The professional gestalt

According to gestalt psychology, people naturally organize their perceptions according to certain patterns. Perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting and organizing sensory information and a pattern is a form, template or model or, more abstractly, a set of rules which can be used to make or to generate things or parts of a thing in a certain way. (Remember a rule in mathematics is something which is always true, which is why some professions project such certainty.) As each profession perceives the world in a certain way - a planner projects ahead or sees spatially, a surveyor surveys, costs and values, and an architect designs and draws - there is an underlying patterning to how they go about their work. The word gestalt refers to a way a thing has been gestellt: 'placed' or 'put together', 'formed', 'shaped'. It is an organized structure. It is a configuration. Gestalt theorists follow the basic principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the whole (a picture, a car or the engineering discipline) carries a different and altogether greater meaning than its individual components (paint, canvas, brush; tyre, paint, metal; brick, pane of glass, tensile structure element).

The idea of gestalt proposes a series of laws that can be applied to how professions operate. The most important is the law of praeg-nanz, which says we try to experience things in as good a gestalt way as possible in our terms. In this sense, 'good' can mean several things, such as regular, orderly, simplistic or symmetrical. Other laws point to a certain volition in the way that we think: the law of closure - if something is missing, our mind adds it; the law of similarity - our mind groups similar things together; the law of proximity - things that are close together are seen as belonging together; the law of symmetry - symmetrical images are seen as belonging together regardless of distance; and the law of continuity - our mind continues a pattern even after it stops. The mind completes the missing pieces through extrapolation. These components of grouping and perception influence our thinking and problem-solving skills 'by appropriate substantive organization, restructuring, and centring of the given ("insight") in the direction of the desired solution'.22 To some extent, in layman's terms, we see what we want to see.

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