Art and Illusion

[Piranesi - Carceri Invenzione]

It might be said, therefore, that the very process of perception is based on the same rhythm that we found governing the process of representation: the rhythm of schema and correction. It is a rhythm which presupposes constant activity on our part in making guesses and modifying them in the light of our experience. Wherever this test meets with an obstacle, we abandon the guess and try again, much in the way we proceed in reading such complex pictures as Piranesi's Carceri.

In this emphasis on elimination of false guesses, on trial and error in all acquisition of knowledge "from the amoeba to Einstein," I am following K.R. Popper. It would be tempting to take up the problems of Gestalt psychology from this angle, for Popper emphasizes that the assumption of regularity is of utmost biological value. A world in which all our experiences were constantly belied would be a lethal world. Now in looking for regularities, for a framework or schema on which we can at least provisionally rely (though we may have to modify it for ever), the only possible strategy is to proceed from simple assumptions. Popper has shown that paradoxically this is not due to the fact that a simple assumption is more probably right but because it is most easily refuted and modified. [...]

Without some initial system, without a first guess to which we can stick unless it is disproved, we could indeed make no "sense" of the milliards of ambiguous stimuli that reach us from our environment. In order to learn, we must make mistakes, and the most fruitful mistake which nature could have implanted in us would be the assumption of even greater simplicities than we are likely to meet with in this bewildering world of ours. Whatever the fate of the Gestalt school may be in the field of neurology, it may still prove logically right in insisting that the simplicity hypothesis cannot be learned. It is, indeed, the only condition under which we could learn at all. To probe a hole we first use a straight stick to see how far it takes us. To probe the visual world we use the assumption that things are simple until they prove to be otherwise.

--Ernst Gombrich, Art and Illusion
Another summer project -- this wonderful book and trying to figure out what can be said of the importance of representations (illusory, veridical, and all the steps in between) to our perception of the world. Can there be a Gibsonian account of this and do I agree with it?