Knowledge in perception and illusion

Richard L. Gregory

Abstract

Following Hermann von Helmholtz, who described visual perceptions as unconscious inferences from sensory data and knowledge derived from the past, perceptions are regarded as similar to predictive hypotheses of science, but are psychologically projected into external space and accepted as our most immediate reality. There are increasing discrepancies between perceptions and conceptions with science's advances, which makes it hard to define ‘illusion’. Visual illusions can provide evidence of object knowledge and working rules for vision, but only when the phenomena are explained and classified. A tentative classification is presented, in terms of appearances and kinds of causes. The large contribution of knowledge from the past for vision raises the issue: how do we recognize the present, without confusion from the past. This danger is generally avoided as the present is signalled by real–time sensory inputs— perhaps flagged by qualia of consciousness.