Gestalt Work As Adaptive Inquiry(1) (© 1997 by Jay Zeman)

Jay Zeman

 

Gestalt Work--the therapeutic and growth activities that are the practice of Gestalt Therapy--is as varied and difficult to characterize, it would seem, as are the situations that give rise to it. I wish to begin an examination of this activity; our perspective may be called philosophical, but it is a philosophy whose entire raison d'Ítre is its impact on lived experience. As such, it makes free use of the results of experience, including in an important way the methodology and insights of science; indeed, the concepts themselves of Gestalt Psychology lend considerable depth and power to this philosophical approach.

Gestalt work is process aimed at affecting process. Therapist and client (who may or may not be distinct persons--I may function as my own therapist) monitor the progress of gestalt work by attending to wholes and to holes. In this approach, completed gestalts mark points of (non-complacent) repose, of homeostatic balance, while indeterminacy and unsettledness point to loci for conjecture and experimentation, experimentation aimed at resolving a problematic situation. I have long been struck by the continuity of this method with the concept of inquiry as examined by certain philosophers; in fact, one has defined inquiry as

the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole (Dewey 1938, 104-5).

Dewey's concept of inquiry is clearly one that fits well with gestalt theory; in fact, the overall work of American Pragmatists such as Dewey and Charles Peirce is very strongly gestalt oriented, even though it was developed independently of and mostly prior to the work of the Gestalt Psychologists.

Dewey's definition of inquiry could be taken as a very general characterization of gestalt work. The main thrust of this paper will be to examine gestalt work from the point of view of methodology. Our working hypothesis is that gestalt work is not characterized by a technique or gimmick or set of gimmicks, but rather, that it is a form of adaptive inquiry. As such it is aimed at experimentally and inductively resolving problematic situations; what is problematic in the situations at which gestalt work is aimed is the process by means of which the client deals with experience.

Although the experimental, inductive method has always been available and has been a primary human tool for dealing with our environment, near-adequate awareness of this process has come on the scene only recently, with the rise and maturation of modern science over the last three or so hundred years. As a result, there is a tendency to think of this approach as "scientific method"; I wish to emphasize that this term in no way limits how and where the method can be applied. The method is not limited to what so-called scientists do, but is something which "everybody uses . . . about a great many things, and only ceases to use . . . when he does not know how to apply it" (5.384).(2) Nor do I wish to limit the observables which figure in the functioning of this method. We are interested not only in what goes on "out there," but in our own feelings, fantasies, muscular tensions, dreams, anxieties and excitements--whatever comes up in experience. The intimate connection of me as observer to such observables introduces significant questions; some will go so far as to suggest that such "subjective" experience has no place in inquiry that is to be thought of as "scientific method." I intend to examine this aspect of gestalt work as adaptive inquiry in some detail.

In this paper I will make use of some of the important work of Charles Sanders Peirce, founder of American Pragmatism; the first main section of the paper examines the concept of process in the context of a phenomenology of experience in the general spirit of Peirce.

The second section argues that the "end product" of inquiry is not limited to the grand generalizations popularly associated with science; rather, the intelligent conducting of activities which we think of as practical and particular demands the use of inquiry which may properly be called "scientific."

Third, I will examine inquiry in a variety of forms in which it has appeared in the history of thought. As a framework, I employ some of the work of Peirce; his analysis remains vital and valid today, and lends itself well to amplifications that tie in well with contemporary psychological theory.

We are treating gestalt work as a form of inquiry; the fourth section of this paper looks at the "observational situation" in gestalt work so considered. When I engage in gestalt work, I inquire in order to effect change in my own process, and I find many of the empirical data relevant to this inquiry within my own person. This necessarily involves what may be called "observer-observed interaction." This in turn demands that I see the so-called subjective/objective dualism in a new, broad context, one that is brought to our attention by work in quantum mechanics.

And finally I summarize. Our overall purpose is not to point to gestalt work as something new and "chic," but to emphasize its continuity with adaptive activity in general, especially intelligent and humane adaptive activity, and in particular, with such activity as practiced by the careful and creative workers who have furthered our understanding of and adaptation to the environment. A remark from Peirce is relevant, as he contrasts the approach of Lavoisier with that of earlier workers in chemistry; Lavoisier's way

was to carry his mind into his laboratory and literally to make of his alembics and cucurbits instruments of thought, giving a new conception of reasoning as something which was to be done with one's eyes open, in manipulating real things instead of words and fancies (5.363).

Although it is often important to manipulate "words and fancies," the work of inquiry involves immediate contact with "real things"; intelligence demands concrete doing and making as integral elements in the process of inquiry. To us this is immediately suggestive of the practice of Gestalt Therapy.

 

Part 1

Process in the Phenomenology of Experience

The basic theoretical treatments of Gestalt Therapy strongly emphasize the concept of process, and "process orientation" is central to gestalt therapeutic practice. in its examination of the philosophical foundations of Gestalt Therapy, for example, we find a recent work commenting that

A philosopher who espouses the gestalt perspective does not begin an exegesis with sets of objects or categories, but with the assumption that the nature of reality--of life, humankind, and the world--can most profitably be regarded in terms of an ongoing, constantly changing process (Van De Reit, Korb, and Gorrell, 21).

Important though the concept of process is, however, we must--in an authentically gestalt manner--remember that process as figure in a philosophical view of reality stands forth against a pregnant ground. This figure/ground complex can shift to reveal other perspectives on reality. It is important to realize that from certain perspectives "Objects of which the world seems to consist (such a s chairs, cups, books, tools) are processes" (ibid.), but we must also remember that there are adaptive and completely valid perspectives from which chairs, cups, books, and tools are unproblematically fixed objects; I would further suggest that these perspectives do not exclude those within which gestalt work takes place. Van De Reit, Korb, and Gorrell implicitly take this into account when they go on to note that these "things" enter into process, are related and find meaning in larger process. What I wish to emphasize is not that process isn't ubiquitous--it is. But whether I view "something" as process or as object depends on my perspective, depends on the manner in which I form figure in a given situation; the present section aims at amplifying this analysis.

Peirce and the Pragmatists share with many other contemporary thinkers a recognition of the need to account for this variety of perspectives on experience. It will be helpful to sketch out Peirce's approach to this; the structuring which emerges in the course of his phenomenological studies (e.g., 1.284 ff., 5.37 ff.) is not only important for the understanding of his own thought, but also can provide a valuable terminological framework for anyone who must deal with the methodology of experience. These materials, of course, are presented by Peirce (and by us) as educated hypothesis, subject to refinement and revision in the forum of experience.

First of all, we have experience as immediate. 'First' refers not merely to the order in which we are examining these matters, but preeminently to the phenomenological and logical primacy of experience as immediate, as unreflected upon, as a realm of possibility. 'First' or 'firstness' is also Peirce's name for this category of experience. The immediacy of experience is central, to give examples from elsewhere in philosophy, to Sartre's "prereflective consciousness" (Sartre 1957, 44 ff., Sartre 1943 passim), or Buber's "I-thou" relationship (1958, passim). The immediacy of firstness is "part" of all experience; I place quotation marks around the word 'part' to emphasize the enigmatic nature of firstness. Although firstness is involved in all experience, it is not, qua firstness, adverted to in or partitioned of from its experience. Employing language to talk about experience is a reflective operation, and reflecting on firstness makes "it" an object and removes it from its distinctive immediacy. Much gestalt clinical attention centers on what might be called the "flight from firstness" that often is intimately involved in neurotic behavior; although "talking about" things is often appropriate and adaptive, it also is frequently used as a means of avoiding the immediacy of contact. "Talking about" can also dilute or destroy the immediate esthetic impact of a work of art--if my friend and I walk out of our first viewing of, say, Apocalypse Now discussing with intellectual fervor the images and role of ancient mythology in that film, we will almost certainly defuse and avoid the tremendous and terrible esthetic impact of the film as a whole; what "aboutism" does in the clinical context is intimately related to its effects in the experience of a work of art.(3) Although we have been considering firstness as it "appears" in the flow of ordinary experience, we shall see that it, along with other categories, emerges in a variety of forms in the examination of experience from may different aspects.

