drupal statistics module

Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: Steven Lehar

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Steven Lehar is an independent researcher who has made a number of radical proposals on theories of philosophy, psychology, biological vision, and consciousness. His most radical theory is that the solid spatial world that we see around us in visual experience is not the world itself, but merely a miniature replica of that world in an internal representation.

This is known variously as the theory of Indirect Perception, Indirect Realism, Epistemological Dualism, and Representationalism. Although this idea is not new -- having been first proposed by Immanuel Kant and promoted by Bertrand Russell, Wolfgang Köhler, and the Gestaltists of the Berlin School -- the idea has never taken hold to become generally accepted, and remains to this day a minority view. In his paper on Gestalt Isomorphism and his book The World In Your Head, Lehar refutes the most common objection to Representationalism, which is the homunculus fallacy. He further argues for the indirect nature of perception by pointing out the curvature of perceived space, or phenomenal perspective, suggesting that it is not a property of the external world.

Interview conducted by Norm Nason, who spoke to Steve from his home in Manchester, Massachusetts.

MLU: Thank you for joining us, Steve. You are a vigorous supporter of the theory of Indirect Perception. Can you summarize this view for our readers who may not be familiar with it, and tell us how you became convinced that this view of perception is the correct one?

SL: The problem dates back to Descartes, and his neurophysiological discovery of the causal chain of vision: Light from the world enters your eye where it produces an image on your retina, which in turn is projected up the optic nerve to the brain. The flow of information is uni-directional: from the world, through the eye, to the brain.

How then does it come to be that we can see the world out there, beyond the sensory surface, as if following the light rays back to their source? How can our experience of the world escape the confines of our head to appear back out in the world? Is experience projected out from the brain like the light from a lantern? This problem has wracked the world of philosophy for centuries, and remains unresolved to this day, although few today are even aware that there remains a problem. Most see it as a pseudoproblem that had been resolved centuries ago.