Isomorphism (psychophysiology)

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The light waves emanating from colored pencils are converted into neurophysiological signals by the eye. These in turn cause perception in the corresponding centers of the cerebral cortex. Colored pencils, light waves, neurophysiological signals and perception are described as having the same shape or isomorphic.

In psychophysiology and gestalt psychology, isomorphism is understood to mean the theoretical gestalt identity between what is usually vividly experienced in the outside world and the processes of the cerebral cortex . The experiences , insofar as they represent the perception of the contents of consciousness within the central nervous system, are understood as physiological processes within the cerebral cortex or as processes that take place above the psychophysical level . They are also referred to as the central physiological correlate of vivid objects in the outside world or of stimuli from the inner physical environment. Vivid objects of the experience are all stimuli originating from the reality of the external environment or the internal environment, which are received by the sensory organs and fed to the sensory projection centers in the cerebral cortex via the afferent nervous system . The term stimulus field is also used here. The subjective experience of the so-called qualia is at the end of this stimulus field.

Concept emergence

The term isomorphism goes back to Wolfgang Köhler (1887–1967). Koehler dealt with hallucinations . In view of the autonomous design tendencies he observed within the organismic stimulus field, he searched for the similarities that were nonetheless preserved despite all legally ascertainable deviations in perception . His treatise represents a natural-philosophical investigation because it creates a relationship between the world of physical things (objects) and psychic structures (subjective experience). Köhler put the Goethe phrase in front of his work: "Because what is inside, that is outside."

According to Köhler and Kurt Koffka (1886–1941), the sensory physiological deviations in perception are field effects . The matches were called "gestalt identity", i.e. H. regarded as physiological processes within the nervous system that are specific to the content of the experience.

The requirement of “gestalt identity” corresponds to the first two of the five psychophysical axioms of Georg Elias Müller (1850–1934). The second postulate reads: "An equality, similarity, difference in the nature of the sensations ... corresponds to an equality, similarity, difference in the nature of the psychophysical processes and vice versa."

In accordance with the Ehrenfels paradigm of melody, which became known as the basic fact of gestalt psychology from 1900 , one can imagine comparatively the incapable of consciousness (psychophysical) processes of the afferent nervous system as musical notation, the phenomena relevant to consciousness and experience as played music.

Intellectual history background

Since the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, the concept of wholeness has been used in many sciences .

Particularly in psychology efforts were made to break away from the atomistic and mechanistic view of the 18th and 19th centuries. In this way, the undistorted and originally psychic should again become the subject of research. In particular, attempts were made to pose the question of the meaning and significance of the soul, regardless of the restrictive atmosphere of the usual test arrangements in the laboratories of an experimental psychology , compare in particular the discussion between Karl Bühler (1879–1963) and Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) . Here, with the help of animal experiments, mainly elementary mental behavior was studied. Acquired behavior should be switched off if possible. Animals should learn to push levers, open puzzle cages or go through mazes. Wundt was not inclined to behaviorism , but is viewed as a representative of one of his preferred objective psychology based on the model of natural science.

In sociology, Othmar Spann made the holistic concept the mainstay of a universalistic social theory.

Corresponding approaches such as the holistic first lesson can also be identified in pedagogy .

Holistic approaches since Albertus Magnus (1193–1280) and then in the classical and idealism of the 18th and early 19th centuries can be demonstrated in German philosophy and literature . They are more and more prevalent today. As an example of German philosophy in classicism and idealism from the point of view of Friedrich WJ Schelling (1775–1854), reference is made to identity philosophy as a contribution to the mind-body problem .

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) was rather critical of the method used in the beginning natural sciences and said on the subject of nature:

"And what it may not reveal to your spirit,
You do not force it from it with levers and screws."

