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Dynamic Interactions With The Environment Make Up Our Psychological Phenomena: A Review of Noe's Out of Our Heads.

The traditional, and still standard, view of psychological (or mental) phenomena in some empirical sciences holds that they take place inside the organism's body and can be individuated independently of external factors. The organism's behaviors are, according to this view, mere effects, rather then constituents, of psychological phenomena. And the fact that, for example, an organism is desiring something instead of something else is taken to be a matter entirely of what is inside the organism. The current versions of the view are usually couched in materialistic terms, identifying psychological phenomena with brain phenomena. However, as Noe, in this book, and some other authors (e.g., Bennett and Hacker 2003; Rowlands 2003) point out, such approaches are still Cartesian in spirit. Despite doing away with the nonphysical dimension of Descartes' doctrine, they too believe our psychological phenomena (e.g., desires, expectations, emotions) are inner causes of behavior and can be, in principle, individuated independently of reference to external factors. Visual perception, for example, is often taken as something that happens essentially in our brains, starting from supposed impoverished stimulation on the retina and, after some sorts of inferences said to be made by the brain, ending with the production of representations of the environment in the visual cortex, largely independently of the organism's surroundings. Nobel Prize-winning biologist Francis Crick once suggested the identification of mind with the brain is an "astonishing hypothesis," but Noe draws attention to the fact that this hypothesis is not astonishing at all, for it is basically Descartes's perspective in materialistic guise (p. 5). (1)

Noe's (2009) Out of Our Heads is aimed at a broad audience interested in matters related to psychological phenomena. The book (i) calls into question the traditional view, which enjoys popularity not only within academic contexts but also in our culture more generally, and (ii) tries to convince the public of a quite different look (which bears resemblances to the views exposed by authors such as Kan tor 1947; Rachlin 1994; Ryle 1949; Skinner 1976/1974), according to which, mind (i.e., psychological phenomena), particularly consciousness (i.e., the experiential psychological phenomena, such as perceptual processes; e.g., seeing, touching), is rather more like dancing than digestion: That "the locus of consciousness is the dynamic life of the whole, environmentally plugged-in person or animal" and "the phenomenon of consciousness, like that of life itself, is a world-involving dynamic process" (p. xiii). In other words, the book puts forward, as an alternative to the traditional view, the idea that psychological phenomena are made up of dynamic interactions of the whole organism with its environment, sometimes even incorporating concrete objects of the environment. As a corollary, the book (iii) urges that the brain-centrist sciences of psychological phenomena, such as mainstream cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience, are misguided and need rethinking from the ground up. According to the author, a science of these phenomena should instead be centered on the dynamic interactions of the organism as a whole with its environment. Brain structures and processes are important as well, of course, but mainly because of the crucial role they play in subserving these interactions.

The book is divided into eight chapters. In the following, I summarize and comment on some (but by no means all) of the points in them, with a focus on the first four chapters. As will become clear, I am sympathetic to several of Noe's claims in this book. My critical comments here are intended to contribute constructively to the general sort of (though not necessarily the specific) extemalism he suggests, which, while recognizing the crucial role of intraorganismic structures and processes for psychological phenomena, gives prominent place to dynamic interactions of the whole organism with its environment. (2)

Mereology of Psychological Phenomena and the Idea That Consciousness Is Something One Does

