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Fechner, Gustav Theodor

Fechner, Gustav Theodor

Psychophysics

Aesthetics

Analysis of systems

WORKS BY FECHNER

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1878) is considered to be the founder of psychophysics and thus of experimental psychology as a whole. He was also the founder of experimental aesthetics. Fechner was born in Lower Lusatia, then part of German northern Silesia. His father and both of his grandfathers were clergymen. Fechner studied medicine first at the University of Dresden and then at the University of Leipzig, obtaining his degree in 1822. His interests turned more and more to physics, however, and he was appointed instructor of natural philosophy at Leipzig the following year. During his years as a student, the lectures of Lorenz Oken on natural philosophy and of E. H. Weber on physiology made the most lasting impressions on Fechner. Oken is now forgotten, but he was then a renowned romantic natural philosopher and cured Fechner of his “man, the machine” approach. Fechner hailed Weber, the discoverer of “Weber’s law,” as the real father of psychophysics. [See WEBER, ERNST HEINRICH.]

After his appointment to the university faculty, Fechner began experimental studies of physical and chemical problems and supported himself by translating, revising, and publishing reference works and textbooks on physics and chemistry. The sheer volume of the work he did during these years is extraordinary. In addition to 28 investigations of his own, published between 1827 and 1840, he annually turned out 1,500 to 2,000 printed pages of textbooks and reference works between 1822 and 1838. He even found time to write several literary pieces, which he published under the pseudonym of “Dr. Mises.”

Fechner was married in 1833, and in 1834 he was appointed professor of physics at Leipzig. But he occupied the chair only until 1839; after repeated attacks of severe exhaustion he was, for three years, completely incapacitated by a mysterious illness. The major symptoms were disturbances of vision, with hypersensitivity to bright light, sporadic total failure of digestion, obsessions, and, finally, more and more terrifying hallucinations. He recovered quite suddenly. It seems most likely that the illness was an atypical form of schizophrenia.

The initial impetus for the work on which Fechner’s fame is based doubtless came from Oken, who fascinated him so much that at first he was resolved to emulate Oken’s unrestrained philosophizing. However, Fechner’s empirical research in physics and physiology saved him, and in the guise of “Dr. Mises,” he himself participated in mocking this kind of romantic inventing of concepts, which appears to prove everything, while actually it proves nothing. Oken continued to exert some influence on Fechner, however, and later he returned to this kind of thinking without surrendering to it completely.

Psychophysics

The problem that concerned Fechner most was the connection between body and mind. His Ele-mente der Psychophysik(1860) aims at utilizing experimental procedures, such as those employed by Weber previously, to explore this connection more precisely, arriving, if possible, at mathematically formulated laws. Earlier, Johann Friedrich Herbart had demanded that psychological laws be formulated in mathematical terms, but he despaired of the likelihood that psychology would ever obtain the necessary experimental data. Fechner saw in Weber’s threshold experiments the possibility of securing such data. He assumed that the difference between two sensations may be defined by the number of “just noticeable differences” (jnd) between them, and that these jnd’s can be represented mathematically. He used the number of jnd’s above the lower absolute threshold as a measure of the intensity of sensation evoked by a stimulus. In order to be able to describe the relationship between psychic and physical quantities mathematically, Fechner sought to establish a general functional relationship between sensations and stimuli of whatever magnitude. In the range within which Weber’s law is valid–Weber’s law states that jnd’s are proportional to the magnitude of the stimuli–integration yields a function that describes the intensity of a sensation in terms of the logarithm of the stimuli, measured from the absolute threshold.

Since the acuity of the sensory apparatus fluctuates from instant to instant and from person to person, thresholds can be defined only statistically. Fechner perfected the experimental strategies that had earlier been used by Weber and by Vierordt, as well as by such astronomers and physicists as Lambert, Steinheil, and Laugier, to determine the degree of uncertainty or the accuracy of measurement in comparisons of stimuli. According to the nature of variation of the stimulus in comparisons of successive sensations, he distinguished three kinds of psychophysical methods of data collection: (1) the method of jnd’s, in which the difference between the stimuli compared is gradually increased until it is perceptible or diminished until it is no longer perceptible; this is also called the method of limits; (2) the method of right and wrong cases, in which a standard stimulus is compared with randomly varied comparison stimuli; this method is also called the constancy method; and (3) the method of average error, in which a comparison stimulus is adjusted by the subject to correspond to a standard; this is also referred to as the reproduction method.

