Consciousness and the World

By Brian O'Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

14 Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action

Much of our waking lives are passed, amongst other things, in looking at the objects and phenomena which surround us. Indeed, for the most part we are simply incapable of not looking at such items. This is a purely contingent genetically determined trait of humans, attesting no doubt to the power and scope of the sense of sight. Then it is of some significance that the process of looking is an active phenomenon. The world does not come upon us epistemologically like a clap of thunder, and we most of the time go more than half-way to meet it, actively directing our attention onto whatever outer phenomena happen to interest us. This state of affairs possesses two main assets so far as we are concerned. It helps us to determine the general content of our immediately future perceptions, say when one sees a car veering across the path of one's own car. Equally importantly, it enables us to synthesize perceptions across time, as when we see the path of a ball across a tennis court, or actively string together words on a page and make of them something intelligible. Stripped of the properties imported by the will, perception would tend to deliver to consciousness a mass of cognitive data which would be of little sense and less use. In short, epistemologically and perceptually we steer our own path through the world for much of the time, and for good reason.

And so it is of some significance that our perceptions occur in the setting of an active perceptual process, rather as the many separate frames out of which a 'movie' is constituted are located in an intelligible continuity of connected images. Then it is for reasons of this kind—and in the context of a general examination of the Attention and Perception—that the phenomenon of active attending calls for scrutiny. Just what is going on when this process is taking place? How do will and awareness relate? In particular, how does looking relate to seeing, or listening to hearing?

But there is another reason for investigating active attending. It is that the concept itself is highly problematic. We shall see later on in the present chapter that a puzzle exists over the very possibility of active attending, what I call the 'Antitheticality Puzzle', a puzzle located within the attention itself, arising out of the starkly

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Consciousness and the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Consciousness and the World iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Consciousness 35
  • 1: The Experience 37
  • 2: The Anatomy of Consciousness 68
  • 3: Self-Consciousness and Self-Knowledge 102
  • 4: 'Translucence' 164
  • 5: Consciousness and the Mental Will 200
  • 6: Interiority and Thinking 233
  • Part II the Attention and Perception 265
  • 7: The Attention 275
  • 8: The Attention and Perception (1) 291
  • 9: The Attention and Perception (2) 302
  • 10: Perception and Truth 318
  • 11: The Imagination (1) 339
  • 12: The Imagination (2) 362
  • 13: Imagination and Perception 371
  • 14: Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action 379
  • Part III Seeing 407
  • 15: 'Blindsight' and the Essence of Seeing 415
  • 16: Seeing the Light 439
  • 17: Sense-Data (1) or the Ways of the Attention 465
  • 18: Sense-Data (2) 502
  • 19: Secondary Qualities 515
  • 20: The 'Perceptual Given' and 'Perceptual Mediators' or the Formation of the Visual Experience 538
  • 21: Appearances 570
  • 22: Perceptually Constituting the Material Object 592
  • Part IV Perception and the Body 621
  • 23: Proprioception and the Body Image 628
  • 24: The Sense of Touch 656
  • Conclusion 681
  • Index 697
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