The Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels published his essay "On 'Gestalt Qualities'" in 1890. The essay initiated a current of thought which enjoyed a powerful position in the philosophy and psychology of the first half of this century and has more recently enjoyed a minor resurgence of interest in the area of cognitive science, above all in criticisms of the so-called 'strong programme' in artificial intelligence. The theory of Gestalt is of course associated most specifically with psychologists of (...) the Berlin school such as Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka. We shall see in what follows, however, that an adequate philosophical understanding of the Gestalt idea and of Ehrenfels' achievement will require a close examination not merely of the work of the Berlin school but also of a much wider tradition in Austrian and German philosophy in general. (shrink)
A serious crisis is identified in theories of neurocomputation, marked by a persistent disparity between the phenomenological or experiential account of visual perception and the neurophysiological level of description of the visual system. In particular, conventional concepts of neural processing offer no explanation for the holistic global aspects of perception identified by Gestalt theory. The problem is paradigmatic and can be traced to contemporary concepts of the functional role of the neural cell, known as the Neuron Doctrine. In the (...) absence of an alternative neurophysiologically plausible model, I propose a perceptual modeling approach, to model the percept as experienced subjectively, rather than modeling the objective neurophysiological state of the visual system that supposedly subserves that experience. A Gestalt Bubble model is presented to demonstrate how the elusive Gestalt principles of emergence, reification, and invariance can be expressed in a quantitative model of the subjective experience of visual consciousness. That model in turn reveals a unique computational strategy underlying visual processing, which is unlike any algorithm devised by man, and certainly unlike the atomistic feed-forward model of neurocomputation offered by the Neuron Doctrine paradigm. The perceptual modeling approach reveals the primary function of perception as that of generating a fully spatial virtual-reality replica of the external world in an internal representation. The common objections to this picture-in-the-head concept of perceptual representation are shown to be ill founded. Key Words: brain-anchored; Cartesian theatre; consciousness; emergence; extrinsic constraints; filling-in; Gestalt; homunculus; indirect realism; intrinsic constraints; invariance; isomorphism; multistability; objective phenomenology; perceptual modeling; perspective; phenomenology; psychophysical parallelism; psychophysical postulate; qualia; reification; representationalism; structural coherence. (shrink)
The World In Your Head: A Gestalt View of the Mechanism of Conscious Experience represents a bold assault on one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science: the nature of consciousness and the human mind. Rather than examining the brain and nervous system to see what they tell us about the mind, this book begins with an examination of conscious experience to see what it can tell us about the brain. Through this analysis, the first and most obvious observation (...) is that consciousness appears as a volumetric spatial void, containing colored objects and surfaces. This reveals that the representation in the brain takes the form of an explicit volumetric spatial model of external reality. Therefore, the world we see around us is not the real world itself, but merely a miniature virtual-reality replica of that world in an internal representation. In fact, the phenomena of dreams and hallucinations clearly demonstrate the capacity of the brain to construct complete virtual worlds even in the absence of sensory input. Perception is somewhat like a guided hallucination, based on sensory stimulation. This insight allows us to examine the world of visual experience not as scientists exploring the external world, but as perceptual scientists examining a rich and complex internal representation. This unique approach to investigating mental function has implications in a wide variety of related fields, including the nature of language and abstract thought, and motor control and behavior. It also has implications to the world of music, art, and dance, showing how the patterns of regularity and periodicity in space and time--apparent in those aesthetic domains--reflect the periodic basis set of the underlying harmonic resonance representation in the brain. (shrink)
The Gestalt psychologists adopted a set of positions on mind-body issues that seem like an odd mix. They sought to combine a version of naturalism and physiological reductionism with an insistence on the reality of the phenomenal and the attribution of meanings to objects as natural characteristics. After reviewing basic positions in contemporary philosophy of mind, we examine the Gestalt position, characterizing it m terms of phenomenal realism and programmatic reductionism. We then distinguish Gestalt philosophy of mind (...) from instrumentalism and computational functionalism, and examine Gestalt attributions of meaning and value to perceived objects. Finally, we consider a metatheoretical moral from Gestalt theory, which commends the search for commensurate description of mental phenomena and their physiological counterparts. (shrink)
In the present article, the role of Gestalt concepts in clarifying the issues of perception is evaluated. Grounded in anti-atomism, Gestalt assumed organizing forces intrinsic to perception. Insofar these were identified with singularity preference, Gestalt is criticized for having failed to distinguish between perception and thought.
