Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception (ETVG)

The general topic of this blog is the "Structure of Visual Space". In my "Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception: Hierarchy and Interactions of Visual Functions" (ETVG) (2001, Koeln, Germany: Enane) I have already described and explained the structure of visual space. Many chapters are online: www.enane.de/cont.htm. With this posting I am giving the blog members the opportunity to get to know, discuss and even further develop this theory.

Here I am giving some information on the ETVG to prevent unnecessary misunderstanding:

(1) With "gestalt" perception is only meant perception as opposite of color perception. It contains figure-outfield, quantity, orientation, and form perception.

(2) In my first posting I described with the "Evolutionary Theory of Being" (ETB) a kind of supertheory in which perception is immediately realized on the 3rd , the "psychic", evolutionary level of Being, while the 2nd level contains living matters and functions, and the 1st level contains inorganic matter to which physic is related. At the 4th level, "mind" has been evolved.

(3) As shown in the ETB (see diagram), perception is realized as two kinds ("worlds"): (a) the psychic consciousnesses (PC) (including "phenomenal space" as called by John Smythies) and (b) psychic functions (PF) which, however, are absolutely unknown to vision science, and thus are also not considered in any theory that might be known to a blog member.

(4) Since a certain PF is "producing" a certain PC, the PCs are immediately and convincingly explainable only by referring to these their producers. This means: the entities that have been evolved prior to PF are the less responsible for the structure of a certain PC the farther away from PF they are located, according to the ETB. So visual theories that relate visual experience (PC) to physics or chemistry (UCO/UCM) are less useful for explaining visual sensations (PC) than theories that relate it to "neuronal [VM] mechanisms [VF]". And these neurological theories can account for sensations and other visual experiences less well than PFs do as only PFs are immediately connecting PCs because they "produce" them. However, despite these restrictions, the ETVG shows a certain correspondence between the general properties of the function carriers "neuron" and "gestalt factor". And it shows a certain correspondence between the functions of six ETVG-levels and the functions of six neurobiologically defined levels.

(5) Only after the trialistic view of vision has been described in the ETVG, a "Quadrialistic Theory of Man" has been introduced (www.enane.de/ETB1.htm): the "Four-Manner-Four-Level-Model of Reality" (later called "Evolutionary Theory of Being" = ETB), with its terms "psychic function" (PF) and "psychic consciousness" (PC). In the ETVG it is "functional/ functionology" that refers to PF, and it is "phenomenal/ phenomenology" that refers to PC.

(6) Since the structure of phenomenal visual perception (PC) (e.g. phenomenal space) can be explained convincingly only by referring to PF, and PF is unknown to science, vision science practically avoids in their theories of vision to depict the visual experiences (PC) they are claiming but are not able to explain. In contrast to it, in the ETVG a lot of relevant illustrations of visual experiences (PC) are shown and explained by their producers (PF).

(7) While the PCs are entities dependent on the PFs, the PF hierarchy itself evolves independently as the result of an unconscious learning process in early infancy. The hierarchically ordered gestalt factors are fixed as memory contents and must be "actualized" step by step in order to produce their corresponding gestalt qualities.

(8) The most important relations between sensory stimulus and visual experience consist of the fact that different visual experiences can follow one and the same sensory stimulus. This happens, for example, when attention directed on the stimulus increases or decreases. Or when the same optical pattern impinges the eye for different but very short times (as shown in tachistoscopic experiments), or when instead of time the light intensity changes (you can see the same material things in darkness less accurately than in full illumination). There is not any theory of visual percption except the Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception that is able to explain which visual experiences are theoretically expected under different conditions of stimulation. The ETVG describes both a ten-level hierarchy of 25 "gestalt factors" (in the world PF) and its product, the corresponding ten-level hierarchy of 25 "gestalt qualities" (in the world PC). When the conditions of stimulation smoothly increase, the PF hierarchy of gestalt factors will be "actualized" step by step from the bottom up, so that the corresponding gestalt qualities will appear step by step as well and thus enrich the visual experience and make it more and more complex.This process is called the "actualgenesis" of the percept. The opposite process, the "actual lysis", consists in the "de-actualization" of the PF hierarchy from the top down which leads to the "de-differentiation" of the percept or even to its total disappearance. The ETVG deals predominantly with those 17 of the 25 gestalt factors that constitute the static two-dimensional visual perception.

(9) Since many gestalt factors interact one with another, a lot of "gestalt laws" are to be found, and thus the ETVG can already account for a number of wellknown visual facts. These laws refer not only to visual space but also to visual time.

