last updated 16 Oct 2013
I have just retired as director of the Laboratoire Psychologie de la
which specializes in human visual and auditory
perception both in babies and adults. I am now starting (June 2013) a 5-year European Research Council Advanced project ("FEEL") on the sensorimotor approach to consciousness and "feel", which I am currently pursuing at the LPP. We
plan to employ 5 postdocs and several assistants over the period of the
project. We will be working to develop the sensorimotor theory on five
fronts, corresponding to the five workpackages of the project:
philosophical, mathematical, color psychophysics, sensory substitution,
and infant development/developmental robotics.
Read my book on consciousness!
book was published by Oxford University Press in 2011. It suggests a
new way of thinking about consciousness (the "sensorimotor" approach)
which dispels many confusions, and allows us to explain the "hardest"
questions about consciousness: namely why sensations feel like they do
(e.g. why red seems red to us, rather than green, or rather than
sounding like a bell!), and why sensations have a feel at all. The
theory is relevant to understanding what would be necessary for robots
to really feel.
My Past Research
After doing my first degree at Sussex University and the
first part of my PhD at Cambridge in
mathematical physics, I switched
my PhD topic to psychology to work on eye movements in
reading, and moved to the
Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in Paris. My most
important early work was the discovery of an "optimal
the eye to fixate in words. Recognition is fastest at that position and
drops off to either side, making it useful for the eye to fixate there
for efficient reading. From this I developed what I called a
"strategy-tactics" theory of eye movement control in reading which
explains why the eye goes where it does in reading. The idea is that
the eye adopts a general strategy of moving a little to the left of the
middle of the next longish word, and makes correction tactics as a
function of ongoing processing if necessary. The theory is a
compromise between the old "rhythm strategy" theory according to which
along at a fairly constant rhythm without taking account of what is
being read, and the
(in the 1970's and 80's) fashionable theory according to which the
eye reacts moment by moment, at every instant changing where
goes as a function of
ongoing cognitive processing.
I am most cited for is change
which I discovered with
and Jim Clark
blindness is a
phenomenon where a person looks at a picture of a scene, but doesn't
see enormous changes that occur in that scene when the changes are
accompanied by a brief interruption like a cinema cut, a blank, or
even small distractors like
mudsplashes on a car windscreen. You can see
below. The phenomenon at first seems similar to the phenomenon of
you don't see something that is fully
in view because you are busy attending to something else. But change
blindness is conceptually a different effect, since it depends
crucially on the occurrence of a brief transitory event in the visual
field that distracts your attention, instead of depending on the fact
that you are consciously attending to
my main interest is one particular aspect of the problem of consciousness,
namely the "what it's
like" of sensory experience: why red seems red to us rather than
seeming, say, green, or like the sound of a bell, or even like
nothing at all.
so-called "phenomenal" aspect of consciousness is considered by
be the "hard" problem of consciousness, also known as the problem of
"qualia". Other questions like the
question of why we have selves or why we can become aware of things and
use them in our rational actions and thought, are considered not so
hard. Most theories of consciousness that neuroscientists talk about
concern the second, "easier" form of consciousness. Brain mechanisms
large scale neural integration, feedback, recurrence or synchrony of
neural discharges may be able to account for this "easier" type of
consciousness. On the other hand, many people think there is a
fundamental obstacle in dealing with the "hard" problem of
consciousness. There seems to be a kind of "explanatory
gap" between the physical mechanisms of the brain and the real, nitty
gritty "what it's like" of sensations like red.
work on change
blindness and on eye movements has led me to a new way of thinking
about the "hard" kind of consciousness. In this, I consider that the
feel of a sensory experience is not something which is somehow
generated by the brain,
but is rather a quality of how we interact with our environment. I have
out what I call the "sensorimotor"
in various articles, and have
just finished a book on the subject which should be appearing in the
next year or so.
The book is for the general public and will probably have the
title: "Feeling: Why red looks red
rather than sounding like a bell".
new theory makes predictions and suggests breakthroughs in
understanding consciousness which I have
been exploring in the last years. Some of this work concerns what
is called "sensory
", that is
the possibility of using one
sense (e.g. hearing) to replace another (e.g. vision), and so, for
example, help the blind to see with their ears. I did this
with Malika Auvray
during her PhD in my lab.
work to test the sensorimotor theory was done for his PhD in my lab by David
and concerns the nature of
. David's work on color
interesting because it predicts, better than ever before, well-known
anthropologists' findings about why certain
colors like red and yellow are considered more basic than colors like
pink and purple. It also explains, better than previously, exactly
which hues of red, yellow, blue and green seem "pure" to us.
seems to me that this work is getting very close to answering
the age-old question of why red looks red rather than green.
