As has already been argued, perception is a function of the sensorimotor systems, and the different modalities in which that sensorimotor system operates, the different physical senses of touch, taste, sight etc, gives structure to that perception. If Mark Johnson is correct in claiming that perception is one of the capacities from which meaning and thought emerge then the structure of meaning and thought, the organised and coherent relationships between ideas, must in turn emerge in part from structures within perception. In other words, our ability to think in organised and meaningful ways is reflective of our ability to perceive the world in organised ways.
The organisation of perception comes from the regular and consistent ways in which the physical senses operate. To take the visual sense as an example, different wavelengths of light appear to the visual system as different colours, but these differences are not random or disorganised. The colours of the spectrum always follow one another in regular and predictable ways and this regularity (as well as the range) provides an organising template for meaning and thought to base themselves upon. Similarly, there is a consistant relationship in the apparent visual size of an object and its distance from us; objects that are further away seem smaller than those close up. This also is a feature of visual experience which has structure and regularity that can be adopted by conceptual cognitive functions. Other sensory modalities, hearing, touch, taste, olfaction, proprioception, have their own set of organised variables which enlarge the number of possible structures that might be utilised as frameworks for meaning and thought, and the relationships between the modalities provides additional complexity. Some sense perceptions echo one another closely; the shape of an object tends to be similarly perceived both by the hands and the eyes; whereas other senses complement one another through their difference; the colour and the sound of a musical instrument overlap one another only at the margins.
In ‘The senses considered as perceptual systems’ J.J Gibson writes that “the senses can obtain information about objects in the world without the intervention of an intellectual process” (1966:1). It may be more accurate to say that it is not that the senses work without the intervention of intellectual processes, but rather that their operation is constructive of intellectual processes. Furthermore, the structured differences that the senses detect in the world and which we experience as perceptions give structure to the meaning and thought that make up these intellectual processes.
Gibson, J. J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.