Gestalt Revisited

February 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

2012 08 03 F6 #054-018 - Version 2Nikon F6 + Ektar


I woke up thinking about "Gestalt" theory,  a philosophy of mind in the Berlin School of experimental psychology. (I really do wake up that way, and immediately turn to my right to share my thoughts, which is meet with a firm demand of "First, tea.") Gestalt psychology attempts  to understand the principles behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world. You should google this to learn more, as there is a lot to consider. (Then you may conclude that the world is, in fact, chaotic, but you'll have a better understanding of how you got there.)


Gestalt theory maintains that when the human mind (as a perceptual system) forms a percept or "gestalt," the whole has a reality of its own, independent of the parts. The original famous phrase of Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka that "[t]he whole is other than the sum of the parts" is often incorrectly translated as "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," and thus used when explaining gestalt theory, and further incorrectly applied to systems theory. Koffka did not like the translation. He firmly corrected students who replaced "other" with "greater." "This is not a principle of addition," he said. The whole has an independent existence. (To illustrate simply, consider how a number of musicians may constitute an orchestra and a number of dots may cause you to see a picture, rather than a collection of speckles.)






A major aspect of Gestalt psychology is that it implies that the mind understands external stimuli as whole rather than the sum of their parts. The wholes are structured and organized by using grouping principles or laws (although some might consider them to be more like guidelines -- anyone for a parley?). Of these principles, one of the most significant is the Law of Past Experience, which can be summarized as familiarity. When a visual image is outside of our past experiences, it can be difficult to grasp what it is or to appreciate both the whole and the details.






Such has been the experience of some folks who have viewed the above image. After printing the image to see whether holding during viewing it would help, I found that the effect is just as puzzling. Neither the point of view (2,000 feet above the ground), nor the subject matter (paratroopers landing in a field during Leapfest) are familiar. As a result, the image becomes an abstract with discoverable details rather than a obvious landscape.


See ya next week,




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