THE EXPERIMENTAL PHENOMENOLOGY OF PERCEPTION IN THE ITALIAN TRADITION
With its origins in Gestalt Psychology (as developed in Austria and Germany and then exported to the United States in the early nineteenth century, see Wertheimer, 1923, Koffka, 1935, Kohler, 1947, Metzger, 1941 and Arnheim, 1954), the Experimental Phenomenology of Perception has become one of the most original and influential streams of research in Italy in the field of Experimental Psychology. Vittorio Benussi (1878-1927), Fabio Metelli (1907-1987), Gaetano Kanizsa (1013-1993), Paolo Bozzi (1930-2003) and Giovanni Vicario (1932-2020) were all instrumental in the development of this approach and their work shaped a new trend in research into perceptual phenomena. Significant contributions have been made to the modern study of Vision Science due to the groundbreaking discovery of some extremely interesting perceptual phenomena, from Metelli’s transparency law (1974 eng, 1974 ita), Kanizsa’s anomalous contours (1987 eng, 1955 ita), Bozzi’s chromatic after-effects (2019 eng, 1989 ita) and Bozzi and Vicario’s auditory streaming (2019 eng, 1960 ita) to the many visual and acoustic effects discovered in subsequent years by Italian researchers working in this field (e.g. Gerbino’s misalignment illusion, 1978, Zavagno’s glare effect, 1999 and Agostini and Galmonte’s reversed-contrast Necker cube, 2002).
The subject has also captured the interest of contemporary Cognitive Scientists who have been inspired to reconsider the assumptions resulting from research into neuropsychology and formal ontologies by taking this experimental “science of the phenomena” into account in order to learn more. Two Research Centers which are involved in this area are the Laboratory for Theoretical and Applied Ontology (directed by Maurizio Ferraris), a European inter-university centre the foundation of which Paolo Bozzi, Ugo Savardi and Manfredo Massironi took part in, and the Ontology Research Group (directed by Barry Smith). A statement made by Petitot, Varela, Pachoud and Roy (1999, pp. 2-3) expresses the concept well: “We have chosen to take as a guideline the idea, currently growing in importance within the cognitive science community, that a successful scientific theory of cognition must account for phenomenality (…) [For] a whole set of cognitive systems, and for the human one in particular, things have appearances”.
The members of this research group have contributed to and are still making contributions towards spreading knowledge of this approach and developing it further, both in terms of theory and methodology and in terms of its potential to inspire new lines of research into the “grounding of cognition in perception” (as attested by the Research Projects, publications, conferences and lectures promoted by the group).