Do we perceive it because it is meaningful? Yes!
How does the man with agnosia (loss of ability to perceive the familiar due to brain damage) manage on the street? Quoting such an individual “On the sidewalk all things are slim—those are people; in the middle of the street, everything is very noisy, bulky, tall—that can be buses, cars.”
Rudolf Arnheim says, regarding agnosia, that “Many people use their unimpaired sense of sight to no better advantage during much of the day.” How can this be true? I suspect it is true because many of us have such a very narrow range of familiar objects that have any meaning to us. Our narrow intellectual interests leave us with a very narrow world of reality because we perceive only what is meaningful.
Our emotions are one source of meaning. Occasionally, while walking in the woods, some movement in the underbrush will cause my blood to “run cold”. Was that a source of danger? I suspect that to most animals without the ability to create abstract concepts all perceptions are those induced by emotions (we also call them instincts). I can be alerted by a mouse darting across the floor well on the peripheral fringes of my vision while I am busy concentrating on something else because animals survive based upon their response to movement.
Humans, however, can create an abstract concept, which means that we can create a virtual world on top of the world directly created by Mother Nature. Mother Nature has prepared us through emotion to be very aware of movement pattern but Mother Nature has not prepared us for dealing with the world of abstract concepts.
We have placed into the hands of ordinary people the extraordinary power of technology; it is this virtual world, where technology is dominating and grave danger lurks, for which Mother Nature has not prepared us.
Quotes from Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the Creative Eye Rudolf Arnheim