Grief’s Impact on Sensorimotor Expectations: An Account of Non-Veridical Bereavement Experiences

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The philosophy of grief has directed little attention to bereavement’s impact on perceptual experience. However, misperceptions, hallucinations and other anomalous experiences are strikingly common following the death of a loved one. Such experiences range from misperceiving a stranger to be the deceased, to phantom sights, sounds and smells, to nebulous quasi-sensory experiences of the loved one’s presence. This paper draws upon the enactive sensorimotor theory of perception to offer a phenomenologically sensitive and empirically informed account of these experiences. It argues that they can be understood as deriving from disruption to both sensorimotor expectations and perceived opportunities for action, stemming from the upheaval of bereavement. Different facets of the enactive sensorimotor approach can help to explain different types of post-bereavement perceptual experience. Post-bereavement misperceptions can be accounted for through the way that alterations to sensorimotor expectations can result in atypical ‘amodal completion’, while bereavement hallucinations can be understood as ‘appearances’ that fail to form part of the usual patterns of sensorimotor contingency. Quasi-sensory experiences of the presence of the deceased can be understood as resulting from changes to perceived affordances. This paper aims to demonstrate the explanatory value of key aspects of the sensorimotor approach by highlighting how they can help to explain the phenomenology of post-bereavement experiences. However, it also illuminates certain areas in which the sensorimotor approach ought to be supplemented, especially if it is to account for tight connections between perception, affect, and intersubjectivity that are salient in grief.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2021

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