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What is the relation to Merleau Ponty/Heidegger/Bergson/Al Hazen



There are various points of similarity between aspects of the thinking of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty on perception and the sensorimotor approach. As in is done in the sensorimotor approach, Merleau-Ponty wants to replace the picture of perception as a primarily internal event, which in the visual case, often involves an iconic replica, with a conception of vision as an active, and further-action-oriented, exploration of the environment. Some of the metaphors used by Merleau-Ponty, such as seeing as having a visual 'grasp' on the world, seeing as palpation and the comparison between touch and vision in general, seem very congenial to the sensorimotor approach, and in some passages in the 'Phénomenology de la perception', Merlau-Ponty seems to anticipate specific aspects of the sensorimotor theory.
Nevertheless, Merlau-Ponty's agenda remains mainly purely philosophical: he struggles with the difference and the (im)possible reconciliation between the body and the world as present or 'lived' in experience, and as studied objectively by science and how this theme relates to traditional thinking in western philosophy. Also, there are clearly points of dissimilarity: the idea that 'cognitive access' is required for consciousness would be rejected by Merleau-Ponty as a piece of 'intellectualist thinking' about the mind and consciousness.  



Bergson established in his book "Matière et mémoire" (1896) the basis of a sensorimotor theory of perception. This theory, radically new for the end of the nineteenth century, replaced the cycle action/perception in the centre of the perceptual activity. In particular, Bergson proposed to consider that the body is only devoted to action, and that perception is a bodily and pragmatic function. Action is a motor response to a sensory stimulation. This action can be immediate or deferred. If action is deferred, the afferent movement doesn’t prolong itself as action, and is deployed in this period as perception. Consciousness arises only when action is not automatic. Action is selection in the world of what interests the body, and perception is only this action during the time when it hasn’t found its outcome. Thus, the selection done by action of what interests the body is a condition of perception. Perception is vision of details selected first by sensory-motor mechanisms, and it retains from its sensory-motor origin its discriminative function. Its content are things themselves: we see directly on things, no internal representation is constructed. Thus, the body, considered as an organ only devoted to action, has in no manner the function of construction of representations. "Matière et Mémoire" defends a very actual theory, but it hasn’t been re-actualised with the same enthusiasm as others as "la phénoménologie de la perception" of Merleau-Ponty. This can be due to Bergson’s spiritualism. For him, the question of the link between action and perception aims at re-establishing the continuity between perceptive faculties and motor faculties. However, this was done in order to establishes a better cut between motor faculties in general and thinking faculties, that is between body and mind. In fact, Bergson investigated the links between body and perception in a perspective that showed the incompatibility between perception and thinking. Perception is an interested activity. The proof will be contained in the assertion that perception is action. The next step is showing that thinking is not an interested activity at all. Thus, from a sensorimotor theory of perception, Bergson infers a spiritualist theory of memory. There can be here an invitation. Defending a sensorimotor theory of perception invites either to accept a spiritualism concerning memory or to propose an alternative which is consistent with the hypothesis of such a theory of perception.
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Al Hazen

(well, Al Hazen probably said it all before...)

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