BEING ABOUT Abstract
There are two projects interwoven here. The first is a revision of dualist remnants in the ways we talk about mental function, and an effort to see how we could understand perceiving, imagining and representing if we think of them as embodied. The second is a description of the recent neuroscience of spatial function.
The two projects are related in this way: the central notion in any philosophy of mind has to be an account of aboutness or intentionality. This notion has traditionally been thought by analogy with our use of representational artifacts such as sentences or pictures. When we allow ourselves to be impressed by the particulars of spatial function, it is evident that talk of inner representations has delayed the transition between dualist/theist beliefs about knowing and a new biological understanding of its means. I argue instead that whole bodies are oriented and structurally responsive to their environments, and that whole persons, and not isolated internal parts of persons, refer and are about things in those environments.
A number of shifts in our present understanding of material systems together support an alternative understanding of aboutness as relational structure. A sequenced redescription that follows from two emphases, on cognition as spatially engaged, and on neural response as complex integration, begins with acting and perceiving seen as interdependent aspects of evolved competency in the world. Both occur by means of structural changes in many parts of an organism.
The various forms of simulational cognition -- imagining, planning, remembering -- also occur by structural changes, but these changes are less closely coupled to immediately present environments. Representing, by which I mean our public use of representing artifacts and events, occurs by structural changes that are usually a combination of perception/action and simulation. Thinking often requires representational support; like representing, it is understood as necessarily grounded in a prior aboutness of evolved, located bodies able to perceive, act and simulate.
I illustrate the principles outlined above by describing remnants of spatial engagement found in four high-cultural forms of representation-guided cognition -- signed and spoken language, electroacoustic music, pictorial perspective, and mathematics. I conclude with a brief consideration of implications of this redescription.