Reading through a new text on Merleau-Ponty, by Taylor Carman, however, makes me feel a bit better that we have not simply imagined this distinction and Noë's view on the matter.
Merleau-Ponty maintains that perception is not an event or state in the mind or brain, but an organism’s entire bodily relation to its environment. Perception is, as psychologist J. J. Gibson puts it in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, an “ecological” phenomenon. The body consequently cannot be understood as a mere causal link in a chain of events that terminates in perceptual experience. Instead, it is constitutive of perception, which is the most basic—and in the end, inescapable—horizon of what Merleau-Ponty, following Heidegger, calls our “being in the world” (être au monde). Human existence thus differs profoundly from the existence of objects, for it consists not in our merely occurring among things, but in our actively and intelligently inhabiting an environment. (Carman, 2008, p. 1)Obvious caveats apply. Perhaps Carman has gotten M-P wrong. Perhaps Noë doesn't buy this part of M-P's view. My point is that plausibly conscientious readers can come to the view that a causation-constitution distinction is in play in at least some segments of the literature. (I think that Mike Wheeler, for one, has moved away from this way of thinking about EC.) Moreover, plausibly conscientious readers can come to the conclusion that Noë, under M-P's influence, thinks (at least at times) that perception requires bodily action.
Carman, T. (2008). Merleau-Ponty. Routledge.