The Echoes of the Mind – History of Psychology

History of Psychology

“Psychology is one of the creations of the culture of thought.” ~ American psychologist Daniel Robinson

The term psychology was coined by Renaissance scholar Marko Marulić in 1506, amid a collection of moral musings.

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The biographies that follow, however true to character and import, are sketches of those whose interests and studies often covered much broader ground than the principles of psychology, to which these accounts focus. Psychology is, after all, the diving board into the deep philosophical pool.


Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance. ~ Hippocrates

Hippocrates (~460–377 BCE) is considered the father of Western medicine. He is credited with being first to believe that diseases had natural causes rather than an infliction from the gods.

While an astute observer, Hippocrates often overreached in his conclusions, via supposition and bias – ironically ignoring his own dictum equating opinion with ignorance. Hippocrates thought that hysteria was restricted to women, believing it was due to the wanderings of the uterus. This misconception persisted until challenged by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century.

In the late 5th century BCE, Empedocles explained the cosmos as comprising 4 elements, unchangeable in their intermingling: air, earth, water, and fire. He further proposed that the powers of love and strife variously stirred these elements into mixture and separation.

Taking his cue from Empedocles, Hippocrates presented a hypothesis of human humors in his treatise The Nature of Man. The classical elements formed the 4 basic bodily humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.

According to Hippocrates, an imbalance or excess in a humor produces illness. When one has a cold, phlegm collects in the nose and throat. Bile is excreted from a serious wound. Blood flows when the skin is broken.

Hippocrates’ humors influenced the diagnosis and treatment of diseases for centuries. Bloodletting to vent a surfeit of blood was practiced well into the 19th century. The red-and-white barber’s pole originated as the sign of a bloodletter.

Hippocrates was also revolutionary in proposing natural causes for psychological problems. He formulated long-lasting theories of temperament and motivation.


Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~ Socrates

Socrates (469–399 BCE) was one of the founders of Western philosophy. A paramount proponent of introspection, Socrates thought the unexamined life not worth living.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. ~ Socrates

Fundamental to Socratic philosophy was the idea that the truths of Nature lay hidden within every mind. His pedagogy was the Socratic method: iterative elimination of hypotheses through critical discourse to uncover the truth.

Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people. ~ Socrates

In his vigorous pursuit of truth Socrates made many enemies. We all think we know what truth and justice are; to be challenged and implicitly chastised by a master logician overbearingly grates.

His fellow citizens got fed up with Socrates’ zest. At the age of 70, Socrates was found guilty of corrupting youth and undermining the state religion with his freethinking ways. Socrates was sentenced to death by a jury of 501 men, in a margin of 60 votes. He accepted this verdict rather than flee, which was an opportunity he had.

Death may be the greatest of all human blessings. ~ Socrates


Reason is immortal, all else mortal. ~ Pythagoras

Pythagoras of Samos (~570–495 bce) is best known as a mathematician, especially his theorem for geometric triangles. This was merely the tip of a philosophical mountain. Pythagoreanism was the mystical school of thought propounded by Pythagoras. Abstractions, notably numbers and their relationships, were considered real, and able to exert an influence on the material world. As concepts were pure and their manifest forms were not, the influence of abstraction was considered inferior to the abstraction itself.

Central to Pythagoreanism was the idea of transmigration of the soul (metempsychosis): the passing on of an animated spirit that occupies the body, continuing its existence after death, into reincarnation.

According to the Pythagoreans, reason was the highest form of thought: its grasp the function of the soul.

Tenets of Pythagoreanism were appreciated and extended by Plato.


Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. ~ Plato

Plato (427–347 bce) was Socrates’ student and successor. He surpassed his teacher by laying the foundations of Western philosophy and science. After Socrates death and an extended spell in Italy, where he came under the influence of the Pythagoreans, Plato founded his academy in Athens.

Plato explained sensation and perception as the transformation of actuality into what he called forms. According to Plato’s theory of forms, everything in the empirical world is an inferior, passing manifestation of pure forms, which themselves have an independent, intemporal existence.

To Plato perceptions are flickering shadows of which surety is impossible. Although lacking incarnation, forms are the real thing.

Though the soul is implanted in a body, it still dwells with forms: pure and complete knowledge. The only way to arrive at true knowledge is to ignore perceptions and concentrate on insights accessible only through intuition.

Plato proposed the soul as a tripartite construction: the rational as the immortal seat of reason, the emotional (spirited), and the appetitive as the source of desire. There is a built-in conflict between the 3 in how to spend time and expend energy.

For Plato, the supreme aspiration in life is freeing the soul as much as possible from the adulterations of the flesh. This lofty aim followed the Pythagorean tradition.

Plato’s reminiscence theory of knowledge posited that all knowledge was innate and can only be tapped through introspection. As all information is carried within the soul, knowledge is attained via reminiscence: remembering the past experiences of the soul. Sensory experience can only remind one of what is already known.

The soul, since it is immortal and has been born many times, and has seen all things both here and in the other world, has learned everything that is. So, we need not be surprised if it can recall the knowledge or virtue of anything else which, as we see, it once possessed. All Nature is akin, and the soul has learned everything, so that when a man has recalled a single piece of knowledge there is no reason why he should not find out all the rest, if he keeps a stout heart and does not grow weary of the search, for seeking and learning are in fact nothing but recollection. ~ Plato in Meno

A few labels may be laid upon Plato’s epistemology: idealism, rationalism, and nativism. Idealism asserts that reality – as far it can be understood – is fundamentally a mental construction. Rationalism regards reason as the source of knowledge, obtained via deduction. Nativism nestles knowledge as innate.

Plato recognized individual differences in talents, skills, and aptitudes. In the Republic (~380 bce) Plato sketched a utopian society with an oligarchical government comprising those of superior reasoning, ruled by a philosopher-king.

Properly populating the ideal society necessitates assessment of those to serve various roles. To Plato, the traits suited for different occupations could be measured. Plato believed such qualities were localized in different body parts: reason in the head, courage in the chest, appetite in the abdomen. This phrenology anticipated psychometrics: the study of measuring psychological qualities.


All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.  ~ Aristotle

Aristotle (384–322 bce) was one of Plato’s brightest pupils. He studied under Plato for 20 years, from the age of 17 to 37.

Aristotle was the first philosopher to treat many psychology topics: perception, learning, memory, sleep, dreams, and geriatrics. His book On the Soul had the first history of psychology.

Both Plato and Aristotle were interested in essential truths. But their approaches to discovery, and their conclusions, were diametric. Whereas Plato dwelled on deduction, Aristotle was one the first Greek philosophers to advocate induction. Aristotle’s bold inductive approach of theorizing general principles from limited information was prone to wrong conclusions. In this, Aristotle started a tradition still commonly found in modern science.

Aristotle did correctly cast memory as associative, based upon similarity, contiguity, and contrast. He noted that repetition engenders retention, and that some associations are more easily formed than others.

Aristotle aptly treated emotions as an amplifier to one’s disposition, as well as acting as motivation. Aristotle observed that emotions evoke selective perception.

We are readily deluded respecting the operations of sense-perception when we are excited by emotion, and different persons according to their different emotions. In fits of anger, and also in all states of appetite, all men become easily deceived, and more so the more their emotions are excited. ~ Aristotle


Aristotle considered catharsis positively, describing drama as capable of arousing emotions that can have a purgative effect. Millennia later, Sigmund Freud made catharsis a central concept in his psychoanalytic theory.

The chime of catharsis rings to this day in the debate over the effect of violence portrayed in the popular media: whether it purges aggressive urges or engenders violence. The answer is unequivocal: violence begets violence. Children exposed to violence are more aggressive than other children.

The aftereffects of exposure to violence are often long-lasting. The stress of witnessing violence accelerates aging. At the least, as a means of coping, repeated exposure to violence desensitizes.


Ultimately, Aristotle cast his lot with naïve empiricists: without experiences the mind is a blank slate. Aristotle throttled the idea of inborn information, concluding that all we can ever know come from life’s experiences. Aristotle’s conclusion contradicts the simple observation that people have ideas outside of their own experience or exposure, and that we innately know how to learn and perform certain functions (precocious knowledge).


From the time of the ancient Greeks until over a millennium later, modest contribution was made to psychology. The Romans had conquest and political intrigue on their minds, and the subsequent Dark Ages dampened academic activity.

In Europe, the Catholic Church was a singular refuge of erudition. Channeling Plato, 5th-century Latin theologian Augustine of Hippo advocated introspection as the way to know God. The bliss that came from contemplating God provoked Augustine to value faith over reason.

Augustine’s impact was profound. In placing reason as the stepchild to faith, Augustine cemented the delusional cornerstone of church dogma that continues to this day.

Following in Augustine’s footsteps, in the late 11th century, Anselm of Canterbury melded faith and reason with his famous ontological argument for the existence of God. Anselm’s ontological argument was an exercise in empiricism turned on its head. Its preamble was that if something can be thought of, then it exists. (Though fallacious, the credulous creed of believing what the mind conceives remains quotidian among the Collective.) As God, being perfect, is the greatest being that can be conceived, God must exist.

The march of faith-based ontology was interrupted in Europe in the mid-14th century when the Black Death culled 1/3rd of that continent’s population, making mundane matters more pressing than contemplation about God and his wondrous works.

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Within a few centuries after the life of the 6th-century prophet Muhammad, the Muslim empire extended over an area greater than the Roman Empire at its furthest extent. While Europe wallowed in intellectual self-desecration, the Islamic world kindled the candle of knowledge with advances in science, mathematics, and medicine. Arabic philosophers attempted to reconcile selective teachings of their Greek and Roman counterparts with Islam.


The knowledge of anything, since all things have causes, is not acquired or complete unless it is known by its causes. ~ Avicenna

Avicenna (980–1037) was a child prodigy. He had memorized the Koran by the time he was 10. In his adolescence Avicenna absorbed Aristotle’s Metaphysics. By the time he was 20 Avicenna was considered one of the best Arabic physicians.

Avicenna authored books on numerous subjects, including medicine, mathematics, logic, astronomy, Muslim theology, philosophy, and linguistics. His medical book The Canon was employed in European universities for over 5 centuries.

In addition to the 5 external senses, Avicenna postulated an ascending hierarchy of 7 “interior senses”: 1) sensory synthesis (common sense): making sense of the external senses (perception); 2) memory of sensory synthesis; 3) compositive animal imagination: via memory and generalization, learning what to avoid and what is desirable; 4) human imagination: creativity, such as imagining the fantastic (for example, unicorns); 5) estimation: the innate ability to make judgments about objects; 6) the ability to remember previous outcomes; and 7) the ability to apply the memory of experiences.

Avicenna’s hierarchy of internal senses was an elaboration of Aristotle’s 3: common sense, memory, and imagination.

Avicenna departed from Aristotle in his take on active intellect. Aristotle took active intellect to be understanding universal principles that could be ascertained via empirical observation. This was Aristotle’s ersatz version of Platonic forms. For Avicenna, the active intellect had immaterial abilities: to comprehend the cosmic plan and enter into an abiding relationship with unitary reality – such was the ultimate attainment of the intellect. In this Avicenna espoused the wisdom of sages since time immemorial.


The age of Muslim enlightenment ended in the 11th century, when Islamic scholars turned their back on emphasizing reason for reliance on fidelity to the faith. By that time it was a path already well worn by the Catholic Church.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Catholic Church kept a firm grip on philosophic license. There were only 2 types of people: believers and unbelievers. If unbelievers could not be converted, they were imprisoned, tortured, and killed. If God is real, so too Satan and its spawn.

The Catholic pogrom against unbelievers did nothing to expunge the mystical. Astrology was exceedingly popular. Magic was practiced practically everywhere. Superstition had its hold on peasants, scholars, kings, and clergy.

Early Christians perpetuated the sexism of Greek and Roman times while proscribing the lust. Sex itself was a sin.

When men gave in to sexual desire it was the woman’s fault. This attitude strongly prevails to this day in India, the Muslim world, among fundamentalist Christians, and otherwise lingers throughout the world of men unwilling to acknowledge their weakness in indulging their biological bent.

The philosophic musings that were written down in medieval Europe came almost exclusively from the clergy. They focused on an individual’s relationship with God in accordance with accepted parameters. Criticizing the Catholic Church was not countenanced. That was not to last. The break, when it came, changed the face of Christianity.

In the early 16th century, German friar and Catholic priest Martin Luther became upset with corruption within the Church, especially the sale of indulgences, which let sinners reduce divine retribution by bribing church officials. He also opposed the Aristotelian emphasis on dogma.

Luther’s protest got him excommunicated in 1520. His fervor spawned a new religious movement – Protestantism – with Luther as its leader.

Luther’s religious vision was harsh and unforgiving. Protestantism insisted that faith was the only path to accepting the existence of God. Its rejection of reason was a regression compared to Catholic tolerance of the logic that went its way or stirred no opposition.

Protestantism loosened the grip of absolute Catholic Church authority. In that it helped usher in an age of freer thinking – an ironic outcome to Luther’s rigidity.

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself. ~ Galileo

Heavily influenced by the Pythagorean-Platonic belief system, Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) took up the mantle of Copernicus and Kepler in exploring a mathematical reality beyond the world of appearances.

Galileo discredited numerous Aristotelian “truths.” This itself was an oblique attack on the Catholic Church, which by this time held Aristotle in high esteem. For one, Galileo contravened Aristotle’s mistake in thinking that heavier objects fell faster than light ones. A more direct assault was Galileo’s reinterpretation of portions of the Bible: a scholarly stab that smacked of Protestantism.

The Lord set the Earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. ~ Psalm 104:5, The Bible

Lastly, Galileo argued in support of Copernican heliocentricity: Earth not being the center of the universe about which heavenly bodies whirl, as Church doctrine decreed.

For his dedication to open inquiry, and concomitantly his advocacy of heliocentrism, Galileo was found guilty of heresy by the Church. At the time Galileo was 70, crippled by rheumatism and nearly blind. His sentence of imprisonment was commuted to house arrest, where he spent the rest of his miserable days.

Earlier (when he could see), Galileo discovered 4 new moons of Jupiter with his telescope, bringing the known total up to an unholy 11, instead of the 7 claimed by the Church. Most visitors refused Galileo’s invitation to peer through his telescope, fearing that to do so was an act of heresy.

Galileo was one of the first to clearly frame the laws of Nature as mathematical constructs. Galileo cognized his discoveries as exemplary of Platonic forms. To Galileo, experimentation and observation were fodder for mathematical induction.

Conceptually rephrasing Plato, Galileo bifurcated objective and subjective reality: what Galileo termed primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities were absolute and immutable, and capable of mathematical description. In contrast, secondary qualities were psychological experiences gleaned from perception.

To Galileo, one can only have true knowledge of primary qualities. Of illusive secondary qualities there can be only opinion.

Where the senses fail us, reason must step in. ~ Galileo

Primary qualities are real. Secondary qualities are merely descriptions of subjective experiences. As such, Galileo believed that the mind could never be studied by objective methods. Because psychology was unquantifiable, it was not a science.


Galileo’s view of the vast heavens shrank the significance of man. That marked a major worldview shift concerning humanity’s importance in the universe. Up until Galileo, man was unequivocally considered the paramount creation.

Galileo resurrected the matterism espoused by ancient Greek rationalist philosopher Democritus, who conceived of matter as comprising of atoms. This perspective, along with man as part of the natural world, helped lay the foundations for modern science, though not modern psychology.

René Descartes

Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power. ~ René Descartes

French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) was born into wealth, affording him the best education. His inquisitive mind put it to vigorous use.

In fusing geometry with algebra, Descartes founded analytic geometry, which laid the foundation for infinitesimal calculus and mathematical analysis. Unsurprisingly, Descartes agreed with Galileo before him, and anticipated Newton in concluding that knowledge is ultimately, inexorably, mathematical.

In his search for philosophical truth Descartes decided that introspection was the path to knowledge: the same conclusion drawn a millennium earlier by Augustine. Descartes found some concepts so cogent that their truth was undeniable, even though they were outside personal experience.

Descartes mused that, despite his imperfection, he could entertain perfect abstractions (Platonic forms again). Because perfection could not arise from something imperfect, he concluded that he could not be the author of such concepts. Descartes thought these ideas innate.

The only hypothesis left was that this idea was put in my mind by a Nature that was really more perfect than I was, which had all the perfections that I could imagine, and which was, in a word, God. (The idea of a perfect God is an echo of Augustine.) ~ René Descartes

Supposing that a perfect God exists that does not deceive humans, Descartes consider the senses trustworthy as long as the sensory information is lucid. With this Descartes restored the dignity of subjective experience that had dimmed in Galileo’s wake. Descartes’ conjuring of objectivity paved the way for the scientific study of the mind.

With his mathematical bent (orientation to formula), Descartes considered physiology and behaviors as mechanistic. Sense receptors were like pressure plates that starting water flowing, activating nerves, which Descartes imagined as delicate hollow threads.