In calculating threshold values, Fechner employed the law of errors formulated by Gauss and Laplace, and in his posthumous Kollektivmass-lehre(1897) he set forth the applicability of the law of errors to many other problems in psychology. The Kollektivmasslehre also contains his contributions to correlation statistics. It is the first textbook of statistics to be designed especially for behavioral scientists. Using carefully planned experiments, whose layouts resemble those today used in the analysis of variance, he endeavored to exclude from the calculation of reaction variability, which defines the threshold difference, those constant errors that arise from the particular features of the experimental procedure.

Fechner realized that “psychophysics” (his coinage) was an innovation of great importance: he called it a science “in the initial state of becoming,” and his own work for all its scope, merely “a modest beginning of a beginning.” His work was soon taken up by some of the greatest scientists of his time. As far back as 1858, Ernst Mach and Hermann von Helmholtz had begun to experiment on their own, stimulated by Fechner’s preliminary report. Wilhelm Wundt followed in 1862, A. W. Volkmann in 1864, H. Aubert and J. R. L. Delboeuf in 1865, and J. Bernstein and Vierordt in 1868. Of the outstanding specialists in the field of psychology only one remained a skeptic: William James, who as late as 1890 declared that despite all its acumen and all its care, the psychological yield of the Elemente was “just nothing,” not important enough to merit mention in even a footnote.

The methods of measurement developed by Fechner are now generally adopted in quantitative experimental psychology, although some of the mathematical implications of his derivations are open to serious criticism (Luce & Galanter 1963). They are employed with equal success in all sorts of fields and for the most diverse problems. In recent years, the problem of psychological scaling, which Fechner was the first to appreciate and deal with, has again come to the forefront; it has been remarkably clarified and given new depth, especially in the work of S. S. Stevens and G. Ekman (for example, Stevens 1934).

Fechner is remembered almost exclusively as a methodologist. The fundamental theoretical postulates he presented in his psychophysics have gone unnoticed and are generally attributed to later authors. Most noteworthy is his working hypothesis of “concrete parallelism,” which assumes an isomorphism between phenomena of consciousness and “psychophysical phenomena,” that is, those processes occurring in the cerebrum that are directly associated with the phenomena of consciousness. This assumption and its elaboration is usually attributed to Ewald Hering, Georg Elias Muller, Max Wertheimer, and, above all, Wolfgang Kohler, although it was clearly formulated in Volume 2 of Fechner’s Elemente.

Aesthetics

Following his work in psychophysics, Fechner ventured also to transform the field of aesthetics from speculation to exact factual research. He summarized the results of his efforts in his Vorschule der Aesthetik(1876). He tried to derive the conditions that determine what is pleasing and what is displeasing, not from a higher ideal of beauty but from below, by systematic empirical comparison of the beautiful with the less beautiful. This endeavor was not as successful as his work in psychophysics. Fechner was the victim of a then prevalent confusion: to him, as to his contemporaries, “from below” meant not only “from perception to concept,” but also “from the simple to the more complex,” and the properties of the complex, it was then believed, are those of its simple constituents. The study by Christian von Ehrenfels, who proved that this postulate is false— and thereby not only opened up a new era in psychology but also made possible a more relevant theory of beauty—did not appear until three years after Fechner’s death.

Fechner did, however, conduct a study—in line with his attempt to establish an experimental science of aesthetics—which makes him one of the earliest forerunners of modern opinion research. Two nearly identical versions of a Madonna reputed to have been painted by Hans Holbein were then being exhibited in Dresden, and Fechner asked the visitors to the exhibition to note on a sheet of paper which of the two they thought was more beautiful. At that time the public was unfortunately not accustomed to such questionnaires, and only 116 of the 11,000 visitors took the trouble to write their comments. Of these 116, some were art critics who had previously formed judgments, while others failed to follow instructions, thus rendering the results useless. Nonetheless, the experiment made a contribution to methodology that might have become as influential as psychophysics, had its significance been understood.

