Open Peer Commentaries

for the paper

Gestalt Isomorphism and the Primacy of the Subjective Conscious Experience: A Gestalt Bubble Model

Steven Lehar

Behavioral & Brain Sciences 26(4) 375-444.

See also: Author's Response to Commentaries for author's general response.

The Commentaries

With brief paraphrased summaries of the main points.

Booth: Phenomenology is art, not psychological or neural science
"There are well known conceptual reasons why no such purely introspective approach can be productive."
Author's Response to Booth

Dresp: Double, double, toil and trouble - fire burn, theory bubble!
"As a scientific approach to the problem of consciousness, the Gestalt Bubble fails for several reasons."
Author's Response to Dresp

Duch: Just Bubbles?
"The Bubble Gestalt perceptual modeling disconnected from neuroscience has no explanatory power."
Author's Response to Duch

Fox: Empirical Constraints For Perceptual Modeling
"Much of the argument is based on setting up theoretical straw men and ignores much known perceptual and brain science."
Author's Response to Fox

Grossberg: Linking Visual Cortex to Visual Perception: An alternative to the Gestalt Bubble.
"Lehar's lively discussion builds on a critique of neural models of vision that is incorrect in its general and specific claims."
Author's Response to Grossberg

Gunderson: Steven Lehar's Gestalt Bubble Model of Visual Experience: The embodied percipient, emergent holism, and the ultimate question of consciousness.
"Aspects of an example of simulated shared subjectivity can be used to support [the Gestalt Bubble model] and triangulate in a novel way the so-called 'hard problem' of consciousness which Lehar wishes to 'sidestep'".
Author's Response to Gunderson

Hochberg: Backdrop, Flat and Prop: The stage for active perceptual inquiry.
"Lehar's revival of phenomenology, and his all-encompassing bubble model, are ambitious and stimulating. I offer an illustrated caution about phenomenology, a more fractured alternative to his bubble model, and two lines of phenomena that may disqualify his isomorphism."
Author's Response to Hochberg

Hoffman: Does perception replicate the external world?
"Vision scientists standardly assume that the goal of vision is to recover properties of the external world. ... I propose instead ... that the goal of vision is simply to provide a useful user interface to the external world."
Author's Response to Hoffman

Laming: Psychological relativity
"'Psychological relativity' means that 'an observation is a relationship between the observer and the event observed'. ... That distinction, followed through, turns Lehar's discourse inside-out."
Author's Response to Laming

Lloyd: Double Trouble for Gestalt Bubbles
"The 'Gestalt Bubble' model of Lehar is not supported by the evidence offered. The author invalidly concludes that spatial properties in experience entail an explicit volumetric spatial representation in the brain."
Author's Response to Lloyd

Luccio: Isomorphism and representationalism
"The vision that Lehar has about isomorphism in Gestalttheorie as representational is not adequate. The main limit of Lehar's model derives from this misunderstanding of the relation between phenomenal and physiological levels."
Author's Response to Luccio

MacKay: The Unified Electrical Field
"The electrophysiological perspective presents an electrical field that is continuous throughout the body. That there is indeed an isomorphic mapping between the detailed holistic patterns in this field and perception seems certain."
Author's Response to MacKay

Markovic: The Soap bubble: phenomenal state or perceptual system dynamics?
"The Gestalt bubble model describes a subjective phenomenal experience (what is seen), without taking into account the extra-phenomenal constraints of perceptual experience (why it is seen as it is)."
Author's Response to Markovic

McLoughlin: Bursting the Bubble: Do we need true Gestalt isomorphism?
"If we apply Occam's Razor to this proposal it's possible to contemplate far simpler representations of the world. Such representations have the advantage that they agree with findings in modern neuroscience."
Author's Response to McLoughlin

Randrup: Relations between three-dimensional,volumetric experiences and neural processes: Limitations of materialism
"Lehar writes that sense data, the raw material of conscious experience, are the only thing we can know to actually exist. To me this statement appears as a departure from materialism; actually it is close to the idealist view."
Author's Response to Randrup

Revonsuo: Consciousness as Phenomenal Ether?
"I can only agree with Lehar about the general shape of a proper research strategy for the study of consciousness. As to the metaphysical basis of the research program I have however several reservations about panexperientialism."
Author's Response to Revonsuo

Rosenthal & Visetti: Gestalt bubble and the genesis of space
"Lehar (rightly) insists on the volumetric character of our experience of space. It isn't clear, however, which scientific question Lehar has set out to answer. Does he want to model the constitution of space from a purely phenomenological viewpoint, or does he attempt a free mathematical reconstruction of subjective experience?"
Author's Response to Rosenthal & Visetti

Ross: Neurological models of size scaling
"Lehar argues that a simple neuron doctrine cannot explain perceptual phenomena such as size constancy, but he fails to discuss existing more complex neurological models."
Author's Response to Ross

Schirillo: Spatial Phenomenology Requires Potential Illumination
"Lehar's phenomenological description of space neglects the fact that empty space is actually full of illumination."
Author's Response to Schirillo

Tse: If vision is 'veridical hallucination', what keeps it veridical?
"The visual system has evolved two strategies to anchor itself and correct its errors. One involves completing missing information, the other involves exploiting the physical stability of the environment."
Author's Response to Tse

Velmans: Is the world in the brain, or the brain in the world?
"Lehar argues that the phenomenal world is in the brain, Velmans argues that the brain is in the phenomenal world."
Author's Response to Velmans

Wright: Percepts are selected from nonconceptual sensory fields
"Lehar allows too much to his Direct Realist opponent by using the word 'subjective' of the sensory field. All sensory experience is thoroughly nonconceptual."
Author's Response to Wright

Author's General Response

David Booth

Phenomenology is art, not psychological or neural science


It is tough to relate visual perception or other achievements to physiological processing in the CNS. The diagramatic, algebraic and verbal pictures of how sights seem to this author do not advance understanding of how we manage to see what is in the world. There are well known conceptual reasons why no such purely introspective approach can be productive.

To see something is an achievement. That is to say, the claim to have performed correctly can be tested. Indeed, we can investigate how that task of visual recognition was successfully carried out. We can try to infer the information-transforming (cognitive) processes mediating the performance by varying what is visible and observing changes in response (i.e. doing psychophysics): this is an example of psychological science.

The physical "engineering" of these processes of seeing can also be studied by varying the optical input, but this time observing what is projected onto the retina and activity in the CNS, from the rods and cones to V1 and beyond. Considerable progress has been made in relating cellular neurophysiology to the psychophysics of elementary features of the visible world. It is not so easy to get psychophysical evidence that distinguishes between a cognitive process being in consciousness and transiently out of consciousness (Booth & Freeman 1993), although it is clear than some visual information processing never enters consciousness. When we can't specify a mental process as conscious, there can't be a theory of the neural basis of that process. Lehar's complaint that neuroscience fails to explain visual consciousness is vacuous.

Furthermore, what we know to be the case through use of our senses is a very different kettle of fish from the contents of consciousness, in the sense of how things seem to us while we discount our beliefs about how they actually are. By definition, how things seem can't be checked against how things are. So the systematisation of expressions of subjective experience is an art-form. Lehar's diagrams, his field equations and his verbal exposition are sophisticated elaborations of the sort of thing that I draw when I wake up and try to sketch the visual imagery that I was experiencing as I woke. His and my graphic, algebraic and verbal efforts cannot be wrong or right: they merely express how it appeared to be.

Lehar says that his visual experience is holistic. I can empathise with that impression. Yet also I have visual experiences that are not holistic. I bet that he does too but chooses to ignore them. Any artist may do that, on the grounds that it would spoil the picture or detract from the story. However, that's aesthetics, not science.

I'm not being positivistic. On the contrary, it is Lehar who commits the empiricists' and rationalists' epistemological fallacy of trying to build public knowledge on the basis of impressions or ideas that seem indubitable because they are private and so can't be wrong - but then neither can they be right. Lehar writes: "These phenomena are so immediately manifest in the subjective experience of perception that they need hardly be tested psychophysically" (page 52 of 66). In words of one or two syllables, "What appears seeming to seem in seeing is so clearly clear that there is no need to test it against success at seeing."

Lehar's paper is built on equivocation in use of the word "perception" between the objective achievement and subjective experience. (The word "conscious" in his title is redundant: experiencing subjectively is the same as being conscious.) Like most philosophers, mathematicians and physicists who expatiate on consciousness, he shows no sign of having considered what was shown, and how it was shown, by any psychological experiment on the perceiver's achievement in a visual task. He also ignores the philosophical advances following the later Wittgenstein's debunking 60 years ago of the pervasive fallacy of supposing that when a patch that is red (in the world that we all live in) is seen as red, this is a 'seeming' in another world (Lyons, 1983). Worse, since these appearances, subjective experiences, conscious qualia or whatever are part of each of us, Lehar (like many) locates them in our heads, or as neurocomputations if we are foolish enough to look for consciousness among the brain cells (Booth, 1978). This is all a big mistake about the grammar of the verb "to seem." When we are viewing something but have reason to doubt that we perceive it correctly, then we may retreat to a claim that it seems to be so. We are not looking at a world inside our minds; we are having problems in seeing the colour of the patch out there.

The grammar of 'seeming as though' or 'seeing as' also shows what the subjective experience is isomorphic to. The syntax of 'as' is the figure of speech known as simile. Subjective visual experience is holistic, at least at times, because the world in which we operate is 'holistic' in its optics; black holes are pretty uncommon in everyday life. Lehar actually says this on page 10 of 66, although he has hidden the point from himself by a tangle of the conceptual mistakes that Wittgenstein (1953) cut through. "The perceptual experience of a triangle cannot be reduced to just three phenomenal values but is observed as a fully reified triangular structure that spans a specific portion of perceived space." Delete the reference to a contrary and all the redundancies and we get, "The perceptual experience of a triangle ... is ... as [sic] ... triangular ..."

Furthermore, a triangle is not a triangle in any world unless it "emerges" "whole," "real," and "invariant." If a Gestalt is taken to be a subjective experience (rather than a perceptual performance), then it is consciousness simply of "seeing the world as it is."

There is no space in this comment to dissect out the multitudinous errors built on this fundamental misorientation. Suffice to deal with the absurdity of Figure 2. Lehar shows phenomenological slapdash, if not downright dishonesty. You know and I know that he has never looked one way down a road at the very same moment as looking the other way. So it is rank self-deception to write (on page 21 of 66) that "the two sides of the road must in some sense be [subjectively] perceived as being bowed" as in the diagram. His Bubble bursts.


Booth, D.A. (1978). Mind-brain puzzle versus mind-physical world identity. Commentary on R. Puccetti & R.W. Dykes: Sensory cortex and the mind-brain problem. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 348-349.

Booth, D.A., & Freeman, R.P.J. (1993). Discriminative measurement of feature integration in object recognition. Acta Psychologica 84, 1-16. Lyons, W. (1986). The disappearance of introspection. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Blackwell, Oxford.

Birgitta Dresp

Double, double, toil and trouble - fire burn, theory bubble!


Lehar's Gestalt Bubble model introduces a computational approach to holistic aspects of 3-D scene perception. The model as such has merit because it manages to translate certain Gestalt principles of perceptual organization into formal codes, or algorithms. The mistake made in this target article is to present the model within the theoretical framework of the question of consciousness. As a scientific approach to the problem of consciousness, the Gestalt Bubble fails for several reasons. This commentary addresses three of these : 1) the terminology surrounding the concept of consciousness is not rigorously defined, 2) it is not made evident that 3-D scene perception requires consciousness at all, and 3) it is not clearly explained by which mechanism(s) the "picture-in-the-head", supposedly represented in the brain, would be made available to different levels of awareness or consciousness.

In this target article we are told that "...the most serious indictment of contemporary neurophysiological theories is that they offer no hint of an explanation for the subjective experience of visual consciousness...". Lehar attacks "good old" Neuron Doctrine by stating that, as a theoretical approach to visual perception, it has reached a dead end because he (Lehar) finds it ..."hard to imagine assembly of independent processors (neurons) could account for the holistic emergent properties of perception identified by Gestalt theory". He then proposes his own doctrine, the Gestalt Bubble Model. The Gestalt Bubble is presented as a computational approach to the perceptual representation of 3-D visual space using a volumetric matrix of dynamic elements, each of which can exist in one of several states: transparent for the representation of void space, opaque-coplanar for the representation of smooth surfaces, opaque-orthogonal for the representation of corners, and opaque-occlusion for the representation of surface edges. The supposed transformation of the physical world outside by a perceptual process taking place inside the brain is defined as the turning on of the appropriate pattern of elements in the volumetric matrix of the model in response to visual input. The Gestalt Bubble thereby replicates the three-dimensionality of visual objects as they are experienced in the subjective percept. The principal merit of this model resides in the fact that it translates some major Gestalt laws of visual perception such as emergence, reification, multistability, and invariance into computational codes.

What the author fails to make clear in his target article is the supposed link between his Gestalt Bubble model and general theories of consciousness. All he does here is demonstrate that modern computer technology produces algorithms that allow us to translate the laws of perceptual organization formulated in Gestalt theory into formal codes within the framework of a computational model. What the model has to do with consciousness, however, remains totally unclear. Neither the fact that we are able to consciously experience and describe 3-D shapes as entities and wholes, nor the fact that we can find laws or codes describing how these emerge perceptually, implies or proves that consciousness is necessary to see and move around in 3-D space. In addition, while Lehar seems to imply that his Gestalt Bubble provides a ready model of what he refers to as visual consciousness, he fails to provide clear definitions of what we are supposed to understand by visual consciousness, phenomenal awareness, subjective perceptual experience, or consciousness in general. In the title of the target article, he uses the term "subjective perceptual consciousness". Does this suggest that there should be an objective perceptual consciousness as well?

Moreover, the author readily assumes the existence of a "visual consciousness" as a particular form of consciousness. This assumption needs to be justified. How would a visual consciousness operate in comparison to an auditory, tactile, or olfactory consciousness, for example? In fact, by using ambiguous terminology in his text (terminological danglers ?), switching readily from one level of explanation to another, the author fails to convince his readers that he knows what he is talking about when he discusses the question of consciousness. Moreover, the fundamental difference between Lehar's "picture-in-the-head" model and the concept of isomorphism from classic Gestalt theory is not discussed in a satisfactory manner. After a lengthy introduction that confronts the reader with odds and ends of numerous general theories of mind and consciousness, the author, all of a sudden, pops up his own version of the Gestalt hypothesis of isomorphism by suggesting that we see the outside world as we do because that is, and has to be, the way the world is represented in the brain. This "picture-in-the-head" view goes far beyond the classic Gestalt concept of isomorphism because it assumes not only a functional, but also a structural correspondence between the visual percept and its brain representation. It is introduced here as the only rightful answer to Koffka's question "why do we see things as we do?" ; the original Gestalt viewpoints (e.g. von Ehrenfels, 1890, Metzger, 1936, Kohler, 1961, among others) on isomorphism are not discussed.

Interestingly, the author seems to have overlooked that his "picture-in-the-head" hypothesis (structural isomorphism) stands or falls on the validity of the assumption that one of the key principles formulated by Gestalt theory, that of the common fate of parts (Ganzbestimmtheit der Teile, Metzger, 1936), reflects the result of a neurophysiological mechanism. In the early sixties, some psychophysicists questioned the neurophysiologcial validity of precisely this principle of perceptual organization. Pritchard (1961) presented figures as stabilized images on the retina and showed that the constituent elements of these figures disappeared from phenomenal awareness one by one, not all at once as the principle of common fate of parts would predict if it reflected the result of a neurosensory mechanism (see also Pritchard, Heron, & Hebb, 1961). In any case, even if the "picture-in-the-head" view could be proven right, Lehar would still have to come up with an explanation of the mechanism(s) by which the picture in the head is made available to consciousness. Also, a rigorous distinction between "awareness", like awareness of the emergent properties of a visual object at a given moment, for example, and "consciousness", like the consciousness of being aware of the emergent properties of a visual object and its significance within a general context, for example, would then have to be made.

Lehar writes that it is of central importance for psychology to address what "all that neural wetware" is supposed to do, and to determine which of the competing hypotheses (presented in the introduction of his target article) "reflects the truth". Who said that science has to bother with metaphors such as "truth" ? As far as I understand it, science is all about facts and measures, collected within a specific context of boring constraints, usually called " conditions ", and therefore inevitably requires a diversity of methods and hypotheses. The concept of " truth " does not appear to be of much use here. Are we not often enough reminded to take care not to get trapped by the metaphors we use to construct hypotheses and explanations ? The overwhelming "Unsumme" (as defined by Metzger, 1936) of bits and pieces of philosophy and phenomenological "brain teasers" we are confronted with in this target article somehow shows how easily we can end up like the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Goethe's poem, who tries all sorts of curses and invokes all sorts of spirits, but is finally unable to take control.

In conclusion, whether theories based on, or derived from, the Neuron Doctrine will ultimately fail to provide a satisfactory approach to the question of consciousness remains to be seen. The Gestalt Bubble model, as a scientific approach to consciousness, can be filed DOA (Dead On Arrival). *after Shakespeare, Macbeth

Author's Response

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Kohler, I. (1961) Interne und externe Organisation in der Wahrnehmung. Psychologische Beiträge (Festschrift für W. Köhler), 6, 426-438. Metzger, W. (1936) Gesetze de Sehens. W. Kramer, Frankfurt/Main.

Pritchard, R. M. (1961) Stabilized images on the retina. Scientifc American, 204, 72-78. Pritchard, R. M., Heron, W., & Hebb, D. O. (1961) Visual perception approached by the method of stabilized images. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 14, 67-77.

von Ehrenfels, C. (1890) Üeber Gestaltqualitäten. Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 14, 249-292.

Wlodzislaw Duch

Just bubbles?


Lehar misrepresented neuron doctrine and indirect realism. His conclusions on consciousness are unjustified. The Bubble Gestalt perceptual modeling disconnected from neuroscience has no explanatory power.

1. Perception has not evolved for our enjoyment, it serves action, exploration of the world (O'Regan, Nöe 2001) Although the richness of visual perception may partially be an illusion, sensory data should elicit brain states that reflect important features of perceptual organization. Such functional representation would be very useful, facilitating information retrieval from visual and auditory cortex, stored in attractor neural networks after termination of direct sensory inputs (Amit 1994). Persistent brain activity may be responsible for visual imagery, filling in, illusory contours and other such phenomena. This internal representation, being a physical state of the brain, is focused and interpreted by other brain areas, gating it to the working memory and facilitating conscious perception. It is constructed from sparse information obtained from eye fixations between saccades (as is evident in the change blindness experiments, O'Regan, Nöe 2001), and thus may not be so faithful and rich as it seems. Since for many people endowed with visual imagination (individual variance seems to be quite large in this respect) visual experiences are rich and vivid, filling in of missing information must be strong.

2. Construction of the inner perspective is a difficult task. Lehar does not even attempt to enumerate the dimensions required for perceptual modeling that could replace (or at least complement) neural modeling. I have argued myself (Duch 1997) that an intermediate level of cognitive modeling should be useful. It should represent mental events in a way that is closer to our inner perspective, acceptable to psychologist, but also should facilitate reduction, at least in principle, to the neural level. Complex neural systems reveal emergent processes (responsible, as Lehar has noticed, for Gestalt phenomena), requiring a higher level of description characterized by new laws and phenomena. The usual approximation to neural activity misses the perceptual level by going from states of recurrent networks (such as Grossberg's adaptive resonant states, Grossberg 1995), to states of finite automata (cf. Parks et al. 1998 for neural models in psychiatry). A shortcut from neuroscience via neural networks to behavior is satisfactory only to behaviorists. Mind states and mental events may emerge as "a shadow of neurodynamics" in psychological or perceptual spaces (Duch 1997). This is in accord with ideas of Shepard (1987, 1994), who believed that universal laws of psychology may be found in appropriate spaces. Psychological spaces are spanned by subjective dimensions (such as color, shape, and motion), and one may use them to explain subjective perception and to talk about mental events implemented at the neurodynamical level. Therefore I sympathize with Lehar's goal, although details of his proposal are not satisfactory.

