Is the Visual World a Grand Illusion?

Alva Noë “Is the visual world a grand illusion?” Journal of Consciousness Studies. Volume 9, No 5/6, 2002: 1-12.

p. 10 “In general, our sense of the perceptual presence of the detailed world does not consist in our representation of all the detail in consciousness now. Rather, it consists in our access now to all of the detail, and to our knowledge that we have this access. This knowledge takes the form of our comfortable mastery of the rules of sensorimotor dependence that mediate our relation to our immediate environment. My sense of the presence of the whole cat behind the fence consists precisely in my knowledge, my implicit understanding, that by a movement of the eye or the head or the body I can bring bits of the cat into view that are now hidden. This is one of the central claims of the enactive or sensorimotor approach to perception.”

p. 11 “The enactive approach to perception—with its emphasis on the centrality of our possession of sensorimotor skills — provides the basis, then, for a satisfying reply to the sceptic, but only provided that we adopt a more plausible phenomenology of perceptual experience. On this more plausible account, it is not the case that we take ourselves to represent the whole scene in consciousness all at once. The enactive, sensorimotor account explains how it can be that we enjoy an experience of worldly detail which is not represented in our brains. The detail is present— the perceptual world is present—in the sense that we have a special kind of access to the detail, an access controlled by patterns of sensorimotor dependence with which we are familiar. The visual world is not a grand illusion.”

Comments to enactive theories of perception and cognition from Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness

Section Can qualia be reduced to the exercise of sensory-motor skills?

p. 100 “If true, this would be a genuine advance in our understanding of how visual perception works. But what about our understanding of consciousness? While questions about perceptual functioning and about the nature of conscious phenomenology are, in principle, separable, a number of enactive theorists claim them to be connected: according to them, if one understands perceptual functioning in an enactive way as mastery of a set of sensory-motor skills, one can also understand the nature of conscious experience including its ‘qualia’ in this way, thereby (hopefully) resolving this ‘hard’ problem of consciousness.

p. 101 “It should be apparent from earlier discussions above that this reductive identification of conscious ‘feel’ with the exercising of a sensory-motor skill is a variant of reductive functionalism, even though it locates the relevant functioning in the skiful interaction of organisms with the surrounding world rather than in causal relationships that are exclusively located within the brain.”

p. 102 “Piloting a 747 no doubt feels like something to a human pilot, and the way that it feels is likely to have something to do with human biology. But why should it feel the same way to an electronic autopilot that replaces the skills exercised by a human being? Or why should it feel like anything to be the control system of a guided missile system? Anyone versed in the construction of electronic control systems knows that if one builds a system in the right way, it will function just as it is intended to do, whether it feels like anything to be that system or not. If so, functioning in an electronic (or any other) system is logically tangential to whether it is like anything to be that system, leaving the hard problem of why it happens to feel a certain way in humans untouched.”

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