On Perceived Motion and Figural Organization

On Perceived Motion and Figural Organization

By Max Wertheimer

Edited by Lothar Spillmann

Two seminal articles by a founder of the Gestalt school of psychology, newly translated and accompanied by essays that connect his work to current research.





Two seminal articles by a founder of the Gestalt school of psychology, newly translated and accompanied by essays that connect his work to current research.

There are few articles in science that remain relevant over a span of 100 years; Max Wertheimer's pioneering experimental studies on apparent motion and figural organization are notable exceptions. Wertheimer's 1912 account of motion perception started a revolution and established the Gestalt school of psychology. It also paved the way for further investigations of apparent motion perception, including subsequent research by Oliver Braddick, Stuart Anstis, Vilaynur Ramachandran, and others. Wertheimer's 1923 article on figural organization (known as the "dot study" for its numerous examples of dot patterns) helped define grouping as a principle of figure-ground perception. This book provides contemporary readers and researchers with Wertheimer's two pivotal articles, newly translated into English and each accompanied by a synopsis, and two essays on apparent motion and figural organization that describe the long-term impact of Wertheimer's work.

The translation of the original German into readable English prose allows English-language readers for the first time to appreciate Wertheimer's visionary ideas. The accompanying essays tie Wertheimer's phenomenological descriptions to the underlying neuronal mechanisms, bridging the years between the articles' first publication and modern research.


$45.00 X | £7.99 ISBN: 9780262017466 312 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 182 b&w illus., 5 tables


Lothar Spillmann

Lothar Spillmann, was for many years Professor in the Brain Research Unit at the University of Freiburg, is Visiting Professor at the Herder Foundation, Bonn, and the China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan. He edited Wolfgang Metzger's Laws of Seeing (MIT Press, 2005), another classic work from the Gestalt movement.


  • The first complete English translation of Max Wertheimer's pioneering articles on motion and figural organization deserves wide-spread attention. I highly recommend it for active study by everyone interested in the renaissance of Gestalt psychology that is currently taking place in the neurosciences.

    Riccardo Luccio

    Gestalt Theory


  • This first complete translation of Max Wertheimer's early writings makes his classic work available to a much enlarged readership. The fabulous mind of the author is exhibited in astonishingly painstaking experimentation driven by the logic of relational determination (Gestalt theory). Supplementary essays by six distinguished scientists flesh out the theoretical and historical significance of what provoked a paradigm shift.

    Richard Held

    emeritus professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT

  • Reading the classical Wertheimer papers, I am impressed by his originality, energy, range of approach, experimental skill, the wealth of findings, and the quality of theoretical discussions. My hope is that with this translation his works will cease to be just celebrated historical pieces, cited but not read, but become sources of inspiration for contemporary vision researchers.

    Dejan Todorović

    University of Belgrade, Serbia

  • It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these two monographs, for each spawned an entire field of what is now called Vision Science. Any serious student of either perceptual psychology or vision science should read this book, not only to learn about the historical roots of modern vision research but to see how the field got from there to our present-day understanding of why the world looks the way it does.

    Stephen E. Palmer

    University of California, Berkeley