The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions

By Margaret P. Munger | Go to book overview

12
HERMANN VON HELMHOLTZ
tensive sensitivity, as well as those of the intensive, when taken according to the principle provided here, have only the value of observational data, which by themselves do not provide insight into the basic relationships of sensations to their physical basis, but which, together with other data, may yet serve to contribute to the establishment of this relationship, if one consistently takes and uses them as purely observational data.One might entertain doubts from the start—considering the great variability of sensitivity due to individual differences, time, and innumerable internal and external conditions—that it would be of any use to strive for a measure for either form of sensitivity. For one thing, something that is constantly varying is not amenable to exact measurement; for another, results do not show constancy, and therefore are valueless, since results observed with certain individuals, at a certain time and under certain circumstances, are not found again at other times and circumstances.Indeed, it cannot be denied that in this respect there do exist difficulties of measurement in our psychophysical domain, difficulties which do not exist in purely physical or astronomical areas. But instead of the measure or the possibility of obtaining fruitful results by its means being destroyed thereby, this difference only means that the sphere of inquiry must be widened, and considerations introduced which do not exist in the other areas.Insofar as sensitivity is a variable, we should not seek for a constant as its measure. We may, however, look for (1) its limits and (2) its mean values; we may also investigate (3) how its variations depend on conditions; finally we may seek (4) lawful relations that remain constant during variation; the last are the most important. The methods for measuring sensitivity that will be discussed will provide not only sufficient means, but also sufficient precision, for research and investigations into all these matters.A thorough investigation under these circumstances is necessarily more complex than it would be for a single, constant, unchanging subject, for it cannot be accomplished for one person alone and it has as yet not been carried out adequately for a single sense domain. In this respect, rather, there opens up a rich field for future research, especially for the younger generation, by means of the methods that we will now discuss. This research is by itself not difficult, yet it demands patience, attention, endurance, and faithfulness.
NOTES
1. Trans. Note: A typical Fechner notion. God is the soul of the universe.
2. Examination in this case is equivalent to forming, from deductions based on external observations, an adequate concept of how the internal condition would appear upon removal of barriers to direct examination.
3. Trans. Note: A reference to free navigation as a political problem—for example, free navigation on the Rhine.
4. Berichte der sächs. Soc. 1853, p. 83; abstracted in Fechner's Centralblatt für Naturwissenschaften und An thropologie. 1853, No. 31.
5. Ed. Note: E. H. Weber, Der Tastsinn und das Gmeingefühl. R. Wagner's Handwörterbuch der Physiolo gie. 1846, III, ii, 481–588.
6. Trans. Note: Fechner undoubtedly meant one third, rather than twice as strong a stimulus, for three times the sensitivity.
7. Ed. Note: This sensory circle is a translation of E. H. Weber's Empfindungskreis.

12
HERMANN VON HELMHOLTZ

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821–1894) writes in his autobiography that
he had trouble as a child in school because he “had a bad memory for disconnected
things.” He did find, however, that he enjoyed memorizing poetry of the highest sort—in-
cluding some books of the Odyssey and Horace's Odes. He found his true subject follow

-154-

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