Gestalt Psychology

I’ve been feeling rather poorly recently, being down with the flu, and sniffing across classes and streets. I did have the opportunity to explore the streets with the erudite M though, stopping by one of the restaurants on the hill for a dinner of cottage pie, noting a Singapore sort of cul-de-sac effect, the colonial shophouses being converted into cosy trading and shipping offices, the little Taiwanese tea shops and Cantonese living areas, the Irish cat who stays in the Irish bar (I cheekily asked the waiter if they had soda bread, but no one in Singapore seems to have heard of soda bread, or clotted cream!). I wish I had gotten pictures but I had forgotten to retrieve my camera after classes! Reaching home, tried to do more revision but couldn’t quite concentrate or sleep either after two dosages of Lempsik (a familiar London remedy), and proceeded to watch strange poltergist films (the only thing available at that hour). It was then that I learnt about this interesting concept of ‘gestalt psychology’, which seems to be the coordination of one’s mind or subconscious to tidy out our unresolved thoughts or to find order subconsciously. Only goes to show how important it is to resolve our thoughts at the end of the day before our boxes start talking too much to each other.

From Wiki:

“Gestalt psychology or gestaltism (German: Gestalt – “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form”) of the Berlin School is a theory of mind and brain positing that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The Gestalt effect refers to the form-forming capability of our senses, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves. In psychology, gestaltism is often opposed to structuralism and Wundt. The phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is often used when explaining Gestalt theory

The concept of Gestalt was first introduced in contemporary philosophy and psychology by Christian von Ehrenfels (a member of the School of Brentano). The idea of Gestalt has its roots in theories by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Ernst Mach. Max Wertheimer’s unique contribution was to insist that the “Gestalt” is perceptually primary, defining the parts of which it was composed, rather than being a secondary quality that emerges from those parts, as von Ehrenfels’s earlier Gestalt-Qualität had been.

Both von Ehrenfels and Edmund Husserl seem to have been inspired by Mach’s work Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen (Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations, 1886), in formulating their very similar concepts of Gestalt and Figural Moment, respectively.

Early 20th century theorists, such as Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Köhler (students of Carl Stumpf) saw objects as perceived within an environment according to all of their elements taken together as a global construct. This ‘gestalt’ or ‘whole form’ approach sought to define principles of perception — seemingly innate mental laws which determined the way in which objects were perceived. It is based on the here and now, and in the way you view things. It can be broken up into two: figure or ground, at first glance do you see the figure in front of you or the background?

These laws took several forms, such as the grouping of similar, or proximate, objects together, within this global process. Although Gestalt has been criticized for being merely descriptive, it has formed the basis of much further research into the perception of patterns and objects ( Carlson et al. 2000), and of research into behavior, thinking, problem solving and psychopathology.

It should also be emphasized that Gestalt psychology is distinct from Gestalt psychotherapy. One has little to do with the other.

 In that particular poltergist film, the detective was trying to grapple with whether what the individual had experienced was a gestalt from an unresolved death of a friend 20 years ago. Many things are not done away with, but merely buried.


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