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Seeing in three dimensions: philosophical issues and empirical findings

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Beverley Larner.

It is often thought that there is something special and perhaps more difficult about our ability to see the depth of 3-D objects and their spatial layout as compared with other aspects of perception such as colour, form or motion. This has often been attributed to the fact that our retinas are essentially flat, 2-D surfaces (e.g. Irvin Rock’s book Perception 1984). The idea can be traced back to the philosopher, George Berkeley who wrote in his A New Theory of Vision (1709): “Distance of itself, and immediately, cannot be seen”. More recently, TV manufacturers have tried to persuade us to purchase 3-D TVs with the clear implication that conventional TVs do not allow us to see the third dimension. In this lecture, I want to address what I believe is a philosophical misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of perception which is often thought of as a process that provides an internal representation (image, picture) of the outside world. Instead, I shall consider the role of perception in an ecological context based on the availability of information. I also want to discuss the concept of ‘illusion’ and whether it is possible to make a meaningful distinction between those aspects of perception that are correct (veridical) and those that are illusory. To do this, I will consider the information provided by binocular viewing (stereopsis), motion parallax and geometric perspective in both art and normal viewing.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Philosophical Society series.

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