New HoP: The “Lens,” Helmholtz, The Phi Phenomena, & More

The May 2014 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the interplay of images and concepts in ideas about the “lens” as developed by Fritz Heider and Egon Brunswick, the influence of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Ego-doctrine on Helmholtz’s theory of perception, the future of the history of psychology course in Canada, and archives on the history of Chinese psychology. The issue also features a special section devoted to the centenary of Max Wertheimer’s publication of the phi phenomena. Article titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Remembering the “lens”: Visual transformations of a concept from Heider to Brunswik,” by Martin Wieser. The abstract reads,

It is argued that Frederic Bartlett’s views on the social and cultural determinants of remembering and recognition provide a useful background for analyzing the transformations of psychological concepts and images when they are introduced into new academic collectives. An example of a “Bartlettian” view on the history of psychology is given by reconstructing and contextualizing the transformation of the “lens,” a model of human perception that was invented by Fritz Heider in the 1920s and adopted by Egon Brunswik from the 1930s onwards. Heider’s early work suggested a new perspective on the epistemological relation between subject, media, and object that was devised to create a new conceptual foundation for academic psychology. Brunswik, on the other hand, transformed Heider’s “lens” into a clear-cut experimental framework that was based on the physicalist and operationalist demands of logical empiricism, the movement for the “unity of science,” and, after his migration to Berkeley, neobehaviorism. This episode provides many similarities with Bartlett’s theory of the social determinants of knowledge and the shaping power of collective presuppositions, norms, and ideals.

“Voluntarism in early psychology: The case of Hermann von Helmholtz,” by Liesbet De Kock. The abstract reads,

The failure to recognize the programmatic similarity between (post-)Kantian German philosophy and early psychology has impoverished psychology’s historical self-understanding to a great extent. This article aims to contribute to recent efforts to overcome the gaps in the historiography of contemporary psychology, which are the result of an empiricist bias. To this end, we present an analysis of the way in which Hermann von Helmholtz’s theory of perception resonates with Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Ego-doctrine. It will be argued that this indebtedness is particularly clear when focusing on the foundation of the differential awareness of subject and object in perception. In doing so, the widespread reception of Helmholtz’s work as proto-positivist or strictly empiricist is challenged, in favor of the claim that important elements of his theorizing can only be understood properly against the background of Fichte’s Ego-doctrine.

Special Section: On the occasion of the centenary of Max Wertheimer’s article on the “phi phenomenon”

“Max Wertheimer centennial celebration in Germany,” by Michael Wertheimer. The abstract reads,

Introduces a celebration of Max Wertheimer. The articles presented here should help clarify some significant aspects of the history of Gestalt psychology and of Max Wertheimer’s biography.

“Music, thinking, perceived motion: The emergence of Gestalt theory,” Michael Wertheimer. The abstract reads,

Histories of psychology typically assert that Gestalt theory began with the publication of Max Wertheimer’s 1912b paper on the phi phenomenon, the compelling visual apparent motion of actually stationary stimuli. The current author discusses the origin of Gestalt theory, as told by the historical record starting with M. Wertheimer’s upbringing and ending with his most recent Gestalt theories.

“Max Wertheimer, Habilitation candidate at the Frankfurt Psychological Institute,” by Horst Gundlach. The abstract reads,

Max Wertheimer told Edwin B. Newman that it was pure chance that on his way to the Rhineland he prematurely got off the train in Frankfurt, and that he did so because he had an inspiration for an experiment that he wanted to perform. Most historians of psychology accept this anecdote, but fail to mention that thereby Wertheimer also mastered the next and decisive step toward his academic career in accomplishing his Habilitation. Exposing the institutional, personal, and intellectual context of Wertheimer’s going to Frankfurt and giving a detailed account of the procedure of Habilitation will show that Newman’s and similar reports of the episode, even if verbatim to Wertheimer’s own telling, are nevertheless too improbable to accept at face value.

“Schumann’s wheel tachistoscope: Its reconstruction and its operation,”by Armin Stock. The abstract reads,

In the fall and winter of 1910, Max Wertheimer (1880–1943) performed his famous experiments on perceived motion, published in 1912. Besides slider experiments he mainly used a wheel tachistoscope developed by Friedrich Schumann (1863–1940) at the end of the 19th century. The Adolf-Wuerth-Center for the History of Psychology has several wheel tachistoscopes in its collection of instruments. Their provenance can be traced back to the Institute of Psychology of the University of Frankfurt and the University of Zurich. It is very plausible that Wertheimer, who performed his experiments at the Frankfurt Institute, used one of them. But the wheel tachistoscope alone is not sufficient to reconstruct Wertheimer’s original experiments. As always, the devil is in the details. Wertheimer’s descriptions of the necessary accessories, a prism, a viewing device, and an electric motor to move the wheel, are rather sparse. This article describes the results of a search for traces in the literature, in archives, and in literary depositories to shed some light on Wertheimer’s experimental equipment. As a result, it was possible to reconstruct the entire apparatus and to obtain the same optical impressions with the reconstructed devices as Wertheimer’s observers reported. In addition, one of his results was replicated with new participants exactly 100 years after its first publication.

“Does the future have a history of psychology? A report on teaching, research, and faculty positions in Canadian universities,” by Marissa E. Barnes & Scott Greer. The abstract reads,

This article presents findings derived from 2 surveys inquiring about the role of the history of psychology course within undergraduate and graduate psychology departments in Canada. Conducted through the Chairs of Canadian Psychology Departments (CCPD) listserv, the results indicated that the history of psychology has a robust presence in psychology programs in Canadian universities, often serving as a requirement for an honors degree or graduation. Yet, many departments have reported having difficulties finding a consistent instructor for the course, with the majority of instructors not identifying as a “history specialist.” We reviewed the findings, have highlighted aspects of concern, and have argued for a solution that includes recognizing the value of historical research as part of psychology.

“Chinese psychology archives in historical contexts,” by Zhipeng Gao. The abstract reads,

In response to Western historians’ growing interest in Chinese psychology, this article introduces a number of Chinese psychology archives located in the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing Normal University, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Beijing Normal University, as well as the Shanghai Library & the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of Shanghai, the East China Normal University Library, and the Archive of Shandong Province. The archived collections are discussed in light of important psychologists, research areas, and events in the historical context. In addition, this article introduces a number of archives located in the United States with easy access and valuable collections.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.