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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Abstract for article: "The search image as link between sensation, perception and action"

On September 30th I finished the abstract below, which is for a forthcoming article.
The search image as link between sensation, perception and action
Morten Tønnessen 
As part of his Umwelt theory, a theory on the subjective, experiential worlds of animals, Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) introduced the notion of the search image (Suchbild). A search image is an imagined object that an animal or human being has in mind as it searches for something. The search image plays a central role in what I have termed the mediated Umwelt, the aspect of Umwelt in which Umwelt objects are encountered indirectly by way of some mediation (e.g. memory, fantasy, anticipation). It is generally related to an animal´s agenda- or interest-driven matching of something it is searching for with something in its environment. Animals need search images in order to navigate in their environment, in order to pursue some of their biological needs, and in order to direct attention to their immediate or prioritised needs. They are also key to understanding how perception works as distinguished from sensation, and how an animal´s perception and action are connected. Generally, Umwelt codes – codes that are required to perform the functions of perception and action – include neural codes and ecological codes (and cultural codes as well in the case of human beings). The search image acts as an intermediary between perception and action, and between the mediated Umwelt and the core Umwelt, the aspect of Umwelt in which Umwelt objects are encountered directly. In consequence, we can assume that neural codes and ecological codes coalesce in the functioning of the search image. The imagined object has the form of a schema, and encountered objects may or may not be perceived as fitting with the anticipated schema. The perception of a match may furthermore be either correct or incorrect. Object recognition occurs when an encountered object is correctly perceived as fitting with an anticipated schema. But search images, with their implied schemata, may also be confused with actual perception images of encountered objects. Perception is not an entirely accurate endeavour. Nevertheless, the search image is an indispensable instrument in the perceptual tool box of any animal with a saturated Umwelt. In addition to contributing to a proper understanding of how sensation, perception and action are linked, studies into the phenomenon of search images can shed light on some present puzzles in cognitive science. As an example, contemporary science posits that underlying, action-related brain activity by far precedes our subjective experience of choosing to act in a certain way. This has even been taken to imply that human beings do not in fact have free will. In some of these cases, however, the functioning of search images can help explain why it is that action-related brain activity appears to precede the experience of having made a choice of action. In short, when an animal or a human being operates with a search image, we anticipate encountering the imagined object. Accordingly, we act not only in response to encountered objects, but also in response to imagined ones. And whenever an encountered object is in hindsight correctly perceived to be a match to an imagined object, we may have acted in response to that anticipated object before we could confirmatively perceive it as a match to our search image.

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