Perceiving a world beyond ourselves?

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On the face of it, human perceptual experience enables us to know not just about possible actions, but also about the categorical bases of those actions: features of the world beyond ourselves and our actions which make those actions possible.[1] Is the theory of brain function discussed here consistent with this natural thought? On the face of it there is a challenge here, since the theory claims that the brain represents space in ways that make ineliminable reference to motor behaviour.

What's more, in their seminal work on cognitive maps, John O’Keefe and Lynn Nadel argued that only a map-like internal model of the environment, as opposed to an action-based system, could explain this feature of human knowledge with respect to spatial features of one’s environment.[2]

To assess this challenge to the theory discussed here we can ask, first, whether it’s really true that perception, or cognition more generally, enables us to know about the categorical bases of our actions. Secondly, we can ask whether O’Keefe and Nadel were right about the necessary conditions on such knowledge: does the hypothesis of a map-like representation in fact contribute to explaining how we know about a world beyond ourselves and our actions?[3]


  1. John Campbell, 2002. Reference and Consciousness. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  2. John O’Keefe and Lynn Nadel, 1978. The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map. Oxford: OUP.
  3. John Campbell, The Role of Physical Objects in Spatial Thinking, in N. Eilan, R. McCarthy and M.W. Brewer (eds.), 1993, Spatial Representation. Oxford: Blackwell.