Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gestalt of it all

 Gestalt psychology could actually be better understood if one considers it an unspoken language. The mind wants to organize stimulus to fit into a concept or a something-or-other that is a commonly known “whole”. (Goodwin, 2008) Due to the fact that our eyesight is quite adept at taking in several images all at once, it is no surprise that we wish to input data in a holistic-manner. It also helps that we learn through relationships, interaction, and meaningfulness relative to ourselves. The interrelatedness forces us to invent language with others, so that we can share a stimulus, it's recognition, it's utility with others. Once we find the need to speak, that's where Gestalt leaves off and linguistics set in.
An example of early Gestalt cognition is with a mother that is showing her infant pictures in a picture book in attempts to educate on language. How does the Mom show the child not to just look at the parts, lines, colors of what the infant sees in the picture but to take in the whole picture? Would Gestalt early-childhood experts say that at a developmental age, this is innate or learned (Bell, 1991)? It takes time and an understanding of mind development appropriateness for the lessons to be fruitful. Then as the picture comes into focus, only then can the auditory task of learning sound associated with the picture forms a wrinkle in the grey matter of the infant's brain. Indeed, the baby has to be able to distinguish form, to understand the object beyond it being a flat page in a book, and to have it fit into a schema of whatever the picture comes to represent as a whole. It also must not be too abstract, or foreign of an idea for an infant to grasp.
What else may be examples of Gestalt that we take for granted? In particular, this student thinks of outter-space as a Gestalt-appropriate example. So do authors Woldt and Toman, 2005, Gestalt therapists considering space and aeronautics. We seek to understand the holistic-approach of what outter-space is by the planets, the stars, the solar system. We always want to categorize things into a neat little box for our minds labeled “NASA”. We have tools of understanding light as a property to distinguish how far Earth is from an asteroid belt but still are in awe of what the big picture universe really is all about. We are equal parts curious and frustrated. When we focus in too intently, we lose the greater meaning of the Universe, although we do continue to examine details like Earth, in the hopes that data yielded from Earth may reflect data indicative to understanding the larger whole, the universe. We must always be vigilant not to lose the forest from the trees and Gestalt approaches affirm that we are naturally wired to see more than just the sum parts, but a dynamically integrated outterspace. How we perceive outter space through Gestalt principles may be our greatest asset, or perhaps our greatest limitation in framing how we approach scientific unknowns.
A final example of Gestalt may be existential inquiry. We often holistically look at the meaning of life to inform on a mere moment of sadness or misery. We understand that there is much good and bad in life. We tell ourselves that in order to recognize good, we must know evil. We cognitively think in dualities first before we think of more complex interrelated theory about how everything in life is no longer black and white but shades of grey. We evolve out of dualism into Gestalt, that holistically everything that is is there is wholly, cleverly placed by Divine design. Gestalt in this capacity, is a testimony of faith. These ideas became the framework of not only Philosophers like Sartre and Heiddegger but laid the foundation for existential therapy. The therapy addresses being a lone if not interrelated, in a dualistic sense. As one matures, they may realize that spiritually they are integrated. (Deurzen, 2002). Gestalt in a manner of faith may be a goal but not the innate state of spiritual well-being.
We may be perpetually tripped-up if our innate ability to see things holistically makes us incapable of viewing things in a different way. Let's suggest that Gestalt may be a hindrance. Perhaps we would know more about language, existentialism, and space if we were able to focus on details first. Let's say, we approached all scholarly inquiry through focus on the details first rather than the whole. What would that entail and would that framing be more advantageous? Gestalt reached it's demise when it failed to describe things scientifically. Description will only legitimize ideas so far.
Bell, N. (1991) Gestalt imagery:a critical factor in language acquisition. The Orton Dyslexia Society. San Luis Obispo, CA.

Deurzen, E. (2002). Existential counseling and psychotherapy in practice. London. Sage Publications.

Goodwin, C.J. (2008). A history of modern psychology. Introducing psychology's history. NJ, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Woldt, A. & Tolman,S. (2005) Gestalt therapy : history, theory, and practice. London. Sage Publications.

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