Solving the "real" mysteries of visual perception: the world as an outside memory

Can J Psychol. 1992 Sep;46(3):461-88. doi: 10.1037/h0084327.


Visual science is currently a highly active domain, with much progress being made in fields such as colour vision, stereo vision, perception of brightness and contrast, visual illusions, etc. But the "real" mystery of visual perception remains comparatively unfathomed, or at least relegated to philosophical status: Why it is that we can see so well with what is apparently such a badly constructed visual apparatus? In this paper I will discuss several defects of vision and the classical theories of how they are overcome. I will criticize these theories and suggest an alternative approach, in which the outside world is considered as a kind of external memory store which can be accessed instantaneously by casting one's eyes (or one's attention) to some location. The feeling of the presence and extreme richness of the visual world is, under this view, a kind of illusion, created by the immediate availability of the information in this external store.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*