- JW Goethe : Faust I, verse 674-75

“Who wants to recognize and describe something alive,
first seeks to drive the spirit out,
then he has the parts in hand,
unfortunately missing! only the spiritual bond. "

- JW Goethe : Faust I, verse 1936-1639

System theory basics

Topological mapping - cup and torus are homeomorphic to one another (identical in shape).
Note : In the case of topological maps, it is not the geometric shape that is decisive, but rather the structure. The topological structure includes, for example, the curved handle of a beer mug, the holes in Swiss cheese, or the recesses in a car tire.
  1. Topology . The “identity” of the inner and outer world as two figures does not have to mean topographical correspondence, but is only intended to express correspondence in the topological sense. Neither absolute sizes nor proportions need to agree. Rather, non-metric relations play a role, such as the fact that one region is contained in another and one region borders on another. In the case of topological representations, a sphere cannot be distinguished from a cube, but it can be distinguished from a car tire or a beer mug with a handle (see figure ) The Gestalt theorist Kurt Lewin (1936) deliberately used the topology he introduced in psychology based on mathematical-physical structural concepts as well as based on vector spaces . In set theory , for example B. Similar structural, graphically representable topological ideas. According to Lewin, goal-oriented behavior is a symbolic or real movement. In a similar way, nervous structures can be symbolically organized or mapped real or topistically according to objective reality. The best-known example of a topistic nervous organization is the homunculus (see figure ), see also the term → topistic brain research .
  2. Oversummativity . It is an honor rock criterion. It expresses thefactalready established by Aristotle that the elements of a living system are not effective for themselves, but only together with the whole organism. In short: "The whole is more than the sum of the parts."
  3. Transposability . This criterion also goes back to Ehrenfels. He described the melody as a figure. Their transposability into another key does not change their shape. The change in key includes both changes in the root note and changes in the tone gender .

Well-known representation of a cortical homunculus according to Wilder Penfield . The motor cortex is shown. The sketch of the homunculus represents a topistic illustration in which the zones of the hand, mouth and lips are relatively more pronounced.

Expansion of the concept of a model

In animal experiments between 1913 and 1920, Köhler investigated the relationship between shapes and the suitability of an aid to achieve a specific purpose . Monkeys learned to use such aids in the form of sticks to get food. Köhler called this reference insight and with this cognitively oriented term created a system-theoretical contrast to the theories of learning based on success established by association psychologists and behaviorists .

This called into question the unambiguity of a stimulus response, such as that which occurs in reflexes . A theory of learning through insight (cognitive learning) emerged. The established contrast was to be regarded as inevitable insofar as the concept of the stimulus field was extended beyond the limiting topics of the primary sensory projection centers to the secondary and tertiary centers and consequently the term perception fields or chains of perception is also used, cf. also the → perception theory .

The fundamental contradiction can also be proven on the basis of the following quote from John B. Watson (1878–1956) as the founder of behaviorism: “The reader will not find a discussion of consciousness and also not terms such as sensation, perception, attention, will, etc. These words sound good, but I've noticed that I can do without them ...; frankly, I don't know what they mean; nor do I believe that anyone can use them in a systematically clean way. ” Teleological aspects appear inappropriate to scientific thinking.

The contrast between Gestalt psychology and behaviorism showed the fundamental difference between subjective and objective psychology.

Attempts to overcome the contradiction existed u. a. in assuming an interaction between the elementary (lower) and complex (higher) functions, see also layer theory . The claim of Gestalt psychology to a “holistic view” is attempted to explain - based on practically tested cybernetic models. Wholeness is not just the summation of individual elements (oversummativity). The mediation theory of Charles E. Osgood (1916–1991) represented such an attempt.

However, these attempts at explanation cannot be regarded as sufficient, for example to make the qualia effect understandable. Possibly. Basic philosophical assumptions seem more suitable for this. Nevertheless, the attempts to approximate opposing elementary-simplifying and holistic-complex conceptions have contributed to a better understanding of the function of the nervous system.


