Life
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Max Wertheimer


"Max Wertheimer was born in Prague, April 15, 1880. He studied law at the University of Prague from 1898-1901, and became interested in psychology, philosophy, and physiology. From 1901 to 1904 he studied these subjects and received a doctorate in 1905. He did further study in psychology in Prague, Frankfurt, and Vienna.From 1910 - 1914 he worked with Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka developing the fundamental concepts of Gestalt theory. The three conducted experiments to test their theories. In these early years he met many influential people including Carl Jung and Albert Einstein. He served as professor of psychology at the University of Frankfurt from 1929 - 1933, and migrated to the United States in 1933. He joined the faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York City and remained there for ten years." He completed his work on "productive thinking" in 1943. He died in New Rochelle, NY later that year. (Cooper, 2009)


Theories/Findings (Gestalt Learning Theory, Productive Thinking)


"Wertheimer was the core of the trio of early German Gestalt Theorists (with Koffka and Kohler). His ideas featured the view that thinking proceeds from the whole to the parts, treating a problem as a whole, and permitting the whole to command or dominate over the parts. This was a synthesis (up - chunking to more inclusive concepts) approach rather than an analytical approach (down - chunking to details). Wertheimer thought reductionism was a fundamental problem of his time; he was particularly interested in the nature of problem solving.

Gestalten theory had a central idea of "grouping", or aspects of visual and other stimuli which cause the subject to interpret a problem or perceptual event in a certain way. Grouping factors included (1) proximity, elements that are close in space tend to be grouped together and perceived as one or a few objects, (2) similarity, items that have some similar characteristics tend to be grouped, (3) closure, elements which appear to complete some shape or object tend to be grouped, and (4) simplicity, the tendency to organize objects into simple figures. These factors were called the "Laws of Organization".

Features of the productive thinking process included
1. Grouping and reorganizing components of a situation
2. Functioning in relation to characteristics of the whole rather than piecemeal
3. Avoids summing successions of parts or chance occurrences
4. Structural truth leads to sensible expectations and assumptions.

In Wertheimer's model, genuine thinking starts with a problem. The structural features and requirements of the problem cause tension, the strain of which produces vectors that prompt the individual to modify the situation in an improved direction. The process of resolving a problem is to proceed from a bad gestalt to a better one." (Cooper, 2009).


Major Objections/Criticisms


General criticism against Gestalt psychology: "Gestalt psychology has been widely criticized on the grounds that the whole could never be different from the sum of its parts." (Liukkonnen, 2008).


--Robert Radtke