"Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us," writes Alva Noë. "It is something we do." In Action in Perception, Noë argues that perception and perceptual consciousness depend on capacities for action and thought—that perception is a kind of thoughtful activity. Touch, not vision, should be our model for perception. Perception is not a process in the brain, but a kind of skillful activity of the body as a whole. We enact our perceptual experience.
To perceive, according to this enactive approach to perception, is not merely to have sensations; it is to have sensations that we understand. In Action in Perception, Noë investigates the forms this understanding can take. He begins by arguing, on both phenomenological and empirical grounds, that the content of perception is not like the content of a picture; the world is not given to consciousness all at once but is gained gradually by active inquiry and exploration. Noë then argues that perceptual experience acquires content thanks to our possession and exercise of practical bodily knowledge, and examines, among other topics, the problems posed by spatial content and the experience of color. He considers the perspectival aspect of the representational content of experience and assesses the place of thought and understanding in experience. Finally, he explores the implications of the enactive approach for our understanding of the neuroscience of perception.
About the Author
Alva Noë is Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of California, Berkeley. He is the editor of Vision and Mind (MIT Press, 2002).
"[a] balanced, well-considered account of this hot topic."—Nature
"Bold and lucid, this book brings out the best in the philosophy of mind. No" shows that it is not enough to know the puzzling phenomena; you have to resist the tempting misinterpretations of them that have bedeviled cognitive scientists and philosophers alike. Here is a philosopher who can actually help cognitive scientists untangle the knotty problems of the mind."
—Daniel Dennett, author of Brainchildren, Consciousness Explained and Freedom Evolves
"Action packed and brimming with new ideas, provocative illustrations and clearly laid-out arguments, Action in Perception is a landmark contribution to the emerging science and philosophy of the embodied mind. Pursuing the idea that perceiving is a way of acting rooted in a certain kind of implicit understanding, No" tackles everything from phenomenology to the philosophy of content and consciousness. Empirically sensitive while remaining genuinely philosophical in scope and execution, this book is essential reading for philosophers of mind, cognitive scientists of all stripes and persuasions, and anyone interested in the nature of perception, thought and action."
—Andy Clark, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh
"The approach to perception No" lays out brings the study of perception back into its valid ecological context. I recommend this book to psychophysicists, neuroscientists, computational theorists, and anyone else interested in the rich experience and adaptive functions of perception. It is a pleasure to follow the colorful examples and the careful and cogent argumentation on issues that are essential to everyone."
—Shinsuke Shimojo, California Institute of Technology
Honorable Mention, 2007 Book Prize presented by the American Philosophical Association.