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Cartesian Creatures: Watching Ourselves Watching the World

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I propose that a scientific account of perceptual consciousness decomposes into two sub-problems: the conceptual problem of reframing our internal, first-personal perspective in external, thirdpersonal terms, and the scientific one of providing a theory that accounts for the phenomenon reframed in this way. In this paper I consider both aspects of the problem, drawing on the ideas of Dennett and Metzinger. For the first part, I use Dennett's method of heterophenomenology to argue that perceptual experience should be understood as a structured space of possible behaviours. On this view, each phenomenal 'detail' that we consciously apprehend is not quintessentially private, but rather a reflexive affordance: an opportunity to behave, perhaps covertly, about how the world looks, sounds, or feels from our perceptual vantage point. I then present a novel argument in favour of a higher-order, self-representationalist account of this aspect of our phenotype, along the lines of Metzinger's phenomenal model of the intentionality relation (PMIR). I conclude with the suggestion that a conscious organism has a design which is distinctly Cartesian in flavour: a self-simulating agent able to observe itself perceiving.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Alan Turing Institute, 96 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2DB., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2019

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