In Chapter 1, Noe describes the standard view in mainstream neuroscience as a "kind of 'gastric juices' conception of consciousness," that is, the idea that consciousness happens the way digestion does in the stomach (pp. 6-7). According to it, the brain itself is sufficient for psychological phenomena and for experiences in particular. Noe goes on to suggest what he considers to be a real, astonishing hypothesis, according to which experiences are not things that happen to us and in our brains, but instead are things the organism as a whole does or accomplishes, by actively interacting with the environment. In the author's words, "consciousness isn't something that happens inside us: it is something that we do, actively, in our dynamic interaction with the world around us" (p. 24). As a premise against the standard view, and in favor of this alternative perspective, Noe takes advantage of the mereological remark (which can be found in Ryle 1949; Wittgenstein 1953; and more recently, in Bennett and Hacker 2003) that psychological phenomena are ascribable only to the organism as a whole and on behavioral grounds. Here, the author mentions Wittgenstein, who "wrote that it is only of what looks and behaves like a person that we say it sees, thinks, feels," and states that "the problem with a brain is that it doesn't look and behave like a person" (p. 12). Noe also points out that the images produced by brain-scan technologies (such as PET and fMRI) can, therefore, give us information only as to the neural underpinnings of psychological phenomena and should not be taken as images of them. There is no such thing as a set of neural structures and processes sufficient for them.

Another point presented in chapter 1 is a clarification of the notion of consciousness as used in the book. Namely, Noe states that what he means by "consciousness" is roughly synonymous with "experience" (p. 8). Rachlin (2012) complains that Noe does not explain in any place in the book what he means when he says or implies (e.g., pp. 26, 42, 61, 65) that "the world shows up in consciousness," and accuses Noe of surreptitiously introducing the Cartesian dogma while questioning it. I think this complaint is not charitable enough to the text. When Noe says that "the world shows up for us" or "in consciousness," it seems he is referring to the way the world appears in our experiences (e.g., the way things appear to us when we are touching, hearing, or imagining particular things), and for him our experiences are far from being confined to the organism's insides or individuated independently of external factors.

Concerning Noe's positive proposal, I point out that, first, despite being, I think, in the right direction (namely, in the direction of an externalism that gives prominent place to behavior-environment interactions in the analysis of the constitution of psychological phenomena), it is not an entirely astonishing hypothesis, either. It displays features that a conceptual analysis of psychological categories is able to disclose. His proposal grasps, as it indeed should (on pain of losing sight of what is at issue), certain important general nuances of psychological concepts as they are ordinarily used, hence, not amounting to an entirely astonishing or surprising hypothesis about matters of the mind. The Cartesian dogma is by no means something inherent to the ordinary way of ascribing psychological phenomena, which, I submit, is actually more in harmony with the general sort of (even though, as I shall argue latter on, not the specific) externalism the author puts forward. For example, the mereological remark emphasized by the author is revealed by an analysis of the ordinary use of psychological concepts; that is, it reveals that it only makes sense to ascribe desires, beliefs, fears, jealousy, the ability to play the piano, and so forth to the entire organism and not, for example, to the brain or its parts. We do not say, for instance, that the brain of a person is afraid of dogs, but rather that the person is afraid (for details, see Bennett and Hacker 2003).

Second, it must be said that psychological phenomena of some categories are not things the organism does. Some of them, including perceiving, thinking, imagining, recalling, and paying attention, are indeed things the organism does. However, sensations (e.g., having itches, tickles, pains), emotions (e.g., being afraid of something, angry with somebody, jealous of somebody) and appetites (e.g., being thirsty, hungry), for example, are things the organism has or undergoes. It does not make sense (or, in Ryle's terms, it amounts to a category mistake) to say that we do things like itches, pains, fears, jealousy, or hunger. These are not the sorts of things one performs. Granted, behaviors such as grimacing and smiling can make up instances of some of these psychological phenomena, as Noe seems to suggest (pp. 14-15). To my mind, psychological phenomena in general are constituted by behavior-environment interactions (which, I would say, can sometimes involve covert behaviors and stimuli, i.e., roughly, behaviors or stimuli relatively unapparent in the outside body (3)), but from this it does not follow that psychological phenomena are overall things we do or accomplish. Some of them (e.g., emotions, appetites) are dispositional. As such, they are constituted by behaviors in different moments given the contexts or situations to which they are associated (cf. Ryle 1949). And behaviors, in these cases, do not amount to chains of episodic behaviors. They cannot be individuated as a singular, extended behavior or activity, and thus cannot be said to be things an organism does, accomplishes, or performs.