Philipona's work on space
is also very fundamental and has applications to robotics.
work done in my lab to test the sensorimotor theory was done by PhD
. She confirmed my theory's prediction
that the perceived quality of color should depend on eye movements.
Finally, most recently with students Ed Cooke and Camila Valenzuela
Moguillansky we have been looking at the "rubber hand illusion" and
read and talks to listen to about the sensorimotor approach
Here is the slideshow
of the talk on "How to make a robot that feels" that I gave in Zurich
at CogSys 2010 in January 2010. It summarizes the essence of my
approach to the problem of phenomenal consciousness, and includes
material on the sense of self. And here are the videos (Part
) of my talk on "Why
red things look red: the sensorimotor approach to phenomenal
consciousness" given in September 2009 at the Barcelona Cognition Brain
and Technology Summer School.
My "magnum opus
" is a
rather long paper setting out the sensorimotor approach for vision and
visual consciousness in the "peer review" journal
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, where there were 40 replies from eminent
scientists and my responses to them. Philosopher Alva Noë
collaborated on the paper, but since then he has continued in a
somewhat different, more philosophical direction.
easy to read introduction to the sensorimotor theory of phenomenal
experience is this slideshow, which is
version of a talk I gave at the Association for the Scientific Study of
Consciousness in Brussels, June 29-July 2, 2000, and at
Another easy paper to read introducing the main
ideas of the theory is this
written with Alva
My recent work
supercedes the earlier papers by extending the sensorimotor theory to
understanding the "feel" of all types of sensations, not just vision.
Several papers on this were written with Erik Myin
are easy to read and
introduce the concepts of "bodiliness" and "grabbiness" in order to
explain why there is something it's like, rather than nothing it's
like, to have a sensory experience.
The sensorimotor theory had its origins in a old
I wrote which is often cited, and where I claimed that
the visual world is like an "outside memory".
is a wiki for collaborative work attempting to
define as precisely as
possible the terms used in the sensorimotor approach. Contributions
invited! Why "spongeman"? Because in the sensorimotor approach, I use
the analogy suggested by my collaborator Erik Myin
of squishing a sponge in order to explain the "what it's like" of the
feel of softness.
For a selected list of my papers organized by theme, see
at the end of this
website. For my complete publication list see here.
free to copy these demos but
if you use them in presentations or publications, please be so kind as
to credit J. Kevin O'Regan and mention my website
Change blindness is a phenomenon in which a very
large change in a picture will not be seen by a viewer, if the change
is accompanied by a visual disturbance that prevents attention from
going to the change location. The easiest way to demonstrate change
blindness is to take a picture, and change some object in it. If you
view the original and the changed picture in sequence, but with some
brief visual disturbance like a blank field or "flicker" in
the original and changed picture, the change sometimes is quite hard
change is hard to see
If you take out the blank field however, then the change
Without flicker the change is easy to see
Instead of using a flicker, it is possible also to use
disturbances like mudsplashes on a car windscreen:
can mask a big change
You can also get change blindness by making the change
that attention is not captured by the changing element, as shown by
this animation by my ex-student Renaud Chabrier:
blindness to a very slow change (1.4 Mb .avi)
the change is part of what is the center of interest of the picture,
attention is more likely to go to that part of the picture, and the
change is easier to detect, as here:
change is easy to see if it is part of the "Center of Interest"
change can also be very difficult to detect if it occurs in a film
sequence at the moment of a film cut. This is brilliantly shown by an
ad by the London Transport Office warning that cyclists can sometimes
be very hard to see if you do not happen to be attending to them:
Change Blindness in a film sequence
Daniel Simons at the Beckman
Institute in Illinois has made wonderful demonstrations
of this kind of thing occurring in real life. Some portion of road
traffic accidents may occur because a small, brief distracting event
(e.g. a windshield wiper or mudsplash crossing the visual field) masks
a change (like a child running into the street).
Here are some more demos of change blindness, of varying
degrees of difficulty.
Big Fish (flicker)
Desert Fort (flicker)
Some other change blindness demos:
and mudsplash demos from
and supplementary info on
Change blindness caused by "mudsplashes".
versions of some flicker and mudsplash movies
blindness to very slow changes (needs
the Change Detection Database, and Ron Rensink's demos.
