Aesthetica Preprint, 73 (April 2005)

Tiziana Andina: Perception and Representation: Hypotheses between Gombrich and Arnheim

The present volume addresses some of the central concerns regarding the relationship between perception and representation: why does the perception of some substances not change, while other substances seem to depend on the subject perceiving them? Why is the color red always, broadly speaking, red, while phenylthiourea can taste bitter or absolutely insipid depending on who tastes it? What is the difference between the color red and phenylthiourea, between the perception of a painting by Mondrian or by Raphael?
Our study is based on the assumption that to see perception simply as something that precedes representation is an untenable opinion. To argue this point, the volume briefly traces the history of the relationship between perception and representation through the analysis of some key moments in modern philosophical debates (e. g., the dialogue between Molyneux and Locke, as well as Berkeley's reflections) and then follows its evolution by examining some important research in the neuro-sciences (with particular reference to the work of Elizabeth Spelke and Samir Zeki).
What emerges is that the activities of perception and representation that are linked to aesthetics shed light on some important forms of ordinary perception and representation. For this reason, the volume focuses on a comparison between two authors, Ernst Gombrich and Rudolf Arnheim, who have authoritatively addressed these theoretical questions advancing diametrically opposite answers. The thesis of the present volume will emerge from the contrastive analysis of Gombrich and Gestalt theoreticians: it will be a beautiful journey into the heart of things, both perceived and represented, a journey in which aesthetics plays a key role.