Perceiving But Not Seeing Whole
by David Rudd Cycleback

Despite the photo cropping, most people perceive a whole cow





Humans tend to form whole perceptions from partial images. When information about a physical object is hidden from view, or assumed to be hidden from view, humans mentally round up the information and perceive the whole thing, or at least the whole thing as defined by their minds. This is part of the human's natural ability to quickly interpret limited information, an ability essential to making the snap judgments needed to get through life. This mental extrapolation is a great intellectual skill. In cases, however, the filled in information is illusory, a product of the mind not reality.

Those familiar with American history don't need a full view to identify this man as former US President Teddy Roosevelt. If I also had hid all of his legs or his hands, it wouldn't have hindered identification.

It's not just how much but what information is visible that is important. Though from this information,a viewer might be able to make an interesting guess about the man. Banker? Businessman? Wealthy, world traveler? Big city Boss? Some of these guesses aren't too far off.


Read the following two texts:


They are both the same text, but the second text has the ruler removed from the last line. Your original reading of the last line was what you expected. If the ruler had never been lifted, you likely would have lived your life believing that last line said 'I Love You.'

It is important to note that humans never see the entirety of an object, any object. Not only are things like coffee cups and sticks and tree branches partially visibly obscured by overlapping other objects, but we can never see all sides and parts of an object at once. Even with an apple you've turned over in your hands, you can't be sure whether its fresh or rotten in the core until you bite or cut it apart. Humans live and learn in an environment where information is always obscured or otherwise hidden from view.

Humans never have a wholly objective perception of an object, in part as they can't see the entire object. The perception is formed in part by what is seen and in part by expectations, memory, personal experience and guessing. Your perception of this ball is also part emotional and aesthetic, influenced by personal experience and like or dislike of the game ... Your perception of an unchanging object changes as you do.

It is also important to note that many physical qualities of and between objects are identified by obscured or otherwise hidden visual information. For example, distance is in part is judged by objects overlapping each other and things becoming harder to see over distance. Thus, obscured visual information both helps and hinders our identification of objects. When something is very far away, the lack of detail (very small and blurry) serves to both help us judge distance and prevent from identifying the object. A closed closet door shows us that the door is in front of the things in the closet, but prevents us from knowing what are the things in the closet. Lack of information is both lack of information and information.

Many objects are defined by their depth, height, length, opacity and parts. That some parts of this table visually obscure other parts help the viewer identify it as at able.


Overlapping helps show us that the scrambled eggs are on the plate and the trees are closer than the buildings.

Visual identification requires comparison and contrast

On this black square is smaller black shape. What is the smaller shape? Without color contrast, it's impossible to answer.

People like to claim they can perceive and judge an object on its own-- leave that namby pamby relativism to the bleeding hearts. However, visual identification requires comparison to other things. The edges of the above scrambled eggs helping is identified because beyond is the whiteness of the plate. With a black square against a matching black background, the viewer optically sees the square but does not know it's there. When the background is changed to a different color, then the viewer identifies the square. Even though the square is always in open view, viewer identification requires contrast.

Further, the images in front of you are compared to the images in your mind. You identify a dog, because the image matches up with the dog in your memory. If the dog is at a distance, you guess size by using your memory of dogs and your memory of the sizes of objects this dog is near (trash can, basketball).

An object is not only identified by what surrounds it, but is defined by what is around it. Beyond the edge of a table is air-- the difference between air and wood defines the edge. Beyond the surface of a ball is air or dirt or grass. Beyond the edge of a square is something different. Beyond this is that. A cat doesn't exist without different stuff surrounding it. Even studying something in a vacuum involves in comparison and contrast to the vacuum. glass

(c) david rudd cycleback, all rights reserved