A field theoretic approach to the perceptual control of action

Date of Completion

January 1996


Psychology, Behavioral|Psychology, Experimental




A theoretical understanding of how perceptual information controls goal-directed behaviors involves both causal and intentional variables. In goal-directed behaviors (actions), physical and physiological variables that control such behaviors must be constrained in an anticipatory fashion by goal-specific information. Thus, an adequate explanation must address how information about a goal specifies, in advance of reaching that goal, the forces by which the actor directs its movements down the intended goal path. This is the problem of prospective control, and is a version of the "inverse dynamics" problem in physics, called the "kinematics specifies dynamics" (KSD) principle in psychology.^ A primary goal of this dissertation is to show that techniques from mathematical field theory hold promise for solving this prospective control problem. Specifically, what is missing is an even-handed treatment of both information and control under the auspices of field theory, as well an explicit description of how the two fields are coupled (i.e., mutually and reciprocally constrained) so that they define paths that exhibit the goal-directedness specific to the motivating intention. The major goal of this dissertation is to remedy these shortcomings.^ Five traditionally anomalous phenomena (i.e., gradient technique in animal navigation, low altitude-flight, Parkinsonian paradox, optimal path selection, passability task) are analyzed by the conjugate field theory. These applications provide a test of the proposed theory. ^