by Abraham S. Luchins and Edith H. Luchins

Part 2: Kurt KOFFKA, Kurt LEWIN


In Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935), KOFFKA distinguished the geographical from the behavioral environment. He claimed that the behavioral environment is insufficient to account for the totality of our behavior, describing "at least three different types of behavior for which no proper behavioral environment can be found" (p. 50).

"(a) So-Called Reflexes. At every moment of our life the tonus of our musculature is regulated. Were it not, we could neither sit nor stand nor walk. But all these adjustments take place without our knowing about them; there is no behavioral environment for them. What is true of the tonic reflexes holds also for the so-called phasic ones: I send a strong beam of light into a person's eyes, and his pupils contract; I remove the light, and they expand again.... The pupils of a boxer knocked unconscious will still react....
(b) Forces That Determine Behavior Outside of Behavioral Environment.
The forces which determines our behavior may not always be those we believe to be the determinants. We may do something in order to please X as we think, when in reality we do it to spite Y, when Y need neither be present nor in our thoughts. Psychoanalysis in its various forms has brought to light many such facts, and perhaps its general tendency may be said to be the proof that all our actions are of that type... However far the psychoanalysts may overshoot the mark, it remains true that this type of action exists, that it cannot be explained in terms of behavioral environment, and that it is so similar to the rest of behavior that it needs a common explanatory concept. Since the field concept is applicable to all behavior, it appears again that the psychological field cannot be identical with the behavioral environment.
(c) Memory. There is memory. Now memory determines to a great extent our behavioral field, and in so far cannot serve as an argument against its universality. That I speak to A whom I met yesterday and not to B whom I never saw before is due to the fact that A is, in my behavioral environment, a familiar person, B a stranger. But there are other ways in which memory determines behavior without the mediation of a behavioral field. The rapid and accurate activities of a trained typist are not explainable in terms of the actually present behavioral environment, as little as the playing of Kriesler... But skills are not the only memory effects that fall outside the scope of behavioral environment. I think of a person, a city, a mountain, but cannot recall its name. I want to very badly, but no effort seems to help. So I give up and do something else, when suddenly the name will appear. Again a type of behavior which takes place without a behavioral environment but must, nevertheless, be the result of operative forces, a field process.
"Unconscious." To call the facts adduced sub (b) and (c) unconscious or subconscious does not help us.... And since we agreed that the word consciousness should be used only as an equivalent to direct experience, containing the behavioral environment and the phenomenal behavior of the Ego, we must renounce the use of the terms un- and sub-conscious. However, there must be a reason why these words were coined and so widely accepted; why did not all psychologists simply distinguish between conscious and merely physiological processes? I believe the answer lies in the fact that the physiological processes were not treated as field processes, whereas the processes called un- or sub-conscious had very definite properties which in our terminology we call field properties."
(1935, pp. 50-52)
KOFFKA raised questions about the Ego: What are the conditions for an experience to be incorporated in the Ego? What accounts for the unified and segregated nature of the Ego and for its relative constancy? He pointed out that the Ego problem cannot be properly treated in the three dimensions of space without taking time into consideration.
"Even though we have, at the moment, no real knowledge of the forces which keep the Ego unified and segregated from the rest, we must assume the Ego to be a particular field part in constant interaction with the rest of the field.... no Ego would exist, as a special system, unless it segregated itself from other systems....
If vision supplies us with many objects spatially distributed and clearly articulated, then vision must supply us mainly with non-Ego things. What then about the visible parts of our body, why are they drawn into the Ego? ... For we have knowledge of our limbs not only from vision but also from those other sources which give us notice about the non-visible parts of our body. These processes, aroused in the entero- and proprio-ceptors, form probably, as we have explained, the first material for the organization of the Ego. If, then, the place of the visual body data coincides with the place of the other data belonging to the same part of the body ("coincides," of course, in behavioral space), then we should be able to apply our law of proximity to explain why the visual data are experienced with the Ego character, "my hand," "my leg," etc.
[Needs are] states of tension which persist until they are relieved. Our most general aims are therefore permanent, tensions which last through great parts of our lives. These needs being our needs, they belong, of course, to the Ego system."
(pp. 328-330)
KOFFKA drew conclusions about the Ego system and related them to psychoanalytic theory:
