Visual Awareness and Visuomotor Action
Recent work in "embodied, embedded" cognitive science links mental contents to large-scale distributed effects: dynamic patterns implicating elements of (what are traditionally seen as) sensing, reasoning and acting. Central to this approach is an idea of biological cognition as profoundly "action-oriented" - geared not to the creation of rich, passive inner models of the world, but to the cheap and efficient production of real-world action in real-world context. A case in point is Hurley's (1998) account of the profound role of motor output in fixing the contents of conscious visual awareness - an account that also emphasizes distributed vehicles and long-range dynamical loops. Such stories can seem dramatically opposed to accounts, such as Milner and Goodale (1995), that stress relatively local mechanisms and that posit firm divisions between processes of visual awareness and of visuomotor action. But such accounts, I argue, can be deeply complimentary and together illustrate an important lesson. The lesson is that cognition may be embodied and action-oriented in two distinct - but complimentary - ways. There is a way of being embodied and action-oriented that implies being closely geared to the fine-grained control of low level effectors (hands, arms, legs and so on). And there is a way of being embodied and action-oriented that implies being closely geared to gross motor intentions, current goals, and schematic motor plans. Human cognition, I suggest, is embodied and action-oriented in both these ways. But the neural systems involved, and the size and scope of the key dynamic loops, may be quite different in each case.