Learning to perceive while perceiving to learn

Goldstone, R. L. (2003).  Learning to perceive while perceiving to learn.  in R. Kimchi, M. Behrmann, and C. Olson (Eds.) Perceptual Organization in Vision: Behavioral and Neural Perspectives.  Mahwah, New Jersey.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (pp. 233-278)

The external world must be filtered through our perceptual systems before it can have an impact upon us.  That is, the world we experience is formed by our perceptual processing.  However, it is not viciously circular to argue that our perceptual systems are reciprocally formed by our experiences.  In fact, it is because our experiences are necessarily based on our perceptual systems that these perceptual systems must be shaped so that our experiences are appropriate and useful for dealing with our world.

In what follows, I will argue that the “building blocks” an observer uses for construing their world depends on the observer’s history, training, and acculturation. These factors, together with psychophysical constraints, mold one’s set of building blocks.  Researchers who have proposed fixed sets of hard-wired primitives are exactly right in one sense — the combinatorics of objects, words, scenes, and scenarios strongly favor componential representations.  However, this does not necessitate that the components be hard-wired.  By developing new components to subserve particular tasks and environments, a newly important discrimination can generate building blocks that are tailored for the discrimination.  Adaptive building blocks are likely to be efficient because they can be optimized for idiosyncratic needs and environments.

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