Cognition Workshop 02/23: Dr. Jorge Morales

The Psychophysics of Subjectivity
What is perception about? A traditional and intuitive answer is that it is about the world out there—the external environment and the objects that populate it. However, this picture of perception leaves out an essential aspect of experience and its targets: our own subjectivity. We experience not only what’s objectively out there, but also the point-of-view from which we encounter it; we perceive not only what there is, but also what’s missing; and we can become aware not only of the external world, but also of our own internal mental states. These forms of subjectivity play a central role in a long and rich philosophical tradition, but they have been notoriously challenging to study scientifically. In this talk, I will explore a new approach to the study of subjectivity. By exploiting experimental designs from vision science, I’ll show how we can make progress on—and even solve—centuries-old philosophical puzzles, by demonstrating that our subjective point of view leaves psychophysical traces in rapid, automatic visual processing. We’ll also see how patterns of visual attention reveal that our visual systems process absences in similar ways to how they process more ordinary, present objects. Finally, by developing computational models of introspection, we can determine when reports of our own subjective experience are reliable and when they are not. In summary, perception is about the world, but also about our place in it.

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