Perpetuated by the influential, 2nd-century Greek physician Galen, the idea of animal spirits (vitalism) was popular among the ancient Greeks, including Aristotle. The presence of animal spirits distinguished the living from the inert. Descartes incorporated vitalism into a fanciful conception of behavior: when animal spirits flowed to certain muscles, they invoked behavior.

Descartes considered behaviors reflexive: a stance which presaged behaviorism. In doing so, Descartes legitimized the destructive examination of animals to learn more about the apex animal: man. He himself did a great deal of dissecting.

Descartes concluded that all manner of ecological interactions, internal processes, and behaviors could be explained mechanically. Dreams were caused by a wash of animal spirits while asleep.

Even during his lifetime, Descartes’ fabrications of reflex were shown to be incorrect; but stubborn pride left Descartes unmoved.

Though the behaviors of humans and other animals obeyed the same mechanics, Descartes discriminated between the two, in that only humans had a mind. This made humans unique in possessing consciousness, rationality, free will, and a soul. (Descartes presumed the mind and the soul more or less the same substrate.)

For Descartes, the body is physical, but the mind is not. This bifurcation of mind-body cast Descartes as a promoter of dualism.

There is a great difference between mind and body. ~ René Descartes

Dualism posits 2 entangled facets of existence for life forms: the physical and the mental/spiritual. Dualism necessarily introduces the mind-body problem: how to explain the interface between the body and the mind.

Descartes believed that the mind permeated the whole body yet felt compelled to identify its physical axis: finally settling on the pineal gland as the organ through which the mind exerted its effects on the body. It helped that the pineal gland was surrounded by animal spirits (now known as cerebrospinal fluid).

As to how the ethereal mind influenced the physical body, Descartes offered several stories until, dissatisfied, he confessed himself flummoxed for a logical explanation. This supposedly supreme rationalist philosopher was reduced to pleading common sense.

Despite his extensive sophistry Descartes had lasting influence. Most significantly, by rendering subjective experience respectable (again) he opened the door to the study of mind.

Descartes’ work on animal-versus-human and rational-versus-irrational behavior sparked abiding interest. These were the same subjects that Freud later studied.

Some philosophers after Descartes were drawn to his mechanistic paradigm. Others stressed the cognitive side of Descartes’ philosophy, proclaiming the mind as the most important aspect of being human (it being axiomatic that humans are uniquely superior). In either instance, what followed Descartes was a reaction to him. For this reason, Descartes is often considered the father of modern philosophy in general, and of modern psychology particularly.

Thomas Hobbes

The condition of man is a condition of war of everyone against everyone. ~ Thomas Hobbes

English philosopher and sociologist Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, which laid a cornerstone in Western political philosophy with social contract theory: the rightful authority of the state over individuals.

Hobbes began Leviathan with his views on the human condition, which, absent any political order, is destined to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” His infamous conclusion was Homo homini lupus: “man is a wolf to man.”

According to Hobbes, humans banded together only to protect themselves from the aggression of others: civilization a matter of self-defense. Living in a turbulent time of limited material resources, and amid men of unlimited desires, Hobbes appeared to be on the mark.

Though a staunch political conservative in most ways, Hobbes was revolutionary for his belief in gender equality in the 17th century. Hobbes considered female subordination a social invention by men. But Hobbes did not deny that patriarchy was a political necessity, as men would not tolerate giving women equal civil rights, and so letting women participate in politics would only ensure sexual conflict in the social arena (Hobbes conservative bent prevailing).

On the purely philosophical front, Hobbes concurred with Descartes’ deductive method but rejected the notion of innate ideas. As an empiricist, Hobbes insisted that all ideas came from sensory experience: an echo of Aristotle.

In the same line of thought, Hobbes embraced matterism in the mode of Galileo and Democritus: all that exists is matter and motion. Hobbes considered the idea of a nonmaterial mind absurd.

There is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind while we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense. ~ Thomas Hobbes

To Hobbes, attention was explained by exclusive fixation of the sense organs on the motion of certain objects. Imagination came from decaying sense impressions. Hobbes thought that dreams are so vivid because they are imagination without competing sensory impressions. A decayed sensory impression held after some time is a memory. To explain trains of thought, Hobbes invoked Aristotle’s law of associative memory.

External objects not only produce sensory experiences, they also influence vital bodily functions: we seek and try to preserve pleasurable impressions. Conversely, sensory impressions incompatible with vital functions are experienced as painful and avoided. Human behavior is therefore motivated by appetite and aversion. Thus Hobbes subscribed to a hedonistic theory of motivation.

In the state of Nature, profit is the measure of right. ~ Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes denied free will. What appears as choice is a competition of appetites and aversions while interacting with the environment. The determination of will follows personal tendency. In this Hobbes was a behaviorist.

Fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which everyone in himself calleth religion. ~ Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Willis

English physician Thomas Willis (1621–1675) was the wellspring of the modern neurological school of psychology. Willis was a meticulous pioneer in studying the brain, nervous system, and muscles of many animals, including humans. Willis’ Cerebri Anatome (1664) was the first comprehensive account in Europe of the brain and nervous system.

Willis sought “to unlock the secret places of man’s mind.” He viewed the brain as “the chief seat of the rational soul in a man, and the chief mover in the animal machine.”

Willis was immensely influential in his own time and channeled the study of the mind in the direction which matterists have followed since.

Baruch Spinoza

Nothing in the universe is contingent, but all things are conditioned to exist and operate in a particular manner by the necessity of the divine nature. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was born of Jewish-Portuguese parents in the Christian city of Amsterdam. In Spinoza’s salad days Amsterdam was the European center of intellectual freedom: attracting Descartes and Locke, who had experienced persecution elsewhere for their espoused beliefs.

In his youth Spinoza was initially impressed with Descartes. But he parted ways with Descartes’ conception of mind, matter, and God as being separate. Instead, Spinoza proposed the triad as aspects of the same substance: a form of neutral monism. (Neutral monism is the epistemology that the essence of existence is neither material nor mental, but energetic.) To Spinoza, God, Nature, and the mind were inseparable.

This concept ran counter to both Jewish and Christian religions. At 27, Spinoza was excommunicated from his synagogue. Members of the local Jewish community were expressly forbidden to communicate with him in any way, be in the same room with him, or to read any of his writings.

Spinoza supported himself by teaching, and by optical lens grinding and polishing, which caused his demise at the age of 44 from lung disease (inhaling glass). He consistently refused financial assistance from admirers, including Leibniz. Spinoza rejected the chair of philosophy at a nearby university because his acceptance would preclude criticizing Christianity.

While Spinoza had extensive correspondence with many philosophers of the day, only one of his books was published while he was alive, and that one anonymously. His major work, The Ethics Demonstrated with Geometrical Order, was published posthumously.

No matter how thin you slice it, there will always be two sides. ~ Baruch Spinoza

To Spinoza, the body and mind were like sides of the same coin: distinct but inseparable. Spinoza forged physiology and psychology into a unified system.

In so far as the mind sees things in their eternal aspect, it participates in eternity. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza’s mind-body unity flowed from his conceptualization of God as intelligent substrate. Nature is a reflection of God. Everything – organic and inorganic – emanates from a singular source, with physical and mental attributes: essentially a theistic animism.

The mind of God is all the mentality that is scattered over space and time, the diffused consciousness that animates the world. ~ Baruch Spinoza

The unity of mind and body was but one manifestation of monism throughout the universe. Spinoza’s position was a unified pantheism and panpsychism.

Spinoza believed in a natural order. That meant free will was a chimera.

Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are determined. ~ Baruch Spinoza

It made no sense to Spinoza to view God as the cause of all things and at the same time to believe that humans had a free will.

Spinoza was a hedonist. Good and evil were “nothing else but the emotions of pleasure and pain.” Spinoza meant pleasure as entertaining a clear idea: an understanding of the nature of something. Weakness and pain come when the mind entertains unclear ideas or is overwhelmed by passion.

All happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Dwelling on momentary perceptions or passions has the mind in a passive mode which ultimately experiences pain. This is because sensory perceptions produce unclear ideas.

Passions, which Spinoza called “affects,” were not different from thoughts. Affects were instead undeveloped ideas. Though reason and passion were kindred, they presented themselves distinctly. Affects were nascent ideas that required clarity for control. Once understood a passion could be tamed by reason.

The mind must be engaged to develop clear ideas, which are not delivered automatically.

True virtue is life under the direction of reason. ~ Baruch Spinoza

To Spinoza, knowledge was a force for both morality and spirituality. Understanding Nature was the path to connecting to God.

The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza considered self-preservation as the master motive: hence thoughts and behaviors aligned to survival.

Will and intellect are one and the same thing. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza distinguished between emotion and passion. Whereas emotion was linked with a certain thought, passion was unfocused: desire for stimulation. As passion is undirected it can cause maladaptive behavior and so must be harnessed by reason.

Thoughts and behaviors guided by reason are conducive to survival, whereas those propelled by passion are not. Spinoza recognized the power of passion to overwhelm good sense.

Reason is no match for passion. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza considered the basic emotions pleasure and pain. Spinoza showed how as many as 48 emotions could be derived from the interaction between basic emotions and life situations. No one prior to Spinoza had devoted so much detail to human emotion.

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza’s insistence that self-improvement comes by clarifying thoughts through analysis and rationally controlling passions anticipated Freudian psychoanalysis. Substitute the term passion with unconscious determinants of behavior and Freud subconsciously channeled Spinoza.

John Locke

Sophistry is only fit to make men more conceited in their ignorance. ~ John Locke

English philosopher and physician John Locke (1632–1704) was one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers. This owes to Locke’s facilely verbose obfuscation, indicating a muddled mind capable of lofty thoughts. One may readily pluck out of Locke’s writings support for opposing ideas.

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in the 17th–18th centuries to reform society via rationality, challenging concepts rooted in tradition and faith. It promoted science, skepticism, and intellectual exchange, in opposition to superstition, intolerance, and abuses of power by the church and state.

Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) tackled the mind-body problem by evading it. As to how something physical provoked something mental – it just did.

Locke’s essay was in part an attack on Descartes’ notion of innate ideas, which was still popular despite Hobbes’ efforts. It was also an attack on the church, as it was a common belief, especially among clergymen, that God instilled morality into man. Locke argued that if there were innate ideas, they should be universal but were not. Whether moral or mathematical, Locke thought that humans were born without any innate inclinations. The mind at birth was like a blank slate: an Aristotelian notion Hobbes adhered to.

Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception, thought, or understanding, that I call idea. ~ John Locke

To Locke, an idea was merely a mental image: the product of perception or reflection: the mind’s ability to reflect on prior sensory stimulation, and itself.

No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience. ~ John Locke

In his insistence that all knowledge flowed from sensory experience, Locke was an empiricist. But while the contents of the mind were entirely existential, Locke thought that mental faculties were innate: a partly nativist view. By analogy, Locke considered the mind a well-built computer lacking an operating system.

Locke’s attack on innate ideas extended to innate morality. He thought that much dogma was built upon the felicitous but false assumption that people possessed an inherent goodness. Like Hobbes, Locke thought people selfish. Nonetheless, Locke believed that human nature is characterized by reason. In this Locke was the antithesis of Hobbes.

All men are naturally in a state of perfect freedom within the bounds of the law of Nature without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man. ~ John Locke

Locke asserted that people had a right to their own paths rather than imposition by authority. Locke challenged the divine right of kings and proposed self-governance for and by the people.

Religion, which should most distinguish us from the beasts, and ought most particularly elevate us as rational creatures above brutes, is that wherein men often appear most irrational, and more senseless than beasts. ~ John Locke

While ostensibly against the power of the church and state, Locke thought that God created man, and that we are, in effect, God’s property. Further, there was a law of Nature to which we are obliged.

The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone. ~ John Locke

Locke’s law of Nature logically leads to the idea that there should be an institution to enforce natural law; but Locke never got to that logical end.

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. ~ John Locke

Many interpreted Locke’s declaration of natural law instead to be an entitlement of natural rights. As such, Locke’s political philosophy enthralled 19th-century utilitarians, and echoed in the minds of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence in the American colonies.

To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues. ~ John Locke, stewing in his typical vacuity.

Gottfried von Leibniz

Substances, whether material or immaterial, cannot be conceived in their bare essence without any activity, activity being of the essence of substance in general. ~ Gottfried von Leibniz, anticipating quantum physics and energyism

German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried von Leibniz (1646–1716) is best known for developing infinitesimal calculus. Leibniz was also a prolific inventor of mechanical calculators.

Leibniz and Locke knew each other and were frequent correspondents. Leibniz greatly admired Locke’s Essay, but disagreed with Locke’s account of the mind.

Locke admitted that animals might mentally be empirics: blank tablets at birth, their minds scribed only by life experiences. But, anticipating the concept of inheritance, Leibniz thought the human mind at birth was like veined marble, with the veins representing the mind’s inborn dispositions which emerge with experience.

Leibniz’s mathematical orientation led him to accept Descartes’ mechanistic worldview while disregarding Descartes’ doctrine of the soul. Instead, Leibniz created his own system of souls.

Leibniz extended infinitesimal calculus into infinite atomism: every material object in the universe is potentially indivisible to infinity. It was Democritus’ atomism taken to a mathematical apogee, culminating in a stratified monism.

I do not conceive of any reality at all as without genuine unity. ~ Gottfried von Leibniz

In The Mondalogy (1714), Leibniz ascribed the ultimate unit of existence – the monad – as an energy-laden soul that is eternal, indecomposable, following its own laws, not interacting, yet each monad harmoniously reflecting the entire universe. Leibniz envisioned the universe as comprising a hierarchy of 4 different monads. The supreme monad is God: eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent, for whose purposes and perceptions all other monads are created.

At the apex of the finite monads were rational monads, corresponding to the conscious souls of human beings. Sentient monads are the souls of nonhuman organisms. All matter, both organic and inorganic, is made of simple monads.

Sentient monads presumably possessed the capacities for perception and memory but lacked the self-awareness and reasoning capacity of rational monads. Simple monads react to the world in a confused and unconscious way.

The aggregation of simple monads that comprised a living organism were dominated by that organism’s monad. All the finite monads are apperceived and under the control God, the supreme monad that created them all.

The ultimate reason of things must lie in a necessary substance, in which the differentiation of the changes only exists eminently as in their source; and this is what we call God. ~ Gottfried von Leibniz

Leibniz’s worldview was of an essentially organic universe with levels of purpose and awareness.

I do not believe that a world without evil, preferable to ours, is possible; otherwise it would have been preferred. ~ Gottfried von Leibniz


The centers of learning in Europe from onset of the Dark Ages through the early medieval period had been Christian monasteries and the monastic schools they established.

The earliest universities outside church control were established in Italy, France, Spain, and English from the late 11th century. Within these institutions arose a method of critical thought and learning, using inference and dialectical reasoning. This Scholasticism evolved from the writings of Anselm of Canterbury, William of Ockham, and Thomas Aquinas, among others.

Logic is the most useful tool of all the arts. Without it no science can be fully known. ~ English Franciscan friar William of Ockham

Scholasticism eroded Aristotle’s authority, and then consumed itself when soaked in skepticism bordering on atheism. By 1700, Locke’s empiricism, coupled to the scientific methods espoused by Galileo and Newton, shaped a tradition of European rationalism that birthed the matterism to which Hobbes testified. Even Descartes’ dualism was grudging, in that existence was essentially mechanical.

Matterism was well on its way to becoming the religion of science that it is today. George Berkeley set out to derail the train of matterism, by tearing asunder the rationalist account of perception. His failure to do so is instructive.

George Berkeley

That neither our thoughts, nor passions, nor ideas formed by the imagination, exist without the mind, is what everybody will allow. ~ George Berkeley

Irish philosopher and Anglican bishop George Berkeley (1685–1753) agreed with Locke that all knowledge of the external world comes from experience. He then took empiricism a giant step further. Channeling Spinoza, Berkeley advocated subjective idealism: that material objects are figments of the mind, without independent existence. (A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710).)

All those bodies which compose the frame of the world have not any subsistence without a mind. ~ George Berkeley

Berkeley argued that the existence of all objects depends upon their perception. Despite Berkeley’s pedigree in antecedent philosophy, his subjective idealism was considered an affront to common sense and was met with derision from contemporaneous philosophers.

Berkeley answered that all sorts of activities went on without anyone paying attention because they continue to be perceived by the infinite mind of God. In an inversion of Anselm’s ontological argument, Berkeley regarded the seeming permanence of the material world as definitive proof of God’s existence. (Berkeley’s religious take on idealism is readily secularized by swapping out God for a Nature which emanates from a unified field of Ĉonsciousness. Stir in the neutral monism of coherent energy as the maker of matter and the recipe for explaining reality is complete.)

