ASPECT PERCEPTION – is a phenomenonthat largely involves the perception of pictures that are ambiguous, and seenunder the influence of different facets, viewpoints or orientations. Which arevulnerable to more than one interpretations?. Eg; – ‘I’, can be seen as anEnglish alphabetic letter, a tiny piece of vertical geometrical figure, as thenumerical number one or a full stop as used in Hindi language.In this paper; I attempt to lay out Wittgensteincritique of Kohler’s account of aspect perception.

Three keywords which explainKohler’s main idea of perception involve – Organisation, Figure Ground, IsomorphismPrinciple.ORGANISATION – Kohler’s theory ofperception centres on a feature of the stimuli which carries that feature aslong as the object is present. This feature is called organisation. Aspectperception, for Kohler, is a matter of Organisation which is a sensory propertylying in the object itself. How we see an aspect when directed to an aspect isa matter of how we organise the elements within it. The object that we perceiveis consequential.

Kohler’s view is called Gestalt-theory, obviously for thefact that ‘Gestalt’ means whole. So, the object becomes consequential in thesense that it comes as a unit which is entailed within its parts. Eg; – whenyou see my face you don’t take my facial features as coming one after the othersumming them all up to see my face in its wholeness. This is not how the objectimprints in your mind. The object that we perceive is a sensory whole.

You seemy face as one whole unit, not in pieces (eg; – you don’t first see my eyes,then nose, then lips etc. features) and that is how the perception becomes consequential.It’s consequential because of what is its ultimate character in which theobject becomes available to us; because of how the object is presented to us.Kohler takes perception to be a unified lump of a thing which protrudes itselffrom the background of the object.

The background is the space against whichthe object stands. This background segregates the object from its periphery.  Perception is backed by Gestalt laws, wherethere is order in objects via closeness, similarity, insularity, contiguity.

The perceived objects form a clustered whole based on our tendency to segregateobjects from each other. In a way, we can say that Kohler’s theory ofperception takes top down approach where our interpretation of parts of anobject comes from our conception of its whole. FIGURE GROUND – is anothercharacteristic in perceptual organisation. As the name itself suggests. figurei.e the object and ground i.e the background against which the object stands isanother of the gestalt laws which is responsible to bring out theorganisational character of the stimuli.

An object is distinguished from itsbackground due to which we perceive it distinctly. This marks the object asprotruding itself out, from whereon it is further composed in differentorganisational aspects thus giving rise to aspect perception. There are twomain features that affect the way we perceive figure and ground in an object.One is Contrast and the other is Comparison.i)                   One example of contrast is the printed pages in black ink on a whitebackground.

The contrast that happens is due to colour standing against eachother. This allows us to see one object projecting itself out and leaving theother in the background. Contrast provides a barrier between the two.

ii)                 Comparison can be illustrated in the case where header text ispublished in a larger font than body text. Here the header is the figure andthe body, the ground. The header stands out more to the eye than the main bodyof the text.ISOMORPHISM PRINCIPLE – it suggeststhat there is a similarity in the activity pattern of brain to thecorresponding stimuli when we perceive the object. The experience matches with theneural activity that gets activated while the organisation in the figure isperceived. Hence there is a neural correlation with the objects.

According to Kohler,our visual experience is determined by the neural activation. So, what aspect Isee in the ambiguous picture of duck-rabbit is dependent on my neural activity. So, it seems that for Kohlerthe objects exist independent of our perception, they generate the stimuli inthe shape of a particular organisation and it is this organisation that weperceive, and this organisation determines our aspect-perception. It’s theorganisation that’s producing sensory experience in me. Organisation iscasually responsible for our viewing of an object in a certain aspect. Kohlerconsiders only 3D appearance in aspect change/perception.

As if we are lookingat a 3D object on a flat surface. This organisation is not imposed on discretestimuli but stimuli themselves that come as already organised, and this in itsturn determines aspect-perception. Gestalt theorists agree on the common pointthat there is a full –fledged object outside – that we do not perceive – whatwe perceive is the intermediary stimuli. For Gestalt theorists, the stimuli isalready received as organised – in different ways – as different neuralstructures –  and that determinesobject-perception. There is an intermediary bridge involved in perception. Itis this point that Wittgenstein rejects. WHAT IS ASPECT PERCEPTION FORWITTGENSTEINWittgenstein notion of aspectperception is conceptual.

