This project will provide a historical account of the problem of representation. That problem is characterized by the following questions. What does our perceptual experience tell us about the world? How is information about the world represented in the brain? In the past hundred years, wildly different philosophical accounts of representation have been offered. By contrast, the methods and presuppositions of the scientific study of perception remained surprisingly robust during that same period. This project combines historical investigation of the development of perception science with philosophical analysis of its implicit notions of representation.

Intellectual Merit By investigating the historical context within which successful methods and paradigms emerged at a time when philosophy and psychology were in closer contact than today, the project will reestablish contact between contemporary scientific practice and its philosophical roots. Two key ideas guide this investigation. The first is an insight going back to Aristotle: Our experience represents the world by being somehow similar to it. The second idea is just that experience is similar to the world in the same way that a measurement is similar to the quantity measured. Similarity has been an extremely problematic notion from a philosophical standpoint, but the analogy with measurement will suggest a response to these longstanding worries. The ultimate goal is to produce a precise account of representation that conforms to contemporary scientific practice while answering contemporary philosophical questions.

Potential Broader Impacts: How does the human mind/brain perceive the world? One answer is that is does so by developing internal representations of the external world. This answer has spurred ongoing debate in philosophy of mind and in cognitive and psychological science. This project brings together psychological practice and philosophical theory to develop an account of perceptual representation that is sensitive to the demands of both disciplines. It will foster communication between philosophy and the sciences and encourage interdisciplinary thought. If successful, the project will answer longstanding foundational questions in perceptual science and inspire new empirical and philosophical questions about our perceptual experience.

Project Report

Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE How does the human mind/brain perceive the world? One answer is that is does so by developing internal representations of the external world. This answer has spurred ongoing debate in philosophy of mind and in cognitive and psychological science. This project confronted philosophical theory with psychological practice in order to develop an account of perceptual representation that is sensitive to the demands of both disciplines. It fostered communication between philosophy and the sciences and encouraged interdisciplinary thought. The Co-PI (a postdoctoral fellow) worked with the PI, who is a senior philosopher of psychology with an emphasis in perception. The Co-PI was housed in the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science and became a member of the cognitive science community. In more specific terms, this project investigated the evolving role of isomorphisms in the history of the science of perception, and in particular their role in analyzing the way perceptual experience represents the world. An isomorphism is a one-to-one mapping between two complex objects. If an isomorphism exists, then the two objects exhibit structural similarity. We hoped to better understand the foundational assumptions of the psychology of perception in order to achieve three goals: (i) clarify the influence of history on contemporary practice; (ii) elaborate the consequences of the science of perception for contemporary philosophy; and (iii) provide a groundwork for analyses of representation in other domains, such as philosophy of science and artificial intelligence. Goal (ii) has been most fully realized, with several publications in international philosophy journals articulating a new position in the philosophy of perception: structural realism. On this view, perceptual experience does not give us direct access to properties in the world, but it can give us knowledge of relations between properties in the world. It thereby occupies a middle ground between naïve realism and skepticism. Some progress towards goal (iii) has been made. First, structural realism already exists as a position in the scientific realism debate, and commonalities (and differences) between the two debates were emphasized in the papers mentioned previously. Second, a paper on the problem of how scientific models represent the world was written and published, and one is presently under review which applies techniques developed in this project to the problem of how scientific models can inform policy decisions (using examples from economics and climate science). Finally, a connection with artificial intelligence was made through a paper coauthored with a computer scientist on the problem of detecting deceptive agents. Significant progress has been made on goal (i), in particular, in tracing the use of isomorphisms (and consequently the structural realist view) from Johannes Müller, through Helmholtz and the Gestalt psychologists, and on to contemporary psychologists such as Roger Shepard. Due to its size and scope, however, this project will continue to be ongoing for many years to come. Several of the philosophy papers previously mentioned include some relevant results. Other papers, with a more exclusive emphasis on the historical development, are in preparation and will be under submission soon. (i) was also the locus of the primary mentoring component of this project. The Co-PI worked closely on his research with the PI, in order to learn techniques for historical research (supplementing his prior background in philosophy). He carries these new skills into a permanent academic position at a major research university. Additionally, he increased his teaching experience by designing and teaching a class in philosophy of mind, giving several guest lectures in other courses, and advising an undergraduate senior research project.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Application #
1028130
Program Officer
Frederick M Kronz
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2010-09-01
Budget End
2013-08-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2010
Total Cost
$109,936
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Pennsylvania
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Philadelphia
State
PA
Country
United States
Zip Code
19104