Invited keynote lectures.
Alan Gilchrist (RutgersUniversity, USA)
Riccardo Luccio(Trieste University, IT)
Stefano Piccolo (Padova University, IT)
Giovanni Stanghellini (Chieti-Pescara University, IT)
Achille C. Varzi (Columbia University, USA)
30th Kanizsa Lecture
Thinking on reality: Metzger and the rejection of the “Eleatic postulate”.
University of Trieste
In 1940 Wolfgang Metzger began a profound reflection on the meaning of the phenomenological approach to Gestalt psychology, which had its starting point in the rejection of what he called the “Eleatic ” or “Eleatic-rationalist Postulate “, i.e. the notion that, in his opinion, had dominated Western scientific and philosophical thought of the last centuries, on the basis of which any assertion about the state of things that could lead to self-contradictory conclusions had to be considered unfounded. On the basis of this rejection, and with exclusive reference to access to experiential data, Metzger proposed to distinguish five meanings of reality: 1. the physical or experiential world, 2. the intuitive or experienced world, 3. the experienced world (met, Angetroffen) as opposed to the represented world, 4. the something or fullness as opposed to emptiness or nothingness, 5. the real as opposed to the apparent. For Metzger (1950), this conception, although primarily related to perception, has far-reaching implications for our conception of others and of society. Here we question the validity of Metzger’s concept, its explanatory significance, and its relation to other phenomenological conceptions, such as that of Merleau-Ponty.
On form and function: notes on the underlying biology
University of Padua and IFOM
A living body is the product of complex series of interactions between a vast number of molecular components. Yet, understanding each of these components, no matter how in detail, cannot explain life or the functioning of living entities, for example the properties of the human brain. Indeed new, unpredictable and extraordinary properties emerge only when these components are combined into large functioning units, such as tissues, organs or a whole body. What is the nature of these mystical properties? For the last 40 years, biologists focused on the very fundamental components of life, and in particular on DNA and the working of the genetic material. Although this step is essential, defining each puzzle piece will not provide the instructions for their assembly, nor reveal the rules of engagements of their ensemble. In my seminar, I will highlight the role of mechanical forces as integral elements of life across all scales, from the microscopic forces by which cells touch each other to “know” where they are, to forces that build embryos. I will underline how cell mechanics is a key ingredient in the “social” behavior of a cell in respect to its neighbors in real tissues, and discuss on how a “mechanical degeneration” of living tissues underlines many diseases and ageing itself. In pondering on these facts, it comes to mind what the 20th-century zoologist D’Arcy W. Thompson wrote in its famous book “On growth and form” (in turn quoting Galileo and Aristotle): the Book of Nature is truly embedded in shapes, architecture and material properties.
The Failure of Sensory-Cognitive Dualism in Perceptual Theory
Since at least the time of Helmholtz, visual perception has been thought to consist of two stages: an initial sensory stage in which the observer’s experience corresponds to the local stimulation of the sensory surface. This is quickly followed by a cognitive stage in which the raw sensations are interpreted in the light of past experience and logical inference. Typically, theories are divided into high-level and low-level accounts. But every low-level theory seems to include a high-level component, while high-level theories take low-level processes for granted. Empirically, it has proven difficult or impossible to observe raw sensations and the evidence for cognitive impact on perception is shaky. Recent decades have seen the emergence of so-called mid-level theories. In fact, gestalt theory is the original mid-level theory. The gestalt theorists rejected both raw sensations and their cognitive interpretation, attributing vision to a unitary process in which we experience the product of an extended array of stimulation as it makes contact with organized neural tissue.
Phenomenology: An Ethics for Psychiatry
University of Chieti and Pescara
The motto of phenomenology has been since its beginning “To things themselves!”. Husserl – the founder of phenomenology in the field of philosophy – exhorted to go back to the things themselves, that is, to render self-evident in fully-fledged intuitions that what is usually given in preformed abstractions like “concepts”, “judgments”, “truths”, etc. Clinical phenomenology has taken up Husserl’s motto and added another: “To understand is to cure”. Put together, the result is: “To cure is to understand the things themselves”. But what does exactly mean “To the things themselves”? And what does it mean “to understand”? What is the use of understanding in the clinical setting? And, ultimately, what does the “cure” consist of?
