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Probing Perceptual Antinomies with the Watercolor Illusion and Explaining How the Brain Resolves Them

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For more content, see Multisensory Research and Spatial Vision.

The purpose of this work is to study how the brain solves perceptual antinomies, induced by the watercolor illusion in the color and in the figure–ground segregation domain, when they are present in different parts of the same object. The watercolor illusion shows two main effects: a long-range coloration and an object–hole effect across large enclosed areas (Pinna, 1987, 2005, 2008a, b; Pinna and Grossberg, 2005; Pinna et al., 2001). This illusion strongly enhances the unilateral belongingness of the boundaries (Rubin, 1915) determining grouping and figure–ground segregation more strongly than the well-known Gestalt principles. Due to the watercolor illusion, both the figure and the background assume new properties becoming, respectively, a bulging object and a hole both with a 3-D volumetric appearance (object–hole effect). When the coloration and the object–hole effects induced by the watercolor illusion are opposite (antinomic) within different portions of the same shape, some questions emerge: Do the antinomies split the shape in two parts (a half shape appears as an object and the other half as a hole) or are they solved through a new emergent perceptual result beyond the single effects? Is there a predominance of one component over the other that is less visible or totally invisible? What is perceptible and what is invisible? Is there a wholeness process under conditions where perceptual antinomies coexist? By imparting motion to a watercolored object that gradually should become a hole while overlapping another object placed behind, is the wholeness of the watercolor object weakened or reorganized in a new way? The results of phenomenological experiments suggested that the antinomies tend to be solved through two complement processes of phenomenal wholeness and partialness. These processes are explained in the light of the FACADE neural model of 3-D vision and figure–ground separation (Grossberg, 1994, 2003), notably of how complementary cortical boundary and surface representations interact with spatial attention to generate conscious percepts of 3-D form and motion.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sassari, Palazzo del Pou Salit, Piazza Duomo 6, 07041 Alghero (SS), Italy; 2: Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems, Center for Adaptive Systems, and Center of Excellence for Learning in Education, Science and Technology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA; 3: Department of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sassari, Palazzo del Pou Salit, Piazza Duomo 6, 07041 Alghero (SS), Italy.


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