Gestalt Summary at Cognitive Daily

Kanizsa' subjective contour figureCognitive Daily‘s “History Week” continued yesterday with a summary of Max Wertheimer’s 1925 classic Gestalt article, “Laws of organization in perceptual forms.” (Actually it is the translation that appears in W. E. Ellis’ A Source Book of Gestalt Psychology. (Humanities Press, 1955). Perception researcher Alison Sekuler tells me that it is abridged and quite different from the original — so different that she is in fact planning to publish a new translation of the full original at some point, along with some historical commentary.)

The CD account includes some simple but effective animated graphics to demonstrate how the perceptual grouping of objects changes as their spatial relations change.

The Gestalt school is quite fascinating, and not very well understood in North America because its reception here was filtered through the behaviorist agenda that was dominant here at the time — and that (mis)understanding has been passed down as “truth” to successive generations. The best history of the Gestalt movement yet written is Mitchell Ash’s Gestalt Psychology in German Culture, 1890-1967: Holism and the Quest for Objectivity (Cambridge, 1995). Max Wertheimer’s son, Michael, has recently co-authored (with D. Brett King) a biography of the movement: Max Wertheimer and Gestalt Theory (2004). There are also many interesting articles about the history of Gestalt theory by two of its primary students: Mary Henle (especially her 1978 American Psychologist article about Wolfgang Kohler’s resistance to the Nazi takeover of his university) and Rudolf Arnheim (espeically his 1986 American Psychologist article on the misrepresentation of Gestalt in the US).

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.