Doth the reality of sensible things consist in being perceived? Or, is it something distinct from their being perceived, and that bears no relation to the mind? ~ George Berkeley

Each sense yields a different type of information about an object. Through experience, associations are made between aggregate perceptions and specific objects. Through such categorization, objects are identified by associative memory. According to Berkeley, an object is nothing more than that: a perception from an accumulation of sensations.

Custom reconciles us to everything. ~ George Berkeley

Distance perception illustrates. Descartes and others attributed distance perception only to the geometry of optics, facilitated by eye movement.

Berkeley countered that people simply do not perceive distance that way. While agreeing that the visual angles of eye movement were important, it was because they provide cues for distance.

Berkeley’s empirical account of sensory aggregation marked a milestone in the history of psychology, as it showed how perception could be understood as an agglomeration of sensations from different senses. His theories of perception were couched as experimental science, and so constituted a model of scientific inquiry.

Berkeley’s Treatise has been seminal. ~ American psychologist B.R. Hergenhahn

Most importantly, in its basic thrust, Berkeley’s subjective idealism has since been scientifically validated. The problem remains that this critical finding has been universally ignored in favor of matterism – leaving modern science at root nothing more than religious belief in defiance of facts.

Truth is the cry of all, but the game of the few. ~ George Berkeley

David Hartley

When external objects are impressed on the sensory nerves, they excite vibrations in the aether residing in the pores of these nerves. Vibrations in the aether will agitate the small particles of the medullary substance of the sensory nerves with synchronous vibrations up to the brain. ~ David Hartley

English physician David Hartley (1705–1757) constructed a bodily explanation for perception. In embracing matterism, Hartley anticipated physiological psychology by a century.

Hartley was influenced by Locke and Newton. Hartley accepted Newton’s assertion that nerves were vibrating wires, not the hollow fluid tubes that Descartes conceived. These vibrations he termed impressions.

Newton imagined that vibrations in the brain had a certain inertia, continuing for a while after the impressions that prompted them ceased. Hartley mused that lingering brain vibrations following perception created ideas. Hence, ideas are faint replicas of perceptions.

The white medullary substance of the brain is also the immediate instrument by which ideas are presented to the mind: in other words, whatever changes are made in this substance, corresponding changes are made in our ideas, and vice versa. ~ David Hartley

Hartley sought to synthesize Newton’s nerve vibrations with empiricism, especially Locke’s. To Hartley, the mind was not an active vehicle. The mind was instead a product of the brain.

All conceptualizations are made from perceptions. Simple ideas associated by contiguity create complex ideas.

Along the same line of thought, Hartley considered behaviors of volition to develop from reflexes. Voluntary behavior is a reaction to an idea or stimuli, which habituates, and so comes to resemble reflex.

Excessive vibrations are painful, whereas moderate ones are pleasurable. Via association with experiences, vibrations beget emotions.

Julien de La Mettrie

Nature seems here eternally to impose a singular condition, that the more one gains in intelligence the more one loses in instinct. ~ Julien de La Mettrie

French physician and philosopher Julien de La Mettrie (1709–1751) was an empiricist who thought the body and mind were intimately connected. He observed the effects on one’s thoughts that coffee, wine, opium, or even a good meal, have. La Mettrie was one of the first modern philosophers to note that “you are what you eat.”

Raw meat makes animals fierce, and it would have the same effect on man. This is so true that the English who eat meat red and bloody, and not as well done as ours, seem to share more or less in the savagery due to this kind of food, and to other causes which can be rendered ineffective by education only.

This savagery creates in the soul: pride, hatred, scorn of other nations, indocility and other sentiments which degrade the character, just as heavy food makes a dull and heavy mind whose usual traits are laziness and indolence. ~ Julien de La Mettrie

La Mettrie was a dyed-in-the-wool matterist: to him, the notion of an immaterial mind was silly.

Man is a machine, and in the whole universe there is but a single substance differently modified. ~ Julien de La Mettrie

The “single substance” was, of course, matter, of which everything is made.

According to La Mettrie, intelligence was a product of 3 factors: brain size, brain complexity, and education. Humans are marginally more intelligent than other animals, owing to bigger, more complex brains, and because of better education. With proper training, an ape “would be a perfect man, a little gentleman.”

To ascribe moral superiority to man ignores the violence that plagues the species, to which religious belief brings no relief. La Mettrie thought that beliefs in God and the uniqueness of humans were responsible for widespread misery.

La Mettrie dared to openly discuss ideas held privately by many contemporaneous philosophers. The impolitic of his doing so alienated many powerful men. Although La Mettrie was clearly influential, his works were rarely cited; even his name was seldom mentioned.

David Hume

What a peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain which we call ‘thought’. ~ David Hume

Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) was an empiricist: the contents of the mind come only from experience. Hume believed that experience could be stimulated by either external or internal events.

To hate, to love, to think, to feel, to see; all this is nothing but to perceive. ~ David Hume

Hume held that impressions – perceptions of the outside world – are vivid. In contrast, ideas are weak perceptions. Once ideas exist in the mind, their rearrangement in a nearly infinite number of ways is a mere matter of imagination.

Nothing is more free than the imagination. It can feign a train of events with all the appearance of reality. For as the mind has authority over all its ideas, it could voluntarily annex this particular idea to any fiction, and consequently be able to believe whatever it pleases. ~ David Hume

Hume held that all abstractions – God, soul, the laws of Nature, and even matter – are products of the imagination. Causality is reduced to a pattern of associative memory.

Belief is nothing but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady conception of an object, than what the imagination alone is ever able to attain. ~ David Hume

For Hume, physical existence is real, but perception of it is at a remove, filtered by the senses. Hence, knowing the nature of reality is beyond ken.

The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason. ~ David Hume

To Hume, the human animal is innately emotional. Cunning serves each person’s passions.

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. ~ David Hume

Immanuel Kant

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life. ~ Immanuel Kant

In his 80 years of life, Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) never traveled more than 40 miles from his birthplace in Königsberg, Prussia. American psychologist Benjamin Wolman encapsulated Kant’s life:

Several armchairs played an important role in the history of human thoughts, but hardly any one of them could compete with the one occupied by Immanuel Kant. For Kant led an uneventful life: no change, no travel, no reaching out for the unusual, not much interest outside his study-room and university classroom. Kant’s life was a life of thought.

Social repose was sometimes beyond Kant’s reach. He became so famous in his lifetime that philosophy students from all over Europe came to attend his lectures. Kant had to keep changing restaurants to avoid admirers.

Kant’s death created gridlock in Königsberg, as the city bells tolled while a procession of thousands made their way to his funeral ceremony.

Kant started as a disciple of Leibniz, but reading Hume woke him from his “dogmatic slumbers.” Ever a rationalist, Kant was affronted by Hume’s subjective empiricism.

Kant did not deny the importance of experience but believed that the basis for thought existed innately. Perception is sensation treated with an infusion of pure mental concepts, which were categories of thought: unity, totality, time, space, cause and effect, quantity, quality, reality, existence-nonexistence, possibility-impossibility, and negation. (Platonic forms echoed in Kant’s worldview.)

Induction – deriving generalizations from particulars – is only possible by having inherent precepts.

To Kant, sense of time cannot come from experience. Memory provides only recalled representations. The mind imposes temporal sequence by employing an a priori sense of time. Similarly, the mental organization of space is fabricated.

Kant described his theory of perception in The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), which, owing to its clear exposition, is often cited as the most important book on metaphysics and epistemology in modern philosophy.

Kant also had considerable influence on psychology, even as he believed that psychology could never become an experimental science. The mind itself was beyond study because of its immateriality. Further, the mind defies scientific introspection by its restless nature: the very process of introspection alters state of mind.

Kant considered science a discipline whose object of study had to be capable of mathematical formulation. This is not the case for psychology.

For all that, though not altogether scientific, studying the mind and human behavior is instructive. Kant defined psychology as introspective analysis of the mind.

Kant argued that the mind can never penetrate to the true nature of things. Hence, knowledge is, at best, proximate, never absolute.

The study of human behavior Kant termed anthropology. He lectured on anthropology for years. Kant’s book Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798) covered such topics as: clear thinking, imagination, insanity, gender differences, suggestions for a successful marriage (from a man who never married!), human appetites, personality types, and intellectual faculties.

From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. ~ Immanuel Kant

Kant was a deeply ethical man. He tried to rescue moral philosophy from what empiricists had reduced it to: utilitarianism.

Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end. ~ Immanuel Kant

Kant also had a keen scientific mind. Lord Kelvin noted:

Kant pointed out in the middle of last century what had not previously been discovered by mathematicians or physical astronomers: that the frictional resistance against tidal currents on the Earth’s surface must cause a diminution of the Earth’s rotational speed. This immense discovery in Natural Philosophy seems to have attracted little attention, – indeed to have passed quite unnoticed, – among mathematicians, and astronomers, and naturalists, until about 1840, when the doctrine of energy began to be taken to heart.

In his General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens (1755), Kant correctly surmised that the solar system was formed from a large cloud of gas: a nebula. He also deduced that the Milky Way galaxy was an enormous disk of stars, formed in nebular fashion. In contrast, Newton had gone no further than presuming that the solar system had existed since its creation by God.

Franz Joseph Gall

Whoever would not remain in complete ignorance of the resources which cause him to act; whoever would seize, at a single philosophical glance, the nature of man and animals, and their relations to external objects; whoever would establish, on the intellectual and moral functions, a solid doctrine of mental diseases, of the general and governing influence of the brain in the states of health and disease, should know, that it is indispensable, that the study of the organization of the brain should march side by side with that of its functions. ~ Franz Joseph Gall

By the turn of the 19th century, the brain as the organ housing the mind was generally conceded. Furthering that fiction, German physiologist Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) founded phrenology, a pseudoscience which supposed that brain functions are localized.

According to Gall, the relative sizes of various brain areas, which can be measured on the skull by bumps and depressions, tell a person’s mental faculties and propensities. An analogous, ancient notion was Hippocrates’ teaching that personality was determined by the 4 humors.

Gall’s original conception was that the brain comprised 27 localized organs which determine personality. Other animals had the first 19 of these organs.

The term phrenology was coined by Thomas Foster in 1815, and popularized by his student and colleague, German physician Johann Gaspar Spruzheim. Gall rejected the term, preferring physiognomy.

Gall was ahead of the curve with his hypothesis of brain localization. He was condemned on opposing fronts by both the Catholic Church and scientists. That the mind, created by God, was supposedly seated within brain matter offended the Church. Scientists were simply put off by lack of evidence (which succeeding generations would amply supply, misguided in their fervor for matterism).

Gall lost teaching posts in Austria and Paris when his ideas were found unacceptable. Despite this, Gall was able to secure a comfortable living from his specialty of determining personality and brain wattage from skull readings.

Gall’s physiognomy shtick went down well in England, where the ruling class found it a satisfying rationalization for colonialism based upon the inferiority of its subjects.


Phrenology was extremely popular in Europe and North America during the last half of the 19th century. Several phrenologists claimed that mental faculties could be strengthened with exercise, as if the brain was a set of muscles for the mind. This belief influenced educators, who sought to systemize instruction to develop mind muscles. One’s reasoning ability, for example, could be pumped up by studying mathematics. Though faith in phrenology evaporated, the belief that educational experiences can be structured to enhance specific mental faculties persists to this day.

That brain functioning was localized is another fallacy with a lasting legacy. Instead of simple localization, the entire cortex is excited by different tasks, albeit with local areas of more intense electrical activity. Confusing correlation for cause and effect in attributing brain electrical activity as mentation is still a popular sport among deluded neurobiologists.

Pierre Flourens

Although phrenology was popular among scientists, especially neurobiologists, it was not universally accepted. French physiologist Pierre Flourens (1794–1867) labored to experimentally demonstrate phrenology’s folly.

Flourens founded experimental brain science by selectively destroying the brain tissue of animals (ablation) and observing its effects. Flourens chose dogs, pigeons, and rabbits as his surgical victims.

While Flourens saw some brain localization, he concluded that the cortical hemispheres largely functioned as units: an obvious holistic conclusion.

Flourens’ technique was inept. His ablations proceeded methodically, but in conceptual ignorance of how the brain functioned.

Gall contemptuously referred to all brain ablators as “mutilators,” who destroyed “all the organs at once, weakens them all, extirpates them all at the same time.” In this Gall was correct and Flourens a fool.

Johann Friedrich Herbart

Desire relates to objects and feeling to states. Feeling and desiring are changeable conditions of concepts. ~ Johann Friedrich Herbart

German philosopher and psychologist Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841) occupied the university position that Kant had vacated with his passing. While an initial admirer of Kant, Herbart became more compatible with Leibniz’s point of view.

Herbart agreed with Kant that psychology could never be an experimental science. But Herbart thought that mentation could be expressed mathematically. In that sense psychology can be a science.

Psychology cannot experiment with men. So much the more carefully must we make use of mathematics. ~ Johann Friedrich Herbart

The reason Herbart believed that psychology was beyond experimentation owed to his considering the mind as an integrated whole, and thus not subject to the fractionation which would be the basis of any experimentation. Herbart anticipated gestalt psychology.

Herbart opposed faculty psychology and physiological psychology, both quite popular in the day. Faculty psychology is the view of the mind as a collection of modules, or faculties. Physiological psychology was the empiricist take of psychology as an adjunct to physiology. Both faculty psychology and physiological psychology were major contributors to cognitive psychology, the current mainstream school of psychology.

The work of psychology is to make the total of inner experience comprehensible, while it is the work of the philosophy of Nature to accomplish the same in regard to outer experience. ~ Johann Friedrich Herbart


Concepts are received through the senses, preserved by the memory, reproduced by the imagination, and anew combined. (Herbert used the term vorstellungen, which translates alternatively as concepts, ideas, or representations.) ~ Johann Friedrich Herbart

Herbart’s investigation of the mind focused on concepts. He pondered how confusion was avoided, as the mind is assailed with innumerable ideas through the course of a lifetime. Herbart figured there must be some mental organizing principle. He also wanted to account for the notion that concepts exist in perpetuit: an echo of Platonic forms, which Herbart was well acquainted with.

Herbart coined his apprehension of concepts from empiricists and Leibniz. He viewed ideas as the remnants formed from sensory impressions: an empiricist conception. Like Leibniz, Herbart assumed that ideas – like monads – were imbued with a life of their own. As such, concepts were like Newton’s particles of matter: buffeted about and subject to laws of association. Simple ideas combined to form more complex ones.

Herbart had compatible concepts agglomerated into an apperceptive mass: those concepts which hold one’s attention. Additional ideas enter the apperceptive mass only if they are compatible. A concept that presents conflict will be resisted and exiled.

The peculiar striving of concepts for representation never appears immediately in consciousness. Also, the gradual sinking of concepts cannot be perceived. ~ Johann Friedrich Herbart

Herbert recognized the subconscious as the source of mentation. Herbart thought that concepts which lost their attentive footing by lack of association or loss through conflict were weakened, and so sank below the “threshold of consciousness.” This followed Leibniz, in considering concepts slipping beyond awareness, like “petite” perceptions that don’t register in the conscious mind unless their situational context is willfully recalled.

Herbart believed that ideas were indestructible in the personal sense. A concept’s passing simply meant that it slipped below the threshold of conscious awareness, into the storage locker for dismissed ideas, reposing in a “state of tendency.” Repressed ideas bide their time, waiting for the opportunity to rise back to consciousness as part of a new apperceptive mass which entertains similar repressed ideas. Herbart viewed this schema as a mechanism of mental conflict management.

Concepts become forces when they resist one another. ~ Johann Friedrich Herbart

Wilhelm Wundt took his cue about apprehension from Herbart. Sigmund Freud expanded on Herbart’s concept of repression, turning the unconscious into a seething cauldron that feeds one’s mind.

 Educational Psychology

Many consider Herbart the first educational psychologist. Herbart thought that a student’s mental framework must be considered when presenting new subject matter. Material incompatible with the existing apperceptive mass will be rejected, or at least uncomprehended.

Herbart’s theory of education anticipated Jean Piaget, who thought that teaching can only be effective if it starts with what a student can assimilate. Herbart’s apperceptive mass became Piaget’s cognitive structure.

Francis Galton

Characteristics cling to families. ~ Francis Galton

English polymath Francis Galton (1822–1911) possessed an obsessive nature which early in life caused a mental breakdown, but which he later harnessed to prolific output, producing over 340 papers and books.

Whenever you can, count. ~ Francis Galton

A statistically inclined empiricist, Galton founded psychometrics (measuring mental faculties), differential psychology (identifying differences in individuals’ behaviors), and the lexical hypothesis of personality (that a person’s lexicon becomes imbued with one’s personality).

Galton took to measuring all sorts of attributes that he thought of, both physical and mental. He developed color, taste, and touch discrimination tests.

Comparing men to women, supremely sexist Galton concluded that men had the more delicate powers of discernment. Everyday experience confirmed Galton, or so he thought.

