Sunday, February 14, 2021

Matthew Schlesinger, is hungry for more (HSP) interface theory of perception.

We've come to the last paper mentioned in the list of learned responses Professor Hoffman shared with me via his “Probing the interface theory of perception: Reply to commentaries, (HSP).  

The interface theory of perception leaves me hungry for more: Commentary on Hoffman, Singh, and Prakash, “The interface theory of perception”

©2019 Peter Miesler - bales of hay

Matthew Schlesinger, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

volume 22, pages 1548–1550(2015), September 18, 2015
(full article1400 words)


…  Is the theory convincing? I would have to say “almost”; although it certainly has many elements working in its favor, ultimately, I also found that some important questions were ignored or left unanswered,  … 

Hoffman, Singh, and Prakash (2014) have ventured into dangerous waters by articulating the idea that perceptual experience is not (necessarily) veridical. They provide support for their provocative claim in a variety of ways (some more convincing than others), …

Overall, I found the argument to be a superb opening shot in what may grow to become a rather contentious debate. …

We got phylogeny and ontogeny!

What a delight to discover that the interface theory of perception not only includes the evolutionary timescale, but also makes room for the developmental timescale. … 

At the very least, this feature means that there is a potential continuity across the two timescales, opening the door to a discussion of multitimescale interactions, including exotic subjects such as heterochrony and the Baldwin effect.


opening the door to a discussion of multi-time-scale interactions”  Say what?

I’ve written Professor Schlesinger a couple emails asking if he could explain the concept, and it’s place, in lay terms, but haven’t received a reply, so I’m left guessing.

I don’t recall anything in Hoffman’s book Case Against Reality referring to  ‘multi-time-scale perceptual interactions.’   When I look up the term, there’s all sorts of interesting stuff, such as “entangled time in flocking: multi-time-scale interactions,” among others.  But nothing related to multigenerational perception or Evolution.  

Genetic coding and interactions with changing environments comes to mind, but viewed through the lens of “perceptual interactions over multi-time-scales” seems a non sequitur.  Is it a fancy way of saying the mental processing of varying levels of memory and forethought capabilities?  Could be, but then, why not simply say so?  Who knows?

The thing I do know is that when claims and lofty rhetoric overwhelms my senses and leaves my head spinning, with nothing to build upon.  I pull back to what I do understand and that always takes me back to knowledge attained through Earth sciences and biology.  

The breath and depth of the current scientific understanding within a simple pragmatic physicalist* paradigm is awesome (*before all the over-wrought handwringing takes over).  Heck, it even invites mystical experiences far superior to what can be achieved sitting in a monastic cell.  

Get out into dark skies, sit on the edge of Earth, gazing at a crescent moon, with the sun over the horizon and some planets in view, imagining their orbits, looking beyond into the milky way, thinking about the Voyagers and other manmade spacecraft and all we've learned about those worlds.  The deeper your understanding becomes, the more vivid your mind's eye.

Achieving a momentarily visceral awareness of those objects in time and space, now that get's about as mystical as a human could hope for.  Or the other direction, inward voyages, into your own body that are possible given today's medical understanding and imaging capability.  All it takes is doing your homework and sincere curiosity.

If we're going to spend all day within our mindscapes, why not spend energy on those sorts of constructive down to Earth pursuits?  Thoughts and ideas that can lead to constructive outcomes. At least that's what I'll be arguing for in future installments.


The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, by David Quammen

Science writer David Quammen explains how recent discoveries in molecular biology can change our understanding of evolution and life’s history, with powerful implications for human health and even our own human nature. … 

The pioneering work of Carl Woese.   (Goodreads)


A New View of Evolution That Can’t Be Represented by a Tree

By Erika Check Hayden, New York Times Book Review, August 13, 2018

… Quammen’s sprawling history of evolutionary genetics ranges widely in its answer to that question. He synthesizes a large quantity of disparate material, circling repeatedly back to one scientist in particular: Carl Woese, whose work both fleshed out Darwin’s tree and laid the foundations for its uprooting.


Perception meets action

Another appealing feature of the interface theory is the idea that perception is not idiosyncratic and completely subjective, but is linked to reality through perception–action couplings, loops, or mappings. … This claim feels very Gibsonian to me, though it is clear that Hoffman et al. would prefer to keep their distance from the ecological theory of perception. … 

However, although interface theory is adamant that direct perception is not the case—as I highlight below—because they essentially dodge the problem of phenomenalism, it seems that the question remains open whether “perception” of these lawful perception–action couplings (viz. “affordances”) is in fact directly experienced. …


“Gibson’s  “Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.”  I found it rather interesting.  I imagine we can bet it’s incomplete, still it’s good food for thought and aspects are demonstrably true.  


Are theories of perception necessary? A review of Gibson's The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.

A P Costall,  

J Exp Anal Behav. 1984 Jan; 41(1): 109–115. - doi: 10.1901/jeab.1984.41-109

“… Gibson’s sustained attempt to counter representational theory served not only to reveal the variety of arguments used in support of this theory, but also to expose the questionable metaphysical assumptions upon which they rest.”


