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In Rationalwiki's alarmingly childish and abusive hit piece on Objectivism, they say this about Objectivism's theory of perception:

"Rand's notion that we can observe reality directly (known in philosophy as direct or naïve realism) is refuted by the current consensus in neuroscience, psychology, and the cognitive sciences (which accepts various forms of indirect or representative realism). In the cognitive sciences, raw input is called "bottom-up perception" and the way the brain interprets this input is called "top-down perception." The visual, auditory, etc. cortices essentially "reconstruct" the input from their respective sense organs, meaning there is always some element of top-down interpretation of raw stimuli. Thus, we do not experience reality directly but in some sense a perceptual facsimile of reality constructed by the brain. A simple example of this is the fact that the image formed on your eye's retina is upside-down, but the visual cortex flips it right-side up. There are numerous other examples as well, including hallucinations and cognitive illusions."

This is pretty alarming that they claim direct realism is refuted my neuroscience, psychology, and the cognitive sciences. Is this true, and how would you answer this attack on Objectivism's theory of perception. Is Objectivsm direct realism, or would it be more appropriate to label it something else?

asked Feb 10 '14 at 16:56

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image


edited Feb 11 '14 at 00:12

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Rationalwiki seems to be confusing sensation with perception. See http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/perception.html to be (at least partially) unconfused.

(Feb 10 '14 at 19:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Rationalwiki is in general a poor site from what I've seen ... lots of glib editorializing where facts should be presented instead.

(Feb 17 '14 at 21:56) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Alas, how refreshing it would be if critics of Objectivism were to actually know what they are talking about.

Yes, Objectivism holds that we are perceptually aware of things in the world. We are certainly not Representationalists—but it is poor thinking to thereby assume Objectivists must hold to the errors of naive realism.

As Dr. Leonard Peikoff explains in his wonderful book, Objectivism:

Although Ayn Rand's theory of perception has sometimes been called "naive realism," the term does not apply. Naive realism is an ancient form of the mirror theory; it claims that the senses do give us the content of reality "pure." The senses, naive realists hold, are valid because sensory qualities exist in objects independent of man's means of perception, which—in defiance of all evidence—are held to contribute nothing to our experiences.

The intention of naive realism, which is to uphold the unqualified validity of the senses, is correct. But the content of the theory, unable to deal with the issue of sensory form, fails to implement its intention... [OPAR 48]

I recommend reading that chapter, where Peikoff explains that in distinguishing the object of perception from the form of perception, we can avoid the classic pitfalls that have plagued the study of perception. This is why Objectivists, far from dreading some critic bringing up perceptual oddities and illusions and other issues that trouble naive realists, will instead seize upon such phenomena as further illustrating the absolute validity of the senses.

And as to these critics thinking that our brains processing sensory data somehow invalidates our awareness of things, an Objectivist will only see another manifestation of the "mirror" theory of mind which Objectivism (rightly) rejects as confused. Indeed, we find Rand explaining how such processing is not merely unproblematic, but downright necessary in her short monograph, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:

All knowledge is processed knowledge—whether on the sensory, perceptual or conceptual level. An "unprocessed" knowledge would be a knowledge acquired without means of cognition. Consciousness (as I said in the first sentence of this work) is not a passive state, but an active process. And more: the satisfaction of every need of a living organism requires an act of processing by that organism, be it the need of air, of food or of knowledge. [ITOE 82]

Finally, for a thorough yet accessible tour of these competing takes on minds and perception with a rigorous presentation of the Objectivist understanding, you can read Dr. David Kelley's excellent book The Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception online in full, for free.

answered Feb 12 '14 at 17:33

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Feb 13 '14 at 11:26

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Asked: Feb 10 '14 at 16:56

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Last updated: Feb 17 '14 at 21:56