His attention is directed not merely to physiologicalviewpoint of aspect but in how we describe the respective aspect. I put forththe characteristics of aspect seeing as conceived by Wittgenstein.Aspect perception for Wittgensteinis:1)     A case of imagination i.e forming new images of the object to seeit under different aspects (PI – SECTION 11 – PAGE 207,213) – Wittgenstein saysthat a triangle can be thought of as a picture of an object that has fallenover. To see this aspect demands imagination on the part of the observer.

Whenyou notice the aspects of a triangle it’s like an image remained intact with usalong with the visual impression. Seeing an aspect is like forming an image ofit. Imagination is employed to take a thing as another.

2)     Subject to the will of the perceiver (page 213) – you can be madeto look an object under different aspects, the autonomy to see a thing as thisor that lies within you. To see a new aspect can be instructed. Thus, aspectseeing is voluntary.3)     Comparison of object with other acquainted objects – this point ishighlighted by Gloria Ayob.

She points out that it is in interpretation that weneed comparison of the respective object with other objects.4)      Not limited to 3D objects(as in Kohler’s case), 5)     Change in perception and yet unchanged – the object is anew and yetthe same (page 199,196) – noticing a new object in the same one is a new visualexperience. When you describe how you perceive the change of an aspect, it’s anew expression that you give rise to yet your perception is the same. Thecontent of your visual experience hasn’t changed what has changed is theoutline in which the object is given.

For instance, in the inverted image of asame object its content remains same but what falls apart is the spatialorientation of the observer. Features that remain intact even while noticing anaspect is its 3D shape, distance, size (Malcom)6)     A matter of giving meaning to things i.e aspect perception is a wayof making sense of things around us. Wittgenstein interest in aspect seeingcomes from its kinship with associating the idea of experiencing the meaning ofa word. It’s from the perception of an aspect that a meaning is derived.(Malcom)7)     A case of visual experience + thought (page 197) – when an aspectdawns on you what you have is half a visual and half experience thought.

The descriptionof your visual experience, express your thought. Your thinking is present alongwith your visual experience. Wittgenstein’s critique of Kohler’stheory follows from his (Kohler’s) Isomorphism principle. Aspect change cannotbe described in terms of isomorphism the way Kohler propounds. Kohler tookorganisation to be a sensory quality which determines our perceptions. Objectsare responsible for the way we perceive aspects in the sense that they causethe neural organisation that in their turn cause perception of differentaspects.

Whereas for Wittgenstein there must be an internal relation involved betweenobjects (PI, page 212) which is fundamentally different from the externalcausal relation between the object and its resultant aspect – organisation thatare basically some neural structures. Wittgenstein aspect is not a quality ofthe object like the way colour is. The load of the aspect lies wholly withinthe perceiver and their skill of play with the configuration of an object.Kohler didn’t acknowledge freedom on the part of subject to relate with anaspect, for, according to Kohler, the aspect was lying out there which has justto correspond with the neural act. The isomorphism principle leaves out thecontent that undergoes change when an aspect is changed altogether. With everyparticular interpretation, you have different isomorphic foundation.

Neurological account cannot explain what the content is that has undergonechange. They are simply concerned with different neurological states. Whenthere is a duck, then, what is its neural correlation that Kohler does notexplain. Merely saying that there is an isomorphic neural correlate willactually lead to essentialise the notion of seeing. Wittgenstein resistsagainst the neurological data because it’s coming as terminal blocks of spacewhich halt us from turning the problem into a conceptual game.

Wittgenstein’smatter with aspect perception is conceptual and normative game which should beavailable for recursion, where you can see the same thing in another spatiallocation. That’s what a concept is. As already stated, Wittgenstein takesaspect perception to be a voluntary action, it has to be normative where allthe elements have to be known and they have to be conceptually related.

Therecannot be any element which falls outside your knowing/conception. Your will isrelated to your action in a knowing way. When you describe your perception youcan’t let any unrecognised external causal trigger play/push your perception.Neurological theories cannot explain how merging of conceptual and non-conceptualoccurs. They are trying to turn internally related conceptual whole into acausal game. In explanation of aspect change meredescription is not enough, there must be comparison with other objects – theswitching of stages that occur in transiting from one aspect to another cannotbe explained by isomorphism principle.