"Other Minds," Behavior, and Life

In Chapter 2, Noe goes on to tackle some issues related to the traditional problem of other minds, that is, to the problem of how we can be justified in ascribing mindfulness to others (not only people but also to organisms of other species and perhaps even robots). 1 don't find this chapter entirely clear. Here, Noe suggests that a purely detached stance towards others, including the measurement of neural activity and observations of behavior, does not yield knowledge of other minds (p. 26). According to him, neural activity alone cannot produce consciousness, for consciousness involves dynamic interactions of the whole organism with the environment, and this is consistent with what he says in Chapter 1 and elsewhere. However, since he claims that psychological phenomena are made up of such interactions, it sounds a little contradictory to say that observations of behavior do not yield knowledge of other minds. In case the author wants to say that knowledge of an organism's psychological phenomena requires consideration of the larger environment as well, then the inconsistency is only apparent. Perhaps he wants to say that this knowledge requires some sort of interpretation or intimacy, but knowledge of the behaviors of organisms probably does not require less of that. For behaviors are not simply bodily movements; they have a goal-directed character, that is, purposes or functions, which stem from phylogenetic and/or ontogenetic histories of interaction with the environment. Understanding them is far from being a matter of simply observing movements (see Lazzeri 2014b; Millikan 1993).

Chapter 2 also raises doubts about the "theory of mind" account of the false-belief test. In a common false-belief test, someone (X) puts an object, say a candy, in a box (bl), goes out, and then someone else (Y) puts the candy in another box (b2). When X goes back, children are asked where X will look for the candy. It turns out that children younger than 4 years or so tend not to realize that X will look for the candy in bl instead of b2 (or, in other words, that X has a false belief about the location of the candy). According to the "theory of mind" account, this happens because these children have not yet developed the capacity to explain and predict the behaviors of others attributing psychological phenomena taken as private causes of such behaviors.

Noe points out that children are actually quite sensitive to the emotions, beliefs, intentions, and so on of others long before they pass the false-belief test. They indeed do not adopt a theoretical strategy towards others; that is, they do not ascribe behavior to beliefs and so forth as a scientist ascribes a given event or fact to theoretical, unobservable entities. And, according to Noe, neither does anybody else, except in some exceptional circumstances, as when a physician has to decide whether a patient who is in a persistent vegetative state has any consciousness. The false-belief test, according to Noe, only shows that young children do not engage in a detached stance towards others. And, he points out, they actually are quite right about that. Understanding "other minds," he seems to suggest, requires some familiarity to another people that goes beyond simply observing "mere gestures and behaviors" (p. 31). (But does not it amount to some familiarity with the others' behaviors and the relevant sorts of circumstances?) So, when it comes to the question of whether we are justified in accepting that other people and organisms of other species have minds, the author claims that the question misleadingly assumes we should take up a detached stance towards them, and this is why it is simply ruled out from our practical exchanges with each other (p. 34). Noe does not give an explanation of the false beliefs in the false-belief test, but makes a case against the theory-of-mind view.

As regards this last point, the author could have said alternatively that many, perhaps most, instances of psychological phenomena are largely transparent in the history of the organism's interaction with the environment, if not in its current interactions (for some recent realizations of this point, though in different ways, see, e.g., Rachlin 2012; Stout 2010). Very often we need to look beyond what a person is currently doing in order to figure out his or her beliefs, intentions, expectations, fears, character traits, and so on, but this amounts to taking into account also his or her relevant past, and sometimes observing future, interactions (see Rachlin 1994; Ryle 1949). Simply put, there is no serious difficulty with the traditional problem of other minds, for it is based on false Cartesian assumptions.

