised, theory of perception. Method: The article uses (non-reductive) philosophical analysis and discussion. It also draws on empirical evidence from the relevant cognitive sciences. Results: Direct realism can be augmented by sensorimotor theory to become a scientifically tractable alternative to the mainstream, representationalist research programme within cognitive science. Implications: The article aims to further clarify the philosophical importance of the sensorimotor approach to perception. It also aims to show that the apparently radical claim that we perceive objects themselves is amenable to normal scientific study. Constructivist content: Objects are analysed as a kind of collaboration between the world and the perceiver. On this account, we can never perceive outside the categories of our own understanding, but we do perceive genuinely outside our own heads. Thus, the approach here is not exactly constructivism, though it shares many goals and results with constructivism.
Open peer commentary on the article “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World” by Michael Beaton. Upshot: Accepting the biological origins and limits of what we know is a foundation stone of radical constructivist (RC) research. A corollary is that RC considers realism as allowing an impossible comparison between knowledge and reality. Recent works such as that presented in the target article have a more nuanced position in relation to “reality.” Points of similarity and difference between RC and direct realism are discussed in this commentary.
Open peer commentary on the article “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World” by Michael Beaton. Upshot: The target article convincingly argues in favor of the idea that the sensorimotor account of perception provides a positive scientific context for direct realism. In some cases, however, perception and experience do not seem to fit easily with sensorimotor direct realism. This raises a question of scope that requires further elaboration.
Open peer commentary on the article “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World” by Michael Beaton. Upshot: Sensorimotor direct realism may describe how animals engage with their surroundings. But human beings are not typical animals. Their engagement can be metaphorical as well as direct, in which case the theory has less plausibility.
Open peer commentary on the article “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World” by Michael Beaton. Upshot: This commentary is broadly sympathetic to the claims made in the target article. I start by questioning whether we can have direct access to an external reality in such a way that our experience is not intrinsically private. I then suggest that the argument for direct realism presented here is inconclusive with regard to whether external objects play a causal or a constitutive role.
Open peer commentary on the article “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World” by Michael Beaton. Upshot: In light of the construal of sensorimotor theory offered by the target article, this commentary examines the role the theory should admit for internal representation.
Open peer commentary on the article “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World” by Michael Beaton. Upshot: Direct realism can be better distinguished from objectivism and naïve realism, by recognizing the radical plurality of the incommensurable realities that can be enacted by living organisms in coupling with their environment.