Two psychologies of perception and the prospect of their synthesis

Philosophical Psychology 23 (2):217 – 281 (2010)
Abstract
Two traditions have had a great impact on the theoretical and experimental research of perception. One tradition is statistical, stretching from Fechner's enunciation of psychophysics in 1860 to the modern view of perception as statistical decision making. The other tradition is phenomenological, from Brentano's “empirical standpoint” of 1874 to the Gestalt movement and the modern work on perceptual organization. Each tradition has at its core a distinctive assumption about the indivisible constituents of perception: the just-noticeable differences of sensation in the tradition of Fechner vs. the phenomenological Gestalts in the tradition of Brentano. But some key results from the two traditions can be explained and connected using an approach that is neither statistical nor phenomenological. This approach rests on a basic property of any information exchange: a principle of measurement formulated in 1946 by Gabor as a part of his quantal theory of information. Here the indivisible components are units (quanta) of information that remain invariant under changes of precision of measurement. This approach helped to understand how sensory measurements are implemented by single neural cells. But recent analyses suggest that this approach has the power to explain larger-scale characteristics of sensory systems
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