Analysis of systems

Around 1850, Fechner tackled another fundamental problem, that of the apparent finality of particular processes in animate and inanimate nature. In contrast to the neovitalists, he insisted that this finality be explained within the framework of the principle of causality. He laid down the axiom that every system in nature that is delimited with respect to its environment and hence is more or less closed, as well as every relatively autonomous part of such a system, tends, after a longer or shorter period of dislocation, to return to its previous state, and he specifically speaks of a “tendency toward stability.” From this there is a direct road, via Ernst Mach’s observation that the stable states of comparatively closed structures are formally distinct, to the concepts of equilibrium of Wolfgang Kohler and Ludwig von Bertalanffy. As Fechner used the concept of “stability,” it was broader than it is today; it included not only what he called “simple stability” but also “complex stability,” examples of which he found primarily in organisms. These examples are identical with Kohler’s “stationary states” and Berta-lanffy’s “steady states.” Thus, Fechner’s works contain a surprising number of stimulating ideas which are still influential, though they may sometimes appear under different names [see PERSONALITY: CONTEMPORARY VIEWPOINTS; SYSTEMS ANALYSIS, article on PSYCHOLOGICAL SYSTEMS].

Wolfgang Metzger

[For the historical context of Fechner’s work, see the biographies ofGAUSS; LAPLACE; WEBER, E. H. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeAESTHETICS; PSYCHOPHYSICS; QUANTAL RESPONSE; SCALING; and the biographies ofHELMHOLTZ; THURSTONE; WUNDT.]

WORKS BY FECHNER

(1836) 1943 Life After Death. Pages 21-90 in Gustav Theodor Fechner, Life After Death. New York: Pantheon. → First published as Das Büchlein vom Leben nach dem Tode.

1848 Ueber das Lustprinzip des Handelns. Zeitschriftfür Philosophie und philosophische Kritik New Series 19: 1-30, 163–194.

(1860) 1907 Elemente der Psychophysik.2 vols. 3d ed. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

1871 Ueber die Aechtheitsfrage der holbeirischen Madonna: Discussion und Acten. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

1873 Einige Ideen zur Schöpfungsund Entwickelungsgeschichte der Organismen. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

1874 Ueber den Ausgangswerth der kleinsten Abweichungssumme, dessen Bestimmung, Verwendung und Verallgemeinerung. K. Sôchsische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-physische Klasse, Abhandlungen, 11, no. 1. Leipzig: Hirzel.

(1876) 1897-1898 Vorschule der Aesthetik.2d ed. 2 vols. in 1. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

1877 In Sachen der Psychophysik. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

1882 Revision der Hauptpuncte der Psychophysik. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

1888 Ueber die psychischen Massprincipien und das weber’sche Gesetz: Discussion mit Elsas und Köhler. Philosophische Studien4 : 161–230.

Kollektivmasslehre. Edited by G. F. Lipps. Leipzig: Engel-mann, 1897.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boring, Edwin G. (1929) 1950 A History of Experimental Psychology.2d ed. New York: Appleton. → See especially pages 275–296.

Boring, Edwin G. 1942 Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology. New York: Appleton.

Brett, George S. 1921 A History of Psychology. Volume 3: Modern Psychology. London: Allen & Unwin. → See especially pages 127–239.

BURT, C. 1960 Gustav Theodor Fechner: Elemente der Psychophysik,1860-1960. British Journal of Statistical Psychology13 : 1–10.

HALL, G. STANLEY 1912 Founders of Modern Psychology. New York: Appleton. → See especially pages 123-177, “Gustav Theodor Fechner.”

KÜLPE, O. 1901 Zu Gustav Theodor Fechners Gedächtnis. Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie und Soziologie25 : 191–217.

Lasswitz, Kurd (1896)1910 Gustav Theodor Fechner.3d ed. Stuttgart (Germany): Frommann.

LUCE, R. DUNCAN; and GALANTER, EUGENE 1963 Psy-chophysical Scaling. Volume 1, pages 245-308 in R. Duncan Luce, Robert R. Bush, and Eugene Galan-ter (editors), Handbook of Mathematical Psychology. New York: Wiley.

Michels, Walter C.; and KELSON, HARRY 1954 A Reconciliation of the Veg Scale With Fechner’s Law. American Journal of Psychology67 : 677–683.

STEVENS, S. S. 1934 The Volume and Intensity of Tones. American Journal of Psychology46 : 397–408.

THURSTONE, L. L. 1929 Fechner’s Law and the Method of Equal-appearing Intervals. Journal of Experimental Psychology12 : 214–224.

Wirth, Wilhelm 1912 Psychophysik: Darstellung der Methoden der experimentellen Psychologie. Leipzig: Hirzel.

Wundt, Wilhelm 1901 Gustav Theodor Fechner: Rede zur Feier seines hundertjährigen Geburtstages. Leipzig: Engelmann.

