Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology

By Jon E. Roeckelein | Go to book overview

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UNCONSCIOUS INFERENCE, DOCTRINE OF. The German physiologist/ psychologist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand Helmholtz (1821–1894) developed the doctrine of unconscious inference (in German, ‘‘unbewusster Schluss’’), which refers to a judgment one makes on the basis of a limited amount of data or evidence and is made without conscious awareness (Helmholtz, 1856–1866; cf: Wundt, 1862; Chalmers, 1996). The notion of unconscious inference was offered by Helmholtz as an explanation for many perceptual phenomena (see Allport, 1955; cf: the likelihood principle—Helmholtz’s idea that people interpret sensations in such a way as to perceive what is most likely to have given rise to those sensations; Sutherland, 1996). For example, concerning the perceptual principle of interposition: when two objects (A and B) are arranged before an observer such that A is partially blocking B, the observer makes an unconscious inference and concludes that object A must be closer to him or her than object B. Historically, the doctrine of unconscious inference was a very important part of Helmholtz’s theory of perception and was a corollary of the empiricist position—the viewpoint that knowledge results from experience, induction, and learning, and where in its once extreme form it asserted that mind at birth was a ‘‘blank slate’’ or tabula rasa upon which experience writes its messages. The empiricist position competed with the viewpoints of nativism—the doctrine that the capacity to perceive time and space is inborn, genetic, or inherited; rationalism—the perspective that truth is received through the use of rational thought and deductive reasoning; and a priorism—the doctrine that the mind comes equipped with innate ideas where genuine knowledge is possible independent of experience. Unconscious inference may be viewed also in connection with Helmholtz’s theory of color contrast (which never gained general acceptance): red and verdigris are color complementaries and contrast with each other; a gray-colored stimulus figure appears on a red ground; it contrasts with the red, and, by unconscious inference, the observer sees it as the opposite (‘‘greenish’’)

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Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • A 1
  • B 64
  • C 87
  • D 128
  • E 154
  • F 180
  • G 199
  • H 224
  • I 250
  • J 273
  • K 279
  • L 286
  • M 317
  • N 338
  • O 349
  • P 356
  • Q 395
  • R 396
  • S 418
  • T 451
  • U 463
  • V 466
  • W 474
  • X 485
  • Y 486
  • Z 489
  • Appendix A 495
  • Appendix B 521
  • Selected Bibliography 527
  • Subject Index 529
  • About the Author 549
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