I’m reading Fritz Perls. What he has to say about gestalts is mostly familiar but with some extremely interesting differences from how I’ve been thinking about them. The most interesting difference is in his use of figure-ground. For Perls, the field against which gestalt figures form is a function of the organism and environment together.

…the wholes of experience are definite unified structures. Contact, the work that results in assimilation and growth, is the forming of a figure of interest against a ground or context of the organism/ environment field. The figure (gestalt) in awareness is a clear, vivid perception, image, or insight; in motor behavior, it is the graceful energetic movement that has rhythm, follows through, etc. In either case, the need and energy of the organism and the likely possibilities of the environment are incorporated and unified in the figure.

The process of figure/background formation is a dynamic one in which the urgencies and resources of the field progressively lend their powers to the interest, brightness and force of the dominant figure. It is pointless, therefore, to attempt to deal with any psychological behavior out of its socio-cultural, biological, and physical context.

Any designer will find that last sentence resonant. It is also pointless to attempt to deal with any social behavior — and this is what designers are hired to do! — out of its socio-cultural, biological, and physical context.

I’m enjoying the idea of metaphysics as the ground against which the figure of life events happens. It changes the resonance of Voegelin’s famous expression “divine ground”. Figures that emerge from a ground of pregnant, infinite, inexhaustibly surprising nothingness might never emerge from a ground of matter, space and time.

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