In seeking an interpretation of the theory of Gestalt, the analysis revealed that the concept of Gestalt applies to processes and particularly to the way in which events or processes take place. The essential condition for the emergence of Gestalten or configurational properties was found to be—the ability of the parts or factors in the process to influence each other. In considering first, the more dynamic or formative phase of processes, the significant factors which influence the reciprocity of (...) influence between the parts or factors of the process were found to be (i) the properties of the individual parts or factors, (ii) the properties of the intervening medium, (iii) the 'distance' between the parts or factors, (vi) 'factors of rigidity or constraint'. It was emphasised that these factors operate relatively to one another. The concept of 'wholeness' was found to apply to both the dynamic and the more static phase of the process. The resultant or equilibrium position of the process derives some contribution from the whole matrix of interacting factors or influences which are responsible for the resultant being precisely what it is. The recognition of the causal significance of even small contributions to an event or process is consistent with the concept of 'wholeness' and with the 'matrix' view of causal explanation. This view of causal explanation is the consistent implication of the theory of Gestalt and the many experimental results associated with this school. (shrink)
Gestalt theory is discussed as one main precursor of synergetics, one of the most elaborated theories of self-organization. It is a precursor for two reasons: the Gestalt theoretical view of cognitive order-formation comes dose to the central ideas of self-organization. Furthermore both approaches have stressed the significance of non-linear perceptual processes (such as multistability) for the solution of the mind-brain problem. The question of whether Gestalt theory preferred a dualistic or a monistic view of the mind-body relation (...) is answered in that there was a preference for dualism in epistemological questions and for monism in the mind-brain relation. The latter was attained by the concept of psychophysical isomorphism. This concept, although widely misunderstood in many respects, was criticized on the basis of neurobiological findings. One main objection was the neglect of the importance of the elementary neurophysiological processes. A distinction between macroscopic and microscopic brain processes seemed to be required. This idea was taken up in synergetics which postulates a bottom-up and top-down interaction between these two levels. Macroscopic order emerges from elementary brain processes and, at the same time, has a backward slaving effect to the microscopic level In the light of such holistic emergentism, the question whether macroscopic order states might be attractors for psychological meanings is discussed. (shrink)
The ecological realist concept of information as environmental specification is discussed. It is argued that affordances in ecological realism could, in principle, rest on a notion of partial specification of environmental circumstances. For this aim, a notion of Gestalt quality as a hierarchical structure of affordances would have to be adopted. It is claimed that such an account could provide a promising way to deal with problems of intentionality in perception and action, awareness and problem solving.
