The where of bodily awareness



Mandrigin A (2021) The where of bodily awareness. Synthese, 198 (3), pp. 1887-1903.

In bodily awareness body parts are felt to occupy locations relative to the rest of the body. Bodily sensations are felt to be, in Brian O’Shaughnessy’s terms ‘in-a-certain-body-part-at-a-position-in-body-relative-physical-space’. In this paper I put forward a dispositional account of the structure of the spatial content of bodily awareness, which takes inspiration from Gareth Evans’s account of egocentric spatial content presented in The Varieties of Reference (1982). On the Dispositional View, bodily awareness experiences have spatial content in virtue of a set of connections having been established between somatosensory and proprioceptive inputs on the one hand, and motor outputs on the other hand. This kind of account, according to which spatial content depends constitutively on bodily action, has been challenged by a set of neurological cases and behavioural studies on healthy subjects. The evidence has been used to motivate a functional distinction between two kinds of body representation: representations for perception and representations for action. I review and assess some of the main sources of evidence for this distinction, arguing that the evidence presents a challenge to the dispositional view only if we accept the unjustified assumption that differences in task performance can only be explained in terms of a difference in representation. I close by proposing, and offering some empirical support for, an alternative explanation of the empirical results. The availability of the alternative explanation means that further work is needed to establish whether or not there is any challenge to the Dispositional View.

Bodily awareness; Spatial content; Proprioception; Touch; Body representation; Perception

Synthese: Volume 198, Issue 3

FundersArts and Humanities Research Council and John Templeton Foundation
Publication date31/03/2021
Publication date online08/04/2019
Date accepted by journal14/02/2019