Highlights From “An Introduction to Psychology” (Wilhelm Wundt)

Published on February 27, 2020 (↻ June 19, 2024), filed under and (RSS feed for all categories).

Another part of my random, untargeted book highlight series, here are some snippets from Wilhelm Wundt’s An Introduction to Psychology (1911).

Emphasis as it appears in the original work may be missing, and my own edits, though marked, may be broad (and unacademic). Then, important: By sharing these highlights I neither implicitly endorse nor recommend respective authors and their views. Assume that I know little of the authors, and that I have a nuanced view on the matter. (The only thing the highlights can tell is that—much like the books themselves—for some reason or other I found them of interest.) When a detailed understanding of my views is important, ask me.

The cover of “An Introduction to Psychology.”

[…] if we ask further, what is this consciousness which psychology investigates? the answer will be, “It consists of the sum total of facts of which we are conscious.”

All objects of experience have this peculiarity, namely, that we cannot really define them but only point to them, and if they are of a complex nature analyse them into their separate qualities. Such an analysis we call a description.

[…] it is really extraordinarily difficult to hear the beats [of the metronome] in absolutely the same intensity, or, to put it in other words, to hear unrhythmically. Again and again we recur to the ascending or descending beat. We can express this phenomenon in this sentence: Our consciousness is rhythmically disposed.

Consciousness is rhythmically disposed, because the whole organism is rhythmically disposed. The movements of the heart, of breathing, of walking, take place rhythmically.

Our consciousness is not a thing separated from our whole physical and mental being, but a collection of the contents that are most important for the mental side of this being.

If we listen attentively to a row of beats of this length when the metronome is going at a medium rapidity of, say, 1 to 1½ seconds, and then after a short pause repeat a row of exactly the same length, we recognise immediately the identity of the two. In the same way a difference will be immediately noticed, if the second row is only by one beat longer or shorter than the first. […] such an immediate recognition of the identity of two successive rows is only possible if each of them is in consciousness as a whole. It is not at all necessary for both of them to be in consciousness at the same time. […] If we look, for example, at a regular hexagon for a short time, and then cast another glance at the same figure, we recognise at once that both images are identical. Such a recognition is impossible if we divide the figure up into several parts and show these parts separately. […] The difference consists in this, that the hexagon was perceived in all its parts at once, whereas the beats followed each other in succession. […] It has been proved by such experiments that sixteen successive beats, alternately rising and falling, or so-called 2/8 time, is the maximum for such a row, in order that all the separate elements may still find room in our consciousness. […] A grasping together of the row as a whole becomes, however, impossible, when the beats follow each other so slowly that no rhythm may be heard, or when the rapidity is so great that the 2/8 time is lost, and the mind tries to group the beats together in a more complicated rhythm. The former limit lies at about 2½ seconds, and the latter at 1 second.

Let us picture consciousness for a moment as a plane surface of a limited extension. Then our scope of consciousness is one diameter of this surface, and not the whole extent. There may at the same time be many other elements of consciousness scattered about beside the ones we are just measuring.

The scope of consciousness, in accordance with our definition, is a relatively constant value, if we keep to a special time, e.g. the 2/8 time. […] We can hear into our uniform row of beats not only a simple 2/8 time, but a more complicated rhythm, e.g. the following 4/4 time:

This transition to more complicated rhythms is to a great degree dependent upon the rapidity of the beat, as well as upon our will.

[…] for such a complicated row of beats, we find that five bars of 4/4 time can be grouped together and grasped as a whole; and if this row is repeated after a short interval, it can be recognised as identical with the preceding row. Here, then, we have forty beats as the scope of consciousness for this complicated rhythm, whereas with the most simple rhythmical arrangement we had only sixteen beats. This scope of forty seems to be the greatest we can attain by any means.

The rhythmical disposition of consciousness demands certain limits for the number of grades of emphasis, and these on their part demand that specific rhythmical disposition which is peculiar to the human consciousness.

[…] for that gradual approach to the threshold of consciousness […] we use the expression “a darkening,” and for the reverse process “a brightening” of the content of consciousness.

[…] a comprehension as a whole is possible as long as no part sinks beneath the threshold of consciousness.

We say that that element of consciousness, which is mostly clearly apprehended, lies in the fixation-point of consciousness, and that all the rest belongs to the field of consciousness.

[…] this central part of the field of our consciousness, which immediately surrounds the subjective fixation-point[.] We call that psychical process, which is operative in the clear perception of a narrow region of the content of consciousness, attention.

[…] the fixation-point of attention and the fixation-point of the field of vision are by no means identical. They can by practice be separated, and the attention can be directed to a point in indirect vision, i.e. a point lying to this or to that side of the line of vision. From this we see that clear perception in the psychological sense and clear vision in the physiological sense do not necessarily coincide.