3. Trivializing the "neuron doctrine" Lehar writes about neural networks as the "quasi- independent processors", and "an assembly of independent processors". The whole essence of neural networks is in the interaction of their elements, cooperative computational abilities that facilitate their holistic emergent properties. Recurrent neural networks are certainly not "the atomistic feed-forward model of neurocomputation" (Parks et al. 1998). The Neuron Doctrine paradigm has been completely misinterpreted in the target article.

4. The arguments evoked against indirect realism are strange to say the least. Lehar mixes mental and physical levels freely, writing statements like "the world that appears to be external to our head is actually inside our head", and "beyond those perceived surfaces is the inner surface of your true physical skull encompassing all that you perceive". How can physical scull encompass non-physical, inner world? "The world inside the head" is a metaphor, and it does not make much sense to invert it, unless one believes that there is some kind of physical world squeezed inside the scull.

Indirect realism claims that we perceive and comment upon states of our own brain. These states reflect properties of the environment, but interpretation of the spatial structure of the states of visual system has nothing to do with their physical location. There is nothing strange about it, as there is nothing strange in transmission of the voice and images via wires and radio waves. The spatial world inside the head is there in the same sense as panoramic image in the integrated circuit of a computer graphic chip. Subjective reversal of a multistable percept follows the change of neural dynamics. It has to be experienced vividly as an inversion of a perceptual data structure, since visual experiences are a reflection of neural dynamics - how else could changes of visual cortex states be experienced?

5. It is certainly not clear "that the most fundamental principles of neural computation and representation remain to be discovered". Churchland (1984) argued against it already 20 years ago, and since that time computational neuroscience has made a lot of progress. It may very well be that Hebbian learning is the only fundamental principle that is needed and that sufficiently complex models of the brain will be able to simulate its emergent functions.

6. It is quite probable that "our own conscious qualia evolved from those of our animal ancestors". But certainly the "conclusion is that all matter and energy have some kind of primal proto-consciousness" is not inescapable. In fact I am regularly loosing my consciousness in sleep, while anesthetics and damages to the reticular formation lead to coma, obliterating consciousness. Complex organization of matter is not sufficient for consciousness. Instead of looking for conditions necessary for manifestation of consciousness - a fruitful way is to use here a contrastive approach between perception and reception (Taylor 1999) - Lehar goes down the beaten track of thinking about consciousness as some kind of a substance that is present in all matter, although sometimes in watered down form. Conclusion of this line of reasoning is absurd: proto- consciousness of soap bubbles.

Of course since the concept of consciousness is not defined one may try to extend it to all matter, but taking about stomachs being "conscious" leaves no semantic overlap with the word "conscious" applied to a baby, or to a cat. If consciousness is a function, and plays functional role, as Lehar seems to believe ("It seems that conscious experience has a direct functional role"), the inescapable conclusion is rather that not all brains are equal. Language is unique to humans, and even though one can extend the concept of language to some more primitive forms of communication, interaction between internal organs of the body, or message passing between components of a computer system, is not the same "language" as natural languages. The difference between a "field" in agriculture and "field" in physics is comparable to the difference between animal "consciousness", and "consciousness" of a soap bubble due to the physical forces that determine its shape. We should not be deceived by words.

7. It remains to be seen if the main contribution of the target article, the Gestalt Bubble model, will be useful for understanding, or even for a description of perception. The goal of science is not modeling per se, but rather explaining and understanding phenomena. Modeling perception should not become an exercise in computer graphics, creating volumetric representations of space and objects. Bubbles of neural activity, as presented by Taylor (1999), have real explanatory power and are amenable to empirical tests. Perceptual modeling proposed by Lehar promises a new language to describe high-level visual perception. Any language that is useful in design and analysis of experiments must reflect more basic neural processes. Nothing of that sort has been demonstrated so far and it is doubtful that Gestalt Bubble model may explain observations that have not been hidden in its premises.

Author's Response

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Amit, D.J. (1994). The Hebbian paradigm reintegrated: Local reverberations as internal representations. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18: 617-626

Churchland, P. M. (1984) Matter and Consciousness: A contemporary introduction to the philosophy of mind. MIT Press.

Duch, W. (1997) Platonic model of mind as an approximation to neurodynamics. In: Brain-like computing and intelligent information systems. Eds. S-i. Amari, N. Kasabov. Springer, Singapore, chap. 20: 491-512

Grossberg, S. (1995) The attentive brain. American Scientist 83: 483-449

O'Regan, J.K., Noë, A. (2001) A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24: 883-917

Parks R.W, Levine D.S, Long D, red. (1998): Fundamentals of Neural Network Modeling. MIT Press

Shepard, R.N. (1987) Toward a universal law of generalization for psychological science. Science 237, 1317-1323

Shepard, R.N. (1994) Perceptual-Cognitive Universals as Reflections of the World. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 1, 2-28 (1994); reprinted in BBS Special Issue 24(3) on the work of Roger Shepard (2001)

Taylor, J.G. (1999) The Race for Consciousness. MIT Press.

Charles R. Fox, O.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.O.

Empirical Constraints For Perceptual Modeling


This new heuristic model of perceptual analysis raises interesting issues but, in the end, falls short. Its arguments are more in the Cartesian than Gestalt tradition. Much of the argument is based on setting up theoretical straw men and ignores much known perceptual and brain science. Arguments are reviewed in light of known physiology and traditional Gestalt theory.

Dr. Lehar's paper purports to present a new model of perception based on Gestalt principles. He raises some interesting issues but in the end, falls short of his claims. His heuristic model is more Cartesian than Gestalt and much of his argument is based on setting up straw men. He ignores much of what is known in perceptual and brain science. I will confine myself to these issues though there are others.

Dr. Lehar maintains the Cartesian mind-body distinction and assumes internal representation as a requirement. He also ignores the distinction between conscious perception as active construction and the perception/action continuums implied by physiology and direct perception data. Dr. Lehar recycles the Cartesian machine-like body now inhabited by the 'ghosts' of mental representations and computations. This dualism is at odds with traditional Gestalt theory (Köhler, 1969). The target paper ignores the contemporary distinction between a) perceptual mechanisms that sub-serve action and b) cognitive mechanism of recall and analysis and suggests the latter as the sole perceptual mechanism. This emphasis stems from his belief that "... introspection is as valid a method of investigation as is neurophysiology ..." This is not the position of traditional Gestalt theory that states "... a satisfactory functional interpretation of perception can be given only in terms of biological theory." And warned "The value of biological theories in psychology is not generally recognized." Gestalt psychology adopted the program of building bridges between psychological rules and the activities of the central nervous system (Köhler, 1940, 1947, 1961). Köhler recognized this task as "beyond present technical possibilities." But these purely technical limits are being overcome today yet the target paper ignores a large body of empirical physiological. While we should not limit out theories to physiology, theory must account for known physiology. The target model does not. As a specific example, the model ignores the important role of eye movements even though they were of concern to the early Gestalt theorists (Koffka, 1935) and are a critical part of contemporary perceptual theory (Ebenholtz, 2001). More generally, there is ubiquitous evidence collected over many decades for the important role of physiological systems in perception. Simply consider the differential perceptions resulting from anatomical and physiological states of sensory endorgans. Visual perception in the myopic, dark- adapted, or macular degeneration eye is more influenced by the anatomy and physiology then by computations on a mental image.

Dr. Lehar's emphasizes computational neuroscience at the expense of known physiology despite his assertion that "... most fundamental principle of neural computation and representation remain to be discovered ..." This leads to oversimplification to the point of error. For example, he dismisses direct perception because "No plausible mechanism has ever been identified neurophysiologically which exhibits ... (certain properties)" and "all that computational wetware" must serve some function. Yet, there is growing physiological evidence to the contrary. As I discussed elsewhere (Fox, 1999) area MST of monkey (similar to area V5 in humans) show cell that are responsive to 3D motion information that is characteristic of the type of flow field emphasized by direct perception theory (Duffy & Wurtz, 1995, 1997a, 1997b). More recently, direct perception theorists have examined the relation of neural information systems to Tau, a property of environmental optics (Grealy, 2002; Lee, Georgopoulos, Pepping, & Lee, 2002). Thus, contemporary physiology supports an emerging model suggestive of an environmentally adapted physiology rather than the metaphor of representational/computational 'wetware'.

Dr Lehar further misrepresents direct perception theory as describing perception "... as if perceptual processing occurs somehow out in the world itself rather than as a computation in the brain..." Using the term perceptual processing or computation is a serious misrepresentation of direct perception (Gibson, 1966, 1979) regardless of where one attributes it. Gibson contends that the perceptual system is sensitive to "affordances" that are naturally occurring and require no processing but rather are directly perceived The exact characteristics of affordances are disputed but a recent paper (Chemero, in press) provides a critical analysis and comprehensive definition of the concept of affordances and make it very clear that affordances are perceived relations that are dynamic but not computed on. This is consistent with the physiology described above.

Gestalt Psychology is also misrepresented as a representational/computational approach. I content that a key, perhaps the key, insight of Gestalt theory is that adequate knowledge of wholes, such as objects, comes from observing wholes. Such understanding does not come from a 'humpty dumpty' approach that tries to put the object 'back together again' through computation. The target model is reductionist/empiristic and, as such, contrary to Gestalt Theory (Koffka, 1935; Köhler, 1947). The relevant properties of things are not computational properties superimposed on the object system but rather the intrinsic relational properties within the object and between the object and the perceiver/actor (Köhler, 1947). For example, Köhler certainly did not suggest that perception is a mental computation when he wrote "While climbing once in the Alps I beheld ... a big dark cloud ... nothing could be more sinister and more threatening. ... the menace was certainly in the cloud." The menace stems not from computations on mental images but from physiological sensitivity to relations among environmental physical energies and between these relations and the state system of the observer/actor. I suggest a dynamic, person-environmental mechanisms rather than internal representation and computations This is consistent with the Gestalt statement "... rules in which we formulate (functional, psychological) relationships imply occurrences of certain functions in a realm that is surely not the phenomenal realm"(Köhler, 1940).

A final, critical point concerns isomorphism. Isomorphic relations are ubiquitous so one needs to be specific. Gestalt Psychophysical Isomorphism is a hypothesis that rejects Cartesian dualism and is informed by physiology (Köhler, 1969). Dr. Lehar, using a digital computer metaphor, suggests, a point-to-point isomorphism between the internal image and external objects/space. However this is not supported by physiology. Cells in the supplementary eye field of the monkey show firing patterns(Olson & Gettner, 1995) that do not encode visual space in any 1-to-1 manner. Rather, they incorporate higher dimensions of information such as attention or purpose (Fox, 1999). Thus, even if we accept isomorphic, internal representations, there is neurophysiologic evidence that such representations are more complex than suggested in Dr. Lehar's model.

The target model does not accomplish its ambitious goals of presenting a modern Gestalt perceptual model. A more fruitful heuristic for understanding perception is a physiology that has evolved a sensitivity to meaningful environmental relational information or, as suggested by Clark, one that represents action-oriented systems (Clark, 1998).

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Chemero, A. (in press). An outline of a theory of affordances. Ecological Psychology.

Clark, A. (1998). Being There: Putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Duffy, C., & Wurtz, R. (1995). Response of monkey MST neurons to optic flow stimuli with shifted centers of motion. Journal of Neuroscience, 15(7), 5192-5208.

Duffy, C., & Wurtz, R. (1997a). Medial superior temporal area neurons respond to speed patterns in optic flow. Journal of Neuroscience, 17(8), 2839-2851.

Duffy, C., & Wurtz, R. (1997b). Planar directional contributions to optic flow responses in MST neurons. Journal of Neurophysiology, 77(2), 782-796.

Ebenholtz, S. M. (2001). Oculomotor Systems and Perception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fox, C. R. (1999). Special senses 3: The visual system. In H. Cohen (Ed.), Neuroscience for Rehabilitation (2 ed., pp. 169-194). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Williams.

Gibson, J. J. (1966). The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Grealy, M. (2002). Closing gaps: Can the generalized intrinsic ?-guide model provide a unified account of brain and behavior? Paper presented at the 7th European workshop on ecological psychology, Bendor Island (France).

Koffka, K. (1935). Principles of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. Köhler, W. (1940). Dynamics in Psychology. New York: Liveright Publishing.

Köhler, W. (1947). Gestalt Psychology. New York: Liveright Publishing.

Köhler, W. (1961). Gestalt psychology today. In M. Henle (Ed.), Documents of Gestalt Psychology (pp. 1-15). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Köhler, W. (1969). The Task of Gestalt Psychology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lee, D., Georgopoulos, A., Pepping, G.-J., & Lee, T. M. (2002). Information for movement guidance in the nervous system. Paper presented at the 7th European workshop on ecological psychology, Bendor Island (France).

Olson, C., & Gettner, S. (1995). Object-centered direction selectivity in the macaque supplementary eye field. Science, 269, 985-988.


Manuscript preparation was partially supported by a grant to the author from the Franklin & Marshall College Office of the Provost.

Stephen Grossberg

Linking Visual Cortex to Visual Perception: An alternative to the Gestalt Bubble.


Lehar's lively discussion builds on a critique of neural models of vision that is incorrect in its general and specific claims. He espouses a Gestalt perceptual appoach, rather than one consistent with the "objective neurophysiological state of the visual system" (p. 1). Contemporary vision models realize his perceptual goals and also quantitatively explain neurophysiological and anatomical data.

Lehar describes a "serious crisis" (p. 1), "an impasse" and a "theoretical dead end" (p.2) in contemporary models of vision and advances as a possible alternative his Gestalt Bubble approach "which is unlike any algorithm devised by man" (p. 2). He also claims that "Gestalt aspects of perception have been largely ignored" (p. 2) by neural models of vision and then goes on to describe presumed dichotomies between equally desperate attempts to understand how the brain sees. Lehar particularly comments about modeling work by my colleagues and myself, noting that "the most serious limitiation of Grossberg's that, curiously, Grossberg...did not extend their goal to...three-dimensional spatial perception [and] no longer advocated explicit spatial filling-in" (p. 11). He also says it is "impossible for Grossberg's model to represent transparency..." (p. 12). These general and specific claims unfortunately do not accurately represent the published literature about neural vision models. Lehar seems motivated to trash neural vision models because his own model makes no contact with neurophysiological and anatomical data about vision.

In reality, there is an emerging neural theory of 3D vision and figure-ground perception, called FACADE theory, for the multiplexed Form-And-Color-And-DEpth representations that the theory attempts to explain (Grossberg, 1987, 1994, 1997). Lehar refers to my 1994 article in summarizing the deficiencies of our models. However, this article explains many 3D figure-ground, grouping, and filling-in percepts, including transparency, and uses an explicit surface filling-in process. Later work from our group developed these qualitative proposals into quantitative simulations of many 3D percepts, including 3D percepts of daVinci stereopsis, figure-ground separation, texture segregation, brightness perception, and transparency (Grossberg and McLoughlin, 1997; Grossberg and Kelly, 1999; Grossberg and Pessoa, 1998, Kelly and Grossberg, 2000; McLoughlin and Grossberg, 1998).

These studies laid the foundation for a breakthrough in understanding how some of these processes are organized within identified laminar circuits of cortical areas V1 and V2, notably processes of cortical development, learning, attention, and grouping, including Gestalt grouping properties (Grossberg, 1999a; Grossberg, Mingolla, and Ross, 1997; Grossberg and Raizada, 2000; Grossberg and Seitz, 2003; Grossberg and Williamson, 2001; Raizada and Grossberg, 2001, 2003; Ross, Grossberg, and Mingolla, 2000).

This LAMINART model has been joined with the FACADE model to develop a 3D LAMINART model that quantitatively simulates many perceptual data about stereopsis and 3D planar surface perception, and to functionally explain anatomical and neurophysiological cell properties in cortical layers 1, 2/3A, 3B, 4, 5, and 6 of areas V1 and V2 (Grossberg and Howe, 2003; Howe and Grossberg, 2001), and uses 3D figure- ground and filling-in concepts to do so. More recently, the 3D LAMINART model has been generalized to explain how 3D percepts of slanted and curved surfaces and of 2D images are formed, and clarified how 3D grouping and filling-in can occur over multiple depths (Grossberg and Swaminathan, 2003; Swaminathan and Grossberg, 2001). This work includes explanations of how identified cortical cells in cortical areas V1 and V2 develop to enable these representations to form, how 3D Necker cube representations rival bistably through time, how slant aftereffects occur, and how 3D neon color spreading of curved surfaces occurs even at depths which contain no explicit bottom-up inputs. All these studies are consistent with the grouping interpolation properties that Kellman et al (1996) have reported (p. 51), and the 3D grouping properties summarized in Figure 16 that Lehar seems to think cannot yet be neurally explained.

These modeling articles show that many of the perceptual goals of Lehar's Gestalt Bubble model are well-handled by neural models that also provide a detailed account of how the visual cortex generates these perceptual effects. In summary, we do not need analogies like soap bubble (p. 28), or rod-and-rail (p. 32), or different local states to represent opaque or transparent surface properties (p. 35), as Lehar proposes (p. 28). The brain has discovered a much more interesting solution to these problems, which links its ability to develop and learn from the world with its ability to see it.

Lehar makes many other claims that are not supportable by present theoretical knowledge. He claims that "we cannot imagine how contemporary concepts of neurocomputation...can account for the properties of perception as observed in visual consciousness [including] hallucinations" (p. 9). Actually, current neural models offer an explicit account of schizophrenic hallucinations (Grossberg, 2000) as manifestations of a breakdown in the normal processes of learning, expectation, attention, and consciousness (Grossberg, 1999b).

Contrary to Lehar's claims on pp. 43-45, recent neural models clarify how the brain learns spatial representations of azimuth, elevation, and vergence (see Figure 14) for purposes of, say, eye and arm movement control (Greve, Grossberg, Guenther, and Bullock, 1993; Guenther, Bullock, Greve, and Grossberg, 1994). Lehar defends "the adaptive value of a neural representation of the external world that could break free of the tissue of the sensory or cortical surface..." (p. 46). Instead, What stream representations of visual percepts should be distinguished from Where stream representations of spatial location, a distinction made manifest by various clinical patients.

Lehar reduces neural models of vision to capacities of computers to include navigation as another area where models cannot penetrate (p. 49). Actually, neural models quantitatively simulate the recorded dynamics of MST cortical cells and the psychophysical reports of navigating humans (Grossberg, Mingolla, and Pack, 1999), contradicting Lehar's claim that "the picture of visual processing revealed by the phenomenological approach is radically different from the picture revealed by neurophysiological studies" (p. 48). In fact, a few known properties of cortical neurons, when interacting together, can generate emergent properties of human navigation.

Lehar ends by saying that "curiously, these most obvious properties of perception have been systematically ignored by neural modelers" (p. 54). Curiously, Lehar has not kept up with the modeling literature that he incorrectly characterizes and criticizes.

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Greve, D., Grossberg, S., Guenther, F., and Bullock, D. (1993). Neural representations for sensory-motor control, I: Head-centered 3-D target positions from opponent eye commands. Acta Psychologica, 82, 115-138.

Grossberg, S. (1987). Cortical dynamics of three-dimensional form, color, and brightness perception, II: Binocular theory. Perception and Psychophysics, 41, 117-158.

Grossberg, S. (1994). 3-D vision and figure-ground separation by visual cortex. Perception and Psychophysics, 55, 48-120.

Grossberg, S. (1997). Cortical dynamics of three-dimensional figure-ground perception of two-dimensional pictures. Psychological Review, 104, 618-658.

Grossberg, S. (1999a). How does the cerebral cortex work? Learning, attention, and grouping by the laminar circuits of visual cortex. Spatial Vision, 12, 163-186.