Change blindness should be
distinguished from "inattentional blindness". Inattentional blindness
is a phenomenon in which you are looking at a video sequence or real
life event, and your attention is so captured by the task you are
doing that something totally obvious, perfectly visible, and in
fact, something that you may actually be looking at directly, is not
noticed. Transport for London has a demonstration of this on youtube.
This demo is actually a copy of an even more striking
"gorilla" demo that
was made by Daniel Simons, which itself was based on an experiment
performed by Neisser and Becklen. You can find all this and
of inattentional blindness on Dan Simons' website,
as well as discussion of the issues involved.
Inattentional blindness is at the basis of one of the
road accidents: people "Look but fail to see" (LBFTS) some quite
obvious and perfectly visible obstruction in the road.
My collaborator Malika Auvray has made a nice alternative version
of Simon's "gorilla" video. You must track the coin and see if you
can accurately determine which cup it ends up under. Only
you've done it, read here
O'Regan, J.K. (2009).
Sensorimotor approach to (phenomenal) consciousness. In Baynes, T.,
Cleeremans, A. & Wilken, P. (Eds) Oxford Companion to
Consciousness. (pp. 588-593). Oxford: Oxford University
Myin, E., & O'Regan,
(2008). Situated perception and sensation in vision and other
modalities: form an active to a sensorimotor account. In P. Robbins
& A. Aydede (Eds.) (Ed) Cambridge Handbook of
Situated Cognition. (pp. 185-200). Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. [OS]
Myin, E., & O'Regan, J.K. (2007). Phenomenal
Lite: No Thanks! Behavioral and Brain Sciences,
30, 520-521. [ACL] [IF=12.818]
J.K., Myin, E., & Noë, A. (2006). Skill, corporality and
alerting capacity in an account of sensory consciousness. Progress
in Brain Research, 150, 55-68. [ACL]
J.K., Myin, E., & Noë, A. (2005). Phenomenal consciousness
explained (better) in terms of bodiliness and grabbiness. Phenomenology
and the Cognitive Sciences, 4(4), 369-387.
Myin, E., & Noë, A. (2004). Towards an Analytic phenomenology:
concepts of "bodiliness" and "grabbiness". In Carsetti, A. (Eds) Seeing,
thinking and knowing: Meaning and self-organisation in visual cognition
and thought. Dordrecht: Kluwer. [-]
E., & O'Regan, J.K. (2002). Perceptual consciousness, access to
modality and skill theories: A way to naturalize phenomenology? Journal
of Consciousness Studies, 9(1), 27-45.
A., & O'Regan, J.K. (2002). On the brain-basis of visual
consciousness: A sensorimotor account. In Noe, Alva
Thompson, Evan (Eds) Vision and mind: Selected readings in
the philosophy of perception. (pp. 567-598). Cambridge, MA,
US: MIT Press. [-]
J.K. (2001). The 'feel' of seeing: an interview with J. Kevin O'Regan. Trends
in Cognitive Sciences, 5(6), 278-279.
J.K., & Noe, A. (2001). A sensorimotor account of vision and
visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,
24(5), 939-1031. [ACL] [IF=12.818]
& Noë, A. (2001). What it is like to see: A sensorimotor theory
of visual experience. Synthèse, 129(1),
79-103. [-] [IF=0.477] html
A., & O'Regan, J.K. (2000). Perception, attention and the grand
illusion. Psyche: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on
Consciousness, 6(15), No Pagination
J.K. (1992). Solving the "real" mysteries of visual perception: The
world as an outside memory. Canadian Journal of
Psychology/Revue Canadienne de Psychologie, 46(3),
461-488. [-] html pdf
M., & O'Regan, J.K.
(2003). Influence of semantic factors on blindness to progressive
changes in visual scenes / L'influence des facteurs sémantiques sur la
cécité aux changements progressifs dans les scènes visuelles. L'année
Psychologique, 103(1), 9-32.
to scene changes caused by "mudsplashes". by J.K. O'Regan,
R.A. & J.J. Clark, in Nature, 398, 34, 1999.
blindness, by J. K. O'Regan, in Encyclopedia of Cognitive
Nature Publishing group, in press.
Attention and the Grand Illusion, by Alva Noë & J. K.
PSYCHE, 6(15), October 2000
Rensink, R.A., O'Regan J.K., & Clark, J.J. To
see or not to
need for attention to perceive changes in scenes. Psychological
O'Regan, J.K., Deubel, H., Clark J.J. & Rensink,
during blinks: looking without seeing and seeing without looking.
Cognition, 7, 1, 191-212, 2000. html
Rensink, R.A., O'Regan, J.K. & Clark, J.J. On
failure to detect
changes in scenes across brief interruptions. Visual Cognition, 7, 1,
O'Regan, J.K. Thoughts on Change Blindness. in: L.R.
