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Perception & Cognition (PH361-15)

This module is not running in 2015-16.

Sense-perception - the awareness of things by sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell - has been central to philosophical theorising for over two thousand years. This is because sense-perception is central to two philosophical problems: the nature of knowledge (sense-perception is the source of our knowledge of the world), and the nature of consciousness (much of our conscious experience is made up of conscious sense-experiences). Much philosophical theorising has focussed on the so-called problem of perception - how can perception provide us with a direct and immediate access to the world given that we experience illusions and hallucinations? Philosophers have provided theories of perception that attempt to answer this question. Recently, empirical studies of perception, and of visual perception in particular, have made great progress in understanding the functioning of the brain process that underlie perception. Scientists often make bold claims for the empirical theories of perception that result. Such theories are said to explain what is it to see, or why things look the way they do, or even the conscious character of experience.

Programme content

The aim of this module is to understand the philosophical problems of perception, and to assess the contribution empirical theories of perception can make to solving these problems. We will begin by asking what empirical explanations of perception explain and how they explain it. Do they help answer the philosophical problems of perception? Do they solve the problem of consciousness? Are the explanations provided by vision science in competition with those of philosophy?

Empirical studies of perception have discovered a number of very puzzling phenomena. For example, that you may fail to notice very obvious changes to what is in front of you ('change blindness'); that it is possible to be a blind and yet still use vision to guide actions ('blindsight'); that what you see can substantially alter what you hear. These phenomena challenge both philosophical and common-sense assumptions about perception (that perception requires conscious awareness, that you can see what is right in front of your face, that only what affects you ears can affect what you hear). We will spend the second half of the term examining these phenomena in order to determine what they tell us about the nature of perception and of consciousness.

Module Director:

Matthew Nudds

Sample reading list (PDF Document)

Topics covered


Timing and CATS

This module is running in the Autumn term and is worth 15 CATS.