by Abraham S. Luchins and Edith H. Luchins

Part 3: Kurt Goldstein; Concluding Remarks


Referring to WERTHEIMER, KÖHLER, KOFFKA, and other Gestalt psychologists, MASLOW wrote the following:

"None of these people ever had any use for psychoanalysis in any of its varieties, and my impression was that none of them ever understood it at all. By contrast, Kurt GOLDSTEIN did understand psychoanalysis even though he disagreed with it in many points, most of the time quite justly, I thought. Yet he was knowledgeable enough and understanding enough and sympathetic enough so that a psychoanalytic institute in New York City invited Kurt to give a series of lectures critical of psychoanalysis. GOLDSTEIN felt much closer to FROMM and HORNEY than he did to the classical Freudians." (MASLOW, 1969, cited in LUCHINS and LUCHINS, 1988, p.137)
In his New School seminars, WERTHEIMER mentioned the work of Adhemar GELB and Kurt GOLDSTEIN (1918, ELLIS, 1938) as an example of using the social field to help the patient. A footnote to the paper noted that the practical motivation for the work "was the need for helping the patients regain a place in the world of normal affairs...to discover what they could do and secure work for them in this field" (ELLIS, 1938, p. 315n).

GOLDSTEINs major work is The Organism. First published in Germany in 1934 and in English translation in 1939, it was reissued in 1995, with a forward by the neurologist Olivier SACHS. It is reviewed by Anne HARRINGTON in Isis (1996, 87, pp. 578-579). She points out that an earlier review, also published in Isis (1949, 32, pp. 390-393) was by the physical anthropologist and humanistic, antireductionist thinker, M.F. Ashley MONTAGU, who was "effusive" and called The Organism "one of the most important works on theoretical biology published during this century." He characterized its use of pathological phenomena for empirical and philosophical insight into the nature of organismic life, especially human life, as a "revelation."

However, there were also negative reactions, among them B.F. SKINNERs critique. He considered the book metaphysical in the sense that the principal questions it raised cannot be answered experimentally.

The Organism (1939), has a reference to FREUD in the chapter on anxiety:

"Thus, all investigators who have dealt with the problem of anxiety have sought to distinguish between anxiety and fear. I am only mentioning the interpretations of FREUD, W. STERN and G. REVESZ. The philosophers, especially those whose interest was centered around the phenomenon of anxiety - I mention only PASCAL, KIERKEGAARD, HEIDEGGER - have been very careful to distinguish between anxiety and fear. [The latter two] consider fear as fear of something, while anxiety in their opinion deals with "nothingness"; their descriptions strongly suggest that anxiety is a state which is without reference to any object....
We have characterized the conditions of brain-injured patients, when faced with solvable and unsolvable tasks, as states of ordered behavior and catastrophic reaction. The [latter] show all the characteristics of anxiety. We have attempted to understand the origin of these reactions as the expression of shock, due to inadequate utilization of stimuli, caused by the change of structure in the patient.... Apprehending an object presupposes ordered functional evaluation of the stimulus. The fact that the catastrophic condition involves the impossibility of ordered reactions precludes a subject "having" an object in the outer world.

Thus, we find in patients: their anxiety has no corresponding content, and is lacking in object....
The above statement, however, must be amended. It is only true as far as we consider the inner experience. But the organism which is seized by the catastrophic shock is, of course, in the state of coping with a definite, objective reality: the organism is faced with some "object." The state of anxiety becomes intelligible only if we consider the objective confrontation of the organism with a definite environment. Only then can we comprehend the basic phenomenon of anxiety: the occurrence of disordered stimulus evaluation as it is conditioned through the conflict of the organism with a certain environment which is inadequate for it.... Thus, we may talk of "contentless" anxiety, only if we regard the experience alone. To be sure, it is usually in this sense that one talks of anxiety. But this is not quite correct, and is due to a false emphasis on subjective experience in the characterization of so-called psychic phenomena.... Thus what is usually described as anxiety is only [one] side of the process....
What is it then that leads to fear? Nothing but the experience of the possibility of the onset of anxiety. " (pp. 294-296)
GOLDSTEIN went on to consider anxiety in the infant and the child, again referring to FREUD:
"The child behaves, in some respects, similar to the brain-injured patient. It is very frequently confronted with tasks with which it cannot cope, and which menace its existence. Thus, anxiety certainly plays a great role in the life of the child. However, it is diminished through safeguards which the adult arranges and which save the child from shocks that otherwise would be too extreme. Furthermore, the anxiety in children is reduced through a peculiarity [which] is the extraordinarily strong and general tendency to action, and the urge to solve given tasks...
As the child grows into the world of the adult, its behavior becomes more even and "ordered." The more it becomes fitted to its environment, the more its "wondering" decreases, but it never disappears completely .... Just as in the brain-injured person, the normal adult has the urge to diminish his anxiety even though to a much lesser degree. As an expression of this urge, we find in the adult the tendency towards order, norms, continuity, and homogeneity, in principle similar to patients. But apart from this, the normal is determined by his urge (already inherent in the child) for new experiences, for the conquest of the world, and for an expansion of his sphere of activity... His behavior oscillates between these two tendencies ... The outcome of the two tendencies is the cultural reactions.
But in no way could one claim that this "ordered" world, which culture represents, is the product of anxiety, the result of the desire to avoid anxiety, as FREUD conceives culture as sublimation of the repressed drives. This would mean a complete misapprehension of the creative trend of human nature, and at the same time would leave completely unintelligible why the world was formed in these specific patterns, and why just these forms should be suited to produce security for man."
(pp. 303-305)
GOLDSTEINs concluding remarks include the following, which also refers to FREUD:
"[Our procedure is rooted in] the conviction that a state of greater perfection can never be understood from that of less perfection, and that only the converse is possible. It is very feasible to isolate parts from a whole, but a perfect whole can never be composed by synthesizing it from the less perfect parts....
When centering is defective, when parts are split off from the whole, it is certainly possible that the outcome is antagonism, for example, a contest in the field of perceptions or drives, or something in the nature of a struggle between "mind" and "drives." Then it is even possible that a so-called "drive" may become so pathologically dominant that it is mistaken for a true, essential characteristic of the normal organism, as in the anthropology of FREUD. But from such partitive phenomena, it will never be possible to understand, even approximately, the inner coherence and unity of holistic behavior. From no single phenomenon does a path lead to the whole; yet it can be comprehended as a privation of the whole. The possibility of such privations is no objection to the holistic organization; rather, they express the imperfection in self-realization resulting from a lack of potency of "essential nature." This lack is either innate ... through a deprivation of the grace of endowments - or it is acquired through disease, or it is a sequel of overpowering demands by the environment." (pp. 515-516)

