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|Born||April 15, 1880
Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia
|Died||October 12, 1943
New Rochelle, New York
|Alma mater||University of Prague|
|Doctoral students||Rudolf Arnheim|
He was born in 1880 in Prague, which was a part of the Bohemian Austria-Hungary back then. The Wertheimer household was extremely intellectual therefore Max received education from both his parents; he engaged in political and educational discussions at home and he received piano and violin lessons as well. His musical interest and creativity brought him in the same room with important musicians and scientists; one of them was Albert Einstein. After he got one of Baruch Spinoza’s books as a gift, he developed an interest towards philosophy. He felt that him and Spinoza shared a culture and common traits except he wasn’t interested in philosophical aspect of religions. Although his interest in psychology eliminated his inclination towards philosophy, Spinoza’s writings and thoughts remained influential to him.
Since his interests were not limited to a certain area or a study, he had trouble finding out what he actually wanted to study in university. Therefore he first started studying law in Charles University, but after a year he left his hometown and enrolled in University of Berlin. Deciding to go to the University of Berlin to study psychology was a milestone in his life because he was one of the lucky people who got a chance to do researches with Carl Stumpf. Later on in 1903 he got his PhD from the University of Würzburg about his research on the lie detector.
World War I
The collaborative work of the three Gestalt psychologists was interrupted by World War I. Both Wertheimer and Koffka were assigned to war-related research, while Kohler was appointed the director of an anthropoid research station on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. The three men reunited after the war ended and continued further research on the experiments.
In 1923, while teaching in Berlin, Wertheimer married Anna (called Anni) Caro, a physician’s daughter, with whom he had four children: Rudolf (who died in infancy), Valentin, Michael and Lise. They divorced in 1942.
Wertheimer took the honors to represent his country in World War I as a captain in the army. After coming back from the war he gave lectures and pursued his research on perception and gestalt in the University of Berlin until 1933. But in 1933 dramatic changes in Germany’s regime encouraged or convinced Wertheimer to leave Germany; he heard Hitler’s declarations on the media and he felt his Jewish roots were not going to be tolerated or accepted by the government directed by Adolf Hitler. So before Hitler rose to power the Wertheimer family achieved to go to the United States and became a citizen as well; that’s why Max Wertheimeris referred to as a German-American psychologist.
The New School
From 1929 to 1933, Wertheimer was a professor at the University of Frankfurt. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Third Reich in 1933, it became apparent to Wertheimer (and to countless other “non-Aryan” intellectuals) that he must leave Germany. In the end, he accepted an offer to teach at The New School in New York. The Wertheimers’ emigration was arranged through the U.S. consulate in Prague, and he and his wife and their children arrived in New York harbor on September 13, 1933.He continued his work in the New School of New York when he got to the United States. New School was only 14 years old when he got the chance to teach various courses there, so in a way he contributed a lot during the foundation phase of the psychology department of the university. Wertheimer’s cooperative work with his colleagues in the New School was seen as an opposition and an alternative to behaviorism as a result in a way he started the cognitive school of psychology. His thoughts and findings also challenged structuralism and atomism since he and other gestalt psychologists were more concerned about the whole rather than small structures or fragments of an object like an atom.
For the remaining decade of his life, Wertheimer continued to teach at the New School, while remaining in touch with his European colleagues, many of whom had also emigrated to the U.S. Koffka was teaching at Smith College, Kohler at Swarthmore College, and Lewin at Cornell University and the University of Iowa. Although in declining health, he continued to work on his research of problem-solving, or what he preferred to call “productive thinking.” He completed his book (his only book) on the subject (with that phrase as its title) in late September 1943. He brought up a successful son called Micheal, who grew up to follow his father’s footsteps and become a successful psychologist. He was the president of the several departments in APA and still works with professor title at University of Colarado. He died of a heart attack just three weeks later at his home in New Rochelle, New York. Wertheimer is interred in Beechwoods Cemetery, also in New Rochelle.
According to Gestalt psychology perception is a whole, in this sense holistic perception can shape vision and other senses of an individual. Wolfgang Köhler’s famous quote: “ The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” can help us understanding the basic ideas of Gestalt psychology. Max Wertheimer (1925) on the other hand explains the theory like this: “There are wholes, the behavior of which is not determined by that of their individual elements, but where the part-processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. It is the hope of Gestalt theory to determine the nature of such wholes.”
Gestalt theory opposed behaviorist arguments, which were only concerned about the outcome of an experiment and suggested that there should be other variables intervening in the process of perception.
- Sillis, D.L.; Merton R.K. (1968). "Max Wertheimer". International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: 522-527.
- Michael Wertheimer, A Brief History of Psychology. 4th edition. Fort Worth TX: Harcourt Brace, 2000.
- American Psychological Association. Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology. New York: APA and Ehrlbaum, 2000.
- D. Brett King and Michael Wertheimer, Max Wertheimer and Gestalt Theory. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005.
- Sills, D. L., & Merton, R. K. (1968). Max Wertheimer. International encyclopedia of the social sciences (pp. 522-527). New York: Macmillan.
- Cherry, K. (n.d.). Max Wertheimer Biography. Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. Retrieved February 25, 2012
- Cherry, K. (n.d.). Perceptual Organization - Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization. Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. Retrieved February 25, 2012
- Wertheimer, M. (1938). Gestalt Theory. A source book of Gestalt psychology (pp. 403-410). London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd..
- Sarris, V. (1989). "Max Wertheimer on seen motion: Theory and evidence". Psychological research 51 (2): 58–68. doi:10.1007/BF00309358. PMID 2687920.
- "Max Wertheimer memorial issue". Psychological research 51 (2): 43–85. 1989. PMID 2687919.
- Sarris, V. (1988). "Max Wertheimer in Frankfurt--on the origin and development crisis of gestalt psychology. III. Further studies of motion perception (1929-1933)". Zeitschrift fur Psychologie mit Zeitschrift fur angewandte Psychologie 196 (1): 27–61. PMID 2905852.
- Sarris, V. (1987). "Max Wertheimer in Frankfurt--on the beginnings and developmental crisis of Gestalt psychology. II. Structural rules of motion and space perception (1911-1914)". Zeitschrift fur Psychologie mit Zeitschrift fur angewandte Psychologie 195 (4): 403–431. PMID 2895554.
- Sarris, V. (1987). "Max Wertheimer in Frankfurt--on the beginnings and developmental crisis of Gestalt psychology. Initial studies of motion perception (1910-1912)". Zeitschrift fur Psychologie mit Zeitschrift fur angewandte Psychologie 195 (3): 283–310. PMID 2895552.
- Miller, A. I. (1975). "Albert Einstein and Max Wertheimer: A Gestalt psychologist's view of the genesis of special relativity theory". History of science; an annual review of literature, research and teaching 13 (2): 75–103. PMID 11610002.
- Wertheimer, M.; King, D. B.; Peckler, M. A.; Raney, S.; Schaef, R. W. (1992). "Carl Jung and Max Wertheimer on a priority issue". Journal of the history of the behavioral sciences 28 (1): 45–56. doi:10.1002/1520-6696(199201)28:1<45::AID-JHBS2300280104>3.0.CO;2-P. PMID 11612657.
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- International Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications - GTA
- Short biographical articles on Wertheimer, et al.
- Art, Design and Gestalt Theory
- On Max Wertheimer and Pablo Picasso
- On Being Wertheimer's Student