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Perception and Iconic Memory: What Sperling Doesn't Show


  • Thanks to audiences in Dubrovnik, Norwich, and Budapest, especially Benj Hellie, Elizabeth Irvine, Hemdat Lerman, Fiona Macpherson, Declan Smithies, Patrick Wilken and Wayne Wu. Thanks also to Tim Bayne, Ned Block, Cecilia Heyes, Mike Martin, Hanna Pickard, Nick Shea, Henry Shelvin, Matt Soteriou, and especially to Max Coltheart for extremely helpful written comments.

Department of Philosophy, UCL, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK.


Philosophers have lately seized upon Sperling's partial report technique and subsequent work on iconic memory in support of controversial claims about perceptual experience, in particular that phenomenology overflows cognitive access. Drawing on mounting evidence concerning postdictive perception, I offer an interpretation of Sperling's data in terms of cue-sensitive experience which fails to support any such claims. Arguments for overflow based on change-detection paradigms (e.g. Landman et al., 2003; Sligte et al., 2008) cannot be blocked in this way. However, such paradigms are fundamentally different from Sperling's and, for rather different reasons, equally fail to establish controversial claims about perceptual experience.