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Phantom Limbs

In Sur’s experiments, ferrets saw with auditory cells. The auditory cells were hijacked and functioned for vision as an embodied and environmentally embedded process. The technical term for this phenomenon is neural deference—the target cell modality defers to the source modality. In the ferret case, auditory cells deferred to visual input to function visually. But Noe also reports cases of neural dominance to support his enactive position.[1] With neural dominance, the target cell modality dominates the source modality.

Noe illustrates how neural dominance works by referring to Ramachandran’s phantom limb experiments (Ramachandran and Blakeslee 1998; Ramachandran and Hirstein 1998). As discussed in chapter “Consciousness Rediscovered”, phan?tom limb patients report having sensations from a missing limb as if it were still there. One patient reported having sensations of being touched on a phantom hand when touched on the cheek. The cheek and hand sensory cortices lie adjacent, so perhaps signals from the cheek sensory cortex propagated to the hand sensory cortex. Hand sensory cortex cells received cheek touch signals but dominated them to produce hand touch sensations. Hand sensory cells dominate, as there is no demand for deference and they are trained to produce hand touch experiences. In the case of Sur’s ferrets, auditory cells deferred to vision as part of the neural signaling patterns, driven by the animal acting in its environment. Not only could the auditory cells be trained through such neural signaling within the larger context of the environmentally embedded visual activity, but also there was a demand for them to support vision.

  • [1] For an early discussion of dominance and deference, see Hurley and Noe (2003).
 
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