The Puzzle of Perception
Madary (Michael)
Source: Think 9 (Summer 2010) 57-63
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Here is an old philosophical puzzle. Take out a coin and look at it. It is a flat disk. Now tilt it so that you look at it on an angle. From an angle, there is some sense in which the tilted coin appears elliptical. But there is also a strong sense in which the tilted coin looks circular, like a flat disk. How can one object look both elliptical and circular at the same time? Thus, the puzzle of the tilted coin.
  2. This strange feature of perception is not limited to flat disks. All the objects that we see are seen from a perspective. Furthermore, the way in which those objects appear changes as we change perspective. It seems as if we are in an odd situation: we see objects to remain constant even though the way those objects appear is in nearly continuous flux. Psychologists call this phenomenon perceptual constancy and have some theories about the mechanisms that underlie it. But perceptual constancy has also troubled philosophers for a while. Here I am going to discuss some ways that philosophers have tried to account for this puzzle, but first I will mention why philosophers would care about it anyway.

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