In his engaging and provocative target article, Jarvilehto (1998) argues that the senses are not transmitters of environmental information so much as connections that support dynamic organism-environment systems. I think there is much to applaud in this treatment, but I want to raise two small doubts: one concerning the nature of the target (why information transmission rather than inner model-building?) and the other concerning the scope of the claim (is sensing always and only used in the way the author suggests?).
2. Now for the doubts: First, consider the claim that the senses are not transmitters of environmental information. Certainly, all these results suggest that it is OFTEN wrong to see the job of sensing as the creation of a rich inner model that can then be used in place of the real world itself. They also suggest that sensing, acting and perceived content may all be intertwined in complex and important ways. But nothing hereabouts, so far as I can see, shows that the senses NEVER function so as to create an inner model of the world, nor that -- even in the more minimal cases -- they are not transmitting information about external events and processes. Thus, consider catching the baseball. It is true that the best way to understand the role of the sensing is to see it as creating a useful organism-environment loop. But in so doing, the sense channel surely IS carrying information about the location of the ball. What it is NOT doing is presenting such information as might be used to create a rich inner model of the environment. It is selective sensing, selective and minimal information transmission: but it is (or so I would suggest) information transmission all the same.
3. Second, consider the more general claim about the role of the senses in forming knowledge by reorganizing the organism-environment system. Whilst agreeing that this characterization is useful for a great deal of on-line daily problem-solving, I wonder how we should best think of off-line reflection? Certainly one can, and sometimes does, spend time just sitting, reviewing ideas and scenarios in one's imagination. And much of the knowledge that figures in such episodes was acquired by sensory engagement with the world. How, then, should we understand this aspect of the senses role in forming knowledge?
4. Such doubts and quibbles aside, I found this a fascinating target article. We are indeed all too easily seduced by the image of sensing as the brain's way of rebuilding the external world inside the head. Better appreciating the complex interplay between minimal, selective sensing, motor control, and successful thought and action must be high on the agenda for the next century of Cognitive Science.
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