Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.2, 292-301
Published Online May 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Interactive Vision and Experimental Traditions:
How to Frame the Relationship*
Anna Estany
Departamento de Filosofía, Universi dad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), Barcelona, Spain
Email: anna.estany@uab.c at
Received December 17th, 2012; re vised Janua ry 18th, 2013; accepted February 3rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Anna Estany. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, distri bution, and reproduction in an y medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
In recent decades, the cognitive view has had a considerable impact on the philosophy of science, and two
reasons can for this be identified. First, philosophers have increasingly tended towards naturalistic ap-
proaches, as opposed to proposals that are more a priori. Second, the cognitive sciences underwent con-
siderable development in the second half of the twentieth century. Motivated by the cognitive view in the
philosophy of science, and within a naturalistic framework, the aim of this paper is to analyze the rela-
tionship between two pairs of views. On the one hand, I consider the theoretical and experimental tradi-
tions; and on the other, I examine the views of pure and interactive vision. The two pairs belong to two
independent debates; one in the philosophy of science (theoretical vs. experimental traditions) and the
other in cognitive psychology (pure vs. interactive vision). Theoretical traditions correspond to a concep-
tion of science according to which the goal of scientific practice is to formulate theories that represent the
world, and in them experiments play only an instrumental role that is always subsidiary to theory. The
model of science promoted in the program of logical empiricism is a good example of such a tradition.
Experimental traditions, in contrast, challenge that conception of science by attributing a more important
role to experimentation, which is said to provide its own path to knowledge.
Keywords: Interactive Vision; Motor Representations; Experimental Traditions
In recent decades the cognitive view has had an impact on
the philosophy of science that it is important to take into ac-
count. We can identify two reasons for this which, if not the
only ones, are certainly important. One is the project of natu-
ralizing philosophy that more and more philosophers have
adopted in contrast to a style of philosophy that is more con-
cerned with the a priori. The other is the considerable develop-
ment that the cognitive sciences underwent throughout the sec-
ond half of the 20th century.
Within the framework of the naturalization of philosophy
from a cognitive point of view, the objective of this paper is to
analyze the relation between, on the one hand, theoretical and
experimental traditions (ET); and, on the other, the conceptions
of pure vision and of interactive vision. Such a relation could
exist in a number of different ways:
The first member of each pair could mutually reinforce each
other; that is, the theoretical traditions (TT) provide argu-
ments in favor of pure vision and such reinforcement also
occurs in the opposite direction.
The same could happen but between ET and interactive
vision (in both directions).
The members of the two pairs could be irrelevant to each
other, in both of the above senses.
The working hypothesis with which I set out is that a parallel
can be drawn between TT and pure vision; and also between
ET and interactive vision. Starting from this thesis, we will see
some of the consequences for certain emblematic issues in the
philosophy of science, particularly for the relationship between
theory and experiment. At the same time, the relation between
interactive vision and ET will lead us to take into account the
connection between the visual system and the motor system; an
idea that goes back to P. S. Churchland, V. S. Ramachandran
and T. J. Sejnowski (1994) “A Critique of Pure Vision”, but
which has been supported by more recent research.
The point is that there are two debates which, to a great ex-
tent, have taken place independently; one in the philosophy of
science (TT versus ET) and the other in the cognitive psychol-
ogy (pure vision versus interactive vision). TT correspond to a
conception of science in which the objective of scientific re-
search is to formulate theories that represent the world and
according to which experiments have a purely instrumental
character, or at least they are subsidiary to theory. The model of
science endorsed by logical empiricism is a good representative
of TT. In contrast, ET question such a model of science and
attribute a more important role to experimentation, which is
seen as providing its own means of consolidating knowledge.
*Financial support for this research was received from the Spanish Govern-
ment’s DGICYT research project: FFI2011-23238, “Innovation in scientific
practice: cognitive approaches and t heir philosophical consequences”.
I am grateful to Edwin Hutchins for his support when I was visiting scholar
in University of California, San Diego. I am also grateful to Peter Garden-
fors to suggest me the possible relationship between interactive vision and
experimental traditions after my contribution in the 9th International Con-
ress of Lo
ic, Methodol o
and Philoso
of Science
sala, 1991
.On the other side of the relationship, in the field of the cogni-
tive sciences, there is a debate concerning visual perception that
takes place in terms of pure vision versus interactive vision.
The idea of pure vision was proposed by D. Marr (1982) in
“Vision”. Marr considers that what we see when we contem-
plate something is a complete elaboration of the visual scene.
The idea of interactive vision is defended by P. S. Churchland,
V. S. Ramachandran and T. J. Sejnowski (1994), among others,
who consider that pure vision is a fiction and that what we see
at a given moment is only a partially elaborated representation
of the visual scene. Referring to the connection between the
visual and motor realms, Churchland et al. maintain that: “The
anatomy is consistent with the idea that motor assembly can
begin even before sensory signals reach the highest levels. Es-
pecially for skille d actions performed in a fa miliar context, suc h
as reading aloud, shooting a basket, and hunting prey, this
seems reasonable” (Churchland et al., 1994: p. 43).
The independence of these two debates should be understood
in the sense that no links have been established that relate the
two approaches. ET are sometimes related to the development
of Kuhnian and post-Kuhnian philosophy of science and are
therefore seen as a result of our philosophy of science moving
away from a logicalist and rationalist approach and towards
dominance of historicist and sociological approaches. However,
there are differences that are too important between the differ-
ent post-Kuhnian approaches for ET to be considered a straight-
forward evolution from those approaches. In addition, there is
the cognitive element which has always remained very much in
the background in the majority of work in post-Kuhnian phi-
losophy, which is much more focused on the historical and
sociological elements.