The tuners of pianofortes are men, and so I understand are the tasters of tea and wine, the sorters of wool and the like. These latter occupations are well salaried, because it is of the first moment to the merchant that he should be rightly advised on the real value of what he is about to purchase or sell. If the sensitivity of women were superior to that of men, the self-interest of merchants would lead to their being always employed: but as the reverse is the case, the opposite supposition is likely to be the true one. ~ Francis Galton

Galton is generally considered the first to identify nature and nurture as determinants of personality that could be measured and compared. Nurture took the short tally in Galton’s ledger, though he recognized that even the greatest natural endowments may be “starved by defective nurture.”

Galton’s lackadaisical empirical rigor did not match his enthusiasm for quantification. He relied heavily upon anecdotes, subjective reports, group evaluations, and his own judgment. Galton ignored that his sample came from the most advantaged men in England, who had the best opportunities of education and profession correspondent with their families’ wealth. He simply chalked their performance up solely to their nature.


The science of improving stock, which is by no means confined to questions of judicious mating, but which, especially in the case of man, takes cognisance of all influences that tend in however remote a degree to give to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had. ~ Francis Galton

Convinced that human ability is strongly inheritable, Galton was an enthusiast for selective breeding, which he termed eugenics. To this end, Galton envisioned developing eugenic examinations to be administered by the state to all eligible singles.

Galton’s efforts to suss hereditary intelligence – by measuring head size, reaction time, and sensory acuity – failed. Nonetheless, thanks to Galton, eugenics met a welcome reception in Western countries.

In the early 20th century, governments took to identifying undesirables – the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and certain ethnic groups, such as Jews and Roma (gypsies) – as candidates for segregation, marriage restrictions, forced sterilization, abortions, and even elimination.

Eugenic policies were first implemented in the United States in the early 1900s. In the 1920s–1930s, several countries – including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, and Sweden – sterilized mental patients as a matter of policy.

Nazi Germany embraced eugenics. That later tarred eugenics’ reputation, though countries continued practicing eugenics in various ways.

By the end of World War 2, many state eugenics programs were curtailed. The more odious elements were proscribed by proclamation from international committees. But Sweden condoned its own eugenic practices until 1975. And forced sterilization continues to this day to be selectively employed by many nations, especially on incarcerated victims, albeit as furtively as possible.

Paul Broca

The least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable. ~ Paul Broca

Above all else French physician and surgeon Paul Broca (1824–1880) found what he was looking for. Despite his use of scientific methods, Broca’s biases went unchecked. Olfaction, for instance, Broca considered a sign of animality. Speech – now there’s something human.

Broca belonged with the brain localization adherents of his day. He employed the clinical method: observing behaviors which led him to hypothesize the brain area involved.

One of Broca’s eventual patients was admitted to Bicêtre, the hospital near Paris for the insane, in 1831. The patient’s sole defect was inability to talk; otherwise his mental functions appeared to be normal. He communicated intelligently using sign language.

After a 30-year residence at Bicêtre, the patient was put under Broca’s knife because of a gangrenous infection.

Broca took an interest in the patient’s speech deficiency, examining him for 5 days, during which Broca satisfied himself that the patient’s vocal inarticulacy had no origin in physical function associated with speech.

On the 6th day, the patient fortuitously died, whereupon Broca performed an autopsy. Broca found a lesion in a specific location. Broca declared this the cause of the patient’s silence: a region now honored with the title Broca’s area, and thereafter linked to speech production.

Broca’s brain work was not confined to spotting speech. Convinced that there was a relationship between brain size and intelligence he took a tape measure to proving it. Broca’s unsurprising conclusion:

In general, the brain is larger in mature adults than in the elderly, in men than in women, in eminent men than in men of mediocre talent, in superior races than in inferior races. Other things being equal, there is a remarkable relationship between the development of intelligence and the volume of the brain.

This tripe, despite Broca knowing numerous facts which contradicted his conclusion, including intelligent women, numskulled large-brained criminals, and smart-but-small-brained Asians, among other instances.

An autopsy found Broca’s brain size, at 1,424 grams, indicative of mediocrity.

Jean-Martin Charcot

Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but the cry from suffering organs. ~ Jean-Martin Charcot

French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) is known as the founder of neurology. The flamboyant Charcot was considered by contemporaries the most brilliant physician in all of Europe.

At the time, hysteria was the term used for extreme emotional behavior in women, long thought to be caused by problems with the uterus (hystera in Greek). (The idea of linking hysteria with the uterus dates to Hippocrates.)

Charcot is best known for his study of hysteria, an ailment other physicians dismissed because they could find no organic cause. In contrast, Charcot declared hysteria a hereditary neurological degeneration, both progressive and irreversible.

Because hysteria and hypnosis may produce selfsame symptoms, such as paralyses and anesthesia, Charcot concluded that only people suffering from hysteria could be hypnotized. This brought him into sharp conflict with those who rightly believed that susceptibility to hypnosis was normal. For years Charcot stuck to his position, though toward the end of his life he finally admitted that he was wrong.

One student studying with Charcot while he was fervent with his hysteria-hypnosis hypothesis was Sigmund Freud, who accepted it uncritically. Freud returned to Vienna believing that malignant ideas might lodge in the unconscious, where they could produce bodily symptoms: whence Freud’s school of psychoanalysis sprung.

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.

William James

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. ~ William James

American physician, psychologist, and philosopher William James (1842–1910) won his outsized reputation not for poignant insights, but by penmanship. His 1890 book Principles of Psychology was a roaring commercial success.

James objected to the form-over-function approach proposed by Wilhelm Wundt, which got codified into the short-lived school of thought known as structuralism through the work of English psychologist Edward Titchener. Structuralism sought to describe the makeup of the mind.

James instead focused on the workings of the mind: mentation. This begat functionalism, which typified James’ emphasis on stream of consciousness rather than searching for the elements of thought.

To James, the salient feature of human awareness was its fluidity, affording adaptation to circumstance. James characterized consciousness as personal (subjective), continuous, ever-changing, and selective.

Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. ~ William James

James considered humans creatures of habit, governed largely by instinct, but that habits may be modified. James proposed habit creation as repetition that trained neural pathways. His physiological account of habit formation was selfsame to that of his contemporary, Ivan Pavlov.

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives. Begin to be now what you will be hereafter. ~ William James

James imagined that emotion emanated from a reflexive shift in the nervous system that arose from the perception of external stimuli. This facile proposition fared better with psychologists than physiologists, to whom the idea seemed far-fetched.

In 1932, American physiologist Walter Cannon refuted James’ theory of emotion with several pieces of evidence, beginning with the observation that emotions often linger long after the physiological response has expired.

James thought that there were 2 types of people: tough-minded and tender minded. Tough-minded people put great store in facts: materialistic, pessimistic, and skeptical. In contrast, tender-minded people are idealistic, optimistic, and religious.

James’ writings were infused with philosophic pragmatism: that beliefs were best chosen for their value in creating a more effective and satisfying life.

As a rule, we disbelieve all the facts and theories for which we have no use. ~ William James

James’ pragmatic approach to belief systems was shaped by his prolonged depression after graduating medical school at the age of 27. James’ interpretation of German matterism, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and consideration of science as cause and effect led him to believe in the inexorable power of fate (predeterminism). Paradoxically, James chose to believe in free will, at least to the extent of voluntary behavior.

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. ~ William James


From the 2nd half of the 19th century into the 20th, psychology was characterized by 3 predominant schools of thought: behaviorism, Gestalt, and psychoanalysis. Behaviorism was physiologically oriented. Gestalt treated perception as a holistic phenomenon. Psychoanalysis sought to cure mental illnesses via conversational self-revelation.


“Psychology as the behaviorist sees it is a purely objective, experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal responses, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute.” ~ John Watson

Behaviorism followed in the footsteps of La Mettrie, who considered the mind as a machine seated within the brain. Behaviorism essentially dismissed the mind in its attempt to turn psychology into a matterist science of behavior. Behaviorism sought to reduce psychology to a branch of physiology.

Ivan Sechenov

“Physiology will begin by separating psychological reality form the mass of psychological fiction which even now fill the human mind. In a word, psychology will become a positive science. Only physiology can do this, for only physiology holds the key to the scientific analysis of psychical phenomena.” ~ Ivan Sechenov

Russian objective psychologist Ivan Sechenov (1829–1905) sought to explain all psychic phenomena via association and matterism. Paying no mind to the notion of a mind, Sechenov saw nothing mysterious about consciousness. Its activities could be explained by physiological processes triggered by external events. He denied the idea that thoughts cause behavior.

Sechenov’s introduced inhibition into psychology as a physiological non-response. In his 1863 book Reflexes of the Brain, Sechenov tried to explain all behavior in terms of the excitation or inhibition of reflexes.

Ivan Pavlov

“It would be stupid to reject the subjective world. Of course, it exists. It is on this basis that we act, mix with other people, and direct all our life. Formerly I was a little carried away when I rejected psychology. Of course, it has a right to exist, for our subjective world is a definite reality for us. The important thing, therefore, is not to reject the subjective world, but to study it by means of scientifically based methods.” ~ Ivan Pavlov

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) won a Nobel Prize for his studies on the physiology of digestion. His follow-on work was a study the “psychic secretions” that typified the anticipatory salivation he had found in the dogs he experimented on.

Expectant dog drool became generalized in Pavlov’s conditioned reflex theory. According to Pavlov, organisms responded to environmental stimuli with either unconditioned reflexes, or conditioned reflexes, which arose via learning.

Pavlov shared Sechenov’s distaste with psychology as an exercise in subjective introspection. Pondering Sechenov’s work led Pavlov to study conditioned reflexes for over 30 years. Pavlov believed his studies put psychology on an objective scientific footing by discovering the physiological mechanism for association that had been pondered at least since the days of Aristotle.

“Are there any grounds for distinguishing between that which the physiologist calls the temporary connection and that which the psychologist terms association? They are fully identical.” ~ Ivan Pavlov

Edward Thorndike

“For origin and development of human faculty we must look to these processes of association in lower animals.” ~ Edward Thorndike

American psychologist Edward Thorndike (1874–1949) was most interested in learning. He was a pioneer in abusing nonhuman animals for psychology experiments.

Thorndike’s first studies were of how chicks learned to navigate mazes that he designed and built specifically for his experiments. This became a hallmark of behaviorist experimental technique: using a specially created environment to test specific stimuli or tasks, now known as instrumental conditioning.

Thorndike formulated 2 laws of learning. His 1905 law of effect states that the effect of an action determines the likelihood that it will be repeated. Whereas negative outcomes inhibit repetition, positive outcomes act as reinforcement.

This was the first formal statement of the idea that underlies all of behaviorist psychology. Thorndike branded stimulus-response bonding connectionism and believed that such learned connections are “stamped in” the circuitry of the brain. Thorndike’s law of effect anticipated John Watson and B.F. Skinner.

Thorndike’s law of exercise stated that the strength of association between a stimulus and response depends on the number of its repetitions and the strength of their pairing. Thorndike posited his mechanistic law of exercise in his 1911 doctoral dissertation.

In 1932, Thorndike determined that the “law” of exercise was not always valid. Further, Thorndike tempered the law of effect by noting that reward for appropriate behavior always substantially strengthened association, but that punishment for inappropriate responses only slightly weakened the association between stimulus and wrong response.

Unlike later behaviorists who placed emphatic emphasis on the impact of environment on behavior, Thorndike believed that differences in the behaviors of women and men owed much to biology rather than culture. John Watson especially took great exception to this.

“Women in general are by original nature submissive to men in general.” ~ Edward Thorndike

John Watson

“The time seems to have come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness; when it need no longer delude itself into thinking that it is making mental states the object the observation.” ~ John Watson

American psychologist John Watson (1878–1958) is generally credited with founding behaviorism. Watson believed that human behavior was a product of conditioning. Watson rejected the idea of human instincts.

In this relatively simple list of human responses there is none corresponding to what is called an “instinct” by present-day psychologists and biologists. There are then for us no instincts – we no longer need the term in psychology. Everything we have been in the habit of calling an “instinct” today is a result largely of training – belonging to man’s learned behavior. ~ John Watson

Regarding the mind-body problem, Watson shifted from his initial position of epiphenomenalism – mental events are byproducts of bodily stimulus, not causing behaviors – to a matterism that denied mentation altogether.

“Mental processes, consciousness, souls, and ghosts are all of a piece, and are altogether unfit for scientific use. Psychology must discard all reference to consciousness.” ~ John Watson

Watson was not bothered by ethics. In his infamous Albert experiment that began in 1920, Watson induced fear into a 9-month-old infant via conditioning. A rat, to which the infant was first fascinated by, quickly became an object of fear under Watson’s tutelage.

“The goal of psychological study is the ascertaining of such data and laws that, given the stimulus, psychology can predict what the response will be.” ~ John Watson

Watson’s academic career was cut short by a scandal over an extramarital affair. Having shown psychological manipulation to be a forte, Watson had a successful 2nd career as an advertising executive. But Watson did not abandon psychology as an enterprise. He wrote The Psychological Care of the Infant and Child (1928). His unsound advice was to treat children as small adults:

Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinary good job of a difficult task. Try it out. In a week’s time you will find how easy it is to be perfectly objective with your child and at the same time kindly. You will be utterly ashamed at the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it.

Watson’s relationship with his own 2 sons was destructive to their emotional well-being. His son James said that Watson was “unable to express and cope with any feelings of emotion on his own, and determined unwittingly to deprive, I think, my brother and me of any emotional foundation.”

Lamentably, Watson’s influence was considerable. He effectively shifted psychology’s goal from explaining consciousness to behavioral prediction and control. In doing so, he constricted psychology to the study of overt behavior.

“The behaviorist advances the view that what the psychologists have hitherto called thought is in short nothing but talking to ourselves.” ~ John Watson

B.F. Skinner

“The present argument is this: mental life and the world in which it is lived are inventions. They have been invented on the analogy of external behavior occurring under external contingencies. Thinking is behavior. The mistake is in allocating the behavior to the mind.” ~ B.F. Skinner

American behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904–1970) was a prolific author. He was also convincing. Skinner is widely regarded as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century.

Skinner trained experimental animals via what he termed operant conditioning. While so-called classical conditioning dealt with reflexes, operant conditioning was of voluntary behaviors. Operant conditioning employed reinforcement and punishment to respectively strengthen or lessen a specific behavior.

“The consequences of an act affect the probability of it’s [sic] occurring again.” ~ B.F. Skinner


Jean Piaget

“Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent or gradual.” ~ Jean Piaget in 1934

Swiss psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget (1896–1980) studied cognitive development. Piaget proposed his theories of genetic epistemology – the acquisition of knowledge from infancy onward – in the late 1930s. His ideas were completely out of favor with the behaviorist sentiment that dominated at the time. It was not until the 1960s that Piaget’s ideas gained widespread acceptance. Then his impact led to education reform movements in several countries.

Piaget established constructivism: that knowledge and meaning emanate from interaction between experiences and concepts. Cognitive development is the process of a youngster trying to make sense of the world. Piaget observed that children are little scientists, creating hypotheses to understand their physical and social worlds. These nascent theories undergo confirmation or revision as data pours in from personal experiences.

Kant conceived of transcendental schemata as concepts associated with sensory impressions. Piaget termed knowledge acquisition structures schemata (aka schemas or schemes). Piaget defined 3 types of schemes: behavioral, symbolic, and operational. Behavioral schemata organize behavior patterns with objects and experiences. Symbolic schemata are mental symbol systems – language, sounds, images – related to experience. Operational schemata are the patterns of mental activity to objects of thought.

Piaget considered cognitive development a process of constant updating and revising schemata. Via assimilation new experiences are fit into existing schemas. In accommodation, new information provokes schema revision or creation. The failure of unmet expectations leads to learning via accommodation.

Later researchers found Piaget’s notions of assimilation and accommodation too vague to test empirically. So those concepts, however valid, were largely abandoned in favor of other cognitive processes more amenable to testing.

Piaget suggested 4 stages of cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational.

 Sensorimotor (0–2 years)

“Looking at faces, listening to voices, babies seem “tuned in” to people right from the start.” ~ Canadian psychologist Janet Wilde Astington

“Very young infants have a remarkable ability to perceive emotion signals, discriminate among them, and respond in meaningful ways.” ~ Israeli psychologist Moshe Zeidner et al

Newborns explore and learn from a precocious knowledge base via innate behaviors. At 3 months, babies are abstracting visual patterns into rules. At ~7 months, they begin tracking other’s mental states. At ~8–9 months, intentional behavior begins. Infants start to comprehend the permanence of objects around this time. Before then, existence is only what can be perceived: out of sight, out of existence.

Piaget underestimated how quickly worldview develops. Well before they are 1 year old, infants have already become active experimenters. Babies are busy getting a grip on the essentials: developing naïve theories of physics (the nature of objects) and biology (inanimate versus animate objects).

