Human beings subjectively experience a rich visual percept. However, when behavioral experiments probe the details of that percept, observers perform poorly, suggesting that vision is impoverished. What can explain this awareness puzzle? Is the rich percept a mere illusion? How does vision work as well as it does? This paper argues for two important pieces of the solution. First, peripheral vision encodes its inputs using a scheme that preserves a great deal of useful information, while losing the information necessary to perform certain tasks. The tasks rendered difficult by the peripheral encoding include many of those used to probe the details of visual experience. Second, many tasks used to probe attentional and working memory limits are, arguably, inherently difficult, and poor performance on these tasks may indicate limits on decision complexity. Two assumptions are critical to making sense of this hypothesis: (1) All visual perception, conscious or not, results from performing some visual task; and (2) all visual tasks face the same limit on decision complexity. Together, peripheral encoding plus decision complexity can explain a wide variety of phenomena, including vision’s marvelous successes, its quirky failures, and our rich subjective impression of the visual world.