Human Centered Perception

First, we recognize that we are committed, somehow, to the notion of the P-world: the domain of first person singular, the now, extended into the specious present.

Then we recognize that it is hard to find the borders of the P-world in space-time.  We can track the limits of the senses, but memory, feeling and emotion ensure that we have a hard time finding borders.

Then we realize that the specious present extends into the future through the (Bayesian) notion of prediction.  Most things in the P-world are utterly predictable if we adopt a sufficiently modest temporal window.

Agents, or other sources of action, in the P-world introduce limits to predictability.  They thus represent a border.

You are the border of me.

Addendum: If we engage in strictly synchronized behavior, then we become much more predictable for each other, and the border recedes.

PPS: The hell of solitary confinement in prison is the openness, not the fictitious boundaries.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  ~ Anais Nin

What are we that we should see such?


The earworm phenomenon has fascinated me for years.  Why is our language of experience so impoverished that we can not even describe this thing?  To me it provides a very familiar example that highlights some conceptual distinctions not generally accepted.

One can distance one’s self from the tune in the head, by observing it, perhaps with annoyance.  Now it is a thing.  It is not hugely different from a teapot, which is out there in the world.  It can thus be apportioned to von Uexküll’s Merkwelt.

But it often is going on without being observed.  During such times, it may cause you to “spontaneously” break out into a hum or a whistle.  At such times, it is rather part of the “Wirkwelt”, and if we speak of it as a thing at all, it seems more clearly to belong to the subject.

It shares many properties in common with the kind of thought that we recognize as linguistic, or inner speech.  We describe thinking as an activity of the subject, but thoughts also come unbidden, and one can adopt a similarly dichotomous stance with respect to such thoughts. When viewing it as a thing, it is sometimes called an “occurrent thought”.  When ‘doing’ it, that seems odd.  But the difference is one of the stance we take towards it.

Merleau-Ponty, along with Wittgenstein and Sheets-Johnstone, insists that speech is not the clothes of thought, but is thought incarnate.

“The word and speech must somehow cease to be a way of designating things or thoughts, and become the presence of that thought in the phenomenal world, and, moreover, not its clothing but its token or body” (Merleau-Ponty, P of P, p. 182)

“Movement is not a medium by which thoughts emerge but rather, the thoughts themselves, significations in the flesh, so to speak” (MSJ, Thinking in Movement, p. 400)

“When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expression” (LW, PI, p. 107)

When we regard speech as an inner voice, we are viewing it in the Merkwelt.  When we simply think, it is all Wirkwelt.  It is to the latter that the above quotes pertain.  But I think we can learn to develop a technical language that acknowledges both facets of experience.  This is not dissimilar in spirit to William James’s notion of experience as an intersection of two lines – one the lived world of the subject, the other the conventional ontic world of teapots and tables.

Let’s define an anti-embodied cognitive science.

We start, not by disagreeing with the enactivists, but by agreeing with them up to, but excluding agency.  Let’s discard the assumption that the lived body is the locus of experience.  That should get the party started.

Then we wait for someone to cry foul.  We take their argument, whatever it is, and we examine its agential commitments, and associated mentalese. There is no test one can do to distinguish between the tumblebot and the goldfish without presuming some locus of agency.  There will be many domains of relative autonomy though.

Take whatever ‘mind’ is offered, and call it the P-world.  The domain of present experience.  Identify the P-world in a variety of ways: Umwelt, milieu, consciousness.  The P-bomb is, of course, that the P-world does not exist.  It is a construct that allows the discussion of a world.

What’s the endgame?  Do we no longer draw the boundary at the species?  Is this the way to realize that we are the natural world?  We are the world we see.

The search for agency within the enactive movement is nothing more or less than an attempt to find a basis for “we”.  It is a search for that with which one identifies.  The mistake of trying to ground it in a “we” made up of individual human animals is a problem.  Agency lies wherever you shine the light.  The agency of a dyad is real.

Furthermore, once one has chosen to identify a given domain as agentive, one creates a blindspot.  Behind that, we must explain with non-observable constructs, like the shallow tinker toys of mechanistic psychology.

So much blood and ink has been spilt trying to bridge the gap between something called mind and something called world. The gap I seek to bridge is instead between something called experience and something called language. This we can do. And with that the game is won.

This is understood in economics.  It validates the discipline.

But that entails the need to agree on what constitutes a measurement.  Without measurement, no price.  Measurement, in turn, always depends implicitly upon a model of the agent.  Cognitivist models come in many flavors.  But each of these has economic consequences; various models of rationality; various accounts of the Perception-Cognition-Action arc.  The assumptions of each of these accounts are used to validate a host of measurements.

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