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.”
We need to realize that a paradigm based on the view of the universe that makes irreversible time and evolution fundamental forces us to view man as a product of evolution and therefore an observer from inside the universe. The theories of the phenomenological life world and the hermeneutics of communication and understanding seem to defy classical scientific explanations. The humanities therefore send another insight the opposite way down the evolutionary ladder, with questions like: What is the role of consciousness, signs and meaning in evolution? These are matters that the exact sciences are not constructed to answer in their present state. Phenomenology and hermeneutics point out to the sciences that they have prerequisite conditions in embodied living as a conscious being imbued with meaningful language and a culture. One can see the world view that emerges from the work of the sciences as a reconstruction back into time of our present ecological and evolutionary self-understanding as semiotic intersubjective conscious cultural historical creatures, but unable to handle the aspects of meaning and conscious awareness. How can we integrate these two directions of explanatory efforts? The problem is that the scientific one is without concepts of qualia and meaning, and the phenomenological-hermeneutic “sciences of meaning” do not have a foundation in material evolution. Relevance: A modern interpretation of C.S. Peirce’s pragmaticistic evolutionary and phaneroscopic semiosis in the form of a biosemiotics is used and integrated with N. Luhmann’s evolutionary autopoietic system theory of social communication. This framework, which integrates cybernetics and semiotics, is called Cybersemiotics.
Cybersemiotics, in forging a new philosophy of science, addresses the failure of all disciplines to recognize and adequately account for qualia and motivation, interrogates the status of “knowing” contra the computational information-processing paradigm, and explores the role of the observer in knowing. The present article discusses these key features of cybersemiotics and, in particular, their consequences for biosemiotics (to which cybersemiotics is a contributor). It argues that the constructivist basis of “languaging” in the cybersemiotic project presents a potential impediment. It suggests that although “language” is clearly in question in conceptualizing “knowing” and “observing”, the main issue for cybersemiotics has to do with the more general process of “modeling” that features in biosemiotics. Whilst the future of research in the sphere of biosemiotics will be enhanced by a greater understanding of “observership”, the article argues that aspects of the relationship of constructivism and realism will need to be made clear, and that the tools for this are available closer to cybersemiotics’ home in general semiotics.
The concept of consciousness has been the source of much confusion over the past two decades. Current orthodoxy in ‘consciousness studies’ has it that the key to understanding the concept of consciousness is to grasp the idea of qualia. But the appearance of mystery here is the product of conceptual confusion. There is nothing to ‘the qualitative character of experience’ beyond the individual character of a specific experience and how the subject felt in undergoing it, and here there are no mysteries beyond empirical ignorance and conceptual mystification.
Upshot: Douglas Robinson argues for a revision of the extended mind theory (EMT) that incorporates intersubjectivity and qualia. Robinson argues that “material extendedness” is less important than accounting for the subjective experience of what he terms “body-becoming-mind,” and that this experience, rather than mere computational equivalence between intra- and transcranial cognition, is the strongest argument in favour of the EMT.
Abstract: 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 outside world serves as its own, external, representation. The experience of seeing occurs when the organism masters what we call the governing 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. Several 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. Relevance: action; change blindness; consciousness; experience; perception; qualia; sensation; sensorimotor.
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.
Open peer commentary on the article “Consciousness as Self-Description in Differences” by Diana Gasparyan. Upshot: The first part of Gasparyan’s article usefully shows how problems must arise if consciousness is approached as if it were a phenomenon separate from the observer. The second part suggests a change of approach from first- to second-order cybernetics will solve these problems. While this, too, is helpful, it is, in essence, an epistemological device that requires something else in order to engage with the fundamental aspect of consciousness, namely, qualia. This is an ontological shift towards panpsychicism, as found in Whitehead, Peirce and Eastern traditions.
Theories based on the Darwinian idea of “selection” as an evolutionary driving force may help to understand the workings and functions of human consciousness. The philosopher Daniel C. Dennett has argued that consciousness was developed as a means to increase the rate of survival. However, it is one of the central features of consciousness that it “feels like something” to exist. Thus there seems to be a subjective quality of conscious experience. In philosophy of mind, this has traditionally been termed “qualia”, and the term refers to for instance the sensation of red as opposed to the sensation of blue, or the complex feelings of pain or love. Any theory of consciousness must provide a satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon. Dennett claims that from a scientific perspective there is no problem of qualia. In our ancestors, qualia developed as a discriminative ability in order to structure the outside world, and did not entail any subjective qualities. In humans, however, the subjective qualities came along with linguistic abilities, because these provide man with the possibility to relate to himself as an agent, i.e. regard himself from the outside. Eventhough the discussion of qualia on this account can be dissolved, the question remains, whether Dennett has succeeded in explaining why there is a subjective quality of conscious experience, i.e. why it “feels” like something to be conscious.