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Philosophy of Mind: Seeing and Believing


By Frank Simons

At this point in this lecture series, we train all our resources—the resources of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience—on the central issue of consciousness. In this and the next lecture, we will be talking about some of the things we know about consciousness, about perceptual consciousness in particular.

A number of classical studies show that expectation influences what we see. Jerome Bruner showed that altered cards (a red ace of spades, for example) are more difficult to process. In another experiment, subjects are told to count the number of times that people in a video pass a basketball. About half of the subjects fail to see the person who walks through in a gorilla suit. The cocktail party effect is an auditory example of the force of attention. You filter out the conversations around you—until you hear your name.

The tendency of a first interpretation to last, resistant to change, is called perceptual persistence. Subjects who are shown sets of images in one order see something different from those seeing the same set in reverse. Change blindness labels the fact that we fail to see changes in a scene. This phenomenon is demonstrated by a range of experiments regarding continuity in both video clips and still images. These results show that perception is an active pursuit of data rather than a passive perception of data. The pursuit can be expected to access a variety of cognitive resources, including background beliefs, expectations, and interpretations. These results accord perfectly with the evolutionary perspective on perception outlined in lecture eleven.

The fact that perception can be cognitively loaded has been influential in 20th century philosophy of science. It we take this statement far enough, it appears to threaten the very idea of scientific objectivity. Thomas Kuhn effectively challenged the view science is cumulative. Science proceeds by revolutions in which new theories replace old ones. According to Kuhn, science at any point is ruled by a particular paradigm. Its perception is theory-laden. The lessons of this lecture apply to two systems that are both knowledge-guided and knowledge gaining. One is local and individual, your brain. The other system is culture-wide, the sciences. Only if both systems are in equilibrium can we avoid the dangers of influenced perception.

Professor Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the universities presidential and chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 19, “Seeing and Believing”

By Frank Simons

Thu, Oct 12, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted


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