Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Behind Psychology!

Now lets talk about the founder or the known founder or usually thought of as the fathers of psychology?

William James



William James was born in New York City on January 11, 1842.  His father was a rich man who spent his time entertaining the intellectuals of the time and discussing the religious mysticism of Swedenborg.  This wonderful atmosphere for a bright young boy was thanks to his grandfather, an Irish immigrant with a knack for real estate investment!  William was soon joined by a younger brother, Henry, who would grow up to be one of America’s premier novelists.  All the James children were sent to European boarding schools and traveled through all the great capitals.
At 19, after a stint as an art student, James enrolled at Harvard in chemistry, which he soon changed to medicine.  He was not really interested in a career in medicine, but wanted to study the science that went with it.
In 1865, he took advantage of a marvelous opportunity to travel the Amazon River basin with the great biologist Louis Agassiz, to collect samples of new species.  While there, he began to suffer from a variety of health problems.  In 1867, he went to study physiology in Germany, under Helmholtz and others.  He befriended several notable early German psychologists, including Carl Stumpf.  On the other hand, he had little respect for Herbert Spencer, Wilhelm Wundt, G. E. Müller, and others.
In Germany, he began to suffer from serious depression, accompanied by thoughts of suicide.  In addition, he had serious back pain, insomnia, and dyspepsia.  In 1869, he came back to the US to finish up his MD degree, but continued to be plagued by depression.  He had been reading a book by a French philosopher named Renouvier, which convinced him of the power of free will.  He decided to apply this idea to his own problems, and seemed to improve.
(A personal aside:  I also suffer from depression.  Unlike James, however, I began to get a grip on my depression when I finally realized that it was biological, and therefore precisely not in my control!)
From 1871 through 1872, James was a part of "the Metaphysical Club," a group of Harvard grads who met in Boston to discuss the issues of the day.  Included in the club were the philosopher Charles Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Chauncey Wright.  It was Wright who introduced the idea of combining Alexander Bain's concept of beliefs as the disposition to behave, with Darwin's concept of survival of the fittest:  Ideas had to compete with each other, and the best would last.  This is similar to a more recent idea called memes.
It was Peirce, on the other hand, who took Kant's idea that we can never really know the truth -- that all our beliefs are maybes -- and turned it into the basis for pragmatism.  This is very similar to Hans Vaihinger's (1852-1933) philosophy of "as if" that so influenced Alfred Adler and George Kelly.

In 1872, James was appointed an instructor of physiology at Harvard.  In 1875, he taught his first course in psychology, or “physiological psychology,” ala Wundt, and established a demonstration laboratory -- the same year Wundt established his at Leipzig.  and in 1876, he became an assistant professor of physiology.
In 1878, he married Alice Gibbons, a Boston school teacher.  She took particularly good care of him, and his depression lessened significantly.  Despite his tender nature, he and Alice managed to raise five children.
In that same year, he signed on with the publisher Holt to write a psychology textbook.  It was supposed to take two years -- it took him 12.
In 1880, his title was changed to assistant professor of philosopher, which is where, in those days, psychology actually belonged.  In 1885, he became a full professor.
Despite his battles with depression, he was well liked by his students and known for his great sense of humor.  Even his textbook would have a certain lightness that we rarely find in textbooks.  He seemed to enjoy teaching.  On the other hand, he disliked research, did almost none of it, and said that labs were basically a waste of resources!
In 1889, his title changed again -- to professor of psychology!  The next year, his book was finally published -- two volumes, to be exact, titled The Principles of Psychology.  In 1892, he put out a shorter version subtitled The Briefer Course, which students would refer to for the next 50 years as “the Jimmy.”  Both are masterpieces of prose and were extremely popular among students of psychology and laypersons alike.
Despite his dislike of research, he did raise the money for a new and expanded lab at Harvard, but promptly arranged to hire one of Wundt’s students, Hugo Münsterberg, to be its director.  He did not supervise many graduate students, but several were quite successful in their own right, including James Angell, Edward Thorndike, and Mary Calkins.
[Mary Calkins (1863-1930) was the first woman to complete the requirements for a PhD in psychology at Harvard.  Unfortunately, she was denied the degree because (get ready...) she was a woman.  She later became the first woman president of the APA. ]
James had always shared his father’s interest in mysticism, even in psychic phenomena.  This has dampened his reputation among hard-core scientists in the psychological community, but it only endeared him more to the public.  In 1897, he published The Will to Believe, and in 1902, Varieties of Religious Experience.
But James was never completely comfortable with being a psychologist, and preferred to think of himself as a philosopher. He is, in fact, considered America’s greatest philosopher, in addition to being the “father” of American psychology!
He was profoundly influenced by an earlier American philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce, who founded the philosophy of Pragmatism.  Pragmatism says that ideas can never be completely proven true or false.  Rather, we should be looking to how useful an idea is -- how practical, how productive.  James called it the “cash value” of an idea!  James popularized Pragmatism in books like Pragmatism in 1907 and The Meaning of Truth in 1909.  In 1909, he also wrote A Pluralistic Universe, which was part Pragmatism and part an expression of his own beliefs in something not unlike Spinoza’s pantheism.
He had retired from teaching in 1907 because his heart was not was it used to be, not since a mild attack in 1898 when climbing in upstate New York.  He did meet Freud when he came to visit Boston in 1909, and was very much impressed.  The next year, he went to Europe for his health and to visit his brother Henry, but soon returned to his home in New Hampshire.  Two days later, on August 26, 1910, he died in his wife Alice’s arms.
Several of his works were published posthumously, including Some Problems in Philosophy in 1911 and the magnificent Essays in Radical Empiricism in 1912.  James' most famous students included John Dewey, the philosopher often considered the father of modern American education, and Edward Thorndike, whose work with cats opened the door to the Behaviorists.


