Theories of vision: considerations from embodiment

Cognitive science provides two main types of theories of vision: imagistic and relational. In this short series of 7 videos, I raise concerns about imagistic theories of vision, and point to substantial and consequential problems in how these are spoken of and presented by scientists. I am an embodied cognitive scientist. Not only do I have a body, but my understanding of cognitive science is rooted in my own embodied being. I suggest that imagistic theories of vision, and the entire cognitivist framework within which they are constructed, must give way to naturalistic theories of our own embodiment.

Some additional notes on the individual videos and references are provided at this page. An additional 8th video (prepared before this series) is provided at the end. It revisits many of the questions raised in the 7 videos.

Video 1: Introducing theories of vision

Video 1: Introducing theories of vision

This first video introduces imagistic and relational theories of vision. A small experiment is proposed to sensitise the viewer to the kind of concern that will be raised in subsequent videos.

Video 2: Intromissive and Extramissive Theories of Vision

Video 2: Intromissive and Extramissive Theories

In this video I consider the long discredited notion of extramissive vision, not to reintroduce it as a viable alternative, but to show that the intromissive theories currently in vogue are on no more solid ground than extramissive theories, and that we could usefully ask why this question still exists. (Spoiler: seeing is a reciprocal relation, not an ingestion of images.)

Video 3: Freezing the Subject

Video 3: Freezing the Subject

Here I draw attention to the manner in which imagistic theories of vision stop the subject moving, thereby changing the very thing (“seeing”) they set out to study.

Video 4: Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex and Smooth Pursuit Tracking

Video 4: Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex and Smooth Pursuit Tracking

Here I point how imagistic theories view the VOR and SPT as distinct capacities of the visual system, while relational theories, which do not traffic in images, reveal them to maintain an invariant relationship between subject and world.

Video 5: Tubes and Frames

Video 5: Tubes and Frames

Here, I consider the manner in which tubes (microscopes, telescopes) and frames (picture frames, photographs, screens) have changed how we see, and, more importantly, how we think of seeing.

Video 6: Faces and Mirrors

Video 6: Faces and Mirrors

Here I turn to how we think others see us. This draws our attention to the role of mirrors and faces in our self-understanding.

Video 7: Time and Space

Video 7: Time and Space

I conclude this series by consideration of the problematic way that neuroscientists speak to the public about seeing. In particular, the message that your perception is a “controlled hallucination” (Anil Seth) is critiqued, and given some nuance.

Bonus video: The Müller-Lyre Illusion

Bonus video: The Müller-Lyre Illusion

This additional video discusses the Müller-Lyre illusion, and considers the effect of engineering our habitat upon our vision. It reiterates several themes raised in the sequence of 7 video.