Experience as firstness, as unreflected upon, is experience in which it is not appropriate to speak of "me" or of "other"; so far as firstness is concerned, the reflection necessary to the positing of this dual/correlative objectification has not occurred. The moment at which such reflection does occur is the moment of secondness in experience. Secondness is the category of the adverted-to discontinuity. Discrete events recognized as such are seconds--a kick in the shins, the reading on a dial, the eruption of a volcano, the smile of recognition by a friend, my adversion to and recognition of my restricted breathing. Existent objects are seconds, insofar as they exist and resist; in fact, secondness might be called the category of resistance. Note that resistance implies a "resistee" as well as a resister, just as recognition of an event implies a recognizer. Secondness is appropriately named in that the emergence of an existent indicatable object implies the existence of a "me" over-against the object; there will always be two involved in experience viewed from this perspective; a Buberian "I-it" relationship is one in which secondness is an important part of figure. And in the Sartrean analysis mentioned above, where prereflective consciousness is first, consciousness as reflected upon and so recognized as an event in the world is second.

The prereflective is background in all experience, background against which the figure of the reflected upon emerges, discrete and resistent, over-against the reflector. But adaptive interaction with the environment demands more than the experience of random resistance. The integrative functioning of even the simplest organism demands the selection and rejection of patterns of materials; perhaps most basic here is the need for the organism to recognize itself as distinct from potential threats in the environment(4); the need to discriminate what is nourishing from that which is not is closely related and obviously also essential.(5) A continuous ability to recognize and utilize pattern is integral to such discrimination. Reality as we experience it is a matter of relations between events, indeed, of relations between all kinds of existents, fully as much as it is a matter of the brute thereness of those existents. We are adverting here to another perspective on experience, that which Peirce called thirdness; pattern, continuity, law, habit, regularity, disposition, intelligibility, process, mediation--all these are words typically connected with thirdness.

We shall employ this phenomenological structuring in what follows; for the time being, I wish to use it in discussing the concept of process, which is of basic importance in Gestalt Therapy. Process is clearly in the realm of thirdness; it involves mediation and movement, it connects disparate events. There is a sense in which any intelligibility can be recognized as process, and it is this perspective which Van De Reit, Korb, and Gorrell emphasize, for example. Such emphasis is pedagogically necessary. There has been a historical dialectic in western thought between emphasis on process and emphasis on what might be called "fixed essences." Dialectic or not, however, it is fair to say that "fixed essence thinking" has, in one form or another, carried the day for the most part, and been too strongly emphasized in traditional discourse. The nearly four centuries of modern science have not balanced out this bias; indeed, there has been a tendency for many scientifically oriented thinkers too to emphasize fixity at the expense of process and context. So I emphasize process as an operative concept. But the emphasis on fixity is not totally perverse; there are perspectives with strong roots in lived experience from which we adaptively consider "thirds" to be objective and nameable, as fixed--not for eternity, but for a moment or a month of pause. Indeed, whenever we view intelligibles as elements in larger process, we see them as fixed in this manner. The figure-shift between a thirdness as intelligible object and as process is reflected in James's image of experience as birdlike "alternation of flights and perchings" (1950, 243); both perspectives are needed for an adequate analysis.

So the intelligible structurings of our experience present us with a number of faces, depending on the perspective from which we view them. First of all, we may see them as nameable integrations with a subsistence, however fleeting.(6) These integrations include the "chairs, cups, books, and tools" of everyday experience; they also include the nameable abstractions of mathematics, science, and the law; they include the numbers, functions sets, the positions, momenta, fields that have proven such fruitful tools; they include concepts such as property and right and the concept of the law itself, including the concept of physical or natural law.

The intelligible structurings--the gestalts of our experience--present us then with an aspect from which those structurings are named, and so locked in the amber of language. So long as we do not promote this to an ontological fixity it is unlikely to cause us problems. Indeed, much of the power of an abstraction-oriented language such as English comes from its ability to name and deal with abstractions and "concrete objects" within the same kinds of linguistic forms.(7)

So we may view the gestalts, the structurings of experience as themselves nameable; we may speak of them as if they were things of a sort. But we must keep in mind that any "being," any existence that an abstract structuring has is entirely to be found in the concrete events and objects that are ordered by that structuring. A right does not exist except in the people and possible behaviors governed by discourse about that right; a "law of physics" does not somehow stand whole in the mind of God or some other Platonic realm; any existence it has is found in the domain of possible concrete events which are observed to follow patterns summarized by that law. Thus do we have another key perspective on the wholes that we have called thirds. From this second perspective, they may be considered to be "bundles" of possible existents--events, behaviors, observations, objects. We may characterize the orbit of Mars in terms of Kepler's laws and the larger integrations of Newtonian mechanics and General Relativity, but in any reasonable sense of the word 'exist', the orbit exists only in that planet as it occupies its present, past, and future space-time positions relative to the Sun. A habit or habit-complex such as, for example, the body of skills involved in driving a car similarly finds its "existence" in the specific behaviors exhibited by--or available to--the person knowing how to drive a car. Note that the individual behaviors may be considered to be associated with conditional statements--"slamming on the brakes" occurs not at random, but under rather definite conditions, which might be represented by the use of "if-then" assertions: "If a ball bounces out into the street, then hit the brakes!" (Note that this represents the condition as linguistically reflected upon; the assertion of the conditional is obviously not needed for the habit to be operative, nor would this be adaptive, in general.

So the wholes, the gestalts that can be called "thirds," present themselves first of all as nameable structures whose semiotical representations are capable of manipulation by language and the other sign systems we use. They also present themselves in the aspect of bundles of conditioned events or resistances which can be experienced. And there is yet a third perspective on these gestalts, a third way in which they can emerge as figure on the level we have been discussing. This third perspective emphasizes the role of such structures as instrumental, as mediating; a gestalt viewed this way is viewed as process. Abstract intelligibility finds its expression in concrete event through process; process is thirdness not as looked at and talked about, but as instrumentally mediating. It is this aspect of thirdness which has found such heavy emphasis in the theory of Gestalt Therapy.

Examples abound; 'evolution' is a word we use and can discuss and understand in terms of concepts such as "natural selection," "sexual selection," "genetics," "fitness," etc.; there is, of course, no thing we can point to and call "evolution"; any existence evolution has is found in the multitudes of organisms which have survived to pass on their genetic material. But with a perspective shift, we see evolution as a process, a process which yields organisms fit for a huge variety of "niches" in the ecology of any given time.(8)

So the relatedness of experience--which relatedness is thirdness--emerges as figure in a number of ways, depending on the situation. We may see it as semiotically manipulable structure; secondly, we may see it as bundles of possible conditioned events, as embodied in the existential occurrences which it structures. Or we may see it as mediating process. Inquiry is a process, a process which, as Peirce will tell us, is aimed at "fixing belief." Note that I may speak about my beliefs as if they were objects--I consider them nameable abstractions in the earlier discussed sense. But with a perspective shift, each of these same beliefs is itself process, mediating certain of my existential activities.

