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The perceptual form of life

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To view organismic functioning in terms of integration is a mistake, although the concept has dominated scientific thinking this century. The operative concept for interpreting the organism proposed here is that of ‘articulation’ or decomposition rather than that of composition from segregated parts. It is asserted that holism is the fundamental state of all phenomena, including organisms. The impact of this changed perspective on perceptual theorizing is profound. Rather than viewing it as a process resulting from internal integration of isolated features detected by receptor neurons into a perceptual whole, the new theory suggests that the task of perceptual processing is to break up what initially exists holistically in sense organs into features and eventually perceived objects. Similarly, the goal of perceptual activity is not Sherrington's, that of integrating essentially unrelated organisms with their environmental surround, but rather to generate percepts in which the environment appears as a field of objects and events independent of the perceiver which are available for manipulation. Perception is a process by which organisms use their embeddedness in physical reality as if they were independent of it. There are a number of interesting results of this conceptual reorientation. The binding problem is eliminated because the percept's holistic character is the precondition for neural activity, not its product. The concept of representation can be dispensed with since the fundamental conceptual motivation for its introduction -- the assumed need to produce an internal copy of what was assumed to exist independently outside the organism in order to integrate organismic behaviour with its environmental causes -- is rejected outright. And finally, the issue of perceptual consciousness is addressed: how does the percept acquire its objective status vis-a-vis a perceiver, and what is the basis of the experiential character of perception?
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Keywords: biological "use"; consciousness; holistic theory of perception; neural articulation; neural integration; neural mass action; neural representation; neural self-organization; objectivity of the percept; percept formation; perceptual system functioning; perceptual system model; perceptual theory; the binding problem

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-11-01

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