A review of the scanty Gestaltist literature on motor behaviour indicates that a genuine Gestalt theoretic approach to motor behaviour can be characterized by three research questions: (1) What are the natural units of motor behaviour? (2) What characterizes the self-organization in motor behaviour? (3) What are the conditions for invariance in motor behaviour? Tentative answers to these questions can be found by analysing the parallels between Gestalt theory and Bernstein's theory of motor actions and by showing that (...)Gestalt theory can be regarded as a specific approach to non-linear dynamics as exemplified by synergetics (Haken, 1991). The congruence between the Gestalt theoretic approach and synergetics becomes apparent in the analysis of how a complex motor task is learned . (shrink)
In his ontological works Kurt Grelling tries to give a rigorous analysis of the foundations of the so-called Gestalt-psychology. Gestalten are peculiar emergent qualities, ontologically dependent on their foundations, but nonetheless non reducible to them. Grelling shows that this concept, as used in psychology and ontology, is often ambiguous. He distinguishes two important meanings in which the word “Gestalt” is used: Gestalten as structural aspects available to transposition and Gestalten as causally self-regulating wholes. Gestalten in the first meaning (...) are, according to Grelling, “equivalence classes of correspondences”, while Gestalten as self-regulating wholes have more to do with relations of ontological dependence. Grelling’s clarification of the concept of Gestalt is doubtless an excellent piece of philosophical analysis, but at the end of the day it turns out that his analysis captures at best only a part of intuitions traditionally connected with the notion of Gestalt. (shrink)
The intent of the article is to define merleau-ponty's place in the phenomenological tradition and, at the same time, to defend his standpoint, especially on those issues where his thought represents a departure from the tradition. although merleau-ponty espouses a form of the husserlian doctrine of the intentionality of consciousness, his understanding of intentionality differs in several fundamental respects from husserl's. the article attempts to show specifically where merleau-ponty's gestalt- theoretical orientation leads him to modify such basic aspects of (...) husserl's concept of intentionality as the noesis-noema distinction and the claim for atemporality of meaning. a critical comparison is drawn between merleau- ponty's concept of intentionality and that of aron gurwitsch. in a more positive vein, the article provides an extended exegesis of merleau-ponty's position on this central concept in phenomenology, and it also tries to relate the exposition of intentionality to merleau-ponty's thesis of the primacy of perception. finally, an attempt is made to reveal the ontological ramifications implicit in merleau-ponty's revisions to the doctrine of intentionality. (edited). (shrink)
We present select examples of how visual phenomena can serve as tools to uncoverbrain mechanisms. Specifically, receptive field organization is proposed as a Gestalt-like neural mechanism of perceptual organization. Appropriate phenomena, such as brightness and orientation contrast, subjective contours, filling-in, and aperture-viewed motion, allow for a quantitative comparison between receptive fields and their psychophysical counterparts, perceptive fields. Phenomenology might thus be extended from the study of perceptual qualities to their transphenomenal substrates, including memory functions. In conclusion, classic issues of (...)Gestalt psychology can now be related to modern. (shrink)
Neurophysiological investigations of the visual system by way of single-cell recordings have revealed a hierarchical architecture in which lower level areas, such as the primary visual cortex, contain cells that respond to simple features, while higher level areas contain cells that respond to higher order features apparently composed of combinations of lower level features. This architecture seems to suggest a feed-forward processing strategy in which visual information progresses from lower to higher visual areas. However there is other evidence, both neurophysiological (...) and phenomenal, that suggests a more parallel processing strategy in biological vision, in which top-down feedback plays a significant role. In fact Gestalt theory suggests that visual perception involves a process of emergence, i.e. a dynamic relaxation of multiple constraints throughout the system simultaneously, so that the final percept represents a stable state, or energy minimum of the dynamic system as a whole. A Multi-Level Reciprocal Feedback (MLRF) model is proposed to resolve the apparently contradictory concepts, by proposing a hierarchical visual architecture whose different levels are connected by bi-directional feed-forward and feedback pathways, where the computational transformation performed by the feedback pathway between levels in the hiararchy is a kind of inverse of the transformation performed by the corresponding feed-forward processing stream. This alternative paradigm of perceptual computation accounts in general terms for a number of visual illusory effects, and offers a computational specification for the generative, or constructive aspect of perceptual processing revealed by Gestalt theory. (shrink)