We use the word 'belief', and we draw upon Peirce's work on "The Fixation of Belief." It will be clear from the discussions that these uses of 'belief' are broad--indeed, that they come close to being the placing of new conceptual wine in old bottles. We will see Peirce commenting that "Doubt and Belief, as the words are commonly employed, relate to religious or other grave discussions. But here I use them to designate the starting of any question, no matter how small or how great" (5.394). I will soon attend to the business of "how small or how great" in this connection; at this point I would like to look at the words 'question' and 'belief' in this quotation. Both of these words standardly designate linguistic objects; I conjecture that these objects--sentences of certain kinds--are the merest iceberg tip of a large and important human process. I can experience the doubt associated with a problematic situation without ever stating an explicit question; indeed, I can employ active intelligence to resolve the question--to come to belief--without ever passing through the mediation of language; this is a common experience in the work, for example, of artists and craftsmen. As with the "alembics and cucurbits" of Lavoisier, the media within which the artist or craftsman works provide concrete manipulables for the process of thought, and much of the thinking of such persons is direct experimental manipulation of such concrete objects. Signs are employed by such workers also, of course, but very frequently these signs are non-linguistic; a diagram is often a far more useful sign than is a proposition.

Peirce tells us that

Belief is not a momentary mode of consciousness; it is a habit of mind essentially enduring for some time, and mostly (at least) unconscious . . . (5.417).

He also comments that

It is necessary to say that 'belief' is throughout used merely as the name of the contrary to doubt, without regard to grades of certainty nor to the nature of the proposition held to be true, i.e., believed (5.416n1).

What is essential about Peircean belief is not that it is about "religious or other grave questions," nor (we argue) that it even have a propositional expression. What is essential is that it is a habit, a disposition toward experience. This habit may be viewed as mediating my specific behaviors under concrete conditions or--in what is the same thing from a slightly different perspective--it may be viewed as a set of my (often unrecognized) expectations about organism-environment interaction. Questioning or doubting then would be a state in which my expectations about some aspect of such interaction are not organized into suitable gestalts, and in which, further, the lack of such organization is figural.

Dewey preferred the term "warranted assertion" (1938, 4 and passim) for what Peirce calls "belief"; I will suggest that we could go even further; since actual assertion is not necessary to the existence of the habit that is Peircean belief, it would seem preferable to explicate 'belief' in this broad sense as warranted expectation. The product of the process of inquiry--which product is belief in this broad sense--is then itself a process which mediates behaviors, or--from a slightly different perspective--expectations about the organism-environment field. This permits us to deal far more flexibly with these aspects of experience than if we restricted ourselves to discourse about linguistic objects.

 

Part 2

"Scientific" Inquiry, Belief, and Practical Activity

In the context set above, we renew our discussion of inquiry and scientific method. Peirce notes that

Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief, while the latter is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid or to change to a belief in anything else (5.372).

Here Peirce describes the homeostasis accompanying satisfactory gestalt formation. He tells us that he "shall term [the] struggle [referred to above] Inquiry" (ibid.). We earlier noted that Dewey, whose work is quite complementary to Peirce's at many points, called inquiry

the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole (1938, 104-5).

It is clear from these remarks that Dewey and Peirce are both seeing inquiry as a process, a process which leads to what we recognize as gestalt formation. We may think of the gestalt in question as Peirce's "belief" or--to use the terminology we suggested at the end of the last section--"warrantable expectation."

The gestalt formed in inquiry--the belief, or warrantable expectation--is of a special sort; as Peirce remarks,

Our beliefs guide our desires and shape our actions…. The feeling of believing is a more or less sure indication of there being established in our nature some habit which will determine our actions (5.371).

We can talk about belief, but we must remember that belief is oriented to action, to behavior; a belief is a habit, a thirdness, and so is not only a nameable abstraction, but is also a bundle of conditioned events--behaviors--and, very importantly, it is process, part of my overall process in interacting with my environment.

It is also very important to note that Peirce is using 'belief' in a sense that is much broader than the most ordinary uses; the sense is so much broader, in fact, that we have explicated it in terms of warranted expectation. Peirce comments that

Doubt and belief, as the words are commonly employed, relate to religious or other grave discussions. But here I use them to designate the starting of any question, no matter how small or how great, and the resolution of it. If, for instance, in a horse-car, I pull out my purse and find a five-cent nickel and five coppers, I decide, while my hand is going to the purse, in which way I will pay my fare. To call such a question Doubt, and my decision Belief, is certainly to use words very disproportionate to the occasion. To speak of such a doubt as causing an irritation which needs to be appeased, suggests a temper which is uncomfortable to the verge of insanity. Yet, looking at the matter minutely, it must be admitted that, if there is the least hesitation as to whether I shall pay the five coppers or the nickel (as there is sure to be unless I act from some previously contracted habit in the matter), though irritation is too strong a word, yet I am excited to such small mental activity as may be necessary in deciding how I shall act (5.394).

The most dramatic instances of the use of inquiry and the scientific method are seen in the grand syntheses, the superbly generalizing theories of a Kepler, a Newton, an Einstein. We must not let the brilliance of such magi, however, blind us to the fact that their methodology is continuous with work on a more immediate and particular level; this is the thrust of Peirce's remarks about doubt, belief, and horse-car fares, and it is what is at stake when Dewey remarks that

Dogmatic restriction of science to generalization compels denial of scientific traits and value to every form of practice. It obliterates, logically, the enormous difference that exists between action dictated by caprice and the conduct of arts that embody technologies and techniques expressing systematically tested ideas. Even more to the point is the fact that it involves logical suicide of the sciences with respect even to generalizations. For there is no ground whatever upon which a logical line can be drawn between the operations and techniques of experimentation in the natural sciences and the same operations and techniques employed for distinctively practical ends. Nothing so fatal to science can be imagined as elimination of experimentation, and experimentation is a form of doing and making. Application of conceptions and hypotheses to existential matters through the medium of doing and making is an intrinsic constituent of scientific method. No hard and fast line can be drawn between such forms of "practical" activity and those which apply their conclusions to humane and social ends without involving disastrous consequences to science in its narrower ends (1938, 439).

Inquiry and the scientific method, then, are applicable in deciding how I shall act in "ordinary" lived experience; the difference made by this method is not between the activities that constitute "big-S" science and those that are "merely" practical, but "between activities that are directed by caprice and the conduct of arts that embody technologies and techniques expressing systematically tested ideas." We would suggest that the goals of gestalt work as visualized and executed by the best practitioners of Gestalt Therapy fit within the scope of this broad concept of scientific method. We mention "practitioner," but hasten to add that the gestalt therapist acting qua therapist is only one member (and a member with a basically facilitative role) of a community of inquiry--the other members are, principally, the client or clients (as in couples' work), and secondarily, any co-therapists, group members, etc., who may participate in the process (and it is the client rather than the therapist who is in the rather remarkable position of being not only experimenter, but also the locus within which the experimental data are gathered!).