As I wrote at the beginning, with this posting I am giving the members of the "structure of visual space group" a chance to get to know, discuss and even further develop this "theory of the structure of visual space". I will see how they seize this chance. This Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception (ETVG) is all that I have to say on visual perception since 2001. It is now the job of others to think about it.

My own job is to further develop that theory which goes - among others - beyond visual perception described in the ETVG (and thus enclosing visual perception): the double-quadrialistic "Evolutionary Theory of Being" (ETB) (see my first posting) which describes "all that is" as a system of four "evolutionary levels" interlocking with four "manners of Being" and thus forming eight "worlds".


  1. Thank you, Lothar, for this stimulating posting! My first question would be to ask you to explain what exactly you mean by the term "empiristic"?

  2. This is a good question, Bill, as I did not explain the term "empiristic", indeed. When I developed the first version if this theory in 1961 this term was wellknown in psychology. "Empiristic" refers to the traditional philosophical controversy on "empiristic view" as opposite of "nativistic view". According to the empiristic view, X is learned, i.e. is a result of memorizing, while according to the nativistic view, X is innate, inborn.

    According to the ETVG (and its supertheory ETB), visual perception is both learned and innate. But there is a clear hierarchical relationship between these two fundamentals of visual perception as the memory with its implicit learning processes (PF+PC) is built on a higher evolutionary level than that on which the innate entities and processes (VM+VF) are located. Despite these two different basics, the ETVG is called an "empiristic" theory because it describes first of all the learning processes and their "results": the "gestalt factors" (in world PF) with their corresponding "gestalt qualities" (in world PC).

  3. Since my "Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception" (ETVG) describes the "structure of visual space" it fulfills the expectations of the "Structure of Visual Space Group" to a great extent. My posting on the ETVG contains a number of information on this theory without being an abstract of it. The aim of the posting has been to confront the blog members with a concept of visual space perception which differs from all other theories of vision in respect of fundamental hypotheses. This difference is the reason why the ETVG is widely unknown in science and, of course, unknown also to the group members who learned at university many things but not how visual space is structered. So the "Structure of Visual Space Group" has been founded by John and Bill, and Bill was right to invite me to participate in the discussion of this group.

    However, any discussion on the structure of visual space is no longer useful without consideration of the ETVG. A rational discussion is only possible if the discussion partners have to some degree the same knowledge of the topic they are talking about. At the moment, my potential discussion partners in this group have no idea of my theory of visual space. If they really want to get to know the structure of visual space, they cannot escape to "learn" the ETVG as they have learned all the other theories they know. Many important chapters of the ETVG are online (www.enane.de/cont.htm). So everybody has an access to the ETVG.

    Since the ETVG differs from all other theories of vision in fundamental aspects, readers who know a number of other theories, and "believe" in the one or the other of them, will have difficulties in understanding the ETVG. They even might refuse to continue reading because they cannot bear to realize: "If the ETVG is true, then my theory is wrong!" On the other hand, there are theories that might at least partially agree with the ETVG but could not themselves realize it because they did not yet know the ETVG. In this situation, only ETVG-knowers are able to recognize these correspondences between the ETVG and a certain other more or less wellknown theory, and thus are able to introduce the ETVG in contempory science.

    If an urgent question arises while reading, please search first of all for an answer in other passages in the ETVG text (or in other literature). After you have done your own research, please tell me which questions, objections or critics are left, and to which theories or facts you are referring. It would be helpful, however, to refer to only one topic each or to few topics being linked up. So I can respond to each of them in sufficient clearness.

  4. Thank you, Lothar, for this useful background, which has since come to be known in the literature as the "nature vs. nurture" controversy.

    As for vision, and perception in general, contemporary neuroscience and sensory neurophysiology favors the "nature" side rather more than the "nurture" one, since it appears that the growing embryo's sensory systems are already being "primed" in utero very early in gestation--if not from the beginning--because the interuterine environment is certainly not devoid of sensory stimulation, whether light, sound, temperature, or tactile.

    Because of that it is difficult, in principle, to separate what is a process of development from learning, if it is even possible to make that distinction at all.

    I know that you discuss this in your book, Lothar, and I have read that section in fact, but it is not clear what criteria you adduce to define what is a matter of the natural processes of development (embryonic, human), i.e., what was called "genetic" by German psychologists such as Krueger and Werner, or what might be called "maturation" of the sensory systems, from what reasonably (or meaningfully) could be called learning.

    Can you clarify, if with reference to the relevant chapter/sections of your book?

