and Theory of Psychology: An early 21st century student's perspective
F. Ballantyne, Ph.D. 2008©.
The Gap: British Associationism, Psychophysics, and the Founding of a Discipline
descriptive term "bridging the gap" refers to the monistic strivings
of the transitional period to be covered in this Section (roughly 1749-1890s).
With historical hindsight, this period can be viewed generally as a set of varied
attempts to bridge the gap between previous 17-18th
century philosophical inquiry into mentality and the rise of a late
19th century experimental-science of the mind. More particularly, however,
each of the main investigative movements involved in this transition had their
own specific contemporaneous concerns as follows:
and perceived world; simple and complex ideas|
of the mental-physical world relation|
of Sensory, Ideational, Affective elements|
of higher mental processes|
the 1860s onward, Wilhelm Wundt (the eventual founder of so-called "physiological"
laboratory psychology), would attempt to draw the associationist and psychophysical
themes together. In doing so he produced the initial formulation of what
would become the "discipline" of psychological science. There were,
however, certain built-in constrictive limitations contained within Wundt's methodological
assumptions and empirical methods (e.g., the goals, style, and intended content
of his "experimental" practice), which even his own students would rebel
against. In this regard, we should be careful to mention upfront that all
of the philosophical and empirical inquiries to be covered in this Section (up
to and including those of Wundt) take place within a pre-evolutionary intellectual
context which later psychological science would have to surmount.
have already encountered early appeals to associationist principles in the positions
of Locke (1690) who mentions associations between ideas; as well as in
Berkeley (1710) and Hume (1739; 1748) who emphasize associations between sensations.
Further, with Kant (1781) we encountered a rationalist (rather than empiricist)
form of associationism which he conceived as an interaction between sensation
and a priori categories of the mind.
subsequent figures who (in the mid-18th through early 19th century) further elaborated
this implied association theory as an explicit psychology, were called "associationists."
They were almost exclusively British (including David Hartley, Thomas Brown, James
Mill, John Stuart Mill), and as a school are therefore referred to as the British
British associationists will be concerned with bridging the gap between the
real and perceived world which was the "tension of the time"
left to it by Hume and Kant. These efforts, which took
place in the definitively pre-evolutionary era (up to 1859), were based predominantly
upon varied sorts of mechanical-atomistic thinking passed down from Hobbes and
Newton. Further, all of the various permutations of British associationism ended
up proposing one form or another of psycho-physical
parallelism and we will want to become clear as to why this was so.
the earlier and informal philosophical forms of perceptual associationism, there
was always an implied assumption of atomism. Berkeley and even Locke, for instance,
had argued that we take all the sensory elements as presented, somehow combine
these, and that is how one gains an appreciation of objects in the world. Although
the various associationist figures covered below each produce their own particular
account of how such associations come about and also put forward specific "psychological"
theories regarding the relationship between so-called simple and complex ideas
accordingly, the basic methodological assumptions of atomism remain largely unchanged
British associationists claimed that association is a basic explanatory principle
which can account for mentality, so we will want to consider the varied methodological
starting-points, the methods of inquiry utilized, and the eventual endpoint of
their particular positions in some detail. From a commonsense point of view, one
can most certainly talk about associations between things as occurring in our
daily life. One might read something in a book, or see something either on television
or more directly during your daily routine, which reminds you of a whole lot of
other things. Poetry, musical lyrics, and even instrumental mood music, for instance,
all work on that premise. Similarly, commercial advertisements associate their
products with concepts like happiness, success, and prestige. So, association
of some sort certainly does occur on a daily basis. The
main question at issue here, however, is whether association principles of the
sort proposed by these figures will account for everything which is going on in
first of these figures is David
Hartley (1705-1757), an English physician and philosopher who attempted to
extend Newton's physics into a methodologically materialist psychology of association
between ideas. His Observations on Man (Vol. 1 & 2, 1749) was a wide-ranging
synthesis of the neurology, moral philosophy, and spirituality of the era.
Hartley's (1749) work is most notable to us for its advocacy of an explicitly
stated psycho-physical parallelism.
Being more of a Lockean than a Humean, Hartley granted the existence of physical
objects. He was an indirect realist of the objective idealist stripe. Being also
an atomist, however, he conceived of the physical world as a system of "vibrations,"
an idea he got from Newton and Galileo.
chief design in the following... is... to explain, establish, and apply the [twin]
doctrines of vibrations and association. The first of these doctrines is taken
from the hints concerning the performance of sensation and motion, which Sir Isaac
Newton has given at the end of his Principia, and in the questions annexed
to his Optics; the last, from what Mr. Locke, and the other ingenious persons
since his time, have delivered concerning the influence of association over our
opinions and affections... [including that] commonly referred to [as] the power
of habit and custom..." (Hartley, 1749; Chap. 1, Introduction; In R.I. Watson,
physical vibrations in the world, he suggested, caused sympathetic movements in
the brain called "vibratiuncules". What
is interesting about this theory is that both the worldly vibrations and the cranial
"vibratiuncules" were considered as strictly physical phenomena, which
ran in "parallel" with the sensations and ideas without directly causing
them. Hartley considers them as the original material substrate for later mental
Heidbreder (1933) indicates that Hartley's principle of mental association
is a fairly standard and familiar one:
general law of [mental] association is that if sensations have often been experienced
together, the corresponding ideas will tend to occur together; if A has been associated
with B, C, and D in sensory experience, the sensory experience A, occurring alone,
will tend to arouse the ideas of b, c, and d, which accompanied it. Association
may be either successive or simultaneous. The former determines the course
of thought, in time; the latter accounts for the formation of complex ideas"
(Heidbreder, 1933, p. 54; emphasis added).
were, thus, two "classes" of associational laws to account for: One
for sensation making ideas (mental association); and the other for vibrations
getting together to form "vibratiuncules" (physical association -a.k.a.,
the "doctrine of vibrations"). Both
classes took place on the basis of contiguity and repetition but Hartley postulated
a differential role for each in the production of "original automatic"
versus subsequent forms of "voluntary" or "secondarily automatic
actions of the body."
key to understanding his adoption of this psycho-physical parallelism is to recognize
that Hartley's goal is to distinguish between originally "automatic"
action (later called bodily reflex) and the subsequent development of both learned
"voluntary" action and what can be called second order automatic operations
("secondarily automatic actions of the body").
the examples of both the development of speech (Prop. 21) and of walking (Prop.
77) in an infant, Hartley elaborates his scheme as follows:
Child is not able to produce a Sound at all, unless the Muscles of the Trunk and
Larynx be stimulated by the Impression of Pain on some Part of the Body. As the
Child advances in Age.... an articulate Sound, or one approaching thereto, will
sometimes be produced by this conjoint Action of the Muscles.... After they have
recurred a sufficient Number of times, the Impression which these Sounds, articulate
and inarticulate, make upon the Ear, will become an associated Circumstance (for
the Child always hears himself speak, at the same time that he exerts the Action)
[is] sufficient to produce a Repetition of them. And thus it is, that Children
repeat the same Sounds over and over again.... So that the Child's articulate
Sounds will be more and more frequent every Day -his inarticulate ones grow into
Disuse.... Speech will also become a perfectly voluntary Action, i.e., the child
will be able to utter any Word or Sentence proposed to him by others... (Hartley,
1749, Prop. 21, In S. Diamond, 1974).
thus... we are enabled to account for all the Motions of the human Body, upon
Principles which, tho' they may be fictitious, are, at least, clear and
intelligible. The Doctrine of Vibrations explains all the original automatic Motions,
that of Association the voluntary and secondarily automatic ones...." (Hartley,
1749, Prop. 21, In S. Diamond, 1974).
passes into the secondarily automatic State more perfectly perhaps, than any other
Action;... Now this Transition of Walking, from its voluntary to its secondarily
automatic State, must be acknowledged by all to proceed merely from Association..."
(Hartley, 1749; Prop. 77; In S. Diamond, 1974).
addition to the "commonsense" approach of Locke and in severe contrast
to the "logical" or "professorial" approaches of Hume and
Kant respectively, Hartley brought with him the empirical observational skills
of a physician. The result is a the first thoroughgoing application of materialist
plus associationist principles to topics which border on the kind of developmental
observations which would be carried out routinely in the following century.
occasional discursive overstatements, Hartley is someone who has turned to the
developmental aspects of the Lockean issue of simple and complex ideas. He attempts
to use both material and mental concepts to understand their development. Further,
there is a notable aspect of historical self-awareness in Hartley's writings because
he recognizes that the particular analytical concepts he is using may very well
prove "fictitious" in the long run.
Thomas Reid and Dugald Steward, Thomas
Brown can be considered the third member of the Scottish
Realist School of Common Sense. Having studied both law and medicine at the
University of Edinburgh, Brown produced An Inquiry into the Relation of Cause
and Effect (1804) and was appointed professor of Moral Philosophy there in
1810 but died of exhaustion by 1820. His chief work, Lectures on the Philosophy
of the Human Mind was published posthumously that year (see also T. Dixon,
(Ed.)., Life and Collected Works of Thomas Brown, 2003).
Stewart, and the Scottish School, attempted to counter the growing skepticism
about reality and religion as generated by Hume. Browns ambivalent attitude
towards the teachings of Reid and Stewart, however, is apparent throughout his
Lectures (1820). That work is most notable to us for three things: A theory
of "muscle sense" as providing both a means by which reality is know
and a principle which unifies the mind; his choice of the term "suggestion"
rather than association in order to emphasize the active selective aspects of
mind; and his rejection of "nominalism" (later called the naming
his analysis of the processes of sensation, Brown attaches great importance to
muscular sense as the basis for "objective reference" (Brown, 1820,
Vol. 2, Lect. 25). Physiologists had recently begun to realize that tactile sensory
impulses arise, not only from the outside world, but also from the interior of
the trunk and limbs, and that these impulses are important in forming an understanding
of the general attitude of our bodies as well as in the development of coordinated
was here that Brown provided a constructive critique of Thomas Reid's (1785) discursive
distinction between sensation and perception. Reid
had suggested a working distinction between sensation (being the simple "feeling"
that immediately follows the action of an external object on any of our organs)
and perception (being the "attribution" of this feeling to the external
body as its cause) as follows:
if it is asked, whether the smell be in the rose, or in the mind that feels it,
the answer is obvious: That there are two different things signified by the smell
of a rose; one of which is in the mind,... the other is truly and properly in
the rose. The sensation which I feel is in my mind.... But this sensation... is
occasioned by a certain quality in the rose.... All the names we have for smells,
tastes, sounds, and for the various degrees of heat and cold, have a like ambiguity;....
they signify both a [felt] sensation, and a [attributed] quality perceived by
means of that sensation" (Reid, 1785, Chap. 16; In Herrnstein & Boring,
(1820) attempts to close the argumentative gap apparently left open in
Reid's above account by way of emphasizing that it is not merely the smell but
the "handling" of the rose (the muscular feedback it provides) which
allows us to directly attribute the smell of the rose to a real object. In other
words, in opposition to the skeptics, Brown held that our belief in the existence
of reality was based on muscular activity -i.e., due to the sensations resulting
from palpable manipulation of and bodily effort toward objects (Stagner, 1988).
This, of course, is more of a corrective clarification rather than a counter-argument
to Reid's direct realism which Thomas Brown shared.
second important aspect of Brown's (1820) account is that he had specific and
explicit theoretical differences with the traditional account of "association"
provided by both Hartley (1749) and the older British empiricists. While
not completely abandoning the term "association," he tended to favor
the term "suggestion" to demarcate his departure from the former physiologically
reductive and mental mechanistic aspects of those positions.
enunciating his two principles of mental life -which he called "simple suggestion"
and "relative" suggestion- Brown was attempting to remedy some of the
main deficiencies of former association psychology. His was trying to make it
more useful and self-consistent than it had formerly been.
primary ("simple") laws of suggestion are roughly equivalent to those
proposed by "associationism" proper including contiguity, resemblance,
and recency. He points out, however, that even these primary laws do not derive
"solely" from either mental or bodily-animal sources (the argumentative
weakness of Hume and Hartley respectively) but from both. In other words, he is
striving for a monistic account of bodily constitution and intellectual
aspects which was formally lacking.
Brown's account of "relative suggestion" (the power to see relations
among thoughts or objects) goes well beyond the bounds of former accounts because
it attempts to show in detail why associations take a particular path (or
course) in any given case. As Flugel & West (1964) put it in their account
of Brown: "This
ability to see relations has been a regular will-o'-the-wisp
in modern psychology. It has constantly been lost to sight, forgotten or neglected,
and as constantly rediscovered" (p. 21).
secondary laws of suggestion include: constitutional differences of mind or temperament;
differing circumstances of the moment; state of health or efficiency of the body;
and prior habits. They are explicitly intended to modify the primary (abstractly
stated, decontexualized) laws according to the prevailing concrete conditions
of existence and thereby explain why "at this particular time and place,
the thought of 'cold' brought forth 'dark' rather than 'hot'; why the image of
'butterfly' sometimes produced 'bird' and other times 'moth'" (after Watson
& Evans, 1991).
is as follows that Brown abjures from both the mechanistic mentalism of the older
empiricism as well as the potentially physiological reductive implications of
Hartley's (1749) account:
primary laws are modified, not by constitutional and permanent differences only,
but by differences which occur in the same individual, according to the varying
emotion of the hour.... The temporary diversities of state, that give rise to
varieties of suggestion are not mental only, but corporeal; and
this difference of bodily state furnishes another secondary law....
How different are the trains of thought in health and in sickness,
after a temperate meal and after a luxurious excess! It is not to
the animal powers only, that the burthen [burden] of digestion may become
oppressive, but to the intellectual also; and often to the intellectual
powers even more than to the animal...." (Brown, 1820, Vol. 2, Lect.
37, original emphasis, In S. Diamond, 1974).
reviewers of Brown's early 19th century observational-philosophical approach to
"suggestion" have either introduced or concluded their coverage by drawing
analogies to later efforts along the empirical-associationist line. Thus one reviewer
claims that: No psychologists actually tried to study these "laws" experimentally
for about another century but when they did, the variables were very like those
that Brown listed. Another that: Similar laws would be mobilized by associationistic
psychologists (particularly the behaviorists) to account for the strength of conditioning.
And likewise, another that: Contemporary laws, similar to those of Thomas Brown,
are also found in the learning theory of Clark L. Hull, in his book, Principles
of Behavior (1943).
should be careful, however, to take note of the third important aspect of Brown's
(1820) argument -i.e., the one concerning "nominalism" (later called
the naming fallacy, or more specifically the psychologist's fallacy). Brown
was so concerned with getting his terminology right that he took issue with Reid
over even the most finite points of psychological subject matter. He complained,
for instance, that Reid's account of consciousness was written out as if consciousness
existed as something separate from the contents of the mind. Stagner (1988) summarizes
this point quite nicely:
objected to the fallacy of 'nominalism,' in effect, the assumption that because
a phenomenon has a name, it must have a separate identity. Specifically, he opposed
the belief that 'consciousness' has some kind of existence independent of the
contents of consciousness. Rather, consciousness is a name for a class of events:
"there are not," he wrote, "sensation, thought, passions, and
also consciousness, any more than there is quadruped or animal,
as a separate being to be added to the wolves, tygers, elephants, and other living
creatures" (1820/1970, p. 336). There is a recurring tendency in the history
of psychology for writers to confuse the name of an object with its reality. The
fact that there is a name for digestion does not mean that you can put digestion
on a scale and weigh it. The same holds for perceiving, learning, desiring, and
so on" (Stagner, A History of Psychological Theories, 1988, p. 71).
other words, just as Brown was so very careful to differentiate his position from
those of even his closest and intellectually amiable contemporaries, so we should
likewise be doubly careful to note the divergence as well as the overlap between
Brown's attempt at concrete description of "suggestion" and the
later methodology of quantitatively defined "association variables"
used in 20th century "learning" theories (see Section
5). The oft repeated, supposed analogy of approach may turn out to be wildly
(the senior) was a Scottish born British philosopher, economist, historian, and
progressive "Utilitarian" social theorist. Originally educated as a
clergyman at Edinburgh, Mill gave up the ministry and went to London in 1802 to
pursue a career writing for and editing periodicals. Under the influence of his
friend Jeremy Benthem (who popularized the slogan "the greatest good for
the greatest number"), Mill adopted Utilitarianism -which argues that political
theory should be based upon a sound understanding of "human nature."
This in turn led him toward a consideration of psychological matters in the associationist
manner of the era.
main work on associationist epistemology, Analysis of the Phenomenon of the
Human Mind (Vol. 1 & 2, 1829), advocated a form of mental mechanics which
he called "mental physics." It was heavily influenced not only by Hobbes,
Locke, Hume, and Hartley whose theory of association he applied and elaborated
further; but also by the French Materialist writers.
physics of the era was still very mechanistic and additive rather than truly dynamic
or developmental. Although motion and change in the universe were now take to
be an established and measurable fact, its fundamental material constituents (the
elements) continued to be conceived of as essentially static entities.
Let's recall here that the universal laws of mechanical motion (proposed
by Newton back in 1686) dealt merely with what Aristotle once called "efficient"
causation. They were descriptions of the effect or lack of an effect of some external
material force on a given physical object. Right up to Mill's time, the undeniable
motion of physical objects and the observable changes in not only heavenly but
also organic (living) bodies was still taken to arise from merely external material-mechanical
sources and any appeal to "final" causality -i.e., to the ends or directional
outcome of a given dynamic event or developmental process- was still viewed as
unscientific or even teleological (in the religious and mystical sense of that
Mill's "mental physics" account of human mentality retains a strict
adherence to the kind of passive-mechanical atomism (a.k.a., reductive mental
mechanics) which the medically trained Thomas Brown, for instance, had explicitly
attempted to overcome. As Heidbreder wrote: "James Mill is sometimes cited
as the associationist par excellence, for in his writings the associationistic
principles were applied with such thoroughness and in such detail that their limitations
became apparent along with their possibilities" (1933, p. 55). More
specifically, the two main "limitations" of James Mill's (1829)
account of mental physics can be considered as the necessary respective consequences
of: (i) his return to the Lockean representationalist theory of perception; and
(ii) his a reliance upon a strictly "additive principle" to account
for the relationship between simple and complex ideas.
regard to the first limitation, Mill's (1829) account of the "order"
of associated ideas does not carry forward either Reid's (1785) or Brown's
(1820) "direct realist" approach to perception, but instead relies upon
a full-scale return to a Lockean (1690) indirect realist "copy"
theory of perception outlined as follows:
ideas are not derived from objects, we should not expect their order to be derived
from the order of objects; but as they are derived from sensations, we might by
analogy expect, that they would derive their order from that of the sensations;
and this to a great extent is the case.... Our ideas spring up, or exist, in the
order in which the sensations existed, of which they are copies" (James Mill,
1829; Chap. 3; In Herrnstein & Boring, 1966).
As a consequence, the passive aspect of Locke's perception theory is carried forward
into Mill's description of the origin of the strength of associations. As one
reviewer declared: "Nothing is left of Brown's [active] secondary laws but
frequency and vividness" (Diamond, 1974, p. 292).
of strength in association seem all to be resolvable into two; the vividness
of the associated feelings; and the frequency of the association....