In Chapter 2, Noe also raises the question as to whether we can really have a science of psychological phenomena. Science, at least natural science, has a detached, dispassionate attitude towards its subject matter, but, according to Noe, the appreciation of such phenomena in others requires a different, more intimate attitude. The author considers that the perspective taken by at least some biological sciences is not an entirely detached and dispassionate one, as long as they recognize the emergence of the organisms as environmentally embedded units in their own right, without attempting to reduce them to physicochemical processes and mechanisms. And once one recognizes organisms as environmentally embedded units, one recognizes them as things with interests, needs, and points of view, hence as displaying some kinds of mental phenomena (p. 41). So, for Noe (somewhat resonating with Aristotle; cf., e.g., Smith 1981), the extension of the concept of life coincides with that of the concept of mind. Where we see a living being, we can see mindfulness, for its mindfulness consists of dynamic interactions with the environment, and these interactions are constitutive of life. Indeed, life has much to do with search for food, avoidance of predators and other dangerous situations, search for mating opportunities, and the like. Even in a bacterium, for instance, we can appreciate psychological phenomena, such as intentions to obtain certain nutrients, and desires to avoid certain threatening situations. In Noe's words,
   we should not think of consciousness as something that
   goes on inside us. The mind of the bacterium does not
   consist in something about the way it is internally organized.
   It pertains, rather, to the way it actively meshes
   with its environment and gears into it. (p. 42)

To my view, the author is quite right that every living being exhibits psychological phenomena, since these phenomena are made up of different sorts of interactions with the environment. This point is highly significant because, among other things, it suggests a decentralization of the ascription of psychological phenomena from only human beings, their pets, and some other vertebrates. It brings attention to the evolutionary roots of these phenomena and to similarities between our behaviors and those we find in the whole realm of life.

Nonetheless, I have doubts about Noe's idea that any detached attitude is unable to afford us appreciation of psychological phenomena in others. Noe associates this attitude with reductionist and mechanistic thinking. It is true that recognizing the environmentally embedded organism as an emergent unit is inconsistent with reducing the organism to the physicochemical processes that happen inside it. However, this seems compatible with understanding the dynamic interactions the organism engages in or undergoes as being governed by learning and behavior mechanisms (e.g., reflex mechanisms, the law of effect). In other words, there seems to be no incompatibility between appreciating psychological phenomena in other organisms and, at the same time, understanding their dynamic environmental interactions in terms of such mechanisms (including the relevant independent variables); for this understanding does not rule out, if not actually implies, recognition of the environment-organism bend as emergent individuality.

Our Strong Entanglement With the Environment and the Idea That (Nonbehavioral) Objects in It Can Compose Our Psychological Phenomena

Resonating Clark and Chalmers (1998), Chapter 4 begins with the question as to where we stop and the rest of the world begins. And naturally, like Clark and Chalmers, Noe claims that our boundaries go beyond our brains and skin. Here he offers as a reason in favor of this claim the fact that we are strongly entangled with our environments. Changes in our environments are bound to give rise to changes in ourselves. Noe provides as an illustration of this point the intuitive fact that immigrants tend to feel disconcerted once they arrive at their new countries, because of the significant changes they usually have to undergo there.

Organisms, indeed, are strongly entangled with their environments. An organism's behavior patterns are associated with features of its habitat, so that changes in the latter lead to changes in the former. Sometimes new behavior patterns are shaped or arise out of the combination of previous ones; sometimes some of them get optimized and still others are extinguished. In any case, the configuration of the organism's behavioral repertoire is transformed to some extent, and so are at least some of the organism's psychological attributes. However, it does not seem to follow from this proposition (at least taken by itself) that psychological attributes spread outside the body (although for other reasons, I think that they do). For one can argue there is a distinction between, on the one hand, a causal dependence of psychological phenomena on environmental constraints and, on the other, the very constitution of these phenomena (see Rowlands 2010, pp. 68-70). Not surprisingly, that is an argument employed by some Cartesian materialists (see, e.g., Rupert 2004). Thus, our strong entanglement with the environment is not a conclusive reason against the traditional view, though, for other reasons, I think it is a view in fact mistaken.