Given these remarks about doubt, belief, and inquiry in the broad sense in which we will construe them, let us go on to examine Peirce's treatment of these matters; we here will elucidate the scientific method by comparing it with other ways of coming to action-oriented belief, ways which may, in terms familiar to the therapist, be called introjective.

 

Part 3

Peirce's "Methods" in a Gestalt Context

Peirce in his treatment of belief discusses three "methods of fixation of belief" in addition to the scientific method. His analysis is not the only way of discriminating between such methods; in individual cases we will usually find mixtures of the ways he discusses.

Peirce notes first of all that

the instinctive dread of an undecided state of mind, exaggerated into a vague dread of doubt, makes men cling spasmodically to the views they already take. The man feels that, if he only holds to his belief without wavering, it will be entirely satisfactory (5.377).

He speaks here of what he calls "the method of tenacity." If the method of tenacity is termed inquiry at all, it is degenerate inquiry, inquiry which is "shrunken to a point," so to speak; it is inquiry without investigation, unmediated by inconvenient environmental considerations. Such beliefs are often rationalized, but insofar as they are fixed by tenacity, they are not supported; they are merely held. An optimistic student of human nature might question whether many people really come to belief in this manner; I would suggest that such an optimist ponder how many lives have been shortened by unsupported belief about health matters, to mention just one kind of question often addressed with a great deal of tenacity. Another type of person whom we believe is often if not usually affected by tenacity is the "charismatic leader"; a wag has defined "charisma" as "extreme confidence with no basis in observed fact." This may not always be true of the gifted leader's beliefs about himself, but in our experience it often is.

The second method discussed by Peirce is a familiar one--the practitioner of the "method of authority" believes not completely arbitrarily and capriciously, but because he is told to. Compared with the method of tenacity, this way possesses at least immediate adaptive soundness; there is some contact with the environment involved here. The contact is mediated by what might be called the "greater social involvement" of the method of authority; Peirce tells us that the

conception, that another's thought or sentiment may be equivalent to one's own, is a distinctly new step, and a highly important one. It arises from an impulse too strong in man to be suppressed, without danger of destroying the human species. Unless we make ourselves hermits, we shall necessarily influence each another's opinion, so that the problem becomes how to fix belief, not in the individual merely, but in the community (5.378).

The process of belief fixation bears a relationship to community and not merely to the individual. The nature of this relationship is a key factor in distinguishing the methods of coming to belief. With tenacity we have a limiting case of the relationship, a "null case"; the community qua community plays no role so far as fixation by tenacity is concerned. With authority, a community does enter the picture. The community here, however, is not seen as an instrumentality for cooperative investigation, but as a potentially resistant other; community of belief is, correctly, recognized as adaptive, but is achieved, if push comes to shove, by one or another form of coercion. In the more dramatic instances of this method,

When complete agreement could not otherwise be achieved, a general massacre of all who have not thought in a certain way has proved a very effective way of settling opinion in a country (5.379).

But the method may be observed in action on all levels where interpersonal contact occurs. Clearly, religious and moral beliefs are most often fixed in a way which involves this method.

The method that Peirce calls the "a priori" method is a far more subtle and--it would seem--radically thoughtful approach than tenacity and authority. The defects of these methods lead at least some individuals to conclude that

A different, new method of settling opinions must be adopted, that shall not only produce an impulse to believe, but shall decide what proposition it is which is to be believed. Let the action of natural preferences be unimpeded, then, and under their influence let men, conversing together and regarding matters in different lights, gradually develop beliefs in harmony with natural causes. This method resembles that by which conceptions of art have been brought to maturity. The most perfect example of it is to be found in the history of metaphysical philosophy. Systems of this sort have not usually rested on any observed facts, at least not in any great degree. They have been chiefly adopted because their fundamental propositions seemed "agreeable to reason." This is an apt expression; it does not mean that which agrees with experience, but that which we find ourselves inclined to believe. (5.382).

The apriorist wishes to found belief on a solid base, beyond superstition and whimsy, deep and connected to "eternal truth." Ordinary experience is shifting sand for many apriorists; it is no place to erect the edifice of reason.

Many eminent thinkers have practiced (or professed to practice) this method; one of the greatest, for example, was Immanuel Kant. It is no surprise that Kant held that "Logic can have no empirical part" (Kant 1969, 4); this is a position which many have held, and which it had been hard to controvert until fairly recently. But Kant also wrote that

Since my purpose here is directed to moral philosophy, I narrow the proposed question to this: is it not of the utmost necessity to construct a pure moral philosophy which is completely freed from everything which may be only empirical and thus belong to anthropology? That there must be such a philosophy is self-evident from the common idea of duty and moral laws. Everyone must admit that a law, if it is to hold morally, i.e. as a ground of obligation, must imply absolute necessity; he must admit that the command, "Thou shalt not lie," does not apply to men only, as if other rational beings had no need to observe it. The same is true for all other moral laws properly so called. He must concede that the ground of obligation here must not be sought in the nature of man or in the circumstances in which he is placed, but sought a priori solely in the concepts of pure reason, and that every other precept which rests on principles of mere experience, even a precept which is in certain respects universal, so far as it leans in the least on empirical grounds (perhaps only in regard to the motive involved) may be called a practical rule but never a moral law (ibid., 6).

We note that this passage appeals to and prizes "self-evidence," "absolute necessity," and universal applicability--so universal as to apply not merely to humans, but to any conceivable "rational beings." On the other hand, the empirical is not accorded much honor: "principles of mere experience" and "empirical grounds"--even "the nature of man and the circumstances in which he is placed"--are taken to be totally insufficient bases for true moral reasoning.

The apriorist seeks to find irrefutable bases from which to reason. Most commonly the reasoning itself strives to be sound: the apriorist has a respect for deductive logic which is not displayed by the fixer of belief by tenacity or authority. A typical way, for example, for a traditional religious mind to handle logical tangle in his position is not to alter the position at all in the face of inconsistencies, but to appeal to "mystery" or to the weakness of the human intellect compared to that of God.(9) The apriorist, on the other hand, tries to adhere to sound norms of deductive reasoning; but the starting points for that reasoning--analogous to what has been supposed to be true of, say, the axioms of Euclid's Elements--are supposed to be self-evident, or some such; under any circumstances, they are impervious to the vicissitudes of experience, and are supposed to give us a foundation beyond the range of the uncertainties of the merely empirical. For all the sophistication surrounding the a priori method, the placing of its foundations beyond the criticism of experience means that we must, effectively, "swallow them whole." This is not to say that these foundations and their consequences are valueless, or arise in a vacuum. Systems of philosophical thought are formulated as adaptive responses to specific problems, often problems of great intellectual import for their times; the swallowing-whole characteristic of the a priori method, however, can have the effect of promoting a response to a specific problem in a specific context to the status of "eternal truth," purportedly valid for all contexts, and unassailable by empirical argument.

