Nature is a distinct entity that must be perceived through the different senses available to us as humans. And in our interaction with nature, we must experience it through the following senses; touch, smell, sound, sight, and taste, for us to truly understand the essence of it and also gather the necessary information about its operations. Ultimately, the awareness we have about the world around us becomes necessary for our individual and collective survival. Our recognition of the world and how to tackle the challenges it presents is really important in sustaining the universal existence of the whole human race (Qiong, 2017).
Perception, as a word, was coined from the Latin words; “perceptio” (noun), meaning “to perceive”, and “precipere” (verb), meaning “seize, receive or understand” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 9th edition). According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 4th edition (2017), the word, “perception” could refer to a popular “belief or opinion” or “the ability to notice and understand things that are not (all that) obvious to other people”
In the field of philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science, perception has been defined as “the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information” (Qiong, 2017).
According to Forgus and Melamed (1976), perception is, “the process of information extraction”. That is the process by which we make meaning of our world. In our interaction with our surroundings, we organize, identify and analyze the different sensory information we receive to interpret and understand the operations happening around us.
Perception is dependent on the complex operations of the nervous system. It includes the receipt of signals that travel through our nervous system and; the response to these signals. For example, the heat one feels m on their skin when they mistakenly touch a hot mug and their immediate reaction to this feeling; the quick retraction of our hand, accompanied, maybe, with a soft but angry curse or exclaim (Goldstein, 2019).
As a result of this stimulus-response relationship, the process of perception can then be divided into two fundamental dimensions: the physical, our interactions with shapes and objects in the physical world; and the psychological, our responses and expectations as influenced by our physical perceptions. This dimensional system of cognition is how we form our understanding of the world around us (Qiong, 2017).
To study the operations of the world, we must also study our interactions with it on different levels and dimensions. Studying our perceptions and ideas about the nature of the world is important in verifying our expectations and formations. Since, like Rene Descartes, in his Meditations on First Philosophy, has pointed out to us, we cannot entirely trust our senses because they constantly deceive us and push us to sometimes make illogical conclusions about nature, we must continuously put them to the scrutiny of scepticism to establish valid conclusions about the operations of the world. This is why different scholars have come up with different theories to investigate and explain the concept of perception.
Perception theories have been classified into two groups according to their processes and flow of information. Bottom-up, explaining the processes of information flow from the stimulus to the complex structures of understanding. The flow here is carried in a linear direction from the retina to the visual cortex. Top-down theories explain the processing of sensory stimuli from “a downward influence of higher cognitive contents which organize and later determine them” (Demuth, 2013). That is the use of contextual information to form the understanding of complex structures (McLeod, 2018).
In this essay, we’ll be examining two theories:
● Gibson’s theory of direct perception
● Gregory’s top-down processing theory
James Gibson’s theory of direct perception (1966)
Gibson believes that our cognitive structures are formed by the “long evolutionary influence of external environment” (Demuth, 2013). This suggests that we form our perception of the external world based on the need to survive. The bottom line of Gibson’s argument is that without the ability to perceive and interact with our environment, survival would be completely impossible.
Gibson posits that perception follows in a direct line and does not need to be tested by hypotheses: from the simple analysis of physical representations to the complex workings of the visual system.
Gibson argues that perception is equal to sensation; meaning that we have enough information around us to understand our environment and how to live in it.
Richard Gregory’s top-down processing theory (1970)
Gregory’s perception theory is a popular constructivist theory of processing visual perception. Gregory argues that sensory information from our surroundings is often complex and fairly uninterpretable without a higher cognitive structure. He believes that to interpret the operation of our environment, we must rely on our schema to make inferences from physical and visual impressions.
For Gregory, perception is dependent upon prior experiences or knowledge. He further postulates that our perceptions are based on hypotheses that are founded on our shema; and our previous experiences with the external world (McLeod, 2018).