Binocular Rivalry - Early Theories of Binocular Rivalry

Early Theories of Binocular Rivalry

Various theories were proposed to account for binocular rivalry. Porta and Dutour took it as evidence for an ancient theory of visual perception that has come to be known as suppression theory. Its essential idea is that, despite having two eyes, we see only one of everything (known as singleness of vision) because we see with one eye at a time. According to this theory, we do not normally notice the alternations between the two eyes because their images are too similar. By making the images very different, Porta and Dutour argued, this natural alternation can be seen. Wheatstone, on the other hand, supported the alternative theory of singleness of vision, fusion theory, proposed by Aristotle. Its essential idea is that we see only one of everything because the information from the two eyes is combined or fused. Wheatsone also discovered binocular stereopsis, the perception of depth arising from the lateral placement of the eyes. Wheatstone was able to prove that stereopsis depended on the different horizontal positions (the horizontal disparity) of points in the images viewed by each eye by creating the illusion of depth from flat depictions of such images displayed in his stereoscope. Such stereopsis is impossible unless information is being combined from each eye. Although Wheatstone's discovery of stereopsis supported fusion theory, he still had to account for binocular rivalry. He regarded binocular rivalry as a special case in which fusion is impossible, saying "the mind is inattentive to impressions made on one retina when it cannot combine the impressions on the two retinae together so as to occasion a perception resembling that of some external object" (p. 264).

Other theories of binocular rivalry dealt more with how it occurs than why it occurs. Dutour speculated that the alternations could be controlled by attention, a theory promoted in the nineteenth century by Hermann von Helmholtz. But Dutour also speculated that the alternations could be controlled by structural properties of the images (such as by temporary fluctuations in the blur of one image, or temporary fluctuations in the luminance of one image). This theory was promoted in the nineteenth century by Helmholtz's traditional rival, Ewald Hering.

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