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The Thoughtful Animal

The Thoughtful Animal


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Depth Perception Didn’t Evolve for Watching The Avengers in 3D

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Our ability to perceive all three dimensions, due in part to having two eyes on the front of our heads with overlapping visual fields, allows us to enjoy 3D summer blockbusters, but may have originally evolved for a simpler purpose: avoiding falling to our deaths.

If you’re going to be able to effectively navigate the world, one thing that seems almost indispensable is the ability to perceive depth. It’s an ability that most of us take for granted, since it runs in the background of our minds, outside of conscious awareness. Philosophers going back hundreds of years, like Descartes, wondered whether the ability to see in depth was a feature inherent to the mind or if it required learning in the earliest days and weeks of life.

In the last few decades, researchers have become able to address that question by using the tools of modern cognitive and comparative psychology.

Read about it in my latest piece at Nautilus Magazine: Depth Perception & Death Prevention: Babies’ Visual Instinct

Photo of infant on visual cliff from Gibson & Walk’s 1960 article in Scientific American magazine.

Jason G. Goldman About the Author: Dr. Jason G. Goldman received his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Southern California, where he studied the evolutionary and developmental origins of the mind in humans and non-human animals. Jason is also an editor at ScienceSeeker and Editor of Open Lab 2010. He lives in Los Angeles, CA. Follow on . Follow on Twitter @jgold85.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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