The Phenomenal-Perceptual Field as a Central Steering Mechanism

by Wolfgang Metzger

3rd part

Lecture at the 2nd Banff Conference on Theoretical Psychology 1969. First published in this English Version: J.R. ROYCE and W.W. ROZEBOOM (eds.): The Psychology of Knowing. New York/Paris/London: Gordon and Breach 1972, pp. 241-265.

I shall drop the subject at this point, hoping that in the not too far distant future a cybernetician who is better than I will succeed in developing a more detailed model from which inferences can be drawn that are open to experimental verification. But it seems to me to be pertinent to add some remarks on the epistemological standpoint that is implied in these considerations. The standpoint in question is strict critical realism. True, this construction contains a dogma, i.e., an assertion that can neither be verified nor disproved. I mean the assumption that behind the world of the immediately given, behind the world of percepts, the presumed reality of the naive realist, there exists another world that to the phenomenal world has the relation of the original to its image but in itself is metaphenomenal or transphenomenal. That means that by its very nature it evades every direct observation and is therefore excluded from scientific thinking by positivism. However we are compelled to grant its existence as the link X by which the experiences of all subjects, or more generally living beings equipped with distance receptors can be coordinated, or, to put it more exactly, by which the existing and demonstrable coordination of their experiences can be explained. Without this coordination any formation of coherent groups and cooperation would be impossible, if we do not return to the absurd assumption of preestablished harmony in LEIBNIZ's sense.

Without the assumption of this coordinating principle neither a theory of perception consistent in itself nor a theory of social intercourse and supra-individual grouping would be possible. And without the supplementary assumption that the world, as immediately given, is constituted by processes that go on within our own - transphenomenal - organism, no consistent pathology of perception is possible, as we shall see a little later.

First I have to add that both diagrams I showed you before were only partial representations of the critical realistic construction. In order to exclude any misunderstanding I shall now exhibit the complete diagram as it can be found in a contribution by Norbert BISCHOF to the first volume of the large German handbook of psychology.

Diagram representing the relations between phenomenal world, transphenomenal world, and critical phenomenal world according to the critical realistic view

fig. 3

SO = Sense Organs , PPL = Psychophysical Level (in the cortex)
WS = World Scheme, BS = Body Scheme
oPsPh = Outer Psychophysics
iPsPh = Inner Psychophysics

Roman Numbers
I = Perception
II = Physical Investigation
III = Neurophysiological Investigation

( )a = Referring to Outside World resp. World Scheme
( )b = Referring to Organism resp. Body Scheme

no stroke = Physical Transmission Processes
one stroke ' = Perceptual Processes
two strokes '' = Rational Processes

'Scheme' is used here in the Sense of a Cortical Dynamic Structure corresponding immediately to a 'Percept', an 'Image' or a 'Perceived Object' (including the Ego) in the Phenomenal World.

This diagram differs from the foregoing ones in various respects. First: all elements that refer to the steering function of the field of perception are omitted. Second: the so called psychophysical level of the cerebrum and the world of perception were represented as coinciding in the first and second diagrams, while in BISCHOF's scheme they are separately represented as parallel, somewhat better corresponding to the present state of our knowledge. To the left, within the transphenomenal organism, the cerebral body-pattern (Körperschema after Paul SCHILDER) appears inside the cerebral world-pattern. To the right, beyond the double line that separates the physiological from the phenomenal, the phenomenal bodily ego appears inside the phenomenal surroundings which is identical with the reality of the naive realist. Third: BISCHOF's diagram contains some hint to the connection existing between the tendencies of the bodily ego and the state of the motor system within the transphenomenal organism which for the sake of clarity had been omitted in the preceding diagrams. But the fourth and decisive feature of this third diagram of BISCHOF's is that on the side of the conscious phenomena - to the right - below the representation of the naive-phenomenal world it also contains a representation of the critical-phenomenal world in which, corresponding to the above discussion, the bodily ego and the whole world of perception appear inside the organism and the organism within the physical environment which, together with the organism, is thought to be the transphenomenal reality.