If we carry out the experiments in the manner described, it appears that an unpractised observer can perceive, at most, only 3–4 letters. After a few more experiments this number increases to 6. Of course, as before mentioned, a new diagram must be used in every new experiment. This value 6 cannot be increased by further practice, and it remains the same for different observers. We are therefore entitled to regard it as a constant for attention for the human consciousness.

If we show the observer a word such as this—


he can read it at once, without being prepared for it and without previous practice. With isolated elements he could at most grasp six, but here, under exactly the same conditions, the scope is extended to seventeen or more elements without the slightest difficulty.

It is clear that this is essentially the same phenomenon that we encountered in our experiments on rhythm with the sense of hearing. The conditions of combination are, however, in so far different, as the stimuli for the sense of sight were simultaneous, whereas for the sense of hearing the whole was made up of simple impressions that followed each other. […] A word can only be recognised at a momentary glance, if it has been known to us before as a whole, or with compound words, if their chief parts have been familiar to us. Therefore a word of an absolutely unknown language appears as a complex of unarranged letters, and with such a complex our scope is again limited to six isolated elements.

A musical time that is adequate to our sense of rhythm behaves in exactly the same way as a word or sentence that is adequate to our sense of language. […] Only a limited part of such a word falls within the scope of attention, and from this part the psychical power of combination goes over to those other elements that lie in the wider field of consciousness. In fact there is a well-known phenomenon that gives a striking proof for this combination of the parts of a word or sentence grasped by attention with unclearly perceived elements. It consists in the fact that misprints are so often unnoticed, especially in rapid reading. This would be impossible if we were forced to perceive with our attention equally clearly all the separate elements of a long word or of a sentence in order to be able to read.

Can we not in our rhythm experiments arrange the conditions so that we may obtain a similar isolation of simple impressions, as was necessary in measuring the scope of attention for the sense of sight? […] This is not so easy as it appears to be at the first glance, because of the rhythmical disposition of our consciousness and of our whole psycho-physical organisation. […] it is possible to conform to this condition, if the metronome beats do not show any noticeable objective differences. The interval between the beats must be chosen long enough to check any tendency to rhythmical grouping, and yet not too long, so that it may still remain possible to grasp so many beats as one whole. In general an interval of from 1½–2½ seconds will conform to this requirement.

If in the first test a row of six beats is given (row A), and in the second a row of nine, it appears in repeating two rows of the same length, that a precise recognition of identity is present with row A, whereas with row B this is impossible. Even with seven or eight beats recognition is very uncertain. We arrive therefore at the same result as in our optical experiments. Six simple impressions form the limit for the scope of attention.

There still remains another phenomenon that coincides with this result. It is the more worthy of note since it belongs to a third sense, namely the sense of touch […]. There had been many futile attempts to discover the most useful method of printing for the blind, before Braille, a French teacher of the blind, about the middle of last century solved this important practical problem. […]

He came to this result, that, first of all, groups of distinct points were the only suitable means of establishing letter-signs that could be easily distinguished, and that, secondly, not more than six definite points were to be used for one letter.

[…] let us use two short expressions for the two processes of the entrance into consciousness, and of the elevation into the focus of attention[.] We shall call the entrance into the large region of consciousness—apprehension, and the elevation into the focus of attention—apperception. […] We shall use these expressions purely in their empirical and psychological sense. Accordingly we understand by apprehension simply the entrance of some content into consciousness—an entrance that can be in fact proved, and by apperception the grasping of this by the attention. The apprehended content is that of which we are more or less darkly aware; it is always, however, above the threshold of consciousness. The apperceived content is that of which we are clearly aware […]. If the apperception is directed to one isolated element, the rest, the merely psychically apprehended elements, disappear as if they were non-existent. On the other hand, if the apperceived content is bound to certain merely apprehended elements of consciousness, it is combined into one total apprehension, which is only limited by the threshold of consciousness itself. In close relationship with this stands the fact that the scope of apperception is a relatively limited and constant one, and that the scope of apprehension is not only larger, but also much more variable.

[…] we are not able to direct our attention perfectly steadily and uniformly to one and the same object. When we attempt to do this, we notice that a continual change takes place in the apperception of the object in question.

[…] the two phenomena, the apprehension of connected beats and of connected words and sentences, are essentially the same.

[…] apperception is the function that unites these elements, and that in general it always combines directly apperceived parts of the whole with the merely apprehended parts that stand in connection. […] At times the apperception concentrates upon a very narrow region, in order completely to free itself from the enormous manifoldness of incoming impressions. At other times, with the help of its capacity for grouping together successive elements which arises from the oscillating nature of its function, it winds its threads through a wide web of psychical contents, that stretches over the whole field of consciousness.

[…] apprehension, which with apperception together form the whole of our psychical life.

Of what kind is the specific content that appears to us in these forms?