Teaching ethics poses a dilemma for professors of business. First, they have little or no formal training in ethics. Second, they have established ethical values that they may not want to impose upon their students. What is needed is a well-recognized, yet non-sectarian model to facilitate the clarification of ethical questions. Gestalt theory offers such a framework. Four Gestalt principles facilitate ethical clarification and another four Gestalt principles anesthetize ethical clarification. This article examines each principle, illustrates that (...) principle through current business examples, and offers exercises for developing each principle. (shrink)
: The distinction between science and philosophy plays a central role in methodological, programmatic and institutional debates. Discussions of disciplinary identities typically focus on boundaries or else on genealogies, yielding models of demarcation and models of dynamics. Considerations of a discipline's self-image, often based on history, often plays an important role in the values, projects and practices of its members. Recent focus on the dynamics of scientific change supplements Kuhnian neat model with a role for philosophy and yields a model (...) of the evolution of philosophy of science. This view illuminates important aspects of science and itself contributes to philosophy of science. This interactive model is general yet based on exclusive attention to physics. In this paper and two sequels, I focus on the human sciences and argue that their role in the history of philosophy of science is just as important and it also involves a close involvement of the history of philosophy. The focus is on Gestalt psychology and it points to some lessons for philosophy of science. But, unlike the discussion of natural sciences, the discussion here brings out more complication than explication, and skews certain kinds of generalizations. (shrink)
The distinctive claim of the Gestalt psychologists (of Prague, Graz, Berlin, Leipzig, and Vienna) is that we are typically aware of wholes which have “Gestalt qualities”, such as being a melody, and that these qualities could not be properties of mere sums, for example of sums of tones. A common, stronger claim is that the wholes we are aware of are themselves “Gestalten”, the parts of which are inseparable from each other and from the wholes they belong to. (...) The Gestalt psychologists took themselves to be opposing associationistic and atomistic assumptions in psychology. The notion of a Gestalt is applied primarily in their accounts of perception and to a much lesser extent in their accounts of feelings (Gefühle), aesthetic and non-aesthetic, of their objects, of our awareness of the feelings of others, of our attributions of emotions, of our grasp of value and of the relations between affective phenomena and perception. (shrink)
The Gestalt principle of isomorphism reveals the primacy of subjective experience as a valid source of evidence for the information encoded neurophysiologically. This theory invalidates the abstractionist view that the neurophysiological representation can be of lower dimensionality than the percept to which it gives rise.
Quantum systems have a holistic structure, which implies that they cannot be divided into parts. In order tocreate (sub)objects like individual substances, molecules, nuclei, etc., in a universal whole, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen correlations between all the subentities, e.g. all the molecules in a substance, must be suppressed by perceptual and mental processes.Here the particular problems ofGestalt (shape)perception are compared with the attempts toattribute a shape to a quantum mechanical system like a molecule. Gestalt perception and quantum mechanics turn out (on (...) an informal level) to show similar features and problems: holistic aspects, creation of objects, dressing procedures, influence of the observer, classical quantities and structures. The attribute classical of a property or structure means thatholistic correlations to any other quantity do not exist or that these correlations are considered as irrelevant and therefore eliminated (either deliberately and by declaration or in a mental process that is not under rational control). An example of animposed classical structure is the nuclear frame of a molecule. Candidates for classical properties that arenot imposed by the observer could be the charge of a particle or the handedness of a molecule. It is argued here that at least part of a molecule's shape can begenerated automatically by the environment. A molecular shape of this sort arises in addition to Lamb shift-type energy corrections. (shrink)
Formal methods developed for modeling levels of selection problems have recently been applied to the investigation of major evolutionary transitions. We discuss two new tools of this kind. First, the ‘near-variant test’ can be used to compare the causal adequacy of predictively equivalent representations. Second, ‘state-variable gestalt-switching’ can be used to gain a useful dual perspective on evolutionary processes that involve both higher and lower level populations.
