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Perception without processing : J.J. Gibson's ecological approach Smart, Brent Maxwell


The ecological movement in the psychology of perception, founded by James J. Gibson, hold that traditional approaches to perception are based upon certain fundamental mistakes. The chief one, ecological theorists claim, is that perceptual information pickup consists of the application of certain cognitive processes to sensory input which is not specific to features of organisms' environment. Gibson's fundamental claim is that perception does not require the processing of some form of sensory input. In this sense, the ecological approach is said to be a theory of direct perception. An important debate over the Gibsonian view concerns the question of whether or not perceptual information pickup without cognitive processing is a coherent notion. Among the more recent writers who claim that the ecological view will not work as it stands are Jerry A. Fodor and Zenon W. Pylyshyn. They claim, essentially, that Gibson's approach has no means for accounting for intentionality. Fodor and Pylyshyn are answered by four prominent Gibsonians who claim such criticisms are utterly baseless. These ecological theorists, Michael Turvey, Robert Shaw, Edward Reed, and William Mace endeavour to show how their approach can indeed account for intentionality. This debate between Fodor and Pylyshyn on the one hand, and Turvey, Shaw, Reed, arid Mace on the other is a perfect example of the kinds of misunderstandings that have arisen between Gibsonians and proponents of traditional view. In this thesis, I supply a detailed description of Gibson's model as it relates to the issue of how intentionality could survive perception without processing. Fodor and Pylyshyn's understanding and assessment of the Gibsonian position will then be examined. Although these defenders of traditional views have, some important concerns,.they also seem not to have a proper grasp of some Gibsonian concepts. In particular, Fodor arid Pylyshyn have an unsatisfactory grasp of the notion of an invariant. There are more serious misunderstandings evident in the response to Fodor arid Pylyshyn given by Turvey et al. I point out that these ecological theorists have difficulties with philosophical terms and theories they employ in defense of Gibson. As a result of evident confusions over notions of intension, extension, and property, arid confusions over the nature of Fred I. Dretske's theory of natural laws and Hillary Putnam's theory of natural kinds, Turvey et al do not manage to show how Gibson's approach could account for intensionality. I conclude by suggesting that the ecological approach nevertheless is compatible with the idea, of analyzing perceptual information pickup in terms of behaviour, or dispositions to behave. On such an interpretation, the ecological approach is similar in many important respects to the D.M. Armstrong's philosophical theory of perception. The comparison provides ecological theorists with a precedent as well as philosophical model to consult in order to better, understand the philosophical language and terminology. On the other hand, the comparison with Armstrong provides philosophers of perception with a means for approaching Gibson's view and the problems with which it will he confronted.

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