Visual Perception

How does our visual perception help and hinder our pursuit of knowledge?

I would be hard pressed to say that our visual perception hinders our pursuit of knowledge. Of course, there are hundreds of optical illusions that one can point to and say that this proves that our visual perception is not infallible, that our eyes and our mind are imperfect and play tricks on us. However, one thing I found really interesting was the idea presented by Beau Lotto in an interview, in which he states that the entire idea of an illusion of this sort is based on a misconception. We can’t see the world “as it actually is” and we aren’t evolved to see it “as it is”. We’re evolved to see it in a way that was once useful to us. What I wonder then is why are some of these seemingly random and bizarre “errors” in our visual perception useful? How do they affect our everyday lives? When we look at an optical illusion, we understand that reality and what we see conflict. But what about when our only reality is based off of what we see? Are there things we misinterpret in everyday life? Can things really be misinterpreted when we only have one way to perceive them?

That’s why I would argue that our visual perception predominately helps our pursuit of knowledge. Lotto says that we have no direct access to the physical world. Without any access, how can we pursue knowledge? I would argue that our visual perception, along with our other sense perceptions, is our direct access to the physical world. It may just be our brain processing light that means nothing without processing, but how could we possibly have a perception that is more direct than this? What exactly is direct access to our world?

In a much less philosophical and much more narrow sense, our visual perception affects, obviously, who we are attracted to, which was explored in the BBC web series Science of Attraction. The most interesting thing I found here was an experiment in which the mere exposure hypothesis was tested. This hypothesis states that repeated exposure to something makes it more appealing to us. This was tested by showing both a normal and a mirrored picture of a participant to the participant and their partner, asking them to choose which they preferred. As the participants sees themselves most often in a mirror, they should theoretically find the mirrored image more appealing, while their partner sees them directly, and should find the normal image more attractive. Though the sample size was small, the hypothesis seemed to be supported. Our visual perception, apparently, can be altered simply by repeated exposure to something.

How are our sense manipulated by the media?

We hear a lot about the media manipulating us, especially in terms of what we find attractive and how attractive we perceive ourselves to be. There are a million articles online about how people, especially young women, have a lower self-confidence and a negative body image with can lead to, of course, many problems (one of the most well known and sensationalized would be eating disorders. One of the practices of the media that many blame for these problems is the extreme editing of their models (shown in the latter half of this video), making them appear unrealistically perfect. The aspect of this whole manipulation by the media idea that I find the most interesting is how the perception of what is physically attractive changes between cultures and over time, proving that what we find attractive isn’t simple and objective. For example, in ancient China, a small foot was considered extremely attractive, to the point that damaging the foot through foot binding was a common practice. How much of attractiveness is objective (such as a symmetrical face), cultural (such as a thin body in Western cultures), or personal? How much do the media change our perception of beauty in things besides people? Is media an influence on how we perceive some things that may be inherently beautiful (beauty in nature, perhaps)?

Augmented “The Key to Media’s Hidden Codes”


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