Limits of Perception

The word 'perception' has two general uses. One is our opinion of something. This definition usually mixes the physical observation of something with the emotional or instinctive response, leading to statements like, "I perceive the image on the left to be intriguing." In everyday usage, this definition has its function. For the purposes of this class, however, perception deals only with what you physically perceive through your senses, so a statement would be something like, "I have difficulty perceiving both ways of seeing the image at the same time." It will also encompass the role the brain plays in the way that we interpret the sensory input.

Where are you? You may say, "I am in front of a computer" or "I am on Earth." Yet, what is our understanding of where we are physically on the planet? We can see a very limited amount around us and must rely upon maps and pictures to estimate distance and relative size. Consider the video to the right and how limited our senses are.


So much of our interpretation of sensory information is based upon context and perspective. Consider the images to the right. How does your interpretation of the images change when you look at them further back?

Perception and Interpretation

We may think we notice much of what goes on around us. After all we have eyes and we are relatively clever. While there is much that we do see and process, our brains are limited and needs to focus on just a few things at a time to make sense of them. This focused attention allows us to pick out our friend's voice in a crowded room while ignoring the rest of the sounds; it enables us to pick out a friend at the mall from a distance, ignoring the rest of the images that surround us. However, recognizing the limitations of our senses is imperative not only for evaluating sense perception as a Way of Knowing, but also for protecting ourselves as Apollo Robbins reveals on the left. In what other ways might this focusing of our attention be a help or hindrance?

You might think, "I would never fall for something like the pickpocket. I'm much more observant."

Test your observation skills in the two videos to the right.

Think about what the repercussions might be for how you engage with the world around you. What might this suggest about your ability to multi-task?

Our other senses can be fooled, as well. Consider the experiment conducted on the videos to the left.


How reliable are our senses, after all?


How much control does our brain have on how we interpret the information that comes in through our senses?

The video below talks about the fascinating role the brain plays in our perception (or misperception) of "reality".