I will begin by examining the differences between the con-
ception of pure vision (Marr) and that of interactive vision
(Churchland, Ramachandran, & Sejnowski). The latter is con-
nected to the motor system and as a consequence motor repre-
sentations acquire particular importance. Secondly, I will ana-
lyze the main theses of a philosophy of science that focuses on
ET and contrast them with a philosophy of science that is cen-
tered on TT, in the light of the models of pure and interactive
vision. Finally, I will consider the consequences of this analysis
for the relation between theory and experiment, and how that
relation can have repercussions for what we understand by
representations of knowledge.
From Interactive Vision to the Motor System
The 1994 paper by Churchland, Ramachandran and Sejno-
wski is a landmark in the revision of Marr’s model of pure vi-
sion (1982) and in the defense of interactive vision. The char-
acterization that the authors attribute to pure vision can be sum-
marized by the following points:
What we see at any given moment is in general a fully
elaborated representation of a visual scene; signal elabo-
ration is a hierarchical process; higher levels in the proc-
essing hierarchy depend on lower levels, but not, in gen-
eral, vice versa (Churchland et al., 1994: p. 25).
In contrast, they attribute interactive vision with the follow-
ing characteristics:
The visual system of the brain has the organization, com-
putational profile, and architecture for feeding, fleeing,
fighting and reproduction; what we see at any given mo-
ment is a partially elaborated representation of the visual
scene and only relevant information is represented; the
interactive vision is exploratory and predictive; an inter-
active vision will suggest that motor assembling begins on
the basis of preliminary and minimal analysis; new re-
search challenges the conventional conception of a chiefly
unidirectional, low-to-high processing hierarchy; rich re-
currence in network processing also means that stored in-
formation from early learning plays a role in what the
animal literally sees; and if the visual system is intimately
and multifariously integrated with other functions, in-
cluding motor control, approaching vision from the per-
spective of sensorimotor representation and computations
may be strategically unavoidable (Churchland et al., 1994:
pp. 26-28).
Although vision has been the centre of the discussion of
whether perception in general is pure or interactive, it is impor-
tant not to undervalue research into other senses, in particular
hearing, as M. Slaney (1998) indicates when applying the
analysis of Churchland, Ramachandran and Sejnowski to audi-
tion. Slaney refers to a series of experiments from which it can
be deduced that recent experience can influence the sounds that
we perceive; a demonstration that there are auditive systems
that use information in a top-down manner. In fact, it indicates
that we perceive the voice of someone speaking a language that
we have never heard before as just a source of sound and not as
isolated tones. Furthermore, it shows that it is the possibility of
top-down auditory processes that allows us to distinguish
speech in a noisy environment. However, Slaney recognizes
that, for the moment, it is not easy to design and experimentally
test top-down cognitive processes and interactive systems.
Taking into account the objective of this paper, which is to
explore the possible connection between ET and interactive
vision, it is logical that of all the perceptive systems I focus on
vision and, very particularly, on the relation between interactive
vision and the motor system. One of the reasons for the rele-
vance of the motor system to the subject I am concerned with
here is that it is related, at least from the perspective of interac-
tive vision, with action. Therefore, the connection between
interactive vision and the motor system seems evident.
With regard to this question, the classic scheme is the fol-
lowing: first perception, then cognition and, finally, movement.
This scheme seemed perfectly convincing while the image that
dominated our understanding of the motor system was a simpli-
fied one but, as Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia (2006) point out, the
motor system has to do with action and not merely with move-
ment. It is in our actions that our experience of the environment
that surrounds us becomes important and where things gain
meaning. Thus we can say that: “the acting brain is also and
above all a brain that understands” but we are talking of “a
pragmatic, pre-conceptual and pre-linguistic form of under-
standing, but it is not less important for that, because it lies at
the base of many of our celebrated cognitive abilities” (Riz-
zolatti & Sinigaglia, 2006: p. xi).
Based on neurological research it can be seen that: “not only
is the motor system connected anatomically to the cortical areas
responsible for the cerebral activity involved in ‘thought and
sensation’, but it also has a plurality of functions that are not
compatible with the concept of a sole, purely executive map”
(Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2006: p. 8). The fact that sensorial and
motor information can be redirected into a common format,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 293
codified by specific parietofrontal circuits, suggests that, be-
yond the organization of our motor behavior, certain processes
generally considered to be higher order and attributed to cogni-
tive-type systems (such as for example perception and recogni-
tion of the actions of others, imitation and vocal or gestural
forms of communication) can also be directed to the motor
system and encounter in it their own primary neural substrate
(Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2006: p. 20).
In this theoretical framework “mirror neurons”, also studied
by Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia (2006), take on a special relevance.
The research by Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia on monkeys demon-
strated that mirror neurons reacted both when the monkey per-
formed a specific action (such a grabbing food) and when the
monkey observed another individual (the experimenter) per-
form a similar action. These discoveries immediately suggested
that there may be something similar in humans. The conclusion
was that humans possess “mirror properties” although with
some differences compared to those of monkeys. Human mirror
neurons can codify both the objective of the motor act and also
the temporal aspects of each one of the movements that com-
prise the act, and these differences have an important functional
significance (Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2006: pp. 116-118). Just
as with the monkey, in people the sight of acts performed by
others establishes in the observer an immediate involvement of
the motor areas dedicated to the organization and execution of
those actions. Furthermore, just as with the monkey, in people
that involvement allows the “meaning” of the observed “motor
events” to be deciphered, that is, to “understand them” in terms
of actions. This understanding simply appears without any re-
flexive, conceptual or linguistic contemplation, as it is based
solely on the “vocabulary of acts” and on the “motor knowl-
edge” on which our characteristic capacity to act depends.
(Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2006: p. 125).
I will analyze the relevance of this research for scientific
practice below. For now, I wish to point out, on the one hand,
the link between interactive vision and the motor system, which
is focused on action; and on the other, the fact that mirror neu-
rons cause the motor system to react not only through perform-
ing an action but also through the observation of an action. If,
with this idea in mind, we consider laboratory work, we can say
that observing how an experiment is carried out implies that the
motor systems of the scientists who observe react; possibly not
to the same extent as the motor system of the person who per-
forms the action, but sufficiently for us to be able to consider it
cognitive reinforcing. It could be objected that according to TT,
scientists also perform experiments; but the importance and the
meaning attributed to them is secondary compared to theory
and, particularly, no importance is given to the observation of
experiments that are performed by others.
All of this leads us to motor cognition, which has been
widely studied, among others by Marc Jeannerod (2006) in his
seminal work Motor cognition. What actions tell the self. His
contribution is particularly relevant to one of the problems that
arises as a consequence of the relation between theory and ex-
periment: the representations of action that Jeannerod considers
to be the core of motor cognition.
Theoretical Traditions versus
Experimental Traditions
The debate concerning the role of theory versus the role of
experiment is an old one in the philoso phy of sc ience, a nd it has
crystallized in the comparison between TT and TE. From the
perspective of TT, the philosophy of science has fundamentally
focused on theoretical models, on established laws and prince-
ples, and ul timately on the reconstruction of scientific theories,
leaving experimentation to play a secondary role. For the ma-
jority of schools, both the Received View (RV) and the Kuh-
nian vision of science, experimentation has depended on theory,
whether through being inspired by it or because it is there to
serve theory; but in any case, without a life of its own (Hacking,
1996)1. In accordance with this conception of science, experi-
mentation is considered to be a way of verifying theories, just
as it was seen in the logical empiricism of C. Hempel, or as a
way of falsifying theories from a Popperian point of view. Both
historians and philosophers have argued against this approach
in the philosophy of science by maintaining that experimenta-
tion should occupy a more central role. One of the most promi-
nent of those philosophers is I. Hacking who, in his 1983 book
Representing and Intervening defends the idea that philosophy
should rejoin the task started in the 17th century and place ex-
perimentation at the centre of the scientific enterprise. M. Igle-
sias (2004) in turn refers to the importance of experimental
practices to demonstrate the shift that is necessary in the phi-
losophy of science and the change in the traditional relationship
between theory and experiment. The shift towards practice in
the philosophy of science means that the notions of rationality,
objectivity, truth and the world are no longer only treated from
a theoretical point of view and that new philosophical problems
are defined, promoting a new image of science. This implies
that we need to take into account other factors that intervene in
the scientific project, such as the material infrastructure, instru-
ments, human interaction, relations with the authorities, etc.
For philosophers and historians of science from the positivist
school it was common to describe the processes of the elabora-
tion of scientific theories as based on measurements and precise
quantitative data, in which research referred to quantitative
experiments. This simplified version of the scientific method
completely removed qualitative experimentation from the pic-
ture (Ordoñez & Ferreirós 2002). The new philosophers and
historians reinstate a role for qualitative experiments and the
effect they can have on the construction of knowledge. In this
way, experimentation is moving away from the old tradition of
being guided by theory, as K. Popper suggested it was in the
first edition of “Logik der Forschung”, in 1935: “the theoreti-
cian puts certain definite questions to the experimenter, and the
latter by his experiments tries to elicit a decisive answer to
these questions, and to no others” (Popper, 2002: p. 89). Instead,
experimentation is gaining a life of its own, independent of
theory. Despite the fact that Popper forms part of the TT insofar
as he sees experimentation as being at the service of theory, his
divergence from RV means that we cannot draw a direct paral-
lel between his model of science and Marr’s pure vision, as we
1At this point it is as well to make a distinction between Hempel and Kuhn
(taken as representati ve ofRV an d of the hi storical appr oach, respectiv ely).
Both can be considered to be within TT insofar as they do not place experi-
mentation at the center of scientific research. However, what they maintain
is different in important ways with respect to the theory ladenness of obser-
vation. Thus, while Hempel bases the empiricist criterion of meaning on
neutral observation, Kuhn considers that observation is conditioned by the
paradigm from which it takes pale. The consequence is that Hempel’s posi-
tion fits in with pure vision, but that is not the case for Kuhn’s position, even
though it is not in agreement with interactive vision. See Estany (2001) for
an analysis of the theory ladenness of observation from theories of percep-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
seem to be able to with RV.
Through case studies, philosophers of science aim to demon-
strate the existence of an experimental ladenness of theory. This
is the case of Hacking (1983); Galison (1987); Gooding, Pinch
and Schaffer (1989); Pickering (1995); and Martinez (1995),
among others, who move towards a new image of science. J.
Ordoñez and J. Ferreirós (2002) consider that the misfortune of
theoreticism resides in the way it reduces the wealth and com-
plexity of scientific practice to a matter of mere conceptual
elaboration leaving out the wealth of knowledge that lies be-
hind experimental practices. Recognizing the importance and
validity of experimental practice, its function independent of
theory or in equilibrium with it, and its role beyond the one it is
usually seen as having of merely verifying or falsifying, con-
stitutes the basis o f this approach to the philosophy of science.
