The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

A desire to make sense

When people don’t know, they seek to fill the gap.

That is any time information arrives.

Some will approach the situation with curiosity, either by researching themselves or by asking others for their ideas and input.

Others will use the many automatic reactions humans have to find sense. There they will rely on intuition, interpretation, instinct, or whatever they find as a source of information.

In many situations, this is very helpful. Take all the data people receive, the care people give to organizing their presentation is there to ease understanding. However, people rarely know when it has been organized. When receiving information people apply conscious or subconscious methods allowing to arrange the parts. These methods allow them to transform the complex objects consisting of parts into a whole organized system.

Perception thus is a way to focus on the whole instead of the parts. It is a transformation of reality or an interpretation of what it means. It thus takes attention and time to move from the whole to the parts instead of simply following perception.

In the early 20th century Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka worked on these ideas and demonstrated how perception was more than visual stimulation. Their work led to Gestalt psychology and provided us with several Gestalt principles. The principle of closure helps us to identify shapes even when they are not complete. Whereas the principle of continuity tends to make it easier to see a smooth line than broken lines. The proximity between objects easily creates the impression that they belong to a group. Another way inviting to assimilate things with one another is similarity. Whereas the ground figure principle describes the tendency to focus on one part of the picture that has been identified as the figure, whereas the rest becomes the background.

The habit to see shapes eases our need for structure and helps us convey and receive meaning. Think for example about headlines or the different levels of headers structuring a book or a long article. Whereas designers will use these principles to make their images and work more accessible.

These automatisms help when used in a meaningful way.

However, when the information that arrives has not been organized, it’s still chaos. Seeing organization in these cases easily leads to finding sense where there is none.



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