Jenkin (Eds.) Vision and Attention. Springer, 2001, pp. 281-302. view
Nov. 1, 1999 draft.
D.L., & O'Regan, J.K. (2006). Color naming, unique hues, and
cancellation predicted from singularities in reflection properties. Visual
Neuroscience, 23(3-4), 331-339.
Philipona, D., & O'Regan, J.K. (2008). Reply to
Johnson and Wright. Visual Neuroscience, 25(02),
225-226. [ACL] [IF=1.411]
A., & O'Regan, J.K. (2006). More evidence for sensorimotor
adaptation in color perception. Journal of Vision,
6(2), 145-153. [ACL] [IF=2.950]
A., & O'Regan, J.K. (2006). Evidence for a role of action in
colour perception. Perception, 35(1),
65-78. [ACL] [IF=1.360]
D., O'Regan, J.K., & Nadal, J.-P. (2004). Perception of the
structure of the physical world using unknown sensors and effectors. Advances
in Neural Information Processing Systems, 16,
D., O'Regan, J.K., & Nadal, J.P. (2003). Is There Something Out
There? Inferring Space from Sensorimotor Dependencies. Neural
Computation, 15(9), 2029-2049.
Philipona, D., & O'Regan,
J.K. (2005). Perception multimodale de
l'espace. In Philosophie de la nature aujourd'hui.
Paris: MSH. [OS]
Philipona, D., & O'Regan,
J.K. (2005). La perception de
l'espace, identification d'une faculté sensorimotrice? In C.
Thinus-Blanc & J. Bullier (Ed) Agir dans l'espace.
(pp. 151-165). Paris: MSH. [OS]
"Filling in" the
spot, visual qualia, and the
theory of the "world as an outside memory"
O'Regan, J.K. Solving the
'real' mysteries of visual perception: The
as an outside memory. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 1992, 46,
O'Regan, J.K. The
world as an outside memory -- no
means no problem of visual acuity. Commentary in Behavioural and Brain
Sciences, 1994,17, 270-271.
O'Regan, J.K., No
evidence for neural filling in --
-- Pinning down "enaction". Commentary on Pessoa, Thompson &
"Finding out about filling in". Brain and Behaviour Science, 21, 1998
avec les oreilles: Enjeux de la substitution sensorielle. by
M. & O'Regan, J.K. Pour la Science, 2003
M., Hanneton, S., & O'Regan, J.K. (2007). Learning to perceive
a visuo-auditory substitution system: Localisation and object
recognition with 'The vOICe.'. Perception,
36(3), 416-430. [ACL] [IF=1.360]
M., Philipona, D., O'Regan, J.K.,
& Spence, C. (2007). The perception of space and form
in a simulated environment: the case of minimalist sensory-substitution
devices. Perception, 36(12),
1736-1751. [ACL] [IF=1.360]
M., Hanneton, S., Lenay, C., & O'Regan, J.K. (2005). There is
something out there: Distal attribution in sensory substitution, twenty
years later. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience,
4(4), 505-521. [ACL]
Lack of translation
invariance in vision
Nazir, T.A. & O'Regan,
J.K. Some results on translation
in the human visual system. Spatial Vision, 1990, 5, 81-100.
Reading and "optimal
viewing position" in words:
Lévy-Schoen, A., &
O'Regan, J.K. Le regard et la lecture. La
recherche, 1989, 211, 744-753.
& Jacobs, A.M. Optimal viewing
word recognition: A challenge to current theory. Journal of
Psychology, Human Perception & Performance, 1992, 18, 185-197.
& O'Regan, J.K., Eye movement
A simulation of some word-targetting strategies. Vision Research, 1998,
Nazir, T.A., Jacobs,
A.M., & O'Regan, J.K.
visual word recognition. Memory & Cognition, 1998, 26 (4),
Clark, J.J. and
O'Regan, J.K., Word Ambiguity and the
Position in Reading, Vision Research, 1998, 39, 4, 843-857.
V., O'Regan J.K. & Le
revisited in French : programming saccades to skip the article "les".
Research, in press. view
Vitu, F., McConkie,
G.W., Kerr, P. & O'Regan,
effects on fixations during reading: an inverted optimal viewing
effect. Vision Research, 2001, 41 , 3513-3533.
Ninio, J., & O'Regan,
J.K. The half-Zöllner illusion.
1996, 25, 77-94.
here after having watched Malika Auvray's coin video:
you see the green pepper?
at the video again if you didnt.