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Structural Information Theory
The Simplicity of Visual Form

Emanuel Leeuwenberg and Peter A. van der Helm

Plato' cave
Available at Cambridge University Press

For more background information, see SIT

  Plato's cave. Visual perception is like a prisoner who, since birth, has been held captive on a bench at the center of a cave. The only information he has about what happens behind him is given by flickering shadows on the wall in front of him. Similarly, visual perception only has a two-dimensional retinal projection of a scene to infer a three-dimensional representation of the scene in terms of objects arranged in space.

Structural information theory is a coherent theory about the way the human visual system organises a raw visual stimulus into objects and object parts. To humans, a visual stimulus usually has one clear interpretation even though, in theory, any stimulus can be interpreted in numerous ways. To explain this, the theory focuses on the nature of perceptual interpretations rather than on underlying process mechanisms, and adopts the simplicity principle which promotes efficiency of internal resources rather than the likelihood principle which promotes veridicality in the external world. This theoretically underpinned starting point gives rise to quantitative models and verifiable predictions for many visual phenomena, including amodal completion, subjective contours, transparency, brightness contrast, brightness assimilation, and neon illusions. It also explains phenomena such as induced temporal order, temporal context effects, and hierarchical dominance effects, and extends to evaluative pattern qualities such as distinctiveness, interestingness, and beauty.




Chapter 1. Borders of perception
Chapter 2. Attributes of visual form
Chapter 3. Process and representation
Chapter 4. Models and principles
Chapter 5. Assumptions and foundations

Chapter 6. Formal coding model
Chapter 7. A perceptual coding manual
Chapter 8. Preference effects
Chapter 9. Time effects
Chapter 10. Hierarchy effects

Chapter 11. Perception beyond SIT
Chapter 12. SIT beyond perception


Author index
Subject index
Maxwell demon

A Maxwell demon during an attempt to remove the milk from a milk-coffee mixture. On the one hand, this tedious job is similar to that of perception, in that both jobs turn chaos into order. On the other hand, to complete the job, the demon needs a lot of time, whereas perception needs only the blink of an eye.

To both academic specialists and other students of perception, this highly accessible and richly illustrated book on visual pattern classification is unique in that it presents not only many visual phenomena but also a coherent and comprehensive theory with quantitative models, verifiable predictions, and extensive empirical evidence.


"Whether you are familiar with Structural Information Theory or not, you will enjoy this systematic presentation by Emanuel Leeuwenberg, its original proponent, and Peter van der Helm, its main formal developer. Through twelve chapters, including a coding manual, they distill order out of perception and cognition, like the demons invoked in the introduction. SIT provides a powerful language for evaluating how strongly the mind strives for simplicity; the book provides an optimal context for evaluating the strength of SIT."

Walter Gerbino, University of Trieste

"Leeuwenberg and van der Helm have assembled the definitive statement on their influential theory of the coding of visual forms. SIT is the most thorough system available for capturing the essence of a structure’s simplicity, so this volume will be required reading for those interested in this far-reaching and quintessentially Gestalt concept."

James Pomerantz, Rice University

Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (2013) ISBN: 978-1-107-02960-6