The a priori method differs notably in appearance from tenacity and authority; however, I would suggest that these three ways are very naturally grouped together--as introjective methods of coming to belief. I have already remarked that the a priori method involves a "swallowing whole"; we owe to Perls, of course, the very fruitful family of analogy between eating and psychic process (Perls 1969, passim); in particular, Perls--followed by others in Gestalt Therapy--has viewed introjection as a taking in, a swallowing whole, of material from the environment;(10) characteristic of introjects is that they are not processed and assimilated; they are "undigested." The masticatory/digestive mechanism that is lacking in tenacity, authority, and apriorism, and that is lacking in introjection in general, is that contact with the environment which is properly termed induction. In the Peircean analysis of inquiry, the logically first step involves the placement of a conjecture or hypothesis (not necessarily formulated in language) aimed at completing a gestalt which will unify the disparate data involved in the problematic situation in question. Peirce terms this step or phase "abduction" or "retroduction." In a definite sense, each of the methods of coming to belief we have been looking at involves abduction. But the abductive gestalt is my construction--it is really a projection.(11) Completion of the process of adaptive inquiry demands that such constructions or projections be "checked back with experience." This checking back involves, mediately, the drawing of conclusions--the determination of the consequences, in this context, of the abductive gestalt--and finally, it involves the comparing of these consequences to what actually is "in experience." The determining of these consequences is deduction, and the return to experience to see how these consequences fit is induction. Deduction is an integral part of the a priori method, and may figure--though not reliably--in tenacity and authority; the role of deductive logic in the Peircean methods is, in fact, the basis of a study of some of the logical aspects of belief which one of us has initiated elsewhere (Zeman 1974). But in spite of the fact that the a priori method, largely because of its respect for deduction

is far more intellectual and respectable from the point of view of reason than either of the others which we have noticed . . . its failure has been the most manifest. It makes of inquiry something similar to the development of taste; but taste, unfortunately, is always more or less a matter of fashion, and accordingly metaphysicians have never come to any fixed agreement, but the pendulum has swung backward and forward between a more material and a more spiritual philosophy, from the earliest times to the latest. … We have examined into this a priori method as something which promised to deliver our opinions from their accidental and capricious element. But development, while it is a process which eliminates the effect of some casual circumstances, only magnifies that of others. This method, therefore, does not differ in a very essential way from that of authority (5.383).

I would suggest that Peirce is here attending to essentially the same thing that we recognize when we term these three methods introjective; I will note that we may classify them by the categories, with their internal dynamics being the criterion of classification: tenacity, which is as close to immediate abduction with no intermediating process in the belief formation as we can get, is first in this categoreal scheme; authority, which takes into account the community as a potentially resistant other in its process of belief formation is second, and the a priori method, with its attempt to "let men conversing together and regarding matters in different lights, gradually develop beliefs in harmony with natural causes" (5.382), and with its commitment to deductive process, is third among the introjective methods. Note, so far as "social involvement" is concerned, that the a priori method in its call to let men converse together and regard matters in different lights does view community to some extent as mediating, and so is in this respect a third (an excellent example of this is the kind of dialectic which Socrates did so well); this is contrasted with authority's community-as-resistant-other (secondness) and tenacity's "blind spot" toward community (firstness, because of its lack of differentiating recognition of community).

The introjective methods lack a commitment to induction, that is, a commitment to a return to experience for confirmation or refutation; activities based on the conclusions of these methods may well proceed unproblematically for a longer or shorter time but are--experience tells us--liable to run afoul of the hard rock of reality.(12) And it is here that what Peirce calls the method of science differs from introjective ways of coming to belief; the method itself is based on the hypothesis that

There are real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those Reals affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really and truly are; and any man, if he have sufficient experience and he reason long enough about it, will be led to the one True conclusion. The new conception here is that of Reality (5.384).

In the broadest possible strokes, this is the basis for the "method of science" as understood by Peirce. One might be tempted to ask whether this statement constitutes an inadvertent appeal by Peirce to apriorism: is it, effectively, an a priori base for the scientific method? I suggest not. Peirce marks this statement as a hypothesis, and hypotheses no matter how strongly confirmed they may be are always subject to ongoing review--they are falliblistic ("falliblism" is a key feature of belief as fixed by Peirce's scientific method: a belief may be unproblematic in the present situation, but I must recognize that, no matter how comfortable it is, it might be subject to question and revision in another situation). For Peirce (and for us) the empirical approach is the appropriate approach in logic and philosophy as well as in physics and biology. Logical claims, including those about the basis of the scientific method, must stand or fall on the strength of experience.

We have been speaking of belief fixation in general, sketching out the broadest outlines of an adaptive method of inquiry; we have been careful not to restrict the use of this method to inquiry with grand generalization as its intended result. I note again at this point that we are interested in gestalt work as an approach to psychotherapy which takes the method of science in this broad sense as its basic method; I reemphasize that "method" here is what goes on in therapy itself. Although it is important to theorize about the processes involved in healthy and unhealthy living, such theorizing is not what is at stake here; we are concerned, rather, with taking as scientific method the doing of gestalt work itself. The gestalt approach will have applicability in life situations far beyond those we usually identify as therapeutic; as Erving and Miriam Polster have remarked, this kind of "therapy is too good to be limited to the sick" (1974, 7). The method is, in reality, an approach to the adaptive organization of behavior in general in the increasingly complex environment with which we are faced. It is a way of life.

 

Part 4

Gestalt Work and the Observational Situation

The "observational situations" in which inquiry occurs might be characterized in a variety of ways. At this point I wish to discuss such "situations," with emphasis on matters appropriate to the situations in which gestalt work is done. I will suggest that the intimate involvement in gestalt work of the client-as-observer parallels the in-principle unavoidability of observer-observed interaction in (of all places!) quantum mechanics. This involvement, no matter how intimate, no more injects an undesirable "subjective" element into gestalt work than does appropriate experimentation into quantum-mechanical situations. It does, however, involve (as does quantum mechanics) a non-classical logic.

One of the basic documents of Gestalt Therapy notes that

Because of differences in temperament, training, and objectives, experimentalist and clinician have viewed each other with mutual distrust. To the experimentalist, the clinician has seemed, as a scientist, an untamed wild man, careening drunkenly through areas of theory and practice, while to the clinician the experimentalist has appeared an untreated obsessional, miserably bound to his counting mania and, in the name of science, learning more and more about less and less (Perls et al., 7).

Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman point here to an apparent dichotomy of approach within psychology, a dichotomy whose elements have origins associated, respectively, with "Newtonian physics and the art of healing" (14).(13)

The "Newtonian physics/art of healing" pair is one of a closely related genus of bifurcations which have played figural roles in western thought from its beginnings, and which have been prominent in the history of both modern science and modern philosophy. This dichotomy is connected to something we have already discussed: a view which sees the methods of Newtonian physics and the art of healing as different in kind is very closely aligned with a view which sees grand generalization as the appropriate issue of scientific method, and so considers practical activity to be "something else"; this is a position which we have rejected.

But there is another figural aspect of this dichotomy which we now address; this second aspect has connections with the logical fabric itself of discourse. We find Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman remarking that

Since the self-development procedures we shall present constitute an informal but genuine joining of experimental technique to a clinical type of material, it is essential that we be clear about what we are doing. We must, for instance, face the fact that we blandly commit what to the experimentalist is the most unpardonable of sins: we include the experimenter in the experiment! To justify anything so preposterous we must now consider further the fact that experimentalist and clinician alike are seeking, each with his own standards of rigor and workability, an understanding of human behavior (8).

