The World in Us: videos online

Videos of many of the talks from our conference The World in Us: Gestalt Structure, Phenomenology, and Embodied Cognition are now available online.

For easy reference, here are the invited talks:


The playlist of all recorded talks, including many from the open CFP, is available here.

This concludes the term of our grant, and the period of the reading group.  Thanks to everyone who participated, and we’ll leave the comments open in case any further conversation emerges.  Please do keep your eyes on this page, however, as we’re looking for ways to keep the project going, including the possibility of future conferences or a special issue on this topic, and will announce any of those here.


The World in Us: Conference Schedule

The World in Us
Gestalt Structure, Phenomenology and Embodied Cognition

7th-9th July

Room G32, 7 George Square, EH8 9JZ
University of Edinburgh


Conference Program:

Friday 7th July

10 – 10:45
Julian Kiverstein (Amsterdam): Perceiving value in a world of facts

10:45 – 11:30
Adam Linson (Dundee): Reconfiguring the frameworks of J. J. Gibson and H. L. Dreyfus through the active inference approach to ecological perception

11:30 – 11:45

11:45 – 12:30
John Preston (Reading): From Gestalt Psychology to Phenomenology in the work of Michael Polanyi

12:30 – 2

2 – 3
Sanneke de Haan (Berlin): Can Anybody Tell Me if This is Me? Towards an Enactive Account of Authenticity

3 – 3:45
Hayden Kee (Fordham): Defending Enactivism’s Phenomenological Heritage: Merleau-Ponty on Sense-Making

3:45 – 4:15

4:15 – 5:30
Tony Chemero (Cincinnati): The World Around Us


Saturday 8th July

10:00 – 11:00
Charles-Edouard Niveleau (Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne): Paving the path to the Gestaltist style of experimentation: The use and significance of phenomenological demonstration in Brentano’s study of sensory phenomena

11:00 – 11:30

11:30 – 12:15
Matthew Crippen (Cairo): “Film and the New Psychology”: Emotions, Situations and the Kuleshov Effect

12:15 – 1:00
Sarah Pawlett-Jackson (Open University): Gestalt Structures in Multi-Person Intersubjectivity: The Evidence From Phenomenology and Embodied Cognition

1 – 2:30

2:30 – 3:15
Manuel Gustavo Isaac (Swiss NSF and Amsterdam): Semiotic Intentionality For Multi-E Cognition

3:15 – 4:00
Vicente Raja (Cincinnati): Why isn’t Kepler the Father of Embodied Cognition? Gestalt, Phenomenology and Embodiment

4 – 4:30

4:30 – 5:45
Uljana Feest (Hanover): The Status of Phenomenology in Gestalt Psychology


Sunday 9th July

10:30 – 11:15
Roy Dings (Radboud): Understanding phenomenological differences in how affordances solicit action: An exploration

11:15 – 12:00
Becky Millar (Edinburgh): Smelling Objects

12 – 1:30

1:30 – 2:45
Gary Hatfield (Penn): Gibson’s Realism: The Role of Construction

2:45 – 3:00

3:00 – 4:00
Closing discussion


Accessibility information for the conference venue is available here.

This conference is part of the Gestalt Structure and Phenomenology subproject of the Cambridge New Directions in the Study of Mind project, supported by the John Templeton Foundation, with additional funding from the Scots Philosophical Association, EIDYN, and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

XI: Chemero on Ecological and Embodied Cognitive Science

Our final pre-conference readings are a couple of short papers by Anthony Chemero.

‘Self-Organisation Writ Large’ (Ecological Psychology 20(3); available here) considers a view of nature as self-organising ‘all the way down’ – from animal/environment systems to autocatalytic chemical reactions – and argues that such a conception of nature would require reconceiving affordances and their role in the explanation of cognition. (The ideas from hyperset theory and the initial levels of self-organisation are worked through at a more leisurely pace in ‘Autonomy and Hypersets’, Biosystems 91(2), available here)

‘Sensorimotor Empathy’ (Journal of Consciousness Studies 23(5-6); available here) argues for a particular way of understanding the role of sensorimotor interactions in social coordination and conscious experience, and suggests how these interactions can be operationalised and studied.

Each paper engages with the question of what our cognitive science should look like if we are to understand cognition in terms of forms, structures and processes, as the Gestalt Psychologits and Phenomenologists we have been considering suggest. Penultimate drafts of each paper are available on Tony’s page.

X: Albertazzi on Experimental Phenomenology

The next reading from a keynote for our upcoming conference is Liliana Albertazzi’s

“Experimental Phenomenology: An Introduction” (2013) in Handbook of Experimental Phenomenology: Visual Perception of Shape, Space, and Appearance, ed. Albertazzi: Wiley.

