The Emergence of Insight in Problem Solving

  • Michael W. Stadler Universität Wien


This paper relates the notion of insight in problem solving to the current debate concerning epistemological and ontological emergence. The psychological school that stresses the relevance of insight for solving certain types of problems has been Gestalt theory. In classical Gestaltist writings, however, there is not much information about the question of whether or not insights are wholes with emergent properties. It is only in the more recent literature that this question is formulated. The present paper provides examples of insight problems (section I). Then it shows how insight was characterized in Gestalt theoretical writings, in particular by K. Duncker (II), and how this relates to the philosophical debate on emergence (III). After presenting two stances in research on problem solving that resemble the positions arguing for epistemological and ontological emergence (IV), I conclude with suggesting an alternative by complementing the basic part-whole framework with bidirectional processes found in perceptual reversals of ambiguous figures (V). In so doing I suggest to understand insight as ‘intersight,’ which is not an emergent whole, but a hinge or switch that mediates between two or more part-whole structures (here: problem and solution).