Excerpts from
L.Kleine-Horst: "Empiristic theory of visual gestalt perception. Hierarchy and interactions of visual functions" (ETVG). Köln
2001 (Preface and Introduction)


The most important characteristics of the

"Empiristic theory of visual gestalt perception".

In the preceding Section, characteristics of the ETVG have been presented in comparison with a well-known particular theory. In the following, those characteristics that seem to distinguish it from any other theory of sight are listed, and widely unknown visual facts are mentioned that can be accounted for only by using the ETVG. 

1. The ETVG completely describes the organization of visual gestalt perception. The phenomenal visual "gestalt perception" is perceptual experience insofar as it deviates from what is expected according to the "constancy hypothesis" of the old psychophysicists and structuralists, and consists of 25 defined dimensions of visual "gestalt qualities".

2. Every specific dimension of visual gestalt qualities is produced by a superthreshold activation ("actualization") of a specific functional entity, a "gestalt factor".

3. The 25 gestalt factors are hierarchically ordered; each of them lies at a certain level of a ten-level hierarchy. Each gestalt factor, other than the lowest, builds on one or more gestalt factors located at the next lower level.

4. A gestalt factor's activation could increase with: first, increasing magnitude of the sensory stimulus; second, increasing realization of the factor's specific "gestalt stimulus", which is a certain relationship between the outputs of the lower-level factors on which the respective factor is built; third, certain influences from all other gestalt factors that are activated at the same time, as defined in the "gestalt laws"; fourth, increasing magnitude of the attention directed toward the stimulus.

5. At least the 17 gestalt factors at the five lowest levels are, if at all, activated twice, and that antagonistically: once "positively" (strong) and once "negatively" (weak). This "functional antagonism" has the "phenomenal polarity" of the created qualities as its dependent correlate.

6.  Each of the six gestalt factors at Levels 1 to 5 that form static, two-dimensional figure/outfield perception are antagonistically activated via a retinal area (its "receptive field") that is, in turn, divided into two different "complementary" parts. Via the one partial area the positive function, and via the other the negative function of the gestalt factor is mediated. The shape of the receptive field depends on the kind of antagonistic functions the factor has.

7. Every gestalt factor exhibits four phenomenal effects when the activation magnitude exceeds its actualization threshold: first, a qualitative-informative effect, as it creates a specific quality; second, a quantitative-informative effect, as this quality possesses a certain "intensity"; third, a formative effect, as a stimulus pattern is experienced more intensely, in regard to the factor's gestalt quality, than corresponds to the informative effect; fourth, a normative ("Prägnanz") effect, when the sensory stimulus already "fullfills" the formative tendencies, and is thus unable to formatively lead to a yet greater intensity.

8. Every gestalt factor is a memory content, implicitly acquired in early infancy. (a) The 17 factors at Levels 1 to 5 that constitute static, two-dimensional figure/outfield perception as well as depth and motion perception are memorized relationships between the outputs of their lower-level factors, and are related to the retinal sensory stimulus. (b) The orientation and form factors at the four highest Levels 7 to 10 are memorized relationships between the eye muscle innervations that are established during the saccades from the fixation point to one, two, three, or four simultaneously seen figures.

9. Since all gestalt factors are memory contents, they all form close associations with one another. Thus the 17 lowest factors together with the factor "attention" form 18x18 (324) influence relationships ("gestalt laws"), by which a great number of both everyday experiences and laboratory findings can be accounted for.  

10. The gestalt laws have the dynamic form:

                        "The more A - the more (less) B"

       (or a logically identical form).

11. The gestalt laws can only be applied successfully when the phenomenal polarities are coconsidered. One pole does not exist without the other. This is especially valid for the static figure/outfield percept. There is never a solitary "figure", there is always a "figure in its outfield", because "figure" and "outfield" belong together, as they are a set of polar values on the scale of the same visual dimension. Applying the gestalt laws requires the coconsideration of "gestalt locations" such as infield, contour, and outfield.

12. The single cell research of the neurobiologists established a number of findings that correspond to the predictions of the ETVG: (a) a neuron possesses the same general properties, and shows the same general behavior, as a gestalt factor; (b) cells found in the visual brain that are considered to have certain special visual functions correspond to predicted gestalt factors that have the same, or similar, visual functions; (c) the lowest (five- or six-level) parts of the hierarchies, in which the function- ally corresponding cells and gestalt factors are ordered, correspond to each other as well; (d) the shape of a cell's receptive field is the same as, or does not contradict, the predicted shape of the receptive field of the ETVG factor that corresponds to the cell.

13. Because every level of the gestalt factor hierarchy is formed by a combination of factors located at the next lower level, the factors of any level need a greater threshold to be actualized than the factors at the next lower level. This leads to the prediction that a percept functionally develops itself through the level by level actualization of the factor hierarchy, i.e. "from the bottom up", primarily with increasing magnitude of the sensory stimulus or the amount of attention. This functional percept genesis must have a phenomenally appearing percept genesis as its depen- dent correlate, which shows a series of percepts with increasing complexity (differentiation and enrichment), according to the consecutive introduction of new, higher-level qualities into the percept. On the other hand, there must be a counterprocess, "actual lysis", in which the actualization of the gestalt factor hierarchy decreases "from the top down" and thus leads to a dedifferentiation of the percept when the magnitude of the sensory stimulus or the amount of attention decreases.

14. Such percept-genetic ("actual-genetic") series of percepts had already been found in 1925, but were not investigated further.  They show both that a great number of different phenomenal configurations are possible on the basis of one and the same stimulus and that the sequence in which these configurations appear follows the hierarchical sequence in which the gestalt factors are actualized. The ETVG is the only theory able to account for these two groups of unknown fundamental visual facts.

15. I found another method to produce visual actual geneses and actual lyses: the use of negative afterimages. Afterimages have been known since Aristotle. But only little research on after- images has been done until today, and predominantly simple stimuli were used; afterimages of more complex stimuli have never systematically been investigated. I began such research; in this book 72 different negative afterimages are depicted that were received from a single inspection figure (the "ring with cross"). They show consecutive stages in actual-lytic and actual- genetic processes, which can be accounted for using the ETVG.

16. Furthermore, I investigated visual extrasensory perception using a new method, and systematically collected a great number of visual extrasensory percepts of several objects (one of them the "ring with cross"), and compared them with the great number of sensory percepts of the same objects. This kind of systematical research has never been done before. The results of my own qualitative and quantitative investigations are as follows: "clairvoyant images" clearly look like negative afterimages of the same target with on average less differentiation. This shows that extrasensory information, although para-ocularly and thus "anomally" received, is processed in quite a "normal" way, i.e. as sensorily received information which is individually described by the ETVG.

17. The fruitfulness of the ETVG is founded on new basic assumptions, the most important of which is the outgrowing of the ontological-dualistic concept of reality into a ontological- trialistic concept.  In  contrast  to the dualistic view,  according to which there are two spheres of being,matter and consciousness, in the ETVG it is assumed that there is also a third sphere of being, the "functional sphere" that lies "between" matter and consciousness. No (traditionally dualistic) theory was ever successful in accounting for visual phenomena. Each of them had to consider (conscious) phenomena to be founded on material processes, but were not able to describe the "how". The ETVG, however, is able to do so: it describes the relationships between, first, matter and its (physical) functions; second, the physical functions and the psychic (gestalt) functions; and third, the gestalt functions (gestalt factors) and the gestalt qualities.

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