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From action to interaction

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Marc Jeannerod is director of the Institut des Sciences Cognitives in Lyon. His work in neuropsychology focuses on motor action. The idea that there is an essential relationship between bodily movement, consciousness, and cognition is not a new one, but recent advances in the technologies of brain imaging have provided new and detailed support for understanding this relationship. Experimental studies conducted by Jeannerod and his colleagues at Lyon have explored the details of brain activity, not only as we are actively moving, but as we plan to move, as we imagine moving, and as we observe others move. His work also captures important distinctions between pathological and non-pathological experience. In The Cognitive Neuroscience of Action (1997), Jeannerod focussed on object-oriented actions. What happens in the brain and what do we experience when we reach to grasp an object? How do we plan an action of that sort? To what extent does explicit motor imagery contribute to such action? What role does a motor representation or motor schema play in the accomplishment of action? At the very end of that book he raises questions that seem quite different. How is it possible to understand the intentions of others? Precisely what mechanisms allow us to imitate other people's actions? In more recent years much of Jeannerod's work has been in pursuit of these questions about interaction with others, and he has helped to show that there are intimate connections between moving ourselves and understanding others.

Jeannerod's work does not lack important implications for a philosophical understanding of human activity. Although in contemporary philosophical debates on consciousness one can still find arguments that simply ignore bodily movement as an important factor in cognition, several recent works have returned to serious consideration of movement and action (e.g., Hurley, 1999; Sheets-Johnstone, 2000). In the following interview Jeannerod discusses many issues relevant to the philosophy of mind and action, including concepts of intentionality, movement and consciousness of movement, the role of simulation in understanding others, and the best way to conceptualize brain processes in all of these regards. Importantly, he makes constant reference to the empirical evidence, much of it developed in his own experimental studies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY 14208, USA. Email:[email protected]

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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