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SEVEN Perception and Action An operationalist reading of the pragmatic maxim would have us believe that our concepts will not be as clear as they might be if we cannot define them in terms of sensible results of activities in the world—or more accurately, in terms of conceivable sensible results of conceivable activities in the world. We have argued above (mostly by pointing to examples) that science in general, from this perspective , cannot honestly accommodate a passively-detached-spectator conception of observation. We will argue further that science also cannot allow even a passivelydetached -spectator conception of perception. The point here is that much of the force of the pragmatic maxim lies in the fact that animal experience is deeply rooted in activity—all the way down—in which case, of course, those are going to be the kinds of considerations on which one ultimately depends to clarify one’s thinking. There are no other viable options. For what it is worth, the idea that perception is interactive is not just the Kantian idea that certain “categories of understanding” impose structure on a sensory manifold. Nor is it merely the legitimate inferentialist claim that observation is theory-laden. Nor is it the idea that perception is ampliative (which it is, no doubt). The point here is simply that perception in a fundamental way is physically active and that we need to better understand what it amounts to to say that. ‘Enactivism’ is a blanket label for a class of theoretical approaches in the cognitive sciences that promote the claim that ordinary perception is intrinsically interactive. Enactivism emphasizes the ways that live creatures (including human beings) live as organisms interacting in suitable ways with a changing environment . Enactivists of various stripes are not all on the same page in this regard, but presumably a fundamental emphasis on organism/environment interactions is common to any form of enactivism. That is, perceptual as well as higher forms of cognitive functionality are alleged to be rooted in such interactive capabilities. This has broad implications for how we understand life, learning, experience, culture, and so on; and that can be problematic given that it is too easy to lose sight of the basis for those broad implications—the basis being the simple fact, namely, that perception and other fundamental life activities are just that: activities. Even among enactivists (for example, Hurley 1998; 2006) it has been too easy to emphasize functional aspects of perception and lose sight of its operational nature. 80 PERCEPTION AND ACTION / 81 Enactivism (or at least the label) has been around for several decades, encompassing a wide range of work in a number of fields—see Noë 2004 (17) for a long list of references. The opening paragraph of chapter 1 of Noë’s Action in Perception (2004) immediately gets to the point in describing an enactivist approach to perception: The main idea of this book is that perceiving is a way of acting. Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us. It is something we do. Think of a blind person tap-tapping his or her way around a cluttered space, perceiving that space by touch, not all at once, but through time, by skillful probing and movement. This is, or ought to be, our paradigm of what perceiving is. The world makes itself available to the perceiver through physical movement and interaction. In this book I argue that all perception is touch-like in this way: Perceptual experience acquires content thanks to our possession of bodily skills. What we perceive is determined by what we do (or what we know how to do); it is determined by what we are ready to do. In ways I try to make precise, we enact our perceptual experience; we act it out. (Noë 2004, 1) We will not investigate Noë’s position in detail, but the book from which the quote above was taken is worth reading to see how this idea of perception as a way of acting is developed and justified. See also section 6 of Noë 2006, a paper that addresses the problem of perceptual consciousness from an enactive-externalist perspective. Rowlands’s “vehicle externalist” development of an enactivist conception of representation (2006) is also promising as a way of developing pragmatist themes in the philosophy of mind. This recent work by Noë, Rowlands, and others (including Clark 1993; 2001) followed earlier seminal work by Johnson and Lakoff dealing with embodied cognition (see, e.g...


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