Unit 4
Gestalt Perception

Gestalt perception centers around the recognition that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. A fast sportscar may be made up of bumpers, an engine, wheels, a frame, a chassis, an interior, a steering wheel, and so on, but together these can be placed in their context --the road, a full tank of gas, the top down and someone smiling in the passenger seat. The sports car then can be a complete gestalt experience, one of fun, luxury, freedom and, perhaps, a long awaited vacation.

Gestalt perception can unify the object,or figure, and its background, or context, through applying the top down processes of memory, consciousness, planning, or anticipation.


Read about Gestalt Perception in your text and check out these links:

Link to a Gestalt perception site here:

Here is a brief series of slides that give you an outline of several principles of Gestalt Perception:

Wine Glass Optical Illusion

The early Gestalt theorists (Kurt Lewin and Wolfgang Kohler, for example) thought that perception is turned inward, and operates on the interior world through the same Gestalt principles as seen in our perception of the outer world. Though most of psychology moved on to a different view (namely that consciousness is the process that allows self awareness, not perception), this is an intriguing idea. Frederick Perls accepted the idea, and built a form of therapy, simply called Gestalt Therapy, around the idea that self perception is organized around a need for wholeness. This was a belief shared with the humanists, like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, whom we will study later in the course.

Some additional thoughts on perception and sensation:
Here are a few of my own speculative ideas about the processes of sensation and perception:

----If our perception also depends on "senses" that detect the inner world as we know it does for the outer world, then parts our brain and body are sensing each other.

----While we wish to be careful not to muddy the definition of the word "sensation," we could attend to a new conception of it.

----Our brain senses the functioning of the body's other organs through both neural and hormonal channels.

----Our immune system serves as a sensor for foreign bodies (pathogens), even those generated from within.

----The ability of the body to sense and perceive what happens to it could be understood as an input/organization/output sequence.

----In this case, where in the process does perception occur? Transduction occurs in the sensory organs for the seven main senses, but it may not be necessary for these others, (e.g., the immune system) if they are to be considered senses at all. One difficulty with studying the whole issue of sensation/perception/consciousness is that each blends into the other.

One question I like to ask is, where do we draw the boundary between the inner and the outer?

----Perception today is mainly regarded as a process of organizing and interpreting sensory input.  But this ignores the common use of the term "self-perception."  Do we not also organize and interpret the world of thoughts, ideas, fantasies, emotions, etc.?

----Our process of gestalt perception may, as Frederick Perls thought, allow us to have top down, holistic awareness of our own inner lives.  Perls believed these experiences of inner wholeness drive us forward to personal growth and authentic living.  He places perception, even more than consciousness, in the driver's seat of our emotional lives.

----Is consciousness necessary for sensation? Certainly not. Reflexes are responses to sensation in which consciousness plays no necessary role. In fact the view of sensation as the experiencing of the world by the brain alone is not accurate, as reflexes demonstrate.  But, is consciousness necessary for perception? This is a trickier question that depends on one's definition of consciousness.  Those who follow psychodynamic thoughts would certainly say that most perception is unconscious processing.  But what about this so called self perception?  Perhaps we develop habits of self perception that operate without our immediate awareness.  Freud (and Perls) called these ego defenses. How might we organize our lives so that we have more accurate and useful self perceptions? More functional and adaptive inner gestalts?

These ideas are simply food for thought. What do you think?

Let's move on to a discussion of consciousness.

Depth, Form, Complexity, etc.
Consciousness: 3 Explanations