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8 November: Gary Hatfield (University of Pennsylvania)

“Phenomenally Converging Railway Tracks: A Misperception?”

Abstract: Railway tracks appear to converge into the distance. Is this appearance a misperception? Typically, observers don’t believe that they do converge physically. These statements thus far are consistent with treating the apparent convergence as a case of illusion, like the Mueller-Lyer illusion. One line looks longer than the other, an appearance widely considered to be illusory, yet we are not taken in and so we don’t misperceive in the sense of making a false judgment about the actual length of the lines – or about the actual physical width between the tracks. Here, one might say that there is phenomenal misperception of line length but no judgmental misperception. Good enough. But I intend to pursue the idea that the converging train tracks are not a misperception in this phenomenal sense. Construing them as a misperception depends, in my estimation, on a particular task analysis of phenomenal perception: that it aims to present physical scenes in a way that conforms to their mind-independent physical structure. This is a widely held conception, found in theorists as disparate as Gibson and Burge. My idea is that the contraction of visual space, as with the tracks, is not a mistake brought about by inadequate information about distance, but rather a phenomenal accommodation of the decreasing information with distance, an accommodation that presents the tracks in a manner which reveals action-guiding information and is ecologically efficient.