The latest issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, features an article on the importance of scientific objectivity in Edward Bradford Titchener’s experimental psychology. The piece, authored by Christopher Green, extends the analysis of scientific objectivity made by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison in their recent book on the subject.
“Scientific Objectivity and E. B. Titchener’s Experimental Psychology,” by Christopher D. Green. The abstract reads,
Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s recent book on the history of scientific objectivity showed that, over the course of the nineteenth century, natural scientists of many stripes became intensely concerned with the issue of the distorting influence that their own subjectivities might be having on their observations and representations of nature. At very nearly the same time, experimental psychology arose specifically to investigate scientifically the nature and structure of subjective consciousness. Although Daston and Galison briefly discussed some basic psychological issues—especially the discovery of differences in human color perception—they did not strongly connect the widespread European concern with scientific objectivity to the rise of experimental psychology. This essay critically examines the theoretical and empirical activities of the experimental psychologist who most energetically strove to discover the structure of subjective conscious experience, Edward Bradford Titchener. Titchener’s efforts to produce an objective study of subjectivity reveal important tensions in early experimental psychology and also serve to situate experimental psychology at the center of an important intellectual struggle that was being waged across the natural sciences in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century.
Pictured at the right is Titchener’s plan for his psychology laboratory at Cornell University (click to enlarge).