Art and Ambiguity: A Gestalt-Shift Approach to Elusive Appearances

In Fabian Dorsch & Fiona Macpherson (eds.), Phenomenal Presence (2018)
Authors
John O'Dea
University of Tokyo
Abstract
I defend a solution to a long-standing problem with perceptual appearances, brought about by the phenomenon of perceptual constancy. The problem is that in conditions which are non-ideal, yet within the range that perceptual constancy works, we see things veridically despite an “appearance” which is traditionally taken to be non-veridical. For example, a tilted coin is often taken to have an “elliptical appearance”, shadowed surfaces a “darker appearance”. These appearances are puzzling for a number of reasons. I defend and elaborate on an approach taken by Sean Kelly, and earlier by the art historian E.H. Gombrich, according to which we can be tricked by our ability to bring about a kind of Gesltalt shift between different possible perceptual interpretations of a scene.
Keywords Perceptual constancy  appearances  perspectival properties
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