I. The Definition of Perception

Perception is the direct and immediate awareness of entities external to the perceiver, and is the result of the processing of energy gradients absorbed by a receptor apparatus.

1.  I include the differentia, “direct and immediate awareness of entities,” rather than merely, “direct and immediate awareness of existence,” In order to draw the distinction between perception and sensation.  A sensation is a direct and immediate awareness of a state of existence external to consciousness and below the level of differentiated entities.  (Epistemologically, sensations may be defined as the pre-entity level of awareness.)

2.  The differentia, “external to the perceiver,” distinguishes between perception and enteroception, which refers to the direct and immediate awareness-of states and events inside of the body.

3.  The differentia, “product of the processing of energy gradients absorbed by a receptor apparatus, serves to specify the means by which perception is achieved, and draws attention to the fact that receptors, neural processes, and energy gradients, being the means, are therefore not the object of perception.  The object of perception is external entities.

4.  The differentia, “direct and immediate,” distinguishes between perception and higher cognitive processes, including conceptualization.  The perceptual level of awareness is developmentally prior to and is the cognitive base of all processes requiring abstraction and inference, be they conscious or subconscious.

5.  Finally, it is necessary these days to emphasize that perception is a form of “awareness,” i.e., a form of consciousness, with all that that {5} fact entails biologically and epistemologically.  (What this fact entails will be discussed later.) Any definition of perception which denies, ignores or is “noncommittal about the conscious nature of perception, is wholly inadequate as a guide for the study and understanding of perceptual processes.

Except for the fact that my definition explicitly emphasizes that perception denotes the cognitive level of entity apprehension, as contrasted with merely the apprehension of existents.  I have adopted the definition of perception offered by Robert Efron (1969), which reads as follows:

“We can define perception as the direct, immediate awareness of discriminated existents which results from patterns of energy absorption by groups of receptors.”  (Efron, R.,  What is perception?  In Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science,  R.  Cohen and M.  Wartofsky (Eds.) D.  Reidel: Dordrecht, Holland, 1969 p.  147)

By the term  “existent” Efron means “something that exists.”  This includes entities as well as merely attributes, features, or properties of entities.  By the term “discriminated existent,” Efron means, “the ‘it’ that we perceive.”

The objects we see or touch; the notes, tones, or voices we hear; the odors we smell, and the flavors we taste, are all ‘discriminated existents.’ (p.  145)

I prefer to retain the term “sensation” to refer to our awareness of discriminated features at a level that is prior to our integration of these into the awareness of entities.  I believe that our awareness of objects constitutes a major cognitive breakthrough announcing and defining the perceptual level of cognition.  Perception, being the awareness of objects by means of the biological processing of absorbed energy gradients, is, therefore, the product of the joint interaction of three categories of facts: physical facts about the interaction between entities and energy; physiological facts about the interaction {6} between energy gradients and the receptor system; and psychological facts concerning the processing of the properties of energy gradients.  I will discuss these three categories of facts in turn, and attempt to integrate these into a General Theory of Sense Perception.


NOTE: For all pages in this series, the numbers in braces, e.g. {28} refer to the page numbers in the original type-written paper, The Causal Basis of Perception: A New Integration on a Gibsonian Base, by Jack H. Schwartz, completed in September 1975].

Last page revision: April 19, 2014  3:56 pm

1 Response to I. The Definition of Perception

  1. I have changed my definition of ‘sensation’ and by implication, ‘perception’ as well. See ‘Sensation and Perception – A Correction’ under ‘Consciousness and Causality’


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