Configuration, configurality

1. An arrangement of elements into a larger whole. When two or more components or parts group into a whole, they are said to configure, as when a pair of eyes, a nose, and a mouth configure into a face, when a series of notes configures into a melody, or when a group of stars configures into a constellation such as the big dipper. Specifying what sorts of parts can configure, and what sorts of arrangements lead to configurations, is a challenge facing the field.

In the visual domain, configuration is often linked closely with spatial arrangement. Thus, if separate depictions of eyes, nose, and mouth are displayed in the proper positions relative to one another, and at their proper orientations and sizes, a facial configuration will emerge. In many cases, simply relocating an element to a new position suffices to alter the configuration, as when a facial feature is displaced or where a note is moved to a new temporal position in a melody. In other instances, however, mere displacement is insufficient, as when one of the three dots forming a triangle is moved enough to alter the exact shape of the triangle but not enough to alter the essential triangular configuration (i.e., not enough to create a straight line). Also in the case of the triangle, some movements of a single point yield a mirror image of the original triangle, usually regarded as the same configuration viewed from a different vantage point. In some cases, altering the nature of the elements while maintaining their spatial arrangement leaves the configuration unchanged, as when round elements forming a triangle are replaced by square elements that continue to configure into a triangle. In other cases, changing the elements alone while keeping their arrangement intact results in a new configuration, as when three oriented line segments forming a triangle are kept in the same positions (centers of gravity) but are re-oriented to form an arrow.

According to one view of configuration, the juxtaposition of elements is believed to yield emergent features (emergent properties) that are detected by our (human) perceptual systems, and these emergent features or Gestalts may be as or more salient or discriminable as were the elements from which they emerged. JRP, February 2007