In general,.... the sensation is more vivid than the idea; or the primary, than
the secondary feeling; though in dreams, and in delirium, ideas are mistaken for
sensations...." (James Mill, 1829; Chap. 3, emphasis added).
we have to consider frequency or repetition; which is the most remarkable
and important cause of the strength of our associations.... Learning to play on
a musical instrument is [a] remarkable illustration of the effect of repetition....
as the repetition goes on, the sight of the note, or even the idea of the note,
becomes associated with the place of the key or the string; and that of the key
or the string with the proper finger. The association for a time is imperfect,
but at last becomes so strong that it is performed with the greatest rapidity,
without an effort, and almost without consciousness" (James Mill, 1829, Chap.
clearly viewed the mind as passive with the laws of frequency and vividness determining
the formation of associations accordingly. Mill's violin or keyboard player (described
above) reduces down to a mere mechanical receptacle or conduit for frequently
repeated and vivid occurrences which 'happen to' rather than which are carried
out by 'it.' This is surely a passive mechanism par excellence!
human mind is portrayed here as a passive accrual of associations rather
than an active creative function (as implied by Kant and -for different reasons-
by Brown). If this be so, one might ask why so many music students give up their
lessons or remain mere amateurs while so very few go on to become virtuosos? James
Mill's passive account of association provides no answer to this question other
than the rhetorically, self-evident, tautology that practice makes perfect!
particular regard to the second limitation of Mill's account, he likewise portrays
the ontological status of "simple versus complex ideas" as being merely
additive. Gone is the roughly developmental transition from "original (simple)
automatic-to-"voluntary" (complex)-to similarly complex "secondarily
automatic actions" described by Hartley (1749). Instead, the assumedly higher
order complex forms of thought are merely described as "coalesced, compounded
or composed" additive concatenations of lower forms:
complex ideas may be united together, by a strong association, and coalesce
into one, in the same manner as two or more simple ideas coalesce into one. This
union of the two complex ideas into one, Dr. Hartley has called a duplex idea.
Two also of the duplex, or doubly compounded ideas, may unite into one;
and these again into other compounds, without end.... [For example] Brick is one
complex idea, mortar is another complex idea; these ideas, with ideas of position
and quantity, compose my idea of a wall.... How many complex, or duplex
ideas, are all united in the idea of furniture? How many more in the idea of merchandise?
How many more in the idea called Every Thing?" (James Mill, 1829, Chap. 3).
utilize the kind of apt, though counterfactual, analogy which formal logicians
are so very fond of: If James Mill were a geologist, he would be implying here
that all rocks on earth are either igneous or sedimentary (which are at
best "conglomerate") but never metamorphic. The higher
"duplexes" and "double duplexes" of Hartley [who actually
called them "decomplex"] are portrayed by Mill as mere "conglomerates"
of simple ideas -"without end" perhaps, but also without their own distinctive
sum up, James Mill (1829) started out by sidestepping the direct realist account
of Reid (1785) and adopted instead an explicitly indirect realist (representational)
epistemology similar to that of Locke (1690). Like Hartley (and many others afterward),
he also believed that the primary mode of operation of the human mind is association,
but his account of the transition between simple and complex ideas falls
far short of the mark intended by even Hartley's (1749) account. Similarly, in
contradistinction to Brown (1820), Mill not only constricted the number
of possible laws of association to two but also portrayed the process of transition
between associations as passive rather than active. Some of the deficiencies
of James Mill's account were overcome, however, by his son John Stuart Mill who
(albeit briefly) put forward a relatively progressive distinction between mental
physics and "mental chemistry."
Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
(the younger) was a social theorist, British philosopher and liberal member of
Parliament from 1865 to 1868. As the son of James Mill, he was initially educated
along the lines of his father's mechanical approach to associationism. John, however,
suffered a nervous breakdown at age 20 which he attributed directly to his rigid
education (J.S. Mill, Autobiography, 1873). He subsequently sought to emancipated
himself both personally and intellectually from this influence.
best known political work is On Liberty (1859). It argues for personal
freedom because such freedom allows creative individuals to better contribute
to society. Mill also suggests that since free-market capitalism tends
to result in inequity and poverty, society would be better served by adopting
some form of liberal socialism.
most important work as far as psychology and science are concerned is A System
of Logic (1843, up to its 8th edition in 1874). Here, Mill drew upon a direct
analogy to the burgeoning discipline of chemistry to argue that mind plays an
active-creative role in the formation of simple ideas; and that "complex
ideas" are more than the sum of their parts because they contain properties
not found in simple ideas. He emphasized his departure from his father's mechanistic
mental physics by calling his approach "mental chemistry."
this time, the discipline of chemistry was shifting away from the mere "systematic
art" of classifying elements (described by Kant, 1781) toward consideration
of active-creative events like chemical reactions. It was becoming clear that
in the case of chemical reactions, things did not simply "add up." If
you consider all the properties of hydrogen (on its own) and all the properties
of oxygen (on its own), you are in no position to know about the peculiar properties
of water per se. The same can be said of the reaction between sodium and chlorine
to make ordinary table salt. Such
chemical reactions were beginning to be recognized as creative and also directional
processes. When they occur, either in nature or in the laboratory, things
happen which can't be predicted by mere insular reference to the properties of
the original elements. The new properties of compounds (water, salt) can not be
explained away as simply the additive sum of the original properties of their
elements. A chemical reaction is a metamorphic, transformative, and directional
event resulting in new properties in the compound.
noted these advances, J.S. Mill (1843) draws a pointedly direct analogy to them
while contrasting the additive, mechanical and static associationism of the past
with his more active and creative mental chemistry approach. To paraphrase the
extract presented below: Just as in the case of chemical reactions, something
appears in the formation of "complex ideas" that is not present in the
simple ideas taken "separately." Complex ideas, therefore, are not merely
additive compositions of simple ideas. They may be said to "result from,"
or be "generated by" the simple ideas, but they do not "consist
is obvious that complex laws of thought and feeling not only may, but must, be
generated from these simple laws [of association]. And it is to be remarked, that
the case is not always one of Composition of Causes: the effect of concurring
causes is not always precisely the sum of the effects of those causes when separate,
nor even always an effect of the same kind with them.... [The] laws of the phenomena
of mind are sometimes analogous to mechanical, but sometimes also to chemical
laws. When impressions have been so often experienced in conjunction, that each
of them calls up readily and instantaneously the ideas of the whole group, those
ideas sometimes melt and coalesce into on another, and appear not several ideas,
but one; in the same manner as, when the seven prismatic colors are presented
to the eye in rapid succession, the sensation produced is that of white. But as
in this last case it is correct to say that the seven colors when they rapidly
follow one another generate white, but not that they are white;
so it appears to me that the Complex Idea, formed by the blending together
of several simpler ones, should,... be said to result from, or be generated
by, the simple ideas, not to consist of them.... These, therefore,
are cases of mental chemistry; in which it is proper to say that the simple
ideas generate, rather than that they compose, the complex ones" (J.S.
Mill, 1843, Vol. 2, Bk. 6, Chap. 4; emphasis added).
was the first high-profile and influential step away from the former mechanistic
model of associationism so it is worth dwelling on for a moment. In particular,
we should note that Mill's (1843) argument contains two aspects which have
been differentially taken up in subsequent history of psychology.
first aspect, regarding part-whole relations, is the least exciting. Complex ideas
are not simple additive "conglomerations" but are the products of some
kind of interaction between the simple ideas which participated in their formation.
The simple ideas are lost or no longer attended to in the eventual product. It
was this part-whole aspect of Mill's (1843) argument that would be taken up by
subsequent thinkers and mentioned in most subdisciplinary history books. E.G.
Boring's (1942) account of J.S. Mill, for instance, runs as follows:
whole is less, as well as more, than the sum of its parts. John Stuart
Mill had corrected his father on this point. Ideas, he had noted, combine in a
kind of mental chemistry, for the parts are lost in the compound which
also has properties that were not contained in the parts" (Boring, Sensation
and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology, 1942, p. 9; emphasis
is, however, a second, more exciting though implicit aspect contained in Mill's
(1843) use of the term "generated" which should also be highlighted
and drawn into our understanding of the proper methodology or methods to be used
in psychology. The formation of complex ideas from simple ones is a dynamic, transformative
and directional (rather than merely a passive mechanical or interactive) process
which contains its own internal motion. The simple ideas are not static
constituents of the mind which are forced into motion by some external event,
but are rather active participants in the generation of a complex idea. This aspect
of the argument, while sometimes recognized by later historical accounts was not
actually put into practice during the contemporaneous psychophysical or subsequent
disciplinary-building eras of psychological inquiry and we should be careful to
emphasize why this was so.
stated, part of the blame lies on Mill's own doorstep. There was an unsettling
and regrettable disparity between his initial use of the active (part-whole, generative)
mental chemistry analogy to account for the ontological aspects of "complex
ideas" (1843) and his own subsequent more epistemological "theory of
the object" presented some twenty-two years later (1865). So let's consider
this argumentative disparity.
his Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1865), Mill took
up the issue of formulating a "psychological" theory regarding our belief
in the external world:
see a piece of white paper on the table. I go into another room.... But, though
I have ceased to see it, I am persuaded that the paper is still there. I no longer
have the sensations which it gave me; but I believe that when I again place myself
in the circumstances in which I had those sensations, that is, when I go again
into the room, I shall again have them.... The conception I form of the world
existing at any moment, comprises, along with the sensations I am feeling, a countless
variety of possibilities of sensation.... These various possibilities are
the important thing to me in the world. My present sensations are generally
of little importance, and moreover are fugitive: the possibilities,
on the contrary, are permanent, which is the character that mainly distinguishes
our idea of Substance or Matter from our notion of sensation"
(J.S. Mill, 1865, Chap. 11; emphasis added).
this latter epistemological account, Mills seems to be attempting to maintain
an active representationist view consistent with his earlier ontological approach
and along the lines of Locke's theory of "reflection." But the static
aspect of the new account can be appreciated when we recognize that in his effort
to to explain how we maintain a previously "sensed" object in our consciousness,
Mill (like Hume regarding "self") is seeking out something which "persists."
Mill found this persistence in the "permanent" possibilities for sensation.
(1950) views this latter position as "modern" but he is completely wrong
on that count. Mill's theory is surely a return to the ultimately phenomenalist
search for an extra principle to account for the regularity of "fugitive"
sensations. In this case the extra principle is not God (as in Berkeley), but
the "permanent" possibility of revisiting or of expecting to experience
a given set of sensations.
in the intervening years between his two accounts, Mill went from utilizing an
initially tidy and concrete ontological analogy which emphasized the inherent
activeness and albeit indirectly perceived correspondence between objects and
ideas (1843), to a rather messy and abstract epistemological discussion of the
"distinction" between ideas of "matter" (as "possibility
of sensations") and the having of "sensations" (1865). We can look
back and wonder how very much easier it would have been for Mill to have simply
foregone that abstractness by adopting a direct realist account (along the lines
of Reid or Brown), but that particular possibility appears to have escaped Mill
typical historiographic procedure for dealing with this divergence between
Mill's two accounts has been to pay cursory lip-service to the whole-part aspect
of Mill's (1843) argument (regarding the irreducibility of the whole), -e.g.,
by suggesting that it was the source of Wundt's portrayal of perception "as
a complex or an integration" (Boring, 1950, p. 231)- and to then acquiesce
to Mill's (1865) sensationist position by advocating the use of methods which
reduce the active whole down to static sensory parts anyway. Thus, instead of
repudiating this later position, Boring embraces it and likens it to a forerunner
of Titchener's (1909) highly elementist "context" theory in which "a
potential [perceptual] context is... nothing else than a possibility of sensation
or image" (p. 233). What Boring is implying here is that even though
the "whole" (the "perceptual" products of the interaction
between sensory or image elements) and the active aspects of perceptual processes
are what we really want to understand, the de facto task of sensation psychology
is to systematically rediscover and measure the relatively elementary parts in
the hope of eventually putting Humpty
back together again. But as anyone who has heard the old nursery rhyme knows,
this is an impossible task even for all the king's horses and all the king's men!
outlined immediately below, the nearly hegemonic status of this supposed necessity
to use element-seeking procedural methods in psychology has very deep roots
going right back to the predisciplinary sensory research of Helmholtz. There are
also origins in the manner in which Wundt considered J.S. Mill's (part-whole,
generative) argument to apply to the circumscribed confines of his own "physiological"
experimental psychology. It bears mentioning here too that Wundt was teacher to
Titchener, who in turn was mentor to the young E.G. Boring in this respect. For
these and other reasons, early 20th century sensation psychologists such as S.S.
Stevens -who as we will see in Section
was influence by and exerted influence on Boring- routinely tore asunder
that which was initially claimed to be the subject matter under of investigation,
"active" human perception and thinking.
Vitalism, Fechner's Psychophysics, and Helmholtz on sensory elements
now turn to a heterogeneous group of three scientific figures who are located
precisely in the formative mid-through-late 19th century disciplinary gap
between philosophy of mind and the established science of psychology. They
were predominantly German, Continental, figures who while sensitive to the philosophical
gap left to them by Kant and Hume, were also scientists seeking a scientific-empirical
solution to the issues they considered as most pressing. For Johannes Müller
this meant focusing on the active (a.k.a., "vital") organism, for Gustav
Fechner it was "psycho-physical" relations, and for Hermann Helmholtz
it was a search for the "elements" of sensation.
In this era of research, the former predominantly epistemological debates (between
Hume, Berkeley, and Kant through to the two Mills) were informally bracketed (shelved
if you will) in favor of more empirical or procedural concerns. The primary
intellectual effort of these figures was directed toward how to carry out empirical
research into the mental-physical world relation, and they un-apologetically
utilize the methods of physiology, mathematics, and the physical sciences to investigate
questions regarding life-processes; organizational or active aspects of the perceptual
apparatus; and its material basis accordingly.
can look back upon the collective works of these three figures and observe that
their methodological decisions (their weighing of one assumption versus another)
were guided more considerably by the question of how to conduct physiological
or psycho-physical research rather than by the former philosophical (ontological
or epistemological) concerns of their intellectual predecessors. The main strength
of their work is that they each (to varying degrees) take up one or another aspect
of new advancements in early 19th century science. Their shared limitation is
that they are all proposing, either temporally or intellectually speaking, pre-evolutionary
approaches to the empirical investigation of mentality. Further, the respective
strengths and weaknesses of their work became the very starting point for Wundt's
initial methodological propositions regarding the scope and methods of his laboratory
based "physiological" psychology, so we will want to review the relevant
details in that regard.
was a German experimental physiologist. As the first "Professor of Physiology"
at the University of Berlin, he not only carried out laboratory research but also
attempted to draw together the empirical and theoretical advances made in the
life sciences to date. His major work Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen
[Handbook of Physiology of Humans] (Vol. 1 & 2, 183440), was translated
as Elements of Physiology (1843).
particularities of that work include: Müller's "Vitalism"
(a pre-evolutionary anti-reductive corrective to the new rise of mechanistic assumptions);
its elaboration on the "Doctrine of the Specific energies of Nerves"
(originally proposed by him in 1826); and its representationalism which acted
as an unfortunate foil to his otherwise progressive physiological account.
regard to understanding Müller's advocacy of vitalism (a life force which
accompanies the material aspects of physiology) we should note the "empirical
and theoretical" aspects of the pre-evolutionary intellectual context in
which it was proposed.
of all, the "empirical" (observational-experimental) aspects of physiological
research had been accruing steadily since the time of Descartes (1662) and the
later French materialists (La Mettrie, 1748; Cabanis, 1795). As indicated in the
above "Chronology of Reflex Action" (from Fearing, 1964), Müller
was one among many 18th-19th century figures to have tackled the issue of mechanical
versus human existence. Between Descartes and Hartley, for instance, 18
figures are listed; with 20 more up to Müller; and a further 17 up to the
time of Wundt.
physiological "theory" regarding the active organism had also progressed,
but only somewhat. By
Müller's time, for instance, it was considered rather passé
to attempt to avoid reductive mechanism (of the Hobbesian sort) by way of appeal
to "the immaterial soul" as in Descartes' interactive dualism. Similarly,
although it was still acceptable to adopt either the seemingly contradictory "self-winding
machines" argument of La Mettrie (1748); or even the explicitly agnostic
"psycho-physical parallelism" argument (a la Hartley, 1749) -for
each would allow empirical research to continue- it seemed far easier to many
of the younger early 19th century researchers to just assume a "materialist"
harmony and reciprocal organization of parts stance (after the manner of J.C.
Reil, 1795). This situation, however, was bothersome to Müller's systematic
mind and he set out on various occasions to advocate the virtues of a "vitalist"
recognized that contemporary empirical advances in the biological and physiological
sciences were bumping up against the boundaries of typical mechanistic-materialist
theoretical doctrines regarding the primary questions of life: "What distinguishes
a living organism?" "How does the mentality of animals differ from that
of human beings?" "How do higher voluntary actions differ from lower
reflexive ones?" Simply shelving the metaphysical aspects of these inquiries
in favor of carrying out research would not, in the long run, be the best course
for the new discipline of "physiology" to take because these larger
issues guide the structure of (and conclusions drawn from) that research.
specifically, Müller's, motive for his 1830s-40s appeals to some -as yet
unexplained- "vital" principle was that he recognized the nervous system
was in some respect prepared to meet the world. Human beings are not simply lumps
of inert matter waiting for something to come along and physically shove them
into motion, nor are they machines which require energy to be injected from an
external source, but are "active living substance." Similarly,
the perceptual apparatus used during such active life processes is itself not
simply a "passive receptacle" but has its own special properties which
physiology should set out to study and explain.
point of his vitalism is that the passive mechanistic view of the living human
being, and animals for that matter, was becoming increasingly inadequate in the
light of what was already known about living organisms. The organization of the
brain and nervous system in whole and in part had to be put there somehow and
for Müller, it was the appeal to a "vital principle" which fulfilled
this role albeit inadequately. Reil's (1795) strictly materialist account had
also recognized the importance of observing "organizational relations between
parts" but had remained mute as to the origin or importance of that organization
for understanding the activeness of the whole organisms under study. So, having
started out as a good Kantian, Müller rejects Reil's somewhat emergent materialist
the modern post-evolutionary reader, Müller's (1843) appeal to vitalism reminds
us of Anaxagoras
(his principle of "nous" as a special substance that is present only
in living beings). When we haven't got any other explanation of how something
got there, we can always draw upon some abstract principle like 'nous,' or in
this case, the 'vital' principle. It
is important to note, however, that Müller's principle of vitalism was stated
prior to Darwin's (1859) Origin of Species. After 1859, this kind
of solution would be both unnecessary and untenable. Müller's, as it happens,
was almost the last major call for a vitalistic principle. After 1859 the solution
became obvious to all concerned that how this kind of organization got there was
through some kind of selective evolutionary process. Only then did it became possible
to account for such active life processes in an emergent
(rather than a mechanistic materialist) manner.
was not at all uncommon for the senior physiological researchers of Müller's
time to insist upon a "vital principle" because they could not see how
such organization, which they were beginning to understand quite well, could have
come about otherwise. After 1859 this sort of idea would not occur again because
-whether they understood the theoretical details or not- the newer generation
of practicing physiological scientists recognized that (with a general concept
of evolution) we could conceivably account for how the organization got there
and therefore account for life itself without any need for an extra appeal to
next major point regarding Müller's (1834-40) account, is to understand how
his adoption of representationalism undermined the potential explanatory impact
of his major life contribution to physiology "the Doctrine of the Specific
energy of nerves." What
we have in Müller is a correct account of what nerves do, which is
embedded within an incorrect and counterproductive indirect theory of perception.
the older (mystical-theological) "incorporeal copy" theory of the nerves
(a la Descartes, 1662) -which portrays them as passive, indiscriminate
conduits through which immaterial copies (a.k.a., images) of objects pass into
the soul,- Müller proposed a relatively more ontologically materialist, active,
and selective alternative. This specific energy of nerves doctrine (as he called
it) states simply that: Stimulation of a given nerve produces only one form of
sensation regardless of how it is stimulated. Under
conditions of natural (everyday) stimulation, each of the five sensory modalities
is "specific" in that each is responsive to its own kind of stimulation.
