Affording Illusions?

Natural Information and the Problem of Misperception

Avant, Vol. X, No. 3/2019, doi: 10.26913/avant.2019.03.19
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Hajo Greif
Warsaw University of Technology
International Center for Formal Ontology (ICFO)
Technical University of Munich
Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS)
mail @ hajo-greif.net

Published 22 December 2019   Download full text

Abstract: There are two related points at which James J. Gibson’s ecological theory of visual perception remains remarkably underspecified. First, the notion of information for perception is not explicated in much detail beyond the claim that it “specifies” the environment for perception, and, thus being an objective affair, enables an organism to perceive action possibilities or “affordances.” Second, misperceptions of affordances and perceptual illusions are not clearly distinguished from each other. Although the first claim seems to suggest that any perceptual illusion amounts to the misperception of affordances, there might be some relevant differences between various ways of getting things wrong. In this essay, Gibson’s notion of “specifying” information shall be reconstructed with the help of Fred Dretske’s relational theory of information. This refined notion of information for perception will then be used to carve out the distinction between perceptual illusions and the misperception of affordances, by reference to the “Empirical Strategy” in the psychology of perception (developed by Purves et al.). It will be maintained that there are cases where perceptual illusions actually help an organism to correctly perceive an affordance. In such cases, the prima facie mistaken or malformed informational relations involved are kept intact by a set of appropriate transformation rules. Two of Gibson’s intuitions shall thus be preserved: the objectivity of informational relations and the empowerment of the organism as an active perceiver who uses those objective relations to his specific ends.

Keywords: ecological psychology; wholly empirical approach to perception; information for perception; affordance; perceptual illusions; psychology of perception


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