Gestaltism or gestalt psychology is mind theory whose origins are closely related to the famed Berlin School of Experimental Psychology. The theory attempts to appreciate the laws of living systems’ to gain, as well as preserve, consequential perceptions within environments that are seemingly chaotic. It is hinged on the thinking that an individual’s mind, or perceptual system, creates universal wholes with particular self-organizing predispositions. The thinking as well holds that when the system creates a gestalt, or percept, the parts’ reality is distinct and different from that of the whole (Smith, 1988). This essay explores the principal gestaltism influences and how they helped develop it.
Christian von Ehrenfels originally introduced the gestalt concept in psychology, as well as philosophy, in late 1890 in the renowned Über Gestaltqualitäten treatise. Ehrenfels one of the leading Brentano school members. In the work, he explored the features, or qualities, that define form. He appears to have drawn the motivation to pen the treatise from a 1886 study by Ernst Mach, Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen, which can be translated, albeit loosely, to “contributions towards the appraisal of sensations”. Apart from Mach, other theorists who appear to have informed the concept include David Hume, David Hartley, Johann Goethe, and Immanuel Kant (Ash, 1995).
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With regard to the sensory perception area, Mach developed the Mach bands, an optical illusion. The illusion came about from contrasting the edges of somewhat varying gray shades through the stimulation of the human visual system’s edge detection; and exaggerating the contrasts. He demonstrated the differences via what are perceived as geometrical spaces and what are perceived as physiological spaces (Ash, 1995). As a Christian, Goethe considered himself as a freethinking faithful. He was convinced that Christians could exist without attending the Christian church. He starkly opposed many church teachings and criticized the history of the church as constituted by violence and fallacy.
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Although Ehrenfels was influenced by David Hume, David Hartley, Johann Goethe, and Immanuel Kant, he appears to have been most significantly influenced by ideas from Mach’s work especially in relation to the gestalt concept. He was keen on listening to the transitions of particular melodies across varied keys (Carlson & Heth, 2010). He demonstrated that even though a given melody comprises of distinct sounds, or notes, it is substantially more than the mere summation of the notes. The notes could be rearranged to form absolutely similar melodies. Every melody could remain unchanged if its notes were transposed to other keys. In his study of melodies, keys, and notes, he compared how the whole and its constituents are perceived (Smith, 1988).
Max Wertheimer reworked on the gestalt concept earlier developed by Ehrenfels. Wertheimer asserted that the percept is primary perceptually, characterizing its constituents as opposed to being a derived quality emerging from the constituents (Ash, 1995). Ehrenfels had earlier presented the percept as a derived quality emerging from the constituents. Overall, Ehrenfels and Wertheimer were the original developers of the gestaltism totality theory. The theory is that conscious experiences ought to be considered universally since the mind’s nature requires that every component be taken as an element of particular dynamic relationship’s system. They as well demonstrated that there is a correlation between cerebral activities and the experiences.
Wertheimer was one of the most renowned Carl Stumpf’s students. His classmates included Wolfgang Köhler along with Kurt Koffka. Together with Köhler and Koffka, Wertheimer took objects, or items, as mad out within particular environments in line with taking their constituents as distinct global constructs (Ash, 1995; Smith, 1988). They adopted the whole, or gestalt, concept approach developed by Ehrenfels in defining perception principles, outwardly innate psychological laws determining the perception of objects (Carlson & Heth, 2010). The approach is hinged on the immediate and how individuals see things (Smith, 1988). They explored the question of whether or not one perceives a given object prior to perceiving its background.
Over the years, four principal principles, or properties, have come to define gestalt psychology: invariance, emergence, multi-stability, and reification. The principles can be demonstrated using various examples. For instance, invariance can be demonstrated using a three-dimensional letter E. The letter is easily recognized even when its orientation is changed without changing its elementary E shape. The letter is easily recognized even when it undergoes immaterial elastic and perspective deformations or depicted via diverse graphic elements. Emergence is well-expressed by the Dalmatian dog picture. The dog is not recognizable through the identification of its constituent parts but rather comes out as a whole dog unit suddenly (Albertazzi, 1999).
Reification can be demonstrated by placing three dots on a paper in a triangular formation. Although there will be no triangle actually on the paper, a triangle will be perceived. When one looks at a Rubin vase, it appears to be multi-stable, with multi-stability being the propensity of vague perceptual understandings to go off backward and forward unstably between manifold alternative interpretations
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