Further, under the exceptional conditions of illness, injury, or artificial electrical
stimulation the resulting experience is specific to the nerve which is stimulated.
should note here that Müller's role in proposing and elaborating the
doctrine (1826 and 1843 respectively) was one of drawing together the results
of a long chain of basic neurological observations under a single label. The examples
he uses reflect the empirical gains and past efforts of many other figures. With
regard to the optic nerve: electrical stimulation; pressing the eyes mechanically
in the dark; and blows to the head all stimulate experience of light. Likewise,
the auditory nerve will conduct only one kind of energy (sound energy) and it
doesn't matter how it is stimulated that's what is produced. Humming of the ears,
for instance, is produced when the ear becomes infected as well as under conditions
of electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve in the laboratory. In other words,
Müller's doctrine argues that "copies of objects" per se do not
enter (passively or otherwise) into the mind, but rather that the nerves provide
us with specific "information" about the world around us in an active
and rather selective manner.
are the fundamentally correct aspects of his "selective irritability"
doctrine regarding the nerves. The actual discursive manner in which the doctrine
was stated, however, was highly problematic. In short, the potential emergent
materialist implications of the doctrine are completely undermined by Müller's
adoption of an indirect theory of perception so we will have to cover the details
of his epistemological account (as well as their immediate disciplinary aftermath)
before elaborating those implications.
was a representationalist but he wasn't alone in adopting this position. We don't,
in fact, find anyone overcoming this aspect of his work for some time to come;
even Darwin doesn't do that. More immediately, this indirect theory is a common
theoretical problem for all three of the main transitional 19th century figures
we are currently considering (Müller, Fechner, and Helmholtz). Being representationalists
they are unable to bridge that gap between the thing-as-known and the thing-in-itself.
But from a scientific psychological point of view bridging this gap is quite important.
All three of these figures intuit that the gap is both bridged in actual life
and thus potentially bridgeable in theory. The old "being versus discourse"
dialectic was recognized but despite their successive efforts to do so, none of
them found the way. Understanding the details of Müller vs. Fechner, vs.
Helmholtz in this respect will therefore be highly instructive.
regard to Müller's particular approach to perception what interests us most
is that although the three functional stages he postulates are an active version
of Locke's methodologically materialist (outside inward) account, the crucial
structural aspect (the assumed a priori status of the nervous system) is
rather Kantian because it is through the nerves that the mind is prepared to meet
the world as it were.
of all with regard to the functional aspects, Müller portrayed perception
as a physiological version of Locke's three stage theory. The names for his three
stages (as depicted below) are identified a little differently but their general
functional relationship (from outside inward) conforms to that of Locke:
(outer to inner) function of Müller's three stages theory of perception:
1= External nature; 2 = Senses (including the specific energy of "material"
nerves); 3 =the Sensorium (which is conceived of as an active perceiving mind
however, we have already seen (in Section
2) that the old Lockean empiricism does not stand up very well on its own.
This was what Berkeley and particularly Hume had pointed out to us. Kant then
came along to "save empirical science" from skepticism by postulating
rational "categories" of understanding because without some sort of
fundamental reciprocity between mind and world we can not account for the order
and necessity of our experience. Kant, therefore, attempted to account for such
order by showing how perceptual order is impressed upon worldly experience by
the a priori categories of understanding.
Kant such order and necessity comes from inside the mind. Similarly, Müller's
account of the structural aspects of perception, fit right in here with
the Kantian view because his order and necessity are also going to come from inside:
They are going to be "given" by the nerves. From a structural perspective,
then, Müller's doctrine of specific energy of nerves will be a physiological
or anatomical equivalent of the sort of thing that Kant was taking about.
As R.I. Watson (1979) pointed out: "Müller saw his doctrine as supporting
the nativistic views of Kant about that which we perceive. After all, what is
more innate than the nervous system itself?" (p. 104).
the aid of evolutionary theory to back him up, Müller ran into considerable
difficulties while walking the fine line between Lockean and Kantian accounts.
Note, for instance, that according to the above diagram the nerves are portrayed
as material "intermediaries" between perceived objects and the mind
(Sensorium). Further, according to Müller, it is this very "materiality"
of the nerves which guarantees the functional reciprocity between the "Sensorium"
and external material nature. This is the strongest aspect of Müller's epistemological
position and the modern reader might be tempted to assume therefore that he would
simply adopt an explicit direct realism (along the lines of Reid or Brown); but
not so in the case of Müller!
his actual epistemological account of what is immediately perceived does not name
objects but rather the "conditions of the nerves." Through Müller's
embedding of the specific energy of nerves inside an indirect realist
account, he initially asserts what can be read as a typically representationalist
conclusion; the denial of direct contact with "external bodies" as follows:
consists in the sensorium receiving through the medium of the nerves, and
as the result of the action of an external cause, a knowledge of certain qualities
or conditions, not of external bodies, but of the nerves of sense themselves;
and these qualities of the nerves of sense are in all different, the nerve of
each sense having its own peculiar quality or energy" (Müller, Elements
of Physiology, 1843; Vol. 2, Bk. 5, Pt. V; emphasis added).
to him, what we are "immediately" perceiving is not the world per se
but "certain qualities or conditions" of our nerves. Well, Socrates
said, "Know thyself," but he didn't know that he was talking about the
however, later clarifies this seemingly solipsistic basic position and attempts
to reassert our contact with the world by way of calling attention to the "materiality"
of the nerves:
immediate objects of the perception of our senses are merely particular
states induced in the nerves, and felt as sensations either by the nerves themselves
or by the sensorium, but inasmuch as the nerves of the senses are material
bodies, and therefore participate in the properties of matter generally occupying
space, being susceptible of vibratory motion, and capable of being changed chemically
as well as by the action of heat and electricity, they make known to the sensorium
[or brain], by virtue of the changes thus produced in them by external causes,
not merely their own condition, but also properties and changes of condition
of external bodies. The information thus obtained by the senses concerning
external nature, varies in each sense, having a relation to the qualities
or energies of the nerve" (Müller, Elements of Physiology, 1843;
Vol. 2, Bk. 5, Pt. VIII; emphasis added).
argument is that because the nervous system itself is "material," it
provides us with a way of contacting the matter 'out there.' In his terms, the
nerves are giving us "information" about "external bodies."
Again, there is an element of truth to Müller's appeal to the materiality
of nerves as guaranteeing reciprocity between the perceiver and the world, which
I don't think anyone (especially Müller) would wish to deny. That is, when
we come into the world, we are born with a particular kind of nervous system that
does prepare us to receive the world in a particular way.
question at issue, however, is whether such a nervous system allows us to perceive
the world per se or simply allows us to construct the world in our own heads.
By adopting an indirect realist position to epistemology, Müller was initially
forced into discursive language which implies the latter position. Müller's
theory of perception is Kantian in that we only have direct access to the phenomena
of the nerves. It is also as indirect as that of Locke's appeal to "experience",
or Hume's appeal to "sensual image plus habit", and therefore runs into
the same logical reductio.
the final analysis, Müller becomes rather desperate to make that connection
to the world, because he knows that if there is no such connection, the whole
science of physiology goes out the window. Being couched within representationalism,
however, his argument is circular, self-contradictory and dogmatic. If we adhere
strictly to the logic of his epistemology all we can really know is the particularities
of Müller's own nerves. So his adoption of an indirect realism augmented
by an appeal to the materiality of the nerves doesn't work. It is still left with
the tension between the real and perceived world handed down to physiology
by Hume and Kant.
doesn't solve the problem of knowledge but at least he made an attempt. Müller's
particular contributions to later disciplinary developments include his
anti-mechanistic position regarding physiology; his account of the selective
irritability of the nerves; and his day to day professorial role in teaching laboratory
skills to a new generation of researchers (such as Th. Schwann, R. Virchow,
Helmholtz, and Emil DuBois-Raymond) who would in turn became notable founding
figures in "neuropsychology."
it should be noted that although Müller seems to have implicitly favored
the nerves as the "seat" of the selectivity of sensation, he was also
careful enough to defer explicit judgment on that issue for it would have gone
beyond the available contemporary evidence. Subsequent modern research would show
that it is not the properties of the nerves themselves per se but rather their
normal functional relationship with the particular brain centers at which they
terminate that is the decisive source of their specificity. In other words, peripheral
and central nerves can now be transplanted in lower animals and they function
relatively normally in their new location.
sum up our coverage of Müller: While his twin doctrines of vitalism
and the specific energy of nerves did much to focus the research interests of
most physiologists on an active organism; his adoption of an indirect realist
theory of perception did much to focus others' attention away from appeal to
objects and toward the mathematical measurement of so-called psycho-physical
(Weber-Fechner) or sensory (Helmholtz) elements. Notice
that the problem which Kant had drawn our attention to was the problem of sensation.
tried to provide an approach which would bridge the gap between the organism and
the world but failed.
the aftermath of Müller, Fechner's "psycho-physics" will make a
similar attempt, while Helmholtz (in contradistinction to both attempts) believed
more modestly that if we could just find a way to measure sensation better, perhaps
these metaphysical issues would work themselves out eventually. But before moving
on to Helmholtz, we should first give some account of the advancement of so-called
psychophysics by mentioning the positions of Weber and Fechner.
in Wittemburg, Germany, the third of 13 children, Weber received his doctorate
in physiology from the University of Leipzig in 1815. He began teaching there
immediately after graduation and continued until retiring in 1871.
was a fairly inauspicious gentleman who began his career by carrying out basic
physiological research measuring the smallest "noticeable distance"
between two points for touch sensation on various parts of the body. Later,
however, he carried out research regarding the somewhat more complicated issue
of "sense discriminations" (judgments) of weight; successively presented
line lengths; and illumination. While
these findings were all reported by him in a Latin language booklet (1834), it
was not until his Handworterbuck der Physiologie [Handbook of Physiology]
(1846) that they attracted much attention. Further, Weber's main importance for
us is that the more complicated aspects of his research helped set the stage for
Gustuv Fechner (1860) to officially launch the new field of "psycho-physics."
the simplest aspects of his cutaneous (skin) sensation research, Weber used the
dulled points of a standard compass to find that the "two-point threshold"
on the skin varied with the body part investigated. The threshold for the
tip of the tongue (1 mm), for instance, was found to be more than fifty times
as precise as that of the upper arm or thigh; and similarly, that the back had
the largest two-point threshold (60 mm). Later, he explained these results by
suggesting that the skin is divided into areas ("sensory circles") with
the respective sensitivity of any specific area corresponding directly to the
relative distribution of the nerve endings in that area (1852).
the more complicated, seminal, aspects of his research, Weber (1834) also reported
carrying out "just noticeable differences" (JND) research for
judgments of weights under two conditions. In the first condition, weights passively
rested on the hand of a subject. In the second condition, the weights were actively
handled by the subject. Two important discoveries were forthcoming: (1) that active
perception is finer than passive perception; and (2) that the JND in both conditions
was always a "constant fraction" of the basic noticeable increment of
elaborate on the first discovery, Weber wanted to know "how much heavier"
does the second weight have to be before it is judged to be different from the
first. Under the condition of passive judgments, where the weight is simply placed
on the subject's hand, the difference has to be fairly large (1 part in 30). But
under conditions of active discrimination, where the weights are picked up by
the subject, the required difference is considerably smaller (1 part in 40). We
gain more discriminating information from our active perceptual activity. This
was the first empirically measured indication that such active perceptual discrimination
elaborate on the second discovery, each subsequent detectable increase in weight
sensation occurs only when the basic incremental difference for that modality
has been surpassed. Double the weight, double the required increment of increase
in weight; half the weight, halve the required increment. For instance, in the
second active condition of weight discrimination, if you are holding a 40 pound
weight in one hand, you will be able to recognize that a 41 pound weight in the
other hand is in fact different by hefting it upward. But if the first weight
is 20 pounds, you could detect a mere half pound difference. In other words, with
regard to active weight discriminations, we can recognize a 1/40 difference, whatever
the particular weights involved are. Weber's point was that the same relative
"ratio" is "constant" across comparisons of the same kind.
Weber presented empirical evidence that this observational regularity was not
just peculiar to weight judgments but also generalized to visual judgments regarding
lines presented successively; as well to judgments of luminosity; and he further
stipulated that it might also apply to other senses like sound too.
"I have shown...
that one can still perceive a difference between two lines when one is 100 millimeters
long and the other 101, so that the difference is 1/100 of the length of the constant
line, but that the lines seem to be equal if the difference is still less, e.g.
when one line is 100 millimeters and the other 100.5. Under these circumstances
one does not perceive the .5 millimeter by which one line is longer than the other.
But under other circumstances, e.g., if one line is 4 millimeters long and the
other 4.5, one perceives the difference of .5 millimeter very clearly. From this
we see that with lengths, just as with weights, we perceive in comparison not
the absolute but the relative difference -a fact which can also be confirmed
in hearing, and from which one can draw a number of conclusions as to how we go
about comparing two magnitudes by means of our senses...." (Weber, 1835,
In Diamond, 1974; emphasis added).
(1835) suggests the perceived difference between the two experimentally presented
sensory stimuli is dependent not upon the "absolute" size of the difference
but upon the "relative" ratio of difference of the "constant standard"
for that particular sensory modality (e.g., 1/40 for active weight discriminations;
1/10 for illumination, and 1/100 for visual line judgments).
empirical regularity was later labeled by Fechner (1860) as "Webers
law" or the Weber "fraction" and was given a formal generalized
mathematical expression as follows: dR /R = k, which means simply that
the proportion of the minimum detectable change (dR) to the strength (size) of
the stimulus (R) is a constant (k) across varying levels of intensity (with R
standing for "Reiz" in German, meaning stimulus). What is constant is
the ratio between the basic stimulus size (e.g., weight, line length, or
luminosity) and the extra amount required to bring a discrimination of change
anticipating later refinements, we should mention here that although this "constant"
ratio holds true for a wide range of medium intensities it was eventually
found to break down for very low and for very high intensities. So, today's psychophysicists
have much more complicated formulas to account for these extreme conditions.
though Weber considered his observational generalization as important as any other
empirical physiological regularity, he did not consider it as having any far reaching
philosophical significance. Gustav Fechner, however, places it in the very center
of a new psychological movement:
Fechner, its significance lay in the fact that it revealed a connection between
the physical and the psychical -an exact mathematical relationship- and a connection
of some sort between the two worlds was what Fechner had been seeking for long,
anxious years with all the terrible earnestness of his unity-loving nature"
(Heidbreder, 1933, p. 79).
receiving an MD in 1822 at the University of Leipzig, where Weber had been teaching
physiology since 1815, young Fechner initially failed to receive any official
position in physiology and made ends meet by translating various physics textbooks
(from French to German). This, in turn, led to a teaching position in physics
at Leipzig from 1824-1839. At that point, however, he fell into 11 years of depression
until October of 1850 when he believed he had found a "psycho-physical"
basis for a spiritualist philosophy of science.
this middle depressive period, in which he was wrestling with the problem which
Kant had left us (the supposed disconnect between the perceiver and the world),
Fechner was initially influenced by Schelling
who considered philosophy as the science of the absolute in its double manifestation:
nature and mind. Fechner was then rather profoundly influenced by Weber's (1846)
modest summary of his basically empirical work -especially the mathematical constant
which Fechner now labeled "Weber's Law."
suggested that the true significance of this empirical law lay not in its mere
empirical-descriptive aspects but in the methodological realm. For according to
him, it revealed a long sought after connection between the physical and the psychical.
Fechner's Elements of Psychophysics (1860) was the culminative summary
of his own work during this period, and while it did not immediately (or even
ultimately) "turn the world's ear" toward his philosophical view, it
did spur others including Helmholtz, Volkmann, and then S.S. Stevens onto their
elaborations of psychophysical measurement.
major preoccupation during his personal depressive phase was with finding a way
to establish a relationship between the seemingly separate physical-scientific
and the spiritual-ethical world views. Here he was influenced by Schelling
like Fichte, was part of that whole turn of events in philosophy which followed
from Kant's supposedly unresolvable antinomies. Schelling and Fichte rejected
Kant's convenient appeal to merely logical antinomies and pointed out that in
"practical" terms all philosophers and scientists are required to abide
by the "theoretical
imperative" -they must take a stand on controversial issues instead of
just living with them as ultimately unresolvable quandaries. In considering this
post-Kantian period of philosophy Ilyenkov (1977) encapsulates it into what he
calls the "monistic strivings" of the times. This was a period in which
figures like Schelling and Fichte are attempting to work out a "unitary conception"
of the world which overcomes the logical quandaries of the past:
the point that divided Fichte and Schelling from Kant; the intellectual culture
of humanity cannot lie eternally like Buridans ass between two equally
logical systems of ideas about the most important things in life. Mankind has,
in practice, to act, to live; but it is impossible to act simultaneously
in accordance with two opposing systems of recommendations. We are forced to
choose one of them and then to act strictly in the spirit of its principles.
himself, it is true, demonstrated in his last works that the arguments of practical
reason must all the same tip the scales in favor of one system or the other,
although on a purely theoretical plane they are absolutely equal. But with him
this theme only broke through as one of the trends of his thinking, while Fichte
and Schelling transformed it into the starting point of all their meditations.
Hence the slogan about victory, too, in the theoretical sphere. One of
the clashing logical conceptions must still prevail over the other, its opposite,
and for that it must be reinforced by arguments no longer of a purely logical,
rather purely scholastic quality, but armed with practical (moral and aesthetic)
advantages as well. Then it was assured of victory, and not simply of the
right and the chance of waging an eternal academic dispute" (Ilyenkov,
Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and Theory, 1977, Chap. 4, Pt. II;
regard to how these "monistic strivings" were picked up by Fechner as
a basis for scientific psychophysical investigations, we can not do better than
to turn directly to Edna Heidbreder's masterful account:
"But if psychology
is looking for a picturesque ancestor, it can hardly make a happier choice than
Fechner, a simple, subtle, profoundly learned man, in the grip of an irresistible
impulse to take ideas seriously, and utterly at the mercy of his intellectual
sincerity. Fechner was at once a scientist and a mystic. Torn by rival intellectual
claims, he was totally incapable of giving up one for the other and equally
incapable of peace without victory....
only was he thoroughly conversant with the science of his day; he was profoundly
impressed, both emotionally and intellectually, by science as such -by its exact
and rigorous methods, by the orderly nature of the world it it revealed. He found
its views and its ways impossible to ignore. But over against the world of
science he set the world of values, which [empirical] science did not
heed, but which he found equally real, equally legitimate, and equally compelling
as an object of intellectual concern. In his youth, Fechner had been deeply impressed
by the philosophy of Schelling and the experience left him with a lasting sense
that to ignore the immediate appeal of life and mind was to turn aside
from immediately felt reality....
the strain his health gave way but in spite of his illness, he conducted experiments
on positive afterimages -borderline phenomena, it is to be noted, between the
mental and the physical worlds. In doing so he injured his eyes nearly to the
point of blindness. His health broke completely. He resigned his position and
lived for three years almost completely cut off from the world, a victim of illness,
pain, and depression....
recovered, ... on the morning of October 22, 1850... [when] he came upon an idea
that satisfied both the scientific and the humanistic demands of his nature.
