A talk with Alva Noë in Edge:
We should reject the idea that the mind is something inside of us that is basically a calculating machine. There are different reasons to reject this. But one is, simply put: there is nothing inside us that thinks and feels and is conscious. Consciousness is not something that happens in us. It is something we do.
A much better image is that of the dancer. A dancer is locked into an environment, responsive to music, responsive to a partner. The idea that the dance is a state of us, inside of us, or something that happens in us is crazy. Our ability to dance depends on all sorts of things going on inside of us, but that we are dancing is fundamentally an attunement to the world around us. And this idea that human consciousness is something we enact or achieve, in motion, as a way of being part of a larger process, is the focus of my work. Experience is something that is temporarily extended and active. Perceptual consciousness is a style of access to the world around us. I can touch something, and when I touch something I make use of an understanding of the way in which my own movements help me secure access to that which is before me. The point is not merely that I learn about or achieve access to the world by touching. The point is that the thing shows up for me as something in a space of movement-oriented possibilities.
Visual consciousness relies on a whole set of practical skills that we have, making use of the eyes and the head. I understand that if I move my eyes, I produce a certain kind of sensory change. Perceptual consciousness is a mode of exploration of the world, making use of a certain kind of practical bodily understanding. And that is what dance is. And this makes dance, for me, the perfect metaphor for consciousness.
But there’s more to the comparison with dance.