Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

Pictorial Experience in the Light of Vision Science

In Art and Illusion, E.H. Gombrich famously argues that pictures elicit a 3D-scene-representing experience of the same psychological kind as the experience of seeing face-to-face. Since the represented, 3D scene is absent from sight, however, this experience is non-veridical. In this presentation, I’ll develop and defend what I take to be the most plausible version of Gombrich’s non-veridical visual experience theory. My discussion will have three aims: First, I will consider and reject the proposal that pictorial experience is just a special case of ambiguous or ‘multistable’ perception. Second, I’ll argue for an account of the structure of pictorial experience that I refer to as ‘weak onefoldness’. Pictorial experience is onefold in the sense that its content reflects a single, consistent, 3D-scene-interpretation of the retinal image. Pictorial experience is only weakly onefold, however, in that it typically attributes certain combinations of properties to the 2D, pictorial surface and to objects in phenomenally 3D, pictorial space at the same time. Finally, I’ll set out to reconcile the Gombrichian claim that pictorial experience and seeing face-to-face are psychologically continuous with the observation that the former experience doesn’t typically dispose the perceiver to believe that its objects are really present to sight. An empirically motivated account of stereopsis developed by the perceptual psychologist Dhanraj Vishwanath (2014), I propose, makes such reconciliation possible.