  5. Before being able to answer to your interesting question with sufficient clearness, Bill, I must ask you to answer two questions of mine - to avoid misunderstandings:
    1) Which ETVG section do you mean that you have read and to which you are referring?
    2) How do you define "learning" that could be "reasonably (or meaningfully) called learning" and which kind of "learning" does not correspond to your definition?

  6. Alas, I do not recall which chapter in your book it was that I read in which you advance the premise that certain parameters of visual perception are already being developed in utero. Unfortunately your book has the disadvantage of having no index, so it is difficult to navigate because of that.

    Obviously we cannot see until the biological process of the visual system matures during gestation. But at what point one can then talk about the unborn child "learning" (and engaging in something like perceptual learning at that) would, I think, be hard to determine. Perhaps you have already come up with an answer to that in your own theorizing this process, and provide criteria for what you are calling "learning" in the context of vision?

  7. It is hard to swallow to read something like that:
    "Unfortunately your book has the disadvantage of having no index, so it is difficult to navigate because of that." My ETVG book HAS an index - with 700 entries.

    You could not recall the chapter in my book, Bill, in which I should have made such a clear statement as "that certain parameters of visual perception are already being developed in utero"?. I cannot remember to have ever said this. Although it is possible that I once shortly mentioned the possibility of prenatal learning, but I did not integrate this possibility in my theory when I described the development of visual learning from the beginning on, since it is irrelevant whether the beginning is thought to be at a certain time of gestation or with the baby's first opening the eyes.

    You had asked me "to separate what is a process of development from learning". I have not yet really asked myself this question, so I ask you to answer this question according to your own theory which is unknown to me. Besides, my question is still open on what you mean with "what reasonably (or meaningfully) could be called learning." After having got your answers I will try to answer your question on what I am calling "learning" in the context of vision.

  8. I saw that there was a link to an Index in the Contents page of your book, but I assumed that the Index itself did not yet exist, because the link does not work, resulting as it does in this message: "This link appears to be broken." So please check that, Lothar.

    Though it may be only my own limitation, I am unaware of the notion of learning being invoked in connection with the in utero experience of unborn fetuses. I did not say, Lothar, that you had stated such learning was taking place in utero, only that you had alluded to that possibility, just as you say here in your comment above. Rather, I was merely summarizing research on the in utero environment as a source of sensory stimulation and "priming" of the sensory systems of the unborn baby, at least to the extent I am generally familiar with it.

    I suppose the main criterion in the definition of learning is *evidence* of learning, that indeed someone has learned something. What is the evidence you produce that some aspect of the Gestalt organization that you write about in your book is thus learned?

    Since you call your theory a "super theory," and returning to the notion of what is meant by "empiristic" and, therefore, more broadly, to the topic of empiricism as a philosophy of mind, the basic tenet of it is that "there is nothing in the mind not first in the senses," and that the mind starts as a "tabula rasa."

    Can you tell us in general terms how your position is similar or different from traditional empirical theories as summarized in this Wikipedia entry? That might be a help. Here is the entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism

    Usually philosophical or scientific works of almost any scope begin with a review of the literature and explain to the reader how what is presented is *new* and relates to previous ideas and work, either by expanding upon it, or challenging it. This, in effect, provides the raison d'etre of a work, and a justification to the reader for then reading it.

  9. Also note that a much shorter entry on empiricism is available on the German Wikipedia: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empirismus

  10. (1) O. k., Bill, I will check that, but you know that you are not dependent on my online links to the ETVG book as this is available to you as that copy I have sent to Prof. Ramachandran 10 years ago.
    (2) You asked me a question on "Empiricism" and so I followed your link to this Wikipedia entry. But I am not actually interested in Ethymology and History of empiricism, and so I do not see any reason to take part in a philosophical discussion on this topic by answering your question. If you want to know more (than that I have already said) about what I mean with "empiristic", just read the ETVG and the ETB.
    (3) You want to discuss with me on "learning". But this is not possible as you still refuse up to now to read the parts and chapters of ETVG (and ETB) in which I have said a lot on learning and memory.
    (4) You did not even get that I have developed these TWO theories: You still confuse both when writing in respect to the Empiristic Theory: " Since you call your theory a 'super theory', and returning to the notion of 'empiristic'....".
    I have never called the ETVG a supertheory, I always called the Evolutionary Theory of Being (ETB) to be a supertheory in respect to the ETVG, the last one in my comment of Jan.16.: "According to the ETVG (and its supertheory ETB).."

