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Perception is the process by which organisms interpret and organize sensation to produce a meaningful
experience of the world. Sensation usually refers to the immediate, relatively unprocessed result of
stimulation of sensory receptors in the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or skin. Perception, on the other hand,
better describes one’s ultimate experience of the world and typically involves further processing of sensory
input. In practice, sensation and perception are virtually impossible to separate, because they are part of one
continuous process.
Thus, perception in humans describes the process whereby sensory stimulation is translated into
organized experience. That experience, or percept, is the joint product of the stimulation and of the process
itself. Relations found between various types of stimulation (e.g., light waves and sound waves) and their
associated percepts suggest inferences that can be made about the properties of the perceptual process;
theories of perceiving then can be developed on the basis of these inferences. Because the perceptual
process is not itself public or directly observable (except to the perceiver himself, whose percepts are given
directly in experience), the validity of perceptual theories can be checked only indirectly.
Historically, systematic thought about perceiving was the province of philosophy. Philosophical interest
in perception stems largely from questions about the sources and validity of what is called human knowledge
(epistemology). Epistemologists ask whether a real, physical world exists independently of human experience
and, if so, how its properties can be learned and how the truth or accuracy of that experience can be
determined. They also ask whether there are innate ideas or whether all experience originates through
contact with the physical world, mediated by the sense organs.
As a scientific enterprise, however, the investigation of perception has especially developed as part of
the larger discipline of psychology. For the most part, psychology bypasses the questions about perceiving
raised by philosophy in favour of problems that can be handled by its special methods. The remnants of such
philosophical questions, however, do remain; researchers are still concerned, for example, with the relative
contributions of innate and learned factors to the perceptual process.
Such fundamental philosophical assertions as the existence of a physical world, however, are taken for
granted among most scientific students of perceiving. Typically, researchers in perception simply accept the
apparent physical world particularly as it is described in those branches of physics concerned with
electromagnetic energy, optics, and mechanics. The problems they consider relate to the process whereby
percepts are formed from the interaction of physical energy (for example, light) with the perceiving organism.
Of further interest is the degree of correspondence between percepts and the physical objects to which they
ordinarily relate. How accurately, for example, does the visually perceived size of an object match its physical
size as measured (e.g., with a yardstick)?

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