The whole task of psychology can therefore be summed up in these two problems:
What are the elements of consciousness?
What combinations do these elements undergo and what laws govern these combinations?

[…] many psychologists use the word “idea” only for a complex that does not arise from direct outward impressions, i.e. only for so-called “memory images.” For ideas formed by outward sense impressions they generally use the word “perception.” […] this distinction is psychologically of absolutely no importance, since there are really no valid differences between memory ideas and so-called sense-perceptions.

[…] we meet with the same relations between sensations and ideas, as we saw in the metronome beats described above. Green or red, white or black, &c., are called visual sensations; a green surface or a black body is called a visual idea. The relation is exactly the same as between the single beat and the row of beats.

The ideas of this sense [vision] are absolutely inexhaustible. If we think of the manifold forms of surfaces and bodies, and of the differences in distance and direction, in which we perceive objects, it is obvious that it is absolutely impossible to find any limit here. Thus the richness in sensations and ideas, which each of the senses conveys, stands in close relation to the spatial distance of the objects which they introduce into consciousness. The narrowest region is that of the touch and organic sense, where the impressions all refer to our own body. Then come the sensations of the two so-called chemical senses of taste and of smell. […] The sensations and ideas of hearing stretch much further. […] last of all, the sense of sight, the sense of distance in the real meaning of the word, gives form and content to the whole picture of the outer world[.] […] However different the qualities of sensations and the forms of ideas may be, yet these elements and complexes all agree in one particular—they all refer to the objective world, to things and processes outside of us, to their qualities, their combinations, and their relations. […] Do these objective elements and complexes form the only content of consciousness? Or in other words, are the only psychical elements such as we project outwards? Or are there in our consciousness, besides this picture of the outer world, other elements, which we do not apprehend as objects or their qualities that stand in contradistinction to ourselves?

This concept [here] consists therefore of two parts—an objective idea, in our case the row of beats, and a subjective feeling of pleasure. This latter is obviously not in itself included in the impression of the row of beats or in that which we call the idea. It is clearly an added subjective element. It also shows itself to be such from the fact that we do not project it into the outer world. It is apprehended directly as a reaction of our consciousness, or rather, to express it at once more fittingly, of our apperception. […] Since in such a simple compound as a rhythmical row of beats the agreeableness is generally very moderate, we clearly observe that with many individuals the feeling of pleasure contained in it often sinks below the threshold of consciousness, so that they only perceive the objective constitution of the beats.

[…] the feeling of pleasure, which is bound to certain sensations and ideas, is purely subjective. It is an element that is not only dependent upon the impression itself, but also and always and most of all dependent upon the subject receiving the impression.

At the moment immediately following one beat, expectation strains itself to catch the next one, and this straining increases until this beat really occurs. At the same moment the strain is suddenly relieved by the realisation of the expected, when the new beat comes. Then the same process is repeated […]. […] several such processes of expectation and realisation overlap one another.

[…] feelings, wherever they arise, accompany, as subjective reactions of consciousness, sensations and ideas, but are never identical with them.

[…] our metronome experiments have brought to light three pairs of feelings—pleasure and pain, strain and relaxation, excitation and quiescence. At the same time it has been shown that only very seldom do these forms of feeling appear isolated. Several of them are generally combined together into one feeling-compound.

It is very striking how the feeling-character always follows in the same directions, if we give successive impressions that give rise to contrasting feelings. Red is exciting, while blue in contrast to it is quieting. In the same way a deep and a high tone contrast. At the same time, the feeling-contrast is here a mixed one, as the expressions “serious” and “solemn” for deep tones, and “bright” and “lively” for the high ones, show.

The feelings joined to the impressions of the senses of touch and smell and taste are in general more uniform and simpler.

Yet pleasure and displeasure predominate [with scents] most of all.

When, however, an expected result takes place, or when the emotion of fear disappears, a strong feeling of relaxation generally occurs.

In many cases, even at the present day, the will is held to be a specific psychical element, or it is considered in its essence to be identical with the idea of an intended act. A closer investigation of the volitional process as to its subjective and objective characteristics shows, however, that it is most closely connected with the emotions […].

A voluntary action without feeling, one that follows from purely intellectual motives, as many philosophers presuppose, does not exist at all.

With impulsive acts the whole process takes place quickly; the concluding feelings of excitation, strain, and relaxation are generally crowded together in a very short time. With voluntary and especially with selective acts, the whole process is much slower, and the feelings often fluctuate up and down.

