Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 2, Fall 2016

New Directions in the Philosophy of Perception

Nico Orlandi
Pages 327-351

Bayesian Perception Is Ecological Perception

There is a certain excitement in vision science concerning the idea of applying the tools of bayesian decision theory to explain our perceptual capacities. Bayesian models are thought to be needed to explain how the inverse problem of perception is solved, and to rescue a certain constructivist and Kantian way of understanding the perceptual process. Anticlimactically, I argue both that bayesian outlooks do not constitute good solutions to the inverse problem, and that they are not constructivist in nature. In explaining how visual systems derive a single percept from underdetermined stimulation, orthodox versions of bayesian accounts encounter a problem. The problem shows that such accounts need to be grounded in Natural Scene Statistics (NSS), an approach that takes seriously the Gibsonian insight that studying perception involves studying the statistical regularities of the environment in which we are situated. Additionally, I argue that bayesian frameworks postulate structures that hardly rescue a constructivist way of understanding perception. Except for percepts, the posits of bayesian theory are not representational in nature. bayesian perceptual inferences are not genuine inferences. They are biased processes that operate over nonrepresentational states.