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Essay: Concepts in Psychology by Ehrenfels
Not a lot of people question the reality of what they see. The idea that what their eyes see might just be tricks of the brain might strike them occasionally when they chance upon popular optical illusions. These illusions demonstrate how what we perceive through our visual system is not just electrical circuitry forming an image on our retina, but a complex of our sensory input and prior experiences. This is because the brain is trying to sort this information in a holistic way, using what it already knows about space, organization, colors and contours, and drawing associations to make the most meaning out of new information. In short, the Gestalt effect is set into motion, which is how the mind organizes and simplifies our world so we can deal with it.
Gestalt is a German word meaning ‘form’ or ‘shape’, and was used to describe certain concepts in psychology by Ehrenfels, an Austrian philosopher. These concepts centre around the principle of totality and psychophysical isomorphism. Simply stated, the first means that an individuals experience is an amalgam of all his senses and mental process, while the latter implies that conscious experience and mental activity go together and cannot be separated. “Since the sensuous is perceptible only when it has form, the unity of the senses is given from the very beginning.” (Hornbostel). Credit is given to three of Ehrenfels’ successors, Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler for founding this concept in psychology.
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