Albertazzi picks up several of the themes we’ve addressed so far in this group, articulating the foundations for a contemporary experimental method that builds on (and beyond) the methods of Husserl, Köhler, Kanizsa, and others in the convergent gestalt and phenomenological traditions. Albertazzi defends phenomenology from the worry that subjective experiences may not be accessed experimentally, and surveys recent specific methods for measuring and modeling the subjective qualities of experience.  Her arguments here provide a firm testing ground for the remit of our group, not only to examine the historical cross-pollination between gestalt psychology and phenomenology, but also to consider the relevance of these traditions for contemporary cognitive science.

IX: Feest on Husserl and First-Person Methods

Continuing with readings from keynote speakers at our upcoming conference, next up are two short papers from Uljana Feest.

“Husserl’s Crisis as a Crisis of Psychology” (2012) Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 43: 493–503.

“Phenomenal Experiences, First-Person Methods, and the Artificiality of Experimental Data” (2014) Philosophy of Science 81: 927–939.

The first addresses Husserl’s (1936) The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Phenomenology as it relates to experimental psychology in particular, with a focus on Husserl’s relationship to Brentano.  It also develops one of the themes of the last few readings, the role of naturalism in psychology and philosophy.

The second analyzes the role of first-personal methods in psychology with a special focus on the debate between the gestalt psychologists and the Wundt school of psychological atomism (which Köhler and others referred to as “introspectionist”).  It tackles the vexing question of whether methods for studying phenomenal experience are inherently “phenomenological,” and if not, what the contrast between phenomenological and non-phenomenological methods might be.

As always, if you have trouble accessing the readings, please contact the moderators.

VIII: Hatfield on Gestalt Philosophy of Mind

In the lead up to our upcoming conference, we thought it would be fun to read some relevant papers by our keynote speakers.  First up is a paper by Gary Hatfield, written in collaboration with psychologist William Epstein:

Epstein, William and Gary Hatfield (1994) “Gestalt Psychology and the Philosophy of Mind,” Philosophical Psychology 7(2): 163–181.

Epstein and Hatfield examine the tension between the gestalt psychologists’ apparent physiological reductionism and their explicit realism about phenomenal qualities.  They also shed light on some of the puzzling comments we saw in previous readings from Köhler and Koffka about the place of value and meaning in the natural world.

As always, please contact one of the organizers if you have trouble accessing the reading.

VII: Sheredos on Merleau-Ponty and Gestalt Theory

For our seventh reading we have a recent publication by regular contributor to the blog, Ben Sheredos. ‘Merleau-Ponty’s Immanent Critique of Gestalt Theory’, forthcoming in Human Studies, examines Merleau-Ponty’s attitude towards Gestalt Theory in The Structure of Behaviour.

This paper is of particular relevance to our project since, in addition to treating the relationship between Phenomenology and Gestalt Psychology, it also deals with the third strand of our project: the way in which ideas from these two traditions should inform contemporary cognitive science. As Ben notes, Merleau-Ponty’s work on the relationship between Phenomenology and cognitive science has been taken up by recent writers (such as Hubert Dreyfus and Evan Thompson) who emphasise the importance of continuous, looping dynamical interactions with the environment in explanations of cognition. However, Ben argues that the ‘circular causality’ characteristic of such dynamics is distinct from the ‘circular dependence’ that Merleau-Ponty takes to characterise the relationship between elements of a gestalt structure. Ben’s paper makes the case that understanding the nature of this circular dependence is the key to understanding both Merleau-Ponty’s critique of Gestalt Theory, and the sense in which Merleau-Ponty believed Gestaltist ideas could nonetheless inform our thought about the proper relation between Phenomenology and cognitive science.

For readers unfamiliar with The Structure of Behaviour, don’t worry – the paper includes thorough and lucid summaries of all the relevant parts of the text. Ben has kindly shared a .pdf version of the paper with us, which you can access here. The published version is available here.

Please leave questions and reactions in the comments – see you there!

CFP: July Conference

The World in Us:
Gestalt Structure, Phenomenology, and Embodied Cognition
University of Edinburgh, 7-9 July 2017


In the early 20th century, two influential and interrelated movements shaped philosophical and scientific thinking about the mind. Gestalt Psychologists such as Ehrenfels, Koffka, and Köhler argued that our perceptual experience is structured in ways that cannot be reduced to, or explained in terms of, a mere aggregation of simple component sensations. They aimed to construct a systematic science of the mind centered on identifying and taxonomising these structural properties, and extending this methodology beyond the perceptual domain. Simultaneously, Phenomenologists such as Husserl, Gurwitsch, and Merleau-Ponty aimed to articulate systematic philosophies starting from the careful examination and description of lived experience, often focusing on the same phenomena and structures as Gestalt Psychologists.

Gestalt Psychology and Phenomenology share several key theoretical commitments: the phenomenal character of experience constitutes evidence; complex cognitive phenomena may be explained through structural analysis; and the mental constitutes a distinct realm for both philosophical and scientific study, not reducible to the merely physical. These same commitments have emerged again in recent “Multi-E” approaches to cognitive science, that emphasize the embodied and environmentally structured nature of cognition.

