- (Ger., configuration) The theory of perception developed in opposition to the classical ‘atomistic’ model of the British empiricists and followers such as J. S. Mill and the German scientist H. L. F. von Helmholtz. On the atomistic view visual patterns arise from a mosaic of independently existing sensations. But phenomena such as the ‘figure-ground’ switch or the famous duck-rabbit switch make vivid that to take a scene one way or another goes far beyond having the same blank experience, and then explaining it as the result of one thing or another: the interpretation changes the experience itself. This Gestalt quality is something over and above anything determined in the array of individual sensations. The original Gestalt school of psychology was founded in 1910 by Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Köhler. Although their explanation of Gestalt effects in terms of brain ‘fields’ has given way, and the attempt to frame laws determining how stimuli will end up being perceived has also withered, the basic idea that higher-level cognitive processes (rememberings, interpretations) are responsible for the nature of experience has flourished. Its philosophical importance has been in undermining the ‘ myth of the given ’, since even the straightforward perception of three-dimensional spatial objects proves not to be ‘given’.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.