Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
An Essay towards a new Theory of Vision (Author: George Berkeley)

Section 11

Now from sect. 2 it is plain that distance is in its own nature imperceptible, and yet it is perceived by sight. It remains, therefore, that it be brought into view by means of some other IDEA that is itself immediately perceived in the act of VISION.

Section 12

But those LINES and ANGLES, by means whereof some MATHEMATICIANS pretend to explain the perception of distance, are themselves not at all perceived, nor are they in truth ever thought of by those unskilful in optics. I appeal to anyone's experience whether upon sight of an OBJECT he computes its distance by the bigness of the ANGLE made by the meeting of the two OPTIC AXES? Or whether he ever thinks of the greater or lesser divergency of the rays, which arrive from any point to his PUPIL? Everyone is himself the best judge of what he perceives, and what not. In vain shall all the MATHEMATICIANS in the world tell me, that I perceive certain LINES and ANGLES which introduce into my mind the various IDEAS of DISTANCE, so long as I myself am conscious of no such thing.

Section 13

Since, therefore, those ANGLES and LINES are not themselves perceived by sight, it follows from sect. 10 that the mind doth not by them judge of the distance of OBJECTS.

Section 14

Secondly, the truth of this assertion will be yet farther evident to anyone that considers those LINES and ANGLES have no real existence in nature, being only an HYPOTHESIS framed by the MATHEMATICIANS, and by them introduced into OPTICS, that they might treat of that science in a GEOMETRICAL way.

Section 15

The third and last reason I shall give for rejecting that doctrine is, that though we should grant the real existence of those OPTIC ANGLES, etc., and that it was possible for the mind to perceive them, yet these principles would not be found sufficient to explain the PHENOMENA of DISTANCE, as shall be shown hereafter.

Section 16

Now, it being already shown that distance is suggested to the mind by the mediation of some other IDEA which is itself perceived in the act of seeing, it remains that we inquire what IDEAS or SENSATIONS there be that attend VISION, unto which we may suppose the IDEAS of distance are connected, and by which they are introduced into the mind. And FIRST, it is certain by experience that when we look at a near OBJECT with both eyes, according as it approaches or recedes from us, we alter the disposition of our eyes, by lessening or widening the interval between the PUPILS. This disposition or turn of the eyes is attended with a sensation, which seems to me to be that which in this case brings the IDEA of greater or lesser distance into the mind.

Section 17

Not that there is any natural or necessary connection between the sensation we perceive by the turn of the eyes and greater or lesser distance, but because the mind has by constant EXPERIENCE found the different sensations corresponding to the different dispositions of the eyes to be attended each with a different degree of distance in the OBJECT: there has grown an habitual or customary connection between those two sorts of IDEAS, so that the mind no sooner perceives the sensation arising from the different turn it gives the eyes, In order to bring the PUPILS nearer or farther asunder, but it withal perceives the different IDEA of distance which was wont to be connected with that sensation; just as upon hearing a certain sound, the IDEA is immediately suggested to the understanding which custom had united with it.

Section 18

Nor do I see how I can easily be mistaken in this matter. I know evidently that distance is not perceived of itself. That by consequence it must be perceived by means of some other IDEA which is immediately perceived, and varies with the different degrees of distance. I know also that the sensation arising from the turn of the eyes is of itself immediately perceived, and various degrees thereof are connected with different distances, which never fail to accompany them into my mind, when I view an OBJECT distinctly with both eyes, whose distance is so small that in respect of it the interval between the eyes has any considerable magnitude.

Section 19

I know it is a received opinion that by altering the disposition of the eyes the mind perceives whether the angle of the OPTIC AXES is made greater or lesser. And that accordingly by a kind of NATURAL GEOMETRY it judges the point of their intersection to be nearer or farther off. But that this is not true I am convinced by my own experience, since I am not conscious that I make any such use of the perception I have by the turn of my eyes. And for me to make those judgments, and draw those conclusions from it, without knowing that I do so, seems altogether incomprehensible.

Section 20

From all which it follows that the judgment we make of the distance of an OBJECT, viewed with both eyes, is entirely the RESULT OF EXPERIENCE. If we had not constantly found certain sensations arising from the various disposition of the eyes, attended with certain degrees of distance, we should never make those sudden judgments from them concerning the distance of OBJECTS; no more than we would pretend to judge a man's thoughts by his pronouncing words we had never heard before.