Also in Chapter 4, Noe claims that our very bodies go beyond our skins. He suggests that the skillful use of certain tools, such as canes and sticks, amounts to literally extending our bodies and gives supporting reasons in favor of this based on studies of phantom limbs, among others. Furthermore, the author manifests agreement with Clark and Chalmers' (1998) idea that artifacts and other objects around us can literally constitute some of our psychological phenomena: "There is no principled reason not to think of the wristwatch, the landmarks, the pen and paper, the linguistic community, as belonging to my mind" (p. 82; see also p. 183). So, he makes, it seems, a considerable addition to his proposal stated in the previous chapters: Not only are dynamic interactions of the organism with its environment components of psychological phenomena, but so are objects in the environment that display relevant causal roles in the guidance of the organism's behavior. (4)

No doubt concrete objects of the environment, such as landmarks, maps, pens, sheets of paper, tables, and so on, have an enormous importance in the governance of many, perhaps most, of our behaviors. Notwithstanding, to imply that these objects make up ourselves or our psychological phenomena is, I think, a dispensable addition to the sort of theory Noe supports. When a part of someone's body is touched or smelled, the person him- or herself is ipso facto touched or smelled; but when, say, someone's maps or sheets of paper are touched or smelled, it does not follow that the person him- or herself is touched or smelled. When landmarks get wet after the rain, those who use them may not have gotten wet. Thus, to say that we are made up of such objects seems to imply certain nonsensical consequences. To state slightly differently that psychological phenomena can be (partially or entirely) composed of such objects seems to have similar undesirable consequences (perhaps with some exceptions). For then it would follow that if, for instance, a concrete object that made up, say, a belief were touched, smelled, or wet, then the belief itself would be touched, smelled, or wet; that if the object were transported to a certain place, then the belief, or least part of it, would be transported. If, say, a piece of paper on which there is information that guides one's behavior were said to be a constituent of a particular process of remembering, then apparently we would have to say that an ant could be walking on a part of the person's remembering, which makes little sense. (5)

So, even though the traditional view is mistaken, I consider the idea that such and similar objects can "belong to my mind" is also mistaken. A first step towards a more promising way of developing extemalism is, I suggest, to understand the artifacts and other objects that surround us as usually being discriminative or (depending on the case) eliciting stimuli (in behavior-analytic terms), or, if you want, affordances (in ecological psychology's terms), to which one's behavior patterns (some of which, in my opinion, can encompass covert behaviors) are associated as a result of phylogenic and ontogenic histories. And as a follow-up, I would suggest understanding the constitution (or composition) of psychological phenomena in terms of (a) the organism's overt and/or covert behaviors (actions and reactions)--either taken as spread in different moments and places (so as to account for the dispositional psychological phenomena) or (in some cases) episodically, depending on the psychological category--as well as (b) their relations to environmental contexts and situations (6)--without inferring that the artifacts and objects to which behaviors bear relations are also constituents of the psychological phenomena themselves. (7) Behaviors and their relations to the environment are the sorts of things that display the relevant properties of psychological phenomena, like, for example, the property of being typically exemplified, in general, by the whole organism, the property of being abstract and unable to be touched, smelled, wet, and so on. Moreover, they are, arguably, the basic grounds for the attribution of these phenomena (cf., e.g., Bennett and Hacker 2003; Ryle 1949). This rough framework seems to be overall more consistent with the ordinary nuances (or the logical geography) of different categories of these attributes. (8) In other words, my suggestion is that psychological phenomena are at least partially constituted by behaviors and their relations to objects of the environment, but are only dependent on (and not constituted by) the objects of the environment. To this extent, they are made up of interactions of the organism with its environment, provided such interactions are understood (as it seems natural to me) in terms of behaviors and its relations. (9)