Preposterous! A strong word, and yet one which reflects the traditional view of the dichotomy, that is, the view which takes classical physics as the paradigm, as the model in which the foundations of true scientific method are best and most clearly seen. It goes without saying, by the way, that Perls et al. are hardly subscribing to the position that their enterprise is preposterous. That some, however,may be troubled by the sense of the preposterous here is hardly surprising, since Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman are proposing a revolution. This revolution is aimed at the application of scientific method in the area of human behavior; interestingly, some of the most forceful support for this revolution has its origins in theoretical physics. The view that experimentation can and should be conducted in an aseptic environment, uncontaminated by germs from the hands of the experimenter is appropriate--even within the study of physics--only to a very limited and circumscribed class of experimental situation. It may seem curious to call this class limited, since at first glance it seems to take in the cosmos, the universe itself, and to offer unprecedented and irreplaceable success in dealing with that universe. The kind of situation in question is that characteristic of classical physics, which from this point of view includes even the matter dealt with by General Relativity; the limits of this kind of situation are not to be found in the realm of the very large, but, paradoxically, in the domain of the very small. For it is in the domain of the very small--the world of quantum theory--that the observer cannot always be factored out from the situations in which observation occurs. The nature of the observables and of the possible media of observation precludes in principle the elimination of observer-observed interaction.

The differences between classical and quantum physics can be expressed in a variety of ways. Ultimately, however, the differences result from the ways that observational gestalts are actually formed in the experimental process; 'difference' may not be quite the right word here, for what is at stake is not a difference in kind, but one in which one of the distinguenda--classical physics--is effectively a special situation, a limiting case of the other, the broader realm of quantum physics:

The process of observation requires that some interaction take place between the measuring apparatus and the system being observed. Classically, such interactions may be imagined as small as one pleases. Normally they are taken to be infinitesimal, in which case the system is left undisturbed by the observation. On the quantum level, however, the interaction is discrete in character, and it cannot be decreased beyond a definite limit. The act of observation thus introduces certain irreducible and uncontrollable disturbances into the system. The observation of some property A, say, will produce unpredictable changes in some other related observable B. …

The notion that precise observation of one property makes a second property (called complementary to the first) unobservable is a completely quantum mechanical idea with no counterpart in classical physics…. We emphasize that these mutual disturbances or uncertainties are not a matter of experimental technique; they follow instead as an inevitable consequence of measurement or observation. The necessary existence of such effects in a pair of complementary variables was first enunciated by Heisenberg in his statement of the famous uncertainty principle (Saxon, 3-4).

Recognizing Heisenberg's contribution here, I find it useful to employ his name as a verb: to Heisenberg: v.i.--to engage in observation or other gestalt-forming activity in a manner which disturbs the system in question in an in-principle unavoidable manner; v.t.--to affect a situation, observation, person, or other product or process of gestalt formation in a Heisenberging manner.

The quantum theorist does not recoil from situations in which observer-observed interaction--or "Heisenberging"--occurs; indeed, to do so would be to give up quantum theory. A reactive exclusion of "subjective considerations" is out of the question for quantum theory, which recognizes that experience in which observer-observed interaction can be effectively eliminated is a very limited subset of experience as a whole. The mathematical work of quantum theory proceeds with this explicitly in mind; one incidental result of the application of this approach to empirical work in general will be the placement of the "subjective/objective" dichotomy in an entirely new light. Many able thinkers have difficulty in accepting the results of quantum theory at face value. I believe that this difficulty is closely connected with the sense of the "preposterous" that Perls et al. allude to in their remarks about including the experimenter in the experiment. I believe further that there are many instances in normal human endeavor where closely connected difficulties emerge.

We would suggest that the uneasiness connected with the situations in question is not at all strange since (on our analysis) what is at stake is nothing less than the deductive logic normative for inferences in the situations in question! With some reason, we consider logic to be so basic, so unproblematic, that suggestions that it might be subject to change, that it might vary with the empirical situation, have an emotional charge. This emotional charge is like that which accompanies an earthquake--when the very ground beneath our feet sways.

Let us emphasize that in speaking of logic being subject to variation, I are not speaking merely metaphorically. A description of an "observational situation" will include the description of conditions for the confirmation and refutation of propositions which may arise in that situation. It is possible to construct solid and convincing mathematical models of such observational situations, and to use those models as the basis of a semantical treatment of the relevant propositions (see Foulis and Randall 1972 and Zeman 1978a); such a treatment does not stop with talk of the confirmation and refutation of isolated simple statements, and necessarily studies the various relationships--including entailment relationships--between propositions as confirmed and refuted in those observational situations; there is a vital and growing body of literature dealing with this. Such a study of propositions and their relationships is precisely a logic. When the observational situation is appropriate to classical physics--that is, when interaction between observer and observed is effectively absent, the logic which is appropriate to that situation is the standard two-valued true-false classical logic celebrated in a myriad of texts and courses. Contrary to the wisdom of the apriorist, however, this "Good Ol' Logic" has its origin not in abstract "Reason" or in the "Laws of Thought" or some other lofty Platonic realm, but in the nature of the observational situation itself--that is, for the classical logic, the observational situation peculiar to classical physics. And logicians and philosophers of the past, lacking the mathematical and other conceptual tools for dealing with the complexities of observational situations, have taken as unproblematic that the simplest kind of such situation--that appropriate to classical physics--can be made universally applicable; the difficulties connected with the excruciatingly complex observational situations involving sentient and intelligent systems have been sloughed off as the product of "subjective considerations" (or some such) and so outside the pristine purview of True Logic.

But quantum mechanics has for us a most important lesson. The lesson is not concerned in this case with the usual subject matter of quantum mechanics--the protons, electrons, etc.--and their effect on the macro-world. The lesson is concerned with the process of observation and, indeed, of gestalt formation in general. Quantum mechanics has made us take seriously the notion that there are observational situations which cannot be reduced to that of classical physics. We are faced here with the in-principle unavoidability of observer-observed interaction and the associated introduction of the complementarity of properties and of Heisenberg uncertainty. In equal measure, we are faced with radical changes in the relations between propositions confirmed and refuted in these situations, and thus with changes in the logic normative for inferences involving those propositions. Where A and B are complementary properties in the sense we have been using, there will be a set of propositions associated with A and a set associated with B; in the general case, certain of the propositions in A's set will be said to be incompatible with certain of those in B's. "Incompatibility" is precisely defined mathematically, and is exactly as foreign to the classical two-valued logic as is "complementarity" to the classical physics (see Zeman 1978a, Foulis and Randall 1972). Within a set of mutually compatible propositions, the logical relations are comfortably classical. Between incompatible propositions, they are not classical, but still can be described. I emphasize again that the possibility of incompatibility of propositions is an effect of the nature of the observational situation in quantum mechanics or wherever observer-observed interaction cannot be eliminated. The failure of universal compatibility is equivalent to the failure or--better--the weakening of certain logical "laws" which are completely unproblematic classically (specifically, these are the so-called "distributive laws").

So I wish to stress that the introduction of the concept of incompatibility of certain propositions with each other does not entail a collapse of logic, but rather a generalization of it. It is still completely appropriate to treat mutually compatible sets of propositions as classically related; in fact, what happens in this approach to logic is that the formalism that emerges is locally classical but globally non-classical. The global mathematics is summarized in an algebraic family known as the orthomodular lattices. These are structures of which the well-known Boolean algebras are limiting cases. The classical logic (which is summed up in the Boolean algebras) stands to the classical physics just as the more general orthomodular logic stands to quantum mechanics and other situations in which observer-observed interaction cannot be eliminated.