Grossberg, S. (1999b). The link between brain learning, attention, and consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition, 8, 1-44.

Grossberg, S. (2000). How hallucinations may arise from brain mechanisms of learning, attention, and volition. Journal of the Internationa l Neuropsychological Society, 6, 583- 592.

Grossberg, S. and Howe, P.D.L. (2003). A laminar cortical model of stereopsis and three-dimensional surface perception. Vision Research, in press.

Grossberg, S. and Kelly, F. (1999). Neural dynamics of binocular brightness perception. Vision Research, 39, 3796-3816.

Grossberg, S., Mingolla, E. and Pack, C. (1999) A neural model of motion processing and visual navigation by cortical area MST. Cerebral Cortex, 9, 878-895.

Grossberg, S., Mingolla, E., and Ross, W.D. (1997). Visual brain and visual perception: How does the cortex do perceptual grouping? Trends in Neurosciences, 20, 106-111.

Grossberg, S. and McLoughlin, N. (1997). Cortical dynamics of 3-D surface perception: Binocular and half-occluded scenic images. Neural Networks, 10, 1583-1605.

Grossberg, S. and Pessoa, L. (1998). Texture segregation, surface representation, and figure-ground separation. Vision Research, 38, 2657-2684. Grossberg, S. and Raizada, R. (2000). Contrast-sensitive perceptual grouping and object- based attention in the laminar circuits of primary visual cortex. Vision Research, 40, 1413-1432.

Grossberg, S. and Seitz, A. (2003). Laminar development of receptive fields, maps, and columns in visual cortex: The coordinating role of the subplate. Cerebral Cortex, in press.

Grossberg, S. and Swamainathan, G. (2003). A laminar cortical model for visual perception of slanted and curved 3D surfaces and 2D images: Development, attention, and bistability. Submitted for publication.

Grossberg, S. and Williamson, J.W. (2001). A neural model of how horizontal and interlaminar connections of visual cortex develop into adult circuits that carry out perceptual grouping and learning. Cerebral Cortex, 11, 37-58.

Guenther, F., Bullock, D., Greve, D., and Grossberg, S. (1994). Neural representations for sensory-motor control, III: Learning a body-centered representation of 3-D target position. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 6, 341-358.

Howe, P.D.L. and Grossberg, S. (2001). Laminar cortical circuits for stereopsis and surface depth perception. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 164.17.

Kelly, F. and Grossberg, S. (2000). Neural dynamics of 3-D surface perception: Figure-ground separation and lightness perception. Perception and Psychophysics, 62, 1596- 1618.

McLoughlin, N. and Grossberg, S. (1998). Cortical computation of stereo disparity. Vision Research, 38, 91-99.

Raizada, R.D.S. and Grossberg, S. (2001). Context-sensitive binding by the laminar circuits of V1 and V2: A unified model of perceptual grouping, attention, and orientation contrast. Visual Cognition , 2001, 8 (3/4/5), 431-466.

Raizada, R.D.S. and Grossberg, S. (2003). Towards a Theory of the Laminar Architecture of Cerebral Cortex: Computational Clues from the Visual System. Cerebral Cortex, 13, 100-113.

Ross, W., Grossberg, S. and Mingolla, E. (2000). Visual cortical mechanisms of perceptual grouping: Interacting layers, networks, columns, and maps. Neural Networks, 13, 571-588.

Swaminathan, G. and Grossberg, S. (2001). Laminar cortical circuits for the perception of slanted and curved 3D surfaces. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 619-49.

Keith Gunderson

Steven Lehar's Gestalt Bubble Model of Visual Experience: The embodied percipient, emergent holism, and the ultimate question of consciousness.


Aspects of an example of simulated shared subjectivity can be used both to support Steven Lehar's remarks on embodied percipients, and triangulate in a novel way the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness which Lehar wishes to "sidestep" but which, given other contentions of his regarding emergent holism, raises questions about whether he has been able or willing to do so.

Steven Lehar's Gestalt Bubble Model (GBM) is said to emphasize the often ignored fact "...that our percept of the world includes a percept of our own body within that world, and it remains at the center of perceived space even as we move about in the external world." (6.4) I offer here a friendly, if folksy, example of a simulation of shared 1st person subjectivity designed to reinforce Lehar's brief but interesting claims concerning the prominence of the embodied percipient in visual perception, but one which leads to other questions regarding his analysis. I have labeled the example elsewhere and with variations The Cinematic Solution to the Other Minds Problem and invoked it earlier against B.F. Skinner's view of subjective privacy and scientific inquiry, also objected to by Lehar for his own reasons.(Gunderson 1971,1984) Suppose a film director wishes to treat us to the subjective perceptual experiences of another person, say Batman, as he gazes on the traffic far below from some window perch. How is this best done? Not, to be sure, by simply showing us the whole superhero perched on the ledge with the traffic moving by on the street below. This would not be anything like being privy to Batman's subjective perceptual experience. It would only amount to our own visual experience coming to include Batman. Instead what is characteristically done is that Batman's filmed body (or at least the better part of it) is somehow (gradually or suddenly) subtracted from the screen in such a manner that we become insinuated into roughly whatever space and orientation Batman's body occupies, and are thereby made party to the visual field (sense of height, traffic passing below, etc.) that we can asssume would be Batman's from that perspective. We cannot literally, of course, occupy (even cinematically) exactly the same space that Batman does - a prerequisite to having his visual experience - but the tricks of the art permit us to enjoy a simulation of such an occupancy. It is the sleight-of-camera with respect to our seemingly ubiquitous embodied presence in visual perception which carry with it tactics for conjuring a sense of the usual "subjectivity barrier" between us and another percipient being breached. And here it occurs in a florid phenomenological manner, obviously different from the "relational information" which can cross that barrier as described by Lehar (5.1). Notice too, that a "pre-set" feature of the whole typical movie experience involves the darkened theatre, and no focused sense of our own body being either present in the audience, or as an inclusion in the screen action. The effect is that where we are not assuming specifically Batman's perspective, we are assuming one belonging to no one in particular, or rather one "belonging" to anyone in the vicinity, as it were.

So the possibility of the cinematic simulation of shared subjectivity seems to presuppose the inclusion of an embodied percipient in our visual perceptions along lines suggested by Lehar. But the apparent friendliness of the example has a complicated provocative side as well. For if what it takes to create the illusion is the clever collapsing of our perspective (or someone else's) into another's, then the epistemic-ontic primacy of the 1st person point of view becomes obvious, and the "hard problem" of consciousness can be rephrased with respect to it this way: there is no analogous thought experiment which would render subjectivity or a point of view (one's own or another's) as being somehow manifest in any set of neurophysiological processes to begin with, such that another consciousness might appear as somehow insinuated into it. But there should be if consciousness is to be modelled (displayed, illustrated ) within any 3rd person physicalistic conceptualization. This rather flat and crude sounding point is not, I think, irrelevant or naively realistic. In a nutshell, that there can be no cinematic type simulation of a solution to the mind-body problem parallel to the other minds one, can be seen to stem from our inability to cling to our sense of experiencing a point of view while being in some neurophysiological locus (however represented).For Lehar the salient residual problem(s) is this: although the contents of all our subjective visual experience for the GBM are subsumed under the subjective, we lack any vivid demonstration of how the having of a 1st person point of view itself which is a prerequisiite to their being any such phenomenal contents, lies within that experience. Simply specifying underlying neurophysiological conditions for consciousness takes us nowhere we haven't already unsatisfactorily been. That there is, and how there is, any locus at all for our perceptions remains unexplained within any micro or macro frame of reference. We think, of course, that the locus of our locus of perceptions lies in some way within the embodied. But to be apprised of all this does not thereby help us to see how any subjective perspective occurs in the first place, or why it is uniquely ours! (Nagel 1965). The problem of explaining it arises independently of whatever type of metaphysical substance the perceiver is believed to be embodied in, even as part of a panpsychic or panexperientialist scheme such as Chalmer's (as in 6.5). And it can be reiterated with respect to any type of substance of any kind of complexity so far we can tell.

Now Lehar wishes to "sidestep" these latter matters by casting the GBM wholly within the subjective. Our perceived worlds - our pattern recognizing activities - including, of course, our total physical natures will then supposedly lie within the range of what his subjectively rendered model is a model of. But I don't see how this really matters even when naïve realism such as Skinner's is deleted from the picture for the (laudable) reasons Lehar provides. One might, of course, wish out of other considerations simply to set the mind-body problem aside, and concentrate on refining taxonomic characterizations within phenomenal experience. (Nagel is cited as having suggested something like this.) (1974) But more puzzling to me is why Lehar's concluding remarks about Koffka's and Kohler's views on emergence (7.1) which he (Lehar) finds more satisfying than Davidson's anomalous monism, isn't a way of directly addressing "the hard problem." The pivotal demystifying image in the "bottom-up" aspect of his Lehar's summary of the mind-body relationship is that of perception characterized along Gestalt lines as being related to neurophysiological processes in the way that a soap bubble holistically emerges from "a multitude of tiny forces acting together simultaneously" to produce a final perceptual state by way of a process that cannot be reduced to simple laws (7.1). But whatever other, if any, purposes that no doubt interesting image may serve, the relationship between bubble and tiny forces is not in any discernible way like whatever the connection between subjective states of conscious perceptual awareness and neurophysiological states is like. Both bubbles and tiny forces are happily in the world, as it were, whether as macro bubblistic ones, or micro force-istic ones or as something like the pop out dog example (7.1). These all involve one set of "out there" aspects being related to other "out there" aspects whether within the subjectivized purview of the GBM or some other one.The bugbear of consciousness still seems to turn on the point that 1st person conscious perspectival states cannot yet be happily even imagined as either macro or micro anythings to begin with, much less as popping up from micro ones.

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Gunderson K. (1970) Asymmetries and Mind-Body Perplexities. Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science, IV 273-309.

Gunderson K. (1984) Skinnerian Privacy and Leibnizian Privacy.BBS December.

Nagel T. (1965) Physicalism. Philosophical Review 74, 339-356.

Nagel, T. (1974) What is It Like to Be a Bat? Philosophical Review 83, 435-450

Julian Hochberg

Backdrop, Flat and Prop: The stage for active perceptual inquiry.


Lehar's revival of phenomenology, and his all-encompassing bubble model, are ambitious and stimulating. I offer an illustrated caution about phenomenology, a more fractured alternative to his bubble model, and two lines of phenomena that may disqualify his isomorphism. I think a perceptual-inquiry model can contend

Steven Lehar's ambitious bubble metaphor is highly stimulating, assuming a unified phenomenal visual world that explains and predicts our perceptual experience. Herewith, a cautionary reminder about phenomenology as such; an alternative to Lehar's specific enclosing bubble model; and two lines of phenomena that Lehar ignores but that are difficult to reconcile with the particular isomorphism he espouses. Phenomenology should indeed guide psychophysics and neurophysiology. But phenomenology is certainly not incontestable. For example, Lehar cites the CIE as a description of phenomenological color space. The Helmholtzean dogma, that the experience of yellow consists of red plus green experiences, lurked within mainstream sensory physiology until after WWII (and was often attributed to the CIE); following Hering instead, Hurvich & Jameson's phenomenologically-guided opponency-oriented psychophysics and model (1955) explained to neurophysiologists what their microelectrodes later revealed, thus changing our view of neurophysiology and liberating our relevant phenomenology. (In fact, Jameson & Hurvich showed later(1967) that the CIE is no phenomenological summary -- two very different colors come out at the same point on the graph.) Phenomenology must be both consulted and contested. Accordingly, a different model follows.

Lehar's tackling of encompassing space is an important step, but other phenomenological details might support a different, less wholistic model - a stage or set, not a bubble: Several quite different aspects of our visual ecology afford distance information. Their zones of efficacy, as in Figure 1A (after Cutting & Vishton, 1995), surely are important for any account of our encompassing visual world. Assume that the furthest zones form an essentially equidistant region like the backdrop on the stage in Figure 1B. Railroad tracks visible in those zones appear to converge. In nearer zones, the depth information effectively specifies the tracks as parallel, and holds the backdrop in its place upstage.

Figure 1. Onstage and backdrop scenery. A.The strength of the major depth cues with egocentric distance, adapted from Cutting and Vishton, 1995 (with permission). To the eye as actor, the backdrop usually lies between 10 and 50 feet upstage. B. The experienced stage in which visual inquiry proceeds. The viewer's normal actions provide no distance information beyond the plane labeled "backdrop;" and they can readily generate and therefore incorporate information about the downstage prop. The curves of Figure 1A account for, but are not salient in the experience of B. C. Attention extends the stage. When the inquiring eye visits a scene, its boundaries are remembered as further out than they were (see Intraub, 1997); this is not merely memory, since such Boundary Extension (BE) is a function of where the viewer plans to look.(Intraub et al, 2001).

This implies discontinuities (e.g., between backdrop and stage) that are not firmly fixed, since where the viewer attends, and with what intentions, affects what information is recovered and used (cf. Figure 2B, C). Figure 1A can therefore serve only as a conditional account; and as Figure 1C implies, the phenomenal layout itself varies somewhat with the viewer's perceptual intentions. In this model, therefore, distance to the end of the internal world is not a continuous variable, nor continuously defined. Why are not the discontinuities spontaneously evident? Next, evidence of such overlooked discontinuity.

Figure 2A seems to reverse as a whole, and has been offered as one example of how a minimum principle (including Lehar's version), leads to perceiving an entire 3D structure (Kopfermann, 1930, Hochberg & MacAlister, 1953). But Figure 2B shows that, when tested, perfectly possible objects display the same dependence on what the viewer attends as was previously shown by the Penrose & Penrose (1958) impossible figures. Perceptual consequences (Hochberg, 1998; In Press) like the effects of rotation described in Figure 2B, and the surface-lightness effect in Figure 2C, attest that these are perceptual phenomena. They also share some aspects of Lehar's isomorphism. (And the absence of any salient break between the different spatial zones of the environment in Figures 1A and 1B, and in the apparently-continuous bubble that Lehar describes, merely parallels what happens within objects.)

Figure 2. Some shapes isomorphism must take. A. The reversible Necker Cube. Sometimes offered as an example of how a minimum principle (or something like it, in Lehar's version), leads to perceiving an entire 3D structure (Kopfermann, 1930, Hocherg & MacAlister, 1953). (B) The partly-reversible Killer Cube. When attended at (a), the present cube appears of definite and nonreversible 3D structure; when attended at (b), it soon starts reversing, though the same Gestalt remains in view (though off attentional center). The reversals are attested by their perceptual consequences: When rotated clockwise around its vertical axis, the perceived motion is clockwise when (a) is attended; when (b) is attended and when it appears nearest the viewer, motion appears counterclockwise. Such perceptual consequences help validate one's otherwise unsupported phenomenology, as in the next figure. (Hochberg & Peterson, 1987; Hochberg, In Press) (C). Adelson's Impossible Staircase. With no discernible discontinuity, the right and left sides here are incompatible as 3D structures; showing that they are actually seen that way, note that the same print density appears of higher reflectance (lighter paint job) at (b) than at (a). (after Adelson, 2001, with permission); see text. D. Do configuration-based organizational factors first provide figure- ground segregation which thereby offers a shape to be recognized? Not so you can tell: See text. (Peterson and Gibson, 1993; see Peterson, 1994).

Such phenomena raise difficulties for any wholistic proposed isomorphism powered by the physical relationships as perceived. Gestaltist visions of isomorphism were of course concerned mostly with flat shapes, not 3D structures (see Hochberg, 1998). The fact that Peterson and her colleagues (see Figure 2D) have shown that meaningful (denotative) shapes preempt figural status when in their familiar orientations (Figure 2Dc,d) but not when the physically identical configurations are inverted (Figure 2Da,b) makes it hard to even imagine what an appropriate formulation of isomorphism would be like. A phenomenology centered on query-directed TOTE-like machinery might be easier to manage (cf. Hochberg, In Press; 1970; O'Regan & Nöe, 2001).

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Adelson, E. H. (2000). Lightness perception and lightness Illusions. In M. S. Gazzaniga, ed., The New Cognitive Neurosciences, 2nd Ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.339-351.

Cutting, J. E., & Vishton, P. M. (1995). Perceiving layout and knowing distances: The interaction, relative potency, and contextual use of different information about depth. In W. Epstein & S. Rogers (Eds.) Perception of space and motion (pp. 69-117). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Hochberg, J., & McAlister, E. (1953). A quantitative approach to "figural goodness." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 46, 361-364.

Hochberg, J. (1970). Attention, organization and consciousness. In D. I. Mostofsky (Ed.), Attention: Contemporary theory and analysis (pp. 99-124), New York: Appleton- Century-Crofts,

Hochberg, J.(1998). Gestalt theory and its legacy: Organization in eye and brain, in attention and mental representation. In J. Hochberg (ed.), Pereption and cognition at century's end. (pp. 253-306). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Hochberg, J. (In Press). Acts of perceptual inquiry: Parsing objects by diagnostic coupling and consequences. Acta Psychologica.

Hochberg, J., & Peterson, M. A. (1987). Piecemeal organization and cognitive components in object perception: Perceptually coupled responses to moving objects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 116, 370-380.

Hurvich, L., & Jameson, D. (1957) An opponent-colors theory of color vision. Psychological Review, 64, 384-404.

Intraub, H. (1997). The representation of Visual Scenes. Trends in the Cognitive Sciences, 1, 217- 221.

Intraub, H., Hoffman, J.E., Wetherhold, C.J, & Stoehs, S. Does Direction of a Planned Eye Movement Affect Boundary Extension? Forty-first Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Orlando, FL, November, 2001 793

Jameson, D., & Hurvich, L. (1967). The science of color appearance. Color Engineering, 5, 29.

Kopfermann, H. (1930). Psychologische Untersuchungen ueber die Wirkung Zweidimensionaler Darstellunger körperliche Gebilde. Psychologische Forschung, 13, 293-364.

O'Regan, J. K., and Noë, A. (2001) A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(5)

Penrose, L., & Penrose, R. (1958). Impossible objects: A special type of visual illusion. British Journal of Psychology, 49, 31-33.

Peterson, M.A. (1994) Shape recognition can and does occur before figure-ground organization. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3, 105-111

Peterson, M.A., & Gibson, B.S. (1993) Shape recognition contributions to figure-ground organization in three-dimensional display. Cognitive Psychology, 25, 383-429.

Donald D. Hoffman

Does perception replicate the external world?


Vision scientists standardly assume that the goal of vision is to recover properties of the external world. Lehar's "miniature, virtual-reality replica of the external world inside our head" is an example of this assumption. I propose instead, on evolutionary grounds, that the goal of vision is simply to provide a useful user interface to the external world.

Lehar asserts that "The central message of Gestalt theory is that the primary function of perceptual processing is the generation of a miniature, virtual-reality replica of the external world inside our head, and that the world we see around us is not the real external world but is exactly that miniature internal replica (Lehar 2003)." I wish to consider this assertion of indirect realism.

Suppose it is true. Then we do not see the real external world, nor do we hear, smell, taste, or in any other way perceive it. Instead we perceive just the miniature virtual-reality (henceforth, mini VR) that we generate.

Given this, what empirical grounds might we have for claiming that our mini VR replicates the external world? Perhaps we could compare objective measures of the external world against psychophysical measures of the mini VR. If mismatches are minor, we would have grounds for the replica claim.

This process seems straightforward enough. The basic sciences measure the external world, and psychology the mini VR. So we simply compare data.

But this is too fast. It is not just psychologists who only perceive their mini VRs; all scientists, regardless of discipline, only perceive their mini VRs. So how do the basic scientists manage to measure the external world?

The trouble is that every time scientists try to measure the external world they see only their mini VRs. They look through telescopes and microscopes, but only see their mini VRs. They extend their senses with countless technologies, but the technologies and their outputs are still confined to the mini VRs; for if they were not then, according to indirect realism, the scientists could not perceive them.