Ecological Theory of Perception

“… Based upon his research Gibson (1979/1986) began to suspect that the traditional list of depth cues was simply not sufficient. Pondering the situation, he theorized that light provided information and that the changes taking place in the surrounding field of light (an array of reflections from objects) provided a form of information that the static displays did not. 

In the “optic array,” an “optic flow pattern” was provided, by the changes in the structure of surrounding light, with information about one’s position relative to environmental objects, and changes in that relation as one moves through time and space. It was clear to Gibson that each approach—the classical approach and his—had a very different conception regarding the stimulus of perception. 

Gibson was of the view that visual perception is due to the fact that ambient (surrounding) light conveys visual information that is accessible directly rather than being based upon visual cues (or clues) from the retina which have to be interpreted. …”


The Ecology of J. J. Gibson's Perception

E. Bruce Goldstein

Vol. 14, No. 3 (Summer, 1981), pp. 191-195 (5 pages) -


J. J. Gibson's approach to the study of perception emphasizes the way an active observer picks up information from the environment. The central postulates of Gibson's approach are that 

(1) visual space is defined by information (such as texture gradients) contained on environmental surfaces, 

(2) the crucial information for perception is information that remains invariant as an observer moves through the environment, and 

(3) this invariant information is picked up directly, so that no intervening mental processes are necessary for visual perception. 

This paper summarizes Gibson's approach as it is stated in his three books, "Perception of the Visual World" (1950). "The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems" (1966) and "The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception" (1979) and evaluates the final form of his approach described in his third, and last, book.


Shall we play a game?

… I have to confess that the high point of interface theory for me is Hoffman et al.’s use of game theory and genetic algorithm (GA) models to bolster the argument.  …

… For example, it would be very cool to move beyond a relatively “disembodied” model of the observer to one that has at least a very basic sensorimotor system (e.g., an eyeball with a 1-D or 2-D retina, situated in a simple environment and able to change its visual input by rotating).  …

An evolutionary promissory note?

One of the places in the interface theory of perception that I found begging for more detail is the question of precisely how evolution—or more specifically, variation and selection—shapes perceptual experience.  …

Can you say “qualia”?

A second unfulfilled expectation is that, despite all the time and effort spent focusing on the nature of perceptual experience, the question of where and how perceptual qualities originate (i.e., phenomenalism) is largely avoided by the interface theory.  …

Darwin and beyond

I conclude here by noting one last facet of the interface theory that I hope will be elaborated in greater detail someday: In addition to highlighting the problem of offloading much of the heavy lifting to a background Darwin machine (i.e., the mechanisms of change), I also note that the machine itself seems quite outdated. 

In other words, it is a bit passé merely to wave one’s hands glibly and assert, “this skill is important for survival, so obviously natural selection would favor it,” or perhaps the more subtle claim, “an organism without this ability would be unlikely to survive.” 

Indeed— …

A key idea is that a particular phenotype is not selected in isolation, but rather as part of a complex system of structures and behaviors, such that changing one part of the organism has far-reaching and cascading effects throughout the body and genome as a whole. 

In addition, the idea of organisms as systems is related to the concept of genetic regulatory networks and phenomena such as epigenesis

My point here is not to suggest that the interface theory needs to incorporate such relatively esoteric concepts, but rather, that causally linear claims like “such-and-such will increase fitness” need to be revised and updated in light of the nonlinear reality where such changes actually occur.


Is the author saying that genetic regulatory networks and epigenesis are esoteric concepts that don’t necessarily need to be incorporated into a theory of perception?  It sounds like that to me, but I’m just a layperson.  

But, the thing that stands out to me, is that there shouldn't be anything esoteric about grasping the basic concepts of gene regulation and epigenesis, (even if the math and biological theory required to understand the details certainly belongs to the stratosphere of mental abilities).

 genetic regulatory networks - “A gene regulatory network (GRN) describes the hierarchical relationship between transcription factors, associated proteins, and their target genes.” 

 epigenesis - “In biology, epigenesis is the process by which plants, animals and fungi develop from a seed, spore or egg through a sequence of steps in which cells differentiate and organs form.”


Schlesinger's closing seems to me another example of an amazing mind who's intellectual brilliance has blinded him to simple down to Earth physical reality.  It seems an apt segue to a message I'm trying to get across, namely the importance of recognizing and appreciating our Physical Reality ~ Human Mindscape divide.  It’s a first base of sorts, before we, as individuals, can constructively tackle our mind/body "problem" and achieve a more realistic appreciate of our human condition.

Donald Hoffman wrote his book "Case Against Reality" for the lay audience, meaning its fair game for a layperson to ask these questions and to invest months in dissecting Hoffman's claims and arguments.

My goal isn't about trying to argue with him, this was about getting up close and intimate with Hoffman's ideas and exercising my mind.  I was curious to see if I could make any sense out of Hoffman's "Interface Theory of Perception," failing that, to see what it might teach me about my own particular outlook upon this physical reality that surrounds me.  I think it has.


I’ll finish up this review section of my Case For Reality project with a post containing Critical Thinking tips and resources.  For the final installment before moving on to the summary section, and considering my low regard for philosophers, I want to build a post around a talk given by Richard Carrier, his most excellent response to the question: “Is Philosophy Stupid?”  Hat tip to Lausten at CFI for sharing it with me.

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