Volume 8 · Number 3 · Pages 298-313
Phenomenology and Embodied Action

Michael Beaton

Log in download the full text in PDF

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Context: The enactivist tradition, out of which neurophenomenology arose, rejects various internalisms – including the representationalist and information-processing metaphors – but remains wedded to one further internalism: the claim that the structure of perceptual experience is directly, constitutively linked only to internal, brain-based dynamics. Problem: I aim to reject this internalism and defend an alternative analysis. Method: The paper presents a direct-realist, externalist, sensorimotor account of perceptual experience. It uses the concept of counterfactual meaningful action to defend this view against various objections. Results: This account of experience matches certain first-person features of experience better than an internalist account could. It is fully tractable as “normal science.” Implications: The neuroscientific conception of brain function should change from that of internal representation or modelling to that of enabling meaningful, embodied action in ways that constitutively involve the world. Neurophenomenology should aim to match the structure of first-person experience with the structure of meaningful agent-world interactions, not with that of brain dynamics. Constructivist content: The sensorimotor approach shows us what external objects are, such that we may enact them, and what experience is, such that it may present us with those enacted objects.

Key words: Neurophenomenology, perception, experience, sensorimotor contingency theory, direct realism, externalism, qualia, counterfactuals


Beaton M. (2013) Phenomenology and embodied action. Constructivist Foundations 8(3): 298-313. http://constructivist.info/8/3/298

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Beaton M. (2016) Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World
Vörös S. & Bitbol M. (2017) Enacting Enaction: A Dialectic Between Knowing and Being
Valenzuela-Moguillansky C., Demšar E. & Riegler A. (2021) An Introduction to the Enactive Scientific Study of Experience
Valenzuela-Moguillansky C. & Vásquez-Rosati A. (2019) An Analysis Procedure for the Micro-Phenomenological Interview
Colombetti G. (2013) Some Ideas for the Integration of Neurophenomenology and Affective Neuroscience


