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Gestalt Theory

Gestalt Theory

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Published by Chai Talabon

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Published by: Chai Talabon on Jul 28, 2012
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07/28/2012

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(Plural „Gestalten”) is German for “pattern”, “figure”, “shape”, or “form” 
 
but not precisely translatable, just
as „Angst” is not. It is used to refer to wholes, systems and complete structures rather than
the reductionist approach of seeking ever smaller components of a phenomenon. Inlearning, opposed to the reductionism of  behaviourism,it concentrates on the way in which the mind insists on finding patterns in things, and how this contributes to learning,
especially the development of “insight”.
 
Classic Gestalt image
A vase or two faces?It's easy to see one or the other:almost impossible to see neither, orindeed both at the same time.The classic Gestalt phenomenon isthat of 
 figure
versus
ground 
. Whichis the image and which thebackground?And how does the brain decide?
 
What is it (1)?
 (Hover on the picture for the answer)
 
 
What is it (2)?
 
The point of these rather silly examples is to note the usual reaction when you work themout: there is, however trivial, a release of tension because it has been possible to assimilatea previously non-sensical image into a frame of reference.Gestalt emphasises that the mind abhors non-sense.It is clear that some kind of cognitive re-structuring has taken place, which may thenbecome apparent in behaviour, but seemingly precedes that behaviour. Someone has"understood" differently, so that their capacity for potential action has changed, even if thataction or behaviour is not immediately manifest. Exactly what is going on in the brain we donot yet know, but there have been considerable advances in recent years (even since thefirst edition of this site in 2002), and neuroscience is a hot topic nowadays. (I am continuingto search for web resources in this field which are both reliable and accessible. Few areboth. In the meantime see Zull, 2002 and Johnson, 2005)  The importance of the theory for real-world learning is the attention which it drawsto
wholes
(and incidentally to problem-solving as a part of learning). Whereas behaviourism concentrates on breaking down a task into parts and how each islearned
individually and incrementally, Gestalt acknowledges the “knack” element. It thus
underpins all the cognitivist theories.  A "knack" is a psychomotor equivalent of cognitive "insight": the best example is probably learning to ride a bicycle. The learning "curve" (where x=time and y=skill) is more like a single step. The learning happens in a few moments, and is permanent
although it mayhave taken a long time to get to that step with little seeming progress.

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