Compositionality in Perception: A Framework

WIREs Cognitive Science (forthcoming)
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Perception involves the processing of content or information about the world. In what form is this content represented? I argue that perception is widely compositional. The perceptual system represents many stimulus features (including shape, orientation, and motion) in terms of combinations of other features (such as shape parts, slant and tilt, common and residual motion vectors). But compositionality can take a variety of forms. The ways in which perceptual representations compose are markedly different from the ways in which sentences or thoughts are thought to be composed. I suggest that the thesis that perception is compositional is not itself a concrete hypothesis with specific predictions; rather it affords a productive framework for developing and evaluating specific empirical hypotheses about the form and content of perceptual representations. The question is not just whether perception is compositional, but how. Answering this latter question can provide fundamental insights into perception.

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Kevin J. Lande
York University


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