In the class on the Sensorimotor Theory Of Perception I put forward the case was made that savant syndrome could falsify the Noe and Regan’s theory on sense making. Admittedly this could have been presented more clearly, this blog post will attempt to clarify how Savant Syndrome proposes a serious problem for the sensorimotor theory of perception.
A unified theory of consciousness (or sense making) is a major problem for cognitive science. Within recent years the sensorimotor theory of perception has increased in popularity. The sensorimotor theory of perception states that our perception of the world is based on a series of representations. Perception is determined by our nature to focus visual attention on an object. Visual attention is likened to a spotlight that can be engaged, disengaged and moved. Perception is described as an extended memory in that it is described as a poorly defined representations. Experiments that have been conducted by Noe have helped to demonstrate this. The strengths of this theory of consciousness is that unlike other theories (philosophical or religious) this one relies on empirical data; therefore it cannot simply be dismissed as lacking scientific basis.
A description of consciousness such as this is bound to be controversial; as with any theory based on empirical data, it is essential to look for information that could falsify it. If one were to find individuals who processed visual stimuli in a different manner to the one described above, this could pose as a significant problem for Noe and O'Regan. The condition of savant syndrome seems to act as an outright contradiction of the view. This is a condition in which disability is juxtaposed against prodigious ability. Right now it’s estimated that there are only fifty savants in the world. For Savant’s memory is anything but a poorly defined set of representation, it is far more than a spotlight which can be turned on and off, rather in the case of these individuals they are capable of observing everything within their line of vision
Savant syndrome has the possibility to alter our perspective on sense-making research. The nature of the condition goes against a lot of research in psychology and neuroscience so admittedly this may not be the best example for an outright falsification. Although Noe and Regan could still defend their hypothesis by stating that it only applies to ordinary participants.
A savant by the name of Stephen Wilshire is capable of drawing entire cityscapes from memory. After on helicopter ride he was capable of drawing Rome in his drawing all of the building had the correct number of windows. Without a doubt this capacity to remember is at odds with those possessed by the majority of people. Wilshire has been described as “human character”, his powers of memory could be described as prodigious or superhuman; referring to his powers of memory as a “poor set of visual representations” would simply not do. Another savant by the name of Temple Grandin proclaims to have an almost perfect photographic memory.
The way these individuals direct their visual attentions on objects and they way in which they retain information runs contrary to the accounts presented by Noe and O'Regan.
If one were being highly skeptical; in the case of a Savant such as Stephen Wilshire, it could be the case that he was focusing his attention on a small component of something that was within his line of vision. Visual attention must be more than a spotlight that can be engaged and disengaged.
How do these examples relate back to the sensorimotor theory of perception? If it’s the case that one is capable of remembering this much of information within their line of vision. Then it must also be the case that the sensorimotor theory of perception as proposed does not hold up. Memory cannot be said to be merely a set of poor visual representations, but it can vary greatly depending on the differences in cognitive architecture in the individual.
Even if one were to look at the studies that have been done on change blindness although most people would be unable to spot the difference some studies have demonstrated that some participants can remember. This still needs to be counted for.
It should be worthy of consideration that the experience of attention is different from individual to individual for this reason the sensorimotor theory of perception might need to elaborated. Research is being done to see if savant like abilities such as those previously described can be induced. Some studies suggest that autistic savants, remember information because they form associations, Grandin also proclaims to form a series of associations in her mind. However, most savants such as Wilshire lack good communications skills so it is hard to obtain information on the phenomenological of what is like to be a savant. But some savants such Daniel Tammet are capable of affectively communicating how they process information.
Just because a set of people perceive things one way, does not mean that one person or another group of people may not perceive the same thing in an entirely different manner.