Concluding Remarks

From the above sampling of remarks, it seems that WERTHEIMER, KOFFKA, KÖHLER, LEWIN and GOLDSTEIN did not have the same view of psychoanalysis. It is difficult to generalize about Gestalt psychologists' views of psychoanalysis (or about psychoanalysts' views of Gestalt psychology). For example, psychologists who were concerned, in different degrees, with child development and various social phenomena, probably had more use for psychoanalytic concepts. Perhaps MASLOW overgeneralized when he said that none of the Gestalt psychologists had any use for psychoanalysis. There was a rather friendly interaction between some Gestalt psychologists and some psychoanalysts who were receptive to each others' ideas. In personal talks with Rudolf DREIKURS and traditional psychoanalysts who were consultants to the Veterans Administration, we found much on which to agree, perhaps because we focused mainly on practice: on diagnosis and treatment of the patients, rather than mainly on theory.


ANSBACHER, H. L.. & ANSBACHER, R. R. (1956): The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Basic Books.
DREIKURS, Rudolf (1950): Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology. New York: Greenburg.
OPPENHEIMER FROMM, Erika (1973): Recollections of Max Wertheimer, personal communication taped.
GELB, A. & GOLDSTEIN, K. (1918, 1938): "Analysis of a Case of Figural Blindness," Abridged translation, Section 26, in W.D. ELLIS, A Source Book of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace. S. 315-325.
GOLDSTEIN, K. (1939, 1995): The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man, American Book Co, 1939; Zone Books, New York, 1995.
HARRINGTON, A. (1996a): Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
HARRINGTON, A. (1996b): Review of Kurt GOLDSTEINs The Organism, Isis, 87, S. 578-579.
KOFFKA, K. (1935): Principles of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
KÖHLER, W. (1947/1929): Gestalt Psychology. New York: Liveright.
KÖHLER, W. (1959/1971): "Obsessions of Normal People," paper read at Inauguration of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1959. Reprinted in Selected Papers of Wolfgang Köhler, Mary HENLE, Ed., Liveright, New York, 1971, S. 398-412.
LEICHTMAN, M.J. (1979): "Gestalt Theory and the Revolt Against Positivism," in Allan BUSS, Ed., Psychology in Social Context. New York: Irvington.
LEVY, E. (1969): "Max Wertheimer in Europe and America," personal communication, May 31, 1969.
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.
LUCHINS, A. S. & LUCHINS, E. H. (1986): "Wertheimer in Frankfurt: 1929-1933," Gestalt Theory, 8 (3), September 1986, S. 204-224.
LUCHINS, A. S. & LUCHINS, E. H. (1987): "Max Wertheimer in America: 1933-1943," Part I, Gestalt Theory, 9 (2). June 1987, S. 70-101.
LUCHINS, A. S. & LUCHINS, E. H. (1988): "Max Wertheimer in America: 1933-1943," Part II, Gestalt Theory, 10 (2), June 1988, S. 134-160.
MASLOW, A. (1968, 1969): unpublished memoirs, 1969, "Comments on J.& G. Mandler's The Diaspora of Experimental Psychology: The Gestaltists and Others," Perspectives in American History, 2, 1968, pp. 371-419, in the Archives of Psychology, Akron, Ohio.



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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