"Our conclusion is clear: the disappearance of the Ego from the behavioral world does not mean for the normal adult an annihilation of the Ego. It survives as a part of the psychophysical field even when it is not represented in consciousness, and that forces us to the conclusion that normally, when the Ego exists in our behavioral world, this phenomenal, or conscious, Ego is not the whole Ego. It is probable that the Ego is first formed in organization which proceeds on the conscious level. But after it has been formed it becomes more and more stable, more and more independent of momentary conditions of organizations, so that eventually it is a permanent segregated part of our total psychophysical field. This is , as I see it, the true justification of the various psychoanalytic theories which investigate the particular properties of this permanent Ego, the strain and stresses within it. The psychoanalytic terminology is, at least, misleading. The psychoanalysts' use of the term unconscious was unfortunate. We have briefly referred to it in our second chapter (p. 50f), where we said that the reason for this terminology would disappear if we treated the phenomena so designated as field events. Our Ego concept has fulfilled this promise. The Ego being a sub-system in a larger field, its states are field events even when this field is not the behavioral field, when it is not conscious....
But rightly interpreted the principles of psychoanalysis cannot be dismissed by a shrug of the shoulders, much as the special claims of any psychoanalytic school may be open to just and severe criticism. The development of psychoanalysis has been influenced by the two poles which have affected the whole of psychology, the pole of mechanism, which was paramount in FREUDs earlier work, and the pole of vitalism, vitalism, even with a mystical tinge which became so prominent in the later development, particularly in the hands of JUNG. Psychoanalysis will, I dare to predict, enter a new and healthier state of development when it frees itself of the mechanistic and the vitalistic biases."
(pp. 330-331)
One of the consequences of the concept of the Ego as constant and developing in time is a foundation of a theory of personality.
"In the first place it gives us a real basis for the scientific understanding of the development of a personality. For in all changes of the behavioral field the Ego remains as a segregated part. The segregation will not proceed along the same boundary lines all the time, it will not invariably be of the same strength, and the relative importance of the Ego in the field will change. Still the Ego within the total field seems comparable to the physical organism in its geographical environment. Both are strongly organized stable subsystems within a larger system, and just as in all changes the organism maintains its identity and thereby produces its growth and development, so will the Ego grow and develop by maintaining itself in the flux of the behavioral environment, or more generally of the psychophysical field." (p. 331)
In a chapter on society and personality, KOFFKA also described properties of sociological groups:
"Two Gestalt Characteristics Of Sociological Groups. In this respect groups have a number of very definite characteristics, they are gestalten of a very particular kind. I shall only mention two closely related particularities. In the first place the "strength" of the gestalt may differ over an enormously wide range. The strength of the gestalt character is defined by KÖHLER by the degree of interdependence of the parts. The stronger the gestalt, the more will each of its parts depend on all the others, and the more will this dependence affect every aspect of the parts. From this point of view practically all of the groups with which we are familiar are relatively weak, but groups in other cultures are much stronger. The difference which BECKER calls that of a sacred and secular society is a good illustration. The stronger the group, the more not only will the behavior, but the entire status, of its members depend upon their relation to the other members. Thus, in primitive societies, laws of connection with the group may bring about the isolated member's death. To stay nearer home, we may compare the village with the city to exemplify differences in gestalt strength of groups. The strongest groups that we encounter are probably teams in games like football.
The fact that groups may have a very low degree of gestalt coherence derives from the second peculiarity that I want to point out. The group is composed of individuals, and the existence of individuals, though largely group-determined, is not exclusively so. The fact that the members of groups are not then completely determined by the group is the same as saying that the group is not of the strongest gestalt type possible. (p. 650)
The Reality Of The Psychological Group. The "We." And now we turn to the behavioral group. In what sense does it exist? Here the answer is easier. The reality of the psychological group finds its expression in the pronoun "we". "We" means not simply a plurality of persons which includes myself, it means in its most proper sense a unified plurality of which I and the others are true members. Otherwise expressed: when one says, "We do this," then one means not that the persons included in the "we" are doing this each for himself and independently of the others, but that we do it jointly. The speaker experiences himself as part of a group, and his actions as belonging to this group. Of course, the word "we" can also have the other meaning. "We have assembled here because we were all born on the same day". The two we's in this sentence are not quite identical. Only the second is a purely summative plural, while the first would carry at least the beginning of a true "group-we".
...In all these cases, however, the word "we" refers to a reality. It is never a mere abbreviation of "they and I," or "he and I." For the I to which it refers is dependent upon the "we". In other words, the plurality to which the word "we" refers is not composed of a number of members which would be identical in all possible pluralities, but codetermines its own members."
(p. 651) (see footnote 1)


