Perceptual Coherence: Multisensory Perception and Embodied Dynamics

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2006


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Eva Simms

Committee Member

Paul Richer

Committee Member

Shaun Gallagher


perception, intermodal, multisensory, phenomenology, action, dynamic


How is it that the senses are unified, given that each of the separate sensory modalities offer differing forms of information and travel along different cortical pathways? Are the senses unified at birth, or do they become unified only through experience? Traditional developmental answers to this question have been offered from two opposing camps. The integrationist position, whose chief theorist is Piaget, has argued that the senses are separate from birth, and only become unified through learning and experience. The differentiationist position, in contrast, argued that the senses are undifferentiated at birth, and the infant’s active exploration of the world allows for increasing degrees of sensory differentiation. In this dissertation I apply a phenomenological critique to the question of the senses, and fault both the integrationist and differentiationist accounts for relying on key terms that are never adequately defined. This critique exposes the inherent dynamism underlying these terms, and forces us to consider perception as an action. The phenomenological account declares that perception is an active engagement between perceiver and perceived, and not an information-processing mechanism. I develop this phenomenological idea in light of recent dynamical systems accounts of multisensory perceptual development. Drawing upon a psychobiological literature that has itself been heavily influenced by dynamical theory, I find that the traditional dualism of innate-vs-learned, a dualism that has stood prominently within both the integrationist and differentiationist accounts, is inadequate to capture the dynamism of developing systems. This dynamicist reading strongly implicates the role of the active agent operative within an ever-changing environment as formative towards intersensory coherence.





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