“Very young children’s learning and thinking are strikingly similar to learning and thinking in science. They test hypotheses against data and make causal inferences; they learn from statistics and informal experimentation, and from watching and listening to others.” ~ American psychologist Alison Gopnik

By around 1 year, babies are reasoning deductively, and understanding indirect relations: what is termed transitive inference. An infant is able to deduce which character should dominate another character based upon their interactions with others, even when the 2 characters had not been seen directly interacting with one another. From an evolutionary perspective, understanding social hierarchy is a paramount survival skill.

By 1 year, babies comprehend intention in others. This develops through social interactions involving speech and joint attention to objects, and coincides with better motor skills, including mobility.

The idea of self-concept develops late. We are born assuming a oneness with the world. Duality – distinction between self and an external environment – only gradually dawns.

Just as object permanence and duality are learned, so too that animate objects (beings) have minds of their own. Before then, a baby is egocentric: assuming that others experience the world exactly the same. Attributing inanimate objects with lifelike properties – animism – is also common.

Not until 15–18 months do infants recognize themselves in the mirror. Awareness of oneself as a distinctive being emerges between 18 and 24 months.

Once children fully understand that they exist, they begin to wonder who they are. They want to define themselves. Throughout the preschool years, possessions continue to be one of the ways in which children define themselves. ~ American psychologists Robert Kail & John Cavanaugh

By 18 months, most infants gesture and have begun to talk: evidence of well-developed symbolic thought. Toddlers begin pretend play, imitating understood motions, such as brushing the teeth: another use of symbols. Once symbols are understood, infants begin to anticipate the consequences of actions.

“Children’s acquisition of language is fundamental to their discovery of the mind.” ~ Janet Astington

 Preoperational (~2–7 years)

Development continues with the furtherance of symbolic thought, especially creating mental models of the world that a child is in. Realistic concepts are mixed with magical beliefs as naïve theory development continues.

Young children recognize animals as alive before they do plants. Regardless of age, lack of apparent movement renders plants 2nd-class life forms in the minds of most people. Associating action and intelligence is one naïve and untrue biology belief that never goes away.

A 3-year-old’s drawing of family members is not drawn to scale, but such accuracy is not yet an issue to them, even though they are aware of the inaccuracy. At this stage, children remain egocentric in typically thinking that others see the world exactly as they do.

“The ability to attribute mental states to other individuals is crucial. A milestone of this ability is reached around the age of 4, when children start understanding that others can have false beliefs about the world.” ~ German cognitive scientist Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann et al

Understanding that others have minds different from one’s own is termed theory of mind. Children begin to develop theory of mind around age 4, by which time they understand living things well enough not to be fooled by an animated robot, however lifelike. By the time they are 5 or so, children understand that other minds are different than their own and begin to appreciate that what is in the mind is not necessarily what exists in the world.

“Social cognition is at the heart of children’s ability to get along with other people and to see things from their point of view. The basis of this crucial ability lies in the development of theory of mind.” ~ Janet Wilde Astington & American psychologist Margaret Edward

Once children appreciate theory of mind, they begin to lie more frequently and effectively. Deception is another important social skill.

A child is shown 2 identical beakers with the same amount of juice. The child understands the quantities are the same. Pour the juice from one beaker into another, taller, thinner beaker. The juice level rises higher in the thinner beaker. Even having seen the operation, preoperational children insist that the taller beaker has more juice than the original beaker.

Another facet of preoperational thinking is literalness: appearance as reality. Preoperational children believe an object’s appearance tells what the object really is. That is why scary masks and makeup are frightening to a preoperational child. Most adults retain subtle literal-mindedness by defaulting to naïve realism.

Between the ages of 4–7, serious curiosity sets in. Children begin asking questions, including the ever-vexatious “why?”. During this intuitive substage, as Piaget called it, children realize they have a vast amount of knowledge, but are unaware of how they acquired it.

All the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. ~ American author Ursula Le Guin

 Concrete operational (~7–11 years)

According to Piaget, understanding that others have different viewpoints is a hallmark of the concrete operational stage of development; a continuation of appreciating theory of mind, which culminates in mentalizing: imagining what others are thinking. A somewhat related characteristic is what Piaget termed centration: narrowly focusing on only one aspect of a problem while ignoring other, equally relevant aspects.

In the concrete operational stage, a child shows more logical thinking, with an understanding of causation, size, speed, and numbers. Concepts such as truth or honesty are still beyond description in the abstract, though concrete examples are comprehended.

During this stage, children begin to appreciate conservation: that the essential properties of an object remain despite changes in appearance. Along with conservation comes the understanding of reversibility: that an inanimate object may be changed and returned to its original condition.

A deepening sense that others have different minds takes some of the edge off egoism. This is a major step in developing the concept of give-and-take.

 Formal operational (~12 years up)

Abstract reasoning is on the upswing from early adolescence, as the cognitive limitations of earlier stages loosen. Teenagers more adroitly grapple with situations realistically, though an appropriate sense of risk only develops in the 3rd decade of life.

A sense of odds develops around the age of 5. Although children over that age are risk-seekers, they feel a loss aversion typical of adults who suffer from framing effects.


Piaget underestimated the mental competence of infants and toddlers and overestimated the cognitive skills of adolescents. He also paid insufficient attention to the impact of emotion, observational learning, verbal instruction, and culture on cognitive development. But the mental development process generally proceeds along the lines that Piaget proposed.

Cognitive Psychology

In the latter half of the 20th century behaviorism was eclipsed by cognitive psychology, which was an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind from behavioral artifacts, such as linguistics. (By this time, psychologists disregarded the philosophical failure to resolve the mind-body problem, generally accepting the nonsensical notion that the brain mystically generates the mind.) In arguing that language cannot be explained as a stimulus-response process, American linguist Noam Chomsky rejected behaviorism. By this attack Chomsky spurred the development of cognitive psychology in the late 1950s.

German American psychologist Ulric Neisser’s influential book Cognitive Psychology (1967) coined the term and put more nails in the coffin of behaviorism.

While steeped in mechanistic empiricism, cognitive psychologists somewhat begrudgingly accepted the existence of the mind and internal mental states.

“The mind is a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors in their foraging way of life.” ~ Canadian cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker

Cognitive psychology proceeded partly through reverse engineering: by gleaning data from artificial intelligence computer science research. Paradigmatically, cognitive psychology views the mind as an organic computer. It is a sophistic conception, showing more ignorance than understanding.

“The mental world can be grounded in the physical world by the concepts of information, computation, and feedback.” ~ Steven Pinker

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy was the practical upshot of cognitive psychology, emerging from psychotherapists that diverged from Freud’s teachings by way of cognitive psychology.

“Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.” ~ Alfred Adler

Austrian physician and psychotherapist Alfred Adler collaborated with Freud. Among the core members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Freud considered Alder “the only personality there.”

Freud and Adler had a falling out over Adler’s views, which Freud termed “honorable errors.” Adler believed a human to be an indivisible whole: an individuum integrated with the surrounding world.

“Man knows much more than he understands.” ~ Alfred Adler

Adler’s best-known concept was that of an inferiority complex: the problem of negative self-esteem impacting psychological health. Adler’s emphasis on psychological power and its basis in the unconscious was rooted in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier and simpler.” ~ German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

The arguable progenitor of cognitive behavioral therapy was American psychologist Albert Ellis, who presented his rational therapy in 1955.

“Rational beliefs bring us closer to getting good results in the real world.” ~ Albert Ellis

The point of rational therapy was to foster the understanding that personal philosophies contained beliefs which contributed to emotional pain. This approach stressed changing self-defeating beliefs and behaviors by demonstrating their irrationality and self-defeatism.

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” ~ Albert Ellis

Gestalt Psychology

“There are wholes, the behavior of which is not determined by that of their individual elements, but where the part-processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. It is the hope of Gestalt theory to determine the nature of such wholes.” ~ Max Wertheimer

Gestalt is a German term for form or pattern. Gestalt psychology focuses on the distinction between sensation and perception. Gestalt’s primary principle is that the brain processes patterns holistically.

Going Gestalt

Gestalt’s antecedents include the works of Immanuel Kant, Ernst Mach, Christian von Ehrenfels, and William James. Kant believed that conscious experience came to fruition in the mind from sensory stimulation. The mind adds to what the senses perceive. In his distaste for Wundt’s elementalism, William James emphasized mentation as an irreducible flow: a holistic view that met with the Gestaltists approval.

 Ernst Mach

“Thing, body, matter, are nothing apart from the combinations of the elements, – the colours, sounds, and so forth – nothing apart from their so-called attributes.” ~ Ernst Mach

At the beginning of the 20th century, Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach conceptually bifurcated the nature of perception into space form and time form. The spatial qualities of a perceived object are its space form, while temporal attributes comprise its time form.

A geometric object, such as a circle, exemplifies a space form. A melody creates an exemplary time form.

Mach’s point was that a variety of sensory elements may create the same perception. Therefore, Mach argued, at least some perceptions are independent of how they are perceived.

 Christian von Ehrenfels

Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels published the essay On Gestalt Qualities in 1890. The high points of all the theoretical and conceptual concerns of the Gestalt movement were touched upon. Elaborating on Mach’s forms of space and time, Ehrenfels felt that perceptions contain Gestaltqualitäten (form qualities) that are not within isolated sensations. No matter what pattern an image of dots may be arranged in, one senses a pattern, not individual dots. Listening to a melody is not an experience of a series of notes per se, but of their pattern in relation to one another.


Both Mach and Ehrenfels thought that form emerges from sensory elements. They considered the atomic elements integral to determining the form. Gestalt theorists turned form-emerging-from-elements on its head by holding that the whole dominates the parts.

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Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Köhler collaborated in founding Gestalt psychology in 1890.

“The basic thesis of Gestalt theory might be formulated thus: there are contexts in which what is happening in the whole cannot be deduced from the characteristics of the separate pieces, but conversely: what happens to a part of the whole is, in clear-cut cases, determined by the laws of the inner structure of its whole.” ~ Max Wertheimer

Gestalt was a stunning repudiation of the reductionist bent that culminated in psychology with the stimulus-response school of behaviorists. Gestaltists embraced synergy, emphatic that the perceived whole is greater than its sensory constituents.

By addressing structure the founding Gestaltists went beyond James’ functionalism. Köhler was versed in physics, having studied with Max Planck, the creator of quantum mechanics.

“Gestalt psychology represented an effort to model psychology after field theory instead of Newtonian physics.” ~ B.R. Hergenhahn

The Gestaltist structural explanation of perception was that the brain controlled fields of electromechanical forces which were modulated by sensation. Köhler proffered a sophisticated (but sophistic) matterist explanation for how the brain generates the mind.

“Psychological facts and the underlying events in the brain resemble each other in all their structural characteristics.” ~ Wolfgang Köhler

Optical Illusions

Gestalt theorists were fond of optical illusions, as they illustrate the flexibility of perception.

The figure at right exemplifies how we can see something that is not really there: proving the point that perception is a fabrication rather than a replication of actuality. The rounded dots may be seen as either convex (buttons) or concave (holes), but not both at the same time. To perceptively switch between the two you have to first look at something other than the dots.

The foregoing figure also illustrates multi-stability in perception. Multi-stable perception is the tendency to alternate between interpretations when a perceived object offers ambiguity.

 Illusions of Movement

The phi phenomenon is an optical illusion: perceiving continuous motion when viewing separate objects of changing luminosity rapidly in succession. Wertheimer discerned the phi phenomenon in 1912.

Cinema is the best example of the phi phenomenon. Movies rely upon persistence of vision: that a visual perception briefly lingers after its disappearance. These visual artifacts are due to the human optic nerve having a response time of 10 cycles per second and visual memory correspondingly compensating. The phi phenomenon works with image series faster than that.

Though various frame rates had historically been used in silent films, the movie industry settled on a standard 24 frames per second (fps) by 1930. The human ear is more sensitive to changes in audio frequency than visual fps. Once talking pictures became the norm, film speed variations became intolerable.

The phi phenomenon is related to another optical illusion: beta movement, also noted by Wertheimer in 1912. Whereas the phi phenomenon owes to apparent continuous movement via rapidly presented sequential static images, beta movement is caused by lights that do not move but seem to. While cinema itself demonstrates the phi phenomenon, the moving marquee lights outside a movie house are an example of beta movement.

Psychophysical Isomorphism

“Experienced order in space is always structurally identical with the functional order in the distribution of underlying brain processes.” ~ Wolfgang Köhler

Historically, empiricists held to a one-to-one correspondence between stimulus and sensation, which is termed the constancy hypothesis. Gestalt warped that simple schema, declaring that perception supplements sensation. Brain activity patterns and patterns of conscious experience generally conform with sensation, but the map is not the territory.

“According to rationalism, reason furnishes certain elements, without which experience is not possible.” ~ Scottish philosopher William Fleming in 1857

According to Gestalt, perceptual fields are caused by underlying brain activity patterns, albeit with a caveat. The perceptual and brain patterns are equivalent, but represent different domains – one physical, the other psychological – and so are not the same. Whence psychophysical isomorphism: iso from the Greek for similar, and morphic for shape.

To Gestaltists, psychophysical isomorphism means that organized brain activity dominates perception, not the stimuli that enter into that activity. Going top-down instead of bottom-up represents a reversal of one of psychology’s oldest traditions. The paradigmatic contrast to behaviorism is especially stark.

Figure-Ground Relationship

In the 1910s Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin observed that a basic facet of perception comes in distinguishing an object of attention from the background. This figure-ground relationship is altered when one shifts attention to another object of attention. The figure at right illustrates. One alternately sees 2 faces facing each or a vase, depending on the figure and ground. This figure also has perceptual multi-stability.

Gestalt Principles of Perceptual Organization

Gestaltists described the principles by which perceived elements are organized into configurations. These principles go to the natural inclinations of the mind’s pattern-matching.

The principle of continuity states that stimuli which appear as having continuity are perceived as a unit.

The principle of proximity posits that stimuli in close proximity are perceived as a unit.

The principle of inclusiveness envelopes that a small figure embedded within a larger one is perceptually subsumed, and so considered as part of the larger unit. Camouflage works via the principle of inclusiveness, with the camouflaged object blending into the background.

By the principle of similarity, objects that seems similar tend to form a perceptual unit.

Following the principle of past experience, objects are sometimes categorized according to similar ones previously encountered. This is essentially a bias of generalization.

The principle of closure concludes that perception fills in gaps of a perceived object when the occasion arises. The principle of closure is related to reification. Reification demonstrates the constructive aspect of perception, in generating more information than is perceived. In seeing a spiky ball, the figure at right illustrates.

Law of Prägnanz

The Gestalt principals of perceptual organization follow the law of Prägnanz: that objects are perceived in a way as to render them as simple as possible. Prägnanz is German for “good figure.” The law of Prägnanz may be considered the principle of simplicity.

The image at right (used to symbolize the Olympics sports convention) illustrates the law of Prägnanz. Rather than perceive the figure as a more complicated shape, it is consistently viewed as 5 overlapping circles.

Subjective Perception Versus Objective Reality

According to Gestalt, as the brain arranges sensory information into configurations, it creates what one is conscious of, and thereby the impetus for behavior. Subjective experience is a product of brain processing, not the objective world.

Koffka distinguished the geographical environment – the physical world – from the behavioral environment: the subjective experience of the geographic environment. Hence, subjective experience governs behavior, not the objective environment.


The hypothesis underlying Gestalt psychology is that brain activity tends toward equilibrium in accordance with the law of Prägnanz. This tendency is disrupted when a problem arises. Disequilibrium creates a tension that persists until the problem is resolved, then brain activity is motivated to come back to balance (homeostasis).

Cognitive Trial & Error

According to Gestalt, a person typically tries to solve problems by scanning the environment and imagining a series of possible solutions until envisioning one that seems plausible. Gestaltists emphasized cognitive trial and error, as contrasted to the relatively mindless behavioral trial and error that behaviorists believed in.


The Gestalt theory of learning is that an organism learns associations or principles, not specific responses to certain stimulus as behaviorism instructs. Once a principle is learned, an organism applies it to similar situations: a process termed transposition.

One of Wertheimer’s most influential books was Productive Thinking (1959). In it he contrasted good versus bad teaching. Improper instruction is rote memorization, which does not transfer well to new situations. In contrast, the best teaching leads to understanding the nature of the subject, which gives a grasp of the Gestalt of the subject matter.


Gestalt emphasis on the tendency of the brain to form coherent patterns did not deny the importance of experience. How the brain organizes is a product of sensory experience.

Koffka assumed that each experienced physical event gives rise to a specific brain activity, which he termed a memory process. The process concludes when the stimulus ends. But the remnant of memory process remains in the brain: a memory trace. Once a memory trace is formed, subsequent related experiences create interaction between the memory process and memory trace.