If we apprehend an impression which is given to us without our assistance, the attention seems in a sense to be compelled to turn to this impression, following this single motive. We can express this by saying we apprehend it passively. The feeling of activity always follows such an impression. If on the other hand we turn to an expected impression, then these feelings of strain and excitation clearly precede the impression. We are aware that our apperception is active. These have often been called processes of involuntary and voluntary attention. […] apperception itself may be looked upon as a volitional process. […] Herein lies the chief motive for the fact that we look upon the will as our most private possession, the one that is most identical with our inner nature itself. [The ego] consists of those elementary volitional processes of apperception which accompany the processes of consciousness. They are always changing but they are always present, and in this way form the lasting substratum of our self-consciousness. The inner line of fortifications of this ego are the feelings, which represent nothing more than the reactions of apperception to outer experience. The next line consists of this experience itself […]. […] they are combined together with the ego itself into one unity.

[…] there remains another question to be answered, which has not yet been settled by the reduction of all feelings to the above-mentioned six principal forms, viz. pleasure, displeasure, strain, relaxation, excitation, and quiescence. Is each of these forms perfectly uniform?

[…] the centre of gravity of the affective process lies every time at the end of a row [of beats], where the superimposed rhythmical feelings run together into one unity. For it is unmistakably this feeling that allows us directly to apprehend the succeeding rows as identical with the preceding ones in a succession of similar rows. What we apperceive is not the preceding row itself. The greater number of its elements lie already in the darker field of consciousness. We apperceive rather this aggregate feeling, which is joined to the last directly apperceived element […].

The feelings of strain and relaxation that are distributed over the rows A and B are the same. They differ at most in the degree of intensity. We cannot therefore understand why the feelings that remain behind at the end of each row should be so different. But it is so.

We found that the knowledge that two rows were the same, always came at the end of a row, and that this verification followed the rows directly in one uniform act of apperception. Now we can explain this phenomenon perfectly by the uniform nature and the instantaneous rise of that resulting aggregate feeling. Because of this the last beat in a rhythmical row comes to represent the whole row.

If we form a melody by combining the rhythm with a certain ordered change of tones, and if it is repeated, exactly the same process takes place as with the repetition of an unmelodious row of beats.

The great importance which feelings have for all the processes of consciousness is often overlooked. This applies to the processes of memory, cognition and recognition, and also to the so-called activities of imagination and understanding.

Now each volition contains latently either an attracting or an opposing element. Our volition is attracted by the desired object, and it turns away from the one that opposes us.

What we desire is joined with pleasure, what opposes us with displeasure. […] the pair of contrasts of excitation and quiescence will very likely stand in direct relation to the intensity[.]

[…] because of the relation between the successive processes of consciousness, each act of apperception stands at the same time in connection with the preceding and the succeeding processes. […] In each feeling these components are emphasised more or less strongly or are quite wanting, while all the time the total qualitative constitution of the content of consciousness gives to the whole its specific colouring, which distinguishes it from every other content.

[Memory-processes] make up a remarkably small part of our associations. They are in fact of much less importance than many other forms.

[…] comparing a clang with some of its overtones teaches us that these latter really exist in sensation, and that we can perceive them with very intense attention. Nevertheless under ordinary circumstances we do not perceive them as independent tones, but they appear to us massed together only as a specific modification of the fundamental tone, and we call this its clang-colour or timbre.

Similar fusions occur in the various senses, and they become very complicated owing to the fact that sensation-elements of several senses are joined together at the same time.

[…] neither cutaneous nor muscle sensations alone are the original cause of the idea of the place touched, but that both together by fusion give rise to this idea.

Just as sensations fuse together into more or less complex ideas, so also do feelings fuse together into complex compounds, in which single elements appear to bear the rest, which act in a modifying manner upon the form, something analogous to the overtones of a clang.

If the beats are allowed to follow each other so slowly that the last one disappears out of the scope of consciousness when the new one enters, then the idea of time becomes absolutely uncertain. The same thing happens if, on the other hand, the time is so rapid that feelings of strain and relaxation cannot arise. […] Just as all our objective measures of time, from the course of the sun to the vibrations of a tuning-fork used to measure time, depend upon regular periodic movements, so also is our subjective time-consciousness absolutely dependent upon rhythmical ideas.

Just as elements of consciousness are joined together by fusion into compounds, so these compounds themselves undergo manifold changes, out of which new combinations arise. Of great importance among these associations of the second class are those which we shall call assimilations and dissimilations.

For example, we draw from one and the same centre sectors of a circle, and make one less than the others only by a few degrees. In spite of this we are inclined to apprehend all the sectors as equal. The larger ones work assimilatively upon the smaller one. To cause the opposite process of dissimilation, we draw one large sector among several smaller sectors. This appears, in contrast to the surrounding smaller sectors, very much enlarged, and we can convince ourselves of this by drawing on another piece of paper a sector of the same size as the one changed by dissimilation. This independent sector will then appear smaller than the one of its own size that is lying among the smaller sectors. This dissimilative change is generally called a contrast.

We must not, however, confuse this dissimilative contrast with the contrast of feelings […].

It may easily happen that we take the following combination of letters “Miscaldoniousness” for the word “Miscellaneousness” […].

