Toward a Resolution of the Debate on the Cognitive Penetrability of Perception

AbstractWhat determines the contents of our perception? A century and a half of psychophysics research has focused on the process by which objectively measurable stimuli are represented by the brain. This paradigm has focused on discovering lawful relationships by which we form veridical representations of the external world and has classically viewed perception as a one-way mapping from the world to the mind. At the same time, perception researchers have long understood that perceptual systems have been honed by evolution to transform energy (electromagnetic waves, mechanical vibrations, aromatic molecules) into forms useful for guiding our actions (Marr, 1982). To be maximally useful, the same input should be represented differently depending on current task demands. This idea conflicts with the traditional emphasis on veridicality (e.g., Hoffman, Singh, & Prakash, 2015; cf. Lupyan, 2015b). If true, then rather than focusing on the world as a determinant of what we perceive, the best approach for understanding the contents of our perception may be to emphasize the needs, goals, and expectations of the organism as they relate to the world (a line of thinking diversely represented in e.g., Clark, 1997; Gibson, 1979; Noe, 2004).

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