Still, in Chapter 4, Noe, resembling Skinner (e.g., Skinner 1971, although Noe at no moment in the book mentions him), criticizes the view according to which human beings have selves that inhabit their innards and control their behaviors. Contemporary cognitive neuroscience, Noe says, embraces this view in terms of a metaphor of the brain as "mission control." He mentions neurophysiological findings about learning processes in sea snails, including habituation and sensitization, in order to call attention to the fact that there is no "mission control" underlying these processes and the snail's behavior. Their determinants lie in the historical and current animal-environment interactions subserved by the animal's nervous system: "The snail is a vector resulting from distinct forces of the body, the nervous system, and the world. Its past history in the environmental context and its ongoing dynamic exchanges with the environment make the sea snail what it is" (p. 93). Noe submits, I think correctly, that, despite all the differences between sea snails and humans, we are like them in that we do not have headquarters and "are not autonomous" (p. 94), very much like Skinner criticized the idea of "autonomous man."

The Active Character of Perceptual Processes and an Opposition to Representationalism

In Chapter 3, Noe presents the enactive account of perceptual consciousness he originally developed with O'Regan (see O'Regan and Noe 2001; also Noe 2004), and explores some empirical findings (including Sur's on neural aspects of ferrets' perceptual capacities and Bach-y-Rita's sensory substitution system), which, Noe suggests, give support to the account (which bears considerable resemblance to Gibson's 1979). According to it, roughly speaking, an organism perceiving an object consists of enacting its practical knowledge (in the sense of know-how) of sensorimotor contingencies-- understood as patterns of dependence between the organism's movements and sensory stimulation--related to the object. In other words, perceiving is understood as a skillful activity of probing the environment through movements of the eyes, head, or other parts of the body so as to achieve stimulation from things around us. Based on this account, the author states (now in a slightly different way) that at least perceptual consciousness is something we do or accomplish, and not something that happens to us. The place of the brain in perceptual experience is compared to the place of the musical instrument in music or the production of sounds: As the instrument does not make music or produce sounds on its own but only enables us to make or produce them, so the brain does not produce experience on its own but rather enables us to achieve it (p. 64).

Relatedly, in part of Chapter 4, Noe rejects the view that we are "world representers," arguing that there is no need for representations once we realize that the world shows up to us not as depicted (like in photographs), but rather as available or reachable. Not only what is immediately present to us is present, but also things we can have access to through our skillful movements or technologies. For example, when we are in front a house, we are virtually present to the (hidden) back of the house in addition to its front, as long as we know how to bring it to view by means of certain movements. Similarly, the author suggests, a friend of yours who lives far away is virtually present to you now, as long as you have knowledge of how to have access to him or her at a distance, for example, knowledge that you can contact the person through your cell phone.

I consider Noe's critique of, and alternative to, representationism concerning perceptual processes compelling. But I wonder how Noe's approach deals with certain other psychological categories in addition to that of perceptual processes, in particular, with processes such as remembering, imagining, and thinking that do not necessarily involve movements of the outside body. In some cases, remembering, imagining, and thinking have contents not even virtually accessible to us at a given moment; for example, we can remember or think of things that do not exist anymore. For sure, some instances of these types of phenomena are constituted by overt activities of the organism (Lazzeri 2014a). For example, the activity of writing can be constitutive of an instance of working out the result of a certain mathematical equation, which is a thinking process. Children pretending they are living in a forest and running from a bear comprise activities that can be constitutive of an instance of imagining such things. Moreover, since, like Noe, I find Putnam's (1975) case for content externalism convincing, I consider that the individuation of even the instances of remembering, imagining, and thinking have contents not virtually accessible to the agent is dependent of external factors. So, I am not implying that we should give way to the Cartesian dogma; quite the contrary. Nor I am suggesting we should give way to representations. What I mean here is only that it is not clear how Noe's approach accounts for such particular cases of psychological phenomena.

