Foundations Of Cognitive Science


One problem with Gestalt psychology (Koffka, 1935; Köhler, 1947) was that it had difficulty being accepted as a form of emergentism.  “Emergentism is a form of materialism which holds that some complex natural phenomena cannot be studied using reductionist methods” (Sawyer, 2002, p. 2).  Gestalt psychologists had difficulty in providing materialist accounts of such concepts as perceptual fields, cortical currents, or isomorphic relations between objects in the world and objects in the mind (Henle, 1977).  Ironically, Gestalt psychology was ahead of its time.  Formal and algorithmic accounts that have appeared in some subdomains of modern cognitive science like connectionism (Bechtel & Abrahamsen, 2002; Dawson, 2004; Rumelhart & McClelland, 1986) or dynamical systems theory (Port & Van Gelder, 1995) appear to offer approaches that could have converted the holism of Gestalt psychology into a more causally grounded emergentism (e.g., Sawyer, 2002).


  1. Bechtel, W., & Abrahamsen, A. A. (2002). Connectionism And The Mind : Parallel Processing, Dynamics, And Evolution In Networks (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  2. Dawson, M. R. W. (2004). Minds And Machines : Connectionism And Psychological Modeling. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
  3. Henle, M. (1977). The influence of Gestalt psychology in America. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 291(1), 3-12.
  4. Koffka, K. (1935). Principles Of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  5. Köhler, W. (1947). Gestalt Psychology, An Introduction To New Concepts In Modern Psychology. New York,: Liveright Pub. Corp.
  6. Wheeler, W. M. (1911). The ant colon as an organism. Journal of Morphology, 22(2), 307-325.
  7. Port, R. F., & Van Gelder, T. (1995). Mind as motion : explorations in the dynamics of cognition. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  8. Rumelhart, D. E., & McClelland, J. L. (1986). Parallel Distributed Processing, V.1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  9. Sawyer, R. K. (2002). Emergence in psychology: Lessons from the history of non-reductionist science. Human Development, 45, 2-28.
  10. Wheeler, W. M. (1926). Emergent evolution and the social. Science, 64(1662), 433-440.
  11. Wilson, E. O., & Lumsden, C. J. (1991). Holism and reduction in sociobiology - Lessons from the ants and human culture. Biology & Philosophy, 6(4), 401-412.

(Added November 2010)