Wholeness. What we perceive however is not just an assortment of different sensations but a distinct meaningful object. The classical atomistic school of thought had supposed that our perceptions were built up from our sensations rather like a brick wall is made. Just prior to the beginning of the first world war three German psychologists, namely Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler, started the Gestalt line of thought which by a wealth of clear-cut experimentation, demonstrated that our perceptual experience cannot be described in terms of elements but in terms of wholes, and proceeded to demonstrate the principles of organisation involved in the perception of wholeness. As such the emphasis is not on sensations but on the sensory field, not on individual elements but on the" configuration" of them. The Gestalt school had repercussions not only in the field of perception but also in learning and thinking and many other fields. We need only note here the application to perception. The meaning of this line of thought is exemplified by the problem originally raised by von Ehrenfels: how is it that if I playa familiar tune in a different key, that tune is still recognisable? Obviously there must be something more than the notes making up that tune? In other words the arrangement of the notes is a factor that must be taken into account. Now it is this form quality in all our perceptions to which the Gestalt school called attention and which gave rise to the catchphrase of the movement that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This was not by any means the only contribution made by the Gestalt writers to perceptual study, but it forms the cornerstone of their ideas. As an example to portray their ideas the "phi-phenomenon" can be cited. This effect is basically brought out by briefly showing a fixed line of light followed after -a very short time interval by another fixed line. If the arrangements of the lines in distance and temporal interval from one another are right, there is formed the illusion of movement. That is to say the first line will appear to move in the direction of the second line of light. Neon advertisement signs as of a man pouring out whisky are based on the same principle-one does not see a line
Gestalt psychology is not the only representative theory in the study of perception,2 and there is no doubt that by an emphasis on the present organisational properties, the effect of past experience has been overlooked. It has proved amazingly fruitful, though, and many concepts in continual use in psychology, such as "field", owe their prominence to the Gestalt approach.