In all these cases we generally take it for granted that it is nothing more nor less than an inaccurate apprehension, as the expression “overlook” suggests. Yet our rapid reading experiments convince us that this expression is really incorrect. In reality it is not a mere not-seeing of the wrong letters, but a seeing of the right ones in the place of the wrong ones.

[…] both acts [displacement of the wrong letter and reproduction of the right one] take place quite simultaneously, and therefore we may look upon the displacement as an effect of the reproduction. In this combination of the two acts an assimilation process and a dissimilation process are joined together. […] a further conclusion follows from these phenomena, which is of importance for the understanding of all the processes of association. It is impossible to imagine that a combination of letters, such as we have given above, could work as a whole, and then, because it was wrong, be replaced by the right word. It is on the contrary obvious that processes of assimilation and displacement have only occurred at certain places. […] these associations do not by any means consist of a combination of complex ideas, but of a combination of ideational elements, which may possibly belong to very different ideas.

The moment we see an object, hear a musical chord, &c., not only do the parts of the impression itself fuse together, but the impression also immediately gives rise to reproductive elements, which fill up any gaps in it, and arrange it among the ideas familiar to us. These processes continually overlap each other, and extend over all the regions of sense.

What we imagine we perceive directly, really belongs in a great extent to our memory of innumerable previous impressions, and we are not aware of a separation between what is directly given us and what is supplied by assimilation.

Only when the reproductive elements attain to such a striking ascendancy, that they come into an irreconcilable contradiction with our usual perceptions, are we accustomed to speak of a deception of the senses or of an illusion.

Many words of a lecture are imperfectly heard; the contours of a drawing or painting are only imperfectly represented in our eye. In spite of this we notice none of the gaps.

At the sight of a musical instrument we often perceive in ourselves a weak auditory sensation of its clang; the sight of a gun will often give rise to a weak sound sensation, or if we hear the gun fired, to a reproduced visual image, and so forth. Such associations of disparate senses are called complications.

The usual expression (to know or to be cognisant of) must not tempt us to look upon the process as a logical process, as an act of “knowledge.” An act of knowledge may possibly follow a process of pure associative assimilation […].

Among the associations called recognitions, only those are of special interest in which the consummation of the assimilation process is in any way hindered […].

How often does it happen that some one greets us and we do not recognise him! If, however, he comes forward and mentions his name, suddenly the whole personality as a well-known one rises up in front of us. The reproductive assimilations are only set into motion by the addition of a helping idea.

In these processes of hindrance and assistance of associations, which are to be observed in recognitions, feelings play a not unimportant part.

[…] the feeling differs, if we recognise an old friend, and if we recognise a district through which we have once wandered long ago. […] Just as much as the objects themselves differ, so do the so-called “qualities of familiarity” diverge from each other. From this we must conclude that these qualities are integral parts of the objects, naturally not of their objective nature, but of their effect upon us, or, more precisely expressed, of our apperception. […] this quality of familiarity is nothing more than the feeling character, which the recognised idea possesses for us.

If we repeat two similar rows of beats one after the other, we recognise the second as similar to the first. Now this can only happen, as we have convinced ourselves, if the total feeling concentrates itself upon the last beat of each row, which in its specific feeling-quality corresponds to the previous rhythmical whole. Exactly the same thing that happened in these rhythmical experiments, repeats itself now in these retarded recognitions of ordinary experience […]. In the recognition of a rhythm the feeling corresponding to it arises out of the influence of the elements, that have receded out of the focus of attention into the darker field of consciousness, upon the apperception; in the steady rise of an impression to a state of recognition, the feeling is caused by the influence of the elements that are already in the darker field of consciousness but have not yet entered into the focus of attention.

[…] each idea possesses a background of other ideas that are joined to it in a spatial or temporal connection, and that in the process of recognition these ideas may hinder or assist the assimilation process.

[…] secondary ideas are of course always present, even although we do not notice them. Even although they are in the darkest region of consciousness, they form, along with the feeling-tone of the chief idea, important components of the feelings accompanying the processes of cognition and recognition […].

Many phenomena that belong here escape ordinary observation, because their continuous repetition makes us insensitive to them. […] every psychical process possesses its specific tone, even if it appears as a mere repetition of a previous process. The changing secondary ideas, by means of their own affective influences, give it its special temporal and local signs. By means of these each single process can be distinguished from any other, however similar this may be.

The opposite phenomenon may also occur. Who does not know the strange feeling which occasionally comes over us at some process, the feeling that we have already in the past experienced this thing, although we know with certainty that this is in reality impossible? These phenomena also belong to the department of feelings […].

The ever-changing constellations of secondary ideas give each single experience its specific feeling-tone, by means of which it is distinguished from previous and following experiences.

[…] each such striking experience or each such period of life is connected with a peculiar feeling[.]

Any single recalled idea could scarcely account for the unusual intensity and the specific quality which these feeling-tones often reach.

