“FEEL” was a six-year ERC Advanced project led by J. Kevin O’Regan at the Université Paris Descartes, devoted to testing and developing the “sensorimotor” approach to consciousness. This approach purports to explain the “hard” problem of understanding the nature of “qualia”, that is to say the “feel” associated with perceptual experience: for example, why ‘red’ feels red rather than feeling like, say, the sound of a bell. One line of research in the project involved expanding the approach as a competitor to existing frameworks for understanding consciousness by situating it with respect to other “enactive” and more mainstream (e.g. representationalist) approaches, and by exploring and defending its unique explanatory advantages. As a first practical application of the approach, a mathematical line of research showed how the notion of space can emerge in a system that uses coincidence detection to capture sensorimotor invariants. This work had applications in robotic sensor calibration and gave rise to advances in deep learning. The sensorimotor theory also has much to say about the perceived nature of color, and numerous papers were published about how the approach relates to classical color theory. One interesting application concerned the well-known color-switching internet meme #theDress. Other practical applications of the FEEL project concerned “sensory substitution” or “sensory augmentation”, i.e. the possibility of using one sense modality to replace or augment another. In particular the project developed and tested a device that provides a “sense of North” using auditory input, and another device that augments perception of speech through tactile input. Finally the project investigated how 3-9 month old babies use sensorimotor invariants to understand the structure of their bodies, a question relevant not just to psychology but also to robotics. The “FEEL” project employed 9 postdocs, published more than 60 papers, and organised 7 international workshops. It generated an ERC “proof of concept” project “FeelSpeech” on sensory augmentation, and was closely involved with the EU FETopen project “GoalRobots”.
A detailed overview of project achievements is available here.
We would like to thank all our team members and collaborators for the exciting work and new discoveries that we made together!