Shape Properties and Perception

Philosophical Issues 7:325-350 (1996)
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We can perceive shapes visually and tactilely, and the information we gain about shapes through both sensory modalities is integrated smoothly into and functions in the same way in our behavior independently of whether we gain it by sight or touch. There seems to be no reason in principle we couldn't perceive shapes through other sensory modalities as well, although as a matter of fact we do not. While we can identify shapes through other sensory modalities—e.g., I may know by smell (the scent of mango) that the object causing my sensory experience is round—this is not perceiving an object as shaped, but rather inferring from the character of one's sensory experience and collateral information that an object of a certain shape caused it. That it is possible to perceive shape by other modalities, however, is suggested by the case of bats and aquatic mammals like dolphins which navigate through their environment by a form of sonar. It is plausible that they have some form of auditory representation of space, and so of shape. These facts about shape perception raise important questions about the relation between those features of perceptual experience which are intrinsic to different sensory modalities and the nature of our perceptual representation of shapes, and, more generally, of the space within which we perceive shaped objects to be located. John Campbell's paper, "Molyneux's Problem" (see above), raises a number of interesting and important questions about the nature of our perception of shape properties, particularly the cross-modal nature of shape perception, and ties them to more general questions about the nature both of perceptual..
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