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Lecture 1

PSYB51H3 Lecture 1: Lecture 1 Notes PSYB51

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Matthias Niemeier

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Lecture 1
What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel,
what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical
signals interpreted by your brain. This is the world that you know.
Morpheus’ answer to Neo in The Matrix, 1999
Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave 380 BCE
Our conception of reality is critically
dependent on information gathered
through our senses; our perception is
He tried to illustrate how in his mind, we
perceive the world, claimed that we are like prisoners born with chains,
kept in a cave; all we perceive is shadows of objects casted by fire
o Our understanding of reality is restricted to things that we can
Perception and your sense of reality are the products of ..
Importance of type of energy in the environment determines which
senses have developed
E.g. we might not sense the entire reality but we
probably do not need to worry too much about it
o On the right is an example of a simple
sensory motor process (opening and
closing; when trapping flies by closing,
there are mechanical vibrations of the fly
landing in the trap)
Some animals are able to sense stimuli that humans cannot:
o Bees and pollen
o Snakes can sense infrared light and chemicals in the air
o Dogs see differently than us
o Birds have an even better vision (sharper vision)
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o Dolphins and echolocation (navigation by interpreting the echoes
of sound waves that bounce off of objects near them in the water)
Ben Underwood; a boy that had cancer in his eyes and had
lost his eyesight at the age of two, used clicks made with his
tongue to identify objects
Heraclitus (540-480 BCE)
You can never step into the same river twice
panta rhei: everything flows
The idea that perceiver cannot perceive the same event in exactly the
same manner each time
o Experience/ learning
o Adaptation
A reduction in response cause by prior or continuing
o Change
o Contrast
Democritus (460-370 BCE)
The world is made up of atoms that collide with one another
Sensations are caused by atoms leaving objects and making contact with
our sense organs
Perception being the result of the physical interaction between the
world and our bodies
Basically, he was at a beach looking at a stone and he thought that he
can keep splitting the stone until eventually the atom; he proposed the
idea of the atom and he kept on trying to explain perception as well
o You are atoms and connecting to space and eventually leading to
our vision which is NOT true
What really passes on information then?
Sensory transducers
o A receptor that converts physical energy from the environment
into neural activity
E.g. neural signals/ action potentials in taste buds or ear
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Nativism and Empiricism
Nativism: the idea that the mind produces ideas that are not derived
from external sources
o Basically saying that we are born with something that is already
there; referring to the soul
o Plato believed that the truest sense of reality comes from people’s
minds and souls
2000 years later came Descarte’s (1598-1650)
o Had a dualistic view of the world: both mind and body exist
Mind-body dualism: the idea positing the existence of two distinct
principles of being in the universe; spirit/soul and matter/body just like
Descartes believed
Monism: The idea that the mind and matter are formed from, or
reducible to, a single ultimate substance or principle of being (saying
everything is an illusion, everything is mind and idea)
Materialism: The idea that physical matter is the only reality, and
everything including the mind can be explained in terms of matter and
physical phenomena. Materialism is a type of monism. E.g. science
Empiricism: The idea that experience from senses is the only source of
knowledge (mind is made through experiencing things we encounter)
Hobbes (1588-1678)
o Believed that everything that could ever be known or even
imagined had to be learned through senses
Locke (1632-1704)
o Sought to explain how all thoughts, even complex ones, could be
constructed from experience with a collection of sensations
The Dawn of Psychophysics
Fechner (1801-1887)
o )nvented psychophysics, thought to be the true founder of
experimental psychology
o Pioneering work relating changes in the physical world to changes
in our psychological experiences
o Sort of like if consciousness was something like weight or
whatever, then we should be able to measure it and find laws and
regularities for it
Panpsychism: the idea that all matter has consciousness (Fechner)
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