Can anyone one provide counterexamples to the following: The assumption that all human behavioral level activity (i.e. no sub-personal or subconscious processes) can be bifurcated into two kinds of routines (activities, tasks, processes)- those that are representational and those that are non-representational; and that all activity is a combination or ratio of the two.

By “non-representational routines” I mean causally efficacious or mechanically productive environmental interactivity. Examples are: making a cup of coffee, cooking an egg, walking your dog, riding your bike, driving your car, throwing a ball, taking a bath, mowing the lawn, building a house, etc.

By “representational routine” I mean activity that consists in (linguistically mediated) thought and its communication (production) and or interpretation (consumption). Examples are: armchair rumination, inner mumblings, judging, thinking, believing, realizing, remembering, prediction, expecting, deeming, suspecting, surmising, assuming, conjecturing, planning, goal setting, reasoning, calculating, inferring, imagining, fantasizing, understanding, comprehending, (philosophizing!) etc. Inscription/enunciation: writing, texting, scrawling, sketching, illustrating, blogging, speaking/talking, discussing, debating, lecturing, miming, acting, etc. Reading/interpreting: speech, text, icons, symbols, signs, maps, (technical) drawings, diagrams, graphs, tables, etc.

2 Answers 2


Mostly, I'm not convinced there is a category of "non-representational routines." Any of the above could be highly symbolic and loaded with meaning.

E.g., I cook an egg for you seems quite representational. Or I go on a bike ride and in doing so break the promise that I had made to you to only ride my bike with you.

There's two reasons to think the distinction fails from a more strictly philosophical level. One is a concept I work with in my dissertation building on Henry Fingarette's The Secular as Sacred which is an interpretation of the Analects, viz., that our activity is li. I'll leave that one off since I still haven't published it outside my dissertation. The second and related idea is one we can find in Hegel -- which is that as the sort of conscious beings we are, the things we do are marked by consciousness. In other words, we are always symbolizing, because we are not merely mechanical in our mode of engagement with the world but always acting from a sociological concept of what we are doing.

Thus, if I were to walk outside without any pants on, I would know exactly what this means or would be symbolizing something even though one might assert that to just walk outside in the natural state is not inherently representational.

  • Thanks, virmaior. I think I might need to edit the question, since I believe that almost all activity is a combination or ratio of the two. Is this what you're saying in your answer? Sep 29, 2014 at 0:27
  • No, I'm saying all human action is representational.
    – virmaior
    Sep 29, 2014 at 0:28
  • Could you elaborate on how cooking an egg is 'representational' in contrast to 'involving representation'? Sep 29, 2014 at 0:36
  • That's not really an important distinction. The better question would be if you could show me an example of a human action that does not have meaning. Otherwise, it is just a question of how much meaning a particular action has.
    – virmaior
    Sep 29, 2014 at 1:02
  • In the ‘representationalist vs. anti-representationalist’ literature, there is much division on what kinds of activities depend on taking recourse to ‘inner mental representations’ or ‘inner models’. Some say none (Dreyfus, Hutto, Myin, et al.), some say a lot (Analytic philosophers in general) and the apparently sensible position seems to somewhere in the middle (Sutton, Christensen, Clark, Toribiro, et al.). The question seeks to ask if there are examples of (behavioral level) activity that is neither one, the other or a combination of the two. Sep 29, 2014 at 1:21

I am not sure it is possible to provide a strong counterexample to your postulate, provided that one is allowed sufficient flexibility in choosing categories.

It is, of course, a simple matter of logic. If I define frobulousness in some way that allows me a rough quantification of it in any given action, and then I define everything else as non-frobulousness, I can normalize everything by dividing by the maximum frobulousness to get a score between 0 and 1 for any action. Then, trivially, every activity is a combination of frobulousness and non-frobulousness.

So the real question is: what is frobulousness? Does it correlate with anything interesting? Is there some fundamental, consistent, and explanatory difference between a wholly frobulous activity and a non-frobulous one? In this case, no. I just made it up. The ability to compute a ratio involving it is precisely useless.

Let's now consider representational vs. non-representational, and ask whether there is anything significant behind the different actions you've listed. The non-representational routines seem to involve significant motor activity; the others do not. As far as I can tell, that's about it. Building a house involves all sorts of judgment, planning, executive control, etc. etc.; you may remember cooking an egg or draw a diagram of the house you're going to build. If you do some fMRI, you quickly find out that a lot of the cortical regions that are involved in doing are also involved in thinking-about-doing (even motor cortex!), and although prefrontal cortex is involved in thinking about things, it's also active when doing. So the brain doesn't seem to clearly divide things along these lines. If it does so subtly--well, that is an empirical question that neurophilosophers may work out at some point.

In any case, before worrying about mixing frobulousness and not, you'd better have a very good definition of what it is to be frobulous, and show that it's important for something. Likewise with "representational activity". Thus far, that's missing.

  • So your response (a representational routine) is that there aren’t any counter examples? Cognition is either tightly coupled to environmentally oriented sensory-motor activity or it is decoupled in top-down sensory motor emulations (generally for the purposes of coordinating ongoing environmentally oriented sensory-motor activity (Rick Grush))? Sep 30, 2014 at 5:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .