In his book The Laws of Human Nature2 Raymond Wheeler provides a comprehensive and coherent view of the long forgotten idea of configurational fields. I know of no substitute for this book, its principles just as instructive and enlightening in the early 21st century as they were in the early 20th century.
It was on the so-called “mind-body” problem that Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Eric Berne foundered. Freud divided “mind” into three “mental organs,” Ego, Id, and Superego; Jung into Self, Persona, and Archetype; Berne into Exteropsyche, Archeopsyche, and Neopsyche. These “mental organs” made their mythical “presence” somehow intermingled with the physical organs, such as the brain, heart, lungs, and stomach. Once launched, each of these mythical organs acquired numerous functions, just as the heart pumps blood, the lungs inhale air, and the stomach ingests food.
For system-field investigators the “mind-body problem” never was a problem, since they regarded "mind” neither more nor less than the motor and sensory function of the nervous system. (See especially The Laws of Human Nature by Raymond Wheeler, the predominant American systemic field researcher). None of the gestalt psychologists—Gelb, Hornbostle, Hartmann, Katz, Koffka, Köhler, Lewin, Wertheimer, Wheeler—regarded the relationship between mind and body as a problem, since all of them used the word ‘mind’ as a verb instead of a noun. Thus we do mind but we do not have a mind. However, best that the word ‘mind’ be abandoned altogether and replaced with the word ‘nerves’, and, of course, with the prefix ‘neuro-’. So instead of saying ‘mental’ one ought to say ‘neural.’ The same might be said of the word ‘psych’ which is the Greek word for English ‘breath’. There are 56 words prefixed by ‘psych’ all but one of which can accept the substitution, these one being ‘psych-o-neurotic’. By replacing the prefix ‘psych’ with ‘neur’ the word becomes ‘neur-o-neurotic’, hence nonsense, and as such unusable. The other words that do not suffer from the abandonment of the word ‘psych’ are ‘neur-o-path’, ‘neur-o-pathologist’, and ‘neur-o-pathology’.
Unfortunately, organismic field theory, which appeared and flourished during the first third of the 20th century in Europe and America, was largely forgotten by all but a few social scientists in the last two thirds of the 20th century. At the beginning of the 21st century most behavioral scientists—anthropologists, ethologists, psychologists, sociologists—seem to be unaware of configurational fields, each in his or her own way negotiating the view of life that opposes it, namely mechanistic element theory.
Why did configurationism disappear in the 20th century when it had such a vigorous and incontrovertible start? The major reason was that when Hitler took over Germany in 1933, Germany being the birthplace of configurational field theory, all of the configurationist psychologists either left Germany or lost their academic posts there—Bühler, Gelb, Goldstein, Hornbostel, Koffka, Köhler, Lewin, Scheerer, Wertheimer. And of those who came to America—Bühler, Koffka, Köhler, Lewin—only one, Lewin, got a graduate post from whence to conduct configurational field research with the assistance of graduate students. Despite the efforts of American configurationists, Wheeler, Hartmann, Snygg, and Ogden, configurationism failed to take root in America, and its roots in Germany were ripped out by the Nazi horde. Another probable reason for the disappearance of the idea of configurational fields is the emergence of the computer late in the 20th century, thus giving the element mechanists (“reductionists”) another chance, seemingly plausible, to explain human action as mechanical. The structure and function of organisms may partially explain the structure and function of mechanisms, but the structure and function of mechanisms can never explain, even in part, the structure and function of organisms. After all, it’s a one-way street that cannot be reversed, however much the element mechanists would like it reversed. Sorry, the brain is no more a computer than a gnat is a machine.
Organisms emerge from organisms, already organized. The emergent organism is just as organized as the parent organism. Organization is always total, never partial; a state, not a process. Examine any organism of any size or age and note that it is organized. Organisms do not become organized; they are organized and are never otherwise.
Organisms are coherent and comprehensive systems that maintain their inherent polarization by two self-controlling processes: self-distribution and self-regulation. This is Nature’s First Law. Best not to violate it as many social scientists have done in speaking of "self-organizing systems.” Systems cannot be self-organizing simply because organization is not a process but a state.
Organisms always come from organisms, never from elsewhere. This is Virchow’s law, for it was he, who, early in the 19th century informed us that cells emerge from cells, and therefore not from the constituents that are left in the wake of cell disintegration. Organization is always given, never derived. [See especially The Way of the Cell by Franklin Harold. See also The Body Electric, by Howard Becker and Gary Selden, Cross Currents by Howard Becker, and Blueprint for Immortality by Harold Burr, the latter three for an account of the polarization of the cell and cellular structures.
It may be that those social scientists in the latter part of the 20th century who spoke of “self-organizing systems” did so because they confused order with organization. Thus mistaken, they may not have noted that there are degrees of order, but not of organization, that there can be more or less order, but not more or less organization. For instance, multi-cellular organisms are no more organized than uni-cellular organisms; oak trees no more organized than the acorns they emerge from. Certainly organisms increase in complexity as their cells divide; certainly developed organisms are more complex than unde-veloped organisms; certainly organization is an all-or-nothing state in which there are no degrees. Best to remember that, as structure, organization is a matter of kind, not of degree.
1. From the End Notes of David Keirsey’s very last book, Personology, Prometheus Nemesis Book Company; 2010.
The Laws of Human Nature:
A General View of Gestalt Psychology
Raymond Holder Wheeler
Professor of Psychology in the University of Kansas, (1932)
Kindle format: humannature.mobi
EPUB format: humannature.epub
Amazon.com: The Laws of Human Nature