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The Experimental Phenomenology of Perception: understanding, developing and disseminating the theory and methods

The project aims to apply and further develop the theories and methodologies pertaining to the EPhP within the study of human perceptual experiences.
Part of this project has entailed the realization of a database. This was done in order to make available to users a collection of both older and more recent books, chapters and papers which are useful for those wishing to acquire knowledge and information regarding the theoretical and experimental profiles of the phenomenological approach to the study of perception.
Among the resources in the database, we would like to bring to your attention four books by the “Maestri” of the research group:

  • Massironi, M. (1998). Fenomenologia della percezione visiva. Bologna: il Mulino.
  • Bozzi, P. (1989). Fenomenologia Sperimentale. Bologna: il Mulino.
  • Bozzi, P. (1993). Experimenta in visu. Ricerche sulla percezione. Milano: Guerini e Associati.
  • Bozzi, P. (1990). Fisica Ingenua. Garzanti: Milano.

The members of the group have been working in the following specific areas:

A) The dissemination of Bozzi’s view of EPhP to a non-Italian speaking audiences

Paolo Bozzi considered the EphP as neither a science relating to perceptual processes nor a science of appearances, but rather as a science of how things are. The project (developed by Ivana Bianchi in collaboration with Richard Davies, University of Bergamo) consisted of the first English translations of eighteen papers by Paolo Bozzi (originally in Italian). The papers, collected in an anothology, are each supplemented by commentaries by contemporary experts (psychologists and philosophers) and cover a wide range of methodological and experimental issues in addition to the theoretical implications of these. The anthology aims to contribute to the dissemination of Paolo Bozzi’s original work and to suggest (by means of the essays) some examples of fruitful interactions and applications of his ideas to debates in both the fields of Philosophy and Psychology currently taking place within the Cognitive Sciences.

  1. Bianchi, I. & Burro, R. (2022).The Experimental Phenomenology of Perception. A Collective Reflection on the Present and Future of this Approach. Gestalt Theory, 44(3) 279-288.
  2. Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology. London and New York: Routledge.
  3. Bozzi, P. (2002). Fenomenologia Sperimentale. Teorie e Modelli, n.s., VII. 2-3, 13-48 [English translation “Experimental Phenomenology” (by I. Bianchi) in: Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology (pp. 11-38). London and New York: Routledge.
  4. Bianchi, I. (2019). Comments on Experimental Phenomenology. In: Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology (pp. 39-46). London and New York: Routledge.
  5. Bozzi, P. (1961). Descrizioni fenomenologiche e descrizioni fisico-geometriche. Rivista di Psicologia, 55, 277–289; reprinted in Atti del XIII Congresso degli Psicologi Italiani (Palermo), 1962 (pp. 29–41) and in Bozzi’s, Fenomenologia sperimentale, Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989 (pp. pp. 65–81). [English translation “Phenomenological descriptions and physical-geometrical descriptions” (by U. Savardi) In: Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology (pp. 183-192). London and New York: Routledge.
  6. Savardi, U. (2019). Comments on phenomenological descriptions and physical-geometrical descriptions. In: Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology (pp. 193-197). London and New York: Routledge.
  7. Bozzi, P. (1978). L’interosservazione come metodo per la fenomenologia sperimentale, Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, 5, 229–239. [English translation “Interobservation as a method for Experimental Phenomenology” (by M. Kubovy) In: Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology (pp. 198-206). London and New York: Routledge.]
  8. Kubovy, M. (2019). Comments on interobservation as a method for Experimental Phenomenology. In: Bianchi, I., & Davies, R. (Eds) (2019). Paolo Bozzi’s Experimental Phenomenology (pp. 207-210). London and New York: Routledge.

