A Hundred Years of Psychology, 1833-1933

By J. C. Flugel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
SENSATION AND THE SENSE ORGANS

OUR consideration of the nervous system leads us naturally to the allied subject of the sense organs. Here is a field which, by its very nature, belongs both to psychology and physiology; for it is impossible to deal with the psychology of sensation without taking into account the structure and function of the organs through which sensations come about, while it is profitless to consider these organs except in relation to the psychical impressions of the external world which it is their business to produce. The senses are "the gateways of knowledge"; without them the mind has no materials to work on (a fact which the associationists, especially, had stressed). It might have been supposed, therefore, that the psychologist would make every endeavour to understand the intimate structure and working of the sense organs. Such indeed has been the attitude of psychologists for the last half century and more, an attitude which we owe largely to the influence of such men as Fechner, Helmholtz and Wundt. At the present day, students of psychology learn about the sense organs as a matter of course. Indeed, for two or three decades, the problems of sensation and perception, considered in intimate relation to the function of the relative organs of sensation, constituted actually the major portion of experimental psychology; and in recent years these problems have only appeared to recede in importance, because of our increasing knowledge concerning what we are wont to call the "higher" mental processes. But a hundred years ago the philosophical bias of psychology was too strong to make

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