Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Today's Word: Gestalt

03-06-2009 The Word of the day - gestalt

This morning I was looking at a paper written by Ron O. Cook,
who is a writer on many things. Among those things is the idea of,
and evidence for the existence of, an advanced civilization on the
Earth prior to the ice ages or at least prior to the usually accepted
start of our current civilization. You can see it at: world mysteries

I encountered a sentence: "The truth of some of their work never
reaches the public ear however, because it would require a gestalt
paradigm shift for most of us to even understand the implications of
such enigmatic data." which contains a word juxtaposition which I
thought unusual. I have, of course, often seen the term "paradigm shift"
used in a non-technical way and the word "gestalt" is also common in,
at least some, technical writing usually, though, concerning psycho-

Both terms: "paradigm" and "gestalt" are often defined in ways that
use the word "pattern" and frequently are offered with only that one
word as definition. Those of us who took a little math in high school
were taught that "things equal to the same things are equal to each
other" which is pretty basic to getting mathematics to work.

My relatively non-technical mind looked at two words from separate
linguistic sources, both normally used in technical writing, and both
commonly defined using the identical more common English word,
and because his construction of the sentence does not appear to be
mere redundancy for emphasis, I knew I had to learn a little more
about the two words in order to understand that usage.

Since I didn't want to dig out my OED (I wish) I looked them up on
the web, starting with, and reading a little
more as I felt it desirable. So here's what I discovered:

ge·stalt or Ge·stalt (g-shtält, -shtôlt, -stält, -stôlt)
n. pl. ge·stalts or ge·stalt·en (-shtältn, -shtôltn, -stältn, -stôltn)

(from Wikipedia)
Gestalt is a German word that can be translated into English in various ways:

* as shape, form, guise or likeness (e.g., in Menschengestalt: in human form)
* as figure or as a synonym for person (e.g., eine dunkle Gestalt: a sinister figure)
* A collection of physical, biological, psychological or symbolic entities that creates a unified concept, configuration or pattern which is greater than the sum of its parts.

A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.

[German, shape, from Middle High German, from past participle of stellen, to place, from Old High German; see stel- in Indo-European roots.]

Noun 1. gestalt - a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts

2. gestalt - pattern, form, shape - a perceptual structure;

"the composition presents problems for students of musical form"; "a visual pattern must include not only objects but the spaces between them"

Compare to Paradigm:

par·a·digm ( pear a dime - more or less )

1. One that serves as a pattern or model.

2. A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical categories: the paradigm of an irregular verb.

3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

[Middle English, example, from Late Latin paradgma, from Greek paradeigma, from paradeiknunai, to compare : para-, alongside; see para-1 + deiknunai, to show; see deik- in Indo-European roots.]

Usage Note: Paradigm first appeared in English in the 15th century, meaning "an example or pattern," and it still bears this meaning today: "Their company is a paradigm of the small high-tech firms that have recently sprung up in this area."

For nearly 400 years paradigm has also been applied to the patterns of inflections that are used to sort the verbs, nouns, and other parts of speech of a language into groups that are more easily studied.

Since the 1960s, paradigm has been used in science to refer to a theoretical framework, as when Nobel Laureate David Baltimore cited the work of two colleagues that "really established a new paradigm for our understanding of the causation of cancer." Thereafter, researchers in many different fields, including sociology and literary criticism, often saw themselves as working in or trying to break out of paradigms.

Applications of the term in other contexts show that it can sometimes be used more loosely to mean "the prevailing view of things."

The Usage Panel splits down the middle on these nonscientific uses of paradigm.

Fifty-two percent disapprove of the sentence:

"The paradigm governing international competition and competitiveness has shifted dramatically in the last three decades."

Scientific paradigm

Main articles: Paradigm shift, Sociology of knowledge, Systemics, Commensurability (philosophy of science), and Confirmation holism

Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn gave this word its contemporary meaning when he adopted it to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline during a particular period of time. Kuhn himself came to prefer the terms exemplar and normal science, which have more exact philosophical meanings. However, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as:

* what is to be observed and scrutinized,
* the kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and probed for answers in relation to this subject,
* how these questions are to be structured,
* how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted.

Alternatively, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines paradigm as "a pattern or model, an exemplar." Thus an additional component of Kuhn's definition of paradigm is:

* how is an experiment to be conducted, and what equipment is available to conduct the experiment.

Thus, within normal science, the paradigm is the set of exemplary experiments that are likely to be copied or emulated. The prevailing paradigm often represents a more specific way of viewing reality, or limitations on acceptable programs for future research, than the much more general scientific method.

An example of a currently accepted paradigm would be the standard model of physics. The scientific method would allow for orthodox scientific investigations of many phenomena which might contradict or disprove the standard model; however grant funding would be more difficult to obtain for such experiments, in proportion to the amount of departure from accepted standard model theory which the experiment would test for. For example, an experiment to test for the mass of the neutrino or decay of the proton (small departures from the model) would be more likely to receive money than experiments to look for the violation of the conservation of momentum, or ways to engineer reverse time travel.

One important aspect of Kuhn's paradigms is that the paradigms are incommensurable, which means that two paradigms can not be compared to each other. A new paradigm which replaces an old paradigm is not necessarily better, because the criteria of judgement depend on the paradigm.

nuance [new-ahnss] (fr.)

Noun 1. nuance - a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude.
2. nuance - a subtle difference, as in color or tone

Pattern - you'll have to look this one up for yourself as it takes up too much space to deal with here. There are a lot of nuances in the word and we use it to mean a lot of different but, maybe, related concepts. But most directly related to my word for today were these next two lines.

Pattern - gestalt - a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts.

Pattern - paradigm - code of behavior, code of conduct - a set of conventional principles and expectations that are considered binding on any person who is a member of a particular group.

So after looking at this and considering it for some hours, I think I've decided that what Mr. Cook meant to say is that the gestalt is the body (pattern) in reality - the actuality of what is and what actually preceded that which now is. Whereas the paradigm is the system (pattern) under which the "Scientific Establishment" allows that gestalt to be investigated, imposing prohibitions on some research and sanctions against those who would violate those prohibitions...

It, my analysis of his sentence, might miss the mark a little but the process demonstrates pretty well why it's difficult to use mathematics to describe everything and why mathematicians keep trying to do it. In English we have a lot of words which are nearly completely interchangeable, saving only a nuance of meaning or tone, on the other hand we also have a lot of words which mean different things depending upon the way they are used.

In some ways it reminds me of the often quoted statement that the Arctic Native People's languages possess a lot of different words for snow whereas English has only one. That is not exactly correct when you examine it, each different word that those languages contain which we would have to translate with our word "snow" expresses a property of that "snow" which we would have to explain by adding modifiers to our basic term, assuming that we could even recognize the noted distinctive property.