Written by Dr Marc Green
This article discusses how we see. The topic my not be on everyone’s lips, but that does not make it unimportant. In fact, I shall explain that a knowledge of seeing is essential for understanding accidents and for assigning blame in court. It is going to be a rough ride for some people because the discussion introduces ideas that run contrary to intuition and to subjective experience. This is unavoidable because most peoples’ intuitions about seeing are incorrect and because subjective experience masks the true nature of seeing by making it automatic and effortless. Moreover, a discussion of seeing delves into issues such as the nature of consciousness and of reality. Much of this may sound like some egghead philosophical naval-gazing. On the contrary, it is practical and absolutely essential for the fair and just assignment of blame in court, as well as in life.
Seeing is an important legal issue because courts frequently assess blame based on whether a viewer should have seen some object or piece of information. Unfortunately, most people, including judges, jurors, attorneys and even most “experts,” don’t understand how seeing works, so they do not appreciate how various factors affect the ability to see. As a consequence, there are many tragic mis-assignments of blame on viewers who were simply acting normally, adaptively and even intelligently. I’ve seen so many mis-assignments of blame lately that I feel compelled to explain the basics of seeing.
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