Call: Workshop: Cognitive and Cross-Modal Effects on Vision

Workshop: Cognitive and Cross-Modal Effects on Vision

26 and 27 March 20011
Caird Room, Department of Philosophy, 69 Oakfield Avenue, University of Glasgow

Confirmed Speakers:

Ophelia Deroy (Philosophy, Paris XII)
Charles Spence (Psychology, Oxford)
Dustin Stokes (Philosophy, Toronto)
Erik van der Burg (Psychology, Amsterdam)
Petra Vetter (Psychology, Glasgow)
Wayne Wu (Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon)

This workshop is jointly organised by Fiona Macpherson (Glasgow) and Athanassios Raftopoulos (Cyprus) under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience, University of Glasgow and CenSes: Centre for the Study of the Senses, Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

The workshop is partly funded by the Mind Association and the Scots Philosophical Association.

If you would like to attend the workshop please e-mail Fiona Macpherson. The fee to attend is £40 (£20 for graduate students). If you would like to attend the dinner on the Saturday evening this will be extra. Please register by 16 March 2011.

Description of the Topic

The topic of this workshop is cognitive and cross modal effects on vision, particularly visual experience. Traditionally, it was thought that visual processing and visual experience was unaffected by a subjects’ beliefs, desires, emotions and other perceptual experiences. Such a model was attractive as it promised that perception could provide a source of evidence about the world untainted by one’s beliefs or theories that one held about the world or by one’s emotions or desires.

However, in recent years much work has been done on the nature of visual processing by vision scientists, psychologists, and neuroscientists and several top-down effects on visual processing, such as its timing and its modulation by attention are well substantiated (Raftopoulos, 2009). Similarly, much scientific research on cross modal effects suggests that the processing streams from different senses interact much more than was traditionally thought. For example, the surprising McGurk illusion demonstrates that what one hears can be affected by what one sees. (McGurk and MacDonald, 1976)

This research raises several substantial questions that can be addressed by both philosophers and scientists, and will be the focus of this workshop.

  1. Do these effects constitute evidence in support of the claim that “cognitive penetration” occurs (Pylyshyn, 1999)? This is the claim that the content of perceptual states and perceptual experience is determined, at least partly, by the content of our cognitive states, such as beliefs, desires and expectations, such that the change in the content of the perceptual experience is made intelligible, or in some very minimal sense rational, in light of the content of the cognitive state.
  2. Most of the scientific research has focused on the effects of cognition on visual processing via the attentional modulation of visual processing. But precisely whether this sort of effect amounts to cognitive penetration is a key question. It remains to be seen whether cognition could modulate perceptual processing in another non-attentional way. There has been a recent flurry of philosophical work on this topic, e. g. Macpherson (forthcoming), Raftopoulos (2009), Stokes (forthcoming).
  3. It is known of course that emotions can affect perception but until recently it was thought that emotional effects are only mediated through attention (for example emotions capture attention or make us inattentive). However, recent work by Vuilleumier and Driver (2007) provides evidence for emotional effects on visual processing that are not mediated by attention. Does this provide us with a mechanism by which cognitive factors could influence perception?
  4. The more general question of what mechanisms may be responsible for cognitive penetration will also be addressed. Are there more than one and what do these tell us about the phenomenon and the types of interaction between experience and cognitive states?
  5. A further concern is about the nature of perceptual content. If one thinks that the content of perception is conceptual does that commit one to the existence of cognitive penetration or vice versa?
  6. The final questions concern cross-modal interactions. If one has an experience that is caused in part by the interaction of two senses, in what circumstances should we say that the experience is in one or other of the senses, or in both, or in neither? And are there any limits to the extent of cross-modal interaction?

These questions are important not only for the goal of understanding the nature of the mind but also because which answers we provide may have substantial moral and epistemological consequences. The epistemic issues can be seen by considering whether if your experience tells you that an object is present, but unbeknown to you your experience is affected by your beliefs about that object, to what extent are you justified in forming the belief that the object is there? (See Siegel (forthcoming),) The moral issues arise from the fact that people’s perceptual experiences seem skewed by cognitive factors of which they are unaware and which are beyond their control, and these experiences can affect their behaviour. For example, Plant and Peruche (2005) discovered perception, which may have been caused by their beliefs affecting their experience.

In this workshop we will focus on the six questions above – that is establishing whether cognitive penetration occurs and, if so, in what circumstances and by what mechanisms, and investigating the scope and nature of cross-modal effects.


Macpherson, F. (forthcoming) “Cognitive Penetration of Colour Experience: Rethinking the Issue in Light of an Indirect Mechanism”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
McGurk, H & MacDonald, J (1976); “Hearing lips and seeing voices,” Nature, 264: 746–748.
Plant E. A. and Peruche, B. M. (2005) “The consequences of race for police officers’ responses to criminal suspects”, Psychol Sci. 16(3):180-3.
Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1999) “Is Vision Continuous with Cognition? The Case for Cognitive Impenetrability of Visual Perception,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22: 341-423.
Raftopoulos, A. (2005) “Cognitive Penetrability of Perception: A New Perspective”, in A. Raftopoulos (ed.) Cognitive Penetrability of Perception: Attention, Action, Strategies, and Bottom-Up Constraints, Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Raftopoulos, A. (2009). Cognition and Perception: How do Psychology and the Neural Sciences Inform Philosophy. MIT Press.
Siegel, S. (forthcoming)“Cognitive Penetrability and Perceptual Justification”, Noûs
Stokes, D. (forthcoming) “Perceiving and Desiring: A New Look at the Cognitive Penetrability of Experience”, Philosophical Studies.
Vuilleumier, P. &  Driver, J. (2007) “Modulation of visual processing by attention and emotion: windows on causal interactions between human brain regions”, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci., 29; 362(1481): 837–855).

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