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Memory and Expectations

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Perception.

Past experience and what you learn from it play a significant role in shaping your perceptions and your current experience. The examples we’ve looked at so far make that clear. That’s why you could recognize things like faces and vases, characters like B and 13, and four suites of playing cards — two red and two black — and more, and why you saw those things in the visual patterns presented earlier. You also learned from past experience that when force is applied to your body you must use effort if you don’t want to be controlled by that force. That’s why your first response when someone grasps your wrist to pull you hand off your head is to resist.

The knowledge you gain from past experience feeds your perceptual lens — shaping which bits of information you select from your perceptual stream and how you assemble them into the perceptual images that make up your current experience. We can incorporate that influence into the Perceptual Process model as shown below.

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The Importance of Context

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Perception.

faces/vase illusionI’ve described composing experience as a process of selecting and assembling bits of information from an ongoing perceptual stream into the multidimensional images we use to experience the world around us. The familiar faces/vase figure provided one example of how using information from different parts of the perceptual stream can produce different experiences, while the various ways that different people compose their perceptions of their own bodies provided others. But composing experience involves more than simply the selecting a portion of the perceptual stream. It also involves interpreting the information selected giving it meaning within the context of the experience. The same information may be interpreted very differently depending on the surrounding context.

B/13 ambiguous figureA simple example of the importance of context is shown here. The central character can be read as the letter B or the number 13, depending on whether you read across or down. At first glance, this looks similar to the faces/vase — both figures are ambiguous and will support each of two interpretations. On closer examination, though, the mechanism here is quite different from the mechanism operating with the faces and vase. The switch between the B and the 13 doesn’t come from assembling the figure from different portions of the perceptual stream. Both the B and the 13 are constructed from the same raw data. The difference lies in the surrounding context. When you read horizontally, you interpret that data in the context of the A and C and see a B. When you read vertically, the same information (now in the context of the 12 and 14) becomes a 13. The perceptual principle here is that

your experience of a situation (the B/13, in this case) depends
on the context within which you interpret that situation
.

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