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University of Toronto Scarborough
Matthias Niemeier

Lecture 1  Early Philosophy and Perception  Script from Matrix can be traced back to Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, where he pictures us as how we perceive the world; he claims that we are like prisoners, born in a cave, chained to a wall, and facing the back wall of that cave; we are the prisoners of our perception; our conception of reality is based on information gathered by our senses  Our senses are products of evolution; senses came into existence to serve certain purposes such as survival; the flytrap could be argued to have behaviour; flytrap is a very primitive sensory motor system;  Some animals have senses that humans do not- bees can see ultraviolet light; snakes have heat sensors or infrared light; dogs have ultrasonic hearing; some birds have very acute vision, some can see magnetic fields, some have four colour/photo receptors opposed to our three (richer colour vision than we have)  Ben Underwood, had cancer as a toddler and his eyes surgically removed; he could use echolocation; in principle, we can develop echolocation  Heraclitus- “you can never step into the same river twice,” meaning if you step into the same river, the water is different the second time you step into the river because it has moved downstream or because you have changed the river by the act of stepping into it; the perceiver cannot perceive the same event , the same way every single time; this is because we experience/learn and adapt;  Democritus- often depicted as the laughing philosopher; the world is made up of atoms that collide with one another; although, he was incorrect that all things had different types of atoms (nose atoms, wood atoms, etc.); he was confident that what we see is what we get; sensations are caused by atoms leaving objects and contacting with our sense organs; this is completely wrong of course when it pertains to vision; this is true for some senses, such as olfaction and taste; sensation is the more mechanistic aspect of how physical energy is transfused into neural signals, and perception is more cognitive aspect, it is what we make out of sensation;  Sensory transducer: a receptor that converts physical energy from the environment into neural activity  Nativism- the idea that the mind produces ideas that are not derived from external sources; Plato- truest sense of reality comes from people’s minds and souls; there are certain things we cannot know from experience  Descartes’ dualist view of the world; both mind and body exist; nativism usually goes with dualism (early on anyway)  One serious problem with dualism is that if there is a soul or mind independent of matter then it is tough to imagine how these two interact with each other; if the mind has no physical properties whatsoever, how can it interact with the body? The idea of a ticking together like a clock has not proven to be accurate thus far;  Monism: the idea that the mind and matter are formed from, or reducible to, a single ultimate substance or principle of being; everything could be taught (mentalism, solitism);  Everything is matter- mind is associated with materials of the brain; 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.  Empiricism: the idea that experience from the senses is the only source of knowledge  Hobbes believed that everything that could ever be known or even imagined had to be learned through the senses; thought little of memory or imagery, thought of theses as decayed versions of sensations; he believed everything is perception and nothing else exists  Lock sought to explain how all thoughts, even complex ones, could be constructed from experience with a collection of experiences; tabla rasa- clean slate, as which we are born and as we experience things, we learn and understand things more;  The Dawn of Psychophysics  Fechner invented it, thought to be the true founder of experimental psychology; pioneering work relating changes in the physical world to changes in our psychological experiences; a lot of terms were coined by him, and still used today; comes from biology, a doctor actually; inspired by one of his colleagues  Panpsychism: the idea that all matter has consciousness (Fechner)  Psychophysics: the science of defining quantitative relationships between physical and psychological (subjective) events  The colleague that inspired him was Weber; Weber discovered that the smallest change in a stimulus, such as the weight of an object, that can be detected is a constant proportion of the stimulus level- “Weber’s Law”; if you put a 40g weight in somebody’s hands, and you put a different weight in their hand, then it must be a certain difference in order to be perceived as different; for 400g the difference must be greater in order to perceive a difference  This is the first step in the attempt to understand how perception works- quantifying things  JND (Just Noticeable Difference) - the smallest detectable difference between two stimuli, or the minimum change in a stimulus, or the minimum change in a stimulus that can be correctly judged as different from a reference stimulus. Also known as difference threshold;  Two-point threshold: the minimum distance at which two stimuli (e.g., two simultaneous touches) can be distinguished  Distribution of receptors throughout body differs depending on location  Fechner’s Law: a principle describing the relationship between stimulus magnitude and resulting sensation magnitude such that the magnitude of subjective sensation increases proportionally to the logarithm of the stimulus intensity; S = k log R (actually: S = k log R/R0); S- psychological sensation; R- physical stimulus level; k- constant  Term invented by Fechner: absolute threshold- minimum amount of stimulation necessary fo
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