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This is one of the great works in the fields of visual perception and cognitive psychology. J.J. Gibson was originally an important contributor to the cognitive revolution, which famously attacked Behaviorists for ignoring the reality of internal mental processes. He focused on how animal sensory systems compute information from their environments in meaningful ways, such as a use of "optic flow" patterns of motion to track their heading as they move through their terrain, and a perception of objects dependent upon their possible uses ("affordances").
Later in life, however, Gibson grew frustrated with the standard reductionist approach to visual perception. He felt that certain fundamental aspects of animal perception were being overlooked, and that "retina-centered" models of vision would never address them. Inspired by the German Gestalt psychologists, Gibson began to promote a theory of visual processing that stressed what he felt was essential to perception, leaving the details about physiology by the wayside. He framed visual perception, along with all other sensory modalities, as important only to allow animals to act upon and interact with their surroundings. Perception as information for action, rather than as a passive documentation of external events.
For the uninitiated, some of the ideas in this book are way outside of conventional conceptualizations of the world. Let him expound upon his ideas, however, and you'll soon be thinking about your own everyday phenomenological experiences from a fresh and exciting perspective. His writing style is careful and thorough, to the point of sometimes being redundant, but he is nonetheless lucid, accessible, and quite entertaining to read.
Another reviewer described this as being a work of Objectivism.Read more ›
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We cannot change it. Why has man changed the shapes and substances of his environment? To change what it affords him. He has made more available what benefits him and less pressing what injures him. In making life easier for himself, of course, he has made life harder for most of the other animals. We all fit into the substructures of the environment in our various ways, for we were all, in fact, formed by them. We were created by the world we live in.
Gibson said that if what we perceived were the entities of physics and mathematics, meaning would have to be imposed on them. But if what we perceived are the entities of environment science, their meaning can be discovered. He has conceived "the theory of affordances". He has described the environment as the surfaces that separate substances from the medium in which the animals live. But he has also described what the environment affords animals, mentioning the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tool, other animals, and human displays. The import question is how do we go from surfaces to affordance? A radical hypothesis implies that the values and meanings of things in the environment can be directly perceived, moreover, it would explain the sense in which values and meaning are external to the perceiver.
The advantage to the theory of perception to be derived from a study of this affordance is apparent at every step. We may in our perception-action coupling space conceive quadratic forms like those of the conics, follow Joachimsthal's equation, in connection with maximization and minimization problem in motor control, and observed that if we adopt the fertile method of investigation introduced by Joachimsthal, an equilibrium equation of locomotion and manipulation arose in connection with the determination of existence of quadratic function.
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