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Published: July 15, 2017
Eric Mason

History of Psychology

  1. Many argue that Wundt was one of the first (if not the first) true psychologists. Indeed, he strove to move psychology away from a more philosophical perspective towards a more experimental science. Wundt Held as one of his goals the development of psychology into a new science that could stand along side such established sciences as biology, physiology, and physics.

Wundt founded the first experimental laboratory and journal for psychology. Experiments in his laboratory were fashioned after the methodology used in the physiological studies of his time. Although Wundt recognized the importance of observable physiological reactions in his experiments (e.g., for mearuing reaction time, attention, etc.), he also believe the inner psychological processes (which were unobservable) could be measured through careful analytical introspection. Perhaps, Wundt’s most important contribution to psychology was his desire to development psychology into a legitimate science through the development of psychological laboratory, in which psychological process could be measure via experimentation.

  1. New psychology can be characterized as a move away from its philosophical origins. It sought to analyze psychological processes through the use of experimentation. New psychology employed laboratories, in which methods and instrumentation similar to those used in the more established sciences, (such as physiology) were used. Furthermore, new psychology attempted to measure things that were observable (i.e., it dealt with more than just consciousness), such as reaction time, sensation, and perception. Some argue that this would lead to the rise of behaviorism some years later.
  2. The discoveries of Bell and Magendie are significant in regards to the later discoveries of Mueller. In fact, one could argue that the discoveries of Bell and Magendie paved the way for Mueller. Bell and Magendie working at about the same time—though independently—found that structural differences in neural physiology resulted in a distinction between motor functions and sensory functions. In other words, they found that there were nerves that were specifically for motor functions, as well as for sensory functions. This became known and the Bell-Magendie Law. Before Bell and Magendie, it was generally believed that both motor and sensory functions were carried through the same type of nerves.

Mueller went even further and found that there were different nerves for each type of sensory function. That is, he found that there were different nerves responsible for visual sensations, hearing, smelling, etc. What is more, it did not matter how these different nerves were stimulated, as they would always result in the same type of sensory experience. These findings are known as Mueller’s Doctrine of Specific Nerve Energies.

  1. The fundamental idea of Mueller’s doctrine is that our nerves are responsible for how we experience the world. What’s more, his doctrine points out that our experience of the world is determine by numerous types of nerves that are responsible for generating different types of sensory experiences of the world (how we see, smell, feel, and hear the world around us).

There are similarities between Mueller’s doctrine and Berkeley’s idea of the object. Berkeley held that we do really experience the world, but rather we experience our sensory perceptions. In other words, we experience the world via our senses—our nerves, not the world per se, determine our experience. Mueller’s discoveries basically give physiologically proof to Berkeley’s more or less philosophical standpoint on how experience the world.

  1. Helmholtz proposed that nerve fibers are connected to different parts of the brain. When these nerves are stimulated, impulses are carried along its fibers to different parts of the brain; thus, resulting in stimulation of a certain part of the brain. Hemholtz stated our sensory experiences are a result of these different parts of the brain being stimulated. Helmholtz, therefore, determined that various sensory perceptions were the functions of different locales in our brains.
  2. LaMettrie believed that the human body functioned much like a machine. Like a machine, all parts must function properly if it is to run properly. For example, all of our nerve cells, optical nerves, eyes, brain, etc. all must be functioning properly and in sync for an experience as simple as holding up a flower for one to admire. LaMettrie contended that through experience and education, however, the human machine could be improved upon and function more optimally.

LaMettrie believed that environmental factors outside the human machine could affect its performance. For example, cold, drugs, injury, or disease could affect the performance of the human machine. Perhaps, LaMettrie’s best evidence for the human body as a machine were his own experiences. While experiencing a fever, LaMettrie concluded that his sickness resulted in a mental disturbance for himself. This led LaMettrie to believe that his mind was simply a part of his body. When his body was not functioning optimally (due to sickness) it would then be expected that his mental state would also experience problems. As stated above, all parts of the machine must function if the machine is to run optimally.

  1. Cabanis divided the nervous system into different parts. For example, he stated that simple reflexes and instincts do not require the brain. He stated that the instincts of animals that did not possess brains were proof of this. According to Cabanis, coordinated semiconscious behavior required the use of the old brain or brain stem behaviors. Lastly, Cabanis held that more complex, higher-level mental process were controlled by the brains, specifically the cerebral lobes. However, he believed that both simple reflexes and instincts followed the same types of laws as the most complex mental processes.
  2. The main difference between the Wundt’s Structural Psychology and Titchener’s Structuralism can be seen in their views regarding higher mental processes. Wundt believed that higher mental processes could not be studied experimentally. Titchener held, on the other hand, the higher mental processes could be analyzed just as simpler states (Wundt held that only simpler states could be analyzed). According to Titchener, higher mental processes, like thought, were content-experiences that could be broken down into simpler states, such as sensations and images. Therefore, they were capable of being analyzed. Furthermore, Titchener discounted Wundt’s doctrines of creative synthesis and apperception.
  3. Titchener believed that had a place among the fundamental sciences (such as biology and physics). For Titchener, psychology was the science of feelings, sensations, and images. In short, he saw psychology as the science of consciousness. To explain things like feeling and sensations in terms of brain structure and the nervous system was not psychology, but rather biology. Titchener, therefore, believed that psychology was necessary as a fundamental science, as it fulfilled a role the other sciences could not.

Titchener’s “point of view” best explains how he saw psychology fitting in as a fundamental science. “Point of view” was described by Titchener as how one chooses the view phenomenon in the world. That is, one can view the same phenomenon for many different perspectives (e.g., as a biologist, psychologist or physicist), with no particular perspective be more accurate or inaccurate than the other—simply different.

  1. James’ emergency theory and Angell’s lasped intelligence theory of instints have much in common. Indeed, Angell was influenced by James’ theory. Both theories see consciousness as an adaptive characteristic, naturally selected for throughout the evolutionary process. They both saw consciousness as a problem solver, coming to the forefront whenever necessary. When it was not necessary, habit and instinct would take over. In fact, Angell believed that instincts were once conscious behaviors that became so routine, they were regulated to instinctual behaviors. The origins of this idea can be traced back to James.
  2. James believed that all thought flowed together like a stream. He did not feel that consciousness could be broken down into individual and/or simpler elements—no matter how complex consciousness was. James’ stream of thought which proposed that thought and consciousness should be viewed in its entirety as a complete whole, rather than broken down into simpler or smaller elements enables one to easily characterize James as a holist.
  3. The psychological views of the functionalists and structuralists differ, considerably. Functionalist are concerned primarily with what the mind does. They believe the mind should be analyzed as a whole. On the other hand, structuralists are concerned with the structure over the mind, and how to break down its complexities into smaller, simpler elements. In a sense, they the structuralists’ goal was to dissect (perhaps, figuratively speaking) each part of the mind in an attempt to better understand, while the functionalist sought to gain a more holistic understanding by examining in its entirety with all its complexities.

These divergent perspectives naturally carry over into how functionalists and structuralists view consciousness. Structuralists sought to understand consciousness as it was, not for what it did for us. For structuralists, the goal of analyzing consciousness was to understand its true nature, not to for understanding its purpose.

It could be said that the functionalist standpoint on consciusness was just the opposite



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