Unambiguous stimulus reactions are even more doubtful when it comes to thinking contexts, as the association experiments between stimulus word and reaction show. This was examined more closely by Charles E. Osgood because of his method of semantic differential . Osgood speaks of a three-dimensional semantic space that is characterized by culturally specific stereotypes of meaning such as “ success ”, “ mind ” and “ sadness ”, see also → integration space . By Peter R. Hofstätter this method has been known in Germany as a polarity profile. It turned out that similarities in shape in the polarity profile can be identified if one compares symbolically linked terms, such as “ love ” and the color “ red ”. Like Köhler, Osgood also dealt with hallucinations or, more specifically, with the so-called figural aftermath. CE Osgood and AW Heyer gave experimental reasons against Köhler's electrophysiological model.

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h Wilhelm Karl Arnold u. a. (Ed.): Lexicon of Psychology . Bechtermünz, Augsburg 1996, ISBN 3-86047-508-8 ; (a) Col. 1028: on lexicon lemma "Isomorphie", Col. 2523 ff .: on Stw. "Reizfeld": s. Lexicon lemma “perception illusions”; (b) Col. 414 f .: on lexicon lemma "Ehrenfels"; (c) Col. 434 ff .: on lexicon lemma “Insight, learning through”; (d) Col. 1272: on Stw. "Special features of topological space": s. Lexicon Lemma "Lewin, Kurt"; (e) Col. 2523 et seq .: on taxation “irritant field”: s. Lexicon lemma "Perception illusions", Col. 599 f .: to Stw. "Perception field" s. Lexicon lemma "field" and "field theory"; (f) Col. 2520: on lexicon lemmas “Perception”, Paragraph 3., Col. 1190: “Cybernetics and Psychology”; (g) Col. 2038: on lexicon lemma "Semantic Differential".
  2. a b c d e f g Georgi Schischkoff (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. 21st edition. Alfred-Kröner, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-01321-5 ; (from) p. 326: Wb.-Lemma “Isomorphie”; (cg) p. 211 f .: Wb-Lemma "Wholeness".
  3. Wolfgang Köhler : The physical shapes in rest and in the stationary state. A natural-philosophical investigation . Braunschweig, 1920.
  4. a b c d e f g h i j Peter R. Hofstätter (Ed.): Psychology . The Fischer Lexikon, Fischer-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1972, ISBN 3-436-01159-2 ; (a) p. 161 f .: on "Holistic, holistic and topological consideration"; (b) p. 208: on “Psychophysical Axioms by GE Müller”; (c) p. 161 f .: on “topology”; (D + e) ​​pp. 164, 210 f .: on “Gestalt theory and learning from success”; (f) pp. 164, 210 f .: on “Gestalt theory and learning from success”; (g) p. 219: on “mediation theory” or “mediating responses”; (h) p. 35: on the “concept of the semantic differential”; (i) p. 36 ff .: on the “concept of semantic space”; (j) S. 35, 162: on “Counter arguments against gestalt theoretical assumptions”.
  5. Charles E. Osgood : Method and theory in experimental psychology. New York 1953.
  6. ^ Claudia Conrad & Gabriele Kitzinger: Holistic initial lesson . Auer, 1990
  7. ^ A b c Richard Knerr: Lexicon of Mathematics . Lexicographical Institute Munich, 1984; (a + b) p. 432: re. “topological mapping”; (c) p. 421: re. “Topology and Set Theory”.
  8. ^ Kurt Lewin : Principles of topological psychology. 1936
  9. Christian von Ehrenfels : About gestalt qualities . 1890
  10. Wolfgang Köhler: Intelligence tests on anthropoids . German Berlin 1917, 1925 English Translation The Mentality of Apes .
  11. ^ John B. Watson : Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist . Routledge, London 1980, ISBN 0-904014-44-4 (reprint of the Philadelphia edition, 1919); preface
  12. ^ A b Karl Jaspers : General Psychopathology . 9th edition. Springer, Berlin 1973, ISBN 3-540-03340-8 ; S. 130, 135 ff .: to 1st part: The individual facts of the soul life , 2nd chapter: The objective achievements of the soul life
  13. Manfred Spitzer : Spirit in the net, models for learning, thinking and acting . Spektrum Akademischer Verlag Heidelberg 1996, ISBN 3-8274-0109-7 ; P. 139: to district “Gestaltpsychologie”.