: This paper investigates the way in which Rudolf Carnap drew on Gestalt psychological notions when defining the basic elements of his constitutional system. I argue that while Carnap's conceptualization of basic experience was compatible with ideas articulated by members of the Berlin/Frankfurt school of Gestalt psychology, his formal analysis of the relationship between two basic experiences ("recollection of similarity") was not. This is consistent, given that Carnap's aim was to provide a unified reconstruction of scientific knowledge, as (...) opposed to the mental processes by which we gain knowledge about the world. It is this last point that put him in marked contrast to some of the older epistemological literature, which he cited when pointing to the complex character of basic experience. While this literature had the explicit goal of overcoming metaphysical presuppositions by means of an analysis of consciousness, Carnap viewed these attempts as still carrying metaphysical baggage. By choosing the autopsychological basis, he expressed his intellectual depth to their antimetaphysical impetus. By insisting on the metaphysical neutrality of his system, he emphasized that he was carrying out a project in which they had not succeeded. (shrink)
What are the intellectual origins of the ecological crisis? Which approach can offer an alternative? In the first part of this paper, I argue that the crisis was caused not by faith in reason as such, but instead by distortions of reason. Further, I consider the intellectual prerequisites for ecological destruction, the ultimate cause of which can be seen in the transitional state of our civilisation from a dependent to an interdependent mode of interaction with the biosphere. A possible remedy (...) to this can be the reconciliation of humankind with the biosphere by means of the Gestalt approach. (shrink)
This discussion takes up an attack by Jerrold Aronson (seconded by Rom Harre) on the use made by Norwood R. Hanson of the Gestalt-Switch Analogy in the philosophy of science. Aronson's understanding of what is implied in a gestalt switch is shown to be flawed. In his endeavor to detach conceptual understanding from perceptual identification he cites several examples, without realizing the degree to which such gestalt switches can affect conceptualizing or how conceptualizing can affect gestalts. In (...) particular, he has not confronted the possibility of such gestalt selection being involved in the basic identification of what we term "entities". (shrink)
While much of Arne Naess’s ecosophy underscores the importance of understanding one’s ecological Self, his analyses of gestaltism are significant in that they center less on questions of the self than on questions of nature and what is other-than-human. Rather than the realization of a more expansive Self, gestalt ontology calls for a “gestalt shift” in our thinking about nature, one that allows for its intrinsic value to emerge clearly. Taking such a gestalt shift as a central (...) task enables Naess to avoid some common criticisms of his view. (shrink)
The “Gestalt Bubble” model of Lehar is not supported by the evidence offered. The author invalidly concludes that spatial properties in experience entail an explicit volumetric spatial representation in the brain. The article also exaggerates the extent to which phenomenology reveals a completely three-dimensional scene in perception.
According to ‘standard histories’ of nanotechnology, the colorful pictures of atoms produced by scanning probe microscopists since the 1980s essentially inspired visions of molecular nanotechnology. In this paper, I provide an entirely different account that, nonetheless, refers to aesthetic inspiration, First, I argue that the basic idea of molecular nanotechnology, i.e., producing molecular devices, has been the goal of supramolecular chemistry that emerged earlier, without being called nanotechnology. Secondly, I argue that in supramolecular chemistry the production of molecular devices was (...) inspired by an aesthetic phenomenon of gestalt switch, by certain images that referred to both molecules and ordinary objects, and thus symbolically bridged the two worlds. This opened up a new way of perceiving and drawing molecular images and new approaches to chemical synthesis. Employing Umberto Eco’s semiotic theory of aesthetics, I analyze the gestalt switch and the inspiration to build molecular devices and to develop a new sign language for supramolecular chemistry. More generally, I argue that aesthetic phenomena can play an important role in directing scientific research and that aesthetic theories can help understand such dynamics, such that they need to be considered in philosophy of science. (shrink)
Gestalt Work--the therapeutic and growth activities that are the practice of Gestalt Therapy--is as varied and difficult to characterize, it would seem, as are the situations that give rise to it. I wish to begin an examination of this activity; our perspective may be called philosophical, but it is a philosophy whose entire raison d'être is its impact on lived experience. As such, it makes free use of the results of experience, including in an important way the methodology (...) and insights of science; indeed, the concepts themselves of Gestalt Psychology lend considerable depth and power to this philosophical approach. (shrink)
Lehar's lively discussion builds on a critique of neural models of vision that is incorrect in its general and specific claims. He espouses a Gestalt perceptual approach rather than one consistent with the “objective neurophysiological state of the visual system” (target article, Abstract). Contemporary vision models realize his perceptual goals and also quantitatively explain neurophysiological and anatomical data.