It occurred to him that there might be an observable, even measurable relationship
between the stimulus and the sensation and therefore between the physical and
the mental worlds.... It is possible, then, that sensation may increase in arithmetical
progression as the stimulus increases in geometrical progression. Sensation itself
cannot be measured directly, but the stimulus can, and it may be possible to show
that an increase in the stimulus by a constant fraction of itself is regularly
correlated with every discernible increase in the sensation. In other words, an
exact quantitative relation may be found between the physical and the mental worlds.
To Fechner, the conception was an utterly satisfying one; if confirmed, it would
bind together what had seemed disconnected and irreconcilable; it would give
him the sense of world-unity that he had always craved -a world-unity,
moreover, that he would be able to demonstrate by exact, mathematical evidence"
pp. 79-81; emphasis added).
should note that Heidbreder's use of terms like "victory, rival claims, values,
and unity" are not accidental. They reflect the continuing disciplinary situation
which Fechner was facing and attempting to surmount. She also does a very good
job of relating Fechner's enthusiasm and genuine concern on issues which concern
us all, including the issue of the possibility of psychology "as a science."
in particular, had claimed that psychology could never become a science because
mind could not be subjected to "mathematical or experimental" methods
of investigation. The activities and the contents of the mind could not be "measured,"
and therefore an objectivity such as that achieved in physics and chemistry was
out of reach. Psychology would forever remain subjective. Fechner's (1860) counter-argument
was that since psychological events are in fact tied to measurable physical events
in a systematic and predictable way, psychology could be a science after all!
specific means of Fechner's solution was to convert "Weber's constant"
into an equation which is now known as the Weber-Fechner law (S = k log R) -with
sensation on one side and stimulus on the other. More specifically, S and R stand
for German words, where S is sensation (not stimulus) and R is "rinem,"
stimulus (not response). Thus, reasoned Fechner, any given sensation could be
predicted as equivalent to the constant (k, or the Weber fraction determined empirically
for that sense modality), times the logarithm of the particular stimulus in question.
The equation, Sensation=k log R(Stimulus), says literally that the strength of
a mental sensation equals a constant logarithmic (mathematical) function of the
strength of the stimulus. In other words, it says that as the discriminated 'mental
series' increases arithmetically, the 'stimulus series' must increase geometrically.
important thing for us, however, is not to get bogged down in these specific details,
but to recognize that this formula was intended by Fechner as a "mathematical
bridge" between the object (stimulus) on the one side and the
perceived sensation on the other. He believed he had thereby overcome the
Kantian epistemological object-subject dualism. What he actually did, however,
is replace it with a psychophysical version of double-aspect
theory in which the strength of unobservable mental events would be physicalized
operationally by way of mathematics. This is a description of, and means of predicting,
the strength of the resulting isolated sensations arising from a given laboratory
situation, but it is hardly an explanatory account of the nature of those sensations
as they occur to or function within the perceiving organism. Fechner's equation
simply defines the "sensation end" of the formula in terms of the "stimulus
end." It does not state the practical, developmental, or organismic relations
in the case of Müller, what we can appreciate most about Fechner is his recognition
of and motivation to find a solution for the methodological (subject-object)
problem, but we must also acknowledge that given the pre-evolutionary context
of his thought, he was unable to resolve it sufficiently. Subsequent workers in
psychophysics (including Helmholtz) would consequently abandon Fechner's wider
"metaphysical" concerns and concentrate instead on the more myopic pursuits
of measuring what they could.
mathematical-measurement side of Fechner's efforts (the belief that one can measure
specific psychological characteristics albeit indirectly and perhaps learn
something about them) can be said to have helped stimulate subsequent experimental
psychology and individual differences research. I suppose, however, that it is
just as apt to close our coverage of Fechner by mentioning that this was just
the sort of empirical-experimental psychology which the quintessential late 19th
century evolutionary thinker William James (1890; 1892) found so very sterile
and dull (see Section
in Potsdam (near Berlin) to parents of modest teaching and military backgrounds,
young Hermann showed early promise in physics, but was trained as a surgeon at
the Berlin Institute in exchange for service to the Prussian Army. During this
period of training (1838-1842) Helmholtz studied physiology under Johannes Müller
(then at the height of his institutional power), and actively mixed with Müller's
University of Berlin students. It was at this time that Helmholtz established
long-lasting relationships with DuBois-Raymond, Virchow and Ludwig who all swore
to reject vitalism.
serving out his military obligation in Potsdam, Helmholtz set up a makeshift physiological
laboratory. Due to the wider import of his initial research (on metabolic processes
in frogs) as well as his active discursive role (1847) in the ongoing emergence
of the conservation of energy doctrine, Helmholtz was released early from Army
service. Between 1849 and 1871, he went on to three professorships in physiology.
At Königsberg (Kant's university) he both measured the rate of nervous impulse
(in frogs and humans) and invented the ophthalmoscope (1851). At Bonn (1856-1858)
he extended his interests to acoustics. During a longer stay at Heidelberg he
proposed the Young-Helmholtz theory of color vision (1860) and the resonance theory
of hearing (1863). In 1871, however, Helmholtz was finally appointed to the University
of Berlin (in physics) where he occupied himself with the further application
of the conservation law to the areas of hydrodynamics and electrodynamics.
will consider four aspects of his approach to the physiology of the senses: (1)
his rejection of vitalism in favor of a reductive experimental-materialist
account of nervous impulse and sensory transduction; (2) his adoption of an indirect
realist "enrichment" theory of perception -whereby undifferentiated
sensory elements plus unconscious inference are said to establish contact with
the world; (3) his rationale for favoring "empiricism" rather
than nativism regarding perception of space; and (4) his disciplinary import for
later developments including the limiting of empirical method to well-trained,
immobile, adult human subjects.
J. Gibson's (1966, 1979) direct realist "differentiation" theory
of perception will also be introduced here as a basis upon which to surmount the
difficulties of points 1-4 above, as well as to provide a standard by which we
can then evaluate post-Helmholtzian disciplinary debates in Wundt, Külpe,
and Titchener regarding the issue of higher mental processes. For to really understand
Helmholtz is to understand the initial means by which active, everyday, natural
observers looking around or listening to objects in the world become
analytically reduced to passive, constrained, though well-trained "observers
of sensory elements" (looking at, or receiving auditory stimulation
from laboratory apparatus).
in his Berlin student days, Helmholtz entered into an antivitalist alliance called
the "Physicalist Club" and promised to
appeal to "No other forces than common physical-chemical ones... within the
organism." This was to be a reductive "physiological" rather
than a mechanical materialist position. Its aim would be to apply the "law
of the conservation of energy" (i.e., that energy could be transformed from
one state to another, but never created or destroyed) to "living organisms."
in opposition to the nativist structural aspect of Müller's position
on perception (which seemingly locked the organism into a loop of reference merely
to its own nervous energies), Helmholtz would adopt a practically guided Lockean
position which "got on with the job" of empirically investigating the
senses without becoming mired in the metaphysical debates of German philosophy.
As Boring (1950) points out, Helmholtz was more "British" than German
in this aspect of his basic methodological assumptions. His was to be an
experimental-physiological account of both the rate of nervous impulse
and sensory transduction which appealed to no mysterious vital force or
questions Helmholtz asked were essentially empirical: "How fast is the neural
impulse of motor versus the sensory nerves?"; "By what means
is physical energy from objects transduced in the senses of vision and hearing?";
and "Is perception of space learned or given to the senses innately?"
With regard to the first two questions, we should note upfront that they are relatively
straightforward matters of experimental evidence which Helmholtz answered very
well. The latter question, however, was framed within an implicitly held enrichment
theory of perception which he shared with his nativist opponents and therefore
was not answered well by Helmholtz or by many others who followed.
of nervous conduction
Helmholtz, casting off the belief in any ubiquitous non-material force led him
to question Müller's unexamined position that the brain delivered willful
commands to the muscles in an instantaneous unmeasurable manner. The immediate
impetus for his empirical interest in this issue of nerve conduction rate was
the theory of DuBois-Raymond (1845) -a fellow Physicalist Club member- who suggested
that if the nervous impulse involved a physical-chemical transduction rather than
an immaterial act of will, it might also take enough time to be measurable.
1850 Helmholtz was measuring the rate of impulse in the motor nerve of
severed frog legs. This was done by setting up a laboratory galvanometer with
a known rate of deflection of its needle so that it is switched-on when the nerve
is stimulated and switched-off when leg contraction disconnects the circuit. Thus,
deflection of the galvanic needle provided a time interval for each of the successive
stimulations applied at known distances along that motor nerve. A simple mathematical
computation of known distance versus known time-lapse could then be worked out
to establish the average rate it took for the impulse to traverse each distance:
"I have found
that there is a measurable period of time during which the effect of a stimulus
consisting of a momentary electrical current applied to the iliac plexus of a
frog is transmitted to the calf muscles at the entrance of the carrel nerve....
the stimulation of the nerve was given by means of an induction coil. By means
of a special mechanical device, a second electrical current was transmitted to
a galvanometer at the moment the original current was transmitted to the induction
coil.... The current flowed through the induction coil until the stimulated gastrocnemious
muscle had contracted sufficiently to lift a weight... The lifting of the weight
interrupted the current to the induction coil and to the galvanometer. The duration
of the current, therefore, was exactly equal to the period elapsing from the application
of the stimulation of the nerve to the commencement of the mechanical reaction
of the muscle" (Helmholtz, 1850, In W. Dennis, 1948, Readings in the History
of Psychology, p. 197).
the results fairly regular and consistent, Helmholtz estimated the overall average
speed of the frog's motor nerve conduction to be about 30 meters per second. Baxt
(1867) modified the procedure for human subjects estimating the rate of motor
impulse at about 33 meters per second. This was done by stimulating the nerve
to the ball of the thumb, either at the wrist or above the elbow (thereby producing
a twitch), while the hand, forearm and elbow were held motionless in a plaster
back at Königsberg, Helmholtz had already moved to the more tricky task of
measuring sensory nerve conduction in intact human subjects. This was done by
way of stimulating the toe or thigh (respectively) and having the subjects 'report'
(by pressing a telegraph key) as soon as they detected each stimulation. The results
were so variable that Helmholtz declined to make any proclamation on the speed
of sensory nerves. It was only later that F.C. Donders (1868), -who had initially
set out in searching for a universal mathematical psychological constant similar
to that of Newton's law of gravity- distinguished between simple discrimination
and choice reaction times (which he found to increase in duration and variability
respectively). In other words, the task of estimating sensory nerve impulse rates
turned out to be far more complex than first anticipated.
aside from having obtained a positive answer to the old Kantian question regarding
measurement ("Can we measure psychic events?"), the most important
methodological generalization made from this Helmholtzian era research was
that the merely additive model doesn't work. It was too simplistic to cover
the observed irregularities of the measurements made. More complex mathematical
and theoretical models of the nervous system (those beyond the scope of the contemporaneous
pre-evolutionary knowledge) would be required to account for the observed empirical
variability of such data.
however, was content to put aside these deeper methodological considerations (for
later analysis by others), and moved on instead to a closer consideration of the
anatomical-physiological aspects of sensory transduction in particular. For, unlike
Fechner or Donders "Helmholtz was not given to brooding about the unity of
the universe. He wanted to know, among many other things, exactly how the eye
and the ear worked... [So] he invented apparatus, devised experimental methods,
and constructed theories [accordingly]" (Heidbreder, 1933, p. 85).
of sensory transduction
of getting bogged down in metaphysics, Helmholtz held to the attitude that the
more we learn about sensation the better; and, further, that perhaps by virtue
of carrying out empirical research (and by proposing albeit contentually circumscribed
theories), the metaphysical issues might someday resolve themselves. His two major
works along this line of inquiry (Treatise on Physiological Optics, 1856-1866;
and Sensations of Tone, 1863/1875), therefore, are characterized by a convenient
convergence of the physiological, philosophical, and experimental traditions of
empiricism as they applied specifically to the empirical aspects of sensory transduction.
the experimental aspects of these works foreshadow the Wundtian laboratory
psychology to follow, their equally prevalent reductive sensory-element aspects
were then picked up by E.B. Titchener, brought over to America, and still live
on in the contemporary (and highly problematic) subdiscipline called "Sensory
Processes." As for the philosophical assumptions, they remained muted in
Helmholtz and became unquestioned in the subsequent North American elaboration.
They did not, however, go away. Nor did they resolve themselves as Helmholtz had
hoped. So, we will want to understand a bit about each of these 'experimental,
reductive, and philosophical' aspects as we proceed.
primary and explicit focus of the Helmholtzian empirical research was on the distinctly
physiological investigation of sensory transduction in the retina (of the eye)
and in the cochlear membrane (of the ear) respectively. In part, this empirical
focus was an extension of Müller's "specific energies of nerves"
hypothesis to the qualities of particular sensory modalities. In other words,
both his trichromatic
theory of retinal transduction and his resonance
theory of auditory transduction were posed as accounts of how physical energy
was being transduced into the neural energy of Müller. This is all
well and good (as far as it goes); and his account of such sensory transduction
still holds up relatively well today.
optics versus psychology
issue for us, however, is to recognize that in his initial attempts to apply the
procedures of the physiological laboratory to psychological topics, certain problematic
assumptions were imbedded in the way Helmholtz laid out the respective tasks to
be addressed by the physicist, physiologist, and psychologist. Helmholtz
(1866) certainly recognized that there must be a division of labor in the science
of the senses and (as Brauns, 1997, points out) he laid out this division as follows:
physical optics deals with the 'pathway of light in the eye' and physiological
optics focuses on the 'theory of sensations in the visual apparatus,' psychology
is concerned with 'the theoretical understanding of visual sensations, including
the ideas, which are developed about objects in the external world on the basis
of visual sensations'" (Helmholtz, 1856-1866, p. 30; as quoted in Brauns,
1997, p. 109).
work of Helmholtz shines brightly with regard to the first two tasks outlined
above, but it is in the definition of the latter psychological task as
well as in the limitations on method imposed by that definition where the problems
of his admittedly early account reside. Stated plainly, we are about to show that
his definition of the psychological task starts from a rather reductive assumption
that perception is built up from sensory elements and, further, that the indirect
(enrichment) theory of perception which he adopts as a result of this definition
imposes (in turn) unwarrantable limitations on both his account of proper experimental
method and on his application of this method to specific psychological topics
like space perception.
We must, therefore, highlight these implied aspects of his work in a manner which
Helmholtz would not have been able, or perhaps even willing, to do himself.
realist (enrichment) position
off, Helmholtz takes it for granted that perception is built up from combinations
of sensory elements which are concurrently supplemented with intellectual
qualities (along the line of Locke's secondary qualities). Perception,
he suggests, begins with simple undifferentiated sensations received rather passively
through anatomical channels in the sensory apparatus of both humans and animals.
But as Gibson (1966) would later point out, whenever the world is considered
as not directly revealed to us but only signified indirectly through undifferentiated
sensory elements, some additional intellectualizing principle is required
to get out there to the external world. In order to avoid being trapped
in the old philosophical 'barrier of the senses,' therefore, Helmholtz suggests
that elementary sensory elements are supplemented by unconscious inferences
which attribute these elements to external objects:
general rule... whenever an impression is made on the eye, with or without the
aid of optical instruments [(spectacles, telescope, or microscope)], is that such
objects are always imagined as being present in the field of vision as would have
to be there ... under ordinary normal conditions.... The psychic activities that
lead us to infer that there in front of us at a certain place there is a certain
object of a certain character, are generally not conscious activities, but unconscious
ones. In their result they are equivalent to a [logical] conclusion.... But, moreover,
just because they are not free acts of conscious thought, these unconscious conclusions
from analogy are irresistible, and the effect of them cannot be overcome
by a better understanding of the real relations" (Helmholtz, 1866; In Herrnstein
& Boring, 1966).
that according to Helmholtz, the "real relations" means simply that
sensations and not objects are the stuff to which our perceptual apparatus
(retinas, choclear membrane, etc.) refers; and that he is also implying that while
this is especially true in the physiological vision laboratory, it is also true
of "ordinary normal conditions" in everyday life. It
is in this manner that Helmholtz presents his rather static, anatomically fixated
account of perception which retains an albeit intellectually qualified indirect
Boring (1950) pointed out, this is an account of perception which is very similar
to that of J.S. Mill's (1865) -where perception is defined as the "permanent
possibilities for sensation." Having made this cogent observation, Boring
promptly drops the matter (p. 313). Indeed, until relatively recently (with Gibson's
respective 1966 and 1979 critiques) this sort of indirect account (that we are
acquainted only with the qualities of our nerves, or neurons, or retinal locales;
but not with the properties of the external world) seemed to be the unassailable
basis for any physiological theory of perception.
for Helmholtz and many others thereafter begins with uninterpreted sensory building
blocks which can not be appreciated except by a special act of attention
and which are typically then unconsciously and automatically supplemented by unconscious
intellectual inference. After all, if we only have the anatomical deliverance
of sensation to go by, we must have to somehow intellectually deduce or induce
the worldly causes of these sensations, for we can not detect them directly.
for the kind of "special acts of attention" he is referring to, Helmholtz
suggests that if one is standing on a hilltop surveying a wooded landscape, the
normal blending of color in green foliage and blue sky can be appreciated as being
made up of fine gradations of a multitude of simpler shades if one turns one's
back from that landscape and views it upside down though one's legs! Other special
acts of attention can be carried out by trained laboratory observers too, and
it is here that we begin to gain a better appreciation of how the assumed indirect
perception theory of perception can lead (so to speak) researchers toward investigating
very abstract (unnaturalistic) forms of questions through highly constrained laboratory
of "vision" and proper method
how this inferential (enrichment) theory played out in terms of defining appropriate
subject matter for and methods of investigation can be shown by looking at comments
made by Helmholtz on vision and methods. First of all, Helmholtz defined vision
itself as "pointing the eyes" (as looking-at rather than looking-around).
of vision, is to see as distinctly as possible various objects or parts of an
object in succession. This is accomplished by so pointing the eyes that an
image of the given object is projected on the fovea of each retina. The governing
of the ocular movements is wholly subordinated to this end; both eyes are adjusted
and accommodated together so as to permit this light absorptive pointing"
(Helmholtz, Physiological Optics, 1866/1925, p. 56).
to this definition, "vision" (at
best) involves eye movements relative to the head.
implication for method of study, therefore, is that the natural proclivity of
a naive observer to look around must be constrained and controlled out of the
laboratory setting. In
such studies, the eyes of an observer would sometimes be allowed to scan a stimulus
display with the "field of view" being limited to that of a stationary
head which was often physically restrained by an apparatus such as a chin rest.
