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Journal Article


Gilchrist A. Perception 2015; 44(4): 339-358.


(Copyright © 2015, SAGE Publications)






Theories of lightness, like theories of perception in general, can be categorized as high-level, low-level, and mid-level. However, I will argue that in practice there are only two categories: one-stage mid-level theories, and two-stage low-high theories. Low-level theories usually include a high-level component and high-level theories include a low-level component, the distinction being mainly one of emphasis. Two-stage theories are the modern incarnation of the persistent sensation/perception dichotomy according to which an early experience of raw sensations, faithful to the proximal stimulus, is followed by a process of cognitive interpretation, typically based on past experience. Like phlogiston or the ether, raw sensations seem like they must exist, but there is no clear evidence for them. Proximal stimulus matches are postperceptual, not read off an early sensory stage. Visual angle matches are achieved by a cognitive process of flattening the visual world. Likewise, brightness (luminance) matches depend on a cognitive process of flattening the illumination. Brightness is not the input to lightness; brightness is slower than lightness. Evidence for an early (< 200 ms) mosaic stage is shaky. As for cognitive influences on perception, the many claims tend to fall apart upon close inspection of the evidence. Much of the evidence for the current revival of the 'new look' is probably better explained by (1) a natural desire of (some) subjects to please the experimenter, and (2) the ease of intuiting an experimental hypothesis. High-level theories of lightness are overkill. The visual system does not need to know the amount of illumination, merely which surfaces share the same illumination. This leaves mid-level theories derived from the gestalt school. Here the debate seems to revolve around layer models and framework models. Layer models fit our visual experience of a pattern of illumination projected onto a pattern of reflectance, while framework models provide a better account of illusions and failures of constancy. Evidence for and against these approaches is reviewed.

Language: en


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