Excerpt from
L.Kleine-Horst: Empiristic theory of visual gestalt perception. Hierarchy and interactions of visual functions. (ETVG), Part 10, I

General difficulties in reading this book 

I have received a number of critical comments from psychologists on the ETVG. None of them could improve my theory, but some of them led me to understand my own theory a little bit better. Most of them, however, have astonished and perplexed me. Although I suspected there would be some difficulties in reading my theory, I nevertheless had not fully recognized the size of the problem scientists would have in understanding the new perspectives. To me the ETVG has such clear logic, that particularly scientists should be able to understand most of it. When I analyzed the comments, however, I developed a feeling for the kind of difficulties "differently thinking people" might have when reading my book. In the following, the five Berlin gestaltists who are quoted will be referred to with the abbreviations B1 to B5, and the two anonymous referees with Ref 1 and Ref 2.

 In 1963, B2 expressed his "respect for the intellectual effort" that underlies my work. But

Which is either a severe condemnation of the theory or an admission of having understood nothing. As B2 understood, and thus accepted, only the observations, he seemed to feel that the theory has been built up around these observations. Only if this were true, would his following criticism make sense: as he wrote, he furthermore missed a foundation for both, the necessity to return to the constancy hypothesis and the empiristic account of the entire gestalt perception in my actual observations. But I never actually claimed to have derived the hypotheses from my own observations. These are not the foundation of the theory, on the contrary: primarily, I created a theory consisting of a number of hypotheses and laws that fit to facts found by the Berlin and Leipzig gestaltists; my own observations were aimed at additionally demonstrating and justifying these hypotheses and laws. I demonstrated my observations using a number of figures, such as Figs 7,8,9,12,13 in Part 2. 

Two further gestaltists (B4 and Sander) spoke of difficulties, mentioning the great number of factors, or symbols. I must admit, that the formalization in the 1961 manuscript was more difficult to understand than in this book. However, the human mind is capable of thinking, i.e. dealing with symbols; one must only comemorize their meanings. The current formalization - using symbols, indices, and a special syntax - is very logical, and in most cases easy to "learn". It is, indeed, necessary, as it is impossible to grasp the great complexity of visual perception without the help of a formalized (i.e. symbolized) language. This will particularly become clear in Part 8, when "phrases" have to be built with the help of a certain "syntax" in order to form 324 "gestalt laws", expressed in 1296 "standard notations", plus 1296 further valid notations, which must then  be distinguished from 2592 very similar symbolic expressions that, however, do not form any valid gestalt law. It is not possible to decrease the number of symbols/indices without also diminishing the intelligibility of the theory.

 B5's comment gave me a great deal of food for thought. He could not understand the first two Parts of the ETVG, although he had thought about them for several days. He suggested I should

This criticism puzzled me, since in Chapters I and II of Part 1, I did present the problem, and I did show how to solve it. In Parts 1 and 2, I even solved the fundamental problem of how the static, two- dimensional visual figure/outfield percept is established in great detail. The reason of this extreme non-understanding of B5 (and of others) may be that my approach to the problem's solution, and even more likely the definition of the problem itself, lies far beyond the basic assumptions of the Berlin gestaltists. The suggested procedure is indeed how new hypotheses are usually discovered: one is made aware of unsolved problems, by studying the respective literature, for example, and tries to solve one or several of these problems. But I used a different approach because, as a student, I knew neither of the solved nor of the unsolved problems to be found in literature. In 1960/61, I saw Wohlfahrt's actual-genetic series (Fig. 6-4A, Stages 3 to 8), as depicted by Sander (1928), that had been known to a great number of psychologists, particularly visual scientists, for 32 years, but nobody seems to have ever seriously tried to integrate these new facts into a theory. Seeing the series, and "seeing" its course, i.e. the logic in a certain actual-genetic sequence of configurations, was one and the same thing for me. Certainly, when I scrutinized the series more closely, I discovered the intrinsic logic in greater detail (Part 6). When I began writing the German edition of this book in the early eighties, I wanted to begin with the presentation of this series and my interpretation. This would have been a problem-oriented introduction as well. A pre-condition for understanding this interpretation, however, is knowledge of the form factors in operation in this actual genesis, which must then have been previously described (as in Part 5). A pre-condition for understanding the form factors is in turn knowledge of the general properties of a gestalt factor, their informative and formative phenomenal effects, for example, (which are described in Parts 1 and 2). Even in the cases where I was aware of a new problem that resulted from the solution to a previous problem, I would not have been able to describe the new problem without first describing the previous problem and its solution. As one can see: I have encountered many, and at that difficult, didactic problems. My solution to these didactic problems has been: to ignore them, and to present the theory systematically, i.e. starting as far as possible at the beginnings of basic "information processing" and going to its end, i.e. from the factor Pmldt (and its lower-level physical factors), to the factor R. Unfortunately, this procedure can have (but must not) the unpleasant side effect that you will read the first chapters without knowing what is going on. In case, despite all of this, you insist I name the scientific problem I wanted to solve: I sought a plausible theory of visual gestalt perception. And that's it. 

Since some general difficulties in making my writings understandable remain, the criticism of B5 inspired me to both revise the Preface/Introduction and add this Part in which I respond to criticisms that I have received. With this, I hope to heighten both the intelligibility of the theory and readers' motivation to grapple with it. The final means of achieving this aim has been to point out, in the beginning (Part 0), the clear advantages of the "new" ETVG gestalt psychology over the "old" Berlin gestalt psychology in accounting for visual perception. Furthermore, I added an epilogue, in which I tried to make the theory understood as a candidate for a new "paradigm" in the sense of Kuhn (1970). 

All of the aforementioned revisions of this text, which required more than a year to complete, were made possible only because the Berlin gestaltist B5, and he alone, indicated to me why the theory was so difficult to comprehend - a suggestion that I, in turn, could finally also understand.

Tragically, it was just this suggestion that led to a thorough critique of Berlin gestalt psychology. I'm afraid its followers will not be amused.

back to contents