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Tara H. Abraham
The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics were a series of 10 interdisciplinary scientific meetings that took place in New York between 1946 and 1953. The meetings were sponsored by the Macy Foundation, which aimed to promote interdisciplinary approaches to the social, behavioral, and medical sciences. Co-organized by neuropsychiatrist Warren S. McCulloch and Frank Fremont-Smith, medical director of the Macy Foundation, the meetings brought together a variety of scientists from mathematics, psychology, engineering, anthropology, physics, ecology, psychiatry, neurophysiology, linguistics, and sociology. The conferences strove to apply tools from the physical sciences and mathematics to problems in the biological and human sciences. Such tools stemmed first from Norbert Wiener’s work on the anti-aircraft predictor, in which he employed the concept of negative feedback to explain purposeful behavior, and second from McCulloch’s work with Walter Pitts on the logic of neural activity, which purported to embody logical reasoning in the physiology of the brain. Wiener and McCulloch touted the practice of hypothetical modelling as a bridge over the divide between the natural and the artificial, and a method for explaining purposeful behavior in organisms and machines.
Discussions at the Macy Conferences expanded on this work, and participants discussed and debated models of cognitive functions such as sensation, communication, memory, and learning, all cast as functions of the mind and exemplars of purposeful behavior. Thus, the meetings signal a major shift in 20th-century psychology, when discussions of the mind took on a more central place in psychological discourse. Behaviorist psychologists in the early 20th century had largely rejected concepts of mind as unscientific and not objective. The Macy Conferences, in contrast, placed the mind at the nexus of interdisciplinary inquiry across the divide between the physical and human sciences, and helped to bring back the mind as a topic of objective, scientific inquiry in psychology and in the emerging cognitive sciences.
Igor Grossmann and Franki Kung
The concept of wisdom is ancient and deeply embedded in the cultural history of humanity. However, only since 1980s have psychologists begun to study it scientifically. Taking a culturally and philosophically informed perspective, this article integrates insights from the quantitative science of wisdom. Analysis of epistemological traditions and research on folk theories of wisdom suggest cultural similarities in the domain of cognition (e.g., wisdom as reasoning ability and knowledge). These similarities can be contrasted with cultural differences concerning folk-theoretical affective and prosocial themes of wisdom, as well as expression of various wisdom-related themes, rooted in distinct sociocultural and ecological environments. Empirical evidence indicates that wisdom is an individually and culturally malleable construct, consistent with an emerging constructionist account of wisdom and its development. Future research can benefit from integration of ecological and cultural-historical factors for the meaning of wisdom and its expression.
Marcia E. Holmes
From the end of World War II until roughly 1989, global leaders feared that cataclysmic war would break out between the world’s two superpower states, the Soviet Union and the United States. Though such a confrontation did not occur, the stalemate between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States—with its simmering fears, proxy battles, and psychological warfare—became known as the Cold War. Psychological expertise played an important role in the Cold War, especially within Western democracies like the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. In these countries, citizens tended to view the Cold War as a “battle for minds”: a fight against communist political ideology, totalitarianism, social conformity, and other threats to individual mental freedom. Anglo-American psychology flourished within this intellectual environment by finding new topics and applications for research, new sources of funding, and a new image as essential to the functioning of healthy democracy.
Historians continue to debate how the Cold War influenced the field of psychology. Overall, the strategic partnership between psychology and the “military-industrial complex” was limited to certain initiatives. In some cases, Anglo-American psychologists who used their expertise to fight the Cold War were led into questionable pursuits, resulting in greater public scrutiny and even scandals for themselves and their profession. Nonetheless, the Cold War had a significant impact on Anglo-American psychology by making the relationship between psychological knowledge and democratic values a continual subject of public concern.
Gestalt psychology is an holistic approach to psychology launched in 1910 by three psychologists: Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka. It was conceived to oppose elementary or atomistic psychology, the conception that psychical processes consist of elements whose associations produce the contents experienced in the mind or soul. Instead, Gestalt psychology holds that configurations or, in German, Gestalten, not these hypothetical elements, are the primary material underlying experience. Beginning with research in perception, the Gestalt approach was soon applied to other fields of psychology. Gestalt theory, inspired by field theories in physics, tried to lay a common groundwork for psychology, physiology, and physics. The Gestalt movement originated in Germany, but the three protagonists for personal and political reasons resettled in the United States where the movement became an important force combatting the dominance of behaviorism. The Gestalt approach was especially fruitful in empirical psychology, but it did not fulfill the promise of turning psychology into a unified science based on a common theoretical ground.