At other times,
however, the eyes of the observer would have to be held as still as possible so
that the stimulus display would fall on the foveal region of the retina (on the
anatomical region of maximum acuity). The sensitivity of various points on the
retina to color or level of illumination could thereby be mapped.
type sensory research. Left: Monocular acuity study with presented
stimulus display; Right: Vertical section of an observer's monocular field
of view. At this temporary (and stationary) eye and head posture, the surfaces
projected into the retinal image are indicated by solid lines and the remaining
surfaces by dashed lines. The "awareness of the here-and-now surfaces might
be called viewing the room as distinguished from seeing the room"
(from Gibson, 1979, p. 196).
question we repeatedly bump up against when considering Helmholtzian type sensory
research, is one of levels of analysis: Is some sort of stimulation of the retina
necessary for visual perception to take place? Yes! Is such anatomical stimulation
sufficient for perception to take place? No! Recall, for instance, that Müller
pointed out that mechanical stimulation of the retina by a finger (in the dark)
produces sensations of light without perceptions thereof. Similarly:
Is the constrained looking of the physiological laboratory one aspect of vision?
Yes. Is it sufficient to explain vision? No! As J.J. Gibson (1966; 1979) would
later point out, normal (everyday, active) visual perception (looking around)
is not a matter of intellectual enrichment of inputs to discrete anatomical sensory
receptors but rather one of differentiation of the environment by way of sensory
"One sees the environment not with the eyes but with the eyes-in-the-head-on-the-body-resting-on-the
ground.... The perceptual capacities of the organism do not lie in discrete anatomical
parts of the body but lie in systems with nested functions" (Gibson, 1979,
(1979) also comments directly on Helmholtz stating that:
that [sensations from] objects and parts of objects are what we perceive and that
these are limited to objects in the fixed field of view. He would be astonished
at the assertion that a man perceives his surroundings, including the environment
behind his head, for that is not 'the intent of vision'" (Gibson, 1979, p.
according to Helmholtz (1866), the analysis of perception into its sensory constituents
takes place by a special act of attention, only trained subjects who can
accurately report on sensations must be used because our naive attention is constantly
directed back at objects and wholes:
general characteristic... of our sense-perceptions is, that we are not in the
habit of observing our sensations accurately.... thus in most cases some special
assistance and training are needed.... [Experience] shows that for the discovery
of subjective sensations some special talent is needed, such as Purkinje manifested....
[or as in] the phenomena of the blind spot... discovered by Mariotte.... Even
the afterimages of bright objects are not perceived by most persons at first except
under particularly favorable external conditions. It takes much more practice
to see the fainter kinds of afterimages.... Accordingly, the first thing we have
to learn is to pay heed to our individual sensations. Ordinarily we do so merely
in case of those sensations that enable us to find out about the world around
us. In the ordinary affairs of life the sensations have no other importance for
us.... The same difficulty... occurs... in trying to analyze the compound sensations...
excited in ... connection by any simple object, and to resolve them into their
separate components. In such cases experience shows us how to recognize a compound
aggregate of sensations as being the sign of a simple object. Accustomed to consider
the sensation-complex as a connected whole, generally we are not able to perceive
the separate parts of it without external help and support.... For instance...
being able to distinguish those parts of the retina where light falls from those
parts where it does not fall" (Helmholtz, 1866, In Herrnstein & Boring,
1966, pp. 155-156).
Helmholtz is attempting here to emphasize the careful procedures to be followed
in the training of subjects, yet in doing so he makes rather manifest the lack
of wider (ecological) validity of such research. If we are in fact naturally drawn
to wholes and to perception of visual laboratory displays as objects,
the logical question to ask is: Why would this be the case? Even though he is
writing during a period in which the theory of evolution has yet to be drawn into
psychological discourse, Helmholtz does answer this question in part when he says:
"In the ordinary affairs of life the sensations have no other importance
for us." Put this statement together with his other statements on the importance
of light itself and one has the makings of a solution to the problem.
would be a very long time, however, before Gibson (1966)
would push this admittedly honest analysis by Helmholtz (1866) one step further
by giving up the fundamental assumption of the retinal image as anything more
than just that -a stimulus for retinal transduction. In the following extract,
Gibson admits openly that this was, even for him, a gradual and uneasy theoretical
shift to make:
in the last few decades has the evolution of vision become clear, with some understanding
of function as well as of anatomy. The long treatise by Walls on The Vertebrate
Eye (1942) is a monument to this progress, and it provides much of the groundwork
for this chapter. The comparative study of visual perception is now possible,
and evidence is accumulating. This approach is quite different from the traditional
one [which Gibson himself had held to for many years]. The classics of vision
were unaffected by evolutionary considerations or by knowledge of animal behavior
but nevertheless they [still] dominate the theories of perception. The two greatest
were probably Berkeley's New Theory of vision in 1709, and Helmholtz' Physiological
Optics in 1865. Both were preoccupied with the puzzle of how men could see
depth and distance in the face of the fact that retinal images were flat and visual
sensations were depthless. Another landmark in the history of the subject, Koffka's
Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935), was mainly concerned with how
we see an object in relation to its framework, a figure on a background, and it
kept to the question of why things look as they do to us.
my book, The Perception of the Visual World (1950), I [originally] took
the retinal image to be the stimulus for an eye [along the lines of Helmholtz].
In this book I will assume that it is only the stimulus for a retina and
that ambient light is the stimulus for the visual system. This circumstance,
the fact of information in the light falling upon an organism, is the situation
to which animals have adapted in the evolution of ocular systems. The visual organs
of the spider, the bee, the octopus, the rabbit, and man are so different from
one another that it is a question whether they should all be called eyes,
but they share in common the ability to perceive certain features of the surrounding
world when it is illuminated. The realization that eyes have evolved to permit
perception, not to induce sensation, is the clue to a new understanding of human
vision itself" (Gibson, 1966, p. 155).
theoretical shift, from retinal image to ambient light as the stimulus for
visual perception, was not only required to reassert theoretical parsimony
and ecological relevance back into the area (see Reed & Jones, 1982), it was
also necessary to explain the many empirically untidy loose ends left dangling
and unresolved by the older theory. In short, the cumulative mass of data which
had accrued in the ensuing 100 years between Helmholtz (1866) and Gibson (1966)
was yet to be sifted through and ordered. Foremost among the data left unexplained
by the older theory was Eleanor Gibson's research on the "visual cliff,"
which presented a distinct and particular challenge to the Helmholtzian view of
space perception. So, we will want to drive the point home by considering
how this shift in theory supports and improves the positive aspects of Helmholtz
while surmounting its weaknesses.
opposition to the Kantian aspects of Müller's approach to spatial perception,
Helmholtz (1866) puts forward an attempted strickly physiological Lockean position.
His statement of why he holds to an empiricist position regarding perception
of space is quite telling in this regard:
am aware that in the present state of knowledge it is impossible to refute the
[Kantian] intuition theory. The reasons why I prefer the opposite [empiricist]
view are because in my opinion: ....the adherents of [the nativist] theory are,
... obliged to make the questionable assumption, that the space sensations, which
to them are present originally, are continually being improved and overruled
by knowledge which we have accumulated by experience.... In that case it would
seem to me much easier and simpler to grasp that all apperceptions of space were
obtained simply by experience..." (Helmholtz, 1866, In Herrnstein & Boring,
1966; emphasis added).
main point of departure between Helmholtz and those he is arguing against is one
regarding the matter of what is being "improved" (enriched) to
gain perception of space: For Descartes it was innate ideas; for Kant, it was
our appreciation of a priori categories of the mind; but for Helmholtz,
it was original sensory elements that are being enriched. He considered
the relevant disciplinary divide to be addressed as one between nativism and empiricism.
What he didn't recognize, however, was that he shared a long-standing and discursively
embedded idol of the
theater with those who he was arguing against: The Indirect (enrichment) theory
of space perception.
key point for us to note is that Helmholtz holds to an enrichment theory of perception
(which is a shared limitation with nativists like Descartes, Kant, and Müller)
rather than a direct differentiation theory which only appears periodically before
1866 (in Reid and Brown) and even thereafter (in James, the Gibsons and their
students). This shift in thought regarding perception from indirect representationalist
theory toward direct ecologically valid theory is the most significant movement
in psychological thought to have occurred in the 20th century and its far-reaching
implications for method and subject matter are still being worked out.
regard to its implications for the particular limitations of Helmholtzian views
on space perception, however, it has been pointed out by Fancher (1990), that
Eleanor Gibson's visual cliff experiments present a significant challenge to the
learning hypothesis as stated in the Physiological Optics (1866).
So, let's briefly consider what the exact challenge actually is, as well as introduce
the wider disciplinary implication of that challenge.
of all, Helmholtz (1855) had observed that young children make many perceptual
mistakes such as believing that people in tall towers are "dolls" which
can be reached out to and grasped (see Herrnstein & Boring, 1966, pp. 128-129).
Later on, he also carried out experiments with adult subjects showing that the
use of special spectacles which displaced the normal visual angle (say
5 degrees left or right) presented immediate difficulties to reaching and pointing,
which after a few minutes are adjusted to by way of active practice under these
new conditions. Helmholtz (1866) called this "perceptual adaptation"
and suggested that, at the very least, this sort of evidence indicates that space
perception is experientially malleable. Subsequent versions by Stratton (1897)
and then Ewert (1930) were carried out using prismatic goggles, -which
took longer to adjust to because they distorted the normal visual field more severely-
but produced similar results. Subjects would learn to move about the laboratory
and the university campus after a time and would also have to unlearn the adjustments
upon removing the goggles (see also T. Erismannn & I. Kohler "Living
in a Reversed World"; and I. Kohler, 1962 in this regard).
a result of his own observations and experiments, Helmholtz invoked the principle
of theoretical "parsimony" to argue that space perception is probably
a learned (acquired) ability in the first place. In the ensuing years after Helmholtz,
it was well recognized that: "The [original] question separating empiricist
for nativist -Helmholtz from Kant- was not whether any perceptual processes were
acquired through experience, but how many and to what extent"
(Fancher, 1990, p. 126).
was not widely recognized, however, was that both nativists and empiricists (up
to and including J.J. Gibson, 1950) all adhered to various versions of the
same enrichment theory of space perception. Simply stated, this theory has
to be shed if one is to appreciate the disciplinary significance of the "visual
cliff" experiments. Thus, when Eleanor Gibson & Richard Walk (1960) presented
their visual cliff data in Scientific American, their results were immediately
(and mistakenly) taken as support of the nativist side of the old enrichment argument.
In fact, however, neither their data nor their analysis of it supports either
side of that old pseudo-dichotomy. Instead, it supports a 'third' alternative
(or rather kind of approach) to space perception which falls well outside them
both! So, let's finally look at the studies that caused such a fuss and consider
Research (after Gibson
& Walk, 1960, Walk & Gibson, 1961). E.J. Gibson and Richard Walk
(1960) studied infants depth perception by using a small cliff with a drop-off
covered by glass. The visual cliff apparatus consists of a raised central
platform with a horizontal sheet of plate glass on either side. Under the glass,
on one side only, there is a large drop to the ground below -this is the 'cliff'.
Walk & Gibson (1961) expanded the analysis to the comparative realm by assessing
the performance of other species on the same apparatus. The empirical question
at issue was rather straightforward: At what age will different animals, placed
on the central (raised) platform, move only to the shallow side and avoid the
'visual drop'? -thus signifying that they can perceive the difference in distance
to the ground below. The proper theoretical interpretation of the results, however,
is still a matter of debate between those who retain the problematic enrichment
theory of perception and those who have now accepted the Gibsonian differentiation
In Gibson & Walk (1960), 36 human infants (between the ages of 6 and 14 months)
were placed on the central board of the visual cliff apparatus, between the two
surfaces. Their mothers called to them from the cliff side of the setup and from
the shallow side successively. Of the 27 infants who moved off the central board,
all of these crawled to the shallow side indicating their depth perception is
well enough developed to avoid the potentially dangerous deep side.
Walk & Gibson (1961) tested the performance of other species on the visual
cliff apparatus under the conditions of food incentive. Chicks (under 1 day old),
lambs, goat kids, normally raised kittens, and monkey infants all avoid the deep
side of the visual cliff as soon as they can move about on their own. Exceptions
to this rule, however, were found including: 4-week-old kittens that had been
reared in the dark (which did not avoid the deep side); and rats that could apparently
detect the glass surface with their whiskers (see also Walk, Gibson, & Tighe,
1957; Walk, 1966).
visual cliff apparatus was originally designed to test infants old enough to crawl
but research by Campos showed that 9-month-old infants had faster heart rates
than normal when placed on the deep side (presumably because they were frightened)
while infants aged 2-5 months actually had slower heart rates than usual
(suggesting that they were not frightened). This slowing of heart rate certainly
indicates that they detected some difference between the deep and shallow sides
of the visual cliff situation and probably reflected interest in this difference
(Campos, Langer, & Krowitz, 1970; Campos et al., 1978). Later studies with
human infants also confirmed that experience with crawling is related to avoiding
the deep side of a visual cliff (Rader, Bausano, & Richards, 1980; Richards
& Rader, 1981). Further, Rader's experiment noted that pre-toddler babies
avoid a visual cliff when crawling but go over the edge when in walkers. Hmm,
that's interesting, why the heck would they do that?
all of this initial empirical data was fairly uncontroversial, the theoretical
interpretation thereof has been a more complex matter of debate. First of all,
proponents of the old enrichment theory were immediately divided (amongst themselves)
along traditional nativist vs. empiricist lines. Thus, 1960s-1980s textbook accounts
claimed that either the data indicates that some aspects of depth perception are
"inborn," while others claim it is "learned," and still others
suggest a "bit of both."
stated, if one attempts to utilize the old enrichment theory in considering this
data, you are left scratching your head. For instance, if past experience is brought
to bear on sensory inputs to produce perception of depth (as Berkeley, Locke,
and Helmholtz had suggested), then why do day-old chicks avoid the visual cliff?
On the other hand, if inborn categories or abilities are involved (as Kant and
Müller had suggested), then why aren't 2-5 month old infants afraid of being
placed over the deep end of the apparatus? Similarly, if depth perception is fully
active in babies who can crawl, why do they willingly traverse the visual cliff
when they are set into walkers? Why do they fail to attend to the cliff
when afforded this greater mobility?
latter empirical observation, in particular, posed a significant logical conundrum
for subsequent cognitive theorists (including Neisser, 1967) whom would initially
argue against the reductive (passive-mechanical) behaviorist position by suggesting
that "learning and cognitive development" was a matter of active (though
roughly additive) attentional accrual and transfer of past associations. But the
visual cliff experiment had already shown that the development of space perception
in pre-toddlers is by no means an additive affair! In other words, the enrichment
theory (in either its extreme or even moderate forms) is not sufficient to explain
the known facts and therefore must be abandoned in the light of those facts.
during the late 1980s and early 1990s the tendency in introductory psychology
textbooks was to pull back from earlier nativist or additive associationist overstatements
by either omitting mention of the visual cliff data altogether (e.g., Levine &
Shefner, 1991); or by avoiding making any theoretical statement on the disciplinary
significance of the data (e.g., Atkinson et. al., 1990; Garrison & Lefton,
1994; Myers, 1995).
however, that defensive posture began to be overcome in 'perception' textbooks
(e.g., Goldstein, 1989; Sekuler & Blake, 1990; Matlin & Foley, 1992) and
in 'cognition' texts (e.g., Neisser, 1976, 1982, 1987; Benjafield, 1992; Neisser,
1993) which started to mention that an alternative "Gibsonian theory"
exists. In short, it is becoming clearer that the traditional innate vs
learned dichotomy was just a counterproductive disciplinary side-issue and that
the real theoretical issue to be considered is between the old indirect "enrichment"
theory (in its various formulations) and the relatively newer direct "differentiation"
theory of perception (Gibson & Gibson, 1955; Gibson, 1966, 1979).
Lombardo (1987) put it, both Eleanor and James Gibson (1960 onward) viewed perceptual
learning not as matter of indirect "supplementation" but rather of direct
developmental "differentiation" (see E. Gibson, 1969, 1984; Lombardo,
1987; Reed, 1988a). Perceiving gets wider, longer, richer, and fuller as the organism
investigates the environment over time; and the kinds of things it investigates
(becomes aware of) includes surface layout. While visual perception predominates
in adult human beings a host of other sensory systems are also used in perceptual
learning and these other systems actually predominate during the early ontogenetic
development of human infants. Further, the relative importance of each system
varies depending upon the organism under consideration (e.g., human, kitten, rat,
Gibsonian account of perception is therefore both evolutionary in that
it includes a comparative-vertical 'levels of analysis' aspect and functional-developmental
in that it includes an active-temporal-ontogenetic aspect. Intellectual enrichment
of impoverished, transitory, sensory snapshots or other forms of supplementation
of elemental sensory building-blocks are given up for reference to successively
wider differentiation (pickup) of perceptual information from the world over time.
the particular case we are considering, the only way to account for the observed
empirical facts of the visual cliff experiments is to accept that a third dimension
(space) is not added to impoverished visual sensations (to two-dimensional
retinal images), and recognize instead that the development of depth perception
itself is a nonadditive, emergent, "reciprocal" process involving both
education of attention in the organism and successively expanding differentiation
of a visual system which that education allows.
visual depth information is there in the optic array to be had by the normally
developing organism (regardless of past experience) and as the organism matures
it learns to differentiate (pickup) more of this information. The development
of visual perception does not just involve changes in the organism itself, but
rather in the wider reciprocal (subject-object) relation. The task for comparative
and developmental psychology therefore becomes one of working out the continuities
and discontinuities (phylogenetic, ontogenetic, and socio-historical) in that
active, expanding, subject-object unit of differentiation.
for the lack of visual space perception in the case of the dark-raised kitten,
this is to be expected due to the artificially contrived deprivation conditions
in which it has been raised. These kittens, in fact, are approaching the world
from the standpoint of their other sensory systems, just as in the rat which relies
primarily not on its visual system but on its proprioceptive whiskers and kinesthetic-body
pickup surface layout (see Harvey
Carr's classic "Kurplunk" maze experiment where maze-trained rats
were found to smash headlong into new barriers place in the path of a previously
learned route). The visual cliff is simply not ecologically relevant for the rat
because its whiskers and front paws have already informed it that the glass surface
the willingness of pre-toddlers to traverse the visual cliff when placed into
baby-walkers remains to be explained. This can be done by noting the relative
shift in dominance between proprioceptive-kinesthetic
and visual perceptual systems which is occurring along with the normal,
active, developmental transition from crawling to walking. First of all, although
the original Gibson and Walk studies found that competently crawling infants avoid
the 'deep side' of the visual cliff, later research by Campos and colleagues found
that infants who have just started crawling are more likely to cross over
the deep side of the visual cliff (while infants who have been crawling for about
4-6 weeks are significantly less likely to do so). Thus, while heart-rate data
seems to indicate that non-crawling infants can detect and even fear the cliff
(by 9 months), the greater mobility afforded by (and the greater mental effort
required by) the new crawling ability seems (for a time) to overcome this fear.
other words, when we consider what the newly crawling baby is attending to
while traversing the world, the solution to this conundrum becomes clear. Like
the rat, the proprioceptive-kinesthetic support provided by the glass is the deciding
aspect. The visual system still does not fully predominate while performing these
new crawling actions. Subsequent mastery of the mechanical aspects of crawling
(thereby freeing the mental attention) and experience with falling soon thereafter
brings about a gradual shift toward visual aspects of surface layout. Similarly,
for a pre-toddler (already reticent to cross the visual cliff by way of crawling),
the use of a baby-walker requires that attention must be given to its use.