Thus all scientists are confined to perceive only their mini VRs. If they wish to make assertions about the external world, even assertions that an external world exists, then these assertions are necessarily, according to indirect realism, theoretical assertions. They are not direct measures. As Einstein notes, "...physics treats directly only of sense experiences and of the "understanding" of their connection. But even the concept of the "real external world" of everyday thinking rests exclusively on sense impressions." (Einstein, 1950:17).

So indirect realism does not allow us incontrovertible empirical grounds to assert that our mini VRs replicate the external world. At best it allows us to postulate an external world as a theoretical construct.

Once we take the external world as a theoretical construct, then we have many options for the particular form of that construct. We can, as Lehar suggests, propose that our mini VRs are replicas of the external world. This is a particularly simple theory, and on the face of it quite unlikely. Our best evidence suggests that mini VRs vary dramatically across species (Cronly-Dillon and Gregory, 1991), and there are no evolutionary grounds to suppose that our species happens to be the lucky one that got it right. To assert otherwise would be anthropocentric recidivisim.

Once we extend our gaze beyond the replica theory, many other possibilities arise. One class of possibilities is that there is little or no resemblance whatsoever between the external world and our mini VRs, but that instead our mini VRs are simply useful user interfaces to the external world, with no more need to resemble that world than a Windows interface needs to resemble the diodes, resistors, and software of a computer. Of course we could not call a theory from this class an "indirect realist" theory since, by hypothesis, there is no realism. So indirect realism leads us to consider dropping indirect realism in favor of a broader, and more likely, class of theories. Let's call these new theories "user-interface" theories. For what they entail is that our mini VRs, rather than being replicas of the external world, are simply useful user interfaces to that world. Different species employ different user interfaces for their different purposes. The human user interfaces are simply a small set of the total, of special interest to us only for parochial reasons.

The move from indirect realism to user interface can be disconcerting, for it denies an anthropocentrism very dear to us: the assumption that our perceptions are privileged among all species. And it opens a Pandora's box of theoretical possibilities for the nature of the external world and its relation to our mini VRs. It has been convenient to assume that since there are neurons and synapses inside the heads that appear in our mini VRs, that therefore there must be corresponding real neurons in real heads in the external world. But convenience rarely coincides with truth. It looked for millenia like the sun and stars circled the earth, but we now know better. Even space and time themselves are not immune from this process, for as Einstein pointed out, "Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live." (quoted in Forsee, 1963:81).

Moving from indirect realism to user interface does nothing to impede progress in modeling of the mini VR itself along the gestalt lines proposed by Lehar. Nor does it impede progress in modeling the neural networks of the perceptual systems in our mini VRs. All this modeling can continue as it has. We simply realize that we are not modeling a replica of the external world, we are instead modeling our species-specific user interface to an external world. And in consequence we are far more cautious in our knowledge claims about the external world.

The move from indirect realism to user interface gives us more elbow room in dealing with the hard problem of consciousness. The hard problem arises when we assume that neurons as we perceive them in our mini VRs are replicas of real neurons in the external world, and we must therefore figure out how those real neurons could possibly give rise to conscious experience. But if we drop the replica assumption, we now have a broader range of theoretical possibilities for what, in the external world, might correspond to neurons in our mini VRs. In this case our only limits in solving the problem are not the straight-jacket of the replica assumption, but our imaginations.

Author's Response

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Cronly-Dillon, J. R., & Gregory, R. L. (Eds.). (1991). Vision and visual dysfunction: Vol. 2. Evolution of the eye and visual system. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Einstein, A. (1950). Essays in physics. New York: Philosophical Library.

Forsee, A. (1963). Albert Einstein: theoretical physicist. New York: Macmillan.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0090833.

Donald Laming

Psychological relativity


'Psychological relativity' means that 'an observation is a relationship between the observer and the event observed'. It implies a profound distinction between 'the internal first-person as opposed to the external third-person perspective'. That distinction, followed through, turns Lehar's discourse inside-out. This commentary elaborates the notion of 'Psychological relativity'; shows that while there is already a natural science of perceptual report, there cannot also be a science of perception per se; and draws out some implications for our understanding of phenomenal consciousness.

Lehar is lacking an essential idea. Physicists have it-'relativity'-but Lehar does not. Lehar chances to mention (§1) 'the internal first-person as opposed to the external third- person perspective', but fails to realise how that distinction impacts on his discourse. If the implications of that distinction be followed through, the entire body of problems addressed is turned inside-out.

The overriding principle that Lehar is lacking is

an observation is a relationship between the observer and the event observed

and thereby depends on the observer as well as the event. So, two observers in motion relative to each other make different determinations of the velocity of a third object (Galilean relativity). Figure 2 sketches the set-up for Thouless' (1931a,b) phenomenal regression to real size. The observer has a different view of the experiment to the experimenter.

Figure 1. The different views from four houses on a housing estate. (Reproduced with permission from Understanding human motivation by D. Laming, p. ??. (c) 2003, Donald Laming; published by Blackwell Publishing)

Figure 1 presents an analogy. Looking out from my window, I can see three other houses, separated from me by a road and a green sward. If there is a car in the road, my neighbour and I can readily agree that it is red. By agreeing on a suitable instrument for measurement, we can agree the colour of the car to whatever precision we desire. That arena outside our houses (camera view) is part of the public domain within which experiments can be conducted. But my neighbour and I cannot see into each other's houses. If I telephone my neighbour, I can only describe my interior furnishings by reference to what my neighbour will have seen elsewhere. The scope of experimental procedure can be extended to internal experience only by projecting that experience into the public domain. I might describe my curtains as scarlet, or carmine, or cerise -but my neighbour might think of a different colour referent to the one that I have in mind, and 'seeing red' will then mean slightly different things to the two of us.

I can invite my neighbour into my house to see for himself; but I cannot give him direct access to my visual experience. One might suppose that my internal visual experience could be measured, like the colour of the car in the road. But experimental psychologists have been trying to measure internal sensations for 150 years and have so far progressed nowhere (Laming, 1997).

Some part of our visual experiences can be shared with others; the remainder is private. The Gestalt properties surveyed in §5 and §7 belong to that private part, which is why Gestalt psychology has not proceeded beyond verbal description. There is a boundary between experiences that can be shared and experiences that are essentially private. It is determined by what, within my field of view, my neighbour can also see (see Fig. 1). That is, the boundary is determined within my neighbour's field of view and is not to be found within my own visual experience. My own experience, by itself, contains no distinction between that which lies in camera view and that which is private. The junction is seamless. It is only too easy to confound subjective experience with objective observation; this is what Lehar has done.

It follows that there cannot be a natural science of perception. There is a science of perceptual report, a tradition that goes back to Fechner (1860). But perceptual reports cannot be taken at their face value (here the Gestalt psychologists erred), but must be evaluated by experiment. Lehar is aware of this (§5.2), but asserts that perceptual experience is isomorphic to the neural substrate and thereby denies this distinction.

Lehar's stance is that " the world of conscious experience is accessible to scientific enquiry after all, both internally through introspection and externally through neurophysiological recording." He envisages an isomorphism between perceptual experience as described by the observer and the observations of the natural scientist. Thouless' (1931a,b) experiment on phenomenal regression to real size (Fig. 2) shows why such an isomorphism is not found in nature.

Figure 2. Experimental set-up for the measurement of phenomenal regression to real size. (Adapted with permission from Understanding human motivation by D. Laming, p. ??. (c) 2003, Donald Laming; published by Blackwell Publishing)

The observer's task is to select a disc set normal to the line of sight at distance a to match the angular size of the larger disc at distance b. While people do choose a smaller disc from the alternatives at a, they systematically choose one too large to match (phenomenal regression to real size). Imagine that a neurophysiologist making observations at the neural level of description relevant to understanding how and why this error of judgment occurs. If the observer's perceptions stand in the same relation to the neural substrate as the neurophysiological observations, then there has to be an internal 'observer' looking at internal processes with the same objectivity as the neurophysiologist. The fact that Lehar has a mathematical model to replace the neurophysiological observations does not alter this requirement. This observer is represented by the 'thinks bubble' in Figure 2. Philosophers will immediately identify this internal observer as Ryle's (1949) 'Ghost in the machine' (which is why the 'thinks bubble' is decisively crossed out).

I next ask whether the hypothetical neurophysiologist can also observe the neural substrate of this 'ghost'. If so, the relationship of the ghost to the neural substrate is structurally different to that of the neurophysiologist; otherwise the 'ghost' is pure mind- stuff. In fact, verbal descriptions of what is perceived are produced by the same system as that which does the perceiving, and the relationship of 'observer' (if that term may still be used) to the neural substrate that is supposedly 'observed' is essentially different to that of a third-party neurophysiologist. Several conclusions follow.

There need not be any useful isomorphism between neural process and perceptual experience.

Modelling perceptual experience is not an alternative to understanding the neural process.

There cannot be a natural science of perception, distinct from the study of perceptual report.

The idea of psychological relativity also impacts on consciousness (§6). Since it is impossible to access any other person's subjective experience, it is not possible to observe any other person's consciousness. Even if the hypothetical neurophysiologist were to observe and record a substrate in the brain that subserved consciousness, there is no way in which the observations could be identified as such. However much one explores the brain, all that one finds is brain function. Phenomenal consciousness is simply the quality of subjective experience.

Lehar's discourse has neglected some real empirical relations between perceptual report and experimental observation. I give two examples. Rubin (1921) drew attention to the 'figure-ground' phenomenon, the assertion that the first stage in visual perception was the separation of a figure from its background. Elementary neurophysiological study has revealed that sensory neurons are differentially coupled to the physical input (Laming, 1986), so that they are specifically sensitive to boundaries in the visual field, while responding with only a noise discharge to uniform illumination. This appears to match the 'figure-ground' phenomenon. Second, the Necker cube is ambiguous as a visual stimulus. The ambiguity is temporarily resolved by factors from within the perceiver (§7.3). But there is no reason why those internal factors should be consistent, comparing one instance with another, so that the project of constructing a consistent geometry of subjective perceptual space is not achievable.

Author's Response

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Fechner, G.T. (1860/1966). Elemente der Psychophysik. Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig. Elements of Psychophysics, Vol. 1, (trans. H.E. Adler). Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.

Laming, D. (1986). Sensory Analysis. Academic Press, London.

Laming, D. (1997). The Measurement of Sensation. Oxford University Press, 1997. Laming, D. (2003). Understanding human motivation: what makes people tick? Cambridge, MA: Blackwells.

Rubin, E. (1921). Visuell wahrgenommene Figuren. Copenhagen: Gyldendalska.

Ryle, G. (1949). The concept of mind. London: Hutchinson's University Library.

Thouless, R.H. (1931a, b). Phenomenal regression to the 'real' object. British Journal of Psychology, (a) 21, 339-59; (b) 22, 1-30.

Dan Lloyd

Double Trouble for Gestalt Bubbles


The "Gestalt bubble" model of Lehar (BBS target article) is not supported by the evidence offered. The author invalidly concludes that spatial properties in experience entail an explicit volumetric spatial representation in the brain. The article also exaggerates the extent to which phenomenology reveals a completely three-dimensional scene in perception.

The real world is a place of many properties; so also is its presentation as a phenomenal world in the conscious brain. One way for a brain state to present in experience a worldly property P is to duplicate P itself. Like a painter striving for perfect mimesis, an embodied consciousness might use patches of red in the head to represent a red apple. Or, according to Lehar, a brain might use spatial properties to represent external spatial reality:

The central message of Gestalt theory is that the primary function of perceptual processing is the generation of a miniature, virtual reality replica of the external world inside our head, and that the world we see around us is not the real external world but is exactly the miniature internal replica. (Lehar, Conclusion)

Lehar's article makes the case for the internal replica, or "Gestalt bubble," and then develops a model of how three-dimensional spatial modeling could occur in something like a neural medium. In this commentary, I suggest that the evidence in support of the Gestalt bubble is in double trouble. It is both conceptually and phenomenologically flawed.

The coffee in the cup at my elbow is (to me) hot, brown, of a certain weight and size, and in a specific location. We cannot conclude, however, that the state of my brain that is my consciousness of the coffee replicates any of these properties itself. Yet this is an inference Lehar seems to make repreatedly in the target article. For example:

The fact that the world around us appears as a volumetric spatial structure is direct and concrete evidence for a spatial representation in the brain. (5.2)

This is a non sequitor, as can be seen by substituting "colored" for "spatial" in the passage. A slightly more elaborate argument is no less fallacious:

The volumetric structure of visual consciousness and perceptual invariance to rotation, translation, and scale offer direct and concrete evidence for an explicit volumetric spatial representation in the brain, which is at least functionally isomorphic with the corresponding spatial experience. (5.1)

Lehar is right that functional isomorphism between phenomenal experience and its implementation is required to avoid "nomological danglers," but once again "explicit volumetric spatial representation" is in no way entailed - for "rotation, translation, and scale" substitute "hue, saturation, and brightness," and the fallacy will be apparent. Nor does Lehar's claim that phenomenal spatiality preserves the relational structure of spatial objects entail an internal replica, since (once again) a three-dimensional relational structure defines "color space" without in the least implying that the color solid appears somewhere in our brain. Functional isomorphism, meanwhile, is readily preserved between spatial objects/scenes and their representations without invoking replicas. For example, the World Wide Web is well stocked with virtual worlds that preserve functional isomorphism with spatial scenes, each of them encoded is some non-spatial computational idiom like VRML, etc.

In sum, the conceptual arguments in the target article do not support the author's main conclusion. Nonetheless, the brain does have properties, and some of its properties do determine the contents of conscious experience. Lehar's arguments do not establish that the brain must use space to represent space. Does phenomenality license any inferences at all about the neural medium? There are two ways to approach this question, beginning either with contingent generalities about perception, or with its essential structures. The first approach begins with features of phenomenality (as revealed by perceptual psychology, including the Gestalt demonstrations of our perceptual capacities). The second analysis isolates essential or necessary structures of phenomenality. The second approach accords with classical phenomenology, as exemplified in the works of Husserl (e.g. Husserl 1974). In either case, the hope is that the analysis of phenomena will constrain the search for computational architectures sufficient to generate some or all of the features of phenomenality.

On neither approach is there compelling reason to posit the spatial virtual world proposed by Lehar. I don't doubt that I live in a spatial world, but in my visual field, i.e., what I see before me right now, conveys far less spatial information than Lehar's Gestalt bubble encodes. At the focus of attention I'm aware of surfaces, distance from my eyes, and edges, but outside of focal attention I experience only a very indefinite spatiality, which seems to me to be inconsistent with the continuously present three-dimensional models constructed in the Gestalt bubble. The supposition that my experience specifies a full 360-degree diorama in my head arises from the "just-in-time" availability of spatial information with every attentional focus. The information is there when and where I need it, and experience presents an ordered sequence of focally attended presentations rather than a single wrap-around replica of the spatial world. This seems to be phenomenologically "given," but it is also amply confirmed in psychological studies of "inattentional blindness" (Mack and Rock, 1998) and "change blindness" (Simons 2000). (Section 8.8 briefly acknowledges the effect of successive gaze fixations in different directions, suggesting that parts of the replica fade while outside of the visual field. This suggests either that the replica has an absolute spatial orientation and does not turn with the head, or, if the replica does turn with the eyes, only a small focal part of it has the spatial detail Lehar describes.)

This disagreement can be made more rigorous, and more properly phenomenological. One essential property of the phenomenal world is expressed in our ability to distinguish properties by location. That is, I can be aware of a red circle and a green square at the same time, without confusing the pairings of colors and shapes. Austen Clark refers to the problem posed by this pervasive perceptual ability as the "Many Properties" problem, and he argues that it can be solved only by coding places along with other perceptual properties (Clark 2000). So "red" and "circle" must be assigned a location, and "green" and "square" a second location. Experience, of course, solves the Many Properties problem easily, and arguably it is essential to the very concept of phenomenality that consciousness solve it. This argument so far provides support for Lehar's position, but immediately raises the question, how many spatial dimensions are required? Lehar advocates three, Clark suggests two, but the argument necessitates just one, a linear dimension along which one point is tagged "red" and "circular" and another "green" and "square." The basic dimension, then, would be temporal, and experience an orderly ensemble of phenomenal leaps and bounds, a time line. Spatiality emerges from trajectories encoded in proprioception, that orient each momentary percept to those before and after. This proposal conforms well with classical phenomenology (Husserl 1966; Husserl 1974), and in other work I present evidence for its implementation in the brain (Lloyd 2002; Lloyd in press). This alternative cannot be defended here, but it does suggest that the Gestalt bubble is not entailed by phenomenology.

It is important that theories of perception accommodate the Gestalt observations, and Lehar brings forward an essential array of examples to consider, and exhibits the care and detail required to translate spatial perception into a computational model. But more evidence to support the model - from philosophy, phenomenology, psychology, and neuroscience - will be needed.

Author's Response

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Clark, A. (2000). A Theory of Sentience. New York, Oxford University Press.

Husserl, E. (1966). Zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins (Phenomenology of Inner Time Consciousness). The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff.

Husserl, E. (1974). Ding und Raum (Thing and Space), Lectures of 1907. The Hague, Martinus Hijhoff.

Lloyd, D. (2002). "Functional MRI and the Study of Human Consciousness." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 14(6): 818-831.

Lloyd, D. (in press). Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Mack, A. and Rock, I. (1998). Inattentional Blindness. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Simons, D. J., Ed. (2000). Change Blindness and Visual Memory: A Special Issue of the Journal Visual Cognition. Philadelphia, Psychology Press.

Riccardo Luccio

Isomorphism and representationalism


Lehar tries to build a computational theory that succeeds in offering the same computational model for both the phenomenal experience and the visual processing. However, the vision that Lehar has about isomorphism in Gestalttheorie as representational is not adequate. The main limit of Lehar`s model derives from this misunderstanding of the relation between phenomenal and physiological levels.

The Gestalt psychology was fundamentally misunderstood in the United States (but it too had some responsibilities: see Kanizsa, 1995). After the Second World War it had a meager destiny, cultivated only marginally in Germany and in America, more intensively in peripheral countries like Italy or Japan. However, mainly in the last few decades, some concepts of the Gestalt psychology appear frequently in the psychological debate, as praegnanz, isomorphism, minimum principle, and so forth, and it demonstrates the inability of cognitive psychology to buy some highly significant aspects of our way to pick up the reality that is around us. Lehar`s paper doesn't confine itself to stress the importance of some classic Gestaltist ideas, taken in isolation, as other scholars in the past have done, in a never completely successful attempt to integrate part of the Gestaltheorie inside the cognitive psychology. Instead, Lehar tries to build a computational theory that succeeds in offering the same computational model to both the phenomenal experience and the visual processing.

This highly interesting attempt however deserves some comments. In my opinion, the vision of Gestalttheorie that Lehar has is not fully adequate, and this has some consequence on his theorizing. The point on which I disagree almost completely with Lehar is the following. He claims that there is a central philosophical issue that underlies discussions of phenomenal experience as seen for example in the distinction between the Gestaltist and the Gibsonian view of perception. The world we see around us is the real world itself, or merely an internal perceptual copy of that world generated by neural processes in our brain? In other words, this is the question of direct realism, also known as naive realism, as opposed to indirect realism, or representationalism. I note parenthetically that, though Gibson (1966, 1979) called himself a naïve realist, this was only a provocation. The theory of direct perception is neither naïve nor realistic. As Michaels and Carello (1981, p. 90) clearly put it, "the test of the veridicality of perception concerns the mutual compatibility of the action of the actor/perceiver with the affordances of the situation". Here we are very far from the veridicality requested by genuine naïve realism.

