E. H. Gombrich on perception

Even our natural view of the world is theoretical …

From Art and Illusion by E. H. Gombrich:

Just as a tune remains the same whatever the key it is played in, so we respond to light intervals, to what have been called ‘gradients’, rather than the measurable quantity of light reflected from any given object. And when I say ‘we’, I include newly hatched chickens and other fellow-creatures who so obligingly answer the questions psychologists put to them. According to a classic experiment by Wolfgang Köhler, you can take two grey pieces of paper — one dark, one bright — and teach the chickens to expect food on the brighter of the two. If you then remove the darker piece and replace it by one brighter than the other one, the deluded creatures will look for their dinner, not on the identical grey paper where they have always found it, but on the paper where they would expect it in terms of relationships — that is, on the brighter of the two. Their little brains are attuned to gradients rather than to individual stimuli. Things could not go well with them if nature had willed it otherwise. For would a memory of the exact stimulus have helped them to recognize the identical paper? Hardly ever! A cloud passing over the sun would hang its brightness, and so might even a tilt of the head, or an approach or from a different angle. If what we call ‘identity’ were not anchored in a constant relationship with environment, it would be lost in the chaos of swirling impressions that never repeat themselves.

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My full name is Matt Dioguardi. I have been interested in critical rationalism for about 10 years. I am the administrator of this blog, if you have an questions or problems please let me know.
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3 Responses to E. H. Gombrich on perception

  1. argumentics says:

    Hey! I took a shot at explaining the relation between critical rationalism and some argumentation theories. I would like your opinion on it. Cheers!

  2. Rafe says:

    Recently attended a lecture on work in progress on human vision and certain kinds of optical illusions. The main think that i can remember is the perception of changes in depth of colour at a junction between the two shades. It was very complicated to explain the mechanism but the result was a completely satisfying account of the illusions.

    BTW there is a Gombrich website, only a few years old, which is worth a visit.


  3. Old 333 says:

    Is this why chickens are always tilting their heads? Interesting stuff – digging further in, I am reminded of a very interesting paper I once read (the abstract of) regarding morphology and the relationship of human mathematics to it – start with a zero as open, hungry mouth, and a one as an arm to fill it, and you have the sort of general idea – however, I conspicuously fail to do it real justice.

    Thanks for some interesting reading –

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