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, 28 (1), 5-15

Gestalt Theory Reconfigured: Max Wertheimer's Anticipation of Recent Developments in Visual Neuroscience

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Gestalt Theory Reconfigured: Max Wertheimer's Anticipation of Recent Developments in Visual Neuroscience

G Westheimer. Perception.

Abstract

In the 1920s Max Wertheimer enunciated a credo of Gestalt theory: the properties of any of the parts are governed by the structural laws of the whole. Intense efforts at the time to discover these laws had only very limited success. Psychology was in the grips of the Fechnerian tradition to seek exact relationships between the material and the mental and, because the Gestalt movement could not deliver these, it never attained a major standing among students of perception. However, as neurophysiological research into cortical processing of visual stimuli progresses the need for organizing principles is increasingly making itself felt. Concepts like contour salience and figure segregation, once the province of Gestalt psychology, are now taking on renewed significance as investigators combine neural modeling and psychophysical approaches with electrophysiological ones to characterize neural mechanisms of cognition. But it would be perilous not to take heed of some of the lessons that the history of the Gestalt movement teaches.

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