Gestalt, as defined by Lexico, is "an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts." Is there a word that effectively conveys the opposite, that is, a whole being less than the sum of its parts?

EDIT (1): A potential example may be a large and varied range of overlapping sounds that itself forms a discordant sound, e.g. a variety of instruments played out of rythm.

EDIT (2): Another example may be a 'complete' square, or diamond in this case, formed from two "criss-crosses"(X's), the top and bottom diagonals of which meet one another. Think an individual square of a 'square mesh'. However this square doesn't have clean edges, there still being 2 small projecting lines at each vertice. Think a noughts and crosses board with significantly truncated lines directed out from the square, such that they are too small to be noticed. In this case a square is recognized, however the projecting lines are not, in which case it may be considered less than the sum of its parts.

  • I can’t help with the overall answer, but there is a precise word which captures your “EDIT (1)”: cacophany.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 3, 2021 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


It is not quite parallel to describe the absence of something, the absence of Gestalt. or perhaps there are too many ways in which a work of art or a city or an event can fail to provide a unified vision or focus. gertrude Stein famously said on 0akland “There’s no there there.” Unfocused, unsure of itself, in the extreme a hot mess, incoherent in plan or purpose.

But this suggests that neighborhoods, events, art works should have a focus, but perhaps not. some may provide a steady background for the rest of life. There may than be no single Gestalt and especially no absence of a Gestalt that works, no single answer.

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