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Defending Realism on the Proper Ground

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Abstract:

‘Epistemological constructivism' holds that vision is mediated by background preconceptions and is theory-laden. Hence, two persons with differing theoretical commitments see the world differently and they could agree on what they see only if they both espoused the same conceptual framework. This, in its turn, undermines the possibility of theory testing and choice on a common theory-neutral empirical basis. In this paper, I claim that the cognitive sciences suggest that a part of vision may be only indirectly penetrated by cognition in a way that does not threaten retrieval of information from a visual scene in a bottom-up way. That blocks the constructivist epistemological thesis. However, since spatial attention, which can be cognitively driven, seems to permeate all stages of visual processes, one is led to conclude that there is no part of vision immune to direct cognitive interference. Against this, I elaborate on the role of spatial attention and argue that it does influence vision in a top-down manner, but it does so only in an indirect way. I then argue that the existence of visual processes that are only indirectly penetrated by cognition undermines the epistemological conclusions of constructivism.

Keywords: Cognitive Penetrability of Perception; Constructivism; Realism; Spatial Attention

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09515080500462370

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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