Especially in acts of recognition that are in some way or other retarded, we can in general observe a strong affective reaction arising, which, wherever we can bring it into connection with special motives, points to the effect of secondary ideas.

[…] these feelings of forgetting, of thinking over a thing, of missing a thing, &c., are by no means always the same. They depend in each single case upon the special constitution of the idea in question.

It is usual to call this process “association by similarity,” and to take for granted that the seen and the reproduced picture have been successively in consciousness. This is, as can easily be seen, a one-sided way of looking at the process; […] the essential part of the process, the competition between the assimilative and dissimilative influences, is quite overlooked.

For example, if the words “I am the Lord” are seen or heard, then any one who is familiar with the Ten Commandments will feel inclined to continue, “thy God,” &c., and this continuation may appear to him in visual word-images, or in weak sound-images, or the words may arise in the memory in complications made up out of impressions of both senses. It is usual to call this process “association by contiguity.”

[…] the division, which to some extent still exists in present-day psychology, of all memory-associations into “combinations by similarity” and “by contiguity,” rests upon a schematisation of these processes, in which their essential content, and in particular their close connection with simultaneous assimilations, remains unnoticed.

If we take an unprejudiced view of the processes of consciousness, free from all the so-called association rules and theories, we see at once that an idea is no more an even relatively constant thing than is a feeling or emotion or volitional process. There exist only changing and transient ideational processes; there are no permanent ideas that return again and disappear again.

Even with memory associations it is therefore never the complex ideas themselves which associate together, but each association divides up into a number of more elementary combinations.

The author who first formed the picture, and the reader who reproduces it, do not behave psychologically in exactly the same manner. The whole, even although in indistinct outlines, must be present in the consciousness of the author, before he writes down his sentences.

With the author the whole is there at the beginning and at the end of the production of the thought, which is itself developed in the successive apperceptions of the separate parts. With the reader there is at first only an expectation directed towards a whole.

While all apperceptions agree in the objective characteristics of the combination of a complex into a unity and in the subjective one of voluntary activity, yet in a further comparison of our thought processes we meet with a very evident difference in the content of the combined ideas.

[…] the most abstract thought can ultimately be reduced in all its components to concrete concepts.

[…] abstract thinking has developed itself step by step from concrete.

The word is the real ideational equivalent for the concept, that cannot be formed into an idea. It changes abstract thoughts into concrete ideational processes that can be heard and seen.

[…] we always must think the abstract thought-complexes made real in their separate applications, if we do not wish to lose ourselves altogether.

The thought is as a whole in our consciousness, and at first only works upon the apperception by means of the resulting total feeling, and then develops into its separate component parts by successive acts of apperception. In exactly the same way the artist, the poet, or the composer is accustomed to grasp the whole of the work of art in its outlines, sometimes very indistinct, before he begins to carry out any of the parts, and while carrying them out a total idea is formed, which in its turn has a reciprocal influence upon the original idea. […] A work of art is just as little a mere product of association as is a thought arranged in sentences.

[…] we are able in our speech to bring to an end a fairly complicated thought without difficulty, although at the beginning of the sentences we are not at all clear as to the separate words and ideas or their combinations.

[…] the general content in its whole feeling-quality is already present as soon as the first word is spoken, while the ideas and the corresponding words are not clearly in consciousness beyond that first beginning. […] we notice at the same time that that beginning feeling corresponds perfectly with the terminal feeling that accompanies the termination of the spoken thought. This terminal feeling is generally at first much stronger than the initial feeling, but then it gradually goes over into the feeling-quality that is preparing the next thought.

More complicated than in ordinary speaking and thinking are the phenomena where the sequence of thought-processes stretches over vast creations of the mind. […] This anticipation can only be considered an indefinite total feeling […].

Where consciousness is more inclined to the free play of associations and of newly excited thought-forms, and at the same time to a more concrete form of thinking, it is customary to speak of the activity of the imagination. But really we are here not dealing with faculties of thought that can in any way be separated […]. It is therefore an absolutely wrong conception, if, according to the tradition of the old psychology, imagination is called the specific property of art, and understanding that of science. Science without imagination is worth just as little as art without understanding.

A series, such as “school house garden &c.,” is only possible when the thought process frees itself from perception and gives itself up to the incidental inner motives […].

[…] ordered thinking arises out of the ordered course of nature in which man finds himself, and this thinking is from the beginning nothing more than the subjective reproduction of the regularity according to law of natural phenomena. On the other hand, this reproduction is only possible by means of the will that controls the concatenation of ideas. Thus human thought, like the human being himself, is at the same time the product of nature and a creation of his own mental life, which in the human will finds that unity which binds together the unbounded manifoldness of mental contents into one whole.

We cannot act outwardly without at the same time executing inner acts of will.

