Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Perceptual-cognitive universals as reflections of the world

Roger N. Shepard a1
a1 Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2130 [email protected]


The universality, invariance, and elegance of principles governing the universe may be reflected in principles of the minds that have evolved in that universe – provided that the mental principles are formulated with respect to the abstract spaces appropriate for the representation of biologically significant objects and their properties. (1) Positions and motions of objects conserve their shapes in the geometrically fullest and simplest way when represented as points and connecting geodesic paths in the six-dimensional manifold jointly determined by the Euclidean group of three-dimensional space and the symmetry group of each object. (2) Colors of objects attain constancy when represented as points in a three-dimensional vector space in which each variation in natural illumination is canceled by application of its inverse from the three-dimensional linear group of terrestrial transformations of the invariant solar source. (3) Kinds of objects support optimal generalization and categorization when represented, in an evolutionarily-shaped space of possible objects, as connected regions with associated weights determined by Bayesian revision of maximum-entropy priors.

Key Words: apparent motion; Bayesian inference; cognition; color constancy; generalization; mental rotation; perception; psychological laws; psychological space; universal laws.