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Fechner, Gustav Theodor

Fechner, Gustav Theodor

(b. Gross-Särchen, near Halle, Germany, 19 April 1801; d. Leipzig, Germany, 18 November 1887)

psychology.

Fechner was the second of five children of Samuel Traugott Fechner, a rural, innovative Lutheran preacher, and Johanna Dorothea Fischer Fechner. The precocious child had learned Latin from his father by the time of the latter’s death, when Fechner was five. After attending the Gymnasium at Soran (near Dresden, where the family moved in 1815), in 1817 Fechner matriculated at the University of Leipzig, where he spent the rest of his life. He took the M.D. there in 1822 but never practiced medicine. In 1833 he married Clara Volkmann, the sister of his colleague and friend A. W. Volkmann, a physiologist in vision.

Fechner’s first writings were satirical pieces that he published under the pseudonym “Dr. Mises.” The first of these was written in 1821; they appeared sporadically over the next twenty-five years. Fantastical and by turns strained or brilliant, these pieces usually attack the materialism popular in Germany early in the nineteenth century—or Nachtansicht, as Fechner called it—in contrast with his own Tagesansicht, in which life and consciousness are coequal with matter.

Fechner’s first scientific work was in physics, lecturing on it in 1824 (as ordinarius, wihtout pay), translating physics and chemistry texts from the French (by which he earned his living), and conducting investigations in electricity, particularly on Ohm’s law. In 1831 he published Massbestimmungen über die galvanische Kette, a paper of great importance on quantitative measurements of the galvanic battery. This made his reputation as a physicist, and he was appointed professor of physics in 1834. During this period, the only indications of his future interest in psychological problems were his satires, two papers on complementary colors and subjective colors (1838), and his famous paper on subjective afterimages, published in 1840.

Fechner then plunged into a long, serious neurotic illness which necessitated his resignation from his chair of physics in 1839. This began somatically with a partial blindness brought on by gazing at the sun through colored glasses in the experiments on colors and afterimages; it then deepened psychologically into an inability to take food, various psychotic symptoms, and a year of severe autistic thinking. Then on 5 October 1843, having lived for three years in the dark and despairing of ever seeing again, Fechner ventured into his garden, unwound the bandages he wore around his eyes, and found his vision not only regained but abnormally powerful, since he had semihallucinatory experiences of seeing the souls of flowers. His recovery was then slow and progressive.

This peak experience in the garden is reflected in his next work, Nanna oder über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (“Nanna, or the Soul Life of Plants,” 1848). In this philosophically diffuse book as well as in his 1851 book, Zend-Avesta oder über die Dinge des Himmels und des Jenseits (“Zend-Avesta, or Concerning Matters of Heaven and the World to Come”), Fechner developed what has been called his panpsychism, a development of his Tagesansicht; since mind and matter were two aspects of the same thing, the entire universe could be looked at from the point of view of its mind.

But how could this be made scientific? On the morning of 22 October 1850 (called commemoratively by psychophysicists Fechner Day), while Fechner was awaking in bed, the solution came. It was to make the relative increase of stimulation the measure of the increase of the corresponding sensation; and this suggested that the arithmetical series of perceived intensities might correspond to a geometrical series of external energies.

In part, this solution to Fechner’s problem was based upon Helmholtz’s famous “On the Conservation of Force,” published three years earlier. Since energy could neither be created nor be destroyed, all energy impinging on sense organs traversed the nervous system and ended in effectors. Sensation was the mental aspect of this, which had to be just as orderly and related to these physical events in an orderly manner. The relation between sensation and these neurological events he called “inner psychophysics.” This was impossible to study. It was, therefore, the relationship of sensation to the external stimulus energy, or outer psychophysics, that could alone be studied.

These ideas, after a decade of thought and experiment, resulted in 1860 in Fechner’s classic work, the Elemente der Psychophysik, a text of the “exact science of the functional relations or relations of dependency between body and mind.” Through its sometimes redundant details are developed three of the basic methods of a new science to be called psychophysics:

1. The method of just noticeable differences, later called the method of limits. The difference between two discriminable stimuli is gradually decreased until discrimination is just lost; and conversely, the difference between two stimuli that are not discriminable is gradually increased until discrimination is barely possible: the average of these two determinations is a measure of the just noticeable difference.

2. The method of right and wrong cases, later called the method of constant stimuli, or simply the constant method, which has become, since the work of G. E. Müller and F. M. Urban, the most important. A range of stimuli are used, none of which is adjustable; a standard stimulus is compared in some given respect with each of a series of similar stimuli, presented in chance order: from the percentage of correct judgments with each comparison stimulus, a threshold is mathematically determined.

