Preface and Introduction
1. On the aim and history of the theory
In this book, I am publishing the results of my theoretical research on visual perception, which I began in the late fifties as a psychology student. It was 1961 when I conceived the outline of a very new, but unpublished, "Theory of Optical Gestalt Perception", which received the following preface:
".....My primary concern is to provide the theory of man`s evolution with the psychological argument. I must, so I said to myself, find a plausible cause why every natural human society, yet not one species of animal, develops cultural activities, and this always in the domains of arts, science, economics, religion, technology, and social order. I developed an anthropological theorem, different from all others in the height of the abstraction level at which the anthropological subject was defined. With this, I tried to account for the origin of human cultural activities. I did not succeed because too little is known about this matter.
If this anthropological approach indeed possessed the importance attributed to it, its effect would be proved also among the presently living humans. For this proof, a domain would be most suitable, which had already been investigated most thoroughly, so that the probability of unmasking the approach as wrong would be as large as that of judging it heuristically valuable.
Soon after, I encountered gestalt psychology for the first time, and read both Sander`s (1928) review on gestalt psychology and the first 100 pages of Metzger (1953): "Laws of sight". Furthermore, I was introduced to the most important of the optical illusions.
I was lucky to discover straightaway the most functional conditions of contour experience, and assumed the optical gestalt perception to be a touchstone of the hypotheses, developed from the anthropological theorem, on the conditions of gestalt perception. Thus I developed an explanatory theory of optical gestalt perception, which was going to be all the more appropriate the more exact the available empirical results were, and the more thoroughly and unprejudicedly I thought about it.
To start with, I distanced myself from previous attempts to solve the problem in order to be absolutely free to find a solution myself. Not before I was very sure of myself, did I dare confront the theoretical literature. I found soon that a comprehensive knowledge of this literature was not necessary to border my conception off from those of other authors: my theory seems to distinguish itself from both the element and the ganzheit theory by an axiom which underlies those theories, but not mine. I hope to be able to establish a synthesis of the element and ganzheit theories, through which the theoretical basis of general psychology will be taken the step further that is, at the moment, both necessary and possible.....
I am sure that my thoughts are still often unclear, and may in part be contradictory....... Furthermore, too little literature has been used. Thus, due to both lack of time and the wish to develop my own ideas as independently as possible, I have only written from memory, that what can also be substantiated by references. Thus, the draft still remains a compromise between the wish for perfection and the necessity to write quickly; and it still remains a compromise between the necessity to connect the theory immediately to previous theories, and the wish, to not permit it to develop along the well worn paths."
This previous preface is still valid today. Still valid is also the general aim of my theoretical investigations: it is not the development of a theory for a limited area of psychology like visual perception that I am primarily interested in, it is not even the creation of new basics for psychology, although this may be a consequence. I am more interested in understanding global connections. However, the connections which I can see today, go far beyond those I previously sought.
Human visual perception remains a special scientific topic. Also my aversion to dealing with theoretical literature remains, particularly with theories on perception; not one of them has proved fruitful, I suspect because of their wrong axiomatic basis. The awareness of offering the reader something incomplete also remains. However, each little part of this theory of sight is capable of being developed further; this is valid for each little part of its ontological frame of reference too - see examples in Part 10.
The theory of visual perception presented here contains plausible hypotheses which visual scientists have, heretofore, failed to establish. It was only in the 1980s that I was able to develop the first half of the 1961 theory to the point where it was ripe for publication. As there are not enough takers for a theory of perception in the German-speaking world, the German publishers for psychology were then, of course, not interested in the theory. Thus I published it at my own expense, in the period between 1985 and 1989 in a series of eight booklets, which I gathered later into a single volume (Kleine-Horst 1992a).
The "Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception" (ETVG) is an evolutionary theory because it is integrated into the evolutionary "Four-Level Model of Reality" (Part 10; Kleine-Horst 1992d). The ETVG is a psychological theory because it describes both the visual factor hierarchy of the psychical evolutionary level and the gestalt phenomena created by these factors. It is a gestalt psychological theory because it describes, as consequently and detailed as no gestalt psychology before, a group of internal entities ("gestalt factors"), which operate, in addition to the external sensory stimuli, in producing the visual percepts. It is an empiristic theory because all factors, located at the psychic evolutionary level and forming the visual percepts, are memory contents, implicitly acquired in early infancy.
I have taken great pains to arouse interest for my theory among German-speaking visual scientists; in this I have not been successful. Thus I have not been able to discuss my theory with anyone to this day and have had to rely on self-criticism for improvements. I have a certain understanding for the lack of interest in the ETVG; the theory is written in a scientific language which is completely foreign to the reader. It was, however, necessary to create a new language, i.e. a new scientific terminology. The theory diverges from accepted opinion so fundamentally, that it was hardly possible to use a single familiar term, at least not in the usual sense. Because of the unfamiliarity of the language, it is to be expected that some readers will not understand what I am actually talking about. In the same way, for years I was unable to understand what the authors of psychological textbooks, handbooks and scientific papers on visual perception were actually talking about. I nevertheless hope that some readers will discover similarities between my theory and their own concepts of visual perception.
A second cause for the lack of interest in the ETVG is surely to be found in that the theory has previously been available only in German, and that there has been no psychology of perception of importance in Germany for decades. It is clear to me that it is not enough to have developed the theory, and to have published it in a purely technical sense. The theory must also be applied to the interpretation of known visual facts and the results must be published in English-language scientific journals. It is, however, only possible to understand these interpretations if one is familiar with the ETVG. For this reason, I have prepared the present English version of the theory with the essential aid of English native speakers. Since the translators know no more about visual perception than any other "educated laypersons", it is, of course, my responsibility alone to ensure that what I meant in German has been expressed in English. I am sure that I have not always been successful in this respect and can only hope that not too many fundamental misunderstandings will arise. In part, the book represents a simple translation of the German text in which at several places misleading expressions or passages were improved. Some sections and chapters, however, were rewritten, others edited or even omitted. The order of several parts was changed. The further development of the second half of my 1961 manuscript, in which I had described the "Empiristic Interaction Theory", has also been translated (Kleine-Horst 1998a) and has been integrated, as Part 8, into this book.
My first attempt to inform, via papers, visual scientists about the ETVG and the way to account for facts using this theory, went awry; a two-part manuscript submitted to an English language journal was rejected. It seems to be too difficult to describe this absolutely new theory in sufficient detail within a limited number of pages, and additionally apply it in order to explain certain facts. Thus, I added the application part of the manuscript in only slightly changed form to this book, as Part 9, and trust in the full text of Parts 1, 2 and 8 to have provided sufficient foundation for understanding the explanation of "subjective" contours and fields.
It will perhaps seem to some readers that in Parts 1 to 9 a comparison of the ETVG with other theories is missing. A discussion of theories, however, is a task for the future; for the presentation of the ETVG itself - which is the ultimate purpose here - such a discussion is not necessary. For this reason, while developing this theory, I have occupied myself with other theories only insofar as was needed to establish that there is no competing theory with which it is now necessary to confront the ETVG. It is my belief that a meaningful discussion of the ETVG and other theories will be a philosophical discussion; the ETVG is irreconcilable with the dominant materialis- tic-monistic model of reality of the natural sciences, a model which previous and contemporary theories strive to accomodate. Until now, however, science has had little success in describing visual perception according to the natural scientific model of reality. The lack of success is true also for theories that use a dualistic model of reality. Only after having finished Parts 1 to 9, I compared the ETVG with other theories to some extent (see Section 4 of this Part and Part 10).