While the naive-phenomenal world of the immediately given (above) originates directly from the unselected simulation of the sense organs, including the after-effects of preceding stimulation stored in memory, the critical phenomenal world (below) in its distinctive features originates from "scientific findings" - above all from the observation of coincidence between pointers and lines on the scales of various measuring instruments - which are also sensory phenomena but a kind of such phenomena that are preferred in science because they have proved to be most invariant against any kind of disturbance in transmission. This makes them the most reliable basis for theoretical reflection. The critical-phenomenal world that is constructed on this basis is the quintessence of the scientific picture of the world. Or, to put it more exactly: the world as it looks to the scientist who is relatively the most advanced among his colleagues for the time being at any given phase of scientific development. This "world as it looks'' sometimes changes rather rapidly, while the "world as it is" is much more permanent. It contained atoms and electrons when nobody thought of them, it never contained a matter like phlogiston, and the number of planets has not increased in it since the 16th century, when nobody dreamed of the existence of Neptun or Pluto. This is one of the reasons why the philosophical reduction of the "world as it is'' to the "world as it is believed to be" (by the scientist), a reduction that belonged to the main endeavors of the neo-Kantian philosophy and is still maintained e.g. by K. HOLZKAMP, is finally not possible. There is still another reason. The impingements upon our organism by which our phenomenal world comes into existence must stem from a transphenomenal world. They cannot come from the stock of scientific knowledge we have drawn from the totality of our everyday and systematic experiences. It is true, this stock of knowledge may substitute for the transphenomenal reality in our discussions concerning the world. But if reality corresponded to this simplification, it would be inconceivable how anything new and unexpected should ever occur or appear in our phenomenal world. In other words, it would be incomprehensible how every spot of our phenomenal world could be so obviously open to ever-changing influxes coming from a sphere X that cannot lie in it, as Oskar GRAEFE has con-tended against the phenomenalism of Kurt LEWIN.

Our own actions, too, must have effects on a transphenomenal reality and cause changes there. Otherwise it would be inconceivable how these actions can, together with their effects or consequences, appear in the phenomenal worlds of other persons, and that these consequences need not be observed there at the same time but their observation can be separated from our own activity by time intervals of any length. This possibility presupposes an X that preserves the effects of my activity long beyond their existence in my own phenomenal world. To give an instance: I may build a footbridge in the desert; and another person may find it and pass over it many years later.

There remains the naive-realistic objection that the world immediately experienced by us as supporting us is characterized by such traits of firmness, stability, and independence from ourselves that it appears to be an unreasonable demand that we should consider it as a correlate of ever changing cerebral processes, processes that occur within our own organism. But this objection is invalidated by the fact that the independence of the outer environment from the subject is only very approximately true. Let me mention briefly the facts that can be understood only by assuming that their immediate correlates are to be localized within our own organism:

1) The change of view, i.e. of the mode of apperception as a means of mentally modifying the outer environment.
2) The occurrence of strictly psychical phenomena, as feelings or moods etc. outside the subject, in the extreme instance in so-called FREUDian projection.
3) The exterior localization of dreams, apparitions, phantoms, and hallucinati-ons, yet even in the so-called eidetic phenomena, after-images etc., not to forget the objects of thought and their motivations within the thought process.
4) The structural discrepancies, as, e.g., in camouflage.
5) The metric deviations, as in visual illusions which are not a laboratory affair, i.e. not an affair of paper and pencil but a universal phenomenon found in any tri-dimensional object as soon as we make the measurements necessary to discover them.
6) The modifications, distortions, alterations of the outer world - including one's own body -during psychoses, poisoning, and cerebral lesions, which have been frequently described.

What concerns the two fundamental and indispensable theses of critical realism, namely

1) that the world of what is immediately given is of an organismic nature, and
2) that there exists a transphenomenal world which, among other things, embraces our own organisms and becomes the means by which the perceptive worlds of different observers are coordinated,

we may finally say: The second at least is not verifiable; but the multitude of findings that can be derived from both and understood by them is so immense and so various that they are absolutely sufficient to get the facts in focus that are postulated in the above statements, even in the face of great demands concerning their trustworthiness.


The phenomenal world has been described in my presentation as a central steering organ in the sense of cybernetics.

In this organ, duplicates of the outer objects and the organism can interact in a way which, as a consequence of their very nature, is not possible for the originals. This interaction is transferred to the effector organs by circular processes so that the organism is enabled to move in its environment just as if it were immediately controlled by field forces, which do actually not exist there.

Thus the phenomenal world must be considered as the decisive intervening variable in behavior as observed from outside.

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