Psychologist at Large: An Autobiography and Selected Essays

By Edwin G. Boring | Go to book overview

Dual Role of the Zeitgeist
in Scientific Creativity
1955

This paper, like the preceding one, also deals with the psychology of scientific activity, this time more with the intellectual reinforcements and inhibitions of the Zeitgeist than the motivational effects of the ego. The term Zeitgeist is useful and is coming now to find a limited employment, but inevitably it is being altered from meaning the way in which the climate of opinion affects thinking at a given time to the way in which the climate and its effects keep continuously changing. The Zeitgeist is no longer an atmosphere but a steadily changing current of common belief.

This "magic" term Zeitgeist means at any one time the climate of opinion as it affects thinking, yet it is also more than that, for the Zeitgeist is forever being altered, as if the thinker whom it affects were shifting latitude and longitude over sea and land so that his climate keeps changing in unpredictable ways. Goethe, who in 1827 ( p. 78) may have been the first to use this word with explicit connotation, limited it to the unconscious, covert, and implicit effects of the climate of opinion, at the same time ruling out thought control by such explicit processes as persuasion and education.

Such a concept proves useful in those cases where plagiarism is

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Reprinted with permission from the Scientific Monthly, 1955, vol. 80, 101-106.

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