The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception

By James J. Gibson | Go to book overview

questions. Verbal descriptions can be true or false as predications. Visual depictions can be correct or incorrect in a wholly different way. A picture cannot be true in the sense that a proposition is true, but it may or may not be true to life.


KNOWING AND IMAGINING MEDIATED BY PICTURES

Perceiving, knowing, recalling, expecting, and imagining can all be induced by pictures, perhaps even more readily than by words. Picture-making and picture-perceiving have been going on for twenty or thirty thousand years of human life, and this achievement, like language, is ours alone. The image makers can arouse in us an awareness of what they have seen, of what they have noticed, of what they recall, expect, or imagine, and they do so without converting the information into a different mode. The description puts the optical invariants into words. The depiction, however, captures and displays them in an optic array, where they are more or less the same as they would be in the case of direct perception. So I will argue, at least. The justification of this theory is obviously not a simple matter, and it is deferred to the last chapters of this book, Part IV.

The reality-testing that accompanies unmediated perceiving and that is partly retained in perceiving with instruments is obviously lost in the kind of perceiving that is mediated by pictures. Nevertheless, pictures give us a kind of grasp on the rich complexities of the natural environment that words could never do. Pictures do not stereotype our experience in the same way and to the same degree. We can learn from pictures with less effort than it takes to learn from words. It is not like perceiving at first hand, but it is more like perceiving than any verbal description can be.

The child who has learned to talk about things and events can, metaphorically, talk to himself silently about things and events, so it is supposed. He is said to have "internalized" his speech, whatever that might mean. By analogy with this theory, a child who has learned to draw might be supposed to picture to himself things and events without movement of his hands, to have "internalized" his picturemaking. A theory of internal language and internal images might be based on this theory. But it seems to me very dubious. Whether or not it is plausible is best decided after we have considered picturemaking in its own right.


SUMMARY

When vision is thought of as a perceptual system instead of as a channel for inputs to the brain, a new theory of perception considered as information pickup becomes

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