Another aspect that is important in the philosophy of experi-
mental practice is the type of discourse there is in the experi-
mentation itself, which does not correspond with that which is
assigned to deduction in RV. In experimentation there is a form
of argumentation and of knowledge that is different from the
phenomenon of deduction (Galison, 1987). It is necessary to
recognize that in action there is thought, which means breaking
with and overcoming the Cartesian dualism that separates mind
and body, nature and culture. There is a different language that
is expressed in experimental activity and which gives rise to
thoughts and ideas that are later expressed conceptually.
Experimental knowledge is present in the design and build-
ing of apparatus, but also in the manipulation of artifacts and in
the creation of phenomena. So we have to accept that in ex-
perimental activity there is a conceptual wealth that has not
been recognized or valued as highly as it should have been. We
need to bear in mind that in experimentation, as Iglesias sug-
gests: “nature does not reveal herself to us on her own: she
opens up, she unfolds, in keeping with the way in which she is
subjected to a specific action” (Iglesias, 2004: p. 11).
Making experimentation a platform for knowledge contrib-
utes to a change in the image of science. The way to present
experiments must not be solely descriptive or narrative rein-
forcing the role of theories. Instead we should move towards a
characterization of experimentation that involves its own prob-
lems and that has a conceptual wealth of its own (a life of its
own), create needs where the experiment “talks” and there is
communication, create specific situations where nature “un-
folds” and demonstrates certain behavior to us; that is, make
experimentation a human activity. Case studies that show the
role of experimentation in the framework of the philosophy of
experimental practice allow us to identify valuable aspects of
scientific activity that must be recognized and considered by
philosophers of science.
Cognitive Support for Experimental Traditions
At the start of the paper I put forward as a working hypothe-
sis the idea that cognitive models of vision are relevant to the
philosophical models of science with respect to the relation
between theory and experiment.
One of the important points for the distinction between pure
and interactive vision is the classic hierarchical scheme, as
shown in Scheme 1(a). In comparison to this scheme, we could
put forward a reticular system which, among other things,
would mean that motor assembly (referring to movement) be-
gins after a minimum preliminary analysis. Scheme 1(b) shows
such a reticular arrangement, in which the type of figure that
best reflects this idea is the equilateral triangle2.
In addition, if we take onboard the conception of motor sys-
tem that Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia put forward, the alternative to
the classic scheme not only consists of moving from the hier-
archical system to a reticular one, but also of substituting the
idea of movement for that of action, as shown in Scheme 2,
which includes an intervention of the intentions behind the
motor act. These are what ultimately give meaning to the ac-
What would the classic scheme of the scientific method be
like from the perspective of TT, equivalent to that of pure vi-
sion? Scheme 3(a) represents the hierarchical scheme of TT,
where experimentation is simply there to support theory. In
contrast, in a reticular scheme, such as that shown in Scheme
3(b), it is not necessary for the experimental process to start
with a hypothesis, rather the hypothesis could be just roughly
laid out, in the same way in which motor assembly can begin
with only a minimum analysis of the visual scene. In addition,
although experiments do provide knowledge regarding the phe-
nomena studied, they would not necessarily be devoted to the
formulation of a theory in the same way as they are in RV.
There are still, however, several questions to clarify in the
extrapolation from the cognitive framework to the methodo-
logical scheme. One of them is whether we can find something
that is equivalent of the difference that Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia
indicate between movement and action. The fundamental dif-
ference is that in an action, the end or goal plays a role; that is,
we could define action as the sum of movements and ends. If
we consider that the objective of science it to explain the mate-
rial and social world, the equivalent of action could be scien-
tific explanation.
One possibility would be that experiments are considered to
be equivalent to movements in TT and to actions in TE. How-
ever, this would stretch the parallel too far. In TT, the objective
of experiments is to test theories; although it is true that this is
not the end in itself but rather depends on the theory, as men-
Another important question is whether, independently of the
hierarchical or reticular scheme, we can conceive of an experi-
ment that has no intention or objectives. At least methodologi-
cally speaking, it is not possible; however, there are precedents
in the philosophy of science of similar questions being asked. I
have in mind C. G. Hempel’s (1966) criticism of A. B. Wolfe
(1924) regarding the stages of scientific research. Wolfe places
data collection in the first stage of the process of hypothesis
testing, which is a proposal that Hempel qualifies as “narrow
inductivism” because he considers that the search for data
makes no sense without a criterion regarding what is relevant to
the hypothesis that we wish to test. In the same way, we could
ask ourselves whether it is possible to design an experiment if
we have no theory as a frame of reference. Wolfe’s suggestion
also follows a hierarchical scheme but places data collection
first, as shown in Scheme 4(a). Hempel’s position corresponds
to Scheme 4(b).
Both in the reticular Scheme 3(b), and in Wolfe’s proposal
(Scheme 4(a)) we need to get around the problem of how to act
if we have no guide: What data do I look for if I do not take my
lead from a hypothesis? How can we design an experiment
2Laudan, in a different context, also proposes a reticular system as opposed
to a hierarchical one to refer to the relation between facts, methods and val-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 295
Cognition Movement
Scheme 1
Cognition Action
Scheme 2
Experiment Theory
Scheme 3
Data collection
Data collection
Scheme 4
without a theoretical framework?
Two reflections are called for at this point:
Interactive vision claims that motor assembly (and therefore,
action) begins after only a preliminary and minimum analy-
sis; that is, minimum but existent. By analogy, in scientific
practice this would mean that theory could be minimum but
existent. Therefore, it does not in any way assume experi-
mentation taking place completely in the dark with no guide
at all. That is why it is very important what type of rela-
tionship is established between theory and experimentation.
