Vision is the Brain’s Way of Touching


If a great deal of what is presented in the four part series on Embodied Cognition sounds familiar, it may be because (as a good friend reminded me) it is mindful of what Alain Berthoz covered in his masterful book The Brain’s Sense of Movement.  I went back to the book last night, which came out in 2000 and I haven’t looked at for too long, and was reminded of how profound an influence it was.  I had colored tabs, multi-colored highlightings, and sticky-notes all over the book.  Of course this made a mess of my Kindle (sorry, Sue – bad joke).  Berthoz was influenced by the philosopher Merlau-Ponty who he quotes early in the book as saying that Vision is the Brain’s Way of Touching.  Berthoz represents a French school of thought with great relevance to our work, including Stanislas Dehaene and Zoi Kapoula

Reading Berthoz had significant impact on the information that Bob Sanet and I integrated into our chapter on Spatial Vision in the book on Vision Rehabilitation by Suter and Harvey.  Aside from using the Merlau-Ponty quote as our guiding light, we took a key diagram (with permission) from The Brain’s Sense of Movement as an important construct for the schematic complexity of something as ostensibly simple as where the brain is directing the eyes to look.

You can get a flavor of Berthoz’s thinking and charm by watching the video below, in which one of my favorite quotes is his line:

“Life has found simplifications which are not so simple”.

Most importantly, if you don’t have your own copy yet, get a hold of Berthoz’s book even if you have to spend a hundred bucks for a paperback reprint though B & N.  The implications are all there, from mirror neurons to autism to embodied cognition and even a page or two about rheumatology and ophthalmology, with wide-ranging implications from visual development to robotics.  You’ll probably find yourself stopping at least one time per page, putting the book down and muttering under your breath or aloud … wow.  To whet your appetite, here is its table of contents:

1         PERCEPTION IS SIMULATED ACTION     9
     The Motor Theory of Perception          9
     The Concept of Acceptor of the Results of Action       11
     Bernstein's Comparator   13
     Memory Predicts the Consequences of Action        17
     Mental Nodes   19
     Mirror Neurons 20
     Simulation, Emulation, or Representation?         21

2         THE SENSE OF MOVEMENT: A SIXTH SENSE?   25
     Proprioception 27
     The Vestibulary System: An Inertial Center?       32
     The Functions of the Vestibular System       43
     Seeing Movement     50

3         BUILDING COHERENCE  57
     How Vision Detects Movement   60
     Visual Movement and Vestibular Receptors          64
     Am I in my Bed or Hanging from the Ceiling?       69
     The Coherence between Seeing and Hearing          77
     The Problem of the Coherence and Unity of Perception        90
     Autism: The Disintegration of Coherence?          93

4         FRAMES OF REFERENCE 97
     Personal Space and Extrapersonal Space  98
     Egocentric and Allocentric Frames of Reference    99
                                             Natural Frames of Reference        100
     Selecting Frames of Reference 109

5         A MEMORY FOR PREDICTING  115
     Topographic Memory or Topokinetic Memory?    117
     The Neural Basis of Spatial Memory: The Role of the Hippocampus  126

6         NATURAL MOVEMENT    137
     Pioneers  139
     The Problem of Number of Degrees of Freedom  IqI
     The Invention of the Eye 147
     The Form of a Drawing Is Produced by the Law of Maximal Smoothness    151

7         SYNERGIES AND STRATEGIES 154
     Vestibular Axon Branching and Gaze Stabilization  155
     The Baby Fish that Wanted to Swim Flat on Its Stomach  158
     The Neural Bases for Encoding Movement of the Arms     I6o
     Coordination of Synergies     162

8         CAPTURE   165
     The Toad's Decision 166
     The Art of Braking  168
     What If Newton Had Wanted to Catch the Apple?     172

9         THE LOOK THAT INVESTIGATES THE WORLD    181
     Gaze Orientation    181
     "Go Where I'm Looking," not "Look Where I'm Going"     185
     Eye-to-Eye Contact  185
     Gaze and Emotion    188
     The Neural Basis of Gaze-Orienting Reactions 190

10        VISUAL EXPLORATION  192
     The Brain Is a Fiery Steed    192
     A Model of Perception-Action Relationships   195
     Imagined Movement and Actual Movement        211
     Dynamic Memory and Predictive Control of Movements          212
     Was Piaget Right?   214

11        Balance   216
     A Physiology of Reaction      217
     How to Make the University of Edinburgh Oscillate      218
     Toward a Projective Physiology          221

12        ADAPTATION     233
     Adaptation and Substitution   234
     The Rheumatologist and the Ophthalmologist        238
     The Role of Activity in Compensating for and Preventing Disorientation          239

13        THE DISORIENTED BRAIN: ILLUSIONS ARE SOLUTIONS    242
     Illusion: The Best Possible Hypothesis       243
     Illusions Caused by Acceleration and Gravity      244
     Illusions of Movement of the Limbs      248
     Space and Motion Sickness     250
     A Few Other Illusions    252

14        ARCHITECTS HAVE FORGOTTEN THE PLEASURE OP MOVEMENT    255

          CONCLUSION: TOWARD A TOLERANT PERCEPTION          261

2 thoughts on “Vision is the Brain’s Way of Touching

  1. Dr. Press – I am an occupational therapist in Atlanta and have been following your blog for quite some time. I am very passionate about the visual system and would like to discuss a few things with you if possible. I could not locate an email address to email you. If you are able, please email me at the email below so I can follow-up. Thank-you for your time. Janine

  2. Pingback: Like A Pendulum Do | The VisionHelp Blog

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