The Modularity of Perception

Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness

New York University


Workshop on the Modularity of Perception

Sunday December 2nd, 2012 in the ground floor auditorium at 5 Washington Place, NYU, New York, NY


Does what you think or want or expect or believe you are going to do affect your conscious perception, how the world looks and feels to you? In the 1940s and 1950s, the “New Look” held that, for example, our expectations about cards could cause us to see a red 6 of spades as a normal 6 of hearts. These experiments fell into disrepute because the experimenters had not adequately distinguished perception from perceptual belief. Subjects might have a percept as of a red 6 of spades but believe they saw a red 6 of hearts. In recent years, however, cognitive effects on perception are once again vigorously debated, revived by a point of view that departs from the “New Look” by emphasizing an evolutionary and ecological point of view in which, for example, the representational content of perception is scaled in body-centric units. The “New Look” advocated an effect of cognition on perception, but the new anti-modularists advocate a more radical merging of cognition and perception. For example, one line of research holds that a subject sees heights in eye-height units.  In another line of investigation, perception appears to be influenced by what the subject wants or expects. For example, if subjects think they will have to climb a slope, their estimates of the slant of the hill depend on their energy level, and appear to be influenced by whether they are wearing a heavy backpack. And a more desired object is estimated as closer to the subject than a less desired object even when the object is a credit card and the desirability is a matter of how much money is invisibly coded in the card .  Does the hill actually look steeper, or does it merely look less climbable? If it merely looks less climbable rather than steeper, does that have any impact on the perceptual representation of spatial relations? If the more desirable card looks closer, is that because the subject is attending to it more intensely?  These issues are relevant to philosophy of mind, epistemology, and psychology, and will be discussed by philosophers and psychologists.


9:30-10:00: Susanna Siegel (Philosophy, Harvard): Overview

10:00- 12:00 Chair: Ned Block, NYU

Sally Linkenauger (Psychology, Max-Planck-Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen)


Alvin Goldman (Philosophy, Rutgers)

David Bennett (Philosophy, Brown)

1:30—3:30 Chair, Zenon Pylyshyn, Rutgers

Chaz Firestone (Psychology, Yale)


Brian Scholl (Psychology, Yale)

James Brockmole (Psychology, Notre Dame)

4:00-6:00: Chair: Dave Chalmers, NYU

Emily Balcetis (Psychology, NYU)


Frank Durgin (Psychology, Swarthmore)

Eric Mandelbaum (Philosophy, Harvard)

Main talks are half an hour and comments are 15 minutes