Book description

The first edition of 'Why We See What We Do: a Wholly Empirical Theory of Vision', was published in 2003 by Sinauer Associates (Sunderland Massachusetts) and Macmillan Press (London, UK).

The book aims to present a different framework for understanding perception and its underlying neural mechanisms. It describes an empirical theory for why we see illusions, and reflects many of the ideas that form the basis of Lab of Misfits' work – in particular that our visual system does not perceive the physical world through the analysis of retinal images and their representation by the visual system, but that we give meaning to the uncertain light stimuli that we see based on our history, both of the species and the individual.

The ideas included in the first edition were provocative and met with some scepticism in some quarters. This motivated Purves and Lotto to try again, and a new edition was published in 2011, entitled 'Why We See What We Do Redux'. In addition to a refinement and expansion of the argument, the authors included a great deal of new evidence, while retaining the clarity that made the first edition so popular.

Packed with diagrams and real-life examples, and clearly presented arguments, the book can be understood by individuals with little or no background in neuroscience, as well as more advanced readers. The book includes over 400 bibliographic citations, a complete glossary, and a primer on the organization of the visual system as an appendix.

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Book review
‘In their book, Purves and Lotto present a nontraditional perspective on understanding visual perception. It is comprehensive and provocative, and perhaps most important, provides a critical review of approaches to understanding visual perception that are based on the processing of representations or images. As a result, it is worth reading, especially by researchers who would like to reverse the trend of perception being given short shrift in vision research. One of the great strengths of the approach that Purves and Lotto develop is that it is consistent with recent theories of evolution and learning that stress the plasticity of the nervous system … .’
Jeffrey B. Wagman, PsycCRITIQUES

For more information

More information on ‘Why We See What We Do Redux’ is available via Sinauer Associates hereand Purves Lab here

Dale Purves, of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, is a long-time mentor, collaborator and friend of Beau Lotto. His website,,shows the common ground between Dale and Beau in terms of their work on perception.

Copies are available for sale on Amazon here