Saxon in the passage on quantum mechanics above correctly notes that the complementarity of properties is foreign to classical physics; however--as may be becoming evident--it is too restrictive to say that such complementarity "is a completely quantum mechanical idea." This complementarity is a feature not just of the sub-atomic world, but of any domain where observer-observed interaction is a factor.

It is well, I believe, to go slowly here, to savor the essential juices of this approach. As a living organism, I am continuously involved in the disintegration and restructuring of portions of my organism/environment field (that is, I am involved in ongoing figure-formation). The process, for example, of acquiring, consuming, and assimilating food alters that field, including me as part of it. Similarly, the processes which we more commonly associate with gestalt formation involve interventions into that field, interventions which disintegrate and restructure that field. Here it becomes trickier to follow what goes on, since these processes most commonly involve sign use. Although the mediating use of signs is of great value--indeed, it is overall indispensable--in such gestalt formation, it can lead to misunderstandings of the process. We westerners are culturally, religiously, philosophically disposed to dualistic thinking and, I fear, the role of signs in these processes is frequently seen as a mental matter, mental(14) and "in-here" as opposed to the "already-out-there-now" which is supposed to be "objective reality"; the theme here is a variation on those constituting the counterpoint between Modern Rationalism and British Empiricism, and coming to demicadential resolution in the work of Kant. It may have been inevitable that the first science to be dealt with adaptively was classical physics (but see Isaac Asimov's story "Nightfall" for a picture of a conceivable world in which Newtonian physics comes on the scene rather late!); under any circumstances, the early emergence of classical physics was--in part at least--conditioned by the essentially simple nature of the observational situation in that science. As Saxon points out, we assume classically that observer-observed interaction can be disregarded, can be made as small as we please. This indeed, was part of the unproblematic of scientists prior to this century and the advent of quantum mechanics, and remains a stumbling block to many capable thinkers today. Rather than being seen as a very special and idealized mode of observation, the non-interacting observation peculiar to classical physics was taken, and still is taken by many, as the paradigm of scientific observation. Note, by the way, how consonant this attitude toward observation is with a dualism which separates matter from mind, or object from subject, or knowledge from values, etc.); mind as different in kind from matter can coolly sit back and watch the show (though how that watching occurs is an intractable problem for the dualist). I will not suggest that the observational perspective of classical physics is the cause of the dualism of classical modern philosophy--the dualizing tendency in western thought considerably predates modern science. But the observational perspective of classical physics does mark off the realm of the empirical from that of the moral in Kantian thought; it also marks off "extended substance" from "thinking substance" in Cartesian dualism, and "primary quality" (that is, properties like extension and mass which are thought to inhere in what is "out there") from "secondary quality" (properties such as color and taste, thought to be "subjective") in the Galilean analysis. Indeed, I feel that that perspective is intimately involved in the "subjective/objective" dualism so misused in our times. A study of this last-mentioned dualism could be the topic of another paper; sufficient for now it is to note that there is a breathtakingly broader perspective on observational situations than the "God's-eye-view" of classical physics. It is a humans' eye view which recognizes the interaction of observer and observed, and which is the general observational perspective of gestalt work.

 

Summing Up

Gestalt work doesn't look much like science--at least like the science of popular conception: where, after all, are the white lab coats, the oscilloscopes, the bunsen burners and telescopes, the cultures of changeling E. Coli, the computers, the grants, the reports, the Nobel Prizes? Although it fails to conform to a stereotype of scientific investigation, gestalt work has as its basic method the method of science. The raw materials, the empirical data involved are all the behavior, all the words, dreams, art work, all the fantasy and feeling, all the muscular tensions, all the tears and all the elation which constitute the experimenter's--which is to say the client's--contact with the gestalt experiment. They are the experimenter's behaviors, his tears, her elation.

Of course it is impossible to eliminate observer-observed interaction in experimental situations involving such an experimenter and such data--but that is the rule rather than the exception in life. And, after all, eliminating interaction is only one way of controlling or accounting for it, a way available only in the specialized and idealized observational situations appropriate to classical physics. Unavoidable observer-observed interaction is accounted for in quantum mechanics, and can be accounted for here. Indeed, I would suggest that each of us accounts for such interaction in our daily transactions in the social environment; the accounting-for is not, by and large, reflected upon or formalized, but is inevitable in this context. Some are better than others at this accounting-for: the expert manipulator, the able leader, the ace salesman, the good teacher, the successful seducer, the skilled therapist all exhibit talent in this direction. I also believe that many of the norms used to govern behavior in social situations are aimed at controlling "the interaction that Heisenbergs." This certainly goes for the maxims of manipulation we employ in interaction; hiding or dissimulating one's true feelings in affairs of the heart or the pocketbook is, for example, often considered necessary for "success" in these matters. I conjecture that many traditional ethical norms and even public laws are designed at least in part (though designed without awareness) to attempt to control the effects of Heisenberging interaction. Investigation of norms and ideals from the perspective of their role in the economy of the observational situation might be an interesting and important project.

The observational situations involved in gestalt work are more complex--actually, more general--than those of classical physics, but that does not preclude the doing of perfectly valid empirical work in them, any more than precisely the same generality invalidates empirical work in quantum mechanics. The generality associated with observer-observed interaction must be accounted for rather than disowned and ignored. Work on formal logical aspects of this generality has gone on for a number of years now (mostly under the heading of "quantum logic"), but much is left to be done; philosophical work here has only begun to scratch the surface. Among the empirical data involved--the "words, dreams, art work, all the fantasy and feeling, all the tears and all the elation"--are elements which many will be quick to term "subjective" and to disdain as inappropriate as means to "objective conclusions." I would suggest that the "subject/object" distinction (or, better, dualism) appealed to here is illusory, and does not provide a useful criterion for judging when inquiry is adaptive; I feel that this dualism is--to a large extent--an inadequate attempt to deal with the complexities of observational situations that are not classical.

'Inquiry' is commonly thought of as a grand name representing something done at universities and in the classier industrial laboratories. But human beings were engaged in intelligent problem solving long before the advent of modern science. Just as the observational situation in classical physics is a special case of a much broader class of observational situation,so too is the generalization and comprehensive theory construction so often connected with modern science a special case of a much broader class of inquiry-mediated problem solving. "How shall I behave?" This is what is at stake in the entire class of problem at which inquiry is aimed. Although inquiry may be initiated in response to a question of how to behave in one particular situation, the results of inquiry will generally be statable (though not always stated) as conditioned behaviors--"If things are so-and-so, then I do A; if-such-and such, then I do B," etc. The results of inquiry, then, are habits, or dispositions; this is just as true of the inquiry that is gestalt work, which is explicitly aimed at affecting process, at affecting my process in the way I deal with my environment. My process is the habit-complex figural in the situation in question.

So, with Peirce and Dewey, I argue that adaptive inquiry is not limited to the grand "scientific" generalization, but is something which "everybody uses . . . about a great many things, and only ceases to use . . . when he does not know how to apply it" (5.384). And I believe that gestalt work is inquiry specifically and systematically aimed at adapting our process to deal with the problems that arise in lived experience.

 

References

Buber, Martin.

1958. I and Thou, New York: Scribner.

Dewey, John.

1938. Logic, the Theory of Inquiry, New York: Holt.

1958a. Experience and Nature, New York: Dover (orig. 1925).

1958b. Art as Experience, New York: Capricorn (orig. 1934).

Foulis, D. J., and C. H. Randall.

1972. "Operational Statistics I," Journal of Mathematical Physics 13, 1667-75.