Gustav Theodor Fechner (b. 1801–d. 1887) is well known to psychologists as the founder of psychophysics, a set of methods for empirically relating measured sensory stimulus to reported sensation. Rich as this field of research has proven to be, especially as detection instruments and recording devices have improved in modern times, Fechner himself would be disappointed to discover that he is remembered merely for psychophysics as psychologists understand it today. To Fechner, those particular methods and approaches were only one part of the domain of psychophysics—outer psychophysics—whereas he envisioned psychophysics (both outer and inner) to be the key to the broadest kind of scientific worldview: the study of the relationship between the material world and the mental world (indeed the spiritual universe; in German, die geistige Welt).
The preface of Fechner’s 1860 masterwork, Elements of Psychophysics, states, “[I]t is an exact theory of the relation of mind to body. . . . As an exact science psychophysics, like physics, must rest on experience and the mathematical connection of those empirical facts that demand a measure of what is experienced or, when such a measure is not available, a search for it.” In that definition, Fechner reveals his view of natural science, and how psychophysics was meant to expand the range of natural science and the scope of its achievements. Fechner’s influence emerged during the mid-19th century, as the physical and medical sciences were achieving great breakthroughs and establishing fundamental and unifying concepts; this was especially true in Germany, including the city where he came to study and remained for the rest of his life, Leipzig. Fechner was one of the most enthusiastic and optimistic believers in unifying concepts of science.
Fechner’s psychophysics gave important impetus to psychometrics and experimental psychology; he also proposed a statistical approach to aesthetics and a “theory of collectives” that pointed toward statistical interpretations of many (perhaps all) areas of experience. In his early career he was a central figure in German physics and an early supporter of the atomic theory of matter as well as Darwinian evolution. His profoundly spiritual ideas, however, were out of step with the science of his time. This aspect of Fechner’s thought is evident in his inner psychophysics, where he searched for the full measure of “what is experienced.”
Franz Anton Mesmer’s theory of “animal magnetism” proposed that living organisms possess an invisible magnetic fluid, which can be influenced by a “magnetizer” and, by doing so, a variety of illnesses can be cured. Contemporaries, such as the Marquis de Puysegur, took a more psychological view, claiming that a state of “artificial somnambulism” could be induced, through which alternate states of consciousness, and clairvoyant powers, could be exhibited. Public demonstrations of mesmeric phenomena, from insensibility to pain to clairvoyance, convinced many that there was something to it, whether as a medical tool or, perhaps, as evidence of supernatural powers. The distinction between mesmerism and hypnotism, made explicit in the writings of James Braid, distinguished between such phenomena, attributing the latter to fraud, and the former to suggestion. With the decline of mesmerism, facilitated in part by Braid’s theory and the introduction of chemical anesthesia, the more extraordinary phenomena of mesmerism, and the concept of a mysterious force, became part of the spiritualist and mind-cure movements, and the basis of psychical research.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, a revival of scientific interest in hypnotism in France led to a dispute between two schools of thought: in Paris, hypnosis was explained in terms of an inherited pathological disposition; in Nancy, it was regarded as a normal process, and the product of suggestion. Hypnosis was used to explore the “dissociation” of personality and “sub-conscious” processes, provoking various theories about alternate selves in the normal and abnormal mind. At the turn of the 20th century, while clinical interest continued, experimental interest turned to the concepts of suggestion and suggestibility, which had practical educational, political, legal, and commercial relevance. A new line of hypnosis research, based on experimental, quantitative methods with normal subjects, began in the United States in the 1920s, and concluded that hypnosis was nothing more than suggestion. In the second half of the century, renewed scientific interest led to competing theories that explained hypnosis either in terms of a hypnotic state or else in terms of social roles. The dispute between “state” and “no state” theories was accompanied by a debate over the existence of a stable individual trait that might explain individual differences in hypnotizability. Meanwhile, as the effects of social influence became a significant topic of study, the implications for psychology experiments were considered in terms of “demand characteristics” and “experimenter effects.” In the last quarter of the 20th century, there was significant interest in legal issues relating to hypnosis, particularly concerning “recovered memory,” and the accusation that false memories and multiple personalities were the product of suggestion. As debates about the nature of hypnosis continue, the descendants of mesmerism, from “anomalous cognition” to “social priming,” which provoked recent debates about the limits of psychological methods, demonstrate the ongoing relevance of studying the boundaries of the mind.
