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The Ecological Approach To Visual Perception Paperback – 13 Oct 1986


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In this book, environment will refer to the surroundings of those organisms that perceive and behave, that is to say, animals. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 6 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
An Eye-Opener...Get it? 25 July 2010
By s.t. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is one of the great works in the fields of visual perception and cognitive psychology. J.J. Gibson was originally an important contributor to the cognitive revolution, which famously attacked Behaviorists for ignoring the reality of internal mental processes. He focused on how animal sensory systems compute information from their environments in meaningful ways, such as a use of "optic flow" patterns of motion to track their heading as they move through their terrain, and a perception of objects dependent upon their possible uses ("affordances").

Later in life, however, Gibson grew frustrated with the standard reductionist approach to visual perception. He felt that certain fundamental aspects of animal perception were being overlooked, and that "retina-centered" models of vision would never address them. Inspired by the German Gestalt psychologists, Gibson began to promote a theory of visual processing that stressed what he felt was essential to perception, leaving the details about physiology by the wayside. He framed visual perception, along with all other sensory modalities, as important only to allow animals to act upon and interact with their surroundings. Perception as information for action, rather than as a passive documentation of external events.

For the uninitiated, some of the ideas in this book are way outside of conventional conceptualizations of the world. Let him expound upon his ideas, however, and you'll soon be thinking about your own everyday phenomenological experiences from a fresh and exciting perspective. His writing style is careful and thorough, to the point of sometimes being redundant, but he is nonetheless lucid, accessible, and quite entertaining to read.

Another reviewer described this as being a work of Objectivism. Perhaps that argument could be made, but I don't think Gibson himself would care for such talk. This work is all about ecological validity, and "pure" objective truth has little value in the life of most animals (and only a handful of humans at that). Affordances are in the eye of the beholder, and so an "objective" pencil might be perceived as a writing tool for one animal, nest-making material for another, a stabbing weapon for another, and something for a fourth animal to ignore. But I digress...

If you are interested at all in the philosophy of agency, visual perception, cognitive psychology, ecological or comparative cognitive studies, definitely try this book. If you like it, and you have questions as to how ecologically tuned perception develops (a topic that this book does not cover), I also recommend his wife Eleanor Gibson's book, "An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development." Also accessible, and yet incredibly insightful.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Providing a framework to help researchers think about perception: "The more it changes, the more it is the same thing." 9 Dec 2013
By Wangdo Kim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We cannot change it. Why has man changed the shapes and substances of his environment? To change what it affords him. He has made more available what benefits him and less pressing what injures him. In making life easier for himself, of course, he has made life harder for most of the other animals. We all fit into the substructures of the environment in our various ways, for we were all, in fact, formed by them. We were created by the world we live in.

Gibson said that if what we perceived were the entities of physics and mathematics, meaning would have to be imposed on them. But if what we perceived are the entities of environment science, their meaning can be discovered. He has conceived "the theory of affordances". He has described the environment as the surfaces that separate substances from the medium in which the animals live. But he has also described what the environment affords animals, mentioning the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tool, other animals, and human displays. The import question is how do we go from surfaces to affordance? A radical hypothesis implies that the values and meanings of things in the environment can be directly perceived, moreover, it would explain the sense in which values and meaning are external to the perceiver.

The advantage to the theory of perception to be derived from a study of this affordance is apparent at every step. We may in our perception-action coupling space conceive quadratic forms like those of the conics, follow Joachimsthal's equation, in connection with maximization and minimization problem in motor control, and observed that if we adopt the fertile method of investigation introduced by Joachimsthal, an equilibrium equation of locomotion and manipulation arose in connection with the determination of existence of quadratic function.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 23 Aug 2014
By Andrew Biemiller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I already reviewed this--very favorably.
20 of 50 people found the following review helpful
This book is for Objectivists 6 Mar 2006
By Mago Kazan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this book on the recommendation of Dr. Harry Binswanger from the Ayn Rand Institute after attending his lecture on how people can achieve certainty epistemologically (i.e., how to learn and how to be sure that what you learn is real and correct) by first relying on sensory information.

While the subject matter of the book is animals, it makes the case that animals reliably acquire information about their environment through their senses. And since humans are animals too, it follows that humans can place high reliability on the information provided to them by their senses (especially sight).

This scientific research provides a good antidote against those who argue that sensory information is inherently unreliable because our sensory organs are either deficient or incapable of adequately gathering information about reality.
2 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Unfounded premise 30 Dec 2013
By Ptereg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book starts from an unfounded premise that perception's function is to allow for action. Gibson minimizes the information aspect of perception, and instead expounds ad nauseum on an idea that can be expressed in a few simple diagrams. The term ecological is also very misleading. If you found this book because you are interested in a biological/evolutionary/ecological model of perception, you aren't going to get it. Ecological here means, 'primarily about the external world' rather than about the internal architecture of the brain. No ecology here. No adaptation here. No evolution here.
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