Gestalt Principle: Multistability (Part 1)


Fig. 1. One of my initial sketches which adopt the principle of multistability, taken on 16 Dec 2013

Refer to my practice assignment (Fig. 1), I plan to adopt one of the Gestalt principle in the illustration — multistability. Thus I decide to do more in-depth research about this theory.

I have read some kind of brief introductions about multistability in my annotations, however I haven’t seen any particular journal to analyses this principle. Therefore, I decide to search if there are relevant journals or books would be useful for this principle.

I trace back to one of my secondary source, Gestalt References from the website of Department of Cognitive and Neural Science, before  the filtration from Google Scholar. Throughout the list, there is one gestaltist Fred Attneave once published a journal entitled ‘Multistability in Perception’. It might be a direct study for my theme. There are several researchers and scholars adopt his idea, it’s a shame that I couldn’t access to get the full article due to the website-access restriction.

vase_final copy

Fig. 4, Edgar Rubin, figural-after-effect, 1915.

As far as I know, Kuft Koffka did mention some figure-ground contribution of Edgar Rubin in his journal, ‘Perception: An Introduction to the Gestalt-theories’ in 1922 (you could also follow my post about this journal here). Therefore I decide to reread his journal. Koffka (1922, p.559) brings up several visual examples, which seem as “ambiguous patterns” to us. He claims the visual experiments as “where different structure correspond to two totally different forms.” (Koffka, 1922, p.559) One of the examples is the puzzle picture (Fig. 2) produced by Edward Bradford Titchener, founder of structuralist school of psychology; while another one is the duck/rabbit image (Fig. 3) used in Walter Bowers Pillsbury’s book. Koffka asserts that the best example would be Rubin’s example — a goblet/two-face image (Fig. 4), or commonly known as called ‘Rubin Vase’.

In term of experiments, Koffka (1922, p. 563) mentions that Edgar Rubin employs an “ambiguous” pattern (Fig. 5), which is possible to perceive both positive enclosed white space or enclosed black space. Koffka (1922, p. 563) calls this phenomenon as positive and negative reaction. According to Koffka (1922, p. 563), when Rubin further experience the practice, it might be hard to differentiate positive and negative, so to say, ambiguous attitude. Rubin called this as a ‘figural-after-effect’.

I shall continue my enquiry found in Rudolf Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye at the part 2.

Koffka, Kurt  (1922) ‘Perception: An introduction to the Gestalt-theorie’, Psychological Bulletin 19, 531–585, (visited 14/10/2013)


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