Wilhelm Wundt 

He studied medicine at Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Berlin, although interested more in the scientific aspect than in a medical career.  In 1857, he was appointed dozent (instructor) at Heidelberg, where he lectured on physiology.  From 1858 to 1864, he also served as an assistant to the famous physiologist Helmholtz, and studied the neurological and chemical stimulation of muscles.
In 1864, he became an assistant professor at Heidelberg.  Three years later, he started a course he called physiological psychology, which focused on the border between physiology and psychology, i.e. the senses and reactions -- an interest inspired by the work of Weber and Fechner.  His lecture notes would eventually become his major work, the Principles of 
Physiological Psychology (Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie), which would be published in 1873 and 1874.
Like Fechner and many others at the time, Wundt accepted the Spinozan idea of psychophysical parallelism:  Every physical event has a mental counterpart, and every mental event has a physical counterpart.  And he believed, like Fechner, that the availability of measurable stimuli (and reactions) could make psychological events open to something like experimental methodology in a way earlier philosophers such as Kant thought impossible.
The method that Wundt developed is a sort of experimental introspection:  The researcher was to carefully observe some simple event -- one that could be measured as to quality, intensity, or duration -- and record his responses to variations of those events. (Note that in German philosophy at that time, sensations were considered psychological events, and therefore “internal” to the mind, even though the sensation is of something that is “outside” the mind.  Hence what we might call observation was called by Wundt introspection!)
To continue his story, Wundt went on to become chair of “inductive philosophy” at Zürich in 1874, and then professor of philosophy at Leipzig in 1875.  It was there that he would stay and work for the next 45 years!
In 1875, a room was set aside for Wundt for demonstrations in what we now call sensation and perception.  This is the same year that William James would set up a similar lab at Harvard.  We can celebrate that year as the founding of experimental psychology!
In 1879, Wundt assisted his first graduate student at true psychological research -- another milestone.  In 1881, he started the journal Philosophische Studien.  In 1883, he began the first course to be titled experimental psychology.  And in 1894, his efforts were rewarded with the official establishment of an “Institute for Experimental Psychology” at Leipzig -- the first such in the world.
Wundt was known to everyone as a quiet, hard-working, and very methodical researcher, as well as a very good lecturer.  The latter comment is from the standards of the day, which were considerably different from today’s:  He would go on in a low voice for a couple of hours at a time, without notes or audio-visual aides and without pausing for questions.  His students loved him, but we would no doubt criticize him for not being sufficiently entertaining!
It is curious to note that during this same busy time period, Wundt also published four books in philosophy!  Keep in mind that, at this time, psychology was not considered something separate from philosophy.  In fact, Wundt rejected the idea when someone suggested it to him!
The studies conducted by Wundt and his now numerous students were mostly on sensation and perception, and of those, most concerned vision.  In addition, there were studies on reaction time, attention, feelings, and associations.  In all, he supervised 186 doctoral dissertations, most in psychology.
Among his better known students were Oswald Külpe and Hugo Munsterberg (whom James invited to teach at Harvard), the Russian behaviorists Bekhterev and Pavlov, as well as American students such as Hall (“father” of developmental psychology in America), James McKeen Cattell, Lightner Witmer (founder of the first psychological clinic in the US, at U of Penn), and Wundt’s main interpreter to the English speaking world, E. B. Titchener.  Titchener is particularly responsible for interpreting Wundt badly!
Later in his career, Wundt became interested in social or cultural psychology.  Contrary to what many believe, Wundt did not think that the experimental study of sensations was the be all and end all of psychology!  In fact, he felt that that was only the surface, and additionally that most of psychology was not as amenable to experimental methods.
Instead, he felt that we had to approach cultural psychology through the products it produced -- mythology, for example, cultural practices and rituals, literature and art.... He wrote a ten volume Völkerpsychologie, published between 1900 and 1920, which included the idea of stages of cultural development, from the primitive, to the totemic, through the age of heroes and gods, to the age of modern man.
In 1920, he wrote Erlebtes and Erkanntes, his autobiography.  A short time later, on August 31, 1920, he died.


This are just some people behind Psychology..

1 comment:

  1. You are very interesting....thanks for sharing...

    ReplyDelete