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Robert Fludd's depiction of perception (1619).
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In philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science, perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information. The word "perception" comes from the Latin words perceptio, percipio, and means "receiving, collecting, action of taking possession, apprehension with the mind or senses."[1]

Perception is one of the oldest fields in psychology. The oldest quantitative law in psychology is the Weber-Fechner law, which quantifies the relationship between the intensity of physical stimuli and their perceptual effects. The study of perception gave rise to the Gestalt school of psychology, with its emphasis on holistic approach.

What one perceives is a result of interplays between past experiences, including one’s culture, and the interpretation of the perceived. If the percept does not have support in any of these perceptual bases it is unlikely to rise above perceptual threshold.

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[edit] Types

Two types of consciousness are considerable regarding perception: phenomenal (any occurrence that is observable and physical) and psychological. The difference everybody can demonstrate to him- or herself is by the simple opening and closing of his or her eyes: phenomenal consciousness is thought, on average, to be predominately absent without sight. Through the full or rich sensations present in sight, nothing by comparison is present while the eyes are closed. Using this precept, it is understood that, in the vast majority of cases, logical solutions are reached through simple human sensation.[2] The analogy of Plato's Cave was coined to express these ideas.[clarification needed]

Passive perception (conceived by René Descartes) can be surmised as the following sequence of events: surrounding → input (senses) → processing (brain) → output (re-action). Although still supported by mainstream philosophers, psychologists and neurologists, this theory is nowadays losing momentum. The theory of active perception has emerged from extensive research of sensory illusions, most notably the works of Richard L. Gregory. This theory, which is increasingly gaining experimental support, can be surmised as dynamic relationship between "description" (in the brain) ↔ senses ↔ surrounding, all of which holds true to the linear concept of experience.[3]

[edit] Perception and reality

Ambiguous images

In the case of visual perception, some people can actually see the percept shift in their mind's eye[4]. Others, who are not picture thinkers, may not necessarily perceive the 'shape-shifting' as their world changes. The 'esemplastic' nature has been shown by experiment: an ambiguous image has multiple interpretations on the perceptual level. The question, "Is the glass half empty or half full?" serves to demonstrate the way an object can be perceived in different ways.

Just as one object can give rise to multiple percepts, so an object may fail to give rise to any percept at all: if the percept has no grounding in a person's experience, the person may literally not perceive it.

The processes of perception routinely alter what humans see. When people view something with a preconceived concept about it, they tend to take those concepts and see them whether or not they are there. This problem stems from the fact that humans are unable to understand new information, without the inherent bias of their previous knowledge. A person’s knowledge creates his or her reality as much as the truth, because the human mind can only contemplate that to which it has been exposed. When objects are viewed without understanding, the mind will try to reach for something that it already recognizes, in order to process what it is viewing. That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences, makes up what we see when we look at things that we don’t comprehend.[5]

This confusing ambiguity of perception is exploited in human technologies such as camouflage, and also in biological mimicry, for example by Peacock butterflies, whose wings bear eye markings that birds respond to as though they were the eyes of a dangerous predator. Perceptual ambiguity is not restricted to vision. For example, recent touch perception research Robles-De-La-Torre & Hayward 2001 found that kinesthesia based haptic perception strongly relies on the forces experienced during touch.[6]

Cognitive theories of perception assume there is a poverty of stimulus. This (with reference to perception) is the claim that sensations are, by themselves, unable to provide a unique description of the world. Sensations require 'enriching', which is the role of the mental model. A different type of theory is the perceptual ecology approach of James J. Gibson. Gibson rejected the assumption of a poverty of stimulus by rejecting the notion that perception is based in sensations. Instead, he investigated what information is actually presented to the perceptual systems. He and the psychologists who work within this paradigm detailed how the world could be specified to a mobile, exploring organism via the lawful projection of information about the world into energy arrays. Specification is a 1:1 mapping of some aspect of the world into a perceptual array; given such a mapping, no enrichment is required and perception is direct perception.

Preconceptions can influence how the world is perceived. For example, one classic psychological experiment showed slower reaction times and less accurate answers when a deck of playing cards reversed the color of the suit symbol for some cards (e.g. red spades and black hearts).[7]

There is also evidence that the brain in some ways operates on a slight "delay", to allow nerve impulses from distant parts of the body to be integrated into simultaneous signals.[8]

[edit] Perception-in-action

An ecological understanding of perception derived from Gibson's early work is that of "perception-in-action", the notion that perception is a requisite property of animate action; that without perception action would be unguided, and without action perception would serve no purpose. Animate actions require both perception and motion, and perception and movement can be described as "two sides of the same coin, the coin is action". Gibson works from the assumption that singular entities, which he calls "invariants", already exist in the real world and that all that the perception process does is to home in upon them. A view known as social constructionism (held by such philosophers as Ernst von Glasersfeld) regards the continual adjustment of perception and action to the external input as precisely what constitutes the "entity", which is therefore far from being invariant.[9]

Glasersfeld considers an "invariant" as a target to be homed in upon, and a pragmatic necessity to allow an initial measure of understanding to be established prior to the updating that a statement aims to achieve. The invariant does not and need not represent an actuality, and Glasersfeld describes it as extremely unlikely that what is desired or feared by an organism will never suffer change as time goes on. This social constructionist theory thus allows for a needful evolutionary adjustment.[10]

A mathematical theory of perception-in-action has been devised and investigated in many forms of controlled movement, and has been described in many different species of organism using the General Tau Theory. According to this theory, tau information, or time-to-goal information is the fundamental 'percept' in perception.

[edit] Theories of visual perception

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ From Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language
  2. ^ The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, David John Chalmers, illustrated, Oxford University Press US, 1997, 0195117891, pg. 25-26
  3. ^ Descartes His Life and Times, Elizabeth S. Haldane, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 1110319762, pg. 226
  4. ^ Wettlaufer, Alexandra K. (2003), In the mind's eye : the visual impulse in Diderot, Baudelaire and Ruskin, pg. 257, Amsterdam: Rodopi, ISBN 9042010355 
  5. ^ Phenomenology of perception, By Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Colin Smith, Translated by Colin Smith, Contributor Colin Smith, Edition: 2, illustrated, reprint, Published by Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0415278414, 9780415278416, pg. 484-486.
  6. ^ Robles-de-la-torre, Gabriel; Hayward, Vincent (2001), "Force can overcome object geometry in the perception of shape through active touch", Nature 412 (6845): 445–448, doi:10.1038/35086588 
  7. ^ "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm" by Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman. Journal of Personality, 18, pp. 206-223. 1949. Yorku.ca
  8. ^ The Secret Advantage Of Being Short by Robert Krulwich. All Things Considered, NPR. 18 May 2009.
  9. ^ Consciousness in Action, S. L. Hurley, illustrated, Harvard University Press, 2002, 0674007964, pg. 430-432,
  10. ^ Glasersfeld, Ernst von (1995), Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning, London: RoutledgeFalmer; Poerksen, Bernhard (ed.) (2004), The Certainty of Uncertainty: Dialogues Introducing Constructivism, Exeter: Imprint Academic; Wright. Edmond (2005). Narrative, Perception, Language, and Faith, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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