8 - Action-Oriented Representation  pp. 284-306

Action-Oriented Representation

By Pete Mandik

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Often, sensory input underdetermines perception. One such example is the perception of illusory contours. In illusory contour perception, the content of the percept includes the presence of a contour that is absent from the informational content of the sensation. (By “sensation” I mean merely information-bearing events at the transducer level. I intend no further commitment, such as the identification of sensations with qualia.) I call instances of perception underdetermined by sensation “underdetermined perception.”

The perception of illusory contours is just one kind of underdetermined perception (see Figure 8.1). The focus of this chapter is another kind of underdetermined perception: what I shall call “active perception.” Active perception occurs in cases in which the percept, while underdetermined by sensation, is determined by a combination of sensation and action. The phenomenon of active perception has been used by several to argue against the positing of representations in explanations of sensory experience, either by arguing that no representations need be posited or that far fewer than previously thought need be posited. Such views include, but are not limited to, those of J. Gibson (1966, 1986), P. S. Churchland et al. (1994), T. Jarvilehto (1998), and J. O'Regan and A. Noë (2001). In this chapter, I argue for the contrary position that active perception is actually best accounted for by a representational theory of perception. Along the way, this will require a relatively novel conception of what to count as representations.

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