The Echoes of the Mind (9-28) Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Wundt

The beginnings of a differentiation of mental function can be found even in the protozoa. ~ Wilhelm Wundt

German physician Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) is widely considered one of the founding figures of modern psychology. He made the first laboratory for the study of psychology in 1879. At the least, Wundt was the first person to call himself a psychologist.

Wundt spent his career in academia. He wrote prolifically, lectured, and inspired his students, many of whom went on to become, like him, pioneers in experimental psychology.

Wundt was not interested in addressing the nature of existence. His ambition was to grasp the psychological processes by which the world is experienced. He sought to understand the elements of thought from immediate subjective experience.

The distinguishing characteristics of mind are of a subjective sort; we know them only from the contents of our own consciousness. ~ Wilhelm Wundt

Wundt employed a variety of methods, including introspection. But Wundt’s introspection was not the mental noodling of Plato, Augustine, or Descartes. His experimental introspection, essentially confined to stimulus-response, went to determining whether a person experienced a particular perception. It was an incipient behaviorism.

Wundt attributed sensation with modality: the sense organ involved, and the intensity of the stimulus. Within a modality, sensations had qualities. Visual sensations can be described in terms of hue (color) and saturation (color richness). Tastes come in terms of sweetness, saltiness, and so on.

Wundt believed that all perceptions were accompanied by feelings. From his own introspections, Wundt formulated a tridimensional theory of feeling, whereby feelings can be attributed as pleasant-unpleasant / exciting-calming / relaxing-stressful.

Wundt distinguished between passive perception and active attention. To Wundt, perception is autonomic, whereas apperception is a voluntary activity.

When events are given attention, they are subject to arrangement according to a person’s will. Wundt termed this creative synthesis, believing it part of all apperception.

Wundt viewed mental illness as failure in apperception. To Wundt, schizophrenia was an inability to make sense of objects of attention.