In fact, we can say that the weight of experiment and that of
theory are not the same in all fields or at all stages of re-
The objective or end of an action is important; in the case of
the visual system, the end is to facilitate the development of
the organism and, ultimately, the survival of the species. In
the case of scientific practice, the objective is also key,
whether it is the explanation of a phenomenon or the appli-
cation of knowledge to resolving practical problems, as in
the case of design sciences3.
One of the characteristics of interactive vision that Church-
land, Ramachandran and Sejnowski point out is that the infor-
mation stored from previous learning plays a role in what we
see. So, we do not face the world with a tabula rasa but rather
with cultural frameworks that affect what we perceive and how
we act. Neither do scientists face the phenomena that they want
to explain with a completely empty hand, but with a whole
wealth of theoretical and practical knowledge acquired through-
out the process of training, integration and socialization as a
scientist. From the perspective of TT, it seems that this baggage
would have to be limited to theoretical models; in contrast, ET
incorporate practical learning and knowhow by way of patterns,
norms of conduct or “heuristics” in Martínez’s sense (2006).
Finally, there is a question that refers to the fact that the
model of interactive vision considers the visual system to be
made up of multiple functions and, consequently, it goes be-
yond the static representation of an image. We can compare this
to the current conception in the philosophy of science that we
should take into account all the factors that intervene in scien-
tific research. This is where the term “philosophy of scientific
practice” comes from, in the sense that practice implies taking
account of much more than simply science as a product.
The Conjunction of Experiment and Theory
under the Prism of Interactive Vision
One of the issues to be examined in the debate concerning
TT and TE is the relation between theory and experiment. At
the core of this question is the analysis of the elements that
intervene in the interpretation of an experiment. In TT, meaning
emerges from theory; in contrast to what happens in TE where
it emerges from experiment. The most plausible hypothesis is
that meaning emerges from the conjunction of both (theory and
experiment). We will see to what extent the model of interac-
tive vision supports such a conjunction.
The idea of convergence between theory and experiment
leads us away from solutions that consist of reversing terms and
attributing to experimentation the role that theory played in TT.
Only the metaphor of the pendulum could explain that kind of
decision. If the current work makes sense, it is because, even
though TE may reflect scientific practices much better than TT
(both historically and at present) and furthermore they do jus-
tice to the experimental work of many scientists, the alternative
they offer is not simply to reverse roles, but to see in what
terms we should establish the relation between theory and ex-
3The goal of design sciences is to transform the world and not only to de-
scribe i t , as i s the priorit y o f pu re or basic sci en ce s uch as ph ys i cs , ch emis t ry
iology, psychology and sociology. Engineering, medicine, information
science, the science of education, etc. are design sciences that result from
applying scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. See SIMON, H.
A., The science of the artificial, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 3rd ed.,
1996, and NIINILUOTO, I., “The aim and structure of applied research,”
Erkenntnis, 38, (1993), pp. 1-21.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Such a conjunction can be approached from different direc-
tions. One of them is the historical path, linked to the role of
instruments and to debates surrounding scientific method. The
history of science provides numerous cases that exemplify both
the importance of instruments and the debates that have arisen
regarding their role in the scientific method. Among many oth-
ers, we can cite the following examples: the importance of the
contribution of the chemists Priestley and Cavendish is beyond
doubt, but the recognition they are afforded as scientists is not
the same from TT as from TE, given that their theoretical
framework was somewhere between the chemistry of phlogis-
ton (Stahl) and Lavoisier’s theory of combustion; the role that
instruments such as the scales and the gasometer played in the
chemistry revolution brought about by Lavoisier; the fact that
the emergence of psychology as a science is linked to the ex-
perimentation carried out by W. Wundt5; the role of experi-
mentation in science was the main motive behind the sustained
discussion concerning scientific method between Hobbes and
Boyle, which was later analyzed by the historians Shapin and
Shaffer (1985). All those cases demonstrate that the relation
between theory and experiment has been the cause of analysis
and reflection by scientists, historians and philosophers over the
However, the philosophical analysis of experimentation in a
more systematic way is much more recent and Hacking is one
of the most important figures here. Hacking points out that:
“philosophers of science constantly discuss theories and repre-
sentation of reality, but almost nothing about experiment, tech-
nology, or the use of knowledge to alter the world” (Hacking,
1983: p. 149), and he gives historical and contemporary exam-
ples of how theoretical scientists have gained more prestige
than experimenters despite the former also experimenting and
the latter performing research with theoretical models. He re-
fers to the case of the London brothers (Fritz and Heinz) who
were physicists and worked as a team: Fritz as the theoretician
and Heinz the experimenter; but if Fritz could dedicate himself
to theory it was only because Heinz provided him with research
techniques. However, when it came to an entry in the “Diction-
ary of Scientific Biography” Fritz got in but Heinz did not.
Hacking’s position, however, despite some of his claims and
his clear interest in supporting the importance of the role of
experimentation, cannot be seen as a mere reverse of TT, as the
following quote clearly demonstrates:
Thus I make no claim that experimental work could exist
independently of theory. That would be the blind work of
those whom Bacon mocked as “mere empirics”. It re-
mains the case, however, that much truly fundamental re-
search precedes any relevant theory whatsoever (Hacking,
1983: p. 158).
Hacking’s conception of the relation between theory and ex-
periment is reflected clearly in the metaphor of ants, spiders
and bees:
Bacon: The men of experiment are like the ant; they only
collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make
cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a
middle course; it gathers material from the flowers of the
garden and the field, but transforms and digests it by a
power of its own (Hacking, 1983: p. 247).
Hacking: Science must be like the bee, with the talents of
both ant and spider, but able to do more, that is digest and
interpret both experiments and speculation (Hacking,
1983: p. 261).
