Toward a New Behaviorism: The Case against Perceptual Reductionism

By William R. Uttal | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION: THE WAY THINGS ARE

PERCEPTUAL SCIENCE YESTERDAY AND TODAY

Our understanding of how we see has gone through an extraordinary period of growth and development in the last half century. It shares with many of the other sciences the fact that this has been a time unequaled in human history for progress toward a deep understanding of both our world and ourselves. The study of vision, however, in all of its many forms, has undergone a paradigmatic revolution that is quite different from those experienced by many of the physical and behavioral sciences. The enormous change for vision science is characterized by the fact that it was transmuted from what was purely a phenomenological and even philosophically speculative endeavor to one based on the natural sciences. Physics, chemistry, geology, and most other forms of the natural sciences had already made that transition centuries earlier. Most of the other forms of nonexperimental psychology have yet to cross that threshold.

Along with this transition of vision science from a pre-science to a fullblown science came a diversification of its methods and theories. The availability of such devices as the intracellular microelectrode, high-gain, highimpedance electronic signal amplifiers, the digital computer, the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scanners, and other ingenious devices has changed not only what perceptual scientists do, but also what they think. As recently as a half century ago we were only able to ask people "what did you see" and record their verbal or simple motor responses, whereas we now are able to look at the activity of both single neurons and large chunks of the visual pathway

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