Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Seeing as a way of acting.

I want to point out an accessible and fascinating web lecture with dynamic visual examples that outlines how we mentally construct our visual world (as well as the world interpreted through our other senses). The common view is that seeing is making an internal representation in our brains. O'Regan's new view is that seeing is knowing about things to do. This will make sense to you if you scan through O'Regan's very accessible introduction to the basic experiments and ideas: "Experience is not something we feel but something we do: a principled way of explaining sensory phenomenology, with Change Blindness and other empirical consequences."

One quote from the essay:
"In neuroscience today, one of the problems people are grappling with is to try to understand how a physical entity like a brain can give rise to something like the feeling of seeing, which is patently not physical.

Some as yet unknown mysterious, possibly even nonphysical mechanism has to be postulated to instill experience into the brain. But under the new view, the problem disappears, because experience is not in the brain at all.

It's in the doing of the exploration, and in the knowledge of the things that will change as you explore. Instead of the role of the brain being to generate the experience of seeing, the role of the brain simply becomes that of generating the exploratory activity which underlies the seeing, and that of holding the knowledge of current possibilities for action that underlies seeing.

Thus, the problem of finding a mechanism to generate experience in the brain disappears."

O'Regan's website provides links to his other work, and includes some excellent change blindness demonstrations, as well as a link to download his 2001 magnum opus in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

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