Object perception is a process where things seen are assigned a definition in the mind. People then use the interpretation to interact in the environment. Although much knowledge of the world may be obtained from other sources, information originates from object perception. Perception is gained by using the five senses to break down the stimuli and fit it into what is already known. Many theories exist to provide understanding as to why the object is perceived as it is.
The ventral visual pathway is the name of the stages that the object follows through the brain before becoming part of one's perceptive history. The object is experienced with the five senses, then recognized as familiar or unrecognized, and then analyzed. This is completed while not interrupting other visual functions. In other words, an individual may see a billboard while driving, and the billboard images are processed without causing the vehicle to leave the roadway or strike other vehicles.
Theories of object perception differ; direct realism embraces the obvious fact that the object exists independently from the perceiver. Two types of direct realism — naive realism and scientific realism — offer more in-depth theories. When the object is not being observed, a naive realist believes that the object retains all of the same properties as when observed, while a scientific realist does not. The scientific realist thinks that some properties exist based on the prior experiences of the perceiver. For example, a blanket may be brighter in color to one person than another.
Indirect realists also believe in a separation between the perceiver and object, but go further in that what people see is based on objects already seen. For example, steam from a plate of food takes a small amount of time to be absorbed by the senses, so the steam is being seen based on that span of time in the past when it was first perceived, and the sight then is based on what the steam is expected to do. Another example is a stick in water; the water may make the stick appear bent due to refraction, but prior knowledge of the stick does not cause perception to be changed.
Phenomenalism is an object perception theory in which other items exist when not perceived, because the possibility of perception exists. For example, even if an ice cube is not put on a hot stove, the perceiver knows that the ice cube will melt if placed there based on what is already known. Another example is when someone goes directly to a particular drawer for a spoon; because spoons have traditionally been kept in that drawer in the past, that drawer is the most likely place to find a spoon.