Seeing Things

Donald D. Hoffman. Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See. W. W. Norton, 1998.

When sceptical writers in the fields covered by Magonia suggest that some ostensible anomalous personal experiences are generated by radical misperceptions, the response is often hostile, with the implication that the sceptics are making vicious personal attacks on the witnesses. One of the main reasons for this attitude is that many investigators have a naïve view of perception as a sort of passive video recording of the external world.

They would be well advised to read this book, in which Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science, philosophy and computer science argues persuasively that far from passively recording the visual world, the eye and brain actively construct every element of our visual experience. Hoffman builds up his case using as evidence both optical illusions and the often strange distortions introduced by brain damage. He suggests various rules which underlie the construction of perception and how these produce various optical illusions. These rules allow the brain the order the patterns of light and shade falling onto the retina into discrete objects, and compose them into a real world.

As a philosopher Hoffman doesn't stop there, more controversially he argues we do not know if the 'real' world, which he calls the relational world is at all like the phenomenal world, It may well be so, but. it is equally possible, he argues, using computer generated virtual reality, that this relational world is very different from the phenomenal world of our perceptions. Fascinating and not too technical, recommended to all field investigators. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 68, September 1999.

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