3. The method of average error. Whereas the two foregoing methods are partly systematizations of work by others, this method was original with Fechner in collaboration with his brother-in-law, Volkmann. A variable stimulus is adjusted sundry times to apparent equality with a standard, the average adjustment being the “constant error” and its standard deviation the sensitivity. These methods were used by Fechner in classical experiments in lifted weights, visual brightnesses, tactual and visual distances, temperature sensitivity, and even a classification of stars by magnitude following Steinheil.

But this methodology is mere apparatus to carry the central and pervading conception of the Elemente, Fechner’s fascinating development of the Weber fraction into what has come to be known as the Weber-Fechner law. E. H. Weber, a senior colleague of Fechner at Leipzig, concluded after a series of elegant studies on lifted weights, judged line lengths, and various tactual sensations, that the just noticeable difference in stimulus intensity is a constant fraction of the total intensity at which it is measured. These experiments were first described in Latin in 1834 but achieved attention only when brought together with other facts in Weber’s famous chapter on touch in Rudolph Wagner’s Handwörterbuch der Physiologie (Brunswick, 1846). This may be expressed as

where R is Reiz, or stimulus, and ΔR is the amount of increase in R necessary for a subject to see any difference. This is approximately true for the middle range of sensory stimulation in any modality in men, or in animals where a behavioral response takes the place of an introspected difference in sensation.

Fechner assumed that on the mental side there is a corresponding increase in sensation, ΔS, and that all such ΔS’s are equal and can be treated as units, whence

where C is the constant of proportionality. Integrating, and solving for the constant of integration at threshold where S = 0,

S = C log R,

where R is measured in units of its threshold value. This is the fundamental relation between mind on the left-hand side of the equation, and matter on the right. It is now known as the Weber-Fechner law, although Fechner with confusing generosity called it Weber’s law.

While the methodology of the Elemente is sound and permanent, its theoretical purpose and its working out into Fechner’s law kindled immediate controversy, which is still far from being resolved. Even before 1860, Fechner’s ideas resulted in papers by Helmholtz and Mach on the new psychophysics. And Wilhelm Wundt, in his first psychological publications from 1862 on, made Fechner’s work centrally important. His detractors, on the other hand, claimed that Fechner had not measured sensation at all. Their fundamental objections were (1) that it is meaningless to say that one ΔS equals another unless S is independently measurable, and (2) what has been called the quantity objection: in experience, pink is not part of scarlet, nor a thunderclap a summation of murmurs.

As Fechner founded psychophysics with this decade of work, so in the next decade (1865–1876) he founded experimental aesthetics, publishing his Vorschule der Ästhetik in 1876. This work treats of its methods, principles, and problems, particularly that of the “golden section,” or most aesthetically pleasing relation of length to breadth of an object, a kind of Weber’s fraction for aesthetics. He endlessly measured the dimensions of pictures, cards, books, snuffboxes, writing paper, and windows, among other things, in an attempt to develop experimental aesthetics “from below,” in rebellion against the Romantic attempt “from above down” first to formulate abstract principles of beauty.

In the final decade of his life, the turbulent wake of his Elemente drew Fechner back into psychophysics. In 1882 he answered his critics with his last important book, Revision der Hauptpunkte der Psychophysik. This helped to place Fechner’s psychophysics even more securely as a cornerstone of the new so-called experimental psychology as it was to be developed in the latter part of the century by Wundt and others.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Fechner’s chief works are Massbe stimmungen über die galvanische Kette (Leipzig, 1831), which is available on microfilm in the “Landmarks of Science” series, I. Bernard Cohen, Charles C. Gillispie, et al., eds. (New York, 1967); Das Büchlein vom Leben nach dem Tode (Dresden, 1836; Leipzig, 1841, 1915, 1922; Hamburg, 1887, 1906), English trans. by H. Wernekke as On Life After Death (London, 1882; Chicago, 1906, 1914), another English trans. by M. C. Wadsworth, intro. by W. James, as The Little Book of Life After Death (Boston, 1904; New York, 1943); Nanna oder über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (Leipzig, 1848, 1920; Hamburg, 1903); Zend Auesta oder über die Dinge des Himmels und des Jenseits, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1851; Hamburg, 1906); Elemente der psychophysik, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1860, 1889)—of which vol. I of the 1889 ed. includes a bibliography, originally compiled by R. Müller, of 175 of Fechner’s publications—English trans. of vol. I only by H. E. Adler, as Elements of Psychophysics, E. G. Boring and D. Howes, eds. (New York, 1966); Vorschule der Ästhetik (Leipzig, 1876); Die Tagesansicht gegenüber der Nachtansicht (Leipzig, 1879, 1904); and Revision der Hauptpunkte der Psychophysik (Leipzig, 1882).

