Is vision really our primary sense? Do the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear, which maintains balance, and proprio-reception in the muscles qualify as fully-fledged additions to the traditional five senses?
What are the implications of the discovery that color is in the eye of the beholder rather than a fixed property of reflected surfaces?
Is the feeling that we experience a visual representation of a whole scene a subjective illusion? What it actually being represented at any given moment and why?
Perception relies on a background of theory informed by our formative experience. Does perception suffice as a general model for the acquisition of all manner of synthetic knowledge? Is the Scientific Method, also characterized by a background of theory, sense perception made explicit?
If we can be fooled by optical illusions is it reasonable be skeptical about all sense data? Do people who think differently also see differently? Why are opinion and belief often used synonymously with perception?
We are predisposed to bring cognitive order out of real world disorder. From crude and coarse-grained sense data, perception involves active scanning for points of interest. This search for contrast, edge, pattern, coherence and relevance is unrelenting. This holds for touch and hearing just as it does for vision.
Our perceptions are informed and constrained by our singular experience. By the time we are able to notice this and reflect upon it, we our senses are already preconfigured. We are in medias res. For this reason alone there are no naked perceptions.
Andrew Brown (2005) Figures (detail) Acrylic and charcoal on canvas.
Our senses are not passive receptors. Perception is active, exploratory, creative and highly selective. The innate perceptual toolkit of each individual is fine-tuned during infancy based on interactions with the environment. This is an active, constructive process that requires time and benefits from trial and error. The burgeoning senses manifest themselves virtually at the level of cognition. Their physical basis lies in the brain’s developing micro-anatomy.
Dwelling in the cavern of our own subjectivity we are always at once remove from things in themselves. What we perceive is not the world as it is, but a constantly updated, virtual impression. Incoming sense data corresponds to, or coheres with, this fictive version, or else—in the moment and on the hoof—contributes to shifting it.
The Latin name Homo perspicax refers to sense perception.
The evolution of mind and the senses has been driven by the immediate needs of embodied creatures inseparable from their immediate environments. Perception is of the moment and occurs at lightning speed. The science of the senses provides tantalizing glimpses into the nature of knowing and learning.
Our senses are sometimes fallible and respond only to stimuli falling within a predetermined range, but they are our sole portal to experience.
Andrew Brown (1999) Figure (detail) Oil pastel, ink and charcoal on paper.