The framework sketched above in tenns of (a) and (b) is, I believe, able to deal with such phenomena. For where there are things the organism does under the influence of respondent (reflex) or operant contingencies, prima facie there are, possibly covert, behaviors (e.g., Lazzeri 2014b; Skinner 1976/ 1974). Now, it is quite natural to suppose that such particular sorts of remembering, imagining, and thinking comprise things the organism does under the influence of respondent or operant contingencies (see, e.g., Donahoe and Palmer 1994; Palmer 2003; Skinner 1953, 1976/1974). When, for example, someone supplies an answer to a question after thinking for 1 minute about it without behaving overtly (e.g., without making use of pencil and paper, and without any salient gesture of the outside body), we can suppose the person may be engaged, nonetheless, in a certain covert behavior. For if the person is doing something--say, conceiving of an objection to a premise of a given argument--and what she is doing is under the influence of what her similar past doings produced as consequences (in other words, is something that owes its existence to an operant selection history), then it is under the influence of operant contingencies, as much as when she does it overtly. (10) To take another example, if a person sees something (e.g., the garden where she used to play in her childhood) that makes her remember a toy she liked to play with but which no longer exists, it seems reasonable to suppose that the person is emitting a conditioned (reflex) response elicited by the (conditioned) stimulus perceived. The person is behaving as if she were in front of the toy, because what she is seeing (namely, the garden) was associated with that toy in the past. (11) This is a case of remembering without virtual access to the object being remembered and comprising covert behavior. (12) I consider that Noe's approach could profit from a closer approximation to the sketched framework in terms of (a) and (b) so as to handle such cases of psychological phenomena.

Some Further Topics

Before concluding, I would like to mention some main topics of the other chapters of the book, which in my view are of great interest as well. I overall agree with Noe's arguments in them. Chapter 5 is on habits, and here he (resembling Ryle 1949) lodges a thorough critique of intellectualism, which, as he points out, is inherited by traditional cognitive science in its adoption of the computational model of the mind. According to Noe, intellectualism is even wrong as an account of our intellectual activities, such as reading, calculating, playing chess, and communicating. The intellectualist sees our intellectual activities as not being grounded on habits but instead on processes like thinking, deliberation, and judgment. Noe brings attention to the fact that these processes are grounded on habits, for they require practices over time and the right environment, otherwise extinguishing or shrinking like any other habit. He also argues that expertise, be it in nonintellectual or intellectual domains, actually requires us to pay attention to what is going on in the environmental setting and not to assigned cognitive processes.

Chapter 6 (resuming one of the topics Noe explores in his 2004 book) deals with the hypothesis of the grand illusion, endorsed by some neuroscientists and philosophers in two very different versions. One of its version holds that the world as it appears to us is a construction of our brains, and we are all systematically immersed in the illusion that we perceive the world as it is. In another, quite different version, the idea is that we live a grand illusion but precisely because we are systematically deluded to think that we see more than we see. Noe suggests that the hypothesis of the grand illusion is wrong in both of its versions, for they suppose that it seems to us as if the world is more detailed than it is. Actually the world does not show up to us in this way, but instead as available or within reach.

Chapter 7 is devoted to the computational, information-processing model of vision. Here Noe calls into question Huber and Wiesel's Nobel Prize-winning research on vision by questioning the computational model it relies on. The central argument developed by the author against this model hinges on the mereological remark.

Finally, in Chapter 8, the author tackles what he calls the Foundation Argument of the Cartesian dogma, according to which the brain alone is sufficient for consciousness since it is possible to produce certain experiences (e.g., of light) by direct stimulation of the brain. Noe shows this argument is mistaken for several reasons: The fact that some experiences are so produced do not show that all experiences can be so produced; even if by hypothesis hallucinations corresponding to all sorts of experiences were so produced, it would not follow that the brain alone is sufficient for them but only that the brain plus the environment with its stimulations are; what really happens when the brain is directly stimulated is not the production of experiences but instead the alteration of experiences already taking place; and there is no such thing as genuine perception and sensation without their relata being in the environment (e.g., if there isn't a bird flying in your surrounding environment, you cannot be perceiving a bird but at most have the experience of as if you were seeing a bird).