II. Secondary Literature. On Fechner’s life, see the sympathetic biography by his nephew, J. E. Kuntze, Gustav Theodor Fechner (Dr. Mises), Ein deutsches Gelehrtenleben (Leipzig, 1892), which reprints the bibliography of Fechner’s works cited above. See also K. Lasswitz, Gustav Theodor Fechner (Stuttgart, 1896, 1910); and G. S. Hall, Founders of Modern Psychology, (New York, 1912), pp. 123–177.

On Fechner’s scientific contributions, see, in addition to the foregoing, T. Ribot, German Psychology of Today (New York, 1886), pp. 134–187; W. Wundt, Gustav Theodor Fechner (Leipzig, 1901); and M. Wentscher, Fechner und Lotze (Munich, 1925). Other bibliographical items on Fechner’s scientific work, as well as a good short introduction to him, are given in E. G. Boring, A History of Experimental Psychology (New York, 1929), pp. 265–287. William James’s scornful evaluation of Fechner and his work may be found in his Principles of Psychology, I (New York, 1890), 533–549. See also R. I. Watson, The Great Psychologists (Philadelphia, 1968), pp. 229–241.

Of recent revisions of the Weber-Fechner law, the most important are H. Helson and W. C. Michels, “A Reformulation of the Ferchner Law in Terms of Adaptation Level Applied to Rating Scale Data,” in American Journal of Psychology, 62 (1949), 355–368; S. S. Stevens, “On the Psychophysical Law,” in Psychological Review, 64 (1957), 153–181; R. D. Luce and W. Edwards, “The Derivation of Subjective Scales From Just Noticeable Differences,” ibid., 65 (1958), 222–237; and R. D. Luce and E. Galanter, “Discrimination,” in R. D. Luce, R. R. Bush, and E. Galanter, eds., Handbook of Mathematical Psychology, I (New York, 1963), 191–243, esp. 206–213.

See also H. Eisler, “A General Differential Equation in Psychophysics: Derivation and Empirical Test,” in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 4 (1963),1–8; M. Mashhour, “On Eisler’s General Psychophysical Differential Equation and His Fechnerian Integration,” ibid., 5 (1964), 225–233, a highly critical paper on Eisler; and J. C. Falmagne, “The Generalized Fechner Problem and Discrimination,” in Jounal of Mathematical Psychology, in press.

On the quantity objection specifically, see E. B. Titchener, Experimental Psychology, II, pt. 2 (London, 1905), xlvii–lxviii. E. G. Boring, “The Stimulus Error,” in American Journal of Psychology, 32 (1921), 449–471, particularly pp. 451–460, contains other references on the problem.

On Fechner’s more philosophical thought, see W. James, A Pluralistic Universe (New York, 1909), pp. 133–177; R. B. Perry, Philosophy of the Recent Past (New York, 1926), pp. 81–86; and G. S. Brett, History of Psychology, ed. and abridged by R. S. Peters (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 580–590.

Julian Jaynes

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Fechner, Gustav Theodor (1801-1887)

FECHNER, GUSTAV THEODOR (1801-1887)

Gustav Fechner, German physician, physicist, and philosopher, was born on April 19, 1801, in Gross-Sächen, Prussia, and died in Leipzig on November 18, 1887. Freud admired Fechner as the pioneer of psychophysics and a founder of scientific and experimental psychology. Together with his boyhood friend Eduard Silberstein, Freud attended Fechner's lectures in Leipzig in 1874.

Fechner studied medicine at the University of Leipzig. While still a student, he began writing articles (under the pseudonym Dr. Mises) that satirized contemporary science, and he did not become a practicing physician after receiving his degree. Instead, he turned his interest to physics and mathematics. His research demonstrating the validity of Ohm's laws in relation to a galvanic current led to his appointment as professor of physics in 1834. About 1839 Fechner was forced to leave his academic post due to an eye ailment that he attributed to exhausting research in optics. In his diary, which has been preserved at the University of Leipzig, Fechner described his experiences while ill and the existential crisis and depression that followed.