This conference aims to explore the relationship between these movements, with a particular focus on how the historical dialectic between Gestalt Psychology and Phenomenology may inform contemporary trends in Embodied and Embedded Cognitive Science.

This conference is part of the project Gestalt Structure and Phenomenology, a subproject of the Cambridge New Directions in the Study of Mind Project, supported by the John Templeton Foundation.  Additional support has been provided by the EIDYN Centre and the Scots Philosophical Association.

Keynote Speakers:  

Gary Hatfield
Uljana Feest
Tony Chemero
Liliana Albertazzi


Paper proposals are invited in the form of extended abstracts (750–1000 words), and should be emailed directly to the conference organizer. Complete papers may also be submitted, but are not required. Postdoctoral fellows and advanced graduate students are particularly encouraged to submit.

Submissions should make a contribution to understanding the relationship between two or more of the following topics: Gestalt psychology; Phenomenology; Contemporary trends in embodied cognitive science; Non-reductive metaphysics of cognitive processes.

Send all abstracts and inquiries to Dave Ward at dave.ward[at]

Deadline: 29 May

Notification of Acceptance: 3 June

VI: Köhler on Value in a World of Facts

The reading for this session elaborates on the idea that experience may be understood in terms of a psychological or phenomenal field imbued with meaning—i.e. patterns of force that direct behavior.  Like Koffka, Köhler was concerned with the role of meaning within a scientific worldview.  Honing in on the normative character of meaning as the essential problem, he articulated his perspective on the place of norms in the scientific worldview in his William James Lectures, delivered at Harvard in the academic year 1934–5, subsequently published as The Place of Value in a World of Facts (1939).  Our reading will be Chapter 3: “An Analysis of Requiredness,” and the full text is available here:

Chapter 3 develops Köhler’s view that value should be understood as a form of “requiredness,” and that this requiredness may be rigorously modeled as vectors within a phenomenal field.  Claims he supports through phenomenological analysis.

Much of Chapter 3 develops this view using as a foil Ralph Barton Perry’s theory of value.  Perry was a student of James, and advocated a subjectivist, yet realist, approach to value.  In Chapter 2, Köhler examines a sequence of different theories of value, rejecting most of them on the grounds that they replace the notion of requiredness with some unilluminating alternative, or stipulate it as irreducible rather than explain it.  Of particular interest to our group may be his discussion of Husserl’s approach to the norms of logic (pp 45–54).  In discussing Husserl, Köhler also briefly addresses the method of phenomenology and the worry that it is “mere introspection,” pointing out that “The main objection against Introspection was not its interest in “things themselves,” but rather its arbitrary selection of some aspects of experience as genuine and others as artifacts” (47).  So long as phenomenologists (and indeed Köhler himself) manage to avoid this trap, it seems their method is legitimate (c.f. Köhler, Gestalt Psychology, Ch. 3).

While not altogether unapproving of Husserl’s method, Köhler finds his (apparently neo-Platonist) solution to the problem of value unsatisfying, as it seems to place value entirely outside the realm of facts.  Instead, Köhler argues, value exhibits an “amphibian” nature, equally at home in the ideal realm of mathematics and the everyday (factual) realm of engineering and psychology (p 54).  This motivates his turn to more psychological theories, where he finds Perry’s view, that value should be understood in terms of “interest,” i.e. a striving or directedness towards various objects or outcomes, the most congenial.  It is this perspective that he elaborates and defends in our reading, Chapter 3.

As usual, if you have trouble accessing the reading, please contact the list organizers for a copy.


V: Koffka on the Behavioural Field

Our fifth reading is Chapter 2 “Behaviour and Its Field” of Kurt Koffka’s magnum opus Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935).  Chapter 1 provides historical background for gestalt psychology, presenting it as an attempt to reconcile the prima facie tension in the trichotomy of inert nature, life, and mind.  After rejecting attempts to prioritize one over the others (e.g. materialism and vitalism), Koffka argues that the three should be understood as offering instead different perspectives, each of which provides a key concept, respectively quantity, order, and meaning, all of which are needed for a coherent psychology.  Gestalt psychology is offered as a means for unifying these concepts within a single research program.

Our reading, Chapter 2, then lays out the basic concepts of gestalt psychology and their role in a scientific psychology, including especially the notions of behavioural environment, psychological field, and isomorphism.

My own view is that Koffka’s distinction between the behavioural and geographical environments, and the methodological importance of this distinction in scientific psychology, poses one of the greatest challenges for the Merleau-Ponty perspective, at least insofar as I understand it from our first conference and subsequent readings.  Consequently, it will be great to hear group member reactions to this reading and their views on how to position these concepts with respect to related phenomenological notions.

We’ll email the reading to the group and, as usual, if you have any trouble accessing it, please contact one of the organizers.