More important is the picture that Leahr offers to us of Gestalt psychology. It is well known that in Gestalttheorie there was a strong Spinozian attitude. For instance, Wertheimer (greatly impressed by Spinoza's Ethica from childhood on: see Luchins and Luchins, 1982) remained all the life in this orientation. So, we can speak in terms of indifferentism about the problem of representation. in general, Gestaltist isomorphism has to be considered a variant of psychophysical parallelism (see Boring, 1942, 1950, mainly Ch. 13; for a recent survey of this issue, see Luchins and Luchins, 1999). But almost the same could be said about almost all other Gestalt psychologists. Lehar quotes extensively Koehler. But Koehler too never said that "the world we see around us... (is) ... generated by neural processes in our brain". Köhler, indeed, was in some instance a little ambiguous on this topic (for instance, Köhler, 1969). But he was absolutely clear when he had to address directly the mind-body problem. He conceived the Gestalt position as a variant of parallelism (Köhler, 1960, pp: 20-21), and said: "The thesis of isomorphism as introduced by the Gestalt psychologists modifies the parallelists' view by saying that the structural characteristics of brain processes and of related phenomenal events are likely to be the same" (italics added).

Lehar (p. 16), quoting Köhler (1969), insists that the isomorphism required by Gestalt theory is not a strict structural isomorphism, but merely a functional isomorphism". But Köhler always spoke of structural isomorphism. He was very clear in stating (f. i. Köhler, 1940, Chs. 2 and 3) that the processes that run in our brain do not have any necessary correlate in our phenomenal experience. what is structurally identical is their interaction with what happens in bordering areas of the brain and the interaction that there is in the phenomenal field; their dynamics, and the dynamics of the phenomenal field.

The structural identity between phenomenal world and physiological processes doesn't imply any causal relationship between the two levels. It means only that we are made up of one and only one matter. The physical laws that rule the matter lead to structurally identical outcomes, when we consider the phenomenal level as well as the physiological one. In this sense, the Gestalt psychology is neither representationalist, nor antirepresentationalist: it is indeed indifferentist.

The main limit of Lehar`s model derives in my opinion from this misunderstanding. His computational model, as I can assess it, works perfectly for a world, which is organised in terms of soap bubbles (Koffka's metaphor, 1935, used too by Attneave, 1982). A soap bubbles world is in Gestalt terms a world in which the forces of the perceptual field tend to dispose themselves as to make an outcome that is maximally good, pregnant in the sense of ausgezeichnet. In Lehar's model, this happens at phenomenological as well as at neurophysiological level. The fact is that, as I believe to have demonstrated with Kanizsa (Kanizsa and Luccio, 1986, 1990), doesn't exist a tendency of this kind in perception. These tendencies are instead well present in thinking, in memory, in all that Kanizsa (1979, Ch. 1) called "secondary processes", to distinguish them from primary processes of perception. But they are beyond the scope for which the concept of isomorphism is here interesting.

In the last years other few computational models have been presented to account some typically Gestaltist phenomena: from information theory, to coding theory, to group algebra. However, Lehar is right when he says that they cannot account both the phenomenal level and the neuropsychological level. I should stress that there is at least one exception: non-linear dynamic systems, and in particular the synergetic approach. Apparently, we have not yet at disposal a fully comprehensive theory; it should be interesting to test if the model proposed by Lehar could be integrated with other approaches.

Author's Response

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Attneave, F. (1982) Prägnanz and soap bubble systems: A theoretical exploration. In: Organization and representation in perception, ed. J. Beck. Erlbaum.

Boring, E.G. (1942). Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology. New York: Appleton-Century.

Boring, E.G. (1950). A History of Experimental Psychology. New York: Appleton- Century-Crofts.

Gibson, J. J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Boston MA, Houghton Mifflin.

Kanizsa, G. (1979). Organization in vision. New York: Praeger.

Kanizsa, G. (1994). Gestalt theory has been misinterpreted, but also has had some real conceptual difficulties. Philosophical Psychology, 7, 149-162.

Kanizsa, G. and Luccio, R. (1986) Die Doppeldeutigkeiten der Prägnanz. Gestalt Theory, 8, 99-135.

Kanizsa, G. and Luccio, R. (1990). The phenomenology of autonomous order formation in perception. in: H. Haken & M. Stadler (eds): Synergetics of Cognition. Berlin: Springer, 186-200.

Köhler, W. (1940). Dynamics in Psychology, New York, NY: Liveright.

Köhler, W. (1960). The mind-body problem. In: S. Hook (ed). Dimension of Mind. New York: New York University Press.

Köhler, W. (1969) The task of Gestalt psychology. Princeton University Press.

Luchins, A. S. and Luchins, E. H. (1982). An introduction to the origins of Wertheimer's Gestalt psychology, Gestalt Theory, 4, 145-171.

Luchins, A. S. and Luchins, E. H. (1999). Isomorphism in Gestalt Theory: Comparison of Wertheimer's and Köhler's Concepts. Gestalt Theory, 21, 208-234.

Michaels, c. and Carello, C. (1981). Direct Perception. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice/Hall.

William A. MacKay

The Unified Electrical Field


The electrophysiological perspective presents an electrical field that is continuous throughout the body, with an intense focus of dynamically structured patterns at the cephalic end. That there is indeed an isomorphic mapping between the detailed holistic patterns in this field and perception (at some level) seems certain. Temporal binding, however, may be a greater challenge than spatial binding.

The independent processor model of individual neurons has given rise to the widespread impression, echoed by Lehar, that neurophysiology fails to deliver a unified basis for the holistic properties of perception. If there is any 'illusion' it is not in the unity of perceptual awareness, but in the portrayal of physical separation by techniques such as extracellular recording and fMRI. Overlooked is the axis of continuous activity stretching from the spinal cord to the cerebrum. The tonic activity in the brainstem activating systems (cholinergic, serotonergic and noradrenergic) plus the histaminergic activating system of the hypothalamus, is responsible for our state of (un)consciousness (Pace- Schott & Hobson 2002). All sensory and motor activity feeds into this axis and influences the general distribution of activity. Also, the activating systems can directly trigger synchronization of activity within the cerebral cortex (Munk et al. 1996).

Furthermore, it is extremely doubtful that action potentials are of much significance in the direct link to perception. They are far too fleeting. It is the more sustained membrane potentials that are likely to correlate the best. Discrete neuronal activity in the brain, however isolated it may appear, is simply a local distortion in an unbroken continuum of electrical flux. All cells produce membrane potentials, even if static, such that an electrical field encompasses the entire body. The 'panexperientialism' view would also suggest that perceptual awareness is linked to something like an electrical field. This is the only obvious property that is shared by both the atom and organism, and is increasingly elaborated as one ascends to the organism. One might postulate that the higher the degree of complexity in the electrical field, the higher the level of consciousness experienced. Using fMRI it can be seen that the same cortical areas are active whether a stimulus is perceived or not. The difference in the case of perception is that the level of activation is greater (Moutoussis & Zeki 2002). This could mean that either more neurons are depolarized within the given area, or the same synapses are active but at a higher frequency, or both.

Neurons and their attendant glial cells manipulate membrane potentials like no other part of the body. This is their 'game'. Many attributes of neuronal electrical activity extend the range of information coding. Not a single one of them is the essence of conscious perception, but collectively they can raise (or lower) the level of consciousness. Spike synchrony is unquestionably relevant. For example, Riehle et al. (2000) have shown that unit pairs in motor cortex synchronize activity to a very significant degree exactly at the moment of an expected signal. However synchrony is not essential for 'binding'. In area MT, Thiele & Stoner (2003) recorded from pairs of units, one preferring the direction of motion of one visual grating, and the other preferring another grating direction. The units did not usually synchronize activity when the gratings were perceived as moving together in a coherent plaid. Synchrony elicited by coherent plaids was the same as for non- coherent ones. Again it is probably not spiking activity per se that is ultimately important, but the associated changes in membrane potential and possibly phenomena such as depolarization fields manifested in superficial layers of cortex (Roland 2002).

The various states of Lehar's Gestalt Bubble model can easily be construed as hypothetical neuronal feature detectors. One could not ask for a better set of discriminators of planar properties in depth, and I suspect that something very similar lurks somewhere in the association areas between V1 and inferotemporal cortex. The transformation from a 2-D image on the retina to a 3-D percept would follow a process as outlined by Lehar when the stimulus is an everyday, familiar experience with established expectations. For any unfamiliar object, whether presented to the eye or hand, exploratory movement is requisite to clarify ambiguities. Here Lehar is correct to emphasize the translation/rotation invariance of the perception, divorced from the motion of the explorer. The target is perceived as it relates to its environment external to the viewer. This is the essence of the great transformation from egocentric (parietal cortex) to allocentric representation (presumably in hippocampus or prefrontal cortex). The constancy of the percept over time as another data sample is added with each exploratory movement is also rightly highlighted.

It is essential that perception integrate over time as well as space. Even within one sampling episode, different sensory attributes such as color, and motion, are processed at slightly different times although they are perceived as a unity. Thus Zeki & Bartels (1998) postulate the existence of multiple 'micro-consciousnesses' in the brain which are asynchronous with one another. This raises the problem of how they are integrated. A simple possibility is that everything processed within a finite window is integrated, just as two colors flashed within less than 40 ms are blended together. But it cannot be that simple because haptic exploration of an object can continue for hundreds of ms.

Figure-ground designation also involves time constraints. Neurons in inferotemporal cortex which are selective for shape, maintain that shape preference when light-dark contrast is reversed (negative image) but not when a figure-ground reversal is made. Just as the perception of shape depends on whether a visual region is assigned to an object or background, so the visual analysis of form depends on whether a region is perceived as figure or ground (Rubin 2001). One cannot relegate the problem of resolving border- ownership of edges to earlier stages in the visual stream. It occurs quickly, within 10-25 ms of response onset and really requires feedback from higher cortical areas. Thus it is an instantaneous, holistic decision of the entire visual system, presumably selecting the most probable choice.

Lehar's excellent model of perceptual processes gives neurophysiology some precise goals and direction. Hopefully the outcome will be convincing evidence that every percept is associated with a unique distribution of neuronal activity. An immediate problem, however, is the elucidation of the mechanism for binding elements of a percept in time.

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Moutoussis, K. & Zeki, S. (2002) The relationship between cortical activation and perception investigated with invisible stimuli. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. 99: 9527-9532.

Munk, M.H.J., Roelfsema, P.R., König, P., Engel, A.K. & Singer, W. (1996) Role of reticular activation in the modulation of intracortical synchronization. Science 272: 271- 274.

Pace-Schott, E.F. & Hobson, J.A. (2002) The neurobiology of sleep: genetics, cellular physiology and subcortical networks. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 3: 591-605.

Riehle, A., Grammont, F., Diesmann, M. & Grün, S. (2000) Dynamical changes and temporal precision of synchronized spiking activity in monkey motor cortex during movement preparation. Journal of Physiology (Paris) 94: 569-582.

Roland, P.E. (2002) Dynamic depolarization fields in the cerebral cortex. Trends in Neurosciences 25: 183-190.

Rubin, N. (2001) Figure and ground in the brain. Nature Neuroscience 4::857-858. Thiele, A., & Stoner, G. (2003) Neuronal synchrony does not correlate with motion coherence in cortical area MT. Nature 421: 266-270.

Zeki, S. & Bartels, A. (1998) The asynchrony of consciousness. Proceedings of the Royal Society (London) Series B 265: 1583-1585.

Slobodan Markovic

The Soap bubble: phenomenal state or perceptual system dynamics?


The Gestalt bubble model describes a subjective phenomenal experience (what is seen), without taking into account the extra-phenomenal constraints of perceptual experience (why it is seen as it is). If it intends to be an explanatory model then it has to include either stimulus or neural constraints, or both.

While presenting the theoretical background of his approach, Lehar attempts to keep a critical equidistance toward both indirect and direct realism. However, instead of a radically new approach, he offers a combination of some constructivist and some Gibsonian premises. On the one hand, like many constructivists (e. g. Gregory, 1971; Hochberg, 1978; Marr, 1980; Rock, 1983), Lehar adopts a representational paradigm which defines perception as a subjective conscious description or as an internal virtual copy of the external world. On the other hand, inconsistent with the constructivists' perspective and more similar to the views of proponents of direct realism (e. g. Gibson, 1979; Shaw & Bransford, 1977; Show & Turvey, 1981), Lehar does not postulate any mediating mechanisms that process the representations within a perceptual system.

Moreover, Lehar's exact position concerning the question of direct perception of distal objects is not quite clear. At one point he explicitly claims that "the internal perceptual representation encodes properties of distal objects rather than of a proximal stimulus". At another point he states that "the direct realist view is incredible because it suggests that we can have the experience of objects out in the world directly, beyond the sensory surface, as if bypassing the chain of sensory processing". Why would the thesis that distal objects are mapping onto the phenomenological domain without neural intervention be incredible and mysterious, while the idea about the projection of internal representation onto the external perceptual world not be incredible and mysterious? How is it possible that perception is partially indirect (representational), and partially direct (distally oriented)?

In his criticism of neurophysiologic modeling, Lehar rejects not only the classical Neuron doctrine, but also some recent holistic approaches (cf. Crick & Koch, 1990; Eckhorn et al., 1988; Singer, 1999). For Lehar, hence, atomism is not the greatest shortcoming of neural models, but rather the problem of neuro-phenomenal decoding. That is, how can a fully spatial (topographical) perceptual description be created from spatially less constrained (topological) or even from completely abstract, symbolic and non-spatial neural representation? I find that this epistemological question is a natural consequence of a hidden ontological dualism: how does one domain of reality (consciousness) know how to read and understand the codes coming from the other (neural) domain.

To paraphrase Koffka (1935), the ultimate task for perceptual science is to answer why things look as they do. In the case of Lehar's theory this question might be formulated as the following: why is the phenomenal volumetric space such as it is? Why is it non- linear in a particular way? Implicitly, he proposes that this is an intrinsic property of phenomenal space which is not in a causal relationship with any other domain of reality. My opinion is that without the precise specification of the extra-phenomenological aspects of perception, such as the stimulus and neural domains, it is difficult to answer the question related to why the percept looks as it does. For instance, imagine the difficulty in explaining the path shape and velocity of the planet Earth's motion without taking into account the mass and motion of other cosmic objects (moon, sun, other planets, and so on). A description of the Earth's motion is not an explanation of its motion.

Even Gestalt psychologists, who widely utilized the phenomenological method, did not create pure phenomenological explanations of perception. For instance, Koffka (1935) used the soap bubble metaphor not to describe some phenomenal bubble-like experience, but to point out some basic principles of perceptual (neural) system functioning. Attneave (1982) also used the metaphor "soap bubble system" to describe the economy of perceptual system behavior. Like the soap bubble which tries to enclose the largest volume within the smallest surface, the perceptual system tends to reduce the global spending of energy (entropy, minimum tendency) while at the same time striving to increase its effective use (dynamics, maximum tendency) (cf. Köhler, 1920, 1927; see also Hatfield & Epstein, 1985; Markovic & Gvozdenovic, 2001).

If Lehar intends to create a Gestalt-oriented theory of perception, he has to have in mind that according to the classics of Gestalt theory, the phenomenological Gestalten are the consequences of both internal (neural) and external (stimulus) constraints (Koffka, 1935; Köhler, 1920, 1927, 1947). Simply speaking, the perceptual system tends to attain the maximum efficiency with the minimum investment (internal neural economy), but the minima and maxima will always be relative to the given stimulus conditions (external stimulus organization). The effect of external "control" of a perceptual economy is an articulation of more or less prägnant Gestalten, or as Wertheimer stated in his famous Law of Prägnanz, the phenomenal organization of a percept will be as "good" as the prevailing conditions allow (cf. Koffka, 1935).

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Attneave, F. (1982). Prägnanz and soap bubble system: A theoretical exploration. In J. Beck (Ed.), Organization and representation in perception (pp. 11-29). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Crick, F. & Koch, C. (1990) Toward a neurobiological theory of consciousness. Seminars in the Neurosciences, 2, 263-75.

Eckhorn, R., Bauer, R., Jordan, W., Brosch, M., Kruse, W., Munk, M. & Reitboeck, J. (1988). Coherent oscillations: A mechanism of feature linking in the visual cortex? Biological Cybernetics, 60, 121-30.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gregory, R. L. (1971). The intelligent eye. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Hatfield, G. & Epstein, W. (1985). The status of minimum principle in the theoretical analysis of visual perception. Psychological Bulletin, 97 (20), 155-186.

Hochberg, J. E. (1978). Perception. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Koffka, K. (1935). Principles of Gestalt psychology. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench & Trubner.

Köhler, W. (1920). Die physische Gestalten in Ruhe und stationären Zustand: Eine naturphilosophische Untersuchung. (Physical Gestalten). In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A source book of Gestalt psychology, 1938., (pp. 17-70). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Reprinted from Brownschweig: Vieweg & son.)

Köhler, W. (1927). Zum Problem der Regulation (On the problem of regulation). In M. Henle (Ed.), The selected papers of Wolfgang Köhler, 1971., (pp. 305-326). New York: Liveright.

Köhler, W. (1947). Gestalt psychology. New York.: Liveright.

Markovic, S. & Gvozdenovic, V. (2001). Symmetry, complexity and perceptual economy: Effects of minimum and maximum simplicity conditions. Visual Cognition, VIII (3/4/5), 305-327.

Marr, D. (1982). Vision. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

Rock, I. (1983). Logic of Perception. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Shaw, R. E. & Bransford, J. (1977). Introduction: Psychological Approaches to the Problem of Knowledge. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, Acting and Knowing (pp. 1- 39). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Shaw, R. E. & Turvey, M. T. (1981). Coalitions as models for ecosystems: A realist perspective on perceptual organization. In M. Kubovy & J. R. Pomerantz (Eds.), Perceptual organization (pp. 343-415). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Singer, W. (1999). Neuronal synchrony: A versatile code for the definition of relations? Neuron, 24, 49-65.

Niall McLoughlin

Bursting the Bubble: Do we need true Gestalt isomorphism?


Lehar proposes an interesting theory of visual perception based on an explicit three- dimensional representation of the world existing in the observer's head. However, if we apply Occams Razor to this proposal it's possible to contemplate far simpler representations of the world. Such representations have the advantage that they agree with findings in modern neuroscience.

Lehar proposes to model visual perception using his subjective visual experience as his source of data. He proposes a perceptual modelling approach since "conventional concepts of neural processing offer no explanation for the holistic global aspects of perception identified by Gestalt theory". This allows him to conveniently ignore current research in visual neuroscience while concentrating on the central issues of the representation of the visual field and of our subjective visual experiences. As he correctly points out the world we see and experience surrounding us exists only as nerve impulses within our head. Lehar proposes that since our subjective experience of the world is that of a high-resolution three-dimensional volume, and since this representation must exist in our heads, it must therefore be some form of a high-resolution three-dimensional structure. However this does not necessarily follow. For example on a computer system it's possible to generate a sparse representation of the world into which it is placed so that the computer could interact with objects in the world in a meaningful manner. Objects could be represented at tokens at such and such x,y, and z location and so forth. There would be no explicit representation of empty space within this sparse representation. Who's to say what the subjective experience of the computer might be?

There is no doubt that my subjective experience of the world is that of a three- dimensional solid environment that I perceive in equal detail in all directions. Yet as visual scientists and practiced observers we know that this is patently not the case. Each of our eyes responds to incoming photons in a non-uniform manner and this non- uniformity is father exaggerated in the cortex. The over-representation of the fovea is magnified between the retina and cortex and the multiple inter-connected cortical regions amplify this distinction even further. Most naive observers are surprised to discover that they have a fovea and amazed that they have a blind spot in each eye. How do we fool ourselves?

