On Silhouettes, Surfaces and Sorensen

In Clare Mac Cumhaill & Thomas Crowther (eds.), Perceptual Ephemera. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 194-218 (2018)
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In his book “Seeing Dark Things” (2008), Roy Sorensen provides many wonderfully ingenious arguments for many surprising, counter-intuitive claims. One such claim in particular is that when we a silhouetted object – i.e. an opaque object lit entirely from behind – we literally see its back-side – i.e. we see the full expanse of the surface facing away from us that is blocking the incoming light. Sorensen himself admits that this seems a tough pill to swallow, later characterising it as “the most controversial thesis of the book” (2011, p199). I will argue against Sorensen’s controversial thesis and in favour of what seems to me to be a much more natural and commonsensical alternative: when we see a silhouetted object, what we see is its edge and only its edge – so we do not see its entire back-side.
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