At no time did Hacking intend to base his proposal on an
appeal to the cognitive sciences. However, some of his ideas
could well be compared to the concept of interactive vision.
Along these lines, we can interpret the step from representing to
intervening as what it meant in the cognitive sciences to move
from pure vision to interactive vision.
That is the first lesson: you learn to see through a micro-
scope by doing, not just by looking. (…) new ways of
seeing, acquired after infancy, involve learning by doing,
not just passive looking (Hacking, 1983: p. 189).
The fact that the majority of his followers have linked TE to
historicist and sociological positions more than cognitive ones,
has not helped in considering him as an important figure in a
philosophy of science more in tune with the new cognitive
Once interactive vision and the main proposals of TE have
been analyzed, we can conclude that the former, together with
motor cognition, provides empirical support for TE. Hacking’s
statements demonstrate the confluence of experiment and the-
ory in scientific practice, and are supported by the cognitive
models mentioned.
Symbolic Representation versus
Motor Representation
The question of how to represent knowledge has always been
a central issue in the philosophy of science. Contributions by
many philosophers consist of clarifying which categories best
represent the phenomena we aim to explain. All the analysis
concerning concepts, law, theories and models of explanation
constitute different forms of representation, although there has
been no agreement as to which of the categories constitutes the
basic units of representation; which for the classic conception,
coinciding with the so-called “linguistic turn”, were the pro-
positional statements that were used to formulate theories. Also,
proposals from the historicist period with T. Kuhn (paradigms),
I. Lakatos (research programs) and L. Laudan (research tradi-
tions), among others, are forms of representing scientific
knowledge. Representativity has even sometimes been a de-
marcation criterion between science and art; a requirement for
the former but not necessarily so for the latter. In summary,
representativity is not questioned, although which are the best
ways to achieve it is arguable.
In the cognitive sciences, the traditional perspective with re-
spect to representation, under the influence of the analytic tra-
dition in the philosophy of language, maintains that concepts
are by nature symbolic representations and they can be reduced
to symbolic computation. This perspective entails a view of
action according to which it is the end result of a process that
starts with the analysis of sense data, incorporates the results of
decision processes, and ends with responses (actions) to stimuli
4I understand experimentation in a broad sense; it covers what happens in a
laboratory as well as carrying out a survey or performing a psychological
study. It is beyond the scope of this paper to delve into what is understood
by experimentation in the different sciences from physics to sociology, but I
take it that some kind of experimentation is performed in all empirical sci-
5W. Wundt is considered to be the fa ther of experimental psychology.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 297
generated internally or externally.
Since the 1990s, anti-representationalist approaches have had
an important impact. Timothy van Gelder is a good representa-
tive of this approach. In his paper “What might cognition be if
not computation” (1995) he maintains that cognitive systems
are dynamic systems that exhibit high degrees of coupling in
the sense that any variable is changing all the time and all the
pairs of variables are, directly or indirectly, mutually determin-
ing the forms of the changes of the others. For van Gelder, “the
post-Cartesian agent manages to cope with the world without
necessary representing it” (van Gelder, 1995: p. 381). Van Gel-
der’s claims have been widely contested, as in the case of P.
Martínez-Freire, among many others, who considers that the
non-representational approaches pose problems for our under-
standing of cognition, since “we can accept that the human
brain is a dynamic system, but its cognitive functioning as such
requires representations and not simple coupling to the envi-
ronment” (Martínez-Freire, 2007: p. 126). It has become evi-
dent after research in the cognitive sciences over the last few
decades that symbolic representation is not the most suitable
way to represent knowledge; in contrast to this, there are at
least two alternatives: one is non-representational models; the
other is to form a new idea of representation.
There are some contributions to this second alternative that I
consider to be particularly important for the aim of this work.
On the one hand, there are those related in some way to the
motor system; and, on the other, those that place the emphasis
on forms of representation that are linked to material anchoring.
Fro m the first, I will consider: the proposal by V. Gallese (2000)
regarding “motor representations” for which the work of Riz-
zolatti and Sinigaglia concerning the motor system is particu-
larly relevant; the analysis of concepts as basic categories by V.
Gallese and G. Lakoff (2005); and the study of motor cognition
by M. Jeannerod (2006). As examples of the second type, I will
consider the contribution of M. Alac and E. Hutchins (2004) for
whom the use of different material anchors, including the body
itself, constitute forms of representation that go beyond the
As well as the way the issue of representation has been tack-
led from the philosophy of science and from the cognitive sci-
ences, we are going to see to what extent it is possible to com-
bine the representativity of knowledge with cognitive models in
keeping with the current state of research in the cognitive sci-
ences. On the one hand, we can say that symbolic representa-
tion suits TT well, both focus on theory; but for a philosophy of
scientific practice, which aims to encompass the whole of sci-
entific activity and, consequently, experimentation plays an
important role, symbolic representation does not seem to be the
best suited. However, neither does the anti-representationalist
approach seem to work as a model of science whose objective
is to gain knowledge of the natural and social world and use it
to achieve our human goals. Therefore, it is important to exam-
ine those cognitive models that are not anti-representationalist
but which, at the same time, are not limited to symbolic repre-
sentation. In fact, what underlies all the proposals that without
being anti-representationalist can account for scientific practice
and experimentation, beyond theoretical models, is the connec-
tion between representation and action, which leads to some
form of motor representation.