This connection between inner and outer volition, as we see it living in the connection between thought and speech, is ultimately of as great practical as theoretical importance.

Rather must education pay most attention to that inner volition which is occupied with ordered thinking.

Any attempt to explain, out of these [scientific] norms, thought in the psychological sense of the word can only lead to an entanglement of the real facts in a net of logical reflections.

We need first of all a careful analysis of the more elementary psychical processes, of the facts of attention and of the wider scope of consciousness as well as of the relations between them and of the manifold affective processes that intervene in all these cases.

[…] we cannot understand the complex phenomena, before we have become familiar with the simple ones[.]

[…] the mental development of our children is under all circumstances not only an accelerated but also in many respects an essentially changed one, in comparison to a purely spontaneous development.

The indisputable affirmation, that there exist no processes of consciousness that are not in some manner or other connected with physical processes, is changed by this materialistic hypothesis into the dogma that the processes of consciousness themselves are in their real essence physical processes. Now this is an assertion that directly contradicts our immediate experience, which teaches us that a human being, or any other similar living creature, is a psycho-physical and not only a physical unity.

We are only allowed to consider those regularities in phenomena as according to law, which always repeat themselves in exactly the same manner. But there are in reality no such laws, not even in the natural sciences. For this principle is valid here: laws determine the course of phenomena only in so far as they are not annulled by other laws.

Now because of the complex nature of all phenomena in general each process stands under the influence of many laws, and so it happens that just the most universal natural laws can never in experience be demonstrated in their full power.

It is obvious that [the Law of Inertia, or Newton’s first law] can never and nowhere be realised in experience, since a case of independence from other external forces, which alter the motion, never and nowhere exists.

It is of course self-evident that we may consider as laws only such regularities that lie within the process of consciousness, and not such as lie outside of consciousness, e.g. such as belong to physiological processes of the brain.

[…] each complex phenomenon can be reduced to a lawful co-operation of elements. If this requirement were not fulfilled, there would be no cohesion in our psychical life.

The generalisations of the old association psychology were absolutely inadequate, and its chief mistake lay, not so much in postulating laws too hastily, as in the fact that it did not attempt to penetrate deeply enough into the laws underlying the association processes by means of an analysis of the same.

There can be no more striking proof of the absurdity of the above-mentioned theory of the lawlessness of psychical phenomena as the consequence to which it would lead us. For it would lead to the conclusion that the conception of law itself was contrary to law.

In the natural sciences there are more general fundamental laws that rise above the separate particular laws, and these we may call the principles of investigation, in so far as they are general requirements to which investigation has to conform.

This restriction [for universal validity] consists in the fact that the validity of each fundamental principle is subject to certain hypotheses, so that, where these are no longer fulfilled, the principles themselves become doubtful or untenable.

[…] psychical laws, by virtue of the subjection of psychical phenomena to the interconnection of consciousness, can only be valid within the limits within which such an interconnection of psychical processes takes place.

The first fundamental principle deals with the relation of the parts contained in a complex psychical process to the unified resultants into which they form. […] the separate psychical processes cannot be compared. Thus we cannot compare simple light sensations and qualities of tones, or a spatial visual image with a compound clang […].

[“The principle of creative resultants”] attempts to state the fact that in all psychical combinations the product is not a mere sum of the separate elements that compose such combinations, but that it represents a new creation.

The psychologist, like the psychological historian, is a prophet with his eyes turned towards the past. He ought not only to be able to tell what has happened, but also what necessarily must have happened, according to the position of events.

An action arising from a given motive produces not only the ends latent in the motive, but also other, not directly purposed, influences. When these latter enter into consciousness and stir up feelings and impulses, they themselves become new motives, which either make the original act of volition more complicated, or they change it or substitute some other act for it. We may call this modification of the law of resultants, in accordance with the principal form in which it appears, “the principle of the heterogony of ends.” It is of eminent importance for the development of the individual as well as of the general consciousness, and especially because the influences of original motives, that have decayed, are almost always preserved in some few traces alongside of the new ones that have taken their place. Such remnants of former purposes continue to exist in forms we do not understand in a great number of our habits, customs, and above all in religious ceremonies handed down to us […].

As a supplement to the law of resultants […] we have “the law of conditioning relations.” […] the law of relations is the analytic principle, which arranges under one general rule the relations of the components of one such synthetic whole. This rule consists in the fact that the psychical elements of a product stand in internal relations to each other, out of which the product itself necessarily arises […].

In this sense this distinction between external and internal relations corresponds to the difference in the ways of viewing the phenomena by the natural sciences and psychology respectively.