In the duck rabbit case, the subject hasto be able to relate the ambiguous picture she currently perceives to variousother objects, when you see it as duck, then alternate it as rabbit, and thenit’s a confined kind of registration, but, you have to go beyond to the duckaspect and conceptually connect that perception with respect to other ducksthat you have seen. The dynamism in the figure of duck has to be accommodatedhere. You have to relate it with many duck/ rabbit pictures seen in different positions.This kind of dynamic expanse is internal relation. Perceptual organisation doesnot lie out in the objects like colour or shape. Organisation is not a sensoryfact/quality.                                                         What Kohler missed is that he took one aspect i.e,’ organisation’ as anumbrella term to justify all cases of aspect perception.

Wittgenstein doesgrant Kohler’s notion of organisation some space but only to a limited extent.Wittgenstein takes organisation to be one of the aspects of aspect perception.Kohler didn’t make enough demarcations in his view of rise and fall of anaspect, whereas the questions in the investigations remain as to how far can wedraw the line in detailing of our noticing of an aspect. Wittgensteinunderlines the state of ‘noticing an aspect’, ‘seeing the aspect’, meaning of’see as’ and ‘see’, ‘aspect’ and ‘change of aspect’. Wittgenstein’s perceptionof aspects involve various stages of distinctions relative to the time when theaspect dawns. His consideration is with, how far a limit can be put to theconcept of an object in the question of aspect perception, how long do we needto attend to the object in case of aspect changes in perception, how far can anaspect perception be a genuine visual experience.

When you switch from one perceptualorganisation to another there is a neurological correlate which corresponds tothat. Kohler is presenting a neural correlate itself as perception. According toKohler, neurological oscillations cause perceptual switches not that they areidentical with perceptual switches.

Kohler is putting only the stimulus drivencharacter as neutrally active in the retina. Neurology cannot be meaningfullyconnected as a way of explanation of the aspect. You cannot conceptualise howyour brain dynamics explain your perception. We need a conceptual tool torelate brain dynamics as a cause of perception. And this task ofconceptualising cannot be justified by Kohler.Similarly, Hemholtz’s theory ofperception cannot do justice to conceptualisation of visual content. Aspectperception for Hemholtz is a play of unconscious inference, It is involuntaryactivity of memory.

But how does the memory play a role? Hemholtz may say it’sa sensation which is not conceptualised but revoking memory through similarity.But who judges the similarity, similarity between unconceptualized sensationand what you have remembered in the past which is being revoked now. Similaritymust be between two conceptualised things. If a thing itself isunconceptualized mass then that unconceptualized mass cannot revoke memory.Wittgenstein is not in favour of anyexternal trigger which facilitates aspect seeing or which cause aspect seeingbecause in search for causal data the conceptualised identity of aspect seeingwill be lost. If we want to bring in physiological/psychological brain dynamicdetails, then it has to be done in a way that they are incorporated into aspectseeing. Build your investigation in a way that it falls into the content ofaspect seeing.

In conclusion, I take Malcolm’s viewthat realisation of an aspect lies amidst seeing and interpreting. Theperceptual process which is grounded in noticing an aspect, touch both theedges of seeing and interpreting, as Wittgenstein himself acknowledges – seeingis interpreting. Interpretation is as much present in seeing as seeing is ininterpreting. Just as there is no unitary concept of seeing similarly there isno dichotomy between seeing and interpreting.

Interpretation is not a loadedcognition like inference. Wittgenstein does not want to make aspects as comingout as different intermediary membranes. References:Budd,Malcolm (1987). Wittgenstein on seeing aspects. Mind 96(January):1-17.Ayob,Gloria (2009). The aspect-perception passages: A critical investigation ofKöhler’s isomorphism principle. Philosophical Investigations 32(3):264-280.

Stromberg,Wayne H. (1980). Wittgenstein and the nativism-empiricism controversy. Philosophyand Phenomenological Research 41 (1/2):127-141.WittgensteinLudwig, Philosophical Investigations, ed.

G.E.M. Anscombe, R. Rhees, and G.

H. Von Wright (trans.: G.E.M. Anscombe),Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1984, Part II, section xi.


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