Bauby J.-D. (1997) Le scaphandre et le papillon. Editions Robert Laffont, Paris. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Beaton M. (2009) An analysis of qualitative feel as the introspectible subjective aspect of a space of reasons. Doctoral thesis, University of Sussex. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Beaton M. (2009) Qualia and introspection. Journal of Consciousness Studies 16(5): 88–110. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Beer R. D. (2003) The dynamics of active categorical perception in an evolved model agent. Adaptive Behavior 11(4): 209–243. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Blinn J. (1996) Jim Blinn’s corner: A trip down the graphics pipeline. Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco CA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Bompas A. & O’Regan J. K. (2006) Evidence for a role of action in colour perception. Perception 35(1): 65–78. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Carrasco M. & McElree B. (2001) Covert attention accelerates the rate of visual information processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98(9): 5363–5367. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Crane T. (2006) Is there a perceptual relation? In: Gendler T. S. & Hawthorne J. (eds.) Perceptual experience. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 126–146. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Davidson D. (1974) On the very idea of a conceptual scheme. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 47: 5–20. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dennett D. C. (1991) Consciousness explained. Little, Brown & Co., Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foley J. D., van Dam A., Feiner S. K. & Hughes J. (1996) Computer graphics: Principles and practice. Second edition in C. Addison-Wesley, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Froese T. (2012) From adaptive behavior to human cognition: A review of enaction. Adaptive Behavior 20(3): 209–221. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Froese T., McGann M., Bigge W., Spiers A. & Seth A. K. (2012) The enactive torch: A new tool for the science of perception. IEEE Transactions on Haptics 5(4): 365–375. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gallagher S. & Zahavi D. (2008) The phenomenological mind. Routledge, Abingdon. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gibson J. J. (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Gitlin L. N. & Earland T. V. (2010) Improving quality of life in individuals with dementia: the role of non-pharmacologic approaches in rehabilitation. In: International encyclopedia of rehabilitation. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glüer K. & Wikforss Å. (2010) The normativity of meaning and content. In: Zalta E. N. (ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/meaning-normativity/.
Grush R. (2004) The emulation theory of representation: Motor control, imagery, and perception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27: 377–396. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Heidegger M. (1962) Being and time. Harper, New York. German original published in 1927. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Heidegger M. (1977) The origin of the work of art. In: Krell D. F. (ed., trans.) Martin Heidegger: Basic writings. Harper and Row, New York: 139–212. German original published in 1935. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hurley S. L. (1998) Consciousness in action. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hurley S. L. (2003) Animal action in the space of reasons. Mind and Language 18(3): 231–256. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husserl E. (1973) Logical investigations. Routledge, London. German original published in 1900. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Izquierdo E. & Buhrmann T. (2008) Analysis of a dynamical recurrent neural network evolved for two qualitatively different tasks: Walking and chemotaxis. In: Bullock S., Noble J., Watson R. & Bedau M. (eds.) Artificial life XI: Proceedings of the eleventh international conference on the simulation and synthesis of living systems. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 257–264. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Izquierdo E. & Di Paolo E. (2005) Is an embodied system ever purely reactive? In: Capcarrère M. S., Freitas A. A., Bentley P. J., Johnson C. G. & Timmis J. (eds.) Proceedings of the 8th European conference on sartificial life. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Jackson F. (1977) Perception: A representative theory. Cambridge University Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kahneman D., Slovic P. & Tversky A. (1982) Judgment under uncertainty: heuristics and biases. Cambridge University Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kapanidis A. N., Margeat E., Ho S. O., Kortkhonjia E., Weiss S. & Ebright R. H. (2006) Initial transcription by RNA polymerase proceeds through a DNA-scrunching mechanism. Science 314(5802): 1144–1147. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kennedy J. M. & Juricevic I. (2002) Optics and haptics: The picture. Paper presented at the conference on Multimodality of human communication: Theory, problems and applications. University of Toronto, 3–5 May 2002. http://www.semioticon.com/virtuals/multimodality2/talks/kennedy_juricevic.htm
Kennedy J. M. & Juricevic I. (2006) Blind man draws using diminution in three dimensions. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 13(3): 506–509. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kyselo M. (2012) From body to self – towards a socially enacted autonomy, with implications for locked-in syndrome and schizophrenia. Doctoral thesis, University of Osnabrück. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Laureys S. (ed.) (2005) The boundaries of consciousness: Neurobiology and neuropathology. Elsevier, Amsterdam. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Lloyd D. (2002) Functional MRI and the study of human consciousness. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 14(6): 818–831. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Martin M. G. F. (2006) On being alienated. In: Gendler T. S. & Hawthorne J. (eds.) Perceptual experience. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 354–410. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
McDowell J. (1996) Mind and world. With a new introduction by the author. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Meijaard J. P., Papadopoulos J. M., Ruina A. & Schwab A. L. (2007) Linearized dynamics equations for the balance and steer of a bicycle: A benchmark and review. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 463: 1955–1982. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Merleau-Ponty M. (1962) The phenomenology of perception. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. French original published in 1945. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Metzinger T. (2003) Being no one: The self-model theory of subjectivity. MIT Press, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Monti M. M., Vanhaudenhuyse A., Coleman M. R., Boly M., Pickard J. D., Tshibanda L., Owen A. M. & Laureys S. (2010) Willful modulation of brain activity in disorders of consciousness. New England Journal of Medicine 362(7): 579–589. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Noë A. (2003) Causation and perception: The puzzle unravelled. Analysis 63(2): 93–100. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Noë A. (2004) Action in perception. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Noë A. (ed.) (2002) Is the visual world a grand illusion? Imprint Academic, Exeter. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
O’Regan J. K. & Noë A. (2001) A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24(5): 939–1031. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
O’Regan J. K. (2011) Why red doesn’t sound like a bell. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
O’Regan J. K., Myin E. & Noë A. (2005) Phenomenal consciousness explained (better) in terms of bodiliness and grabbiness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4(4): 369–387. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
O’Regan J. K., Myin E. & Noë A. (2006) Skill, corporality and alerting capacity in an account of sensory consciousness. Progress in Brain Research 150: 55–68. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Palmer S., Rosch E. & Chase P. (1981) Canonical perspective and the perception of objects. In: Long J. & Baddeley A. (eds.) Attention and performance. Volume IX. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale NJ: 135–151. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Peacocke C. (2001) Does perception have a nonconceptual content? Journal of Philosophy 98: 239–264. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Petitmengin C. (2006) Describing one’s subjective experience in the second person: An interview method for the science of consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 5: 229–269. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Philipona D. L. & O’Regan J. K. (2006) Color naming, unique hues, and hue cancellation predicted from singularities in reflection properties. Visual Neuroscience 23(3–4): 331–339. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Philipona D. L. & O’Regan J. K. (2008) Reply to Johnson and Wright. Visual Neuroscience 25(2): 225–226. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Philipona D. L., O’Regan J. K. & Nadal J. P. (2003) Is there something out there? Inferring space from sensorimotor dependencies. Neural Computation 15(9): 2029–2049. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Putnam H. (1962) Brains and behavior. In: Butler R. J. (ed.) Analytical philosophy: Second series. Blackwell, Oxford: 211–235. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Putnam H. (1981) Reason, truth, and history. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rolfs M. (2009) Microsaccades: Small steps on a long way. Vision Research 49(20): 2415–2441. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Schwitzgebel E. (2012) Introspection. In: Zalta E. N. (ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/introspection/.
Searle J. (1992) The rediscovery of mind. MIT Press, Cambrdge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Sellars W. (1956) Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. In: Feigl H. & Scriven M. (eds.) Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science. Volume I: The foundations of science and the concepts of psychology and psychoanalysis. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis MN: 253–329. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Semple J. G. & Kneebone G. T. (1952) Algebraic projective geometry. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Shoemaker S. (1982) The inverted spectrum. Journal of Philosophy LXXIX(7): 357–381. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Shoemaker S. (1994) Phenomenal character. Noûs 28(1): 21–38. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Shoemaker S. (1996) The first-person perspective and other essays. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stillwell J. (2005) The four pillars of geometry. Springer, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stillwell J. (2008) Naive lie theory. Springer, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thompson E. (1995) Colour vision: A study in cognitive science and the philosophy of perception. Routledge Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thompson E. (2007) Mind in life. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Valentine T. (1988) Upside down faces: a review of the effect of inversion upon face recognition. British Journal of Psychology 79: 471–491. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1996) Neurophenomenology. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3(4): 330–349. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1999) The specious present: A neurophenomenology of time consciousness. In: Petitot J., Varela F. J., Roy J.-M. & Pachoud B. (eds.) Naturalizing phenomenology. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA: 266–314. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J., Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Vermersch P. (1994) L’entretien d’explicitation. ESF Editeurs, Paris. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Watson J. B. (1913) Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review 20: 158–177. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.