Context Is King

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? An answer to this old riddle can be found by placing the riddle in the context of perception.

James Gibson was an American psychologist who provided a useful framework for studying perception by introducing the concepts of distal (external) object, informational medium, proximal stimulation and perceptual object.

Don’t mind the difficult words. I’ll explain them..

The distal (far) object is the object in the external world. In this case it is the falling tree. This event imposes a pattern on an informational medium. The informational medium is the reflected light, sound waves (the sound of the falling tree) chemical molecules or tactile information coming from the environment. Thus, the prerequisites for perception of objects in the external world begin even before sensory information impinges on our sense receptors (neural cells that are specialized to receive particular kinds of sensory information). When the information comes into contact with the appropriate sensory receptors of the eyes, ears, nose, skin or mouth, proximal (near) stimulation occurs. Finally, perception occurs when an internal perceptual object in some way reflects the properties of the external world.

The cow in my previous article summarizes this framework for the occurrence of perception, listing the various properties of distal objects, informational media, proximal stimuli and perceptual objects involved in perceiving the environment. To retur into the question, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it makes no perceived sound – but it does make a sound.

So the question is yes or no, depending on how you look at the question.

These processes are part of a continuum, in which information flows through the system, with different processes designed to address different questions. Questions of sensation focus on qualities of stimulation. Is that shade of red brighter than the red of an apple? Is the sound of that falling tree louder than the sound of thunder? How well do one person’s impressions of for example sound match someone else’s impressions of the same sound?

No matter what kinds of questions we ask about the environment, we always will have to deal with a fundamental attribute of our relation to the world.

Perceptual Constancies

Perceptual constancy occurs when our perception of an object remains the same even when our proximal sensation of the distal objects changes. For example if someone walks toward you on the street, you don’t perceive this person as larger. You know the person is getting closer to you.

Some striking illusions can be achieved when our sensory and perceptual systems are misled by the very same information that usually helps to achieve size constancy.

Consider this image:


Ponzo illusion. Three objects that appear to be of different sizes are actually of the same size. The Ponzo illusion stems from the depth cue provided by the converging lines; equivalent image sizes at different depths usually indicate different sized objects.

We perceive the girls in the image above to be in different sizes because in the real three-dimensional world, they would be..


Depth Perception

As you move around in your environment, you constantly look around and visually orient yourself in 3D-space. As you look forward into the distance, you look into the third dimension of depth (distance from surface, usually using your own body as a reference surface when speaking in terms of depth perception). Whenever you transport your body, reach for or manipulate objects, or otherwise position yourself in your 3D-world, you must use information regarding depth. This use of depth information even extends beyond the range of your body’s reach. When you drive, you use depth to assess the distance of an approaching car. When you decide to call out to a friend walking down the street, you determine how loudly to call based on how far away you perceive your friend to be.

Consider this image

One of the confusing aspects of impossible figures is that there is contradictory depth information in different sections of the picture. Small segments of this impossible figure look reasonable because there is no inconsistency in its depth cue. However, when you try to make sense of the figure as a whole, the cues providing depth information in various parts of the picture are in conflict.

A few of the various perceptual cues aid in our perception of the three-dimensional world. Where some can be observed by one eye alone, whereas others require the use of both eyes. Depth cues to work with in different art work can be texture gradients, relative size, interposition, linear perspective, aerial perspective, location in the picture plane, motion parallax. All of these noticeable with one eye..

No matter what kind of message we want to send out to our consumers, we have to understand that context is crucial for making the consumers understand. Context can help you tell a story, help to explain and create more memory imprints for consumers to unconsciously attach to..