Koffka thought that a trace “exerts an influence on the process in the direction of making it similar to the process which originally produced the trace.” This is the Gestalt take on associative memory.

An individual trace yields a trace system by accumulation of related experiences. The interaction of traces and trace systems with ongoing brain activity (memory processes) renders memory recall a smoother and better organized process than it would otherwise be. Trace systems govern memories of individual experiences as well as their categorization.

As with everything else addressed by Gestalt theory, memory follows the law of Prägnanz, in remembering the essences of experiences rather than myriads of details. The brain operates to make memories as simple as possible Gestaltists thought.

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“The physiological theory of the Gestaltists has fallen by the wayside, leaving us with a set of descriptive principles, but without a model of perceptual processing. Indeed, some of their “laws” of perceptual organisation today sound vague and inadequate. What is meant by a “good” or “simple” shape, for example?” ~ English psychologist Vicki Bruce et al

Kurt Lewin

“Our behavior is purposeful; we live in a psychological reality or life space that includes not only those parts of our physical and social environment to us but also imagined states that do not currently exist.” ~ Kurt Lewin

German American psychologist Kurt Lewin was a colleague of Wertheimer and Köhler at the Berlin Psychological Institute after the 1st World War, and a professional friend of Koffka. Lewin found their Gestalt approach appealing.

Lewin thought that psychology at the time was too Aristotelian in seeking inner determinants of behavior, such as instinct, and in its focus on categorizing psychological traits and developmental stages.

Lewin preferred Galileo’s conception of causation: that the behavior of an object or organism was a product of the totality of forces acting upon it in the moment. To Lewin, dynamic forces, not inner essences, explain human behavior. Drawing from physics and mathematics, Lewin first published his psychological field theory in 1935.

Lewin thought of an individual as a complex energy field: a gyre of needs and tensions that directs perceptions and behaviors. From this he conceived of life space: the sum of all influences acting upon a person at a time. This included internal belief systems.

According to Lewin, an infant has a small life space. Development enlarges life space with greater differentiation.

Lewin believed that both biological and psychological needs create tension in life space that are resolved only by satisfaction of those needs. He termed psychological needs quasi needs.

Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found in 1927 that people remember more about unfinished tasks than completed ones. This came to be termed the Zeigarnik effect. Her explanation was that unfinished tasks remained with intention, thereby holding the associated tension.

A year after Zeigarnik did her research, Russian psychologist Maria Rickers-Ovsiankina, who was working with Lewin, discovered that people preferred resuming an interrupted task rather than continuing on a completed one: to resolve the tension, she hypothesized.

 Internal Conflict

Internal conflict was an old topic of contemplation by the time Lewin tackled it. Plato, Spinoza, and many others spilled much ink over it. Sigmund Freud made internal conflict the cornerstone of his psychoanalysis.

Lewin studied conflict experimentally, concentrating on 3 types. Approach–approach conflict comes from mutually exclusive desires. Avoidance–avoidance conflict comes when one is repelled by 2 unattractive outcomes, such as having an unpleasant task at work or facing disapproval from the boss for poor performance.

Approach–avoidance conflict comes in facing a situation with mixed feelings: where there are perceived pros and cons to either path. It is often the most difficult internal conflict to resolve.

 Group Dynamics

Lewin studied group dynamics. According to Lewin, a group could be considered a physical system, just as the brain is. In both cases, the behaviors of the individual elements were hypothesized to be determined by the configuration of the existing energy field. Therefore, group dynamics strongly influence individual members’ behaviors. Lewin termed the relations among group members dynamic interdependence.

In one study Lewin found that discussion groups were much more effective in changing behaviors than lecturing, even though the same materials were presented in both instances. Lewin concluded that more forces were made available for behavioral change in a discussion group.

Another study Lewin undertook was on leadership style and group performance. Boys were put into 1 of 3 groups by leadership type: democratic, autocratic, and laissez faire.

In the democratic group, the leader encouraged group discussion, with the boys participating in decision-making. In the authoritarian group, the leader made all the decisions, telling the boys what to do. The laissez-faire group lacked leadership, allowing the boys to do as they pleased.

The democratic group turned out to be friendly and productive. Autocracy instilled aggression. The laissez-faire group got little done. Lewin concluded that leadership style influenced the Gestalt of the group, which shaped the attitude and productivity of group members.

Gestalt Therapy

“To mature means to take responsibility for your life, to be on your own. Psychoanalysis fosters the infantile state by considering that the past is responsible for the illness.” ~ Fritz Perls

Gestalt therapy is a school of psychological treatment that emphasizes personal responsibility for one’s existence by focusing on individual experience in the present moment. Although Gestalt psychology was one of the many influences upon Gestalt therapy, the therapy is not related to Gestalt psychology.

Gestalt therapy was developed in the 1940s and 1950s by German psychiatrists Fritz Perls and Laura Perls, and American psychotherapist Paul Goodman.

Gestalt therapy is an awareness (mindfulness) practice, with the goal of gaining clarity to optimize one’s life.

Sigmund Freud

What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult. ~ Sigmund Freud

Austrian physician Sigmund Freud (1856–1923) started out in neurology, but after studying hypnosis, shifted his career into practicing medical psychopathy.

At first Freud incorporated hypnosis in his clinical work. He treated Austrian Jewish feminist Bertha Pappenheim by letting her freely converse about her problems and past traumas while hypnotized. This “talking cure,” as she called it, lessened her symptoms.

From this experience Freud decided to encourage patients to talk their way through their traumatic experiences without hypnosis. Along with this free association, as he termed it, Freud found that a patient’s dreams were fruitful material for analysis.

The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. ~ Sigmund Freud

By 1896 Freud had his method of psychoanalysis established.

Psychoanalysis is my creation. ~ Sigmund Freud

The overriding tenet of Freud’s thinking was that neuroses came from repressing sexual thoughts, regardless of originating from experience or imagination.

The analytic psychotherapist thus has a threefold battle to wage: in his own mind against the forces which seek to drag him down from the analytic level; outside the analysis, against opponents who dispute the importance he attaches to the sexual instinctual forces and hinder him from making use of them in his scientific technique; and inside the analysis, against his patients, who at first behave like opponents but later on reveal the overvaluation of sexual life which dominates them, and who try to make him captive to their socially untamed passion. ~ Sigmund Freud

Psychosexual Development Theory

We know less about the sexual life of little girls than of boys. But we need not feel ashamed of this distinction; after all, the sexual life of adult women is a dark continent for psychology. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud developed his psychosexual theory of personality development in the 1st decade of the 20th century. He imagined a healthy child from infancy progressing through stages of conflict and reconciliation between instinctual gratification and externally imposed limits. Freud identified the following stages: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. These were supposed focal erogenous zones.

Freud proposed that psychological problems develop if a child got too little or too much satisfaction at a stage, creating a fixation that manifested in adulthood via aberrant thoughts and behaviors.

No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud’s proposal of libidinous children caused a furor. It was generally thought that young children were naturally innocent.

The oral stage covers the 1st year of life. The mouth is the supposed erogenous zone.

Someone fixated at the oral stage (oral-incorporative) tends to be a good listener, overeats, likes smoking, drinking, and kissing. Such a person tends to be dependent and gullible, according to Freud. But someone fixated at the later stage, when teething begins, is oral-sadistic. Such a person is sarcastic, cynical, and aggressive.

The anal stage lasts through the 2nd year of life. As solid food enters the diet, the pleasure of a good dump earns its appreciation. An individual fixated at the anal stage (anal-expulsive) tends to be messy, wasteful, and generous.

The later anal stage is after toilet training, where pleasure is derived from withholding feces. A fixation here (anal-retentive) makes a person stingy, orderly, and perhaps a perfectionist. Anal-retentive people tend to be collectors.

The phallic stage lasts from 3–6 years of age and applies to both boys and girls. Freud thought that the clitoris was a tiny penis.

Freud developed fantastic scenarios for the phallic stage. It begins with both sexes having strong, even erotic feelings toward their mother, as she is their caregiver. These feelings persist in a male but change for a female child.

A boy’s love of his mother generates a jealous hostility toward dad, who is perceived as a rival. Because a male’s source of pleasure is his penis, and his father is much more powerful, a boy begins to experience castration anxiety, which causes repression of his sexual and aggressive inclinations.

A toddler buck resolves this by identifying with his father. This symbolic identification removes dad as a threat, while letting a boy feel like he is sharing mom with dad. Castration anxiety is relieved.

A female child finds that she lacks a viable penis, for which she blames her mother. This generates both positive and negative feelings for mom.

Around the same time, a girl discovers that dad has the desired organ. This causes sexual attraction to father and penis envy. Hence, a female child’s emotions toward her father are also mixed.

The supposedly healthy resolution of female Oedipal complex is repression: of her hostility toward mom, and her sexual attraction to dad. She “becomes” the mother and shares her father.

The identification and repression necessary during the phallic stage develop the superego (moral conscience). By identifying with the parent of the same sex, a youngster introjects that parent’s moral values.

Freud believed that male and female development during the phallic stage were asymmetrical because a female, lacking a penis, never experiences castration anxiety. Thus a girl’s resulting identification is less intense. Because Freud considered such identification as critical to the development of the superego, he believed that male morality was stronger than female.

The latency stage lasts from age 6 to puberty. Owing to the intense repression required during the phallic stage, sexual drives are latent. A child derives gratifications from hidden sexual urges by channeling energies to other activities, such as friendships, school, and satisfying personal curiosities. During the latency stage, a child learns to adapt to actuality, as well as beginning the process of infantile amnesia: repressing the earliest sexual or evil memories.

The genital stage lasts from puberty through adulthood. Puberty brings sexual urges to the forefront, as they are too intense to repress.

The lack or surfeit of satisfactions, and fixations, that a person experiences (or not) during psychosexual stages determines personality as an adult. For Freudians, childhood experiences are the stuff from which normality or neuroses are made. Freud wholly bought the notion:

The child is the father of the man. ~ English poet William Woodsworth

 The Feminine Enigma

Any credibility one may be willing to grant Freud’s psychosexual development schema is undermined by Freud’s admission that he did not understand women.

The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “what does a woman want?” ~ Sigmund Freud

Many women have considered Freud’s fiction of penis envy especially preposterous and/or hilarious, including Freud’s daughter, Austrian psychoanalyst Anna Freud.


Freud believed that an individual’s sex drive (libido) developed by changing its object, a process he termed sublimation. Via sublimation, one consciously turns a socially unacceptable impulse into a socially acceptable behavior. Freud considered sublimation a sign of maturity.

Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud never considered that sexual repression stems from a culture imbued with the deranged Judeo-Christian mores regarding sexual desire and behavior. (Freud was of Jewish descent.)

Id, Ego, Superego

The ego is not master in its own house. The poor ego has to serve three harsh masters, and it has to do its best to reconcile the claims and demands of all three. The three tyrants are the external world, the superego, and the id. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud was most proud of his own school of structuralism, in dividing the mind into a triumvirate of conflicting units: the id, ego, and superego. The confluence of these 3 is the supposed source of all behavior.

The id is the source of feral desires: the biological beast within that operates on what Freud termed the pleasure principle: seeking immediate gratification.

The antithesis of the id is the superego, which provides an injection of ethics. The superego is one’s conscience.

The engine of rational cognition is the ego. The ego derives its energy from the id but relies upon the superego for guidance. The ego balances between the id’s hedonism and the moralism of the superego, tempered by consideration of immediate circumstance. The ego thus follows the “reality principle.”

Freud thought that the ego was partial to the id. The superego constantly monitors the ego in action, punishing the ego with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority for its transgressions. To overcome the superego’s chastisement, the ego employs various defense mechanisms, which Freud cataloged as: denial, displacement, reaction formation, compensation, sublimation, rationalization, projection, repression, fantasy, and regression.

Freud considered the id unconscious, the superego preconscious, and the ego 1/2 conscious, 1/4 unconscious, and 1/4 preconscious. The thoughts of which one is aware of are conscious. The unconscious comprises autonomic mental processes which are not available to introspection; to Freud, these include: affect, thought processes, memory, and motivation. The preconscious applies to thoughts which are conceived unconsciously, but are not subject to repression, and so capable of becoming conscious.

View of Human Nature

Freud shared Hobbes’ view of human nature – at least, the nature of men.

Men are not gentle creatures who want to be love, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. Homo homini lupus [man is a wolf to man]. ~ Sigmund Freud

Although pessimistic, Freud thought that people could live somewhat rational lives. But, to do so, they must comprehend the workings of their own mind.

The news that reaches your consciousness is incomplete and often not to be relied upon. You behave like an absolute ruler who is content with the information supplied him by his highest officials and never goes among the people to hear their voice. Turn your eyes inward, look into your own depths, learn first to know yourself! ~ Sigmund Freud

View of Religion

Freud considered religion grounded in human feelings of helplessness and insecurity. To overcome those emotional complexes, a powerful father figure was created in the form of God. This keeps people at a childlike, irrational level.

Teachings from the East fared no better. Freud thought that the Eastern religions promoted derealization, depersonalization, and regressive pathology.

The whole thing [religion] is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud hoped that religion would in time be discarded in favor of scientific principles.

No belittlement of science can in any way alter the fact that it is attempting to take account of our dependence on the real external world, while religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual wishful impulses. ~ Sigmund Freud


Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. ~ Sigmund Freud

Personally, Freud was self-indulgent, proud, and given to self-deception. His own fixations and cognitive limitations were reflected in his psychological theories.

Freud had a fondness for psychotropic medication. Beginning in 1883 he became an enthusiastic advocate of cocaine. By 1885, numerous cases of cocaine addiction alarmed the local medical community. Freud was nonplussed but discontinued his personal use in 1896.

Though fortunate to escape lasting cocaine addiction, he was no so lucky with nicotine. Freud often smoked 20 cigars a day. His physician warned him that his heart arrhythmias were due to smoking; but Freud was unable to stop. He rationalized his puffery by quoting Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw:

Don’t try to live forever, you will not be successful.

Freud underwent a series of 33 operations to deal with the devastation that his smoking caused. His jaw was replaced with an artificial one. Yet Freud could not stop smoking.

Freud was not entirely without inner strength: he refused pain-killing drugs during his 16-year bout with cancer.

By all accounts, Freud was authoritarian, paternalistic, and dogmatic. He was incapable of tolerating disagreements.

While his fame attracted followers, Freud was unable to engage in collaborative relationships. Only sycophants, of which he collected several, maintained long-term relationships with the man. Freud’s falling out with Carl Jung is exemplary. Jung began as a submissive student. The two became close friends.

By 1909, Freud was envisioning Jung as his successor as leader of the psychoanalytic movement. But once Jung started having his own ideas, notably the notion of the collective unconscious, which Freud found unacceptable, the two men parted ways.


Although it is hard for many of us to appreciate this now, Freud introduced a revolutionary new way of understanding human behavior. Instead of regarding human choice and decision-making as primarily the result of rational and logical deliberations, Freud suggested that human behavior is largely driven by subconscious and nonrational drives and is then rationalized and justified in terms of logic and reason. ~ English psychologist Jim Sidanius & American social psychologist Felicia Pratto

Just as Darwin’s legacy long loomed over evolutionary theories, so Freud haunted every school of psychology that followed.

Carl Jung

The distinction between mind and body is an artificial dichotomy, a discrimination which is unquestionably based far more on the peculiarity of intellectual understanding than on the nature of things. ~ Carl Jung

Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875–1961) took Freud’s concepts into more holistic and mystical directions. Freud advanced the idea that libido was the basic motivator of human life. Jung thought less of sexual energy. He wanted to water down libido by broadening its context to include more than just sex.

Jung proposed psychic energy – holistic life force – as motivating. While psychic energy could be expressed sexually, it could also be a source of inspiration and personal growth.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. ~ Carl Jung

Jung founded analytical psychology, the aim of which was integration of the unconscious forces within. But Jung’s lasting contributive legacy was his classification system of personality types. In the book Psychological Types (1921) Jung formulated the distinction between extroversion and introversion that is still in common use.

Extroversion is an outward turning, a transfer of interest from subject to object. Introversion means a turning inward, a transfer of interest from object to subject. ~ Carl Jung

Jung generally tended to view personality aspects along bipolar dimensions. He contrasted perception and judgment – an individual was inclined to specialize in one, leaving the other relatively undeveloped, Jung thought.

According to Jung, perception involved sensation and intuition, whereas judgment emanated from feeling and thinking. Here too Jung presumed that individuals were partial to one of the 2 aspects of perception and judgment.

Someone might favor thinking as the means to judgment. This could leave empathic ethics underdeveloped.

Alternately, a person may be intuitively inclined: good at grasping situations as a whole. In that instance, sensation, which deals with facts, may be underdeveloped. Perception tends to be either toward the proverbial forest or trees, this line of thinking goes.