On Crossmodal and Multisensory Gestalts: Evidence & Application
University of Oxford
- I) Perceptual Grouping Across the Senses
While, on occasion, Kanizsa studied perception beyond the visual modality, he, like so many other Gestalt psychologists, tended to study the senses in isolation. As such, it has long remained an open question as to whether the principles of perceptual organization that were first articulated by Kanizsa and other early experimental psychologists cross the senses. In the first part of this talk, I would to make the case that crossmodal correspondences may allow for crossmodal perceptual grouping (Spence, 2015). While it has sometimes been suggested that the crossmodal correspondences are based on perceptual similarity, I will argue that that is mostly not the case. Focusing, in particular, on the higher spatial senses of vision, audition, and to a lesser extent touch, I will summarize the various kinds of perceptual outcomes (of both a crossmodal and multisensory nature) that may be expected when the senses are grouped, including emergence, harmony, unification, and modulation.
- II) Edible Gestalt: Crossmodal Connections in an Arts/Entertainment Context
Having established the fundamentals of crossmodal perceptual grouping, in the second part of this lecture, I will take a look at the various ways in which crossmodal correspondences and other Gestalt grouping principles have been introduced in an arts/entertainment context. I will start by taking a look at the literature on sonic seasoning at the pitch of harmony. I will describe a number of our attempts (together with chef Jozef Youssef) to make edible Gestalts as in The Picasso Dish, and Jastrow’sBistable Bite (e.g., Youssef et al., 2018). I will then take a more general look at the explosive recent growth of interest in multisensory experience design in an arts/entertainment context (what some refer to as Sensploration), tracing its roots to the Italian Futurists (Marinetti, 1932/2014). I will demonstrate the key role that the crossmodal correspondences have played in everything from the Tate Sensorium exhibition (in London in 2015) through to the much earlier interest in Colour Music (Spence & Di Stefano, submitted). Although often confused with synaesthesia, I will argue that people’s feeling that certain complex stimuli presented in the different senses (such as painting and music) somehow ‘belong together’ is perhaps best understood in terms of affective (i.e., rather than perceptual) crossmodal Gestalt, or what have been described as emotionally- (or hedonically-) mediated crossmodal correspondences instead (Spence, 2020).
Marinetti, F. T. (1932/2014).The Futurist cookbook (Trans. S. Brill, 1989). London, UK: Penguin Books.
Spence, C. (2015). Cross-modal perceptual organization. In J. Wagemans (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of perceptual organization (pp. 649-664). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Spence, C. (2020). Assessing the role of emotional mediation in explaining crossmodal correspondences involving musical stimuli.Multisensory Research, 33, 1-29.https://doi.org/10.1163/22134808-20191469.
Spence, C., & Di Stefano, N. (submitted). Coloured hearing, colour music, colour organs, and the search for perceptually meaningful correspondences between colour and pitch.i-Perception.
Youssef, J., Sanchez, C. C., Woods, A., & Spence, C. (2018). “Jastrow’sBistable Bite”: What happens when visual bistable illusion meets the culinary arts? International Journal of Gastronomy & Food Science, 13, 16-24.
On perceiving absences
Achille C Varzi
Can we really perceive absences, i.e. missing things, things that aren‘t there? Sartre tells us that when he arrived late for his appointment at the café, he saw the absence of his friend Pierre. Is that really what he saw? Where was it, exactly? Why didn’t Sartre see the absence of Napoleon? Why did I not see the absence of Pierre when I visited that café last year? Would I have seen it had I entered the café at the same time as Sartre? The perception of absences gives rise to a host of conundrums and is constantly on the verge of conceptual confusion. Here I will focus on the need to be clear about two sorts of distinctions: the distinction between putatively seeing an absence vs. the absence of a seeing, and that between putatively seeing the absence of something vs. seeing that something is absent. After examining a number of cases and surveying a few proposals, I will argue that the key to a proper account of these phenomena lies in the appreciation of the central role played by the logic and phenomenology of expectations.