Does learning change the way that you perceive the world? Assistant Professor of Philosophy Adrienne Prettyman has won a $75,000 grant along with Dr. Kevin Connolly (University of Pennsylvania) to investigate this question in a research project titled “The Interdisciplinary Study of Perceptual Learning.” The award is a subgrant from the Cambridge New Directions project. Professor Prettyman's research will bring together philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists at international workshops to discuss cases where people (often experts) perceive the world in an improved way due to learning and changes in attention.
From the project website:
If people really do see the world differently due to learning (and there is mounting evidence from psychology that they do), what does this mean for the study of the mind? Consider the fact that when psychologists design experiments, they often assume that by carefully controlling the conditions in the laboratory, they can control what a research subject perceives. If, however, subjects see the world differently due to long-term changes from past experience, then no amount of careful control in the lab will enable the experimenter to fully control that subject’s experience. Perception does not just reduce to (it cannot be explained by) the inputs that enter your senses. Instead, what the subject sees will be determined partly by what the experimenter presents, and partly by the subject’s past experiences and expertise. Indeed, when presented with the same object, two subjects may see somewhat different things in virtue of their unique histories, skills, and expertise. One of the central questions that we explore in this project concerns how the study of the mind should move forward in light of this fact.