The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions

By Margaret P. Munger | Go to book overview
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Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887) found only two of his courses as a university student
interesting: Ernst Heinrich Weber's physiology course and Karl Brandan Mollweide's alge-
bra course—understandable favorites for the future psychophysicist. Fechner earned a
medical degree from the University of Leipzig, but never practiced—probably a blessing
for potential patients, since he writes that he “had not learned to tie an artery, to apply the
simplest bandage, or to perform the simplest operation connected with childbirth” for lack
of interest in the practical side of medicine. Fechner's father, a Lutheran minister, did have
a practical side, installing a lightning rod on his church steeple and admonishing his con-
gregation to honor the laws of physics as well as the laws of God. Writing to earn money,
Fechner not only published a series of satiric articles as Dr. Mises, including “Proof that the
Moon is Made of Iodine” and “On the Comparative Anatomy of Angels,” but also translat-
ed a number of French texts on physics and chemistry. Appointed to a lectureship in
physics at the University of Leipzig in 1824, Fechner continued to support himself with
translations, publishing his first original physics research in 1828. After he advanced to the
rank of full professor, extremely poor health led to his resignation in 1840. Following a
long recovery process, Fechner explored a wide variety of metaphysical, esthetic, and
parapsychological issues, and on October 22, 1850, reported that while lying in bed he re-
alized how to connect the physical, measurable world to the psychological experience via
a proportion. Fechner's psychophysics was recognized by many established scientists, in-
cluding Hermann von Helmholtz (p. 154) and Ernst Mach, as critical to establishing psy-
chology as a scientific discipline unique from philosophy and physiology.




General Considerations on the Relation of Body
and Mind

While knowledge of the material world has blossomed in the great development of the various branches of natural science and has benefited from exact principles and methods that assure it of successful progress, and while knowledge of the mind has, at least up to a certain point, established for itself a solid basis in psychology and logic, knowledge of the relation of mind and matter, of body and soul, has up to now remained merely a field for philosophical argument without solid foundation and without sure principles and methods for the progress of inquiry.

The immediate cause of this less favorable condition is, in my opinion, to be sought in the following factual circumstances, which admittedly only make us seek their more remote origins. The relationships of the material world itself we can pursue directly and in accord with experience, as no less the relationships of the inner or mental world. Knowledge of the former, of course, is limited by the reach of our senses and their amplifications, and of the latter by the limitations of everyone's

From Gustav Fechner, “Introduction. Outer Psychophysics.” In T. B. H. E. Adler, D. H. Howes, & E. G. Boring (Eds.), Elements
of Psychophysics (pp. 1–18, 38–45). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966. (Original work published 1860)


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