The epistemological status of vision and its implications for design

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Computational theories of vision typically rely on the analysis of two aspects of human visual function: (1) object and shape recognition (2) co-calibration of sensory measurements. Both these approaches are usually based on an inverse-optics model, where visual perception is viewed as a process of inference from a 2D retinal projection to a 3D percept within a Euclidean space schema. This paradigm has had great success in certain areas of vision science, but has been relatively less successful in understanding perceptual representation, namely, the nature of the perceptual encoding. One of the drawbacks of inverse-optics approaches has been the difficulty in defining the constraints needed to make the inference computationally tractable (e.g. regularity assumptions, Bayesian priors, etc.). These constraints, thought to be learned assumptions about the nature of the physical and optical structures of the external world, have to be incorporated into any workable computational model in the inverse-optics paradigm. But inference models that employ an inverse optics plus structural assumptions approach inevitably result in a naïve realist theory of perceptual representation. Another drawback of inference models for theories of perceptual representation is their inability to explain central features of the visual experience. The one most evident in the process and visual understanding of design is the fact that some visual configurations appear, often spontaneously, as perceptually more coherent than others. The epistemological consequences of inferential approaches to vision indicate that they fail to capture enduring aspects of our visual experience. Therefore they may not be suited to a theory of perceptual representation, or useful for an understanding of the role of perception in the design process and product.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-486
Number of pages88
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • 3D shape and space perception
  • Aesthetics
  • Bayesian inference
  • Computational vision
  • Design
  • Epistemology
  • Visual perception and cognition


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