Further, the supportive proprioceptive-kinesthetic aspects of the
walker (the still predominant means by which crawling babies move about in the
world) afford the pre-toddlers with a confidence to traverse the cliff which
they would not otherwise attempt.
as anyone who has visited the glass-floored
"observation deck" of the CN Tower (in Toronto) will note, by the
time of early toddlerhood, children will readily cross that visual cliff because
they already understand that the glass affords walking. This is, however, in the
CN Tower case a surprisingly more difficult task for adults to perform; and here
we must refer to the influence of higher mental processes (and grave concerns)
which go well beyond the abilities or considerations of the toddling child.
Importance of Direct Perception
should be noted that the 1960s era Gibsonian (evolutionary, functional-developmental)
approach to perception moves well beyond the influential though constrictive-reductive
confines of "psychological" concerns proposed by Helmholtz (1866). Accordingly,
any future systematic adoption of that newer approach will involve both a repudiation
and reformation of numerous falsely restrictive representationalist approaches
adopted during the interim (late 19th century) "disciplinary building"
and (early 20th century) "schools
and systems" eras of general psychology.
emphasizing the methodological solution of direct
perception at this early juncture, however, we will be in a better position
to appreciate how adopting a non-reductive (emergent evolutionary and levels of
analysis) definition of perception implies the further disciplinary need for a
non-reductive redefinition of higher mental processes (see Reed, 1987, 1988).
Having noted, rather provisionally, that the vertical dimension (higher-lower
manifestations) of psychological processes still remains to be addressed in more
detail, we'll now turn to the initial round of debates which occurred during the
early years of the founding of the discipline now called psychology.
was the issue of whether higher mental processes are able to be studied
in the psychological laboratory; and/or whether they are reducible to lower
"elements" of consciousness, that constituted the main matters of contention
between Wundt and his students such as Külpe and Titchener. It will be demonstrated
that it is Külpe that provides the soundest contemporaneous empirical-theoretical
foundation for the discipline because while (unlike Titchener) he agreed with
Wundt's antireductive account of higher mental "states," he suggested
(along with Ebbinghaus and Titchener) that they could be studied within as
well as beyond the psychological laboratory.
continuing on, it must be explicitly reiterated that the adoption (or lack thereof)
of a direct theory of perception is fundamentally important to our very definition
of psychology itself. As we will see, the various early textbook definitions of
psychology (as opposed to physics) provided by Ernst Mach (1886), Wilhelm Wundt
(1896), and E.B. Titchener (1896, 1910) were all framed within the constraints
of an indirect representationalist position. That theory (as shown previously)
provides no unequivocal access to objects or events in the world. The resulting
early disciplinary definitions, therefore, divided up the respective subject matter
of the sciences not with reference to existing levels of worldly processes
but with reference merely to kinds of experience as follows:
(point of view)||independent
way of dividing up the respective territory of the physical/natural sciences versus
psychology on the basis of the old doctrine of primary (given) and secondary (inferred)
qualities, Mach (1886) -the physicist turned part-time psychological investigator-
suggested that physical facts (though only available to us by way of Humean sensations)
constituted "the given" while psychological facts were definitively
inferential (because in that case our "experience" works from the inside
outward rather than from the outside inward).
color is a physical object so long as we consider its dependence upon its luminous
source, ... upon space, and so forth. Regarding, however, its dependence upon
the retina... it becomes... psychological..., a sensation. Not the subject, but
the direction of our investigation, is different in the two domains" (Mach,
1886, Contribution to the Analysis of the Sensations, Sect. 8).
Wundt (1896) -the physiologist turned psychologist- disagreed, suggesting instead
the converse because (as Helmholtz seemed to have shown) physical facts (events
in the world) must be inferred on the basis of immediately given sensory experience.
Wundt turns Mach's "directional" argument around as follows:
expressions 'outer experience' and 'inner experience' do not indicate different
objects, but different points of view from which we take... the scientific
treatment of a unitary experience.... [E]very concrete experience... divides into
two factors -a content that is presented to us, and our apprehension
of this content. The first of these factors we designate as objects of experience,
whereas the second is the experiencing subject.... The point of view of
natural science may, accordingly, be designated as yielding mediate experience,
since it becomes possible only after abstracting from the subjective factor...
The point of view of psychology, on the other hand, may be designated as that
of immediate experience..." (Wundt, Outlines of Psychology,
1896, Introduction to Sect. 1).
other words, it was as though 'whomever gets there first' claimed the "immediate"
(given) experience for their favorite scientific domain and left the relatively
more problematic inferential ("mediate") experience for the others.
dogmatic standoff over 'the given' of research domains did not escape the attention
of Külpe or Titchener and they both appealed instead to the only other contemporaneously
available 'alternative' view -that of Richard Avenarius; whose writings were suitably
vague and voluminous enough to not only meet with the assent of Mach himself but
also to avoid translation into English for many years (thereby affording Titchener
relatively safe passage to America in the interim).
Outlines of Psychology (1893; English Trans. 1895), for instance, defined
psychology as the science of the "facts of experience" and suggested
that our understanding of psychological content (experimental or otherwise) is
characterized by the "dependency" of these facts on the experiencing
individual. It was a variation of Külpe's approach, therefore, that was brought
over to America by Titchener and elaborated in his "structuralist" system
it is true that all the sciences have the same sort of subject-matter [experience],
there can be no essential difference between the raw materials of physics and
the raw materials of psychology.... All human knowledge is derived from human
experience; there is no other source of knowledge. But human experience, as we
have seen, may be considered from different points of view.... First, we will
regard experience as altogether independent of any particular person; we
will assume that it goes on whether or not anyone is there to have it. Secondly,
we will regard experience as altogether dependent upon the particular person;
we will assume that it goes on only when someone is there to have it.... In principle,
then, introspection [in psychology] is very like inspection [in physics]. The
objects of observation are different; they are objects of dependent, not of independent
experience.... And the standpoint of the observer is different; it is the standpoint
of human life and of human interest, not of detachment and aloofness. But, in
general, the [observational] method of psychology is much the same as the method
of physics" (Titchener, A Textbook of Psychology, 1910, pp. 16-27,
the lack of unequivocal resolution in the initial round of disciplinary debates
(in Germany) over the respective import or applicability of introspective,
experimental, and phenomenological methods also springs from the commonly held
problematic methodological assumption of indirect perception. An ostensibly "methodological"
(rather than purely metaphysical) psycho-physical
parallelism -portrayed as an interim working hypothesis- was assumed by Wundt
(in his Logik, 1880-1883) with respect at least to experimental physiological
psychology. Both Külpe (who demurred from Wundt's approach only with respect
to the possibility of studying higher mental processes by way of experiment) and
Titchener (who reduced higher states of consciousness to the lower elements which
supposedly made them up anyway) conveniently fell into line along with Wundt in
more plainly, no resolution on the issue of the respective import of the
various empirical methods (let alone an unequivocal definition of psychology itself)
could be worked out from within the constraints of the enrichment theory of perception.
Since the supposed 'barrier of the senses' separates the subject from the object,
some form of equivocal, self-serving psycho-physical parallelism whether it be
claimed 'metaphysical' or not is always necessary given that indirect realist
presupposition and only by rejecting it can we build anew.
is only with the more "pragmatic," direct realist, and "functional"
psychology of William James (and others up to about 1920) that the makings
of a solution to these various disciplinary issues were first presented. But
by that time classical behaviorism (a reductive, antimentalist trend to be sure
but one that at least assumed unequivocal access to observable "behavior")
and other forms of Logical positivist or operationist accounts were already on
the rise in American general-experimental psychology (see Section
5). These latter trends, in slightly modified forms, were then carried forward
into the late 20th century cognitive psychology era and would have to run their
course before the developmental-evolutionary Gibsonian sorts of solutions would
begin to be recognized as opening up new vistas for consolidation of definitions
and for the resolution or surmounting of long-standing (previously unresolvable)
the Leipzig laboratory, and his rebellious students
Wundt began in the 1860s to expand what had been essentially physiological
(psychophysical and reaction time) methods with the explicit disciplinary-building
aim of objectively measuring a circumscribed set of rather basic psychological
phenomena. He then moved on (after a considerable period of professional struggle)
to found the first definitively experimental psychological laboratory in
1879 as well as to train-up the first generation of German and American "experimental"
psychologists. Wundt also remained active in the ensuing disciplinary debates
right up to his death in 1920.
this subsection, we will emphasize three aspects of this initial formulation of
psychological science: (1) the methodological structure of Wundt's system
of psychology (including his successive demarcations between experimental
physiological versus "folk psychology"); (2) the circumscribed
content of experimental research carried out in the Leipzig laboratory
(on sensation, perception, reaction time, attention, feeling); and (3) the eventual
disciplinary challenge presented by Külpe and Titchener regarding
the issue of the status of higher mental processes.
in Baden (a suburb of Mannheim, Germany), where his father was a Lutheran pastor,
Wilhelm received a private education from a vicar-friend of the family until age
13 when he began attending public Gymnasium schools at Bruschal and Heidelberg.
His initial university studies (beginning in 1851 at Tubingen followed by 3.5
years at Heidelberg) were embarked upon with the intent of becoming an experimental
physiologist. When his father passed away, however, Wundt was counseled for pragmatic
reasons to pursue a medical degree.
two years of medical training at Heidelberg, as well as doing a 3rd-year medical
clinic practicum, Wundt revived his earlier experimental-academic interests by
slipping off to Berlin for a semester (of the 1856 term) at Johannes Müller's
institute of physiology before returning to Heidelberg for the obligatory completion
of his doctorate in medicine.
1857-1864, Wundt made ends meet by serving as a Dozent, guiding Heidelberg students
through the physiological practicum component of their medical degrees. The primary
notable written product of this early formative period (from our perspective)
was Wundt's book on the theory of perception (Beiträge zur Theorie der
Sinneswahrnehmung, [Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception], 1858-1861).
That work not only drew upon the physiological work of E.H. Weber, J. Müller
and Lotze; but also included a direct call for the development of an "experimental
psychology" (thereby foreshadowing later developments).
the fall of 1858 too, Helmholtz came from Bonn to Heidelberg. Wundt (11 years
his junior) was immediately appointed assistant to Helmholtz and held this position
for 13 years until 1871 (when Helmholtz left for Berlin). Although Wundt did not
receive the vacancy left open by Helmholtz, he stayed on at Heidelberg to lecture
on experimental physiology and medical physics until 1874.
these "formative" Heidelberg years, Wundt was clearly shifting away
from physiology and toward psychology as a potentially viable career path. As
Fancher (1990) outlines quite nicely, it was in 1861 that Wundt rigged up the
first primitive "thought meter" from a pendulum clock and started advocating
mental chronometry of central psychological processes as a possible answer to
the old astronomer's problem of differential judgments regarding the transit of
stars. Similarly, at Heidelberg in 1862, Wundt began presenting a course of lectures
initially called "psychology from the standpoint of the natural sciences,"
changing the title to "physiological psychology" in 1867. By then he
was already running a privately funded (out of pocket) laboratory in Heidelberg,
1865-1874 (see Bringman, et al., 1997). Most
notably, however, it was during the Heidelberg period that Wundt wrote up his
Principles of Physiological Psychology which originally appeared in two
This latter work was a drawing together of prior physiological, psychophysical
and reaction time research which served as "the first constitution for psychology
as an independent science" (Heidbreder, 1933, p. 93).
1874, Wundt took up a one year appointment in inductive philosophy at Zürich
before moving on to Leipzig under the stipulation that he would be provided with
storage space for his experimental
apparatus. In this sense, the fundamental material technology and intellectual
aspects of his "system of psychology," which was then constantly revised
and augmented throughout his subsequent career preceded the move to Leipzig.
Wundt remaining at Leipzig, however, to both found and slowly expand the now famous
psychological laboratory from 1879 onwards.
was the manner in which Wilhelm Wundt became the first figure we have covered
whom can unequivocally be called a "psychologist." The systematic outline
contained in his successive writings (including the Groundwork of Psychology,
1896; later translated
to English as Outlines of Psychology); the founding of the first empirically
productive "psychological" laboratory; and his eventual overseeing of
200 odd student theses, all had profound effects on the future development of
system and the Founding of a Discipline
exemplifies a kind of disciplinary turning point from philosophical and physiological
research toward the founding of a stand-alone psychological science. In the preface
to the first part of his Physiological Psychology (1873), for instance,
he had clearly separated himself off from: British empiricism in that he was explicitly
seeking to accomplish a "reform" of the former philosophically guided
tradition of psychological investigation by way of "the introduction of the
experimental method"; and from the German physiological tradition in that
he was outlining a method of investigating "conscious processes" and
the "modes of connection particular to them" rather than their "bodily
substrates" per se.
was now embarking upon a 35 year program of research at Leipzig which would also
separate his initial late 19th century formulation of psychology from what came
afterward in the early 20th century American context. So, let's take some time
to understand the fundamental systematic aspects of his initial formulation of
psychology including: (1) his successive demarcations between experimental physiological
versus "folk psychology"; and (2) the circumscribed content of
experimental research carried out in the Leipzig laboratory.
Physiological Psychology (1873-4), was a formal attempt to work out a new
domain of science and would undergo six expansive editions (up to 1911) as the
program of research at Leipzig pressed forward. Our primary concern with regard
to the systematic aspects of Wundt's initial account is why he called it "physiological"
psychology. He called it "physiological" because it would use the available
empirical methods of physiological science to study conscious process. These methods,
he argued, would render "the same help to psychology as it had itself received
from physics" and further, in as much as this new domain of research "receives
assistance from physiology in the elaboration of experimental methods, it may
be termed experimental psychology..." (Wundt, 1873, preface).
preceding on with a substantive account of the research carried out in the Leipzig
laboratory, however, we must deal (as Wundt was forced to do) with the somewhat
thorny methodological issues of: (i) the nature of "scientific" psychological
introspection; (ii) his understanding of the "content" of consciousness;
and (iii) the resulting limits of the applicability of experimental method (which
for him had to be augmented by other methods of inquiry).
"scientific" introspection, experimentation, and conscious contents
of all, it must be mentioned that Wundt started out by accepting the Kantian
(and then Comtean) criticism of simplistic introspective analysis of mental events.
These criticisms sprang from their common acceptance of the enrichment theory
of perception and argued that the isolated individual mind could not, therefore,
observe itself without changing its own content. "Pure" introspective
analysis as they understood it could never be scientifically measurable in the
quantitative sense of the word.
way of drawing upon the arguments of both Herbart who had suggested that psychology
could be quantitative and Fechner who had already carried out various experiments
along the psychophysical line of inquiry, however, Wundt counter-argued. He suggested
there are special circumstances under which such general criticisms do
not hold. These special circumstances could be realized in the psychological laboratory
in which "scientific introspection" can be carried out:
"It is only
with grave reservations that what is called 'pure self-observation' can properly
be termed observation at all, and under no circumstances can it lay claim to accuracy.
On the other hand, it is of the essence of experiment that we can vary the conditions
of an occurrence at will and, if we are aiming at exact results, in a quantitatively
determinable way.... it alone makes a scientific introspection [of conscious contents]
possible" (Wundt, 1873, preface).
Boring (1950) notes, even from the time of appending the general introduction
to his Beiträge (1862), for Wundt (as it was with Fechner) scientific
meant experimental. Wundt (1873) was now bringing his initial call for experimental
psychology one step closer to reality by proposing that we use the controlled
conditions of the laboratory to make our fleeting awareness of so-called inner
experience of "conscious content" (that which he saw as the psychological
aspect of Fechnerian experimentation) out into the open.
Wundt, creating a scientific psychology meant finding ways to objectify mental
events (to make them public) by forcing them to approximate so-called outer
experiences which are more stable. This could be done by limiting the scope of
experimental study to those experiences evoked by external stimulation
by exposure to reaction-time apparatus, controlled sensory displays, and/or visual
or verbally presented word combinations of known complexity.
experimental situation, as envisioned by Wundt (1873), would thus not only determine
the kinds of mental events to be reported upon by an "observer," it
would thus hold them still long enough to be reported upon as well:
to observe oneself must inevitably introduce changes into the course of mental
events, .... and [the] consequence is that the very process which was to have
been observed disappears from consciousness. The psychological experiment proceeds
very differently. In the first place, it creates external conditions that look
towards the production of a determinate mental process at a given moment. In the
second place, it makes the observer so far master of the general situation, that
the state of consciousness accompanying this process remains approximately unchanged"
(Wundt, 1873, preface).
these controlled conditions, descriptive reports of individual psychological
experience ("states of consciousness") as analyzed into their (Sensory,
Ideational, and/or Affective) "associational" elements or complexes;
and/or "apperceptive" judgments or concepts (depending upon both how
sophisticated that external stimulation was and how far they are brought into
the "focus" of consciousness) comprised the subject matter of
the Wundtian program of experimental research (in its matured 1893 onward form).
Further, it was suggested (from the beginning) that carefully structured empirical
measurement using the subtractive technique of Donders could also outline the
duration of such central psychological processes (much as Helmholtz had
done for the speed of peripheral nerve impulses).
will cover shortly how the above encapsulation of the experimental aspects of
inquiry both guided the structure of and was adjusted according to the results
obtained in the research of the Leipzig laboratory (including the respective speed
of peripheral versus sensory reaction times), but one other crucial aspect
of Wundt's constantly expanding systematic outline of psychology must be mentioned
before proceeding: his "Volkerpsychologie" (folk psychology) which was
cultural-historical rather than experimental.
non-experimental aspect of psychology
far as the subject matter (the normal individual human mind) of his experimental
psychology is concerned , Wundt was quite conservative. The empirical program
for experimental psychology involving both scientific introspection and measurements
of the duration of individual psychological experience, though innovative, was
also explicitly outlined (in Wundt, 1873) as pertaining only to a circumscribed
set of elementary processes (including sensation, perception, reaction time)
and was subsequently expanded to "attentional and feeling aspects" of
mental associations and apperceptions.
the adoption of experimental methods would provide a foothold for the discipline,
the ultimate aim and results of such basic research, (as stated by Wundt,
1873), must eventually be applied to "other mental phenomena," (higher
mental processes) which were not directly studyable by way of experimental manipulation
due to their collective cultural-historical nature. These
"complex mental processes," must be 'got at' by the careful observational
study of the history of human nature which he called variously "ethnic"
disciplinary function of this wider "department" of psychological inquiry
was to both augment and inform the narrower concerns of the experimental
aspect of the discipline. These "two principal departments" of psychological
inquiry were to be "supplemented" by other specialized branches of inquiry
may add that, fortunately for the science, there are other sources of objective
psychological knowledge, which become accessible at the very point where the experimental
method fails us. These are certain products of the common mental life,... chief
among them are language, myth and custom. In part determined by historical conditions,
they are also, in part, dependent upon universal psychological laws, and ... form
the subject-matter of ... ethnic psychology. [Their results] ... constitute...
our chief source of information regarding... complex mental processes. In this
way, experimental... and ethnic psychology form the two principal departments
of scientific psychology at large. They are supplemented by child and animal psychology....