Sven Hroar Klempe
The term “psychology” was applied for the first time in the 16th century. Yet the most interesting examples appeared in three different contexts. The Croatian poet and humanist Marko Marulić (ca. 1520), the German philosopher and Calvinist Johann Thomas Freig (1575), and the German Lutheran philosopher Rudolph Goclenius (1590). Marulić’s manuscript is likely lost, and neither of the other two defined the term. Even the interests of the three went apparently in different directions. Marulić focused on poetry and history, Freig on physica, and Goclenius on theological issues. Nevertheless, they had something in common, and this may represent the gate through which the ways they conceived the term can be understood. They all dealt with the soul, but also that it was a highly disputable concept and not uniformly understood. Another commonality was the avoidance or reinterpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy. The Florentines’ cultivation of Plato had influenced Marulić. Freig was a Ramist, thus, also a humanist who approached philosophical questions rhetorically. Goclenius belonged partly to the same movement. Consequently, they all shared a common interest in texts and language. This is just one, yet quite important aspect of the origin of psychology as a science. Thus, these text- and humanity-oriented aspects of psychology are traceable from the very beginning. This reaches a peak point when Alexander Baumgarten publishes his two volumes on aesthetics, as they were based on Christian Wolff’s Psychologia empirica (1732). They are also traceable in Kant’s critical phase, and even more in Wundt’s folkpsychology. Thus there is a more or less continuous line from the very first uses of the term psychology and some tendencies in social and cultural psychology. In other words, psychology is pursued along an historical line that ends up in the German, and not the British enlightenment.
Donald V. Brown Jr., Karyna Pryiomka, and Joshua W. Clegg
Self-observation, an umbrella term for a number of methods associated with first-order accounts of mental activity (e.g. introspection) and first-person reporting, has been a part of psychology’s investigative procedures since the inception of the discipline. It remains an integral, albeit contested, tool for psychologists to use across essentially every sub-field. In areas such as phenomenology, memory research, psychological assessment, and ethnography, among others, self-observation has been deployed to access information not readily acquired through alternative methods. Other names for introspective methods include self-report, retrospection, inner perception, and self-reflection.
Various self-concepts constitute major keywords in both psychological science and liberal political discourse. They have been central to psychology’s public-facing, policy-oriented role in the United States, dating back to the mid-19th century. Psychologists’ articulations of self-concept include an understanding of the individual, society, and the interventions needed to augment them both. Psychologists’ early enthusiasm for self-esteem has given way to competing concepts of the individual, namely self-regulation and self-control. Self-esteem in a modern sense coalesced out of the deprivation of the Great Depression and the political crises it provoked. The fate of self-esteem became tied to the capacities of the liberal welfare state to improve the psychic capacities of its citizens, in order to render them both more equal under the law and more productive in their daily existence. Western democracies, especially the United States, hit peak self-esteem in early 1990s. Since then, psychologists lost faith in the capacity of giving away self-worth to improve society. Instead, psychologists in the 21st century preached a neo-Victorian gospel of self-reliance. At the very historical juncture when social mobility became more difficult, when inherited social inequality became more entrenched, psychologists abandoned their Keynesian model of human capital and embraced its neoliberal counterpart.
In the literature of mainstream scientific psychology, German scholar William Stern has been known primarily (if at all) as the inventor of the intelligence quotient (IQ). In fact, however, Stern’s contributions to psychology were much greater and more consequential than this. In this all-inclusive article, I have sought to provide readers with a fuller appreciation for the breadth and depth of Stern’s work, and, in particular, for that comprehensive system of thought that he elaborated under the name “critical personalism.” Drawing frequently on translated quotations from Stern’s published works, and on his personal correspondence with the Freiburg philosopher Jonas Cohn, I have endeavored to show how Stern was much more than “the IQ guy.” During the first 20 years of his academic career, spent at the University of Breslau in what is now the Polish city of Wroclaw, Stern founded that sub-discipline of psychology that would be concentrated on the study of individual differences in various aspects of human psychological functioning. He also made major contributions to that sub-discipline referred to at the time as “child” psychology, and laid the foundations for a comprehensive system of thought that he would name “critical personalism.” After relocating to Hamburg in 1916, Stern continued his scholarly efforts in these domains, taught courses both in psychology and in philosophy at the university that opened its doors there in 1919, and played major administrative roles there in the institutional homes of both disciplines until forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1934. The present chapter highlights ways in which, over the course of his scholarly career, Stern boldly opposed certain trends within mainstream thinking that were ascendant during his time.