The very fact that we are genuinely fooled (until we make careful observations) calls into question the use of subjective experience as the basis for theories of visual perception. Furthermore, while the Neuron Doctrine is indeed the foundation for most modern neuroscience research I refute the notion that this doctrine implies purely feedforward models of neurocomputation. Certainly recent findings in both neuroanatomy (e.g. Bosking et al., 1997; Angelucci et al. 2002) and neurophysiology (Kapadia et al. 2000; Levitt & Lund 1997) emphasise the roles played by feedback and lateral connections in visual processing. Likewise a number of popular modern computational theories make use of feedforward, feedback and lateral connections (for example Grossberg 1994). If a Gestalt Bubble Model subserves perception then why do we have so many visual areas each containing a retinotopic map of visual space?

Is there any evidence for gestalt-like processes at work neurophysiologically? Recent electrophysiological recordings from as early at the lateral geniculate and V1 have found interactions well outside the classical receptive field (for example Blakemore & Tobin 1972; Felisberti & Derrington, 2001; Jones et al., 2000, 2001; Kapadia et al., 2000; Levitt & Lund 1997; Stettler et al. 2002; Solomon et al., 2002). While the source of these interactions (whether they are mediated by feedback, or lateral connections) remains to be elucidated it's clear that many aspects of grouping, completion and emergence may well arise from such non-local interactions. In addition, recent neurophysiological studies in the primate (e.g. Livingstone & Hubel, 1988) suggest that different aspects of a visual scene are represented primarily in different visual streams and areas. While there is some disagreement as to the amount of segregation of function numerous neuropsychological studies in humans back up the suggestion that multiple representations exist for different attributes and/or functional roles. One such patient, studied by Humphrey and Goodale (1998) suffered from visual form agnosia (Farah, 1990). She was unable to discriminate between visual forms let alone recognize her friends and family yet her color vision was close to normal and she could recognise shapes when placed in her hands. Such case studies suggest that the brain encodes the external world using multiple representations, each one perhaps subserving a different role or task, rather than a single isomorphistic one.

What Lehar seems to have forgotten is that the high-resolution representation is generated only when we pay attention to the input and focus our eyes on the object or texture under inspection. We need not represent even our immediate environment in high resolution unless we need to interact directly with it. Why waste time and space representing the world in vivid detail when we only interact with a small part of it at any one time? Surely our central representations should be goal directed. We can always direct our vision to different locations in a scene to find out what's there and given that most useful scenes are dynamic why waste effort representing space in high-resolution when it's constantly changing? O'Regan (1992) argued along a similar line when he suggested that "seeing constitutes an active process of probing the environment as though it were a continuously available external memory"(p. 484). He suggests that seeing does not involve the reification of a three-dimensional spatial representation of the external world in the observer's head but rather depends on ones ability to interrogate the environment through directed eye movements. It may well be that we have a fuzzy three-dimensional representation of the external world in our heads that we use to help direct eye- movements but I remain to be convinced that we would need or want anything more complex. If we need the detail we look.

Given the lack of physiological evidence for such a complex and computationally expensive representation coupled with the lack of necessity for such a complete representation Occams Razor suggests we burst this Gestalt Bubble Model.

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Angelucci A, Levitt JB, Walton EJ, Hupe JM, Bullier J, Lund JS (2002) Circuits for local and global signal integration in primary visual cortex. J Neurosci 22(19):8633-46

Blakemore C, Tobin EA. (1972) Lateral inhibition between orientation detectors in the cat's visual cortex. Exp Brain Res 15(4):439-40

Bosking WH, Zhang Y, Schofield B, Fitzpatrick D (1997) Orientation selectivity and the arrangement of horizontal connections in tree shrew striate cortex. J Neurosci 17(6):2112-27

Farah MJ (1990) Visual Agnosia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Felisberti F, Derrington AM (2001) Long-range interactions in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the New-World monkey, Callithrix jacchus. Vis Neurosci 18(2):209-18

Grossberg S. (1994) 3-D vision and figure-ground separation by visual cortex. Percept Psychophys 55(1):48-121

Humphrey GK, Goodale MA (1998) Probing unconscious visual processing with the McCollough Effect. Conscious Cogn 7(3):494-519

Jones HE, Andolina IM, Oakely NM, Murphy PC, Sillito AM (2000) Spatial summation in lateral geniculate nucleus and visual cortex. Exp Brain Res 135(2):279-84

Jones HE, Grieve KL, Wang W, Sillito AM (2001) Surround suppression in primate V1. J Neurophysiol 86(4):2011-28

Kapadia MK, Westheimer G, Gilbert CD. (2000) Spatial distribution of contextual interactions in primary visual cortex and in visual perception. J Neurophysiol 84(4):2048- 62

Levitt JB, Lund JS. (1997) Contrast dependence of contextual effects in primate visual cortex. Nature 387(6628):73-6

Livingstone M, Hubel D. (1988) Segregation of form, color, movement, and depth: anatomy, physiology, and perception. Science 240(4853):740-9

O'Regan JK (1992) Solving the "real" mysteries of visual perception: the world as an outside memory. Can J Psychol 46(3):461-88

Solomon SG, White AJ, Martin PR. (2002) Extraclassical receptive field properties of parvocellular, magnocellular, and koniocellular cells in the primate lateral geniculate nucleus. J Neurosci 22(1):338-49

Stettler DD, Das A, Bennett J, Gilbert CD. (2002) Lateral connectivity and contextual interactions in macaque primary visual cortex. Neuron 36(4):739-50

Axel Randrup

Relations between three-dimensional,volumetric experiences and neural processes: Limitations of materialism


Certain features of perception, the quale red for instance and other qualia, must be regarded as additions to the materialist neurophysiological picture of perception. The perception of three-dimensional, volumetric objects can also be seen as qualitative additions to the neurophysiological processes in the brain, possibly without additions to the information content.

In the history of science and philosophy the world has been regarded as material, mental (idealist philosophy), or dualist (both material and mental). Like many people today Lehar has chosen the materialist view, and he attempts to avoid dualism by assuming the mind-brain identitiy position ("consciousness is a physical process taking place in the physical brain"). Still he writes, that there remains a subjective quality (or quale), to the experience of red for example, which is not in any way identical to any physical variable in the brain. I think, this must mean, that the experience of qualia adds something to the assumed material world, and that Lehar therefore does not stay consistently within the materialist frame of reference. Lehar also writes (section 2.3), that sense data, or the raw material of conscious experience, are the only thing, we can know to actually exist, and that all else, including the entire physical world, is informed conjecture based on that experience. To me this statement appears as a departure from materialism; actually it is close to the idealist view.

I now suggest, that also the perceptual experience of three-dimensional, volumetric objects and of empty space is something, that "subjective conscious experience" adds to the assumed material electro-chemical processes in the brain, possibly without changing the information content, a qualitatively different representation. Lehar thinks, that the gap between the materialist descriptions of neurophysiology and the phenomenological descriptions of Gestalt features of perception may be due to the present "embryonic" state of neurophysiology, but I regard this as a promissory belief rather than an explanation.

Analogously (and staying within the materialist frame of reference) I believe, that a computer can produce a three-dimensional, volumetric figure, namely, if it is connected with a device that can construct that figure. The figure will then be another representation of the information content which inside the computer is represented by electrical processes. Of course a human person can also construct a three-dimensional figure with his hands or describe it in words and drawings, as Lehar does. In this case it is the connection with the body, particularly with the muscles and the hands, that enables the brain to make these constructions and descriptions from its information content.

I think, that materialism has served science well within a rather large domain, but with studies of cognition such as Lehar's we move into a domain, where materialism reveals significant shortcomings. I find, that such shortcomings appear in Lehar's work. Thus, on his materialist background Lehar rejects direct (naive) realism which suggests, that we can have experience of objects out in the world directly, as if bypassing the chain of sensory processing. Provided that the materialist background is retained, I agree with this rejection. But if we apply an idealist world view, our perceptions are of course experienced directly, and based on these perceptions we form concepts such as the concepts of a "material" object, a "material" world, and perceptual models such as Lehar's Gestalt Bubble model. I see these concepts and models as mental constructs representing features of the perceptual reality such as quantitative features and three-dimensional Gestalt features. These constructs are of course also experienced directly, and they can be made unambigous and precise. Here I agree with Lehar who thinks, that perceptual models remain "safely on the subjective side of the mind/brain barrier", and writes about "objective phenomenology" leading to "perceptual modeling" (section 4). It is, when we accord the "material" concepts a special existence of their own, principipally different from the existence of conscious experiences, i.e., when we move to materialism, that we run into the troubles with direct realism.

Lehar finds troubles with indirect realism as well but eventually accepts this view on the premise, that the world, we see around us, is not the real external world, but a miniature virtual-reality replica, an internal data structure within our physical brain. I think, that this view gives only an incomplete, imprecise conception of the "external world" including our "physical brain". This incompleteness and imprecision is shared with other philosophies assuming indirect realism such as "hypothetical realism" (Löw 1984; Randrup submitted; Wuketits 1984), "common sense realism" (Ruse 1986), and Kant's concept of "the things in themselves" versus "the things for us". According to Kant's philosophy we know actually nothing about the things in themselves, except that they are supposed to exist. I think, that this uncertainty or renunciation of knowledge compares unfavorably with the precision of the "material" concepts based directly on perceptual data in the idealist world view.

It is also a shortcoming of materialism in relation to the study of cognition, that it is difficult to consistently avoid dualism, as it appears from Lehar's statement about qualia quoted above. And if dualism is admitted, it is hard to see, how conscious experiences can be generated by material processes in the brain, as Lehar thinks, they are (section 2.4). In the alternative idealist view of the world it is not so hard to see, conversely, how "material" concepts are generated by the mind; the history of science shows, how such concepts have been created (e.g. quanta, superstrings) or deleted (impetus, phlogiston, the ether) following the advent of new perceptual (observational) experiences.The special material type of exstence is not a part of the idealist philosophy. For a more extensive discussion of the mind-matter and mind-brain problems in relation to cognition, reference is made to a few recent publications (Knight 2001; Randrup 1997; 2002).

Actually I think, that Lehar's study, based on "the primacy of subjective conscious experience" and leading to a model of phenomenal perception, is most readily understood within the idealist world view, and within this view his troubles with direct and indirect realism, with materialist monism, and with mind-matter relations will be significantly reduced. For more about the idealist world view proposed here, see Randrup (1997; 2002).

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Knight, Gordon (2001). Idealism, intentionality, and nonexistent objects. Journal of Philosophical Research, 26, 43-52.

Löw, Reinhard (1984). The metaphysical limits of evolutionary epistemology. In F. Wutekits (Ed.), Concepts and approaches in evolutionary epistemology (pp.209-231). Doordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel.

Randrup, Axel (1997). An alternative to materialism. Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 4(4) , 15-24.

Randrup, Axel (2002, December 17). What is real ? Conscious experience seen as basic to ontology. An overview [On-line]. Available: http:// and ~mob79301/reality.html

Randrup, Axel (submitted). An idealist approach to the study of evolution and cognition. Evolution and Cognition.

Ruse, Michael (1986). Taking Darwin seriously. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Wuketits, Franz M. (1984). Concepts and approaches in evolutionary epistemology. Doordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel.

Antti Revonsuo

Consciousness as Phenomenal Ether?


The Gestalt Bubble model of visual consciousness is a courageous attempt to take the first-person's perspective as primary in the study of consciousness. I have developed similar ideas as the Virtual Reality Metaphor of consciousness (Revonsuo 1995, 2000). I can thus only agree with Lehar about the general shape of a proper research startegy for the study of consciousness. As to the metaphysical basis of the research program I have however several reservations about panexperientialism.

I agree with Lehar on several points, but disagree about the ultimate metaphysical nature of consciousness. I shall first describe points of agreement, and then proceed to a criticism of panexperientialism.First, any research programme on consciousness should start by taking the explanandum seriously, constructing a systematic description of it. This is Lehar's "objective phenomenology". In the context of the biological sciences, this is the initial, descriptive stage of inquiry. All branches of biology have begun with the descriptive stage, and the study of consciousness should be no exception.

Second, in the study of consciousness the top-down approach should be of at least as much importance as the bottom-up approach. Once we have a detailed description of the structure, organization and dynamics of a higher level of organization (in this case subjective phenomenology), it will impose significant constraints on the possible lower- level (neural) mechanisms that could account for the higher level features. The lower- level mechanism must be capable of supporting exactly the kind of structure, organization and dynamics as is found at the higher level of phenomenology, otherwise the proposed mechanism is not a plausible candidate to explain the phenomenon. The bottom-up strategy is important too, but it should be combined with the top-down strategy. Otherwise bottom-up approaches may lead to either the elimination of consciousness (because it is so difficult to see how single-neuron activity could add up to holistic features of consciousness), or to the search for the mere neural correlates of consciousness (rather than the directly underlying constitutive mechanisms that explain the phenomenon), because the signals that are collected from the brain usually originate nowhere near the higher levels of organization where consciousness itself resides (Revonsuo 2001).

Third, indirect realism as a theory of perception seems to be the only alternative that can give a plausible explanation of dreams and other hallucinations. Dream experiences show that the brain in REM sleep can bring about a fully convincing simulation of the perceptual world, and a simulated self embodied inside this virtual world. Dreams are temporally progressing "being-in-the-world" -experiences generated inside the brain. During dreaming, phenomenal consciousness is causally isolated from the stimulus environment, from the concurrent state of the physiological body, and from behavioral output systems. As I have argued in my previous BBS commentaries on Pessoa et al. (1999) and O'Regan & Noë (2001), their theories of visual consciousness cannot account for our vivid visual experiences in dreams.

Although I thus largely agree with Lehar as to what the proper approach to the study of consciousness should be, there is one core issue on which we seem to have differing views. His fundamental metaphysical commitment is panpsychism (or panexperientialism), according to which (a simple form of) consciousness is a fundamental property of physical matter. According to this view there is no radical discontinuity between any physical systems as to the possession of consciousness; it is just a matter of degree. Everything is more or less conscious; simple physical systems to a lesser degree, the human brain perhaps to the highest possible degree. This smooth continuum of consciousness across all physical entities is supposed to have the following explanatory strengths: (1) Consciousness is a fundamental property of physical matter and therefore need not be explained in terms of (nonconscious) physical matter, (2) There is no radical conscious/nonconscious dichotomy to be found anywhere in the natural order (e.g. in phylogeny or ontogeny).

This approach raises some severe problems. There are clear, well-demonstrated dichotomies between the presence and the absence of the state of consciousness (caused by anesthesia, epileptic seizures, fainting, coma) and between the presence and absence of particular contents of consciousness even though the stimuli are implicitly processed (as in blindsight or neglect). Any theory of consciousness should be able to explain these radical subjective differences between the presence and absence of consciousness. The panexperientialist is however forced to say that these are not really cases where the presence and total absence of consciousness in the brain could be strictly contrasted. The contrast is only between primitive and more sophisticated forms of consciousness. According to the panexperientialist the primitive form may be something so simple that we would hardly recognize it as consciousness at all. Thus, what we thought was the total absence of experience is actually the presence of a primitive form of experience; we just cannot recognise it as experience.

Unfortunately this move will not help us to understand the radical contrast between the presence and absence of conscious experience in the above cases. Regarding everything as conscious (to some degree) does not remove the radical conscious/nonconscious contrasts. In fact it leads to a position as difficult (but the exact opposite) as the eliminativist position defended by Dennett. If we take either the panexperientialist position that phenomenal consciousness is everywhere in the world, or the eliminative position that it is nowhere, we are no closer to explaining the radical empirical differences that we want to understand.

Furthermore, panexperientialism smacks of a misuse of the concept of experience. It is difficult to see why the postulated "primitive form" of consciousness - which we might not even recognize as experience - should be placed in the same category with our vivid phenomenal experiences. There seems to be no clear idea what "proto-consciousness" could be, whether it exists at all, or how the claims for its existence could be empirically tested or theoretically modelled, and how exactly the primitive form of consciousness relates to our ordinary vivid phenomenal consciousness.

Thus I do not regard panexperientialism as an advisable metaphysical commitment for a research program on consciousness. I would rather postulate that the sphere of subjective experience is a higher level of biological organization in the brain. Phenomenal experience only exists at that level, and in those creatures whose brains can realize that level. Otherwise the physical universe is devoid of phenomenal consciousness. When we totally lose consciousness, as we do during anesthesia, for example, our brain is temporarily incapable of supporting the phenomenal level of organization. The radical difference between the presence and the absence of phenomenal experience is to be described and explained in terms of biological levels of organization in the brain. Physical matter at lower levels of organization perhaps may be said to contain the potentiality of being conscious, but only in the weak sense in which all physical matter contains the potentiality to be alive. The mere potentiality does not make simple physical systems (say, carbon atoms or diamonds) alive, and it would be a waste of time to study the microphysical structure of diamonds in order to understand the biology of living systems. In a similar vein, I fear that the assumption that all physical systems (diamonds, toothbrushes, bacteria and so on) are conscious (or "proto-conscious") is going to be a useless, untestable hypothesis for the science of consciousness.

Proto-consciousness seems to be comparable to "ether", the invisible form of matter that was once believed to fill all physical space. The idea of a vacuum devoid of physical matter was unimaginable. Perhaps the idea of a 'phenomenal vacuum' or the total absence of conscious experience is equally difficult to accept. But while there were genuine empirical phenomena that the ether models tried to account for, there seem to be no phenomena (either nonconscious physical or conscious phenomenal) that the phenomenal ether of panexperientialism accounts for. Furthermore, as far as we know there are total phenomenal vacuums, total absences of phenomenal experience, and we should not try to fill them by postulating a phenomenal ether that pervades all physical matter. Instead, our theories of consciousness should explain the definitive differences, both phenomenal and biological, between the total presence and the total absence of consciousness in the brain.

Author's Response

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Revonsuo A. (1995) Consciousness, Dreams, and Virtual Realities. Philosophical Psychology 8: 35-58.

Revonsuo A (1998) Visual perception and subjective visual awareness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21(6): 769-770.

Revonsuo A (2000) Prospects for a Scientific Research Program on Consciousness. In: Metzinger T (Ed.) Neural Correlates of Consciousness, 57-75. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Revonsuo A (2001) Can functional brain imaging discover consciousness in the brain? Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (3): 3-23.

Revonsuo A (2001) Dreaming and the place of consciousness in nature. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24:5, 1000-1001.


This research was supported by the Academy of Finland (project 45704).

Victor Rosenthal & Yves-Marie Visetti

Gestalt bubble and the genesis of space


Lehar (rightly) insists on the volumetric character of our experience of space. He claims that three-dimensional space stems from the functional 3D topology of the brain. But his 'Gestalt Bubble' model of volumetric space bears an intrinsically static structure - a kind of theatre, or 'diorama', bound to the visual modality. We call attention to the ambivalence of Gestalt legacy, question the status and precise import of Lehar's model, and the phenomenology that motivates it.

Lehar should be applauded for making strong case for the fundamental character of volume and depth in our experience of space. The originality of his proposal resides inter alia in the radical claim that three-dimensional experience of space stems from the functional 3D topology sustained by the human brain (not to be naively equated with brain topography). He posits that subjective spatial experience criterially requires a 3D topological substratum - a device lacking 3D topological-dynamical structure could never account for volumetric experience of space. In other words, the only viable option for a functionalist indifferent to brain physiology is 3D topological-dynamical functionalism.

Lehar depicts his model as an outgrowth of Gestalt tradition. Indeed one can easily recognize two essential features of Gestalt theory: its phenomenological approach to subjective experience, and the postulate of psychophysical isomorphism. Phenomenological space, its emergence, and its scientific explanation as a brain process, are, according to Lehar, grounded in pre-given, continuous and coherent topology, specifically a 3D functional topology.

Lehar may not be aware that the way Gestalt psychologists treated space was in reality quite equivocal. Although they were in principle cognizant of the fundamental status of volumetric space, they granted it low priority in their scientific agenda, and tended 'provisionally' to treat space as a series of transparent/opaque surfaces, if not as ambient ground against which to set a figure. On the other hand, it is true that Köhler's theory of psychophysical isomorphism explicitly referred to 3D functional brain topology to construe not only 3D geometrical static structures but also 2D structures evolving in time (see Koffka, 1935). The theory combined empirical and phenomenological constraints with speculative brain physics (e.g. the theory of cortical fields) so as to represent both brain process and phenomenological experience in a single dynamical scheme (see Rosenthal & Visetti, 2003).