B) From the EPhP to Phenomenological Psychophysics, percept-percept coupling and the inter-observational method

Bozzi’s concept of percept-percept coupling is related to his idea of the EPhP as an entirely “iuxta propria principia” approach to the study of perception. This was subsequently worked on by Epstein & Rogers (2003) and Savardi & Bianchi (2012) and was the basis of the research on Phenomenological Psychophysics that was carried out more recently by Kubovy and Gepsthein (2003) and also discussed by Burro (2009) . The concepts are both based on the epistemological presupposition that, in the EPhP, dependent and independent variables are all “percepts”.
Another fundamental notion of Bozzi’s EPhP is that studying people working as individuals is not necessarily the best way to explore perception and that, in certain conditions, inter-observation in small groups is a better methodological choice. This was originally discussed by Bozzi in 1978, and was subsequently applied in its original form to events “under observation strictu sensu” in 1985 by Bozzi and Martinuzzi. This methodology was then further extended to the study of phenomenal experiences which are imagined or recollected carried out by Savardi & Bianchi in 2001. Both types of methods have been discussed by Kubovy in Nadel’s Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences under the entry Psychological Phenomenology (2003, vol. 3, pp. 579-586).

  1. Burro, R. (2009). Measuring in experimental phenomenology and carrying out phenomenological psychophysics: the case of contrary properties. In U. Savardi (ed). The perception and cognition of contraries (pp. 249-274). Milano: Mc-Graw Hill.
  2. Burro, R., Bianchi, I., & Savardi, U. (2010). Experimental Phenomenology and Phenomenological Psychophysics: the perception of contraries. In: A. Bastianelli, G. Vidotto (eds). G. Fechner Day 2010: Proceedings of the 26th (pp. 495-500), International Society of Psychophysics.
  3. Kubovy, M. (2003). Psychological phenomenology. In L. Nadel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of cognitive science (Vol. 3, pp. 579–586). New York: Nature. here Kubovy presents and discusses Bozzi’s interobservational method (1978) and its extension to the analyses of events not under observation in a strict sense by Bianchi & Savardi (2001).
  4. Kubovy, M. (1999). Gestalt psychology. In R. A. Wilson, & F. C. Keil (Eds.), The MIT encyclopedia of the cognitive sciences (pp. 346–349) [note: here Kubovy presents and discusses Bozzi’s interobservational method (Bozzi, 1978)]
  5. Savardi, U. & Bianchi, I. (2012). Coupling Epstein’s and Bozzi’s percept-percept coupling. Gestalt Theory, 34 (2), 191-200. ISSN 0170-057 X
  6. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (2003). Metodo interosservativo ed eventi sotto osservazione: l’ostensione dell’esperienza di spazio nella fenomenologia sperimentale della percezione [The method of interobeservation and events under observation: the ostensive characterization of the experience of space in the experimental phenomenology of perception]. In U. Savardi & A. Mazzocco (a cura di), Figura e sfondo. Temi e variazioni per Paolo Bozzi [Figure and background: Themes and variations for Paolo Bozzi] (pp. 107-130). Padova: Cleup.
  7. Savardi, U. (2013). Aporie del realista: ingenuo o critico che sia. Fenomenologia Sperimentale della Percezione nell’esperienza del mondo. In: P. Di Nicola. Mente, pensiero e azione nel realismo critico. FrancoAngeli (collana: sociologia. ISBN: 9788820424992
    Savardi, U. (2005) Il posto dei fatti nel senso comune e nella fisica ingenua. Nuova Civiltà delle Macchine. RAI, Roma, 1, 7-19

C) The concept of error in the EPhP (descriptive error, stimulus error, the experience of error associated with the perception of illusion)

Perceptual illusions are often presented as “errors” made by people’s perceptual systems in terms of how the “physical world” (often assumed to coincide with the “real world”) is coded. However, this is not a correct interpretation within the EPhP framework, according to which illusions must be redefined in terms of a mismatch. This may occur between different ways of coding the “stimulus”, that is, it may be based on two different sense modalities (vision and touch, for instance), or based on an instrumental measurement of the stimulus versus another type of measurement (e.g. the naked eyes), or in terms of a mismatch between the descriptions of the stimulus applying to different stages in the psychophysical chain. This last position is well exemplified by the five varieties of stimulus error described by Bozzi (1972, English transl. 2019) and further discussed by Savardi & Bianchi (1998), Savardi, Kubovy and Bianchi (2012), and Casati (2019).

