Tutorial on Embodiment

4.2. Information Self-structuring through Sensory-motor Coordination*

The previous section has demonstrated how a particular sensor morphology affects the information structure of the raw data that reaches the sensor and that enters subsequent processing afterwards. However, the sensory stimula­tion is not passively received, but rather actively generated. The point we want to make was beautifully expressed by John Dewey already in 1896 (Dewey, 1896):

"We begin not with a sensory stimulus, but with a sensory-motor coordination [...] In a certain sense it is the movement which is primary, and the sensation which is secondary, the movement of the body, head, and eye muscles deter­mining the quality of what is experienced. In other words, the real beginning is with the act of seeing; it is looking, and not a sensation of light."

Only much later was Dewey's visionary observation picked up by research in active perception (e.g. Bajcsy, 1988; Churchland et al., 1994; Gibson, 1979; Noe, 2004). We will present some case studies from visual perception that illustrate this point and we will also show how the information structure that is generated can be measured.


* This section has been adapted from Hoffmann and Pfeifer (2011).


Bajcsy, R. (1988), 'Active perception', Proceedings of the IEEE 76(8), 966--1005.
Churchland, P. S.; Ramachandran, V. & Sejnowski, T.Koch, C. & Davis, J., ed., (1994), Large-scale neuronal theories of the brain, MIT Press, chapter A critique of pure vision.
Dewey, J. (1896), 'The reflex arc concept in psychology', Psychological Review 3, 357-370.
Gibson, J. (1979), The ecological approach to visual perception, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hoffmann, M. & Pfeifer, R. (2011), The implications of embodiment for behavior and cognition: animal and robotic case studies, in W. Tschacher & C. Bergomi, ed., 'The Implications of Embodiment: Cognition and Communication', Exeter: Imprint Academic, pp. 31-58.
Noe, A. (2004), Action in perception, MIT Press.