Attention as Selection for Action: A Challenge

 Aaron Henry (University of Toronto)

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Abstract: This paper raises a challenge for Wayne Wu’s account of attention as selection for action. According to Wu’s account, action poses a selection problem which only attention can solve. The need to solve this problem (and hence to attend) is what, according to Wu, distinguishes action from reflex. My challenge to Wu begins with a dilemma concerning the agential status of attention. Either attention is an action or a reflex. If attention is an action, then a vicious regress results. If it is a reflex, then there is no role for the agent to play in action. In either case, action is revealed to be impossible. While Wu’s account can be developed in a way that avoids this dilemma, the view that results has trouble explaining how attending can itself be an action and also conflicts with a promising view of the neural basis of visual attention called ‘biased competition’ theory.

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