Note on the Directness of Perception


Note on the Directness of Perception

J. J. Gibson, Cornell University

The World Wide Web distribution of James Gibson’s “Purple Perils” is for scholarly use with the understanding that Gibson did not intend them for publication. References to these essays must cite them explicitly as unpublished manuscripts. Copies may be circulated if this statement is included on each copy.

Psychologists have long assumed that (1) sensing is direct, whereas perceiving is indirect but also that (2) sensing is of mere impressions, whereas perceiving is of objects. Hence the paradox: the spatial environment and its affordances must be indirectly perceived, not directly sensed (since, e.g., depth and solidity are lost in the retinal image) but nevertheless the environment seems to be directly experienced.

In the Visual World (1950) I tried to resolve this paradox by asserting that the spatial environment seems to be directly experienced because it is in fact sensed. In the Perceptual Systems (1966) I resolved it by asserting that perception is in fact direct. The first resolution implies that “sensing” is not just of subjective impressions. The second resolution implies that “sensing” is the having of subjective impressions but that it is not necessary for (or the basis of) direct perception.

What resolution is better? Both involve the rejection of traditional assumptions but the second seems to be preferable, and to be correct. It can assert that perception is based on information, i.e., the extracting of invariants from the stimulus flux.