perception as the potential for sensation

From O’Regan, J. K., & Noë, A. (2002). A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(05), 939-973:

Particularly interesting is the work being done by Lenay (1997), using an extreme simplification of the echolocation device, in which a blind or blindfolded person has a single photoelectric sensor attached to his or her forefinger, and can scan a simple environment (e.g., consisting of several isolated light sources) by pointing. Every time the photophotosensor points directly at a light source, the subject hears a beep or feels a vibration. Depending on whether the finger is moved laterally, or in an arc, the subject establishes different types of sensorimotor contingencies: lateral movement allows information about direction to be obtained, movement in an arc centered on the object gives information about depth. Note several interesting facts. First, users of such a device rapidly say that they do not notice vibrations on their skin or hear sounds, rather they “sense” the presence of objects outside of them. Note also that at a given moment during exploration of the environment, subjects may be receiving no beep or vibration whatsoever, and yet “feel” the presence of an object before them. In other words, the experience of perception derives from the potential to obtain changes in sensation, not from the sensations themselves. Note also that the exact nature or body location of the stimulation (beep or vibration) has no bearing on perception of the stimulus – the vibration can be applied on the finger or anywhere else on the body. This again shows that what is important is the sensorimotor invariance structure of the changes in sensation, not the sensation itself.

Lenay, C. (1997) Le mouvement des boucles sensori-motrices aux représentations cognitives et langagières. Paper presented at the Sixième Ecole d’Eté de l’Association pour la Recherche Cognitive.

4 replies on “perception as the potential for sensation”

It gets better

In our view, the qualia debate rests on what Ryle (1949/1990) called a category mistake. Qualia are meant to be properties of experiential states or events. But experiences, we have argued, are not states. They are ways of acting. They are things we do. There is no introspectibly available property determining the character of one’s experiential states, for there are no such states. Hence, there are, in this sense at least, no (visual) qualia. Qualia are an illusion, and the explanatory gap is no real gap at all

Does this mean blind people should be able to ‘see’ where they are going to some extent using this sensation? Is there any evidence for that?

Thanks. I was wondering if there are any blind people who actually rely on this when they are walking around. Would big objects be easier to sense than small ones? and would shape be communicated as well – i.e. the shape of a lampost compared to a car?

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