The History of Psychology: Reconstructing Psychology’s Past

Reconstructing Psychology’s Past.

One of the problems in general history is to gather the past’s information and to determine whether the findings are real documents. Also, drawing conclusions and assumptions out of the found documents is critical: the materials can be subject to incomplete, distorted, self-serving, or suppressed data; For example, witnesses may report misinterpreted, exaggerated, or even manipulated information about events or a certain person’s personality. Especially people who have or had gained popularity often report only an event that supports their own arguments or social image. The book referred to B. Skinner as an example.

The past has also shown that translations of documents written in foreign languages can lead to great misunderstandings. In the translations of Freud’s works, for example, the original German cues give a more accurate description of Freud’s ideas than any English translated version. Readers that read exclusively the English versions might not thoroughly grasp detailed parts or sections due to the inaccurate conversions into their native language.

Contextual Forces in Psychology

To better understand the historical events, the Zeitgeist of that era needs to be understood. Only through knowing the trends of a certain time, a researcher can base his or her assumptions about relations between a group of people and events of the past. Also, a better understanding of studies of people in the past in general can be achieved by knowing a lot of “surrounding” and accompanying aspects of that particular time.

The text refers to some special events and constraints on the development of modern psychology, such as economic opportunities; war; and prejudice against women, racial, or religious groups. However, in my opinion, those contextual forces stated in the book are quite general. Their impact on many other aspects of life was much more extreme than on the field of psychology.


Personalistic Theory and Naturalistic Conceptions of Scientific History

The personalistic theory states that an individual can change the course of science and bring in new knowledge to research on. People like Einstein and Hitler have performed undoubtedly radical change to the course of life at their time.


The naturalistic theory adds the Zeitgeist as the reason for such a development. The general idea of this theory is that the intellectual climate, trends, problems, and concerns of a certain time move the people to discover something.

The Spirit of Mechanism / The Clockwork Universe

The text argues that the era of mechanization has contributed a lot to the way of thinking about human functioning. After several major (re-) discoveries of chemical, mechanical, and physical laws in the 15th and 16th century, the idea of mechanism came up. This doctrine states that mental processes like thinking are mechanisms that could be explained by the laws of natural sciences. Being influenced by the way that automata like primitive “robots” and mainly clocks work, physicists like Galileo believed that the universe was composed of particles of matter in motion. The strict structure of the mechanism of a clock lead then to determinism, which stated that acts are determined by past events, and reductionism, which stands for multi-level abstraction of simple processes that emerge in a complex phenomenon or idea.

 The Beginnings of Modern Science

Rene Descartes discussed the mind-body problem and stated as one of the first that there must be a bi-directional interaction between mind and body since he observed that the body could also influence the mind. He also clarified that there are involuntary actions elicited by external stimuli which he called reflexes. He emphasized thereby that there’s no thought involved in that action; it is automatic.

John Locke can also be seen as a great thinker of his time. He analyzed there is elemental perceptive knowledge, which he called simple ideas, and complex ideas were formed through reflection and combining simple ideas. He also distinguished between primary qualities, which stand for perceivable real existing characteristics that can be seen, and secondary qualities that are characteristics subject to internal interpretation such as color, odor, etc.

However, George Berkeley disagreed on Locke’s primary qualities and introduced mentalism. Mentalism describes that there are only perceptions of physical objects; hence, the knowledge derived from that depends on the experiencing person (experiential learning).

David Hume and David Hartley focused on learning; Hume stated the Law of Resemblance and Contiguity, which holds that two ideas are more readily associated if they are similar or perceived successively.

The development during the 15th and 18th was an elementary change in the way the people were thinking and observing human functioning.

And There Is More

Below you will find a list of additional posts that are related to the history of psychology.
For the IT people out there, I’ve got a new post on Hyper-V backup and now it protect server farms and virtualized data centers.