Gallese relates representation and action, reconciling some of
the different pronouncements regarding intentionality from a
neurobiological perspective. According to Gallese “the so-
called “motor functions” of t he nervous system not only provide
the means to control and execute action but also to represent it”,
and thereby: “action control and action representation become
two sides of the same coin” (Gallese, 2000: p. 23). The basis
that Gallese relies on for support are the results of neuroscience
research, particularly that carried out by Rizzolatti and Sini-
Moreover, on adding goals to movement, the results are ac-
tions. The consequence of this is that, if up until recently the
motor system was conceived of as a simple controller of
movement, the most recent research indicates that the motor
system controls actions. We may ask what it is that really con-
stitutes the meaning of an observed and internally represented
object; and the answer is not a purely pictoria l de scription of its
shape, size and color, but above all its intentional value. There-
fore, as Gallese says, “objects acquire their full meaning only to
the extent that they constitute one of the poles of the dyadic
dynamic relation with the acting subject, who, in turn, consti-
tutes the second pole of this relationship” (Gallese, 2000: p. 34).
So we can say that motor representations allow us to unify rep-
resentational models and dynamic models.
Another way to address representation is through simulation.
The question is whether there is any way to relate simulation to
a representation of action. Along these lines, Gallese (2003)
indicates that imagination, as a cognitive phenomenon, can be
equivalent to simulation, which leads us to see imagination as a
mental simulation of action or perception.
The proposal by Gallese and Lakoff (2005) concerns the
representation of knowledge through its most basic categories:
concepts constitute a referent for the connection between rep-
resentation and action. In this way, their objective is: “to pro-
vide a testable embodied theory of concepts, based on the re-
sults of research in neuroscience, neural computation, and cog-
nitive linguistics, capable of reconciling both concrete and ab-
stract concepts within a unified framework” (Gallese & La-
koff, 2005: p. 3).
The classic theory of categorization presumes that categories
form a hierarchy—from bottom to top—and that there is noth-
ing special in the middle. Gallese and Lakoff (2005) put for-
ward two examples to demonstrate the role of what Rosch
(1994) calls “basic-level categories” and their importance for an
embodied theory of concepts. Let us suppose that we have two
sets of concepts that go from the most general to the most spe-
cific: furniture/chair/folding chair and vehicle/car/sports car.
Chair and car are special because we have motor programs to
interact with those objects, but not with furniture or vehicles in
general. Therefore, the categorization is embodied precisely
because of our interactions, and not only because of the objec-
tive properties of the objects.
According to Gallese and Lakoff, there is a testable empirical
base for this theory that consists of the claim that: “the same
circuitry that can move the body and structure perceptions, also
structures abstract thought” (Gallese & Lakoff, 2005: p. 17). In
fact, at the core of this theory is the assumption that there are no
specialized brain circuits for concepts in general or for abstract
concepts in particular. The consequence that we can derive is
that concepts ar e also c o n n e cted to actions and we can represent
objects to the extent that we interact with them through motor
When we talk of motor cognition we cannot but mention
Jeannerod (2006), whose work allows us to maintain the repre-
sentativity of knowledge without ignoring the influence of con-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
textual factors. As in the case of Gallese, he starts from the
representation of action, and says that: “representing an action
and executing it are functionally equivalent” (Jeannerod, 2006:
p. 41). However, Jeannerod tackles an issue that is particularly
important for scientific practice: “the degree of consciousness
involved in a given action, and what are the factors and the
constraints for an action to be conscious or not.” (Jeannerod,
2006: p. 45) That is, an action can be conscious or not; and for
it to be conscious, it is necessary to be conscious of the end that
is being pursued, of how it will be carried out and of who will
perform it. In short, the ends are key to the consciousness of an
Continuing with the relation between representation and ac-
tion, Jeannerod tells us: “The representation and the execution
of an action are part of a continuum, such that the representa-
tion can eventually become an executed action” (Jeannerod,
2006: p. 63). Furthermore, as W. Prinz points out: “there ap-
pears to be no support for the folk psychology notion that the
act follows the will, in the sense that physical action is caused
by mental events that precede them and to which we have privi-
leged access” (Prinz, 2003: p. 26).
At the same time, Jeannerod links action to motor cognition:
Assuming that action representations are the core of motor
cognition means that the objective of a study of motor
cognition is to understand the content of these representa-
tions (Jeannerod, 2006: p. 165).
Generally speaking, a motor representation can be con-
ceived as a structure that anticipates interactions with the
environment: it directs movements and exploratory activi-
ties to the external world, thus making more information
available (Jeannerod, 2006: p. 168).
From all these references, it is easy to conclude that it is not
necessary to abandon the representativity of knowledge in order
to achieve a philosophy of science in consonance with current
cognitive models.
Although it is not directly linked to motor action, the pro-
posal of Alac and Hutchins (2004) does constitute an alterna-
tive to symbolic representation. In their proposal, representation
does not need to be limited to propositional statements. As a
consequence, language (natural or mathematical) is not the only
instrument for the representation and transmission of knowl-
edge (although it does play an important role).
Alan and Hutchins study the cognitive processes that take
place in the interpretation of images. To that end they analyze
the interpretation of magnetic resonance images to see how
both experts and novices use a series of semiotic resources.
They manage to turn the representations of experimental data
that at first just appear messy, into organized data and signifi-
cant phenomena through the use of gestures, language and ma-
terial structures distributed about the research spaces. This also
indicates that scientific knowledge (that is, the capacity to see
certain natural phenomena represented, specifically and spa-
tially) is achieved gradually through the use of dynamic proc-
esses of the imagination.
