Jastrow’s Bunny

From John F. Kihlstrom:

Technically, the duck-rabbit figure is an ambiguous (or reversible, or bistable) figure, not an illusion (Peterson, Kihlstrom, Rose, & Glisky, 1992). The two classes of perceptual phenomena have quite different theoretical implications. From a constructivist point of view, many illusions illustrate the role of unconscious inferences in perception, while the ambiguous figures illustrate the role of expectations, world-knowledge, and the direction of attention (Long & Toppino, 2004). For example, children tested on Easter Sunday are more likely to see the figure as a rabbit; if tested on a Sunday in October, they tend to see it as a duck or similar bird (Brugger & Brugger, 1993).

But the more important point of this letter concerns attribution: the duck-rabbit was “originally noted” not by Wittgenstein, but rather by the American psychologist Joseph Jastrow in 1899 (Jastrow, 1899, 1900; see also Brugger, 1999), when the famous philosopher (b. 1889) was probably still in short pants. Along with such figures as the Necker cube and the Schroeder staircase, Jastrow used the duck-rabbit to make the point that perception is not just a product of the stimulus, but also of mental activity – that we see with the mind as well as the eye.

5 responses to “Jastrow’s Bunny

  1. Well, what of it, Mike Gene?

    I was really having a tough time seeing the bunny. And I didn’t want to admit that I was perceptually-challenged. (Although I always knew I was special.)

    And I can never remember what the rabbit and duck are supposed to represent respectively in your fable, Mike Gene. Is it an ateleological duck? LOL

    But in the immortal words of the founder of a whole school of science, “Why a duck?”

    “Are you going to believe me our your own eyes?”

    And, “How many Frenchmen can’t be wrong?”

    (You can see where I picked up my bad habit of chomping on a cochiba.)

    Arguing with people about their illusions assumes a privileged perspective and i think there is a rule against that in science, isn’t there? I’m sure there is.

  2. If we are going to use our brains to explore something as ambiguous as our ancient past, it’s a good idea to be aware of how our brains work. The ambiguous figures illustrate the role of expectations, world-knowledge, and the direction of attention.

    Perceptually-challenged. I likes.

  3. I never thought it looked like a duck to begin with. Looks more like a dodo to me…

  4. Obviously, one of the simplest control strategies is to reorder the order of naturally occurring events and thereby change both the order and the timing of events. Obviously, this system of control (prok) suffers as the number of events to be controlled increases, increasing the absolute time (distance) between relatively ordered events, resulting in an increasing sluggish, null, or failed response to conditions demanding immediate response.
    A basic control problem in development, adaptation, and evolution.
    I would go so far as to argue that this prok system does not evolve and has no intrinsic evolvability. It is, obviously, very highly adaptable, resulting in many diverse adaptations to conditions that can be specialized to only in an essentially linear regime of control.

    The difference being that euks are possessed of a system of control that transcends, extends the limits to the direct control of evolution, which is just what the addition of intronic elements does…

    I didn’t read your book Mike Gene, I am embarrassed to admit, but how do such “discontinuities” enter The Matrix? As miracles?

  5. Excellent point and great question. Was this supposed to be in this thread. It seems like it would fit better here:


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