What Is Perception?

Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.

- René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss perception: how the brain reacts to the mass of data continually crowding it. Barry Stein's laboratory at Wake Forest University in the United States found that the shape of a right angle drawn on the hand of a chimpanzee starts the visual part of the brain working, even when the shape has not been seen. It has also been discovered that babies learn by touch before they can properly make sense of visual data, and that the senses of smell and taste chemically combine to give us flavour. Perception is a tangled web of processes and so much of what we see, hear and touch is determined by our own expectations that it raises the question of whether we ever truly perceive what others do. What governs our perception of the world? And are we correct to distinguish between sight, sound, smell, touch and taste when they appear to influence each other so very much?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Perception and the Senses

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

When we look at the world around us, almost everything in our visual field appears clear, vivid and rich in detail but, in experiments, our objective ability to detect change is more suggestive of an observer with a bag on his head, with just a small hole through which to see anything. This observation hole can be moved around by the observer himself or it can be manipulated automatically when interesting events occur in the environment. But at any given moment, the observer sees the world only through a small hole in a bag. The essence of the grand illusion is that you have the impression of a clear view, while in reality you are limited by what you can see through the little hole in the bag over your head...

Continue reading Vebjørn Ekroll's article: How real magic happens when the brain sees hidden things

Further Reading

Sense-perception has long been a preoccupation of philosophers. One pervasive and traditional problem, sometimes called “the Problem of Perception”, is created by the phenomena of perceptual illusion and hallucination: if these kinds of error are possible, how can perception be what we ordinarily understand it to be, an openness to and awareness of the world? The present entry is about how these possibilities of error challenge the intelligibility of the phenomenon of perception, and how the major theories of experience in the last century are best understood as responses to this challenge...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Problem of Perception by Tim Crane and Craig French

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

If you’re interested in perception, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Attention | Knowledge | Reality | Skepticism

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