Essay: Max Wertheimer’s study in Psychology
Max Wertheimer, a Czech Jew born in 1980, was working on gestalt theory and conducting experiments with his colleagues before World War I. He was a contemporary of Picasso, although not acquainted with him. However, both the artist and the psychologist had discovered camouflage, and now witnessed how the military hired artists to use this concept extensively during war (Behrens).
The war caused a disruption in his work, but after it ended Wertheimer was appointed as faculty at theBerlinUniversity, where he worked together with Kohler to establish a graduate school which produced famous psychologists who worked further on gestalt and produced numerous publications. When Hitler became Chancellor of Nazi Germany, Wertheimer felt the need to leave his homeland and accepted a post at theNewSchoolfor Social Research atNew York. There he moved along with his wife and children.
A big milestone in the development of gestalt theory was the concept of the phi phenomenon by Wertheimer. This was described in his 1912 paper, Experimental Studies on the Seeing of Motion (Shipley), and revealed how apparent ‘motion’ was observed by viewers after they were shown a succession of alternating still images. No actual motion was shown, and this indicated that the brain had figured that for an object to appear and disappear at point A and then reappear at point B, it had to have moved. This is manifested in the famous optical illusion of the Lilac Chaser where fixating on a point in the centre of a circle of lilac circles appearing in succession makes the brain ‘see’ a green circle moving at the circumference.