Marc H. Bornstein
New York University
... all that a mammal does is fundamentally dependent on his perception, past or present.
D. O. Hebb (1953, p. 44).
We begin with two questions: Why study perception? Why study early perceptual development?
Why Study Perception? Perception underlies our basic awareness, experience, and interpretation of the world. Philosophers, psychologists, physiologists, and physicists study perception for two broad categories of reasons related to this privileged position of perception. Both reasons also have roots in philosophy.
Even on casual introspection, our everyday experiences raise a series of intriguing questions about perception. Some are quite general. How do properties or objects or events in the real world differ from our perceptions of them? How do those properties or objects or events come to be perceived as stable amidst continuous environmental flux, and how do they come to be invested with meaning? Other questions provoked by perceptual experiences are more specific. How does the quality of "bitter" differ from the quality of "red"? How do we see a three-dimensional world when visual processing begins with only a two‐ dimensional image in the eye? How are the individual features of things we perceive synthesized into organized wholes?
The second reason for studying perception is epistemological, impelled by the question of the origins of human knowledge. For centuries, philosophers have appealed to perception to address epistemological questions of knowledge and the origins of knowledge. Extreme views have been put forward by empiricists, who assert that all knowledge comes through the senses and grows by way of experience, and by nativists, who reason that some kinds of knowledge could not possibly rely on experience or be learned, and thus humans enter the world (at