Group Activities

Exploring the gestalt mind. Published by Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd 1970.

There is no reason to believe that human evolution has stopped with us.  We might even hope that it hasn’t.  But if there are further improvements on the way, we may expect them to relate less to these carbon-based biped bodies with which we are encumbered and more to the one thing that makes the human race truly different to the rest of animal life on planet Earth – the human mind.

In a previous Odyssey post, Exceptions to a Rule, I discussed the possibility that groups of people who find themselves to have exceptional talents might achieve much more by combining their abilities.  And if there exists some mechanism by which the human mind could link with other minds – telepathy or some variation on that theme – then a clear progression in human evolution could be available, as described in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 science fiction novel More Than Human.

This, in turn, leads to the idea of a gestalt mind.  “Gestalt”, the German word for a “form” or “pattern”, is often used in situations where an organised whole has qualities which are different from those of its components considered separately.  In the context of gestalt psychology, which began in Germany around 1910, the nature of the individual parts of a pattern of, say, behaviour is determined by, and secondary to, the whole.  The founders saw this as meaning that the whole is something other than the sum of the parts – an argument that might equally apply throughout philosophy, science and art.  You can see the point when considering a melody in music; its quality is something separate from the quality of the individual notes – each note has no “melody” in itself.

So minds in combination may be considerably more than each mind individually, possibly in ways that we couldn’t conceive.  The science fiction writer Keith Roberts considered this in his thought-provoking 1970 novel The Inner Wheel, which provides different perceptions of certain groups of people who have paranormal powers such as telepathy and psychokinesis, but need to combine to realise their full potential, and are far from comfortable in the hostile world of “normal” humans.

Initially, Jimmy Stringer finds himself attracted to the “nice little town” of Warwell where things are very peculiar under the surface.  He gradually becomes aware of “a tenseness, a strangeness that touched like a warm breeze prickling his scalp.  The questing power of their minds.”  The Gestalts control the town as a fortress for themselves.  Then we meet young Libby Maynard, who realises that she can read other people’s minds, and even influence their actions, leading her to question her hidden superiority over normal people: “who was I, I asked myself savagely, to hold a whip, make these animals called humans jump at my command?”  Eventually, she finds out that she’s not alone.

In due course, the Homo Superior that is represented by the Gestalts links up in ways that have a major impact on the future of human society.  And, for good or ill, it becomes fairly clear that ordinary folk are an inferior species.  We see probably the inevitable conclusion of gestalt human evolution in Arthur C Clarke’s 1953 novel Childhood’s End, where a single intelligence for all of humankind emerges, and anyone who isn’t part of it is most definitely an outsider.  But it would all have to start somewhere, perhaps with someone noticing a perception that isn’t quite “normal”.

Many people have felt that they sense something unusual, and which others don’t.  It features in some memorable works of literature, such as Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, where a young governess in a country house sees figures of a man and a woman that no-one else appears to notice.  Ghost stories often focus on a sensation – a sight or a sound, or just a feeling – that gives the impression of something strange just beyond ordinary perception.  In years gone by, ghosts would have been the obvious cause.  Nowadays, we may suspect some of our fellow humans.


Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)

With a lifetime’s interest in science, history and human behaviour, Richard Hayes focuses his writing on how the imagination has created the world in which we live, and where it may lead us in the future.  Odyssey, the e-magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, draws on the rich treasury of science fiction to explore many fields of speculation, enabling us to glimpse what might yet be, both here on Earth and out amongst the stars.

For related Odyssey posts, please click here: Brave New Galaxy? | Insidious Colonisation

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