How biological vision succeeds in the physical world.


Journal Article

Biological visual systems cannot measure the properties that define the physical world. Nonetheless, visually guided behaviors of humans and other animals are routinely successful. The purpose of this article is to consider how this feat is accomplished. Most concepts of vision propose, explicitly or implicitly, that visual behavior depends on recovering the sources of stimulus features either directly or by a process of statistical inference. Here we argue that, given the inability of the visual system to access the properties of the world, these conceptual frameworks cannot account for the behavioral success of biological vision. The alternative we present is that the visual system links the frequency of occurrence of biologically determined stimuli to useful perceptual and behavioral responses without recovering real-world properties. The evidence for this interpretation of vision is that the frequency of occurrence of stimulus patterns predicts many basic aspects of what we actually see. This strategy provides a different way of conceiving the relationship between objective reality and subjective experience, and offers a way to understand the operating principles of visual circuitry without invoking feature detection, representation, or probabilistic inference.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Purves, D; Monson, BB; Sundararajan, J; Wojtach, WT

Published Date

  • April 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 111 / 13

Start / End Page

  • 4750 - 4755

PubMed ID

  • 24639506

Pubmed Central ID

  • 24639506

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1091-6490

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0027-8424

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1073/pnas.1311309111


  • eng