In the wake of his illness, Fechner developed his interest in sensation, the relation of mind to body, and panpsychism. "The great G. T. Fechner," as Freud called him, was appointed professor of philosophy and anthropology in 1843. In the course of this second creative period, he set out the foundations of psychophysics, such as the Fechner-Weber law, by which he is remembered as a founder of experimental psychology. His two-volume Elemente der Psychophysik was published in 1860.

Fechner's ambitions extended beyond experimental research. He hoped to organize psychophysics and metaphysics in a way that united philosophy and the human sciences. Major works toward fulfilling this aim include his 1848 article on the pleasure principle and Einige Ideen zur Schöpfungsund Entwicklungsgeschichte des Organismen (Certain ideas on the creation and development of organisms; 1873). In this latter work Fechner offers the "principle of constancy" to explain how a progressively ordered and structured system can evolve from a disorganized state, a notion that suggests Freud's famous formula, "Where id was there ego shall be." (In this sense Fechner was also a precursor of the theory of the ego's self-organization [see, for example, Prigogine and Glansdorff].) Although Fechner's works inspired Freud when he conceived his concepts of the pleasure principle and the death instinct (Nitzschke), a systematic study tends to demonstrate that they were separated by fundamental differences in outlook.

Bernd Nitzschke

See also: Alpha function; Autism; Beta-elements; Castration complex; Coprophilia; Partial drive; Pregnancy, fantasy of; Stammering; Symbolism; Unconscious concept.

Bibliography

Fechner, Gustav Theodor. (1848).Über das lustpinzip des handelns. Zeitschrift für philosophie und philosophische kritik, 19, 1-30; 163-194.

. (1860). Elemente der psychophysik. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel.

. (1873). Einige ideen zur schöpfungsund entwicklungsgeschichte der organismen. Leipzig: Bretkopf und Härtel.

Lowrie, Walter (Ed.). (1946). Religion of a scientist: selections from Gustav Theodor Fechner. New York: Pantheon.

Nitzschke, Bernd. (1989). Freud et Herbert Silberer: Hypothèses concernant le destinataire d'une lettre de Freud de 1922. Revue internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 2, 267-277.

Prigogine, Ilya, and Glandsdorf, P. (1973). L'écart à l'équilibre interprété comme une source d'ordre structure dissipatives. Bulletin de la classe des sciences, 59, 672-702.

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Gustav Theodor Fechner

Gustav Theodor Fechner

The German experimental psychologist Gustav The odor Fechner (1801-1887) founded psychophysics and formulated Fechner's law, a landmark in the emergence of psychology as an experimental science.

Gustav Theodor Fechner was born on April 19, 1801, at Gross-Särchen, Lower Lusatia. He earned his degree in biological science in 1822 at the University of Leipzig and taught there until his death on Nov. 18, 1887. Having developed an interest in mathematics and physics, he was appointed professor of physics in 1834.

About 1839 Fechner had a breakdown, having injured his eyes while experimenting on afterimages by gazing at the sun. His response was to isolate himself from the world for 3 years. During this period there was an increase in his interest in philosophy. Fechner believed that everything is endowed with a soul; nothing is without a material basis; mind and matter are the same essence, but seen from different sides. Moreover, he believed that, by means of psychophysical experiments in psychology, the foregoing assertions were demonstrated and proved. He authored many books and monographs on such diverse subjects as medicine, esthetics, and experimental psychology, affixing the pseudonym Dr. Mises to some of them.

The ultimate philosophic problem which concerned Fechner, and to which his psychophysics was a solution, was the perennial mind-body problem. His solution has been called the identity hypothesis: mind and body are not regarded as a real dualism, but are different sides of one reality. They are separated in the form of sensation and stimulus; that is, what appears from a subjective viewpoint as the mind, appears from an external or objective viewpoint as the body. In the expression of the equation of Fechner's law (sensation intensity = C log stimulus intensity), it becomes evident that the dualism is not real. While this law has been criticized as illogical, and for not having universal applicability, it has been useful in research on hearing and vision.

Fechner's most significant contribution was made in his Elemente der Psychophysik (1860), a text of the "exact science of the functional relations, or relations of dependency, between body and mind," and in his Revision der Hauptpunkte der Psychophysik (1882). Upon these works mainly rests Fechner's fame as a psychologist, for in them he conceived, developed, and established new methods of mental measurement, and hence the beginning of quantitative experimental psychology. The three methods of measurement were the method of just-noticeable differences, the method of constant stimuli, and the method of average error. According to the authorities, the method of constant stimuli, called also the method of right and wrong cases, has become the most important of the three methods. It was further developed by G. E. Müller and F. M. Urban.

