Ecological Approaches to Cognition: Essays in Honor of Ulric Neisser

By Eugene Winograd; Robyn Fivush et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Direct Perception and Representation in Infancy

Philippe Rochat

Emory University

How to reconcile the rich, immediate experience of perception and action with the schematizing, reconstructing process of higher cognition? This fundamental question is at the core of Dick Neisser's research and theoretical enterprise. As a tribute, I would like to discuss this issue in light of my own recent research in infancy.

If Neisser is at the origin of the cognitive revolution, he is also among the few cognitive psychologists who take perception seriously. As we know, Gibson's influence on Neisser is enormous. It is under Gibson's influence that Neisser became the strong advocate of a more ecologically minded study of higher cognition. Since the theoretical and revisionist stance he took some 20 years ago when he published Cognition and Reality ( 1976), Neisser has spent a great deal of effort attempting to reconcile what is too often viewed as irreconcilable: Gibson's revolutionary insights on perception, with the new wave of research in cognitive science documenting higher thought processes.

A major challenge to Neisser's enterprise is whether Gibsonian views on perception as direct and deprived of reconstruction are reconcilable with the essentially schematic and reconstructive (decomposable) processes of higher cognition that are commonly accounted for by cognitive psychologists. In other words, the question is whether perceptual and representational processes, because of their specific nature, are mutually exclusive or, on the contrary, need to be considered jointly as two inseparable aspects of how the mind works. This question does raise the issue of how well founded Neisser's main theoretical attempt is.

-3-

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