In A Dynamic Theory of Personality (1935), LEWIN wrote:

"FREUDs doctrine especially ( and this is one of its greatest services) has contributed largely to the abolition of the boundary between the normal and the pathological, the ordinary and the unusual, and hereby furthered the homogenization ... of all the fields of psychology." (p. 22)
LEWIN studied the interrelationships between psychological systems:
"... one must try to get hold of them experimentally because they are most important for understanding the underlying reality of behavior and personality differences. In doing this we often find facts which FREUD first brought to our attention, thereby rendering a great service even though he has not given a clear dynamic theory in regard to them. One such fact is that of substitution.
FREUD uses the concept of substitution extensively to explain both normal and abnormal behavior. Moreover, sublimation, which is closely related to substitution, is according to him an important foundation of our whole cultural life....
At present we have no theory which really explains the dynamics of substitution. FREUD avoids giving a definition of substitution and, according to the opinion of prominent psychoanalysts, he develops no real theory for it."
(pp. 180-181)
It is noteworthy that LEWIN and his associates carried out a series of experiments on substitution and sublimation with feebleminded children and with psychopathic children.

LEWIN distinguishes between two meanings of the question "Why" in psychology:

"1. Why, in a given momentary situation, that is, with a given person (P) in a certain state and in a certain environment (E), does precisely this behavior result?
2. The more historical question: Why at this moment, does the solution have precisely this structure and the person precisely this condition or state? It is important to separate these two questions more clearly than is done, for example, in association psychology and in FREUDs theory. The center of gravity of our experimental work lies, as a rule, in the first kind of why...
As regards content, no action is referred either to the person on the one side or to the psychological situation. Nearly all the investigations are therefore occupied with both problems."
(pp. 241-242)
LEWIN described in detail the punishment situation:
"The threat of punishment creates necessarily a situation in which child and adult stand over each other as enemies. Herein lies one of the most important differences between this situation and that in which the child undertakes the task because of interest in the task itself.
... In essence, the strife of the child may be directed against the task, against the punishment, or against the barrier thwarting the attempt to go out of the field.
...Not infrequently the struggle is carried on by means which [Alfred] ADLER would designate as "arrangements," the difficulty which the adult must recognize consists in the fact that the child has developed a headache, a phenomenon that is frequently to be observed before school examinations.
(pp. 142-143)
A reference to ADLER occurred in LEWINs discussion of the punishment situations. LEWIN also referred to ADLER in other contexts. For example:
"Experiences of success and failure have, as ADLER correctly emphasizes, an extremely marked effect upon the child's encouragement and discouragement, and hence upon his later performance" (p. 100).
The authoritative book, The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, by Heinz and Rowena ANSBACHER (1956) (she was a student in Max WERTHEIMERs first class in the Graduate Faculty and both attended other seminars by WERTHEIMER at the New School) discussed the relationships between Adlerian concepts (cf. DREIKURS, 1950) and Lewinian experiments, e.g., level of aspiration (goal-setting and finished and unfinished tasks).

In Field Theory and Social Sciences (1951), LEWIN wrote:

Psychoanalysis has probably been the outstanding example of a psychological approach which attempts to reach the depths rather than the superficial layers of behavior.... Psychoanalysis has not always kept in line with the requirements of scientific method when making its interpretations of behavior. What is needed are scientific constructs and methods which deal with the underlying forces of behavior but do so in a methodologically sound manner. (p. 60)

(1) It is instructive to compare KOFFKAs discussion with WERTHEIMERs remarks in the social psychology seminars concerning the Gestalt conception and FREUDs conception of the group: LUCHINS and LUCHINS, 1978, Volume II, especially Chapter 5, "The Group: A Gestalt Thesis," Chapter 6 , "Types of Groups," and Chapter 7, "Groups and Libidinal Ties." (back to text)

ANSBACHER, H.L. & ANSBACHER, R.R. (1956): The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Basic Books.
DREIKURS, R. (1950): Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology. New York: Greenburg.
KOFFKA, K. (1935): Principles of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
LEWIN, K. (1935): A Dynamic Theory of Personality, translated by Donald K. Adams and Karl E. Zener. New York: McGraw-Hill.
LEWIN, K. (1951): Field Theory in Social Science. New York: Dorwin Cartwright, Ed., Harper.
LUCHINS, A.S. & LUCHINS, E.H. (1978): Revisiting Wertheimer's Seminars, Vol. I: Value, Social Influences, and Power; Vol. II: Problems in Social Psychology. Cranbury, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press.

3rd Part: Kurt GOLDSTEIN; Concluding Remarks

Back to Part 1: Max WERTHEIMER; Wolfgang KÖHLER

Copyright © 1997 , A.S. Luchins, E.H. Luchins. All Rights Reserved.
This paper was prepared in the context of the 10th Scientific Convention of the international Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications (GTA), March 1997 in Vienna/Austria, and was first published in
GESTALT THEORY - An International Multidisciplinary Journal, Vol. 19, No 2, June 1997, pp128-139.

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