The history of modern science can be traced back to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Thus, this time in history can be understood as a progressive movement away from the influence of theology and philosophy, and toward a more mechanistic and material description of the universe (Fox, 2021). In its entirety, there was a progression away from studying the soul. How so?**
Despite this progression, Gustav Fechner attempted to continue his formal study of the human soul. Fechner was doing something pretty unique here. What was the status of the human soul in pre-Fechner science – do some exploration**. His work in this area became known as Psychophysics, a term referring to the mathematical relationship between the physical world and the human soul (Fox, 2021). In this context, the human soul was represented by consciousness (Fox, 2021).
While Fechner studied in medical school, he was exposed to and became devoted to Natural Philosophy, or Naturphilosophie. This study was considered the precursor of modern natural science, and had the goal of unifying nature (Fox, 2021). This unity was seen in the romantic worldview of Johann von Goethe and Georg Hegel (Fox, 2021). What was this romantic world view? Who were Goethe & Hegel & what was their worldview.**
Fechner earned his medical degree in 1822 and began lecturing in physiology at the Leipzig Medical School, but his academic interests soon changed. After doing translation for Jena Baptiste’s, “Précis élémentaire de physique expérimentale”, or “The element of experimental physics,” Fechner appreciated the precise results produced from careful experimentation and observation in physics, and as a result, changed his field to physics and began lecturing and researching in this discipline (Fox, 2021). This is basically good – but why was he translating physics? What was lacking in physiology of the time that was present in physics?**
However, by 1839, Fechner resigned his professorship. This was due to a combination of physical and emotional symptoms resulting from the immense amount (of what**) stemming from his professorship (Fox, 2021). (was it simply his professorship – he had that since 1823**) Fechner’s symptoms included headaches, insomnia, and symptoms of neurosis, and he eventually developed a debilitating eye disorder (Fox, 2021). Why did he develop these disorders?** This eye disorder caused Fechner to be unable to read and write, which ultimately led to his resignation as a professor and his entering into a period of seclusion (Fox, 2021).
After a lengthy process of recovery, Fechner returned to professorship in the field of philosophy (Fox, 2021). Why switch fields?** After some time, he determined that a scientific foundation was needed to explain the relationship between the physical world and the human soul, which began his study and development of psychophysics. Between 1851 and 1860, as part of his study of psychophysics, Fechner studied human sensation using thresholds and just-noticeable differences (Fox, 2021). He described the threshold as the point between where the mind/soul is consciously aware of physical stimulation, and where the mind/soul is not consciously aware of this information (Fox, 2021). This implies that there must be some conditions that allow some stimulations to occur unconsciously, and other conditions that allow stimulation to occur consciously (Fox, 2021). Essentially, there must be some relationship between the physical world and the mind/soul’s awareness of it. Why is this important?**
The way in which Fechner studied psychophysics became a newly emerging scientific psychology. His methods inspired Wilhelm Wundt, a physician and neurophysiologist who created the first laboratory where the conscious experience could be scientifically studied (Fox, 2021). Why is this important?** Wundt felt that this study of the conscious experience was best done through Fechner’s psychophysics, which allowed understanding of the complexity of the unconscious mind (Fox, 2021). Overtime, Wundt and Fechner developed a close relationship, illustrated by the fact that Wundt edited and published Fechner’s Theory of Measuring Collectives and Elements of Psychophysics after Fechner’s death (Fox, 2021). Wundt remembered Fechner as the father of psychophysics (Fox, 2021).
Fox, C.R. (2021). The man who introduced Soul to Science: Gustav Theodor Fechner. Paradigm