Perceptual Organization - Making sense while thinking

Editor's Corner

In a recent article, I had stressed the fact that the human brain, in addition to being the most extraordinary creation of the human anatomy was also the epicenter of thought, conviction, emotions, consciousness and purpose. In this particular article, the subject/topic of perceptual organization will be the focus of my discussion.

It therefore seemed appropriate to start this discussion with a reference once again to the human brain as perceptual organization would ‘naturally’ be a part or component of the intricate but detailed functionality of the human brain. Knowing fully well that learning may play a significant role in perception, there is the school of thought that perceptual organization does reflect innate properties of the human brain. More recent work in perception seems to infer that studying perception is basically studying the human brain. In particular, there seems to be more and more, an alignment of such school of thought with physiological observations of the human brain.

What is Perceptual Organization and even more importantly, how does one organize raw sensory stimuli into meaningful experiences that would ultimately make sense (at least to a recipient of the experience generated by the said stimuli)? Furthermore, in the process of making sense of the ‘sensation’, is the thinking process an evolving one and subject to an individual’s perceptual organization of his or her experiences? Also, what set of mental activities are involved in this organizational process and how ’influential’ are they in the process? Perception involves organization and grouping as well as distinguishing objects from their surroundings.

I do believe and will state that the organization of raw (sensory) stimuli into experiences that make sense and are meaningful to an individual or larger society would normally involve some cognitive functionality. This cognitive functionality would comprise processes such as thinking, knowing, remembering and in some cases, forgetting. This would seem to be a logical sequence as it makes for an organizational process that would ultimately seek to incorporate that which is favorable while through the forgetting process, eliminate that which the senses deem unfavorable.

Throughout this process, the importance of knowledge and experience will ultimately be established as knowing as a result of thinking generates a learned experiential state which whether favorable or unfavorable would ultimately help develop a perceptive frame of reference for the individual concerned. Now, I am not sure if I am making that much sense here, but I am simply stating what I think is in essence the obvious based on my own perceptual organization.

In asking some of the questions I asked in the second paragraph of this article, I did not do that with the aim of necessarily answering the said questions. I did that in the hopes of asking even more questions by creating a forum for intellectual conversations as to what perceptual organization really is all about; without seeking to necessarily narrow down its definition. What seems to be rather clear however is the realization that knowledge and experience are probably the most critical components of the perceptive process since those two factors may in fact help us better make sense of the input to our sensory systems.

According to Gestalt laws of grouping, there is the school of thought that the whole differs from the sum of its parts (Ehrenstein, W. 1930). The Gestalt theorists for the most part in the 20th century sought to single out the brain processes that would ultimately be responsible for the organization of perception. They argued that while simple sensations essentially consisted of organized percepts, the percepts themselves could be said to be basic to experience. There are also various arguments out there that seek to identify whether or not these experiences are for the most part private (Ehrenstein, W. 1930).

As I had stated earlier, perception, in addition to involving organization and grouping, also involves the process of distinguishing an object from its surroundings (Ehrenstein, W. 1930). There is the notion that the moment we perceive an object, the surrounding area around the said object is then the background. Gestalt psychologists are the biggest proponents of this school of thought. That would seem to suggest a concept of separating the figure from the ground and according to the Gestalt school of thought, this process is replicated throughout the various experiences of the percepts themselves (Ehrenstein, W. 1930).

There is no question this is probably one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult concepts - perceptual organization) for me to chew on, but I am of the school of thought that a thorough understanding of the subject itself is an evolving one in as much as the knowledge and experience of the percepts themselves, as part of the complex make-up of the human brain.

Ehrenstein, W. (1930). Figure-Ground Segregation. Current Psychology of Cognition, 117, 339-412.