Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
What do we mean by action?
In recent years, the domain of the physiology of action has been studied at many different levels, from single-cell recording in monkeys to functional imaging in healthy human volunteers. More importantly, the revival of interest in action may be seen as the consequence of the rapid growth of cognitive neuroscience, which is an interdisciplinary melding of studies of the brain, of behavior and cognition, and of computational systems. Not only each approach constrains the others, but rather each approach provides insights into different aspects of the same phenomena. In this heuristic perspective, information processing theory is not separated from or independent of the properties of the neural substrate.
An action may be described as the outcome of several information processing stages: intention, planning, preparing, and execution. According to the Causal Theory of Actions(e.g., Searle, 1983) what distinguishes actions from mere happenings is the nature of their causal antecedents. Indeed, a goal-directed action is often internally generated. This implies that the generation of action involves a representational stage which is synonymous with mental representation. However, it is clear that the concept of mental representation of action designates both the mental content related to the goal or the consequences of a given action and the covert neural operations that are supposed to occur before an action begins. There is no ontological reason to consider these two levels of description as separate and least of all independent from one another.