In the proposal of Alan and Hutchins the alternative to sym-
bolic representation follows the idea that representation can
move beyond propositional language. The material basis, in-
cluding both the technology and the body itself via gestures,
constitutes different ways of representing the concepts that that
the agents wish to transmit. The use of gestures, attributing
them a particularly important role, brings me to think of a
manifestation of “embodied and embedded cognition”; the body
constitutes one of the elements that make up meaning.
One way or another, in all these proposals there is an attempt
to build a bridge between perception and action and, as a con-
sequence, for representation not to be of something static, but
of something dynamic. Therefore, the characteristics of motor
representation, of action as a whole, have very little to do with
the classic symbolic representations that the anti-representa-
tionalists question.
Experimental Traditions Compared to
Motor Representations
We still have to consider how TE are seen from these new
representation proposals and decide which of the possible rela-
tions between TE and models of interactive vision comes out on
Hacking suggests two, to a certain extent mutually exclusive,
ways to address scientific knowledge: representation and inter-
vention. Although he does not explicitly say so, for Hacking
moving from TT to TE involves the form of expressing scien-
tific knowledge being through intervention and not representa-
tion. This could be the reason why, when one looks for prece-
dents of an alternative to a philosophy of science based on
symbolic representations, Hacking is rarely cited; rather phe-
nomenologists such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, and prag-
matists such as James, Dewey and Mead are usually higher up
the list. The reason is that Hacking considers that placing ex-
perimentation at the center of scientific research means aban-
doning representation and that is because he cannot call upon
motor representation. What Hacking did not conceive of is
“representation of intervention”. Therefore, the question is
whether motor representation makes it possible to unite repre-
sentation and intervention.
After all we have seen concerning motor representation that
has arisen from the cognitive sciences, it seems clear that such a
conjunction is possible; but we need to see in what way. On the
one hand, intervention presumes action, that is, movement plus
ends. On the other, experimentation implies imagining per-
formance in the laboratory, or in any other place or circum-
stance where research is carried out. As we have seen above,
according to Gallese, when we imagine an action, we simulate
it and in a certain way we represent it.
The objection could be made that from the perspective of a
theoretical philosophy, belonging to TT, scientists also program
performance in the laboratory but the fundamental difference is
the type of scheme (hierarchical or reticular) that underlies
scientific practice, and which has consequences for the roles
that theory and experimentation are allocated. It could also be
objected that the results of scientific research are the same and
that there is no reason why they should vary as a function of
whether the scheme is hierarchical or reticular. However, there
is a series of philosophical questions for which the type of
scheme we star t from is import ant.
Only from an aprioristic, and therefore non-naturalized,
philosophy of science could it be considered unimportant
whether the models of science fit as closely as possible the
way in which humans commonly process, represent and act
in our environment. Therefore, if the reticular scheme better
reflects how we humans act, a naturalized philosophy can-
not ignore it.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 299
One of the central ideas of interactive vision is that what we
see is not a fully elaborated representation of the visual
scene, but what we perceive is influenced by the goals we
pursue. From this we can conclude that it is important that
what we imagine is the action because it will provide us
with an appropriate idea of what is to be done in the labo-
ratory. That is, scientists who enter the laboratory with only
a representation of the theory will then have to consider
how to implement it through experimentation. From the
cognitive point of view, that requires more time and surely
more effort than if they enter with a representation of the set
of the actions that they need to perform. The objection
could be raised that scientists already behave in this way.
Perhaps they do; but then we agree that a philosophy of
science whose conception is theoretical and which responds
to what is known as TT, does not reflect what really hap-
pens in laboratories and does not take into account the cog-
nitive processes of the agents involved in scientific practice.
From a historical perspective, in the case of scientists who
concentrated on experimentation, it is clear that they imag-
ined a representation of the action that they were going to
perform. It is not the case that they had no theoretical
framework and where acting completely in the dark, but
their primary task was to simulate action with specific ends;
which could be to discover a new substance, a new parti cle,
a new molecular process, or a new form of social organiza-
The cognitive element has been practically non-existent in
the work of the historians and philosophers I refer to
(Hacking, Galison, Pickering, Gooding, Pinch and Schaffer,
Martinez, and Ordoñez and Ferreirós). However, their vi-
sion of scientific practice, centered on experimentation, fits
in with the form of cognition of motor representations.
It is beyond the aim of this work to address the idea of mo-
tor representation in design sciences, but it should be point-
ed out that, given that in those sciences action constitutes
their raison dêtre, it is difficult to apply models of science
that were conceived for descriptive sciences, focused on
theory. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that motor
representations would be a good way to approach sciences
whose objective is to transform the world and not only to
describe it.
Of the three possibilities that I suggest at the beginning of
this paper, we could say that, on the one hand, TT and pure
vision, and on the other, TE and interactive vision, are mutually
reinforcing. In this work I have particularly focused on whether
the conception that is emerging in the philosophy of science in
ET is supported by the cognitive models that address motor
cognition, and that we could see as one of the consequences of
the interactive and dynamic vision proposed by Churchland,
Ramachandran and Sejnowski in 1994.
The idea of interactive vision as a system that is integrated
with other functions also constitutes an analogous model for a
philosophy of scientific practice, since this is also constituted of
different elements. Pure vision can be seen as the equivalent of
a philosophy of the science centered on the product, as logical
empiricism was. However, the idea of approaching science as
scientific activity or practice is not just a nominative question,
rather it responds to the objective of approaching science from
different points of view, globally, and thereby seeing it as con-
sisting of various different functions; although at a specific
moment, we can concentrate on one particular aspect.
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cognitive view in the philosophy of science since, although they
are an alternative to the symbolic paradigm of information
processing, they bring into question one of the essential char-
acteristics of science: its function of representing knowledge. In
contrast, motor representations, backed up by the empirical
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