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Title: Extending sensorimotor enactivism to flavour and smell
Author: Millar, Rebecca
ISNI:       0000 0001 2434 6602
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis explores whether sensorimotor enactivism can be extended to flavour and smell perception. Sensorimotor enactivism claims that perceptual experience is constituted by skilful bodily engagement with the world. This engagement is said to be imbued with an implicit understanding of sensorimotor contingencies - law-like relations holding between bodily activity and sensory changes. The sensorimotor approach is intended as a non-visuocentric theory of perception, purporting to offer an account of all varieties of perceptual experience. However, until now there has been no sustained research into the application of sensorimotor enactivism to flavour and smell. Moreover, some researchers have argued that these senses are problem cases for the theory, and that facts about flavour and smell serve to refute the approach. This thesis responds to such worries and addresses the gap in the literature. It argues that sensorimotor enactivism can be extended to flavour and smell and offers a positive account of how we should think about our perceptual experiences through these modalities. Flavour and smell, it will be argued, do not allow immediate perceptual access to ordinary physical objects like roses and tomatoes. But rather, they give us immediate access to odours and flavours. In order to understand what our perceptual access to such entities consists in, this thesis draws upon tools from Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychology allows for a modality-neutral way of thinking about perceptual organisation and helps us to arrive at a useful notion of 'perceptual objecthood'. The entities we perceive through flavour and smell are much more diffuse than the ordinary three-dimensional objects that we perceive through sight, and the phenomenology of these kinds of perception seem particularly difficult to articulate. I argue that flavour and smell are still akin to other senses like vision in that they allow us to perceive the world as segregated into discrete perceptual objects, which exhibit figure-ground segregation and perceptual constancies. An understanding of perceptual organisation and objecthood allows for a more refined sensorimotor approach and will help us to arrive at solutions to further philosophical queries, such as whether flavour and smell are multisensory, and what the role of memory is in these perceptual experiences.
Supervisor: Ward, Dave ; Isaac, Alistair Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: theory of perception ; sensorimotor enactivism ; smell ; taste ; philosophy of perception