• From inference to affordance : the problem of visual depth-perception in the optical writings of Descartes, Berkeley, and Gibson

      Braund, Michael J.; Department of Philosophy (Brock University, 2008-05-21)
      This thesis explores the debate and issues regarding the status of visual ;,iferellces in the optical writings of Rene Descartes, George Berkeley and James 1. Gibson. It gathers arguments from across their works and synthesizes an account of visual depthperception that accurately reflects the larger, metaphysical implications of their philosophical theories. Chapters 1 and 2 address the Cartesian and Berkelean theories of depth-perception, respectively. For Descartes and Berkeley the debate can be put in the following way: How is it possible that we experience objects as appearing outside of us, at various distances, if objects appear inside of us, in the representations of the individual's mind? Thus, the Descartes-Berkeley component of the debate takes place exclusively within a representationalist setting. Representational theories of depthperception are rooted in the scientific discovery that objects project a merely twodimensional patchwork of forms on the retina. I call this the "flat image" problem. This poses the problem of depth in terms of a difference between two- and three-dimensional orders (i.e., a gap to be bridged by one inferential procedure or another). Chapter 3 addresses Gibson's ecological response to the debate. Gibson argues that the perceiver cannot be flattened out into a passive, two-dimensional sensory surface. Perception is possible precisely because the body and the environment already have depth. Accordingly, the problem cannot be reduced to a gap between two- and threedimensional givens, a gap crossed with a projective geometry. The crucial difference is not one of a dimensional degree. Chapter 3 explores this theme and attempts to excavate the empirical and philosophical suppositions that lead Descartes and Berkeley to their respective theories of indirect perception. Gibson argues that the notion of visual inference, which is necessary to substantiate representational theories of indirect perception, is highly problematic. To elucidate this point, the thesis steps into the representationalist tradition, in order to show that problems that arise within it demand a tum toward Gibson's information-based doctrine of ecological specificity (which is to say, the theory of direct perception). Chapter 3 concludes with a careful examination of Gibsonian affordallces as the sole objects of direct perceptual experience. The final section provides an account of affordances that locates the moving, perceiving body at the heart of the experience of depth; an experience which emerges in the dynamical structures that cross the body and the world.