Is vision continuous with cognition? The case for cognitive impenetrability of visual perception

Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (3):341-365 (1999)
Although the study of visual perception has made more progress in the past 40 years than any other area of cognitive science, there remain major disagreements as to how closely vision is tied to general cognition. This paper sets out some of the arguments for both sides (arguments from computer vision, neuroscience, Psychophysics, perceptual learning and other areas of vision science) and defends the position that an important part of visual perception, which may be called early vision or just vision, is prohibited from accessing relevant expectations, knowledge and utilities - in other words it is cognitively impenetrable. That part of vision is complex and articulated and provides a representation of the 3-D surfaces of objects sufficient to serve as an index into memory, with somewhat different outputs being made available to other systems such as those dealing with motor control. The paper also addresses certain conceptual and methodological issues, including the use of signal detection theory and event-related potentials to assess cognitive penetration of vision. A distinction is made among several stages in visual processing. These include, in addition to the inflexible early-vision stage, a pre-perceptual attention allocation stage and a post-perceptual evaluation, memory-accessing, and inference stage which provide several different highly constrained ways in which cognition can affect the outcome of visual perception. The paper discusses arguments that have been presented in both computer vision and psychology showing that vision is "intelligent" and involves elements of problem solving". It is suggested that these cases do not show cognitive penetration, but rather they show that certain natural constraints on interpretation, concerned primarily with optical and geometrical properties of the world, have been compiled into the visual system. The paper also examines a number of examples where instructions and "hints" are alleged to affect.
Keywords categorical perception   cognitive penetration   context effects   early vision   expert perception   knowledge-based vision   modularity of vision   natural constraints   “new look” in vision   perceptual learning   signal detection theory   stages of vision   top-down processes   visual agnosia   visual attention   visual processing
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DOI 10.1017/S0140525X99002022
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E. J. Green (forthcoming). A Layered View of Shape Perception. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axv042.

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