The poles of the 4 functions – perception, intuition, thinking, feeling – may be considered from either an extroverted or introverted perspective. Numerous personality combinations are possible.

American academic Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, developed a personality test based upon this Jungian typology, first publishing it in 1944. The Briggs & Myers test remains quite popular among business and education managers as a way of representing individual differences. Academic psychologists have long been more skeptical about the test.

Jung viewed the psyche as the mind. But, he asserted, there was a larger, inner piece to being: the soul, which was the interface to the collective unconscious.

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. ~ Carl Jung

The collective unconscious holds the accumulated experiences of humans throughout their existence. Certain categories exist, which are inherited as personality predispositions.

Jung considered each category to be an archetype, a concept borrowed from Plato’s forms. Jung thought the emotional component of archetypes the most important facet.

To Jung, the mind was not a blank slate at birth. Instead, the psyche held deep within the experiences of previous generations. For example, an infant is born with an innate sense of what a mother is. (Jung cited this fact as supporting a collective unconscious, but it is instead precocious knowledge.) A child projects onto its mother the maternal archetype. This influences not only how a baby views its mother, but also how it responds to her emotionally.

According to Jung, archetypes provide frameworks for experience, both sensate and emotional. This predisposes a person to a certain worldview, emotional complexes, and behavioral tendencies.

It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves. ~ Carl Jung

Jung recognized many archetypes. The ones most discussed in Jungian literature are anima, animus, persona, shadow, and self.

Anima is the masculine image of femininity. Conversely, animus is the feminine template of masculinity.

Persona is the public self: the mask one puts on for others. Identifying with the persona cuts one off from those facets of oneself that are inconsistent with it. Someone with a strong masculine persona may be unaware of their feminine side.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. ~ Carl Jung

Shadow is a person’s dark side, a primordial archetype inherited from our ancestors, prone to aggression and immorality.

The self seeks a synthesis of the components that comprise personality. In Jungian psychology, the ego is the center of consciousness, whereas the self is the locus of the psyche. The self includes the ego, consciousness, and the unconscious.

Jung considered the goal of life to discover, understand, and then harmonize the disparate facets of one’s personality. The fruitful product of this process Jung termed self-actualization.

Enlightenment doesn’t occur from sitting around visualizing images of light, but from integrating the darker aspects of the Self into the conscious personality. ~ Carl Jung

Like Freud, Jung believed in determinism: that a person is propelled by their past. But Jung took this in a broader context than Freud.

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become. ~ Carl Jung

Jung believed that motivation also included connection to the collective unconscious, and a person’s goals. Unlike Freud, Jung embraced teleology (purpose). Jung felt that people are pushed by the past and pulled by their desired future.

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it. ~ Carl Jung

Jung considered meaningful coincidence – synchronicity – an important determinant of personality. Synchronicity happens when independent events come together in a meaningful way.

Whatever is not conscious will be experienced as fate. ~ Carl Jung

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American psychotherapist Ira Progoff tells a story of synchronicity in his book Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny (1973).

Early in life, Abraham Lincoln dreamed of making an impact in the world. But his frontier Illinois environment left him largely bereft of prospects for intellectual development. Lincoln despaired that his dreams would not come to pass.

One day a stranger appeared, wanting to sell a barrel of odds and ends for a dollar. The stranger told Lincoln that the contents were essentially worthless, but that he badly needed the dollar. With characteristic kindness, Lincoln bought the barrel for a dollar.

Sometime later, Lincoln discovered that the barrel held an almost complete edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries: an influential 18th century treatise on English common law. This furnished Lincoln with the intellectual fodder to fuel his drive to become a lawyer and enter politics.

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In embracing mysticism, Jung was criticized as being unscientific, even antiscientific. The concepts of collective unconscious and archetype are metaphysical and objectively unverifiable. Yet Jungian ideas have remained popular. His contrasting definition of extraversion and introversion was a major aspect of German psychologist Hans Eyesenck’s theory of personality, developed in the 1950s, and quite well-received in academia.

All the evidence to date suggests the overwhelming importance of genetic factors in producing the great variety of intellectual differences which we observe in our culture, and much of the difference observed between certain racial groups. ~ Hans Eyesenck

Jung introduced the Aristotelian notion of self-actualization into modern psychology, where it remains vibrant. For one, Abraham Maslow took this ball and ran with it.

 Archetypal Psychology

We can’t change anything until we begin to see things differently. ~ James Hillman

In the early 1970s American psychologist James Hillman developed archetypal psychology: heartily embracing Jungian archetypes, and considering the collective unconsciousness as woven into the fabric of existence as the basis for sentience. Under archetypal psychology, an individual psyche develops in accordance with archetypal patterns. Sense of self is one of “the fundamental fantasies that animate all life.” Archetypal psychology embraces idealism: that actuality is a fabrication of consciousness.

Karen Horney

“Our whole civilization is a masculine civilization. The State, the laws, morality, religion, and the sciences are the creation of men.” ~ Karen Horney

Like many who enter the field of psychology, German psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885–1952) had personal traumas that adversely affected her mental health, beginning with a God-fearing fundamentalist father who believed that women were inferior to men and the primary source of evil in the world. Later, a rocky marriage didn’t help. Her personal experiences influenced her professional views.

Horney considered neurosis to be a continual process, sporadically occurring. In contrast, her contemporaries saw neurosis as a mental malfunction stemming from external stimuli.

Horney argued that male psychoanalysts typically viewed women from a distorted, juvenile perspective. If a woman envied men, it was not for their penises, but for their social standing, which women were denied.

Instead, Horney thought men often suffered womb envy: of women being procreative, and, more abstractly, their creativity. Womb envy expressed itself by disparaging women and their achievements.

Horney discarded many Freudian notions, include his oversexed attributions and the tripartite structural division of the mind into ego, id, and superego. Working during the Depression, she found more practical sources for mental problems. Horney emphasized that social conditions greatly affected mental health: most particularly, interpersonal relationships.

“Self-realization does not exclusively, or even primarily, aim at developing one’s special gifts. The center of the process is the evolution of one’s potentialities as a human being; hence it involves – in a central place – the development of one’s capacities for good human relations.” ~ Karen Horney

Humanistic Psychology

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” ~ Abraham Maslow

In the early decades of the 20th century the disparate schools of structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism, Gestalt psychology, and psychoanalysis coexisted, each carving their own niches. By the middle of the century structuralism had disappeared, while functionalism and Gestalt had lost their distinctiveness, as their insights had been incorporated into other views. Into the early 1960s, only behaviorism and psychoanalysis remained as influential schools of thought.

A protest began against these views, headed by Abraham Maslow, who started the movement that was referred to at the time as third-force psychology.

Behaviorism was ridiculed for concentrating on trivial behaviors common to many animals while ignoring the mental and emotional processes which presumably made humans unique (this supposed human matchlessness was a false premise).

Psychoanalysis was attacked for its focus on abnormality, emphasizing unconscious and sexual motivations, while ignoring healthy people, whose motives included personal growth and societal improvement.

Third-force psychology had its heyday during the 1960s and 1970s. Its popularity began to wane in the 1980s and has continued its slide since. But, like the other 2 schools, humanistic psychology remains influential.

The most vivid contrast between humanistic psychology and the other schools is that humanistic psychology does not assume determinism in explaining behavior. Rather it presumes that humans have free will in choosing their life.

Third-force psychologists claim that subjective reality is the most important cause of human behavior. This shucking of determinism places humanistic psychology outside of the confines of science, as being beyond the rigidity of experimental verifiability. In this modern humanism follows in the philosophic traditions of romanticism and existentialism.

Romantics distrusted reason and science and rejected religious dogma, and even societal laws, as proper guides for human conduct: the only valid guide was a person’s honest feelings. Romantics tended to believe in the innate goodness of humanity. If free, people would do what is best for themselves and be socially minded; happy thought indeed.

Existentialists emphasized that the meaning of life is inherently subjective. An individual’s beliefs and values guide that person through life, thereby shaping that person’s existence. (As far it goes, existentialism states the obvious.)

Humanistic psychology melds the worldviews of romanticism and existentialism into an idealized perspective on human nature and behavior. Hobbes would have laughed out loud at the notion.

Abraham Maslow

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” ~ Abraham Maslow

American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) struggled his way out of the Jewish slums of Brooklyn to become one of the most influential psychologists in the 20th century. Maslow contended that psychology was overly concerned with human deficits and gave too little study to human potential. His 1954 book, Motivation and Personality, was so cogent that its theory of motivation came to be part of the curriculum in many American high schools.

 Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation proposed that humans are motivated by an innate hierarchy of needs. Maslow identified 5 levels: physiological, safety, psychological, esteem, and self-actualization.

The most basic needs are physiological, necessary for survival: food, clothing, and shelter. Safety needs were ranked 2nd: the ability to stay physically healthy, including employment to obtain resources. Love and belonging came 3rd: basic interpersonal emotional needs.

Esteem was the 4th level: including self-esteem, confidence, a sense of achievement, respect from others, and respecting others.

The apex of the hierarchy was self-actualization. This was portrayed as realizing one’s potential; necessarily a subjective assessment.

The idea of self-realization reaches back at least to the ancient Indian Vedas: a body of texts from the 2nd millennium bce. The locus of Hinduism and Buddhism has always been self-realization, though not as Maslow had in mind.

There is a huge gap between the spiritual notion of self-realization and psychologists’ concept of self-actualization. Whereas self-actualization is concerned with fulfilling individual potential, self-realization aims as discarding individuality altogether as a value.

Aristotle’s notion of self-actualization was the innate tendency to manifest one’s inner essence. Whereas Aristotle expressed this as being limited to humans (as a species), humanistic psychologists had in mind individual accomplishment.

“Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What humans can be, they must be. This need we may call self-actualization.” ~ Abraham Maslow

In contrast to spiritual self-realization, which is irrespective of activity, Maslow expressed self-actualization as an inner outcome of outward achievement. Sheer contentment in being was not Maslow’s conception of self-actualization.

Maslow listed characteristics of self-actualizing people: 1) perceiving accurately and fully, 2) demonstrating acceptance of themselves and others, 3) exhibiting naturalness and spontaneity, 4) a need for privacy, 5) a tendency to be independent of their environment and culture, 6) a continuous freshness of appreciation, 7) a tendency to have “peak experiences,” 8) concern for all of humanity, 9) tending to have only a few friends, 10) a strong ethical sense, albeit not necessarily the conventional fashion, 11) a well-developed, but not hostile, sense of humor, and 12) creativity.

“Self-actualized people live more in the real world of Nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world.” ~ Abraham Maslow

While admitting that they had their faults, Maslow named the following people as self-actualizing: Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Sigmund Freud, Jane Addams, William James, and Abraham Lincoln.

Maslow described peak experiences thusly: “…feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placing in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened, so that the subject is to some extent transformed and strengthened in his daily life by such experiences.”

As one climbs the hierarchy, Maslow thought, the needs become more fragile in that they are further removed from biological foundations. This meant that their satisfaction is more easily interfered with.

On self-actualization, Maslow opined: “This inner nature is not strong and overpowering and unmistakable like the instincts of animals. It is weak and delicate and subtle and easily overcome by habit, cultural pressure, and wrong attitudes toward it.”

Maslow believed that self-actualization was rare, despite it being an innate drive in all humans. He attributed its rarity to the prerequisite need to honestly know oneself, which most people are afraid of.

“More than any other kind of knowledge we fear knowledge of ourselves, knowledge that might transform our self-esteem and our self-image.” ~ Abraham Maslow

Maslow believed that people functioning at a level less than self-actualization have different values than one who is self-actualizing. The majority value most that which they are deprived of. Maslow termed such motivations deficiency motives. In contrast, self-actualizing individuals, not so strongly feeling base needs, hold Being-values (B-values). For a self-actualizing person, there is no difference between work and play. One simply does what the situation requires. Maslow believed B-values universal and espoused in all life-affirming religions.


Maslow took flak from more conventional academic psychologists who regarded his third-force brew too subjective and unscientific. Maslow responded by writing The Psychology of Science (1966), which was “a critique of orthodox science” which “rejects the traditional but unexamined conviction that orthodox science is the path to knowledge or even that it is the only reliable path.”

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Toward the end of his life, Maslow pondered what he termed transpersonal psychology, which went beyond personal experience in embracing a larger realm of spirituality. Transpersonal psychology, Maslow wrote, was “centered on the cosmos rather than in human needs and interests, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualization, and the like. We need something ‘bigger than we are’ to be awed and to commit ourselves to a new, naturalistic, empirical, non-churchly sense.”


In its basic thrust, Maslow’s transpersonal psychology was a progression of Jungian psychology. Just like Jung, Maslow’s influence was bound to fade.

Jung’s and Maslow’s slight, energyism school of psychology diminished in the wake of the matterist current that gained strength in the life sciences as the 20th century wore on, eventually extending into psychology. Thus emerged psychobiology (aka biopsychology), which explains psychology as an adjunct of physiology.

Toward the end of the 20th century, neurobiology – the study of the nervous system – increasingly imprinted overtones in psychology research. Flip open practically any 21st century book or magazine on psychology and you are bound to read how the brain manages mentation, and even creates consciousness, all through a mystical network effect of neurons.

In touting physicality as causal in psychology, rather than just coincidental, neurobiology’s claims attain an apex of absurdity. Neuroscience is to psychology what astrology is to astronomy. For starters, if a brain is necessary for intellect, how is that plants, microbes, and cells of all sorts are able to make decisions, and generally act intelligently?

Bizarrely, the growing concurrence toward matterism had been definitively countered by physics in the early 20th century, which convincingly cast materiality as a product of coherent energetic fields. But then, evolutionary biologists, geneticists, and psychologists don’t study physics, at least not for its implications in explaining the nature of Nature. Faith in matterism is a classic case of confusing correlation with causality and thereby missing the forest for the trees via social consensus.

Behavioral genetics, which studies genetic influences on cognition and behavior, is the bottom-up branch of biopsychology. The fruition of this was sociobiology: that sociality boils down to nothing more than genes acting out through the organism that possesses them to further their propagation.

“We, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes. Genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives.” ~ English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins

The conceptual simplicity of sociobiology belies a complex actuality which genetics alone cannot explain. Like bits in computer memory, genes may physically encode information, but that is no explanation of how that data relates to the awareness and decision-making abilities of the proteins which are made from genic templates. As far as geneticists can discern, genes exhaust their information potential in bioproduct production. That genes might encapsulate knowledge is far-fetched indeed.

Evolutionary Psychology

“Evolved psychological mechanisms generate human behavior and culture.” ~ Leda Cosmides, Jerome Barkow, & John Tooby

After his 1859 work on “natural selection” as the vehicle of evolution, English naturalist Charles Darwin turned his attention to studying animal emotions and psychology. (Darwin wrote 2 books about evolutionary psychology: The Descent of Man, Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).) Darwin’s writing in this realm founded evolutionary psychology, which is the study of behavior from the perspective of biological affinity, with especial regard to its evolution.

(Darwin’s work in evolutionary psychology was largely ignored in the 1st half of the 20th century. Only from the 1950s, following interest in ethology, were Darwin’s contributions acknowledged by scholars of psychology; and it was not until the late 1990s that Darwin was mentioned in introductory psychology books.)

Major tenets of evolutionary psychology descended from Darwin. Foremost was sexual selection, which explained animal traits that seemed unrelated or contrary to survival, such as a peacock’s phantasmagorical tail. Darwin also introduced group selection to explain altruism among related animals: “selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual.” Darwin inspired William James’s functionalist approach to psychology, which had a lasting influence.

The term evolutionary psychology was introduced by American biologist Michael Ghiselin in a 1973 article. The term was popularized by the 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture, written by Canadian anthropologist Jerome Barkow, American psychologist Leda Cosmides, and American anthropologist John Tooby.

“To propose a psychological concept that is incompatible with evolutionary biology is as problematic as proposing a chemical reaction that violates the laws of physics.” ~ Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, & John Tooby


Historians will have to face the fact that natural selection determined the evolution of cultures in the same manner as it did that of species. ~ Konrad Lorenz

Ethology – the study of animal behavior – is a branch of zoology. Following on the heels of Darwinism and behaviorism, psychobiology was an outgrowth of ethology. Ethology flowered through 3 men who collaborated and together won a Nobel Prize in 1973 for their efforts: Karl von Frisch, Nikolaas Tinbergen, and Konrad Lorenz.

“The bee’s life is like a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water.” ~ Karl von Frisch

In the 1920s, Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch studied honeybees, particularly their perceptions. He was one of the first to understand the meaning of the waggle dance. His theory was slammed with skepticism at the time, even as it was an accurate analysis.

From the 1930s, Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist Konrad Lorenz studied instinctive behavior in animals, especially birds. Lorenz is best known for his study of imprinting, in which hatchling nidifugous birds instinctively bond to the moving object in front of them (which naturally would be their mothers).

