Why Red Doesn't Sound Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness

ISBN : 9780199775224

J. Kevin O'Regan
224 Pages
163 x 239 mm
Pub date
Sep 2011
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This book proposes a novel view to explain how we as humans - contrary to current robots - can have the impression of consciously feeling things: for example the red of a sunset, the smell of a rose, the sound of a symphony, or a pain. The book starts off by looking at visual perception. Our ability to see turns out to be much more mysterious than one might think. The eye contains many defects which should seriously interfere with vision. Yet we have the impression of seeing the world in glorious panavision and technicolor. Explaining how this can be the case leads to a new idea about what seeing really is. Seeing is not passively receiving information in the brain, but rather a way of interacting with the world. The role of the brain is not to create visual sensation, but to enable the necessary interactions with the world. This new approach to seeing is extended in the second part of the book to encompass the other senses: hearing, touch, taste and smell. Taking sensory experiences to be modes of interacting with the world explains why these experiences are different in the way they are. It also explains why thoughts or automatic functions in the body, and indeed the vast majority brain functions, are not accompanied by any real feeling. The "sensorimotor" approach is not simply a philosophical argument: It leads to scientifically verifiable predictions and new research directions. Among these are the phenomena of change blindness, sensory substitution, "looked but failed to see", as well as results on color naming and color perception and the localisation of touch on the body. The approach is relevant to the question of what animals and babies can feel, and to understanding what will be necessary for robots to become conscious.


1. The catastrophe of the eye
2. A new view of seeing
3. Applying the new view of seeing
4. The illusion of seeing everything
5. Some contentious points
6. Towards consciousness
7. Types of consciousness
8. Phenomenal consciousness, raw feel, and why they're hard
9. Squeeze a sponge, drive a Porsche: a sensorimotor account of feel
10. Consciously experiencing a feel
11. The sensorimotor approach to color
12. Sensory substitution
13. The localization of touch
14. The phenomenality plot
15. Consciousness

About the author: 

Kevin O'Regan is director of one of France's most influential experimental psychology laboratories. He is most cited today as the originator of the sensorimotor approach to consciousness. He is also one of the discovers of the much discussed phenomenon of change blindness, and well known for his work on eye movements in reading.

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