Cognitive penetration and the cognition–perception interface

Synthese 194 (9):3645-3668 (2017)
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I argue that discussions of cognitive penetration have been insufficiently clear about what distinguishes perception and cognition, and what kind of relationship between the two is supposed to be at stake in the debate. A strong reading, which is compatible with many characterizations of penetration, posits a highly specific and directed influence on perception. According to this view, which I call the “internal effect view” a cognitive state penetrates a perceptual process if the presence of the cognitive state causes a change to the computation performed by the process, with the result being a distinct output. I produce a novel argument that this strong reading is false. On one well-motivated way of drawing the distinction between perceptual states and cognitive states, cognitive representations cannot play the computational role posited for them by IEV, vis-à-vis perception. This does not mean, however, that there are not important causal relationships between cognitive and perceptual states. I introduce an alternative view of these relationships, the “external effect view”. EEV posits that each cognitive state is associated with a broad range of possible perceptual outcomes, and biases perception towards any of those perceptual outcomes without determining specific perceptual contents. I argue that EEV captures the kinds of cases philosophers have thought to be evidence for IEV, and a wide range of other cases as well



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Daniel Burnston
Tulane University