A Defense of Cognitive Penetration and the Face-Race Lightness Illusion

Philosophical Psychology 1:1-28 (2022)
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Cognitive Penetration holds that cognitive states and processes, specifically propositional attitudes (e.g., beliefs), sometimes directly impact features of perceptual experiences (e.g., the coloring of an object). In contrast, more traditional views hold that propositional attitudes do not directly impact perceptual experiences, but rather are only involved in interpreting or judging these experiences. Understandably, Cognitive Penetration is controversial and has been criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds. I focus on defending it from the latter kind of objection and in doing so, highlight important features of Cognitive Penetration mechanisms and effects. I first sketch promising criteria for Cognitive Penetration and then address widespread Replication and Demonstration worries about purported instances of it. Next, I present one of the most compelling Cognitive Penetration studies and address specific objections against it and others. I demonstrate that each of these objections misunderstands important features of either Cognitive Penetration mechanisms or the specific studies to which they are applied. Ultimately, I conclude that multiple key studies are not undermined by these objections and con- tinue to provide support for Cognitive Penetration. Correcting these misunderstandings bolsters empirical support for Cognitive Penetration and contributes to a better understand- ing of the mechanisms involved in perceptual processing.

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