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  • Beyond Parts and Wholes

    The whole is something else than the sum of the parts, because summing is a meaningless procedure, whereas the whole-part relationship is meaningful.
    Kurt Koffka, in Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935)

    One of the three founders of modern Gestalt psychology, Koffka penned this to counter the misattribution of the common precept “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” to him, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Kohler.

    Why offer a fine-grained distinction in perceptual theory? To openly consider perception of configurations of marks on stone, I will assert. To encourage us to look beyond framing, beyond glyphs as elements, beyond summing, beyond the limits of our known world. We may then see-into relationships and allow this perceiving to constitute more-than parts, more-than whole. Or, as Philip Rawson suggests, seeing hidden in traces the gestalten of our universe as spatio-temporal rhythms. This whole will always be contingent, offering glimpses of a fleeting unitary beyond our moment within a multiplicity of appearances. The materiality of stone assures, as does weathering, and sensed duration.

    This gathering of photo-images of petroglyphs on a basalt rim in SE Oregon’s Owyhee country are part of a whole ever beyond containment. I rest, appreciating glimpses into the distances and depths.