Interfacing consciousness, action and vision

Consciousness research journal Psyche has just released a new issue that tackles the limits of vision and visual cognition.

The issue starts with an article summarising the main arguments in the book Ways of Seeing by philosopher Pierre Jacob and neuroscientist Marc Jeannerod.

The book tackles the interface between vision and our other psychological abililties and particularly focuses on the visual pathways.

These are the two main pathways that run from the visual cortex at the back of the brain either through the dorsal stream to the parietal lobes, or the ventral stream to the temporal lobes.

The dorsal stream is sometimes called the ‘where’ stream as it seems to process the location of objects, whereas the ventral stream is sometimes called the ‘what’ stream as it seems to process the identification and meaning of objects.

After brain injury, one stream could be damaged and the other left intact, so a patient, when shown an object, might be able to tell you what it’s for, but would not be able to point to its location.

This distinction is particularly important when considering how we act based on visual information, as it is known that we don’t always access both these streams of information to the same degree for different types of action, and we aren’t always conscious of all the visual information we use during action.

Exactly how the interaction between conscious and unconscious information occurs, and the exact function of the streams, is still a mystery and this exactly what Jacob and Jeannerod tackle in their Psyche article:

Visually guided actions raise a different (almost complementary) puzzle: how can actions directed towards a target be so accurate in the absence of the agent’s awareness of many of the target’s visual attributes? Ways of Seeing (WoS) has three related goals, the first of which is to make the case for a broadly representational approach to the above set of puzzles.

The second goal of WoS is to argue that the version of the ‘two-visual systems’ model of human vision best supported by the current empirical evidence has the resources to solve the puzzle of visually guided actions, which has been at the center of much recent work in the cognitive neuroscience of vision and action.

The third goal of WoS is to draw attention to some of the tensions between acceptance of the two-visual systems model of human vision and some influential views about the nature and function of the content of visual experience espoused by philosophers in response to the puzzles raised by visual experience.

The remaining articles in the issue are debate from philosophers and cognitive scientists who question whether these two visual systems really create distinct forms of mental content, and whether the object-based actions and social actions are handled differently by the brain.

The journal is open-access, so all articles are freely available online.

Link to Psyche.

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