In conclusion, this book is delightful reading for anyone interested in forms of externalism that give prominent role to environmental interactions of the whole organism, in the understanding of the constitution of psychological phenomena. However, since the book is primarily aimed at a broad audience, one should not expect to find in it detailed examination of counterobjections and some other elements of the typical philosophical writing. Notwithstanding, the book offers some good reasons against the Cartesian dogma. Not all arguments in it against the Cartesian dogma are successful, but some of them are. Overall, the book sets forth a good case against the foundations of current mainstream studies of psychological phenomena and offers a redirection towards the dynamic interactions of the whole organism with its environment (and hence, I would say, towards a closer relation to sciences such as behavior analysis). I think Noe's positive approach, especially as regards perceptual and related processes, has much to offer a good externalistic alternative. But it seems to have also certain limitations or even shortcomings, such as the idea that artifacts and other concrete objects of the environment can make up psychological phenomena. The limitations or shortcomings, however, can be remedied without giving way to internalism. I submit that Noe's approach would benefit from a closer approximation to a behavioral perspective in terms of the framework here briefly sketched.

DOI 10.1007/s40732-014-0090-3

Acknowledgments The author would especially like to thank Mark Rowlands, Bryan D. Midgley, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Work supported by Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), grant # 12/00059-2. The content, however, is solely the responsibility of the author.

Published online: 12 August 2014


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(1) All page citations are to Noe (2009), unless noted otherwise.

(2) Other authors who (though in different ways) favor this sort of externalism (taken at a general level) include, for example, Charles et al. (2011), Clark and Chalmers (1998), Kantor (1947), Rachlin (1994), Rockwell (2005), Rowlands (2010), Ryle (1949), Skinner (1976/1974), Smith (1984), and Stephenson (1968), among others.

(3) I shall say more about how I understand these interactions and their place in the modeling of psychological phenomena later on.

(4) To speak of psychological phenomena as being constituted by interactions of the organism with its environment may seem to imply a commitment to the idea that objects of the environment make them up. Still, I do not see this implication. In any case, I dispute the claim that objects of the environment (other than behaviors and the relations they bear to these objects) make up psychological phenomena.

(5) However, I take it that this remark is at least partially compatible with the (quite different) claim that the skillful use of canes, sticks, and the like amounts to literally extending our bodies.

(6) I do not suggest, however, that (a) and (b) are sufficient components of all psychological phenomena. Nonetheless, I submit they are necessary components of them, with one or another possible exception.

(7) Notice that relations are not made up by the things related. I am taller than some people. The relation being taller than, which I bear to these people, is not made up by them.

(8) I advance this perspective at greater length in Lazzeri (2014a).

(9) I take it that there is no contradiction in the view that behaviors involve relations to objects of the environment but are not constituted by these objects. My analysis of the concept of behavior is developed in other works (e.g., Lazzeri 2014b).

(10) There is no principled reason why the relative inner character of these processes should be a sufficient condition for them not to count as behaviors. That is, there is no reason to say that movements of the outside body should be a necessary condition for something to count as a behavior of the organism. As long as a process exemplifies the same parameters that the typical overt behavior exemplifies, it counts as behavior likewise.

(11) Of course, I do not mean to say, however, that every instance of remembering should be analyzed exactly in the same manner of this case.

(12) I would like to reiterate that some instances of thinking, remembering, and similar processes are, of course, composed of overt behaviors (or of both covert and overt behaviors; see Lazzeri 2014a). Thus, from my perspective, it is quite mistaken to say that that thinking, remembering, and the like (let alone dispositional psychological phenomena, such as emotions, moods, and propositional attitudes) are covert events.

F. Lazzeri ([email])

Departamento de Filosofia/Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciencias Humanas, Universidade de Sao Paulo, Av. Prof. Luciano Gualberto, 315 (Cidade Universitaria), 05508-900 Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil

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Author:Lazzeri, Filipe
Publication:The Psychological Record
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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