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Edgar Rubin

RUBIN, EDGAR (1886–1951), Danish psychologist. He was professor of psychology at the university of his native Copenhagen. When the Germans overran Denmark during World War II Rubin sought refuge in Sweden. He returned to Denmark after the war, but died after protracted illness, brought on, in part, by the hardships suffered in his flight to Sweden. Rubin's work ranged widely and included studies of perceived movement, tactual and auditory senses, temperature, and gustation. He discovered paradoxical cold – the fact that cool stimuli 0.1–1.5° C below skin temperature arouse faint sensations of warmth. His best known discovery involved the finding that visual perception is normally divided into two parts, figure and ground.

Rubin's laws governing the selection of the figure were phenomenological in the tradition of *Husserl. They did not explain why a figure was selected but merely stated the conditions under which one structure among possible alternatives was selected. Although not a Gestalt psychologist himself, Rubin's ideas were quickly incorporated into Gestalt theory. Rubin did not approve of theories and schools of psychology. His position, as stated in his address to the Ninth International Congress of Psychology at New Haven, Connecticut, in 1929, was to let the facts speak for themselves.


W.C.H. Prentice, in: American Journal of Psychology, 64 (1951), 608–9; D. Katz, in: Psychological Review, 58 (1951), 387–8.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.