Finally, ... animal... and ethnic psychology form the two halves of a generic
or comparative psychology.... [E]thnic psychology, must always come to the assistance
of individual [child and experimental] psychology, when the developmental forms
of the complex mental processes are in question" (Wundt , 1873, preface).
from the very beginning, a methodological dichotomy was set up by Wundt
between experimental laboratory psychology (an individual affair which held
inherently dynamic mental content still enough to be measured), and other proposed
sources or methods of wider psychological inquiry (which were observational, developmental,
cultural-dynamic, and collective). Thus, child and animal psychology (in conjunction
with ethnic psychology) "attempt to resolve the problems of psychogenesis"
but experimental psychology attempts to hold mental processes still so that they
can be observed as static mental states.
Wundt's original intent was that these "two principal departments" as
well as the "supplemental" branches should inform each other. He would
later attempt to exemplify this disciplinary ideal too; rounding out the above
system through the successive publication of his ten-volume tome Volkerpsychologie
(1900-20). The first volume of that work, in particular has been noted for its
progressive treatment of language and for expressing the view that mental differences
among the peoples of the world are culturally determined (Blumenthal, 1970; 1997).
of higher mental processes including what came to be called thinking or cognition,
emotion, and motivation must proceed, according to Wundt, from the assumption
that they are determined by culture. This notion of cultural determination directly
influenced both Franz Boas (then a young anthropology student in attendance at
Wundt's lectures) as well as Emile Durkheim (the influential sociologist to be),
who also studied with Wundt on these topics. Such a view was, however, at odds
with the opinions held by many contemporaneous intellectuals who saw mental differences
among societies as racially based (Brock, 1992; Jahoda, 1997).
practice then, experimental and ethnic-cultural studies initially proceeded
along parallel lines. The eventual result of the original methodological dichotomy
was that some figures concentrated on the former experimental aspect of Wundt's
program and became known as psychologists while other figures concentrated on
the latter aspect and became sociologists or anthropologists.
the way, Wundt (in the 4th edition of his Principles of Physiological Psychology,
1893) attempted to elevate the initially supplemental status of Volkerpsychologie
to one of equality with experimentation. By the turn of the century, however,
he was lamenting the emphasis upon laboratory apparatus which was beginning to
dominate American psychology -referring to the new breed of apparatus men as "mere
technicians" having a very constricted vision of the greater goals and potential
of the science as a whole (Blumenthal, 1997; see also Wundt, Elements of Folk
Psychology, 1912). But before there was any hint of lamentation, there was
an exciting era of institutional expansion and carrying out of basic empirical
research in the Leipzig laboratory. So it is to these developments that we now
and Research of the Leipzig Laboratory (1879-1920)
arriving at Leipzig in the fall of 1875 to assume his teaching duties in the philosophy
department, Wundt was initially allotted a mere storage space for the purposes
of demonstrating experimental apparatus "in connection with his lectures"
(see Boring, 1950; Bringmann et al., 1997). In other words, despite having already
worked out a rather weighty outline of experimental-psychological science in considerable
detail, Wundt was now faced with the task of building up the institutional
standing and auspices of a functioning laboratory in stages over time.
psychological laboratory activities and facilities at Leipzig evolved gradually
from informal bull sessions between Wundt and some of his earliest students
(following class lectures); to the carrying out of research practica or student
projects (assigned by Wundt); and only then to the running of an officially recognized
psychological research institute with subdirectors reporting to Wundt (Bringmann
et al., 1997; Blumenthal, 1997). Three distinct cohorts of students can also be
noted as being produced during this three-step process of institutional expansion
with Oswald Külpe (whose stay was the longest) serving as either a personal
or theoretical 'bridging figure' between all three.
first psychology lab at Leipzig (1879-1892)
first step in this expansive direction came in 1879 when, without ceremony, Wundt
moved his experimental apparatus to a room in the cafeteria building (shown right)
with the operational expenses being funded until 1881 out of his own pocket.
initial study originating from this seminar-practicum stage of the laboratory
was that of Max Friedrich's doctoral research published under the title "On
the Duration of Apperception for Simple and Complex Visual Stimuli" in the
first volume of Wundt's own journal, Philosophical Studies (1883). This
journal functioned as the primary publication vehicle for the lab between 1883-1903.
Friedrich found that "apperception" times decreased over the course
of experiments, and that this decrease was more marked for "complex"
relative to simple visually presented stimuli. There was, for instance, a greater
decrease in reaction times across trials to presented numbers, than to colors.
The issue was thus raised how far the respective reaction times could be reduced
with practice and what psychological laws might govern the respective decreases.
G. Stanley Hall's postdoctoral stay at Leipzig (from the winter term of 1879 through
to the following summer term), he participated (along with Wundt, Friedrich, and
another student Ernst Tischer) as one of the four subjects in Friedrich's study.
What most impressed Hall, however, was not the laboratory itself but Wundt's lectures
on folk psychology which contained an account of the cultural-historical aspects
of the discipline.
it is Friedrich who best exemplifies the kind of German student which Wundt (1873)
probably had in mind for the pursuit of the experimental aspects of the discipline
(see Behrens, 1997), it must also be noted that by 1880, Hermann Ebbinghaus an
outsider to the lab who was then serving as an untenured instructor at Berlin
had already carried out his experimental work on "memory" (a higher
mental process) and was now repeating various aspects of this initial (1878-1879)
research in preparation for publication (Lander, 1997). The
eventual appearance of the resulting monograph On Memory (Ebbinghaus, 1885)
constituted the initial disciplinary challenge to Wundt's institution-building
efforts at Leipzig because by utilizing a simple and inexpensive empirical technique
(the retention of nonsense
syllables), Ebbinghaus had seemingly proved Wundt wrong regarding the measurability
of higher mental processes just as his apparatus-intensive laboratory was
getting off the ground. However, Wundt's definition of collective higher mental
processes (such as memory, language, etc.) went well beyond the bounds of
the individual physiological retention studied by Ebbinghaus. We will return
to this rather fundamental point periodically, but for now we should simply note
this theoretical difference as one reason why Wundt didn't simply 'close up shop'
at that point in time.
Hall, another American, James McKeen Cattell
came to Leipzig to carry out doctoral research under Wundt (from 1883 to 1886).
While there, Cattell built both a "gravity
chronometer" apparatus (utilized to present and time reactions to visual
stimuli) as well as a "lip-key"
apparatus which (upon movement of the lips) functioned like the "finger-key"
of prior studies to turn off the chronometer. The
empirical results of Cattell's varied investigations were published in the British
journal Mind -founded by Alexander Bain in 1876- under the collective title:
taken up by Cerebral Operations" (1886).
aspects of Cattell's research at Leipzig are notable as indicating similarity
and divergence between Cattell and Wundt:
of all, finding that reaction times for the visually presented short words
were only negligibly longer than for individual letters, Cattell concluded that
we "do not...
perceive separately the letters of which a word is composed, but the word as a
whole" (see also Fancher, 1990, pp. 159-161). This aspect of his analysis
falls within Wundt's view of "creative synthesis" (which states
that some psychical resultants are not reducible to the lower elements from which
they are produced but possess their own properties) in the fashion of the mental
chemistry originally proposed by J.S. Mill.
Cattell (1886) observed individual differences -between himself and the
other student serving as subject- on their respective reaction times for "verbal
association" tasks (such as replying to a German word with its English translation;
or naming the country in which a presented city name resides). The manner by which
Cattell interpreted these results, however, indicates an important divergence
from the Wundtian program of experimental psychology and preludes Cattell's later
promotion of "mental tests" (at
Penn and Columbia). More specifically, although the reaction time structure
of the research itself (and even the notation of individual differences of performance)
bears some relation to the initial (1861) "mental chronometry" research
which launched Wundt's professional career toward psychology, Cattell's (1886)
suggestion that such particular performance differences (on reaction time tasks)
might be somehow representative of more general intellectual differences
between people digressed considerably from Wundt's cultural-historical views on
Boring (1950) points out, Wundt explicitly distanced himself from Cattell's interpretation
of such results by calling it the "ganz Amerikanisch" [literally:
'all American'; but figuratively: the 'wholly American idea, issue, or problem']
(see also Cattell,
1928 where he lets it slip that he already had this intellectual differences
hypothesis in mind prior to starting his Leipzig research). In any case, the ensuing
so-called "mental" and "intelligence" testing movement in
America, as well as the rise of the college-entrance exam tradition, would remained
an ongoing problem even long after Cattell's anthropometric approach to
it (which he borrowed from Francis Galton, a Brit) was empirically discounted
and abandoned (see Ballantyne, 2002).
instructive with regard to gaining an understanding of the early phase of the
Leipzig laboratory is the arrival in 1884 of a third American, Harry Kirke Wolfe,
who had previously come under the influence of Ebbinghaus at Berlin but then
completed an 1886 doctorate under Wundt on "memory for tones" (see Benjamin,
1991; 1997). This was an unusual topic for a Wundtian student but one that might
also reflect the practicalities of the institution-building motives of Wundt himself;
for an experimental study of retention under any other name would smell as sweat
when it came to forwarding the disciplinary status of the laboratory.
was a German, Ludwig Lange,
however, whose 1888 study marked a definative shift away from reaction time
studies at Leipzig toward the study of "attention" (which characterizes
the upper bounds of the experimental method according to Wundt's outline).
"simple" reaction times (with one presented stimulus and one required
physical response) obtained under two experimental conditions: (i) when a subject's
attention was focused on the expected stimulus (called sensory reaction time);
and (ii) when the subject's attention was focused on the response to be made (called
muscular reaction time). That is, in one experimental condition the subject focused
on what he was about to see, and in the other to what he was about to
do. Reaction times in the first case were found to be about 1/10th of a second
longer than those in the second case.
discovery that such "muscular" reaction times were generally 1/10 of
a second less than sensory reaction times was taken to mean that the latter involved
time of apperception of a sensory impression while the former did not. In interpreting
these results, it was Wundt who borrowed Leibniz's distinction between sensory
perception and "apperception" with the former being portrayed
as automatic and the latter requiring one's full attention to be focused.
ideas, concepts |
fusion, assimilation, complications|
actual contemporaneous breakdown between 'passive sensory association' and 'active
apperception' (as shown above) doesn't matter as much to us as simply noting that
the overall methodological approach being attempted is an anti-reductive
one running along the lines of mental chemistry (al la J.S. Mill) rather
than the agglomerative conjunction of James Mill. Wundt believed "apperception"
to be a relatively more complex psychic resultant which contained an active 'cognitive'
property (judgments, ideas, concepts) produced by way of a "creative synthesis"
of constituent elements. Simply stated, "apperception" contains properties
of conscious content which went beyond the bounds of mere sensory-perceptual associations.
Wundt (1896; 1911 respectively) utilized the examples of tonal clangs and metronome
beats to illustrate this anti-reductive point. A single recurring beat (produced
by a metronome or other laboratory
apparatus) constitutes "a sensation," but the combination of two
or more beats combine and constitute an "idea." Similarly, a single
clang (produced by the striking of a metal object or by a musical instrument)
is a "psychic element" but simultaneous clangs can sometimes produce
musical "chords," which although they can be analytically broken down
into harmonics, constitute (phenomenologically speaking) a larger unit
(a "psychic compound") for the listener (see the Wundt extracts contained
in R.I. Watson, 1979, pp. 132-136).
compound clang is more in its ideational and affective attributes than merely
a sum of single tones. In spatial and temporal ideas the spatial and temporal
arrangement is conditioned, to be sure, in a perfectly regular way by the cooperation
of the elements that make up the idea, but still the arrangement itself can by
no means be regarded as a property belonging to the sensational elements themselves.
The nativistic theories that assume this, implicate themselves in contradictions...
they are ultimately driven to the [recognition] of the rise, to some extent at
least, of new attributes. Finally, ... the aggregate idea itself is a new psychical
content that was made possible, to be sure, by these elements, but was by no means
contained in them. This appears most strikingly in the more complex productions
of apperceptive synthesis, as, for example, in a work of art or a train of logical
thought.... The law of psychical resultants thus expresses a principle which we
may designate, in view of its results, as a principle of creative synthesis.
This has long been recognized in the case of higher mental creations, but generally
not applied to the other [lower] psychical processes" (Wundt, 1896/1907,
Outlines of Psychology, Sect. 23).
that Wundt believed (from the mid-1880s onward) that psychic resultants of this
'lower' "apperceptive" sort could be investigated experimentally, various
studies on the "span of apperception" (how many presented stimuli could
be attended to simultaneously) were forthcoming. It was found that when an array
of random letters was flashed, subjects typically recalled 4-6 of them. Similarly,
if the array was comprised of words (of six or less letters) 4-6 of those were
also picked up by the subjects. The span of apperception, therefore was
established experimentally, and these findings corroborated Cattell's two earlier
findings (that familiar words could be reacted to as quickly as individual letters
and that they could be treated as wholes rather than additive collections of individual
(1950) names Dietze (1884) on the "range of auditory attention," as
well as Tchisch, Pflaum, and Geiger (working from 1886-1902) in this regard. Experimental
work of this sort, therefore, continued through the second and third expansive
stages of the laboratory (1892 and 1897 respectively).
and Külpe versus Titchener on psychological methodology
the years just prior to the second laboratory expansion, Wundt believed that he
had already extended the reaches of the experimental method as far as it was applicable.
He gradually began withdrawing from the day to day running of experiments, redirecting
his energies successively toward preparing for the further institutional expansion
of facilities and the writing of a formal elaboration of his Volkerpsychologie.
Külpe (who arrived in 1886 after having spent three semesters at Göttingen
working on his dissertation under Georg Elias Müller), received a doctorate
under Wundt in 1887, and was selected from the remaining first stage cohort of
students to oversee the activities of the laboratory (a posting he retained from
1887-1894 when he left for Würzburg to found his own school). Edward
B. Titchener (an Englishman initially trained at Oxford in a blend of British
associationism and biology), was also there during the last two years of the initial
Leipzig lab carrying out research on "The chronometry of the act of recognition"
between 1890-1892 (published as Zur Chronometrie des Erkennungsactes, Philosophische
Studien, 1893, 8, 138-144).
these two latter individuals maintained a cordial personal as well as a professional
relationship thereafter, the work being carried out in the lab at the time was
as Boring (1950) states, showing that the differences between 'sensory and muscular'
reaction times "is to be laid at the door of... predisposing attention"
(p. 342). This evidence, while exciting, eventually produced a three-way methodological
splitbetween Wundt, Külpe, and Titchener which is important to mention.
of Conscious Content||Higher
Mental Processes (method of study)|
elemental but some psychical resultants (like attention)||Volkerpsychologie|
(1893; 1912) ||non-elemental
(including meaning, set, and intentions)||experimental|
(1896; 1901-1905; 1909; 1910) ||elements
and attributes ('meaning' is at worst a "stimulus error" and at best
a "context" of unconscious elements)||experimental
interpreted the work on attention as reflective of the "principle of psychical
resultants" and considered the experimental methods used on this highest
reach of "conscious content" as not to be extendable to higher mental
processes; which required their own branch of psychology utilizing comparative,
historical, non-experimental methods. As he defined them, the higher mental processes
could not be studied by looking at conscious contents (imaginal, sensory, and
affectional elements or resultants) alone.
Külpe concurred with Wundt's anti-reductive approach to attention as a psychical
resultant, he argued that experimental methods could be extended further. His
successive research programs at Würzburg (1894-1909) and then Bonn (1909
onward) would help Külpe refine this methodological divergence from Wundt's
original outline more fully, but divergence on the fundamental methodological
point of experimentation was already in evidence prior to Külpe's departure
from Leipzig. In 1893, for instance, his Grundriss der Psychologie appeared.
Although dedicated to Wundt, it contains a rather bold assertion too:
principle there is no topic of psychological inquiry which cannot be approached
by the experimental method. And experimental psychology is, therefore, fully within
its rights when it claims to be... general psychology" (Külpe, 1893;
translated by Titchener as Outlines of Psychology; Külpe, 1895).
the succeeding years, Külpe remained in agreement with Wundt regarding the
irreducibility of higher mental processes but refined his argument by suggested
that they are part of conscious content broadly defined to include "determining
tendencies" like attention, mental set, and intentions. The divergence between
Wundt and Külpe is one of how far to push experimental methods and
how seriously to take the "new properties" (psychical resultants)
present in such processes as attention, thought, meaning, language, etc.
Titchener, we get a third methodological position which is markedly reductive
and more static than either of the other two. He agrees with Külpe
that higher mental processes are part of conscious contents and that they can
be studied by way of experiment, but defines the structure of such content more
conservatively than even Wundt's (1880s onward) 'elements or psychical resultants'
position. Titchener's definition of conscious content seems to have been arrested
at a reductive interpretation of the attention research being carried out at Leipzig
when he left that initial laboratory setting. Titchener would stand almost alone
in his continuing commitment to Wundt's 1860s-70s additive-conglomeration view
of so-called psychical resultants (which Wundt had initially borrowed from British
associationism but which Wundt gave up later on).
to Titchener (1908, 1909; 1910) 'attention' and so-called 'imageless' thought
(as well as the 'determining tendencies, sets, and meanings' later studied by
Külpe's students) could all be reduced (if carefully reflected upon by way
of experimental introspection) to contentual elements of images, sensations, and
affections. In this respect his views on psychology reflect both a conservative
drive for simplicity (regarding the number of mental elements to be brought into
the discipline) and the primarily British associationist background of his initial
education (see R.I. Watson & Evans, 1991; Tweney, 1997). His principle
of elemental combination (that of "accrual") does not go beyond
the additive model of James Mill's classical views on association of ideas.
his "context theory" of meaning, for instance, a theory which Titchener
(1909) put forward as part of the 'imageless thought controversy' (between himself
and the Würzburg school), both of the above italicized aspects of his methodological
approach are in evidence. "Meaning," for him, is merely an additive
(accruing) context of either conscious or unconsciously held (inadequately reflected)
sensory-imaginal elements and their attributes:
mind... is of the imaginal sort, -I wish that we had a better adjective!- and
my ideational type is of the sort described in the psychologies as mixed. I have
always had, and I have always used, a wide range and great variety of imagery;
and my furniture of images is, perhaps, in better than average condition because....
I have made a point of renewing it by practice.... Whenever I read or hear that
somebody has done something modestly, or gravely, or proudly, or humbly, or courteously,
I see a visual hint of the modesty or gravity or pride or humility.... A great
many of these [visual] sketches are irrelevant and accessory; but they often are,
and they always may be, the vehicles of a logical meaning.... I hold that, from
the psychological... point of view, meaning -so far as it finds representation
in consciousness at all- is always context.... And I understand by context simply
the mental process or complex of mental processes which accrues to the
original idea through the situation in which the organism finds itself -primitively,
the natural [object-oriented] situation; later, either the natural or the mental....