William James, who did not care for quantitative analysis or the statistical approach in psychology, dismisses the psychophysic law as an "idol of the den," the psychological outcome of which is nothing. However, the verdict of other appraisers is kinder, for they honor Fechner as the founder of experimental psychology.

Further Reading

The major biographies of Fechner are in German. An account of him in English, with the original German bibliography, is in G. Stanley Hall, Founders of Modern Psychology (1912). For a treatment of Fechner's works and thought see T. Ribot, German Psychology of Today: The Empirical School (trans. 1886). For his philosophy see O. Klemm, History of Psychology (1911; trans. 1914), and George Sidney Brett, History of Psychology, vol. 3 (1921). □

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Fechner, Gustav Theodor

Gustav Theodor Fechner

1801-1887
German experimental psychologist who founded psychophysics and formulated Fechner's law, a landmark in the emergence of psychology as an experimental science.

Gustav Theodor Fechner was born on April 19, 1801, at Gross-Särchen, Lower Lusatia. He earned his degree in biological science in 1822 at the University of Leipzig and taught there until his death on Nov. 18, 1887. Having developed an interest in mathematics and physics, he was appointed professor of physics in 1834.

About 1839 Fechner had a breakdown, having injured his eyes while experimenting on afterimages by gazing at the sun. His response was to isolate himself from the world for three years. During this period there was an increase in his interest in philosophy. Fechner believed that everything is endowed with a soul; nothing is without a material basis; mind and matter are the same essence, but seen from different sides. Moreover, he believed that, by means of psychophysical experiments in psychology, the foregoing assertions were demonstrated and proved. He authored many books and monographs on such diverse subjects as medicine, esthetics, and experimental psychology , affixing the pseudonym Dr. Mises to some of them.

The ultimate philosophic problem which concerned Fechner, and to which his psychophysics was a solution, was the perennial mind-body problem. His solution has been called the identity hypothesis: mind and body are not regarded as a real dualism, but are different sides of

one reality. They are separated in the form of sensation and stimulus; that is, what appears from a subjective viewpoint as the mind, appears from an external or objective viewpoint as the body. In the expression of the equation of Fechner's law (sensation intensity = C log stimulus intensity), it becomes evident that the dualism is not real. While this law has been criticized as illogical, and for not having universal applicability, it has been useful in research on hearing and vision .

Fechner's most significant contribution was made in his Elemente der Psychophysik (1860), a text of the "exact science of the functional relations, or relations of dependency, between body and mind," and in his Revision der Hauptpunkte der Psychophysik (1882). Upon these works mainly rests Fechner's fame as a psychologist, for in them he conceived, developed, and established new methods of mental measurement , and hence the beginning of quantitative experimental psychology. The three methods of measurement were the method of just-noticeable differences, the method of constant stimuli, and the method of average error. According to the authorities, the method of constant stimuli, called also the method of right and wrong cases, has become the most important of the three methods. It was further developed by G. E. Müller and F. M. Urban.

William James , who did not care for quantitative analysis or the statistical approach in psychology, dismisses the psychophysic law as an "idol of the den," the psychological outcome of which is nothing. However, the verdict of other appraisers is kinder, for they honor Fechner as the founder of experimental psychology.

Further Reading

Brett, George Sidney. History of psychology. vol. 3. 1921.

Hall, G. Stanley. Founders of modern psychology. 1912.

Klemm, O. History of psychology. 1911. trans. 1914.

Ribot, T. German psychology of today: the empirical school. trans. 1886.

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Fechner, Gustav Theodor

Gustav Theodor Fechner (gŏŏs´täf tā´ōdōr fĕkh´nər), 1801–87, German philosopher and physicist, founder of psychophysics, educated at Dresden and Leipzig. He became professor of physics at Leipzig in 1834 but was forced by ill health to leave in 1839. Thereafter he devoted himself largely to the study of the relationship between body and mind, although under the name "Dr. Mises" he also wrote humorous satire. In philosophy he was an animist, maintaining that life is manifest in all objects of the universe. His greatest achievement was in the investigation of exact relationships in psychology and aesthetics. He formulated the rule known as Fechner's, or Weber's, law, that, within limits, the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus. Two of Fechner's most important works were Zendavesta (1851) and Elementen der Psychophysik (1860).

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