The world shows up for us—it is present in our thought and perception. But, as Alva Noë contends in his latest exploration of the problem of consciousness, it doesn’t show up for free. The world is not simply available; it is achieved rather than given. As with a painting in a gallery, the world has no meaning—no presence to be experienced—apart from our able engagement with it. We must show up, too, and bring along what knowledge and skills we’ve cultivated. This means that education, skills acquisition, and technology can expand the world’s availability to us and transform our consciousness.
Although deeply philosophical, Varieties of Presence is nurtured by collaboration with scientists and artists. Cognitive science, dance, and performance art as well as Kant and Wittgenstein inform this literary and personal work of scholarship intended no less for artists and art theorists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, and anthropologists than for philosophers.
Noë rejects the traditional representational theory of mind and its companion internalism, dismissing outright the notion that conceptual knowledge is radically distinct from other forms of practical ability or know-how. For him, perceptual presence and thought presence are species of the same genus. Both are varieties of exploration through which we achieve contact with the world. Forceful reflections on the nature of understanding, as well as substantial examination of the perceptual experience of pictures and what they depict or model are included in this far-ranging discussion.