    The simple aim of hypotheses and theories is that they have to explain facts. I have developed the Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception (ETVG) that consists of a number of hypotheses which - as I believe and thus claim - describe the structure of visual space. Nearly all my hypotheses have been "tested against observations of the natural world". However, I am not interested in "summerized theories", rather in a discussion on the ETVG in combination with the ETB in which my discussion partner calls me one, only one, concrete theory of visual perception that is able to explain one, only one, experimentally found actualgenetic / actuallytic series depicted and explained in the ETVG, Part 6, or is able to explain at least a part of the wellknown and experimentally found facts as described and explained especially in Parts 8 to 11.

  11. Can you call me such a theory, Bill? If you can, then call me that theory, if not, then tell me at least that you cannot. So we can avoid all unnecessary theorizing that only provokes quarral. If there are two or more theories being able to explain the same facts, we have to decide which of them would be the best. After that further theorizing can be useful, also with consideration of that the wellknown philosopher of science, Wolfgang Stegmüller, has noted, as I quoted in the ETVG book just before the Contents: http://www.enane.de/steg.htm .

    In the next to last section of your comment you wrote:
    "Can you tell us in general terms how your position is similar or different from traditional empirical theories...?"
    I think I have done enough, and now it is the job of others, especially of well-trained vision scientists, to integrate my work into science.

    Please understand me right, Bill: It is an unnecessary time consuming work for me to answer such questions that you can answer yourself after having read (and understood) the ETVG and ETB. After you have got to know my theories, a lot of questions will already be answered, and other questions will have changed according to your better knowledge of my theories. A third kind of questions will remain.

    In the last section you wrote:
    "Usually philosophical or scientific works of almost any scope begin with a review of the literature and explain to the reader how what is presented is *new* and relates to previous ideas and work, either by expanding upon it, or challenging it. This, in effect, provides the raison d'etre of a work, and a justification to the reader for then reading it."
    You are right, Bill, indeed, so it is "usually". But my theories are unusual and thus they require an unusual mode of approach as I mentioned in the Epilogue of the ETVG: "Can this theory be one of the seldom emerging grand paradigm candidates?").

    Now I am waiting for the response of the other members of the Structure of Visual Space Group to my proposal of the structure of visual space.

  12. Lothar, I actually did go to your book and click on "Index" again just two days ago and got the message I quoted above. Today, rather mysteriously, the link to the Index seems to be working. I never saw the copy of your book that you sent to Ramachandran, and he doesn't recall even receiving it (I asked him), but then he receives a huge amount of mail and books every week.

    Probably most philosophers and psychologists have a general understanding of the philosophy (theory) of empiricism, which is not just a matter of historical interest, but informs contemporary work in cognitive neuroscience.

    As a willing participant in the discussion here, it is your responsibility, not ours, to explain how your ideas may/may not relate to the topic of this blog, and to traditional notions of empiricism, if only in brief outline. Having already looked over various chapters of your book, I am not sure how I would answer my question about empiricism from what I have read of it, thus why I am asking you instead.

    In theoretical psychology one wants to know how a new theory relates to existing established ones, and since you chose the word "empiricist" one can only assume that you are thinking in terms of a traditional concept. By asking you how your theory differs, or what is "new" about it as I did, it is because I assumed you were already familiar with the theory of empiricism. I only supplied the Wikipedia entry link as a quick overview reference to you for this purpose.

    Surely for purposes of discussion here you can refer us to a chapter or section, or even specific pages, rather than just suggesting that we read the whole book, which is quite long. If your answers to questions relevant to the discussion here were interesting and enlightening, I, for one, would be more motivated to read your book. But just telling us that it is a "new paradigm" is not very informative (or motivating), especially if you cannot explain in a brief synopsis what is "new" about it.

    One of the most interesting statements I read in your book is in your "Overview of the Entire Concept" http://www.enane.de/overview.htm:

    "Visual data are well-known to the sciences, in the form of 'veridical' and 'illusory' perception. The model of reality of the natural sciences is also well-known. It is therefore understandable that one may try to explain known facts within the framework of the known model of reality. But there is little relation between visual facts and the traditional model of reality." But rather than then explaining the problem briefly, you just tell the reader that your theory explains it, obliging them to read on. Busy scientists in a field that is swamped with papers and books just don't have time to read everything, and that is why there are abstracts to explain in a nutshell what is essential, whether it is a new finding, or set of findings, or theoretical development.

    Since no one else but Bob French and I seem to be commenting these days, we may be the only contributors actually reading your comments.

