Gestalt demystified 

The word gestalt is German, and can be a verb. We have no word to correspond to it in English, hence this odd mouthful, which probably brings many people down at the very first fence. They do not know how to pronounce it, so they take up Behaviourism or stock-car racing instead. 
It means things like organising, making a pattern of. 

A gestalt is a field arranged so that there is Foreground and Background - a field of data arranged with value, in other words.

One of these arrangements, which we are all ceaselessly making, is called a gestalt, with a small g. The philosophy, psychology and associated therapy usually carry a capital G, as in Gestalt Therapy.

The apocryphal tale goes that Wertheimer or some other of the nineteenth century Gestalt philosophers discovered the whole idea when they were watching a chimpanzee at the zoo. Maybe they were having their Annual Philosophers' Outing and Dinner.

The chimpanzee was gazing impatiently out of his cage at a banana which he attempted and failed to reach with his long hairy arm. This story does not say much for the kindheartedness of nineteenth century German philosophers, who at this point might have been expected to improve relations between the species by handing the banana over to the hungry ape 

Instead they watched, and suddenly the chimpanzee appeared to go through the Eureka experience, the satori, the aha! discovery, of noticing a stick lying within reach, seizing it, using it to drag the no doubt somewhat squashed fruit into the cage, thus allowing himself to partake of a light and healthy snack.

From the apparently disconnected elements of hunger, stick, banana, spare time, the chimp suddenly made a meaningful configuration pattern. Hunger was the need which organised the field. Gestalt Psychologists have come to asssume that for humans too, the need of any moment organises the available field. 

This next anecdote shows how the need, the subjective valuation in any moment dictates the foreground of a gestalt at that moment. An assistant carried a large ornamental flower-pot to the check-out at a Garden Centre.

As I stood there, within the space of about twenty seconds, the check-out lady said, O, won't that look a picture when it's full of flowers !

The manager said, "God knows where people get the money nowadays for the sort of thing. "

The assistant said, "And I suppose some poor dummy will have to water the damn thing every day."

In Gestalt terms, each of them had gestalted, organised this field of data consisting of themselves and the flower-pot into configurations or patterns, with different foregrounds.

Beauty, or potential beauty, was the check-out lady's foreground, with trouble and expense tuned far into the background.

The manager sounded as if family worries might be his foreground, to which the flower-pot was a mere illustration.

The assistant, who had just man-handled the heavy object, still had physical effort by an oppressed person as his seeming foreground. 

Even in this fleeting instance, we can see how a field is a bounded affair, stick and banana and so forth, or in this case containing a flower-pot and its beholders. What is fascinating is the beholder.

Each person is the fluidity of their own experience, with, behind that, cultural, race and species experience, right back to whatever dusty quarks lying around the universe were our antecedents. 

The personal moods and particular events which have coloured how we have formed every gestalt, lead us to this ephemeral moment in this day when we give foreground significance to this that or the other element of any field in which we find ourselves. 

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