Several attempts have been made to model Gestalt principles of perception in accordance with neurophysiology, and in particular with the doctrine of neural coding (e.g. of perceptual micro-features). For instance, models of neural fields or neural repertoires feature a 2D functional topology which corresponds to a topographic 2D arrangement of units in primary areas (e.g. retinotopy) (e.g. Hoffman, 1989; Koenderinck, 1990, see Petitot, 1999, for a review). Less discrete models, unconstrained by brain physiology, developed in the context of image processing and sometimes resorted to fairly complex mathematics, but maintained set to a bi-dimensionality of their input (retinal or pictorial, see Morel & Solimini, 1995). The very idea of 3D functional topology was hardly taken into consideration in the few attempts to account for depth (e.g. Grossberg's), which thus had to resort to hosts of specialized coding units: a patently implausible solution, as Lehar rightly noted.

The solution advocated by Lehar is original and certainly deserves attention. He defines a 3D topological milieu where any local element can be in one of four states (corresponding to local surface elements). Each individual element (or point in a perceptual matrix) exerts a field influence on adjacent elements for them to take on a similar state (or to be prevented from this by inhibition). Reciprocal determination between surface elements is assumed to generate equilibrium in which the relevant features are stabilized. The input to the model is an image set in frontal plane (much like a retinal image). The output (actually the first step in 'geometrization' of space) is a distribution of geometrical surface micro-features in a 3D space. Although Lehar does not mention this issue, one can readily deduce that unit formation or individuation is assumed to take place in this 3D visual matrix. The originality of this proposal should be highlighted: while the majority of rival models first individuate 2D units (from 2D image input), then categorize them as faces of 3D units, Lehar sets his 3D structure ab initio, and whatever is to populate this 3D distribution of geometrical micro-features supposedly comes next.

It isn't clear, however, which scientific question Lehar has set out to answer. He doesn't seem to attempt another perspectival reconstruction of the visual field, for his model, in contrast to its alleged purely phenomenological motivation, builds on a physicalist metaphor. Although Lehar dismisses neurophysiological concerns, the analogy between his model and neural net models jumps to the eye: traditional 'neurons' with their receptor fields are replaced by elements or points in perceptual matrix, and neural connections are supplanted by fields of influence. Moreover, Lehar alludes to the possibility that the model take a discrete or granular form (see Figure 7A). Why then, does he hammer so loudly his physicalist credo? It seems that Lehar believes that the process by which space is constituted necessarily sheds light on the way we perceive space. Then, why doesn't he try to motivate his model genetically? Clearly, Lehar needs to tell us the rules of the scientific game he plays more explicitly (does he want to model the constitution of space from a purely phenomenological viewpoint, or does he attempt a free mathematical reconstruction of subjective experience?).

Lehar could have mentioned that during the past century other theorists put forth elaborate proposals concerning the constitution of space experience (e.g. Husserl, 1997; Poincaré, 2001; Gibson, 1950). Instead of sticking to neurophysiology, they referred to the structure of the organism or the lived body. These were strongly dynamic, sensori- motor 'models' of constitution of phenomenological space, which assumed a multi-modal origin of volumetric space and explicitly related its dimensionality to repertoires of self- generated movements. Although none of these 'models' can be regarded as fully effective, they account for the ontogenesis of space in a dynamic fashion, and, for a variety of phenomena of adaptation (e.g. to distorting goggles). We suggest that considering the dynamics of genetic, multi-modal and sensori-motor character of the constitution of space is as important in modeling perceived space as neurophysiology and the kind of static geometry on which Lehar elaborates. What comes along with such dynamics is the constitutive relationship between external and bodily space. Lehar appears to be aware that perception of space involves one's own body, but instead of taking this as a constitutive relation he treats the body as just another object in space.

Finally, we have strong reservations with respect to Lehar's phenomenology. The field of vision he refers to neglects readiness for prospective action, and the phenomenological subject is not immersed in the practical field of ongoing activity with its qualitative, praxeological and prospective dimensions (see Rosenthal & Visetti, 2003). What about the non-isotropy of perceived space and the resulting potential heterogeneity in the constitution of regions of space? Is it advisable to consider phenomenological space as a mere deployment (be it 3D) independent of the engaged, or prospective, actions to which it gives stage?

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Gibson, J.J. (1950). The Perception of the Visual World. Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin.

Hoffman, W.C. (1989). The visual cortex is a contact bundle. Applied Mathematics and Computation, 32, 137-167.

Husserl, E. (1997). Thing and space: Lectures of 1907. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. [First published in 1907].

Koenderinck, J.J. (1990). The brain as a geometry engine. Psychological Research, 52, 122-127.

Morel, J.M., & Solimini, S. (1995). Variational Methods in Image Segmentation. Berlin: Birckhaüser.

Petitot, J. (1999). Morphological eidetics. In J. Petitot, F. Varela, B. Pachoud, & J.M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing Phenomenology. Issues in contemporary phenomenology and cognitive science (pp. 330-371). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Poincaré, H. (2001). The value of science: essential writings of Henri Poincaré. New York: Modern Library. [First published in 1905].

Rosenthal, V., & Visetti, Y.M. (2003). Köhler. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Helen Ross

Neurological models of size scaling


Lehar argues that a simple neuron doctrine cannot explain perceptual phenomena such as size constancy, but he fails to discuss existing more complex neurological models. Size models that rely purely on scaling for distance are sparse, but several models are also concerned with other aspects of size perception such as geometrical illusions, relative size, adaptation, perceptual learning and size discrimination.

Lehar argues (section 2.2 and elsewhere) that there are no adequate neurological models to explain why we see the world the way we do, and that theorists have ignored the discrepancies between the proximal stimulus and our perceptual experience. He then presents a computational model to describe our perceptual experience of hyperbolic space. He rightly complains about the shortage of neurological models for size and shape constancy, but he fails to discuss the models that do exist.

Psychologists have long been interested in size scaling, or discrepancies between perceived size and image size: the phenomena include size constancy, geometrical illusions, optical distortions, adaptation and aftereffects. The classical account of size constancy maintains that size is scaled for distance in a quasi-geometric manner (the size- distance invariance hypothesis); this account is not productive of neurological models because it assumes that retinal image size is 'correctly' encoded in the visual cortex, and that the image is then scaled for distance in some unexplained 'cognitive' manner. Kirschfeld (1999) argues that the image representation has to be scaled for distance neurologically before it enters consciousness, and that this might be done in area V4. He notes that Dobbins et al. (1998) found that some neurons in this area varied their response to the angular size of lines depending on viewing distance. The idea that image size is transformed at some preconscious stage of visual processing by mechanisms other than distance scaling (e.g. McCready, 1985) may be more fruitful. Stuart, Bossomaier and Johnson (1993) proposed a computational model based on broadly tuned layers of size detectors, which could account both for Weber's law in size discrimination and for the biasing effects of geometrical illusions; however, they did not extend the model to include scaling for distance. The main alternative approach to size constancy - generally supported by Gibsonians - is that object sizes are scaled in relation to the surrounding spatial scale. This approach has the advantage of embracing other size illusions in addition to size constancy, and it is more productive of neurological models. Size contrast illusions have been attributed to adaptation of cells that detect spatial frequency, or to other neural interactions in the brain (see Gillam, 1998). However, spatial frequency is not the same thing as image size (the distance across an image), so spatial frequency models are unhelpful for general models of size perception. Andrews (1964) proposed a perceptual learning model of size calibration, in which the brain corrects the metric of the visual field according to the most recent information, and attempts to equalize the spacing of contours. This would allow for learning, in addition to explaining some illusions, aftereffects and size constancy. Richards (1977) suggested that simple cells in the cortex might respond to relative rather than absolute size, and he also discussed the properties necessary for the neural basis of size constancy.

Some authors have attempted to explain size constancy through the enlargement of perceived size for the central part of the visual scene, which occurs because the representation of the central part of the retinal image covers more cortical cells at later stages of analysis. Such an idea is based on the anatomical fact of cortical magnification, which enhances acuity for central vision. The fovea contains more densely-packed cone cells than the surrounding area, and it projects to a relatively larger region of the primary visual cortex. Schwartz (1980) incorporated this idea into his model of size constancy. When an observer fixates a distant object, it forms a small image in central vision, whereas close objects form larger images that spread further into the periphery: the small central image is therefore expanded neurologically relatively more than the larger image. Such a mechanism might contribute marginally to size constancy, but it fails to explain how objects of the same angular size can appear different in size even when both are viewed in central vision. An example of this problem is the moon illusion (see Ross & Plug, 2002). The moon illusion is the apparent enlargement of the sun or moon when low on the horizon compared with its size when higher in the sky; the effect is similar to size constancy, but is hard to explain by the usual 'scaling for distance' account. The difficulty is that the low moon appears nearer than the high moon, whereas size-distance invariance requires it to appear further. Trehub (1991, pp. 242-247) developed the 'retinoid' model, which could account both for size constancy and the moon illusion. He argued that size magnification is expensive in neurological terms, because it involves the use of more networks of cells. The brain husbands its resources by magnifying only the most 'ecologically relevant' parts of the scene - that is objects in the near distance when looking horizontally, and close overhead when looking up. Humans cannot normally interact with celestial objects or with distant terrestrial objects, so the images for such objects can safely be left relatively small. Size constancy is therefore poor for far horizontal distances, and even poorer when looking upwards. The 3D representation of distance is also shrunk vertically in comparison with horizontally, again for the purpose of minimizing neural resources. Distance is computed within the 3D retinoid system, and is represented by "sheets" of cells; the extent of size magnification is linked to the distance plane onto which the image is mapped. This biased mapping of the visual scene onto brain structures is largely the result of human evolution, but it can be further modified by individual experience.

There are neuropsychological findings that support multiple representations of 3D space (see Previc, 1998). There are also findings on micropsia and hemineglect that give clues as to how and where size might be coded (see Kassubek et al., 1999). Lehar may be correct that a simple neuron doctrine cannot account for size scaling, but more complex neurological models show promise.

Author's Response

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Andrews, D.P.(1964) Error-correcting perceptual mechanisms. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 16:102-15.

Dobbins, A.C., Jeo, R.M., Fiser, J., & Allman, J.M. (1998) Distance modulation of neural activity in the visual cortex. Science 281:552-5.

Gillam, B. (1998) Illusions at century's end. In: Handbook of perception and cognition (2nd edn), ed. J. Hochberg. Academic Press.

Kassubek, J., Otte, M., Wolter, T., Greenlee, M.W., Mergner, T. & Lücking, C.H. (1999) Brain imaging in a patient with hemimicropsia. Neuropsychologia 37:1327-34.

Kirschfeld, K. (1999) Afterimages: a tool for defining the neural correlate of visual consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 8:462-83.

McCready, D. (1985) On size, distance, and visual angle perception. Perception and Psychophysics 37:323-34.

Previc, F.H. (1998) The neuropsychology of 3-D space. Psychological Bulletin 124:123- 64.

Richards, W. (1977) Lessons in constancy from neurophysiology. In: Stability and constancy in visual perception, ed. W. Epstein. Wiley.

Ross, H.E. & Plug, C. (2002) The mystery of the moon illusion: Exploring size perception. Oxford University Press.

Schwartz, E.L. (1980) Computational anatomy and functional architecture of striate cortex: a spatial mapping approach to perceptual coding. Vision Research 20:645-69.

Stuart, G.W., Bossomaier, T.R.J. & Johnson, S. (1993) Preattentive processing of object size: implications for theories of size perception. Perception 22:1175-93.

Trehub, A. (1991) The cognitive brain. MIT Press.

James A. Schirillo

Spatial Phenomenology Requires Potential Illumination


Collapsing three-dimensional space into two violates Lehar's "volumetric mapping" constraint and can cause the visual system to construct illusory transparent regions to replace voxels that would have contained illumination. This may underlie why color constancy is worse in two-dimensions, and argues to Lehar revise his phenomenal spatial model by putting "potential illumination" in empty space.

Lehar's phenomenological description of space neglects the fact that empty space is actually full of illumination. For example, if a cast shadow crosses half of this page and you move your finger from a word under shadow to one under full illumination you are not surprised when your finger crosses the shadow, even though your finger is closer in depth than the page. This is because every voxel between your eye and the page contains some amount of light. It is unfortunate that Lehar overlooks this fact since he correctly asserts that depth information is volumetric, while current neurological models fail to "...represent transparency, with multiple depth values at every single (x,y) location, or to represent the experience of empty space between the observer and a visible object" (page 12). These same models also ignore that every voxel of "empty" space contains light of some intensity and chromaticity.

This confusion probably results from naively accepting the popular notion that humans care only about the location and qualities of objects, making the perception of illumination irrelevant. This assumption is so prevalent that much of color research is devoted to determining how the visual system "discounts the illuminant". However, a viable solution to the Gestalt problem of color constancy will only emerge with a more complete description and understanding of how we subjectively experience illumination. Ironically, Lehar's aspiration to describe the subjective experience of spatial vision in terms comparable to those of color vision reveal that current color vision research is also in peril. That is, he claims that color phenomena are reducible to hue, intensity and saturation because that is how the brain represents them physiologically (page 7). Yet models of hue, intensity and saturation cannot be the "primitives of raw conscious experience" (page 13-14), in that these qualities remain invariant as illumination changes across space.

This confound is apparent when Lehar discusses Figure 1 as containing "...explicit volumes, bounded by colored surfaces, embedded in a spatial void" (page 15), where "...every point can encode either the experience of transparency, or the experience of a perceived color at that location" (page 21). His more accurate intuition is that there are also intermediate states between transparent and opaque " account for the perception of semi-transparent surfaces" (page 35). I suggest Lehar consider filling these semi- transparent voxels with "potential illumination" "at multiple depth values at every single (x,y) location". This would also strengthen his second and third conclusions that "volumes of empty space are perceived with the same geometrical fidelity as volumes of solid matter" and that "multiple transparent surfaces can be perceived simultaneously" (page 55). Having semi-transparent voxels contain "potential illumination" is a more parsimonious description of the void between your eyes and this page. You can actualize the "potential illumination" of these voxels by placing your finger in front of any shadow cast on the page. More accurately, Lehar's phenomenological model allows only the plane of voxels directly in front of a given surface to contain cast shadows (i.e., less illumination), since the voxels that compose the surface must be the color of the opaque surface itself (page 36).

Note that this concept is not merely peripatetic (Aristotle, 1976), or an ether explanation, in that we are always subjectively aware of the illuminant. For example, by looking from your illuminated reading room into a dark hallway, your subjective experience is not only that the hallway walls are under less illumination but also that the space itself contains less light. In this way, "potential illumination" can also address why color constancy differs in two- verses three-dimensional scenes. For example, Gilchrist (1977) had observer's look through a pinhole into a room containing a doorway into a second room. The near room was dimly illuminated and the far room was highly illuminated. Attached to the doorframe were several papers, arranged so that a mid-gray paper appeared either adjacent to the doorframe, or (with its corners removed) on the far room's back wall. The lightness of the paper shifted in the direction of lightness constancy depending on whether it appeared on the doorframe or on the far wall. Schirillo et al. (1990) generated equivalent stimuli in two-dimensions using a CRT and stereoscope, yet their replication produced only a fraction of Gilchrist's constancy. I hypothesize this occurred because stereoscopic space does not contain the actual voxels of either high (e.g., near room) or low (e.g., far room) illumination. In essence, Schirillo et al. failed to preserve Lehar's necessary condition of "volumetric mapping" (Figure 1D, page 16).

The ubiquitous use of stereoscopic CRT images reduces scenes to Alberti's window, which retain perspective cues but eliminate Lehar's requirement that space be volumetric. This obfuscates the color constancy paradox in that these voxels contain illumination. For example, Adelson's (1993) famous wall of blocks illusion contains cubes of identical luminance that appear dissimilar in lightness and concomitantly under illusory transparent stripes. Logvinenko et al. (2002) eliminated both the appearance of transparency and the lightness illusion by constructing a three-dimensional version of Adelson's two-dimensional display. I hypothesize that the visual system does not add a transparent veil to Logvinenko's display since it already ascribes illumination to every voxel in space. However, when Adelson eliminates such volumes, but retains the same spatial geometry via X-junctions, the visual system reconstructs the volume to contain regions of illusory transparency (i.e., illumination). Consequently, Lehar's improved spatial model requires a phenomenal description of empty space that includes "potentially illuminated" voxels.

Author's Response

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Adelson, E.H. (1993). Perceptual organization and the judgment of brightness. Science, 262, 2042-2044.

Aristotle (1976). De Anima (On the Soul). New York, Arno Press.

Gilchrist, A.L. (1977). Perceived lightness depends on perceived spatial arrangement. Science, 195, 185-187.

Logvinenko, A., Kane, J. & Ross, D.A. (2002). Is lightness induction a pictorial illusion? Perception, 31, 73-82.

Schirillo, J., Reeves, A. & Arend, L. (1990). Perceived lightness, but not brightness, of achromatic surfaces depends on perceived depth information. Perception & Psychophysics, 48 (1): 82-90.

Peter Ulric Tse

If vision is 'veridical hallucination', what keeps it veridical? and time are only forms of sensible intuition, and hence are only conditions of the existence of things as phenomena...we can have no cognition of an object, as a thing in itself, but only as an object of sensible intuition, that is, as phenomenon...

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1781


If perception is constructed, what keeps perception from becoming mere hallucination unlinked to world events? The visual system has evolved two strategies to anchor itself and correct its errors. One involves completing missing information on the basis of knowledge about what most likely exists in the scene. For example, the visual system fills in information only in cases where it might be responsible for the data loss. The other strategy involves exploiting the physical stability of the environment as a reference frame with respect to which the eyes and body can move.

Lehar develops the Kantian insight that perception (1) is entirely a mental construction, (2) lacks access to the world-in-itself to determine the accuracy of its representations, and (3) is only possible given an internal framework of spacetime that permits sensory input to be interpreted as occurring in an external spacetime. Here I focus on how the brain can construct true information about the world when there is no way to objectively judge whether that information is true by comparing that information to the world-in-itself.

To create veridical information the visual system must compensate for errors, data loss, and processing bottlenecks imposed by its imperfect design. It has nothing but the ambiguous, incomplete, and noisy image to determine whether it has made an error. It must therefore know what types of image cues indicate errors and it must have strategies to correct errors. The visual system only corrects itself when it is responsible for errors or data loss. It compensates for its own likely errors using two strategies. One is to rely on world knowledge, and the other is to assume that the world is stable.

When (a) is replaced all at once by (b) a smooth apparent motion (indicated by an arrow) is filled in (Tse and Logothetis, 2002). No filling-in occurs in (d) cases of amodal completion (Tse, 1999). The shape behind the occluder, whether (e) or (f), is not completed.

For example, when does the visual system fill in missing phenomenal features and when does it merely note that completion takes place without filling in (see figure 1)? Filling-in occurs when the information that is missing from the image is missing because of the visual system's own failure to detect it. The visual system follows the principle "no news isn't necessarily bad news when there was no way to get the news in the first place." The visual system functions as if it knows that it does not always have adequate information in a particular domain to determine the structure of the world. Thus, when information is missing from an image, this is not necessarily regarded as contradictory information or information that the undetected thing does not exist in the world. The information might be undetected because of poor viewing conditions or because of the inherent limits on detection imposed by a noisy perceptual apparatus that has limited sensitivity. A more precise formulation is:

In the absence of direct (but presence of appropriate indirect) image evidence for the existence of x, under viewing conditions where x would not be detectable in the image even if it were present in the world, the visual system may not only not reject x, it may assume x to be the case, and interpolate x so that x is seen as if it were visible.

