V. A Vindication of the Objectivity of Sense Perception

The forms in which we perceive objects, i.e., the conscious forms in which object-specifying invariants, once extracted, are retained psychologically are innately determined.  Perceptual forms are not learned.  We are helpless to perceive things except in the forms that we do perceive them.  We have no choice or control over which perceptual forms will be produced by which extracted invariants.  We have no choice over the fact that color is the form in which we perceive the existence of objects or parts of objects that selectively absorb, reflect, or transmit different frequency components of light energy.  Neither have we any awareness of the fact that the means by which we perceive color is by the extraction of the contrasting ratios of wavelengths of light reaching the eye from adjacent spatial regions.  We are aware of “color in objects,” not of wavelength ratios in sampled light gradients.  Furthermore, although we can learn to make finer and finer color {72} discriminations, we cannot and do not learn to perceive relationships-in-light-frequencies in the form of color.

This argument applies to all perceptual forms, including those forms that correspond to energy-independent object attributes.  We have no choice over the fact that, for example, certain transformational features of the visual patterns we experience will, when mentally isolated and noticed, be automatically integrated to produce the perceptual form of “spatial volume or “spatial object order.”  We may learn how to make finer size, distance, and shape discriminations, but we do not and cannot learn to perceive objects in the form of “shape,” “volume,” “distance” and “size.”

Although our perceptual forms are unlearned and innately determined by the nature of our particular form of consciousness and are, in this respect, subjective, this does not alter the fact that perception, as a process of cognition, is objective.  For objectivity, epistemologically, refers to the relationship between the products of a conscious process and the content of that process.  In this respect, the objectivity of perception is insured by the fact that our perceptual forms stand in a causal and one-to-one relationship to corresponding external physical facts. [Note: Credit for the argument contained in this last statement goes to Dr.  Leonard Peikoff.]  Our perceptions are the forms in which these external facts are retained and integrated by our organs of cognition.

More precisely, the perceptual forms in which we are aware of objects are the automatic integrates of noticed order in changing sensory patterns.  For example, if I hold an empty drinking glass before my eyes and slowly turn it end over end, I notice a pattern of expanding and contracting boundaries.  But when I attend to the orderliness of these boundary transformations, {73} I notice a definite set of relational constraints, which instantly “give” the glass depth.  Once these constraints are noticed, they are difficult to ignore, and whenever they are noticed they are automatically experienced as “depth” or “volume.” Before I noticed these constraints, it is not quite correct to say that the glass appeared depthless, as it is to say that the depth of the glass was not apparent.  Depth is something I “discovered” about the glass by attending to the ordered way in which the boundaries of the glass moved relative to one another as I rotated the glass.  I did not construct depth, nor did I infer depth, nor did I project depth into my perception of the glass.  I discovered or noticed depth by attending to , ordered perceptual changes.  Once this order was noticed, it was automatically integrated and experienced as “the depth of the glass.”

The perceptual experience of visual depth is the form in which we directly appreciate an ordered relationship in changing visual patterns.  This ordered relationship is always present when physical rotating or translating objects are viewed, and in these cases is caused by the fact objects possess physical depth.  It is also true that these relationships in changing visual patterns would virtually never exist outside of the laboratory in the absence of objects just those depths that are the causes of the invariants in these visual transformations.  Nevertheless, the invariable correspondent of visual depth is not physical depth, but an invariant order in changing energy patterns.

Whenever a changing visual pattern produces the perception of a specific geometrical layout of object surfaces, it is invariably due to the existence of a specifiable invariant order in the physical energy pattern transformations.  It is this latter order that is the psychophysical correspondent of {74} perceived depth.  The perception of depth is the automatic form in which its psychophysical correspondent is integrated.  In the case of vision, this psychophysical correspondent is the order in the changing visual pattern.  The order in these patterns is the fact isolated and integrated as a perception. Outside of the order in stimulus patterns, the organism has no contact with physical object order.  But only insofar as this stimulus order is physically connected to the object order by virtue of physical laws of object/energy interaction, can the organism use the invariants in stimulus order to guide himself about the world of physical objects.  Such is the nature of perception.

Perceptual “Illusions”

The problem of perceptual “illusions” dissolves as soon as we recognize that the immediate cause of our perceptions is the components of order in changing energy patterns.  We perceive objects by means of the absorption of energy patterns, which, qua patterns, are caused by these objects.  Our contact with objects, therefore, is indirect, that is by means of absorbed energy patterns.  Our perceptions are caused directly by these patterns and only indirectly by the objects, which are the causes of these patterns.  Once we discover how these patterns are caused, we can create them artificially, i.e., by techniques not operative in the “natural” environment.  We can structure optical patterns, for example, by means of photographs, paintings, moving pictures, and holograms.  We can produce “artificial” tactile pressure patterns by means of electrocutaneous stimulation of the skin.  In fact, although it is not yet technically feasible, it is possible in principle to recreate artificially any energy gradient that is capable of causing a perception.

Imagine, for example, a specially designed glove which when worn in a {75} specially designed room strongly resists being placed in a certain region of the room.  Let this region be a one-foot cubical region in the center of the room.  When a person wears the special glove, he can scan the room and locate the “phantom cube,” which without the glove would be totally undetectable by the subject.  Let us imagine, furthermore, that all of the lights in the room are turned off and that the subject is permitted to explore the room only with his gloved hand.  Will the subject be able to differentiate between the “phantom cube” and a material cube of the same size and mechanical resistance?  No, he will not.  But this does not mean that he cannot trust his senses nor that his perception of the “phantom cube” as something occupying a region in the center of the room is an illusion.  The perception of the special cube is not an illusion for the very fact that this phantom cube exists in the same sense as a material cube exists, viz., as a region in space that mechanically resists penetration or occupation by the hand of the subject.  Moreover, it is this fact, and this fact alone, that is given to the subject via his sense of touch.  Perceptually defined for touch, then, “object” is a mechanically impenetrable spatial region defined by a set of geometrical “surfaces.”

Or consider another example.   If we view a holographic “image” of a spherical body, our eye is not being fooled.  The spherical form that we perceive actually exists as an ordered relationship between the various components of the optical structure reaching our eye.  The perception of a, spatially cohering stationary sphere is the conscious form in which we notice and integrate this detected optical order.

The idea that a spatially defined region that resists tactile penetration always specifies a physical object occupying that region, is not given in {76} sense perception, but is a conceptual abstraction.  The same is true of the idea that a spatially stable and coherent visual form always specifies a physical object occupying a corresponding region in physical space.

As my definition of perception states, we perceive objects by means of the absorption of energy gradients.  It is the patterns in these energy gradients that are detected, extracted, and integrated, by means of physiological and psychological processes, to produce our perceptions of objects.  Once we understand how objects cause the order in the absorbed energy patterns, we can recreate these patterns in the absence of these objects, and thereby produce identical perceptions.  The resulting perceptions are the same because the external physical order, to which our perceptions correspond, namely the physically imposed order in changing energy gradients, is the same.

A perception consists of the detection and automatic integration of order in energy patterns.  Once this fact is fully appreciated, the concept of perceptual illusion can be dispensed with as misleading and self-contradictory.  So long as we continue to believe that a perception can be invalid, i.e., an illusion, we will never be able to understand the nature of perception.  The same perceptual forms are always caused by the same external facts. It is the job of the perception psychologist to identify the precise nature of these external facts. {77}

Latest page revision: October 26, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

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