The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Painful finding: Kicking the Kohler habit

Posted in General by Tom Froese on January 18, 2010

Xabier started an e-mail discussion by sending the following abstract around. Since this might be of more general interest I thought it would be best to copy the discussion here:

Klein, C. (2007). Kicking the Kohler Habit. Philosophical Psychology, 20, 609-619

ABSTRACT: Kohler’s experiments with inverting goggles are often thought to support enactivism by showing that visual re-inversion occurs simultaneous with the return of sensorimotor skill. Closer examination reveals that Kohler’s work does not show this. Recent work by Linden et al. shows that re-inversion, if it occurs at all, does not occur when the enactivist predicts. As such, the empirical evidence weighs against enactivism.


3 Responses

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  1. Marieke said, on January 18, 2010 at 11:27 am

    thanks, interesting!

    we could consider writing a joint reply? First thing to note: he only cites o’regan and noe – particular type of “enactivism” that has led to lots of undue criticism of the paradigm. I had people on my AMI course who were arguing that there was no real flip of vision and therefore it was all untrue – the point is that there has to be no flip, the main point has to be that, through successful sensorimotor adaptation, suddenly “wrong feels right”. All the rest are details, interesting but nothing to do with the central claims of enactivism.

    For an interesting recent replication see this video


    it’s full of fuel for this guys theses – hear her say: people’s feet are still above their head. or her incapacity to readjust her face recognition. or her lack of strong after effects (i heard the girl give a talk once, i think there were some after effects but weaker than they had hypothesised).

    what do you think?


  2. Marek said, on January 18, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I think this might actually be a good discussion for the Life & Mind blog. Perhaps we should move it there?

    As Marieke notes, the way the term “enactivism” is used inconsistently in the cognitive science literature generally means that he’s arguing against a point of view that has very few (if, at this point, any) adherents. Some of the points are very good though, and point to some real gaps in enactive thinking at the moment (not through error, just because not too many people have got around to working on the issues yet).

    One of my biggest problems with the piece, though, is his apparent implicit assumption that inversion should occur in some kind of all-or-nothing manner – as though the visual field were a single unified screen with a lever that flips it either up or down. It would appear to be a cognitivist kind of thinking that is itself falsified by the evidence Klein is citing.

    O’Regan & Noë themselves discuss the disjoint and task-specific manner in which adaptation occurs (cars perceived accurately have reversed number plates). The specificity of adaptation (and lack of generalisation to abstract lab tasks and even non-task relevant aspects of the present visual field) is something that is more likely to support rather than undermine an enactive account methinks.

    Nice link Marieke! It would be interesting to take some of their stronger nativist claims and seeing if they can be challenged (face-recognition, for instance).

  3. Tom Froese said, on January 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

    I hope it was okay with everyone involved that I shifted the debate onto the blog like this. But I think it raises several issues of general interest.

    My own response would be to say that a principled resolution of this problem requires a first-person approach. After all, how else are we going to be able to specify more precisely the effects of inversion? What does ‘feeling right’ mean? Or why is the picture-frame conception inadequate?

    I think that the enactive paradigm is probably best equipped for this in the cognitive sciences because of its neuro-phenomenology research program. You would think that an O’Regan & Noe style ‘enactive’ approach would be interested in this too, since they are interested in perceptual experience. However, in a recent commentary in Consciousness and Cognition (link) O’Regan explicitly rejects the phenomenologically informed enactive paradigm as an unscientific subjective idealism!

    It’s a pity how much confusion has been caused by Noe’s indiscriminate use of the term ‘enaction’. Now we will have to spend years trying to clear up the mess! Interestingly, though, in his latest book he has begun to pay much more attention to biology, especially Thompson’s book Mind in Life.

    By the way, if anyone wants to do some practical research into these issues, we have the latest version of the Enactive Torch ready for some sensory-motor experimentation!


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