Dutch ethologist and ornithologist Nikolaas Tinbergen is best known for originating 4 questions about animal behavior: causation, development, function, and evolution.

Causation (mechanism): what stimuli elicited a response, and how has the response been modified by learning?

Development (ontogeny): how does behavior change with age, and what early experiences are necessary for behaviors to be exhibited?

Function (adaptation): how does the behavior impact an animal’s prospects for survival and reproduction?

Evolution (phylogeny): how does the behavior compare with equivalent behaviors in related species, and how may it have evolved (phylogenic origin)?

Causation and development were viewed as proximate (immediate/environmental) mechanisms, while function and evolution were considered ultimate (root) causes.

Tinbergen’s construct of inquiry has become a mainstay for biology and, regarding proximate and ultimate causes, other natural phenomena. There is an oddity in this: evolutionary biologists generally avoid associating ultimate cause with evolution because it invokes goal orientation: teleology.

Adaptation, which has been verified innumerable times in a variety of contexts, certainly is teleological. The obvious implication of adaptation is that there is an intelligent force of coherence behind Nature: a prospect which evolutionary biologists cringe at because it implicates the wellspring of evolution as mystical, not strictly physical. Evolutionary teleology posits Nature as having an energetic propulsion, which is a perspective anathema to empiricists.

Donald Hebb

“Cell-assemblies that are active at the same time become interconnected. Common events in the child’s environment establish assemblies, and then when these events occur together the assemblies become connected (because they are active together).” ~ Donald Hebb

In the 1940s, Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb sought to understand how psychological processes were related to neural functioning, particularly learning.

Hebb thought that the neural interconnections in a neonate’s brain were essentially random, and that neural patterns emerged through experience.

Neurons that fire together wire together. ~ Hebb’s Law

Hebbian theory, though bogus, was well-received in the academic community. Hebb inspired neural networks: computer-based learning using matrices of data points with alterable connection strengths. Hebbs’ influence echoes to this day in casting psychology as neural activity.

Roger Sperry

In the mid-1950s American neuropsychologist Roger Sperry addressed a classic question of psychology: is the ultimate driver of behavior innate nature or nurture? Experimentation on animals led him to the conclusion that “no adaptive functioning of the nervous system took place.” On Sperry’s neurological ledger nature won.

“Hemispheric specialization is at the heart of neuropsychology.” ~ Roger Sperry

Sperry then took up studying brain hemispheric function. Following in the footsteps of Broca (in more ways than one), Sperry insisted that the left-brain or right-brain dominated individuals, and this orientation could be revealed through testing. This and other of Sperry’s speculations concerning hemispheric specificity far exceeded his fact base. Yet his spurious surmises were applauded, including a Nobel Prize (1981).

Sperry had a lifelong interest in the mind-body problem and how it relates to human values. A devout matterist, Sperry believed that consciousness causally emerges from the brain.

“One of the more important indirect results of the split-brain work is a revised concept of the nature of consciousness and its fundamental relation to brain processing. The key development is a switch from prior non-causal, parallelist views to a new causal, or “interactionist” interpretation that ascribes to inner experience an integral causal control role in brain function and behavior. In effect, without resorting to dualism, the mental forces of the conscious mind are restored to the brain of objective science from which they had long been excluded on materialist-behaviorist principles.” ~ Roger Sperry, in his 1982 Nobel address


“Sociobiology is defined as the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.” ~ Edward O. Wilson

American zoologist Edward O. Wilson wrote Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) with the Darwinian premise that the social behavior of all organisms has an evolutionary basis, particularly aimed at propagation.

In trying to account for eusocial honeybees, Darwin came with up a shaggy notion of group selection. Though he considered altruism among close relatives, Darwin’s idea of fitness was aimed at individual reproduction.

Sociobiology expanded on kin selection with the idea of inclusive fitness: perpetuating related genes, though not necessarily one’s own. Broadening the biological driver of behavior to those more distantly related envelops a greater variety of emotions and behaviors, including love, morality, religion, xenophobia, and warfare.

“A certain amount of brain-physiology must be presupposed or included in psychology.” ~ William James


Evolutionary psychology amounts to creative storytelling about how particular human psychological and behavioral traits came about because they were advantageous in some way. However captivating these musings may be, evolutionary psychology amounts to nothing more than piecemeal ponderings that assume physiology is the producer of psychology. Such accounts are therefore fictitious, for want of explaining the impetus to evolution (in the sociobiology perspective: why genes want to perpetuate themselves), or the energetic biomechanics which characterize mentation. Sociobiology falters for the same reason as all matterist faith: by failing to elucidate the basic drivers behind biology, evolution, or psychology.

Treatment of Mental Illness

The attributions and treatments of mental illness have varied throughout history. Typically, early humans considered mental illness an infection of evil spirits. So it was in ancient Hindu scriptures, which described depression and anxiety. Around 600 bce, a document that was part of Hindu Ayurveda (knowledge of life) taught that ill health resulted from an imbalance in the 3 kinds of bodily fluids, which reflected bodily forces (dosha). Different personality types were described, with propensities toward emotional difficulties. Treatments included ointments and herbs, charms and prayers, persuasion and shock treatment.

Similarly, traditional Chinese medicine included treatments of acupuncture, herbs, and emotional therapy. The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (Huangdi Neijing), ~250 BCE, described symptoms and treatments for mental illness, with emphasis on connectivity between organs and emotions, and balancing the flow of bodily energy (yin-yang).

The ancient Greeks had a variety of takes on mental illness. Typically, aimless wandering and violent behavior were taken as signs of madness. Hippocrates classified mental disorders, including melancholy, mania, and paranoia. Homer, Sophocles, and Euripides variously attributed insanity to the whim of the gods, imbalanced humors, or duress.

Socrates saw some positive aspects to insanity, including prophetic ability and other mystical attributes. Socrates admitted that he experienced willful hallucinations. Pythagoras heard voices.

1st-century-BCE Greek physician Asclepiades of Bithynia, who practiced in Rome, advocated humane treatments for the mentally distressed. He had the insane freed from confinement, treating them with wholesome therapies, such as dietetics and massages.

The Romans inherited much Greek culture, including their view on mental disorders. 1st-century Roman physician Aulus Celsus compiled the medical encyclopedia De Medicina largely from Greek sources. Celsus considered insanity a continuous dementia, due to a mind at the mercy of hallucinations. Celsus taught that sanity may be restored by healing the soul through personal fortitude and proper philosophy. Celsus chronicled common treatments, including proper diet, drugs, bloodletting, talk therapy, incubation in temples, incantations, amulets, and exorcism. Celsus also listed less humane methods, such as restraints and tortures, designed to restore rationality through terror, starvation, beating, and stoning.

Mentally ill Romans were typically kept at home with the family, or wandered the streets, subject to abuse.

 Jesus ben Ananias

“A voice of noise in the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies.” ~ Jesus ben Ananias [Isaiah 66:5, The Bible

Jesus ben Ananias wandered Jerusalem, prophesying that the city would be destroyed 4 years before the First Jewish-Roman War began in 66 bce. Jewish leaders there turned him over to the Romans for prosecution. He was tortured, but then released as a madman because he had shown no concern for his fate while being tortured.

Ananias persisted with his prophecy until he was killed by a catapulted stone during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 bce. In the moments before he was struck and killed, Ananias uttered, “Woe once more to the city and to the people and to the temple, and woe to me also.”

The siege ended with the city sacked, the destruction of Jerusalem’s famed Second Temple, 1.1 million Jews killed, and 97,000 enslaved.


The ancient Israelis considered insanity caused by poor relations between a person and God.

Persian and Arabic scholars, like the Romans, were heavily influenced by Greek concepts. Under Islam, the mentally ill were considered incapable by loss of reason yet deserving of humane treatment. This was far superior to Roman practice.

The first psychiatric hospital was founded in Baghdad in 705. Over decades and centuries others followed throughout the Islamic world. Islamic practices varied as views melded with local traditions. Some cultures, such as the Berber in Morocco, believed in animism and sorcery. They considered mental illness to be possession by a spirit (djin), either good or bad. Ridding evil required exorcism, including beatings.

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Madness during the Middle Ages in Europe was met with a mixture of attributions and treatments, many abusive and torturous, though some less dire.

Christian theology endorsed a variety of therapies. The depressed were estranged from God, for which fasting and prayer was the proper treatment. The violently insane were possessed by Satan, whereupon the extremes of exorcism were called for.

Although mental disorders were often attributed by clergy to sinful ways, more mundane causes were considered, including poor diet, alcoholism, overwork, and grief. 13th-century French Franciscan friar Bartholomeus Anglicus suggested that the depressed listen to music.

Consistent with earlier times, lunatics were often cared for by family. The tradition of sometimes treating hallucinations as visions and spiritual insights was also maintained.

As the Age of Enlightenment dawned, and its sun of reason supposedly shone, the mentally ill in Europe and America were imprisoned, often with delinquents, vagrants, and the handicapped. Those considered deranged were typically chained to the walls of dungeons.

The insane were typically viewed as insensitive, wild animals. Torture was seen as therapeutic. Madhouse owners were known to boast of their skill with the whip.

 Dorothea Dix

During the mid-19th century, American activist Dorothea Dix tirelessly lobbied for decent treatment of the mentally disabled. She started in Massachusetts in the early 1840s, where the mentally ill of all ages and both sexes were incarcerated with criminals but treated even worse: left naked in the dark without heat or bathrooms. This was typical of treatment in the United States at the time.

Over the next 40 years Dix was able to make a difference. 32 state hospitals were established thanks to her activism.

The culmination of Dix’s work was legislation passed by Congress that would have committed federal funds to help the mentally disabled. President Franklin Pierce vetoed the bill in 1854, with the position that the federal government should do nothing for social welfare: an optional responsibility he thought best left to the states.


By the late 1800s the popular expectation was that hospitals and humane treatment for the mentally ill would be curative. This did not prove out. State hospitals became overcrowded dumping grounds. Mental institutions became a parallel prison system, where keeping control became paramount.

Indecent custodial care and medical experimentation continued for decades. By the 1930s, patients in the United States were variously lobotomized, infected with malaria, repeatedly put into insulin-induced comas, drugged, and given electrical shocks.

In Nazi Germany, institutionalized mental patients were sterilized, and over 200,000 euthanized. German psychiatrists willingly participated without needing to be formally ordered to do so. This program became a blueprint for the later annihilation of Jews, homosexuals, and other undesirables within reach of the Third Reich.

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“Modern psychiatry has regressed back to the 19th century, when the predominant view of mental disorders was that they were either hereditary or due to brain disease. Despite evidence to the contrary, modern psychology suggests that the psyche does not induce emotional states like anxiety and depression, and prefers to view them as chemically caused.” ~ American physician John Sarno in the 21st century

United States

“The jails have become the de facto mental institutions.” ~ Esteban Gonzalez, president of the American Jail Association, in 2013

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National Mental Health Act to help the mentally disabled veterans who served in the 2nd World War, of which there were hundreds of thousands: enough of a social problem that the authorities were alarmed. This was the federal government’s first foray into social assistance for the mentally ill.

The law established the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which funded psychological research with a $1.5 billion budget by 2010. NIMH’s mission is “to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.”

In 1955 US state mental institutions housed 560,000 patients. By 1977 budgetary considerations had cut that number to 160,000. Mental illness was criminalized when acted out or otherwise ignored by the state.

Institutionalization typically remained forced imprisonment. The 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead ruling gave incarcerated patients a somewhat improved legal opportunity to seek community-based treatment. The Olmstead decision was not enforced by the Republicans in power, as pointed out by President Barak Obama’s 2008 initiative to correct the situation. 75% of nearly 600 federal investigations found civil-rights violations. At least 20 states negotiated settlements with the Justice Department: settlements which did nothing to improve the situation.

Government budget cuts for mental health treatment has meant that more mentally disturbed people are imprisoned rather than given appropriate care. The percentage of mentally ill in prisons throughout the US grew from 0.7% in 1880 to 5% in 1987 to 21% in 2005. That percentage continued to rise in the 2110s as psychiatric hospitals and other mental-health facilities closed throughout the country.

“Society was horrified to warehouse people in state hospitals, but we have no problem with warehousing them in jails and prisons.” ~ Thomas Dart, sheriff of Cook County

Cook County jail, which covers the Chicago area, is exemplary. Effectively, the jail is one of the largest mental institutions in the country: housing up to 2,500 inmates diagnosed as sick in the head. They wind up there because they cause a public disturbance and there is nowhere else to put them.

~5% of American adults are mentally disabled. They live on urban streets, scrounging in dumpsters for food scraps. Having nowhere else to go, many repeatedly commit nuisance crimes which land them in jail, where they have a relatively safe place to sleep, regular meals, and may receive medication.

The mentally ill in jails and prisons throughout the US cost $100,000 a year or more to keep per person: an estimated $9 billion total in 2013. If they were instead in supportive environments, that cost would be 5 times lower: less than $20,000. Such consideration would require sanity from a society which shows no sign of it.

The Veterans Health Administration is the United States’ largest integrated health care system, serving 9 million veterans in 2018. Its facilities are overwhelmed with erstwhile warriors seeking help for mental problems. Severely understaffed, therapeutic treatment consists largely of prescribing mind-dulling psychoactive drugs.


There is a worldwide pandemic of mental illness. Societal response has generally been consistent with historical indifference to abusive contempt.

“Government investment and development assistance for mental health remain pitifully small. Human rights violations and abuses persist in many countries, with large numbers of people locked away in mental institutions or prisons, or living on the streets, often without legal protection.” ~ Indian psychologist Vikram Patel, as part of the 2018 Lancet Commission report on global mental health


Historically, psychology and philosophy have been intertwined. Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and others, including early Christian and Muslim scholars, believed the mind to be the window to the soul. Beyond that their thoughts were muddled. Though tending toward energyism by regarding abstractions as absolute truths, these natural philosophers rarely discounted the actuality of physicality for lack of being able to explain materiality as an illusion. (Energyism is the monistic doctrine that the perceived world is a figment of the mind: a phenomenal system of concepts.) This defaulted them to dualism.

Dualism is the everyday experience of distinctly possessing a mind and a body. Descartes assumed dualism, as do many modern psychologists, who give the nature of mind-body connectivity scant contemplation.

Another school of thought was more sure minded in taking a physiological approach. Democritus laid the foundation for matterism with his atomic hypothesis, which Galileo revived, and Hobbes forwarded.

Leibniz annunciated a neutral monism via God-given monads. Berkeley posited a deistic idealism. Existence as ethereal mystically flowered with Jungian archetypes and the collective unconscious. But these were brief, rather bizarre blips in an inexorable trend toward matterism. Failure to explain biology left the musings of immaterialists quizzical.

In the early 18th century, David Hartley anticipated physiological psychology. The quackery of Franz Gall’s early 19th-century phrenology popularized it.

The growing strength of Hume’s empirical approach to psychology as a science sealed the fate of how mentation came to be considered. Behaviorists declared the mind a fabrication of the brain. In utterly failing to address mentation behaviorism became for many too radical a denouement – but the sentiment stuck.

Though Freud made the single biggest splash in the history of psychology, the psychologist with the greatest lasting influence was William James. His functional approach to psychology sidestepped physiology altogether. It was James’ indifferent paradigm that allowed modern psychologists to productively ignore the mind-body problem.

James was influenced by Darwin, whose vacuous “natural selection” became the dominant idea behind evolutionary biology. Coupling James’ functionalism with Darwinism led to evolutionary psychology, which posited the origination of behaviors and mental states in genes: a myth with no factual foundation, and thus ribald pseudoscience masquerading as science.

Whereas behaviorists had failed to secure consensus about matterism geneticists succeeded. Experiments with fruit flies and honeybees demonstrated links between genes and behavior, as did analyses of human behaviors by way of hormone production encoded by DNA. That there was an inexplicable chasm between mental effect and supposed physical cause did not seem to bother evolutionary psychologists.

With evolutionary psychology in place, cross-connecting biology to the social sciences, it is now possible to provide conceptually integrated analyses. ~ Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, & Jerome Barkow

Evolutionary psychology considers mentotype an adaptive product from physical causes. (The psychological constitution of an organism is its mentotype.) There are deeper aspects of the mind that have profound implications, and which genetics and matter-based evolutionary mechanics cannot explain. The matterist perspective – that the brain conjures the mind – cannot account for consciousness, or why the mind works as it does. The inherent, intractable problems are simply ignored because matterist theorists don’t have a clue.

“Our own consciousness is a product of our brains. We don’t understand how the mind works.” ~ Steven Pinker

Incomprehension about the nature of the mind facilitates mental illness, which is ubiquitous. Treatment of those debilitated by mental illness is typically shoddy, in part because the mind is not understood by the Collective, including psychologists; and, most poignantly, because compassion is sorely lacking. Woeful ignorance and social indifference demonstrate how widespread mental illness really is.