Having a Point of View: On the Notion of Perspective

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
perspective, spatial representation, navigation
Deposited by: 
Gottfried Vosgerau
Date of Issue: 
Gottfried Vosgerau
Event Dates: 
23-26 Jun 2006
Event Location: 
Oxford, UK
Event Title: 
10th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Number of Pages: 
It is commonly held that perspectivity is one crucial feature of consciousness and especially of self-consciousness (Newen & Vogeley 2003). There have been different attempts to analyze spatial perspective within philosophical accounts (Peacocke 1983, Bermúdez 1998). Hereby, the notion of perspectival sensitivity plays a central role. I will argue that this notion fails to make the important distinction between having a perspective and knowing (representing) this fact. The first is important for consciousness and is rather easy to obtain as a direct consequence of egocentric spatial representations. The second, however, is crucial to self-consciousness and presupposes allocentric spatial representations which require a rather high cognitive level. In egocentric representations, objects are coded in relation to the representer, i.e. in terms of how to get there (Campbell 1993, McNamara 2003). When the representer moves, each of the represented relations changes and hence each relation has to be updated. An animal using this format of spatial representation will already exhibit perspectival sensitivity, i.e. its behavior depends on changes of its own position. This kind of behavior is observed in virtually all kinds of navigating animals (ants, rats, humans; Wang & Spelke 2002). However, this format of spatial representation does not allow for representing how it would look like from another point and hence does not allow for route planning. Imagining to be at another point presupposes that every point can be represented as the own position. However, egocentric representations represent points in space very different from the own position. Thus, to imagine to take another perspective, allocentric representations are needed. These contain spatial relations between the represented objects whereby the representing system is just one of them. Hence, they allow for route planning as it is observed in humans, apes, and rats. If allocentric representations are used for navigation, the own position and orientation has to be marked as such, i.e. the system has to represent its own perspective within the allocentric representation. In conclusion, knowing the own perspective takes much more than perspectival sensitivity as described by Peacocke whereas having a perspective takes much less.
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