The law of relations stands in general reciprocal relationship to the law of resultants. Both of these laws apply to all compound unities of psychical phenomena […]. This clearly arises from the natural dependence of resultants and relations upon each other, since each change of the latter modifies the constitution of the resultants in a corresponding manner. […] A complex æsthetic feeling is a resultant of the simpler æsthetic feelings bound to the different parts of the perception, in so far as these latter again determine the product by means of their qualitative relations. […] We cannot explain the psychical value of new creative compounds without considering the internal relations of their components, just as we cannot comprehend the peculiarity of these relations without continually taking into account their resulting influences.

[…] the change between contrasting feelings itself intensifies the contrasts. Thus a feeling of pleasure is more intense, and its specific quality is more clearly felt, if it has been preceded by a feeling of displeasure. A similar relation exists between excitation and quiescence, strain and relaxation.

[…] we see [the law of contrasts’] most important influences in those places where it extends over more extensive groups of mental experience.

We see [contrast], for example, very well in the fluctuations of our national credit and of stocks and shares. And these sharp contrasts can be ultimately explained by the inner life of man that fluctuates between hope and hesitation, and in this fluctuation intensifies the emotions.

A contradiction has very often been thought to exist in the relation between the universal mental and natural laws. And since the natural laws are considered to be the more general and more necessary, these psychical principles have been looked upon as inadmissible generalisations, if they have not been absolutely ignored, which has more often been the case.

[…] psychical regularity lies outside the law of energy, and in that case it would have no sense to place this psychical energy between two other physical energies and then attempt a measurement.

These applications of physical laws to psychical phenomena are not based upon empirical facts, but they arise from a metaphysical principle, namely, the demand for a monistic view of life.

There cannot, however, be the least contradiction in the idea that physical and psychical phenomena follow different laws, as long as these laws are not irreconcilable with the actual unity of the psycho-physical individual.

[…] the measures by which we determine psychical values cannot be compared with those with which we measure physical values.

We judge the psychical according to its qualitative value, and the physical according to its quantitative value.

Disparate values cannot in any way be compared, so long as a transformation of the one into the other is impossible. We can compare warmth and mechanical work, because the one can be transformed into the other according to a strict law of equivalence. But we cannot compare a tone with a sensation of light, or a visual idea with a chord, because a transformation of the one of these practical contents into the other is unthinkable.

[…] the subject-matter of psychology is the whole manifoldness of qualitative contents directly presented to our experience, each of which would immediately lose its own peculiar quality, if we tried to transform it into any other. Thus the physical phenomena investigated by the natural sciences and the laws of these phenomena do not in the least contradict the qualitative content of life dealt with by psychology. They rather supplement each other, inasmuch as we must combine them together into one whole, if we wish to understand the life of the psycho-physical being […].

The actual correlation then is between simple, i.e. not further analysable, psychical content and complex physical processes.

[…] metaphysics, if it wishes to make any claim to respect, must build upon the real facts and not upon those ideas used from purely logical, dialectical motives. Even from this point of view there remains a “principle of psychological parallelism” in the sense that there is no psychical process, from the simplest sensation and affective elements to the most complex thought-processes, which does not run parallel with a physical process.

We meet everywhere physical and psychical as incomparable qualities […].

[…] from the present-day psychological standpoint, which must be authoritative for a philosophical consideration, we can only speak of a “parallelism” between psychical and physical in as far as all elements of psychical life are joined to physical processes. The combinations of these elements, however, can never be judged according to the laws that are valid for the combination of the physical processes of life.

[…] the real unity of life will not be understood by subjecting real phenomena to laws with which they have absolutely no inner relationship. […] we must try to explain all sides of life and then the relations of these to each other.

The Cartesian soul can no longer exist in face of our present-day physiological knowledge of the physical substratum of our mental life. And metaphysical monism in these two forms, which try to combine soul-and body-substance into one unity, would shut out the possibility of any knowledge of our psychical life.

A striking example of the futility of such an attempt to make substance the basis of an explanation of mental life is seen in the last and most thorough-going of these theories, i.e. in Herbart’s so-called Mechanism of Ideas.

[…] “mental science” has only the right to exist, so long as these departments of learning are based upon the facts of psychology—the mental science in the most general sense of the term.

Psychology must not only strive to become a useful basis for the other mental sciences, but it must also turn again and again to the historical sciences, in order to obtain an understanding for the more highly developed mental processes.

For [some of Aristotle’s ideas try] to explain the unity of life only by postulating an all-embracing idea of purpose or use in place of a causal explanation of phenomena such as is now demanded. This vague notion of purpose does not explain the peculiarity of mental processes […].

[…] it is one and the same psycho-physical individual forming a unity, which physiology and psychology have as subject-matter. Each of these, however, views this subject-matter from a different stand-point.

[…] for every piece of knowledge two factors are necessary—the subject who knows and the object thought about, independent of this subject.

[…] all mental values and their development arise from immediately experienced processes of consciousness, and therefore can alone be understood by means of these processes. And this is exactly what we mean by the principle of the actuality of mind.

Read the whole book: An Introduction to Psychology.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

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