August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
Part-whole relationships in vision science: A brief historical review and conceptual analysis
Author Affiliations
  • Johan Wagemans
    Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, University of Leuven
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 1381. doi:
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      Johan Wagemans; Part-whole relationships in vision science: A brief historical review and conceptual analysis. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):1381.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Exactly 100 years ago, Wertheimer’s paper on phi motion (1912) effectively launched the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology. Arguing against elementalism and associationism, they maintained that experienced objects and relationships are fundamentally different from collections of sensations. Going beyond von Ehrenfels’s notion of Gestalt qualities, which involved one-sided dependence on sense data, true Gestalts are dynamic structures in experience that determine what will be wholes and parts. From the beginning, this two-sided dependence between parts and wholes was believed to have a neural basis. They spoke of continuous “whole-processes” in the brain, and argued that research needed to try to understand these from top (whole) to bottom (parts ) rather than the other way around. However, Gestalt claims about global precedence and configural superiority are difficult to reconcile with what we now know about the visual brain, with a hierarchy from lower areas processing smaller parts of the visual field and higher areas responding to combinations of these parts in ways that are gradually more invariant to low-level changes to the input and corresponding more closely to perceptual experience. What exactly are the relationships between parts and wholes then? In this talk, I will briefly review the Gestalt position and analyse the different notions of part and whole, and different views on part-whole relationships maintained in a century of vision science since the start of Gestalt psychology. This will provide some necessary background for the remaining talks in this symposium, which will all present contemporary views based on new findings.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012


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