1966 and all that: James Gibson and bottom-down theory

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The “later” James Gibson is widely misrepresented as an extreme stimulus–response theorist. In fact, Gibson's 1966 book presents a radical alternative to stimulus–response theory. “Perceptual systems” are not passive and receptive but “organs of active attention” (1966/1968, p. 58). Perceivers “reach out” into the world. This commentary examines some of the implications of Gibson's systems-cum-functionalist-cum-ecological approach, including the relations between the senses; the concept of “sensationless” perception; and most fundamentally, the nature of perceptual systems as extending beyond the body. I conclude that an adequate understanding of perception cannot be limited to the already severely limited domain of psychology. If Gibson is right, “ecological psychology” is a contradiction in terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-230
JournalEcological Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


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