A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Veridical Perception (In Verse)

 The APA Journal History of Psychology started a News an Notes section a few years ago, including a "Poetry Corner." Most contributions are archival finds of poems by historically-eminent psychologists, but they also invited poems about the history of psychology. So far as I know, I am the only person to take them up on the latter offer. This was my first contribution:

Veridical Perception

Debate about whether perception can ever be veridical – true to reality, accurate with respect to the world – holds an important place in the history of psychology, driving both theory and research. Due to Descartes’s legacy, most early psychologists took for granted that perception was always indirect, and therefore inherently inaccurate. An alternative tradition began maturing in the final phase of William James’s career, but it’s implications for perception were not developed significantly until nearly half-a-century later, when James J. Gibson developed his system that showed how direct perception was possible. This re-enlivened the debate for several decades, though Gibson’s key points in the debate, the key features of the resulting research programs, and much of the crucial terminology, remains poorly understood. Nevertheless, the work of James and Eleanor Gibson inspired a field, Ecological Psychology, which endures, focusing on perception-action cycles, particularly in situations where veridical perception can be, and often is, achieved. Harry Heft, Ed Reed, Alan Costall,  Robert Shaw, and Joel Michell are among the psychologists who have explored the history of this work.

A. A. Milne is now best known as the author of the Winnie the Pooh book, but was quite well reputed before that for his plays and his poetry, including collections such as “When We Were Very Young.” The style of “Veridical Perception” will be familiar to any who have read his work.


Veridical Perception

Passive sensations, from watching or hearing,

Sensations of those types are often quite strange,

But active perception, like looking or feeling,

Perceptions of those types one might well explain.


For all is,


When sitting back,


Sight is,


When cast to a plain.

The world,


(Impinges, impinges).

“The world,


The dualist exclaims.


Darwin, he changed this, with his focus on function,

A focus on function, James would soon mend,

The field, Psychology, from backwater drudgery,

But Watson derailed it, ‘fore his Hopkins upend.



Had inspired,

As Radical,


New Realists,

Who emerged,

And captured the stage.

But only,

In philosophy,

(Philosophy, philosophy).

Some stayed,

At Harvard,

Holt retired to Maine.


Holt was self-exiled, when Langfeld retrieved him,

To a decade at Princeton, where little was said.

But Gibson, his student, was there much inspired.

And therefore the realism continued to spread.



Studied prisms,

Which flipped,

Around visions.

His reputation,


On the curving of lines.

Then war came,

And flying,

(By pilots, in airplanes),

Took him,

To question,

Psychophysic’s hard line.


Just-noticed differences, had little merit,

When trying to determine who could land a plane.

Movement and motion resolved ambiguity,

And all this transpired outside of the brain.




At Yale,


by Yerkes.

For “there are,

No women in my lab.”

Finds Hull,

Grand planning,

(With symbol, equations).


Becomes hers to divine.


Discrimination, perceptual learning,

Distinguishing things, out there and in hand,

Humans with flash cards, but no reinforcement,

Still there’s improvement, Law-of-Effect be damned.




To “out there”,




‘T out there - not ‘n mind.

But what of,


(Reality, reality)



Still sounds like,

a line.


Back at Smith college, Jimmy and Jackie,

Restless, but not, too eager to leave,

Hoping for Cor-nell, which soon comes a calling,

And the Seer of Ithaca’s, sabbatical reprieve.






Retinal flow,

Not enough,

With evolution in mind.


To the world,

(Ecology, Ecology).

A brand new,


Must now be defined.


Ecological optics, the light that surrounds us,

Converging at points, where our eyes can reside,

Then even the insects, and primitive crustacea,

Adapt ‘t the same structure, with quite different eyes.


The Senses,


As Perceptual,


Eyes in head,

In a body,

Exploring to find,



(invariants, invariants).



Which can specify!


Systems designed through evolution and developed,

Embodied and enactive, and fully alive.

Attuned to possibility, opportunity, of behavior.

Attuned to affordances, so the animal can thrive.


But we,

Most surely,

Are not,

Always perfect.

Not long,

Without error,

The critics complained.

But focus,

On success,

(In action, in action).


Is the thing,

Perception explains. 


Speci-fication, is the crux of the argument.

How’s an organism accurate, in the best of times?

Perceptual attunement, makes action a function,

Of invariants that specify, the world’s confines.


With error,

It matters,

What kind,

Of a system,

Has failed,

In pursing,

That towards which it strives.

Not coherence, nor


(from world, to ideas).

A Convergence system

Finds truth,

Given time.


Peirce’s legacy stretches, to James and Holt realism,

Nothing is added, by mental design.

Behavior’s a function, of out-there, world-happenings,

And part of the “out there”, James Gibson defined.






No magic,

No ghost soul,

No dualist’s,


The truth of,

The matter

(The matter, the matter)

The truth of the matter can really be plain.


 Charles, E. P. (2018) Veridical Perception. History of Psychology 21, 172-175.


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