James, William.

1950. The Principles of Psychology, v. 1, New York: Dover (originally 1890).

Kant, Immanuel.

1969. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals: Text and Critical Essays, ed. Robert Paul Wolff, tr. Lewis White Beck, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill.

Morris, Charles.

1964. Signification and Significance, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

1970. The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy, New York: Brazillier.

 

Peirce, Charles Sanders.

1931. The Collected Papers of C. S. Peirce, v. 1-6, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, 1931-5, v. 7-8 ed. Arthur Burks, 1958, Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Perls, Frederick.

1969. Ego, Hunger, and Aggression, New York: Vintage (originally 1947).

1976. The Gestalt Approach and Eyewitness to Therapy, New York: Bantam.

Perls, Frederick, Ralph Hefferline, and Paul Goodman.

1951. Gestalt Therapy, New York: Dell.

Polster, Erving, and Miriam Polster.

1974. Gestalt Therapy Integrated, New York: Vintage.

Sartre, Jean-Paul.

1943. L' tre et le Neant, Paris: Gallimard.

1957. The Transcendence of the Ego, tr. Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick, New York: Noonday.

Saxon, David S.

1968. Elementary Quantum Mechanics, San Francisco: Holden-Day.

Van De Reit, Vernon, Margaret P. Korb, and John Jeffery Gorrell.

1980. Gestalt Therapy: an Introduction, New York: Pergamon.

Zeman, J. Jay.

1974. "Modality and the Peircean Concept of Belief," Semiotica 10, 205-20.

1978a. "Generalized Normal Logic," Journal of Philosophical Logic 7, 225-43.

1978b. "Peirce's Theory of Signs," A Perfusion of Signs, ed. T. Sebeok, Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 22-39.

1982. "Peirce on Abstraction," Monist 65, 211-29.

Notes

1. © 1997 by Jay Zeman

2. This quotation is from Peirce 1931; such citations from the Collected Papers are as usual in Peirce scholarship, placed in the text with the volume number left of the point and the paragraph number to the right. Thus 5.385 is paragraph 358 of volume 5.

3. For a pragmatic analysis of esthetic experience which resonates with the gestalt view of immediacy, see Dewey 1958b, ch. 3, Having an Experience; note also Dewey's remarks on the relationship between immediacy and discourse in Experience and Nature:

Immediacy of existence is ineffable. But there is nothing mystical about such ineffability; it expresses the fact that of direct experience it is futile to say anything to one's self and impossible to say anything to another. Discourse can but intimate conditions which if followed out may lead one to have an existence. Things in their immediacy are unknown and unknowable, not because they are remote or behind some impenetrable wall of sensation of ideas, but because knowledge has no concern with them. For knowledge is a memorandum of conditions of their appearance, concerned, that is, with sequences, coexistences, relations. Immediate things may be pointed to by words, but not described or defined (1958a, 85-6).

4. The breakdown of this ability is effectively illustrated in the operation of HIV and other disorders of the immune system.

5. We note in passing parallels--continuities--with the gestalt analysis of psychic process in terms of boundary setting and of eating. See: Polster and Polster, 70 ff., 98 ff., Perls 1976 32 ff.

6. For a detailed study of these aspects of thirdness, especially this first one (abstraction), see Zeman 1982.

7. To illustrate the power conferred on language and discourse by the ability to use abstractions in this way, I suggest the following experiment: Imagine that you are a police officer who has just busted a miscreant. The Supreme Court, through the Miranda decision, has mandated that you properly and promptly inform your suspect of his rights: "You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney," etc. Now the experiment: give the person his rights without using abstractions of any kind, and make sure that you say, in whatever concrete way you choose, everything that is summarized in the "giving the rights" formula so familiar from movies and TV. Remember that 'right' and 'law' are preeminently abstractions, and so can't be used in this discourse. You must tell the person something like, "You don't have to talk and can't be forced to talk, but . . .." Now here I run out of words, for I want to say how the non-talking is something like your property (but 'property' names an abstraction!)--the task is difficult, if not impossible in the mentioned context.

8. A further example of how we view thirdness from this triple perspective may be found in mathematical discourse: the mathematician will view a function--such as addition, say, or integration--as an abstract nameable structure which may be defined or described in terms of axioms of some sort; but this function may also be viewed in terms of what the mathematician calls its "domain and codomain"; these are, respectively, the sets of "inputs" and "outputs" of the mathematical function. In the case of ordinary addition, for example, the domain is all the possible pairs of numbers, and the codomain is the set of numbers that can result from additions; thus with the pair <2,5> (drawn from the domain) as input to the + function, the output (from the codomain) is 7. So the mathematical function (such as +) may be viewed from this complementary perspectives of abstract structure and domain-codomain mapping--but there is a third aspect from which it may be considered--the function may be construed as a set of instructions for effecting some mathematical result; one conceptual model for this aspect of "functionhood" is the computer program (We are interested here in the program as a set of instructions, not as a deterministic automaton; this latter would be a very special case of process. In process in general, the probability that a given "input" will produce a given output will be less than unity.). The function-as-set-of-instructions is the mathematical function viewed as process.

9. The pejorative reference to "appeal to 'mystery'" is in no sense intended to be a prejudging off altered states of awareness that might be called "mystical." 'Mystery' and 'magic' as names for modes of experiencing that ore non-ordinary may well have valid uses. 'Mystery' and 'magic' as dodges to conceal ignorance are another thing entirely.

10. See Perls 1969, 128 ff. There are many discussions of this aspect of introjection in the literature of Gestalt Therapy; see Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, 452 ff. and passim; Perls 1976, 32 ff., Van De Reit, Korb, and Gorrell, 66, Polster and Polster, 72 ff.

11. Projection is taken here close to its usual meaning in psychotherapy, as a setting of the ego-environment boundary which puts a part of me into the environment, so to speak. In therapy, projections are commonly seen as disowned elements which must eventually be recognized and acknowledged for health's sake; insofar as they interfere with my process, they may be considered pathological. But projection in the more general sense of abduction need not be pathological at all. Recall that some important techniques used in gestalt work are radically projective--role-taking, as in much Gestalt dream work is an example. In a technique such as this, the projection is pretty clearly a working abduction, with a central function in the inquiry that is the gestalt work.

12. There is evident in introjection an element akin to Sartrean "mauvaise foi" (see Sartre 1943, 85 ff.); the attempt--whether aware or not--to avoid checking out our abductions against experience is doomed to failure, since any action based on the abductive belief is--willy-nilly--an inductive check. But it is potentially expensive to check out belief in this uncontrolled and unintegrated manner; furthermore, negative results obtained in this way may be ignored--or we may do our best to ignore them: "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!" Death as a result of tenaciously held beliefs about, say, health matters is literally the ultimate test (and refutation) of those beliefs.

13. Dualisms related to the "physics/healing" dichotomy are knowledge/value, determinism/freedom, matter/mind.

14. Please note that we are not discarding "mental" and "mind" as useful terms and concepts. I do argue with a dualistic picture of mind over-against matter. I go along with a view of mind as an important--indeed, explanatorially necessary--abstraction in the sense of Zeman 1982. In this connection I note that empirically oriented non-dualizing investigations of signs have been engaged in; notable is the work of Peirce and of Charles Morris. For references and discussion of Peirce's work, see Zeman 1978b. For Morris's thought, I suggest Morris 1964.