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!