  1. Savardi, U., Kubovy, M., & Bianchi, I. (2012). The Genesis of the Awarness of Illusions. In C. Calabi (ed.), Perceptual illusions. Philosophical and Psychological Essays (pp. 75-85). Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave McMillan.
  2. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (1999) (eds). Gli errori dello stimolo. [Stimulus errors] Verona, IT: Cierre.
  3. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (1998). Ulteriori metamorfosi dell’errore dello stimolo. [Further metamorphoses of the stimulus error]. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, XXV (2), 261-270.

D) The direct perception of relationships (sameness, similarity, difference, opposition)

Since the very beginning, Gestalt Psychology has focused on considering relationships (e.g. proximity, sameness/similarity/dissimilarity, alignment/misalignment, etc.) as directly perceived aspects of the phenomenal world, as well as single properties (e.g. color, size, shape etc.). The main research projects being carried out by the group (i.e. those which are the longest lasting, and are the most extensive and original) concern an exploration of opposition/contrariety as a perceptual relationship (see next Ongoing Research Project). This relationship was somehow neglected in previous studies by Gestalt psychologists and was also ignored in subsequent studies done according to the Italian tradition of the EPhP. In the following publications, we focus on both acknowledging the importance of a theory relating to the direct perception of relationships within the EPhP approach, with a view to inserting the missing chapter on the perception of contrariety into this broader topic.

  1. Bianchi, I. (2007). La Teoria della Gestalt come Teoria delle Relazioni [Gestalt Theory as a Theory of Relationships]. In: Arfelli, A., Bianchi,I., Galli,G., Nicolini, P., Pojaghi, B. e Simeone, D. (eds). La rilevanza della Gestalttheorie per la ricerca psicologica [The relevance of Gestalt Theory for research in psychology]. Macerata: Edizioni Simple.
  2. Bianchi, I., & Savardi, U. (2008). Contrariety as perceptual relationship, Gestalt Theory, 2, 106-120.
  3. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (eds) (2005). L’identità empirica. Studi e ricerche sull’esperienza di identità [Empirical identity. Studies on the experience of identity]. Milano, IT: Franco Angeli.
  4. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (eds) (2003). Le Relazioni Empiriche. Per una scienza delle Relazioni in Psicologia.[Empirical Relationships. For a Science of Relationships in Psychology] Milano, IT: Franco Angeli.
  5. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (2003). Fenomenologia sperimentale della contrarietà: origini e sviluppi [Experimental Phenomenology of opposition: origins and developments]. In: U. Savardi & I. Bianchi (a cura di). Le Relazioni Empiriche. Per una scienza delle Relazioni in Psicologia [Empirical Relationships. For a Science of Relationships in Psychology]. Milano: Franco Angeli (pp. 101-128).
  6. Bianchi, I., Bressanelli, D., Nucci, M., & Savardi, U. (2003). Se Aristotele, allora Tversky. Spunti per una fenomenologia sperimentale delle relazioni [If Aristotle, then Tversky. Hints for an experimental phenomenology of relationships]. In: U. Savardi & I. Bianchi (a cura di). Le Relazioni Empiriche. Per una scienza delle Relazioni in Psicologia,  (pp. 171-196). [Empirical Relationships. For a Science of Relationships in Psychology]. Milano: Franco Angeli.
  7. Savardi, U., & Bianchi, I. (2002). Una teoria (?) per i fatti e le relazioni. [A theory for facts and relationships]. Teorie & Modelli, n.s., VII (2-3), 219-228.
  8. Bianchi, I., & Savardi, U. (2002). Sulla fenomenologia dell’identità e della contrarietà [On the phenomenology of identity and contrariety]. Teorie & Modelli, n.s., VII (2-3), 229-248.