  13. I neglected to include your concluding remark in that paragraph, which is the most intriguing of all, and accords with things I have been wondering about for a long time now: "There is, moreover, no clear distinction possible between veridical' and 'illusory' perception." If that is so, on what basis does one differentiate between veridicality and illusion?

  14. I also see now that the term "trialist/trialistic" was introduced as an alternative to traditional Cartesian mind-body dualism by the British philosopher, John Cottingham. Though you don't cite him, is he your source for that idea, Lothar? I must admit that I cannot recall having heard of this idea before, but Cottingham posits sensations as being the third factor in his theory--interesting.

  15. Bill, you use to pick up any term and ask me what I am thinking about it. So you have asked four times for "empiricism/empiricist" although I did not claim anything on empiricism and mentioned the word "empiricist" only once. If you want to get to know something, for example, what "empiricism" means, please, search for it anywhere. If you want to know what I am thinking about it, please search for it via my Index: there is no entry like "empiricism", and to "empiricist" only one reference. I am not interested in any theoretical discussion on "empiricism". I have already answered your question on my term "empiristic", although you could find information not only via the Index but also by simple reading the titles of parts, chapters and sections in www.enane.de/cont.htm .

    It is the same with "veridical - illusory": although the link to the Index is now working you still do not follow the references of the relevant entries. It is your job, not mine, to do that.

    Another thing is your question whether my "trialistic" idea stems from John Cottingham. No, it does not. I did not know anything from him before your question. In addition, his claim was published 1985 in "Mind" while it was 1961 (published 2007) that I conceived the idea of certain "functions" that produce certain visual (conscious) phenomena. Thus the functions themselves are not conscious, they are also not material; they are lying between matter and consciousness. However, I did not call this system a "trialistic" one as I did not know much of "monistic" and "dualistic" concepts at that time. More on my trialistic ETVG concept - and what is "new" in it - in my today's posting on "World Views of Monism, Dualism, Trialism, and Quadrialism"!.

    If you like you can compare Cottingham's and other authors' trialistic world views with that of the "Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception".

    Robert French is reading my conributions? I did not get from him a response to them. Perhaps he is more interested in the ETB's "Universal Cosmic Order" (UCO), the world of quantum physics.

  16. The title of your work tells the reader 2 things: (1) that it is offering a theory of visual Gestalt perception, and (2) that it is "empiristic." Hopefully the title of a scientific work is fairly explicit in telling the reader what it is about, especially in a specialized area such as the study of perception.

    For those of us familiar with Gestalt theory, the most natural question is: Since Gestalt theory already exists, and has existed for the better part of a century now, why does the author (you, Lothar) include the word "empiristic" in the title of the work and/or as the name of his theory? Why is he specifying that it is "empiristic"? For that matter, as I have asked before, what is meant by the word "empiristic" in contrast to the standard English adjectives "empirical" or "empiricist"? The choice of words in a title is crucial to conveying the raison d'etre of a work.

    Part of the problem is that the title throws off the reader (at least this reader) as much as it describes the work, partly because it is ambiguous. Though you have explained to us now that by "empiristic" you actually mean the philosophy of empiricism (more or less) rather than "empirical" in the sense of a methodology (i.e., relying on experimental observation), one might conclude that you are simply placing existing Gestalt theory in the context of some sort of learning process. But once one starts to read the book the question of what is "empiristic" about the theory is not addressed as such, whether one consults the index or not.

    Pressing a scientist (or philosopher) to define his terms is a standard method of procedure in evaluating the merits of any scientific work, it is part of the peer review process, whether in a lecture, a conference session, colloquium, or symposium. This blog is more like a symposium, in which the assembled readers exchange ideas and discuss them. But the definition and clear exposition of ideas comes first.

    This is a regular occurrence in any university colloquium because it is essential to quickly communicate understanding of basic ideas or principles in order to evaluate the merits of a theoretical presentation, to facilitate understanding of how it relates to past work especially and to prompt the listener to what is new. Otherwise one simply loses interest. Simply telling the listener to "go read my book" instead of providing clear answers to basic questions is counterproductive to a forum such as this one in which the goal is sharing ideas. Once one presents an idea clearly and explicitly, then it is reasonable to say that for "further details see such and such chapter or passages," etc.

    I think you can see from the lack of response to your postings, Lothar, that you are not providing enough substance in your remarks here to motivate one to read your book as being something relevant to the blog topic (though you claim it is).

    Whether or not you were influenced by Cottingham is a small point.


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