Narcissistic Sensations and Intentional Directedness: How Second-Order Cybernetics Helps Dissolve the Tension Between the Egocentric Character of Sensory Information and the (Seemingly) World-Centered Character of Cognitive Representations
In a paper published several years ago, philosopher Kathleen Akins pointed out a fundamental problem characterizing virtually all contemporary naturalistic theories of mental content. The problem lies in the mistaken presupposition that the senses are veridical recorders of objective external facts. In contradistinction, Akins argues convincingly that, rather than being veridical, the senses are narcissistic (i.e., egocentric) and action-oriented. She then arrives at the surprising conclusion that, since ordinary intentionality, of the sort exemplified in higher cognitive processes, is non-narcissistic, explaining the workings of the sensory systems cannot help us understand how ordinary intentionality is rendered possible. In this paper I argue that while Akins's observation regarding the narcissistic nature of the senses is timely and correct, her pessimistic conclusion to the effect that the senses are irrelevant for an explanation of mental content is unjustified. A system-theoretic, interactive, account of content is proposed which depicts the entire space of intentional phenomena as narcissistic and action oriented, thereby avoiding Akins' allegedly irreconcilable gap between sensory information and higher cognitive information.