Explorations in the applicability of gestalt approaches to perception to cultural patterning

The way the eye/brain constructs black and white patterns within a frame, make it possible for a human observer that say that this picture is either the picture of two person in profile or of one vase.

The picture itself can be said to be made by filling in two areas in black, or one area in white. The final effect is produced by the relation these areas to each other. If the two black areas were cut out in placed in a different relation to each other, the "vase" would disappear. Conversely, a painter who wants to produce similar effects must deliberately construct and organize the shapes in terms of a plan.

In the history of human beings, it may be the case that new events in the history of any group are similarly "painted into" preexisting fields and arranged in ways so as not to disturb the overall effect (though of course not necessarily with full success.

This may be what Ruth Benedict had in mind when she talked about "patterns of culture," particularly in her seminal article "Configurations of culture in North America" (1932). McDermott and I (1998) have explored similar processes in terms of the labelling of children in school .