Lehar (rightly) insists on the volumetric character of our experience of space. He claims that three-dimensional space stems from the functional three-dimensional topology of the brain. But his “Gestalt Bubble” model of volumetric space bears an intrinsically static structure – a kind of theater, or “diorama,” bound to the visual modality. We call attention to the ambivalence of Gestalt legacy and question the status and precise import of Lehar's model and the phenomenology that motivates it.
Situating Lotze in the School of Speculative Theology, I use debates about Schelling’s critique of Hegel—then and now—to understand Lotze’s critique of Hegel. Lotze’s early metaphysics seems to employ a version of Hegel’s dialectical analysis of being, phenomena, and mind emphasizing “the interconnection of things.” One can equally argue that he proceeds in an analytic style of reviewing and testing alternative theories. My tentative conclusion is that he assumes the existence of reality (the Absolute) like Schelling, and makes cognition a (...) process subordinate to that reality. In this respect, he goes beyond his Kantian mentors J. F. Fries and E. F. Apelt. From all these sources came a radically original Gestalt metaphysics. For example, he reverses Kant’s forms of intuition (Anschauung) into “forms of intuitability”(Anschaulichkeit), including the relational categories of space, time, motion, mechanism, organism, law, and event. He then makes the categories into ethical levels of a “teleological idealism.” In this way he overcomes his Herbartian teachers’ separation of metaphysics from ethics, evincing his center Hegelian roots. (shrink)
Phenomenal holism is the thesis that some phenomenal characters can only be instantiated by experiences that are parts of certain wholes. The first aim of this paper is to defend phenomenal holism. I argue, moreover, that there are complex intellectual experiences (intellectual gestalts)—such as experiences of grasping a proof—whose parts instantiate holistic phenomenal characters. Proponents of cognitive phenomenology believe that some phenomenal characters can only be instantiated by experiences that are not purely sensory. The second aim of this paper is (...) to defend cognitive phenomenology. I argue that reflection on intellectual gestalts provides a basis for developing a case for cognitive phenomenology that is immune to many of the worries that beset more familiar arguments for cognitive phenomenology. (shrink)
Representationalism is the position that the phenomenal character of an experience is either identical with, or supervenes on, the content of that experience. Many representationalists hold that the relevant content of experience is nonconceptual. I propose a counter-example to this form of representationalism that arises from the phenomenon of Gestalt switching, which occurs when viewing ambiguous figures. First, I argue that one does not need to appeal to the conceptual content of experience or to judge- ments to account for (...)Gestalt switching. I then argue that experiences of certain ambiguous figures are problematic because they have different phenomenal characters but that no difference in the nonconceptual content of these experiences can be identified. I consider three solutions to this problem that have been proposed by both philosophers and psychologists and conclude that none can account for all the ambiguous figures that pose the problem. I conclude that the onus is on representationalists to specify the relevant difference in content or to abandon their position. (shrink)
Ethology brought some crucial insights and perspectives to the study of behavior, in particular the idea that behavior can be studied within a comparative-evolutionary framework by means of homologizing components of behavioral patterns and by causal analysis of behavior components and their integration. Early ethology is well-known for its extensive use of qualitative observations of animals under their natural conditions. These observations are combined with experiments that try to analyze behavioral patterns and establish specific claims about animal behavior. Nowadays, there (...) is still disagreement about the significance of observation and experiments and their relation. (shrink)
Aspects of an example of simulated shared subjectivity can be used both to support Steven Lehar's remarks on embodied percipients and to triangulate in a novel way the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness which Lehar wishes to “sidestep,” but which, given his other contentions regarding emergent holism, raises questions about whether he has been able or willing to do so.
The idea of distinct brain systems for the processing of episodic and other forms of memory is welcome. The two brain systems actually proposed however, appear to be stripped of further existing connections and could be integrated with one another. If integrating them, it seems more logical to propose one enlarged system of limbic structures whose individual components make partly different contributions to the forms of memory under discussion.
Lehar proposes an interesting theory of visual perception based on an explicit three-dimensional representation of the world existing in the observer's head. However, if we apply Occam's razor to this proposal, it is possible to contemplate far simpler representations of the world. Such representations have the advantage that they agree with findings in modern neuroscience.