Indirect vs direct theories

We will now broaden out our discussion to consider the fundamental distinction between indirect and direct theories of perception. Most of the approaches to perception discussed in this book (e.g., the constructivist approach; the theories of Marr and Biederman) are indirect theories, whereas Gibson put forward a direct theory. What are the key differences between indirect and direct theories? According to Bruce et al. (1996), the following differences are central:

• Indirect theorists argue that perception involves the formation of an internal representation, whereas Gibson argued that this is not necessary.

• Indirect theorists assume that memory in the form of stored knowledge of the world is of central importance to perception, but Gibson denied this.

• Most indirect theorists argue that we need to understand the interrelationships of perceptual processing at different levels. In contrast, Gibson argued there are separate ecological and physiological levels of explanation, and he focused almost exclusively on the ecological level.

Why isn't the role of hypotheses and expectations included as one of the key differences between indirect and direct theories? After all, that is an important difference between the constructivist and Gibsonian approaches. The reason is that many indirect theorists (e.g., Marr; Biederman) have assumed that hypotheses and expectations play only a minor role in visual perception, even though they assume that stored knowledge is of crucial importance.

The indirect approach is more generally applicable to most human visual perception. According to Bruce et al. (1996, p. 374), "Perception of other people, familiar objects, and almost everything we perceive... requires additional kinds of representation of the perceived object." Gibson's assumption that stored knowledge is not involved in visual perception is highly dubious, and would invalidate nearly all the research discussed in Chapter 4! An illustration of the problems associated with Gibson's assumption was provided by Bruce et al. (1996, p. 377): "We find it unconvincing to explain a person returning after 10 years to their grandparents' home and seeing that a tree has been cut down as having detected directly an event specified by a transformation in the optic array."

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