My task has been to persuade you that there is no need,... to swell the number
of the mental elements; that the psychology of thought, so far as we have it,
may be interpreted from the sensationalistic standpoint" (Titchener, Lectures
on the experimental psychology of the thought-processes, 1909).
following passage from Boring (himself a Titchener student) summarizes the relevant
contrast between Titchener's context theory and Külpe's imageless-thought
school of meaning quite nicely:
interest in thought was conditioned upon the work of the Würzburg school.
He took his stand for the sensory and imaginal nature of the thought-processes.
He opposed the belief in imageless thought and argued that, because some thought-processes
resist analysis, that fact does not mean that they are not actually sensory-imaginal
patterns. Thus at Cornell the 'conscious attitude' came to mean a pattern of the
older mental elements.... In Thought-Processes  he put forth his
context theory of meaning, which makes meaning the conscious sensory or imaginal
context that accrues (associatively, it would seem) to the initial sensory core
of a perception or the initial imaginal core of an idea. However, this law of
meaning holds [is introspectively evident], he thought, only for new perceptions
and ideas; in old habituated ones the core [typically] occurs without conscious
[awareness] and the meaning is 'carried unconsciously.' It was in this way that
he sought to explain the paucity [scarcity] of conscious [imaginal] content in
thought at Würzburg" (Boring, 1950, pp. 415-416).
Külpe's position was nonreductive and emergent. His Würzburg school
was an assertion of the possibility of replacing a purely elemental understanding
of thought-processes. Meaning (as in the case of verbal reasoning tasks) is there
and it is often not reducible to mere elements contained in presented stimuli,
nor to imaginal (visual) elements produced in an experimental subject. When one
is asked to assess the meaning of an ambiguous verbal statement (e.g., "Thinking
is so extraordinarily difficult that many prefer to judge") some sort of
determining tendencies (toward one assessment or another) need to be referred
to, and although these tendencies do not reside per se in the statement
itself (the presented stimulus) but in the assessment produced by the subject,
they can (under controlled conditions) be investigated by way of experiment. Similarly,
if one is asked to recall a poem, the individual words or mental images aroused
by these may be forgotten but the meaningful content can be stated anyway (see
methodology was nonreductive too. Both psychical resultants (like attention) and
higher mental processes (like the meaningful thought-processes studied by the
Würzburg school) are there, and they are not reducible to elements. Higher
mental processes, in particular, must be sought outside conscious content (as
defined by him) altogether.
methodological position, however, is completely reductive. Higher mental processes
are these elements and their attributes. He
carries out a direct translation of the methodological assumptions of late 19th
century positivism (the "Empirio-Criticism"
of Mach and Avenarius) to psychology. Therefore, we see a Humean epistemology
(e.g., Titchener's equation of image with idea and denial of "imageless"
thought). We also see an eschewing of anything deemed to be "metaphysical"
or "teleological" -including any reference to 'functions, intentions,
mental acts, or commonsense meanings' (the latter of which Titchener viewed as
a "stimulus error"). His psychology is a methodological elementism
which imposes a complete reduction of all higher processes to 3 "elements"
(sensations as elements of perception; images as elements of ideas; and affections
as elements of emotion) and 4 "attributes" (quality, intensity,
duration, and clearness).
her coverage of Titchener, Heidbreder (1933) touches on some of these points by
outlining his reductive methodology and its application to the "problem of
attention" as follows:
"Out of these
elements -sensation, image, and affection- is made the whole structure of the
psychic life.... the fundamental assumption is that in some way the more complex
states of consciousness are always made up of elementary processes, that different
combinations of elements.... [sometimes blend]... But always the more complex
states are in some sense compositions of the elements; and the task of psychology
is to show how the [so-called] higher mental processes can be accounted for in
the threshold of this task lies the problem of attention. Titchener's [1901-1905;
1910] treatment of this problem is strongly characteristic, revealing as it does
the distinctively 'structural' features of his psychology. In attention, [as]
in any mental process, there [may seem] to be something actually working, [such
as a prescientific active power or 'faculty of attention']. But there is no place
in Titchener's psychology for 'powers' and 'faculties' nor, ... for the 'acts'
and 'functions' of rival contemporary schools. In his hands, even attention becomes
a matter of content; and [experimental] introspection is consulted... to discover
its [arrangement].... In the state of attention, consciousness falls into
focus and margin, the... difference between the two being a difference in clearness.
Attention, then, is essentially clearness, .... a patterning of consciousness
[rather than a power or act]" (Heidbreder, 1933, pp. 138-139).
all its talk of mental "processes," Titchener's system was passive,
static, mechanical, and anti-applied to the extreme. We will pick up on this theme
in Section 4 by
contrasting Titchener's "structural" psychology more fully with the
"functional" psychology founded by William James but suffice it to say
that all the active processes referred to in Külpe's work (attending,
meaning, intending, thinking, etc.) become passive states
of structural content in Titchener. Attention, for instance, is not portrayed
as 'something you do' but as 'something which happens to you.'
expansions and interests (The Psychology Institute)
Titchener left for America in 1892 (bringing his elemental methodology to Cornell
along with him), Külpe stayed on at Leipzig for a time to both continue lecturing
as an untenured professor and to oversee the next expansive stage of the laboratory.
Külpe, therefore, was the functional head of the lab both prior to and after
its second (1892) move to the third floor of the main Leipzig classroom building
second facility (which had previously housed the department of gynecology) now
provided 11 work rooms all equipped with electrical connections. These were valuable
not only for the operation of existing
laboratory apparatus but also for advancing the material
technology of the trade (Bringmann et al., 1997; Blumenthal, 1997). In this
own description of the development of "The Institute" to 1909 (Transl.
by Murray, et al., 2002) highlights the successive efforts of the Leipzig laboratory
technicians (K. Krille in the first two facilities; and E. Zimmermann in the third);
as well as touching upon the subsequent refinements and inventions made by Wilhelm
Wirth -student, lab assistant, and eventual codirector (see also Schroder, 1997;
Külpe's 1894 departure, there was a third expansion of facilities which was
connected with a wider rebuilding effort at Leipzig University. In the fall of
1897, Wundt's institute was moved to the top floor of two new buildings (Paulinum
and Johanneum), which had been designed to his specifications and which served
as a model for similar laboratories in Germany and abroad. Wundt
(1909) provides a detailed floor plan and description of this new facility
as well as an account of its funding arrangements and teaching versus research
considerably older looking Wundt is shown (right) demonstrating a 'choice reaction
time set up' and accompanied by contemporaneous figures from this third institutional
setting (Ca. 1910). From left to right: M. Dittrich, W. Wirth, W. Wundt, O. Klemm,
and F. Sander (Bringmann & Tweney, 1980).
Wundt's (1909) report on the institute, and Boring's (1929; 1950) assessment concur
that research carried out in the laboratory began predominantly with sensation
and perception (including 'time sense'); shifted to include reaction time and
attention (mid-1880s); and only then moved onto consideration of topics like memory
(e.g., see Wirth's "Memory
apparatus"), volition, and feelings (the latter of which Boring reports
as an entirely 1890s onward affair).
no mention of "Volkerpsychologie" is made in Wundt's (1909) account,
Blumenthal (1997) reports that:
the onset of W.W.I, Wundt's facilities at Leipzig had grown into a multistoried
institute with subdivisions for cultural psychology, psychophysics, developmental
psychology, psycholinguistics, and more; each under the leadership of a subdirector
who reported to Wundt. But... this grandest moment, [was] on the eve of a great
decline [in Germany] caused by war, then economic chaos, then Hitler, and the
World War II bombing raids that destroyed it" (Blumenthal, 1997).
by the above term "grandest moment," Blumenthal means the full fruition
of Wundt's institutional strivings at Leipzig, then this is all well and good.
However, from the perspective of early through mid 20th century "general-experimental"
subject matter in psychology, it was Külpe's Würzburg school (not Wundt's
institute) that best succeeded in addressing the issues of higher thought-processes.
To do this work, they had to break free of the restrictive prescripts of Wundt's
system (even during its latter relatively more inclusive stage).
versus Wundt: Thought-processes, experimental tasks, and subject-experimenter
Külpe (1862-1915) -shown right- produced a summary statement of the way things
stood (both methodologically and theoretically) in 1912 which is very informative.
The "New psychology" of Wundt's institute was "so busy bringing
order [to]... sensations, images and feelings," that it was "quite late"
before anyone in Germany began addressing "airy thoughts." When they
did, the concepts of association psychology including mental chemistry failed
to come up with anything more than a "descriptive" analysis, and even
ruled out consideration of certain aspects of the experimental situation which
Külpe found to be of vital importance including the tasks being carried out
by subjects. Subsequent analysis of the Külpe versus Wundt divide have also
emphasized the differential social-power relations between subject and experimenter
in the two respective institutes.
first mental contents to be noted in consciousness [by Weber, Fechner, and Helmholtz]
were those of pressures and punctures, tastes and smells, sounds and colors....
That there was anything else without the palpable constitution of these formations
escaped the eye of the scientist who had not been trained to perceive it. [In
Wundt's laboratory:] The... researcher's attention [was directed] toward sensory
stimuli and sensations, afterimages, [or] contrast phenomena.... Furthermore,
[in Titchener and Wundt's institute] the commitment to the traditional
concepts of sensations, feelings, and images prevented the observation or labeling
of that which was neither sensation nor feeling nor image. However, as soon as
persons trained in self-observation [the Würzburgers] were allowed to make
complete and unprejudiced reports about their experiences of an experiment...
[along the intentional lines of Brentano] the necessity for an extension
of the previous concepts and definitions became obvious. We found in ourselves
processes, states, directions, and acts which did not fit the schema of the older
psychology. Subjects started to speak in the language of everyday life and to
give images only a subordinate importance in their private world. They knew and
thought, judged and understood, apprehended meaning and interpreted connections..."
Külpe's direction the Würzburg institute published some 50 experimental
studies before his departure for the University of Bonn in 1909. Studies
indicative of this newer kind of research include those by Karl Marbe (1901);
Ach (1905); and Karl Bühler (1907). For an account of how the intentional
('Act psychology') content, and assumed social roles of 'experimenter and subject'
in those respective studies were a break with the Wundtian tradition (see: Kleining,
et al. "Roles
of Researchers in Introspective Psychology"); and for an albeit brief
sketch of how they collectively compare with later roles assumed in American applied
and behavioral psychology (see Table 1 in Ballantyne,
1996). It should suffice for our present purposes, however, to return to Külpe's
one once could ... construct a mosaic... of the coming and going of conscious
elements, such a simplification and dependence upon chemical analogies has now
lost its footing.... Just as perception could not be characterized as a mere having
of sensation, no less could thinking be conceived as the associative course of
images. Association psychology, as it had been founded by Hume, lost its hegemony....
[Now] thoughts became not only signs for [passive visual] sensations but independent
[active intentional processes along the lines of Brentano].... And now many acts
were recognized which previously had not existed for psychology: Attending and
recognizing, willing and rejecting, comparing and differentiation, and many more....
[P]revious psychology [defined] these acts through their symptoms. Attention was
considered as a group of tension and muscle sensations, because so-called strained
attention gives rise to such sensations [see Titchener (1908; 1910) and Wundt
(1912) in this regard]. Similarly, willing [volition] was dissolved into images
of motions because they usually precede an external act of the will.... With the
recognition of these [as] acts... The center of gravity of mental life had to
be moved. Previously one could say: We are attentive because our eyes are fixed
on a particular point in the visual field and the muscles that keep the eyes in
that position are tensed. It now became clear that this conception inverted the
real state of affairs and that what it should rather say is: We direct our eyes
toward a certain point and strain our muscles because we want to observe it. Activity
became the central focus, receptivity and the mechanism of images secondary"
Külpe's above comment about the "center of gravity" shifting toward
"activity," one can understand that his approach was not just a rejection
of the radical elementism of Titchener (who portrayed higher mental processes
as merely additive combinations of elements), but also an attempted remedy for
the passivity of Wundt's 'creative synthesis' approach by rejecting the analogy
to "chemistry" altogether. The active organism (in particular the adult
human mind with its determining tendencies) is being appealed to as a molar unit
of analysis for psychological experiments on thought-processes. Elementism is
avoided by showing that meaning (as in the case of verbal reasoning) has an existence
and properties of its own, and Wundt's passive account of the emergence of these
new properties is remedied by introducing the concept of determining tendencies
(that the organism is doing something with information it receives in an active,
implication for experimental method of Külpe's departure from Wundt's position
is a new emphasis upon the "tasks" being carried out in experimental
situations. For they are just as important (he maintains) as the structure, control
and measurement of external stimuli that was emphasized in Wundt's approach
psychological experiments are imaginable without tasks! The tasks must, therefore,
be considered just as important an experimental condition as the apparatus and
the stimuli that it presents. A variation in the task [e.g., instructions as to
what is to be attended to], is at least as important an experimental procedure
as a change in external experimental conditions [those emphasized by Wundt]....
importance of the task and its effect on the structure and course of mental events
could not be explained with the [theoretical] tools of association psychology.
Rather, Ach  was able to show that even associations of considerable strength
could be overcome with a counteracting task. The force with which a determining
tendency [from the organism] acts is not only greater than the familiar reproductive
tendencies [from varied conditions of stimulation], it also derives from a different
source and its effectiveness is not tied to [merely passive] associative relations"
systematic strivings of the Würzburg school can be summed up as an attempt
to expand 'that which would need to be referenced to' by psychologists in the
method of scientific introspection. In the area of attention, for instance, Wundt's
(1912) analytical distinction between "apprehension" versus its creative
resultant "apperception" was a position very similar to Titchener's
(1910) openly additive treatment of "focus and margin." In both of these
conservative theoretical treatments, attention is portrayed as a passive occurrence,
as an unexplained shift in the mental state of the organism. Külpe is attempting
to expand experimental analysis beyond the merely descriptive (additive and mental
chemistry) models of attentional states (that which happens to the observer) toward
working out an active account of the intentional process of attention (how
and why attentional shifts take place). Such an account requires reference to
preparatory mental sets and determining tendencies.
Remarks for Section 3:
you will be starting to get a feel for what the empirical and theoretical implications
are of taking a specific set of constrained philosophical assumptions and
attempting to build a psychological system upon that basis. The main problematic
assumptions adopted by the figures covered in this Section have been representionalism,
vitalism, methodological parallelism, and the "Critical positivism"
of Mach and Avenarius.
(a.k.a., indirect realism
or the indirect theory of perception) featured prominently in the views of British
associationist thinkers (David Hartley, James Mill, John Stuart Mill) with Thomas
Brown being an exception because (as part of the Scottish School) he followed
the so-called naive direct
realist approach of his mentor Thomas Reid (see Section
2). Various forms of the indirect (enrichment) theory of perception were also
carried forward into the German physiological and psychophysical traditions of
research (as exemplified in the views of Johannes Müller, Fechner, and then
Helmholtz); as well as into the very definition of psychology postulated by Wundt
(1896), Titchener (1896) and Külpe (1893).
of suggesting that physics deals with events in the world and psychology deals
with consciousness or mental life (or any number of seemingly obvious direct realist
ways in which to divide up the subject matter of the sciences), all three of these
early "discipline-building figures" (Wundt, Titchener, Külpe) started
out by defining the territory of psychology in terms of "sensory experience"
-i.e., into "mediate versus immediate experience" or the rather more
equivocal independent versus dependent "point of view."
some point in his career, however, Oswald Külpe, -probably at the time of
writing his Einleitung in die Philosophie (Introduction to Philosophy)
1895- started to come under the influence of Franz Brentano (1838-1917). Brentano
(a philosopher at Würzburg from 1866-1873 and then at Vienna 1874-1880) was
also working within the confines of the representationalist assumption, but his
solution to the logical limitations which it imposed was a much more interesting
one. That which is "psychological," he suggests, is "intentional"
and that which belongs to physics is not:
mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages
called the intentional... what we might call... reference to a content, direction
toward an object... Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within
itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something
is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love, loved, in
hate, hated, in desire, desired, and so on" (Brentano, Psychology from
an empirical standpoint [Psychologie vom epirischen Standpunkte], 1874).
Brentano stressed that psychic processes (ideas, judgments, emotions) are acts
which are intentional (directed toward something). In other words, when we look
at a book the book doesn't look back at us. The book does not take us as
an object, we take it as an object. Brentano's philosophy was an attempt
to divide up the world in terms of the subject-object relationship and it constitutes
a first step (in Germany) to break free from the traditional constraints of representationalism.
Out of his position grew various forms of phenomenological analysis of thought-processes
including that of Edmund Husserl and Oswald Külpe's Würzburg school
of psychological researchers.
reference to such intentional acts and final causes (the teleological ends of
the mental acts being carried out) were inimical to Titchener's elemental positivism
because they were considered "metaphysical." Similarly, the active
phenomenological aspects of the tasks being referred to in the Würzburg
studies were inimical to the passive creative synthesis account of Wundt.
It was on such methodological grounds, therefore, that both Titchener and Wundt
critiqued the Würzburg experiments. The three-way split between Wundt, Titchener,
and Külpe was not one of point of fact but one of the method of collection
and theoretical interpretation of those facts.
resulting disciplinary controversy (regarding the respective import of phenomenological,
experimental, and cultural methods, as well as the very definition of psychology),
however, was never satisfactorily resolved in Germany, partly because Külpe
died of influenza in 1915 at age 53. Wundt outlived his most rebellious student
to retire in 1917 (at the age of 85) and even published his memoirs in 1920 before
passing away two weeks after his 88th birthday. Meanwhile,
Titchener, who from 1909 onward adopted the self-serving authoritative attitude
that there is "less prospect of gain from a revolution than from persistent
work under the existing regime", stubbornly adhered to his orthodox "structural"
psychology (which recoiled from the wider American context of functional-developmental,
comparative-animal, and applied psychology) until his death in 1927.
of the philosophical and disciplinary issues raised by the initial round of disciplinary
strivings in Germany would come only after evolutionary theory was adopted,
applied, and refined in both Britain and America. It is to these early years of
the adoption and application of evolutionary theory in psychology that we turn
to in Section 4.
regard to how Section 4 relates back to the content covered in Section 3, let's
emphasized that William James will be the first major late 19th century figure
that does not define psychology by its relationship to physics. There are two
very good reasons for that: (1) James was not a positivist (but rather an explicit
anti-positivist who openly embraces 'pragmatic' metaphysical positions like direct
realism); and (2) his approach to psychology was informed by evolutionary theory
(which for him requires an appeal to the developmental aspects of psychological
other words, having considered in Section 3 the numerous methodological similarities
between Wundt, Titchener, and the early Külpe (whose pre-evolutionary positions
dominated the initial German tradition of psychological discourse), what we should
be prepared for now is something very different in William James. You will detect
throughout that I have tremendous sympathy for figures like James and I will not
attempt to hide that fact because part of my job is to make recommendations to
you. The object
in this respect will be: If you are looking for a disciplinary model to emulate,
don't pick Titchener, pick James. You'll see why.
while in progress:
Sept-Nov, 2003; Minor Grammatical changes: January & April, 2008.
Section 4 |
Course Intro |