Sunday, 20 August 2017

Robert Efron On The Nature Of Perception

What is Perception?
By Robert Efron 
Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science

In his essay, “What is Perception?”, Robert Efron shows how the knowledge of perception can be used to develop a better understanding of the disease called visual object agnosia.

He writes, “Unfortunately, the exact nature of perception has never been adequately defined or conceptualized, with the result that those who attempt to study disorders of cognitive function do not always know whether a disturbance of cognition is due to a defect in a sensory, perceptual or conceptual process.”

He takes up the case history of a 24-year old soldier, Mr. S, who has developed a severe cognitive disturbance over an accidental over-exposure to carbon monoxide. Mr. S, Efron explains, used to be totally blind, but after a period of some time his vision returned with a striking peculiarity—he is not able to name any common object at which he looks despite the fact that his visual acuity is at least 20/100.

After evaluating the entire range of symptoms that Mr. S is exhibiting, Efron reaches the conclusion that he is suffering from “visual object agnosia.”

While conducting an analysis of Mr. S’s ailment of visual object agnosia, Efron provides a good explanation of not only perception but also sensation and consciousness.

He defines perception as “the direct, immediate awareness of discriminated existents which results from patterns of energy absorption by groups of receptors.” The term “discriminated existent” is used to apply to “the segregated, isolated, cohering, ‘thing’ which is perceived. The objects we see or touch; the notes, tones or voices we hear; the odors we smell, and the flavors we taste, are all ‘discriminated existents’.”

Postscript:
I learned about the works of Robert Efron from Roger Bissell. Here's what Bissell has to say about Efron:

Robert Efron is a retired neurophysiologist living in Northern California. He has worked at veterans hospitals in New York and California and done pioneering research and theorizing on perception and hemispheric lateralization (right brain/left brain, for those of you who eschew polysyllabization).

For several years during the mid-to-late 1960s, Efron was part of Ayn Rand’s circle of intellectuals. During this period several articles he wrote on consciousness, perception, and related issues were published in professional journals. One of them, “Biological without Consciousness – and Its Consequence,” originally appearing in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, was reprinted in The Objectivist, and another, “The Conditioned Reflex – a Meaningless Concept,” was published in the same journal and reprinted as a pamphlet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute.

His essay “What is Perception?”, originally appearing in Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, was not published by Rand or Branden, but was presented live to at least one Objectivist campus group and was announced in The Objectivist.

Efron dropped out of Ayn Rand’s circle during the turmoil of the breakup of the Nathaniel Branden Institute,. his sister Edith already having parted ways with Rand a year or two previously over personal differences. 

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