Like solving a jigsaw puzzle by fitting pieces together bit by bit, the human mind makes sense of the world by transforming inputs into outputs throughout the nervous system, with the emergence of visual descriptions during such transformations relying heavily on perceptual integration. This thesis distinguishes emergent perceptual integration from non-emergent perceptual integration, with the former but not the latter resulting in visual descriptions unique to the whole and cannot be found in the parts; this distinction provides clues to the nature of unconscious processing (Chapter 1). Indeed, emergent properties, elusive as they sound, are tractable as revealed by emergent filling-in and its unique adaptation aftereffect (Chapter 2).
To further understand the principles that constrain the emergence of visual descriptions, the thesis considers how spatial and temporal structures, two main types of contextual effects, regulate the emergence process. Rich contextual regularities are embedded in spatial configurations; a moving frame technique reveals that the coupling of objects to the contextual frames is pervasive and relatively automatic (Chapter 3), resulting in automatic deployments of exogenous visual attention to non-retinotopic, frame-centered locations (Chapter 4). Statistical regularities also abound in the vast associative knowledge one learns in the life time. Indeed, associated links can be established rapidly and without rewards, resulting in subsequent inventory attentional capture to the associated colors when the location of the target is uncertain (Chapter 5), and subsequent attentional inhibition of the associated colors when the location of the target is fixed (Chapter 6). These results thus reveal the importance in distinguishing emergent from non-emergent perceptual integration, and show that the emergence of visual descriptions is strongly constrained by spatial and temporal structures.