Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience Research Seminar*
Venue: Psychology Seminar Room (Room 511), 58 Hillhead Street, Glasgow G12 8QB (unless otherwise noted)
Seminars are normally followed by cheese and wine, plus dinner and drinks with the speaker and respondent for those who wish to attend. Talks marked ‘RTS’ are sponsored by the AHRC Rethinking the Senses Project. All welcome!
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Frank Durgin (Psychology, Swarthmore)
‘The angular expansion hypothesis of locomotor space perception’
The conscious perception of locomotor space (or action space) seems to be greatly distorted (ground distances appear much shorter than they are; hills look much steeper than they are, etc.) yet perception provides the basis for excellent control of action. Could large and systematic distortions in perceived locomotor space be for the purpose of action control? As a rough analogy, note that perceptual sensitivity trumps perceptual accuracy in the control of action – or watchmakers wouldn’t use magnifying glasses. I will review a large body of evidence suggesting that many well-documented and systematic biases in the perception of locomotor space arise from an angular coding scheme that may provide more efficient motor specification and/or feedback sensitivity for the control of action. Two interesting characteristics of the theory are that (1) its development is based on parameter measurement rather than null-hypothesis testing, and (2) much of the data used in support of the theory was collected or replicated by other labs before the theory was proposed. The critical new empirical observation of the theory is that while angular variables, like egocentric direction, are fundamental to action control, they are grossly and systematically distorted in spatial perception. This observation is sufficient to explain a great deal of historical data. The critical new theoretical observation is that stable distortions of this sort may be quite useful for action.
‘What is “embodied perception” the embodiment of? A critical review’
The use of the scientific method in the study of conscious perceptual experience is intended to prevent it from becoming a tumbling ground for whimsy. Taking perceptual experience seriously can be a very productive scientific enterprise, but the distinction between measurable perceptual bias and experimental artifact or publication bias has often been strikingly hard to pin down. Here I will review some of the empirical observations that have led a number of researchers to question the merits of whole classes of claims that have been splashing across the pages of prominent journals. Based on my own work, I will emphasize the explanatory advantages of the participant compliance (or demand characteristic) account of several otherwise strange and surprising findings that are ostensibly perceptual. But I will also place this type of basic psychological explanation of these kinds of findings within a broader theoretical context of systematic confirmation bias in psychological science. That is, ongoing crises concerning statistical hypothesis testing in psychology, the concomitant crisis concerning replication, and the ever-present risk of scientific “truthiness” encouraged by a rational cost-benefit analysis of selection bias in journals ought all be relevant factors in the evaluation of the recent flood of claims regarding the strangely metaphorical embodiment of perception.
Robert Audi (Philosophy, Notre Dame)
‘Normativity and Generality in Ethics and Aesthetics’
Moral properties such as being wrong or being obligatory are not brute but based on other kinds of properties, such as being a lie or being promised. Aesthetic properties such as being graceful or being beautiful are similar to moral properties in being based on other kinds of properties, but in the aesthetic cases it may be impossible to specify just what these grounding properties are. Does any single property ground poetic beauty in the way promising grounds obligation to do the promised deed? If aesthetic properties do differ from moral properties in this way, may we conclude that, although ethics is like aesthetics in being a realm of intuitive and perceptual knowledge—or at least intuitive and perceptual sensitivity—it is unlike aesthetics because the latter lacks principles that connect grounding properties with aesthetic properties? Are there any such generalities in aesthetics, or even aesthetic generalities connecting aesthetic properties with other aesthetic properties? If there are, how much like or unlike rules and principles in ethics are they? This paper explores all these questions in the light of examples from the arts, with poetry as the main case study.