Filling-in occurs because the visual system, in effect, blames itself. The sensitivity of the visual system under given viewing conditions can be too poor to permit detection of an entity that indirect image evidence implies exists. Under such conditions the visual system creates what it "knows" must be missing. In amodal completion there is no filling- in because the visual system does not blame itself. The shape or features of the occluded portions of an object are not filled in because under no possible viewing conditions would shape or surface features be visible through an opaque occluder. No matter how insensitive the visual system might be, it cannot blame itself for not detecting entities that are in principle undetectable under any viewing conditions.

A second strategy to overcome potential errors is to analyze image data under the assumption that the world is stable. First, the visual system does not need to store detailed information about the world, because it can always sample the world for more information (O'Regan, 1991). Second, the visual system can stabilize perceptual space by relying on the presumed stability of the world. For example, the retinal image usually only changes en masse when the body or eyes move. The system can exploit this stability in order to maintain the eyes and body in a constant position with respect to the world. A classic demonstration of this is the "moving room" experiment (Lee and Aronson, 1974), in which a person stands in a room that is set on rollers. When the walls move, rather than assume that the world has moved, the visual system assumes that the body has moved, and corrects for this by changing the body's position. Sometimes subjects even fall over! It is as if the visual system blames itself for the discrepancy caused by the moving room and compensates by relying on a world that it wrongly assumed was stable.

Another example can be found in the recalibration of perceptual space that takes place after a saccadic eye movement. Deubel and colleagues (Deubel, et al.,1998) have argued that the system seeks its saccade target immediately after a saccade. If this target is found within a certain spatial and temporal window, the visual system assumes the target object to have remained stable and uses it as a reference object to determine the positions of other objects. This is true even when the target object in fact moves during the saccade. Even more surprisingly, Deubel and colleagues find that if the target has moved to the right, and a neighboring distractor has not moved at all, the visual system creates a percept of a target that has remained stationary and a distractor that has jumped to the left!

Because the visual system's initial saccade lands accurately on the position where the target was at the beginning of the saccade, the visual system should know that the target changed position. But this is only true if it assumes its saccade was infallibly correct. Instead, a corrective saccade is automatically made to the new position of the target and the object is assumed to have remained stable. The distractor's illusory jump to the left is filled in because it is the motion that must have occurred, assuming the stability of the target and the world. Again, it is as if the visual system blames itself for the discrepancy and relies on the stability of the world to correct its presumed error. Because the visual system has no direct access to the world, it must rely solely on the image to judge whether it has made errors in specifying the image-to-world correspondence. Error correction is only possible based on assumptions about world structure and statistics. Completion may be phenomenal or not, depending on whether the visual system "blames itself" for the data loss. In addition, the visual system takes a world that it assumes to be stable as its frame of reference. These two strategies allow the visual system to overcome the handicap that the truth of perceptual information cannot be judged by comparing that information with the world-in-itself.

Author's Response

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Deubel, H. et al. (1998). Immediate post-saccadic information mediates space constancy. Vision Research, 38, 3147-3159.

Lee, D. N. and Aronson, E. (1974) Visual proprioceptive control of standing in human infants. Perception & Psychophysics. 15(3), 529-532.

O'Regan, J.K. (1992) Solving the "real" mysteries of visual perception: the world as an outside memory. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 46, 461-488.

Tse, P. U. (1999). Volume completion.Cognitive Psychology, 39, 37-68.

Tse, P. U. and Logothetis, N. K. (2002). The duration of 3-D form analysis in transformational apparent motion. Perception & Psychophysics, 64(2), 244-265.

Max Velmans

Is the world in the brain, or the brain in the world?


Lehar provides useful insights into spatially extended phenomenology that may have major consequences for neuroscience. However, Lehar's biological naturalism leads to counterintuitive conclusions and he does not give an accurate account of preceding and competing work. This commentary compares Lehar's analysis with that of Velmans, which address similar issues but draws opposite conclusions. Lehar argues that the phenomenal world is in the brain, and concludes that the physical skull is beyond the phenomenal world. Velmans argues that the brain is in the phenomenal world and concludes that the physical skull is where it seems to be.

Is the phenomenal world in the brain, or is the brain in the phenomenal world? As William James (1904) noted, "the whole philosophy of perception from Democritus's time downwards has been just one long wrangle over the paradox that what is evidently one reality should be in two places at once, both in outer space and in a person's mind." James defended the former view, and consequently developed a form of neutral monism, in which the phenomenal world can be regarded as being either "mental" or "physical" depending on one's interest in it. If one is interested in how the appearance of the perceived world depends on perceptual processing one can think of it as mental (as a psychological effect of that processing). If one is interested in how some aspect of the perceived world relates to other aspects of that world (e.g. via causal laws) one can think of it as physical. Lehar, by contrast, defends "biological naturalism" (a form of "physicalism")-the view that the experienced world is literally in the brain.

The difference is fundamental. But whatever view one takes about where to locate the perceived world, one fact is clear: the 3D world we see around our bodies that we normally think of as the "physical world" is part of conscious experience not apart from it. This perceived world is related to the unperceived world described by physics (in terms of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, etc.) but it is not identical to it. This is potentially paradigm shifting, for the reason that it redraws the boundaries of consciousness to include the perceived physical world, with consequences for our understanding of mind/body relationships, subjectivity versus objectivity, science, epistemology, and much else (see extensive discussions in Velmans, 1990, 1991a,b, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002a,b). As Lehar notes in his target article, this conceptual shift also has consequences for neurophysiology. An accurate phenomenology of consciousness is a prerequisite for an adequate understanding of the neural processes that support that phenomenology. In this, Lehar's gestalt bubble model provides an interesting, original and potentially useful step forward.

Given the fundamental nature of the issues, and the positive contributions of his paper, it is a pity that Lehar's review of preceding and competing positions is often inaccurate and unnecessarily dismissive. For example, I barely recognised my own work on these problems from his summary. I do not have space to correct these errors here[1]-but merely note, that apart from a few crucial differences, Lehar's understanding of the consciousness/brain relationship in visual perception is virtually identical to my own.

What are the crucial differences? Consider the simple model of visual perception shown in Figure 1. Viewed from the perspective of an external observer E, light rays reflected from an entity in the world (that E perceives to be a cat) innervate S's eye and visual system. Neural representations of the entity, including the neural correlates of consciousness, are produced in S's brain. In terms of what E can observe that is the end of the story. However, once the conditions for consciousness form in S's brain, she also experiences a cat out in the world-so a full story of what is going on has to combine what E observes with what S experiences (see discussion of mixed-perspective explanations in Velmans 1996, 2000). If we combine E's observations with those of S, an entity in the world (the initiating stimulus) once processed, is consciously experienced to be an entity in the world (a cat), making the entire process "reflexive."

But here's the puzzle: the neural representations of the cat (observed by E) are undoubtedly in S's brain so how can S experience the cat to be outside her brain? The effect is natural and ubiquitous, so there must be a natural explanation. Lehar's Gestalt bubble model gives some indications of what is achieved, but doesn't suggest how it is done-and at present, we just don't know. However, both virtual reality and holography might provide useful clues (Velmans 1993, 2000, Pribram, 1971, Revonsuo, 1995). Suppose, for example, that the information encoded in S's brain is formed into a kind of neural "projection hologram." A projection hologram has the interesting property that the three-dimensional image it encodes is perceived to be out in space, in front of its two-dimensional surface, provided that it is viewed from an appropriate (frontal) perspective and it is illuminated by an appropriate (frontal) source of light. Viewed from any other perspective (from the side or from behind) the only information one can detect about the image is in the complex interference patterns encoded on the holographic plate. In analogous fashion, the information in the neural "projection hologram" is displayed as a visual, three-dimensional object out in space only when it is viewed from the appropriate, first-person perspective of the perceiving subject. And this happens only when the necessary and sufficient conditions for consciousness are satisfied (when there is "illumination by an appropriate source of light"). Viewed from any other, external perspective the information in S's "hologram" appears to be nothing more than neural representations in the brain (interference patterns on the plate).

The "projection hologram" is, of course, only an analogy, but it is useful in that it shares some of the apparently puzzling features of conscious experiences. The information displayed in the three-dimensional holographic image is encoded in two-dimensional patterns on a plate, but there is no sense in which the three-dimensional image is itself "in the plate". Likewise (contra Lehar), I suggest that there is no sense in which the phenomenal cat observed by S is "in her head or brain." In fact, the 3D holographic image does not even exist (as an image) without an appropriately placed observer and an appropriate source of light. Likewise, the existence of the phenomenal cat requires the participation of S, the experiencing agent, and all the conditions required for conscious experience (in her mind/brain) have to be satisfied. Finally, a given holographic image only exists for a given observer, and can only be said to be located and extended where that observer perceives it to be [2]! S's phenomenal cat is similarly private and subjective. If she perceives it to be out in phenomenal space beyond the body surface, then, from her perspective, it is out in phenomenal space beyond the body surface.

But this doesn't settle the matter. To decide whether the phenomenal cat is really outside S's head we have to understand the relation of phenomenal space to physical space. Physical space is conceived of in various ways depending on the phenomena under consideration (for example as 4D space-time in relativity theory, or as 11 dimensional space in string theory). However, the physical space under consideration here, and in Lehar's analysis, is simply measured space. Lehar agrees, for example, that at near distances phenomenal space models measured space quite well, while at far distances this correspondence breaks down (the universe is not really a dome around the earth). How do we judge how well phenomenal space corresponds to measured space? We measure the actual distance of an object within phenomenal space, using a standardised measuring instrument-at its simplest, a ruler, and count how often it has to be placed end to end to get to the object. Although rulers look shorter as their distance recedes, we know that their length does not significantly alter, and we conclude therefore that distant objects are really further than they seem.

Lehar and I agree (with Kant) that whether we are "subjects" or "external observers" we do not perceive things as they are in themselves—only phenomena that represent things themselves, and, together, such phenomena comprise our personal phenomenal worlds. In Figure 1, for example, the cat, the subject's head, and the neural representations in S's brain (as they appear to E) are as much part of E's phenomenal world as the perceived cat is part of S's phenomenal world. This applies equally to rulers or other instruments that E might use to measure distance. In sum, to carry out his science, E does not have an observer-free view of what is going on anymore than S does. E and S simply view what is going on from different third- and first-person perspectives. This has extensive consequences (worked out in Velmans, 2000), but I only have space to comment on one of these here. According to Lehar, the 3D phenomenal world in my own analysis is "undetectable externally by scientific means", does not "exist in any true physical sense" and is therefore "a spiritual entity to be believed in (for those who are so inclined) rather than anything knowable by, or demonstrable to, science." Nothing could be further from the truth. Data in science consist entirely of observed phenomena that occur in a spatially extended phenomenal world, and the measurements that we make within that phenomenal world are the only ones we have on which to ground our science!

Where is this phenomenal world? Viewed from E's perspective, it is outside his head, and the distance of the phenomenal objects within it can be measured, using standardised instruments that operate on phenomenal space (the distance of this phenomenal page from your eye for example can be measured with a ruler). Viewed from E's perspective, the phenomenal world also appears to be represented (in a neural form) in S's brain. Viewed from S's perspective, things look the same: the phenomenal world appears to be outside her head, and, if she looks, a neural representation of that world appears to be encoded in E's brain. Given that the evidence remains the same, irrespective of the perspective from which it is viewed, one can safely conclude (with James) that while a neural encoding of the world is within the brain, the phenomenal world is outside the brain. As this is how the natural world is formed, there must be a natural explanation (see above). In Velmans (2000) I have shown how this analysis can be developed into a broad "reflexive monism" that is consistent with science and with common sense.

Now consider Lehar's alternative: It is widely accepted that experiences cannot be seen in brains viewed from the outside, but Lehar insists that they can. Indeed, he insists that E knows more about S's experience than S does and S knows more about E's experience than E does, as the phenomenal world that S experiences outside her brain, is nothing more than the neural representation E can see inside her brain and vice-versa. This has the consequence that the real physical skull (as opposed to the phenomenal skull) exists beyond the phenomenal world. As Lehar notes, the former and the latter are logically equivalent.

Think about it! Stick your hands on your head. Is that the real physical skull that you feel or is that just a phenomenal skull inside your brain? If the phenomenal world "reflexively" models the physical world quite well at short distances (as I suggest), it is the real skull and its physical location and extension are more or less where they seem to be. If we live in an inside-out world as Lehar suggests, the skull that we feel outside our brain is actually inside our brain, and the real skull is outside the farthest reaches of the phenomenal world, beyond the dome of the sky. If so, we suffer from a mass delusion. Our real skulls are bigger than the experienced universe. Lehar admits that this possibility is "incredible." I think it is absurd.

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James, W (1904) Does 'consciousness' exist? Reprinted in: G. N. A. Vesey (ed) Body and mind: readings in philosophy. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970, pp 202-208.

Pribram, K.H. (1971) Languages of the brain: experimental paradoxes and principles in neuropsychology. New York: Brandon House.

Revonsuo, A. (1995) Consciousness, dreams, and virtual realities. Philosophical Psychology, 8(1): 35-58.

Velmans, M (2003) Is the world in the brain, or the brain in the world? (Unabridged version of BBS commentary). URL to be supplied.

Velmans, M. (2002a) How could conscious experiences affect brains? (Target Article for Special Issue) Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9 (11): 3-29. URL to be supplied.

Velmans, M (2002b) Making sense of the causal interactions between consciousness and brain (a reply to commentaries) Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9 (11): 69-95. URL to be supplied.

Velmans, M. (2001) A natural account of phenomenal consciousness. Communication and Cognition, 34(1&2): 39-59.

Velmans, M. (2000) Understanding Consciousness, London: Routledge/Psychology Press.

Velmans, M. (1996) Consciousness and the "causal paradox." Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 19(3): 537-542.

Velmans, M.(1993) A Reflexive Science of consciousness. In Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness. CIBA Foundation Symposium 174. Wiley, Chichester, pp 81-99.

Velmans, M. (1991a) Is human information processing conscious? (Target Article) Behavioral and Brain Sciences 14(4): 651-669.

Velmans, M. (1991b) Consciousness from a first-person perspective. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 14(4): 702-726.

Velmans, M. (1990) Consciousness, brain, and the physical world. Philosophical Psychology: 3, 77-99.

[1]For James, "representative" theories are those that propose the existence of some inner mental image that represents the physical room "in the mind".

[2]The position of the image relative to the plate, for example, changes slightly as the observer moves around the plate. Nevertheless, the image is sufficiently clear for the observer to (roughly) measure its width and how far it projects in front of the plate (e.g. with a ruler).

Edmond Wright

Percepts are selected from nonconceptual sensory fields


Steven Lehar allows too much to his Direct Realist opponent is using the word ' subjective' of the sensory field per se. The latter retains its nonconceptual, non- mental nature even when explored by perceptual judgement. He also needs to stress the evolutionary value of perceptual differences between person and person, a move that enables one to undermine the Direct Realist's superstitious certainty about the singular Object.

With regard to the title of Steven Lehar's article, it is vital that the term 'subjective' not be used of the functionally isomorphic sensory field. To acquiesce in its use is to yield ground to the Direct Realist opponent. It can be credibly argued that the ground of all sensory experience is thoroughly nonconceptual, beyond that of Gareth Evans' use of the term, in that recognizable entities and properties are not given in the initial stage of the process, not even that of a subject (Evans still took 'nonconceptual' to include the perception of separable objects-as-unrecognized, Evans, 1982, 228). The isomorphic field, because of its very isomorphism, is as brute as the input at the sensory organ, therefore as non-mental, as material (Wright, American Philosophical Quarterly, 23, 1996, 23-45), whatever may be its nature as an emergence from complexity. How could it not be if it is, however indirectly, covariant with the input? As John Foster has put it, sensing is something that just 'happens to us' rather than 'something that we do' (Foster, 2000, 123). Subjectivity does not enter the equation until the establishment of perceptual judgement and memory has taken place upon that nonconceptual evidence at the behest of the motivational module. Therefore, it is going too far to attribute 'protoconsciousness' at this level (Lehar. 6.5), for this correction regards sensing as always existing apart from judgement, merely evidence upon which a mind may or may not work (Wright, 1996, 24-28).

Lehar (2.4) justifiably uses the analogy with the television screen employed by Roy Wood Sellars, Barry Maund and Virgil C. Aldrich (Sellars, 1916, 237; Maund, 1975, 47- 8; Aldrich, 1979, 37), in that the distinction made between the screen-state (of the phosphor cells) and what is judged to be shown upon it is functionally similar to that between the sensory evidence within the brain and the percepts chosen from it. If he accepts the cogency of this comparison, then he ought to acknowledge that the radically nonconceptual nature of the sensory evidence is implied by this analogy. However much information-theoretic evidence there may be on screen/neural raster, it only registers covariations with light-wave frequencies and intensities at the camera/retinas, not any information about recognizable entities and properties (if the TV set was upside down and one had just entered the room with it in, one would be unable to use one's memories to judge that, say, Ian McKellen as Gandalf was at that moment 'visible', the screen thus revealing its permanently nonconceptual state). So Lehar should accept the criticism made above.

Those anti-qualia philosophers and psychologists who inveigh against the 'picture-in-the- head' proposal (for example, O'Regan and Noë in this journal, 2002, Section 6.9, para. 4), have always opposed the Television Analogy. Lehar does not sufficiently defend himself against this attack (2.3). As I have pointed out (Wright, 1990, 8-11), there cannot literally be pictures in the head, for, if colours are neural events, actual pictures are not coloured, and the 'picture' in the head is. Nor is an eye required for sensing neural colour for eyes are equipped to take in uncoloured light-waves, and there are no light- waves in the head. Visual sensing is a direct experience for which eyes would be useless. Gilbert Ryle's attempt to maintain that one would have to have another sensation to sense a sensation remains as an argument as Ayer described it, 'very weak' (Ryle 1966, orig. 1949, 203; Ayer 1957, 107).

Once this radically nonconceptual nature of the fields is admitted, its evolutionary value can be brought out, which is precisely what Roy Wood Sellars and Durant Drake insisted upon, exactly the philosophers that Lehar calls to his aid (Lehar, 2.3; Sellars, 1922; Drake, 1925). Sellars particularly stressed the feedback nature of the perceptual engagement, which allows for the continual updating of entity-selection from the fields (altering spatio-temporal boundaries, qualitative criteria, etc.), a claim which renders stances such as Gibson's, which take the Object as given (amusingly termed 'afforded', Gibson, 1977), not so much as 'spiritual', the term favoured by Lehar (2.3), but as literally superstitious.

What weakens the Direct Realist case is its unthinking reliance in the pre-existing singularity of 'external things'. If the Feedback argument of Sellars père is correct (Sellars, 1970, 125), then the perfectly singular 'Object' or 'Entity' is but a feature of the mode of perceiving and not ontological in its nature. The behaving as if it is singular, the trusting assumption that it is, is a necessary feature of the intersubjective co-operation, for we could not even roughly co-ordinate our differing percepts unless we did project a strictly imaginary perfectly common focus of them, but it is fatal to take the convergence as without residue, for that would cancel the possibility of feedback and thus of mutual correction.

Lehar adverts to the uncertainty of the Object (6.1). The only basic ontology required under the theory above is of the material continuum: when human social perceiving is in operation, with its incessant intersubjective correction in action, then a very modest ontological further claim can be made, namely that a community of correctors exists, thus of selves and their sensory fields, but not as fixed entities, only as current tentative selections from sensory and motivational experience. The Direct Realist, by contrast, is committed to an indefinite number of separable singular entities (objects and persons), a superstition that is disconcertingly all-too-common in recent books on the philosophy of perception (from Millar, 1991 to Thau, 2002; there are very few exceptions, e.g. Maund, 1995). The act of faith in singularity which is necessary to bring our differing percepts into some kind of working overlap is taken by the Direct Realist as actual, which represents an insidious and dangerous move to the conviction that his own percept is the standard for all.

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