What is perception? The most intuitive and influential answer to this question has long been the one given by David Marr: To see the world is “to know what is where by looking” — to transform light into representations of objects and their features, located somewhere in space. But is this all that perception delivers? Consider the figure to the right; certainly you see some colored shapes, as well as where they are located. Yet, beyond this, you may also see how they relate to one another: The green piece can fit into the others, and even create a new object with a shape of its own.
In this talk, I present evidence that perception extracts relations between objects in much the same way as it processes the objects themselves, and that these relations are abstract, structured, and surprisingly sophisticated. We’ll explore (and experience) the perception of several sophisticated relations between objects, including combining, supporting, containing, covering, and fastening — as well as relational “illusions” in which objects appear to interact with mysteriously invisible entities. Together, this work suggests that we see not only “what” and “where”, but also “how”.