Gustav Fechner – Founder of psychophysics


Gustav Fechner

Gustav Theodor Fechner
(April 19, 1801, Groß Särchen, near Muskau, Lower Lusatia, (now  Żarki Wielkie in commune Trzebiel, Poland) – November 28, 1887, Leipzig, Germany)
Nationality: Germany
Category: Scientists
Occupation: Psychologists, PhilosophersWriters
Specification: Psychophysics
Unique distinction: Founder of psychophysics, one of the founders of modern experimental psychology.
Gender: Male
1. Those only have had great influence in the world who have recognized the spiritual tendency of the time in which they lived and have directed their free action and thought into that tendency.
2. Man lives on earth not once, but three times: the first stage of his life is his continual sleep; the second, sleeping and waking by turns; the third, waking forever.
3. A Goethe, a Schiller, a Napoleon, a Luther, still live among us, thinking and acting in us, as awakened creative individuals…
4. The mind of man is alike indistinguishably his own possession and that of the higher intelligences, and what proceeds from it belongs equally to both always, but in different ways.
5. Have the best constantly in mind, and be careful only that the memory that you yourself are to leave behind shall be a blessing to you in the future.
6. One beloved person is parted from another, a wife from a husband, a mother from a child.
7. …many souls will mutually strengthen each other in the greater part of their nature. 8. Those souls, however, which have seized together upon a form or an idea of truth, beauty, or goodness in their eternal purity, remain thereby united to all eternity.
9. And so dead geniuses and saints are the true mediators between God and man; partaking of the thought of God they are able to convey it to man.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: Gustav Fechner was a German experimental psychologist, philosopher, physicist and writer.
The main contribution to (what is known): He was an early pioneer in experimental psychology and founder of psychophysics.

Contributions to psychology: 

He postulated that mind and body, though appearing to be separate entities, are actually different sides of one reality. He also developed experimental procedures, still useful in experimental psychology, for measuring sensations in relation to the physical magnitude of stimuli.
Philosophically Fechner defended a monism in which the one world can be seen in one way physically and in the other mentally.
Experimentally he sought to confirm this insight by discovering close quantitative relationships between conscious experience and physiological stimulus, eventually discovering the law that the intensity of a sensation increases as the log of the stimulus characterizes psychophysical relations.
(S = k log R)
where S is the sensation,
R is the stimulus.
This law proved the existence of an evidence-based connection between body and psyche. This formula was named the Fechner-Weber law because it is based on the theory of the just-noticeable difference, advanced earlier by Ernst Heinrich Weber.
He developed experimental procedures for measuring sensations in relation to the physical magnitude of stimuli.
He proposed the three methods of measurement were the method of just-noticeable differences, the method of constant stimuli, and the method of average error.  According to the authorities, the method of constant stimuli, called also the method of right and wrong cases, has become the most important of the three methods.
In philosophy he was also an animist, maintaining that life is manifest in all objects of the universe.
Fechner called his conception Tagesansicht (Day Vision), unlike his contemporary materialism – Nachtansicht (Night Vision). His greatest achievement was in the investigation of exact relationships in psychology and aesthetics. He demonstrated that since the mind can be measurable and understood mathematically, it is possible to calculate in psychology.
He hoped to organize psychophysics and metaphysics in a way that united philosophy and the human sciences. In 1865 Fechner’s interest turned to the study of the basic aesthetic principles of art.  In 1876 he published his famous Vorschule der Aesthetik .
Fechner’s experimental method became the basis for experimental psychology and later inspired Wilhelm Wundt, who created the first scientific Psychological laboratory.
Sigmund Freud admired Fechner as the pioneer of psychophysics and a founder of scientific and experimental psychology. He attended Fechner’s lectures in Leipzig in 1874. He called him “The great G. T. Fechner.”
William James, who did not care for quantitative analysis or the statistical approach in psychology, dismisses the psychophysic law as an “idol of the den,” the psychological outcome of which is nothing.
Major works: Nunn, or the Mental life of plants (Nanna, oder des Seelenleben der Pflanzen, 1848); Zend-Avesta, or the Phenomena of the heavens and the future life (Zend-Avesta, oder über die Dinge des Himmels und des Jenseits, 1851), Elements of Psychophysics (Elementen der Psychophysik) (1860), Certain ideas on the creation and development of organisms (1873), Introduction to the Aesthetics (Vorschule der Aesthetik) (1876),On the subject of psychophysics (In Sachen der Psychophysik) (1877), Day Vision against Night Vision (Die Tagesansicht gegenüber der Nachtansicht) (1879), Revision of the Principles of psychophysics (Revision der Hauptpunkte der Psychophysik) (1882). Gustav Fechner published chemical and physical papers. Also under the name “Dr. Mises” he also wrote humorous satire.

Career and personal life:

Origin: Gustav Fechner was born at Groß Särchen (near Muskau), Saxony, where his father was pastor. When he was five years old his father died.
Education:  He was educated by his uncle, who was also a pastor. He was educated at Sorau and Dresden and at the University of Leipzig, where he attended Weber’s lectures on physiology. In this city, he spent the rest of his life.

Career highlights:

 Although he was educated in biological and medical science, Fechner turned to mathematics and physics.
In 1834 he was appointed professor of physics at the University of Leipzig, but in 1839 he fell ill with an eye disorder while studying the phenomena of colour and experimenting on afterimages by gazing at the sun. After much suffering, he resigned and isolated himself from the world for 3 years. Later Fechner described his experiences while ill and the existential crisis and depression that followed.
Subsequently recovering, Fechner developed his interest in sensation and panpsychism, he turned to the study of the mind and its relations with the body.
He authored many books and monographs on such diverse subjects as medicine, esthetics, and experimental psychology.
He started to recover in 1842 and competed for this in the mid-40s. In 1851 he was allowed back at Leipzig. In the course of this second creative period, he set out the foundations of psychophysics, such as the Fechner-Weber law, by which he is remembered as a founder of experimental psychology.
His two-volume Elemente der Psychophysik was published in 1860. From about 1865 he delved into experimental aesthetics and sought to determine by actual measurements which shapes and dimensions are most aesthetically pleasing.

Personal life: 

Fechner was the brother of portrait painter and an etcher Eduard Clemens Fechner and of Clementine Wieck Fechner, who was the stepmother of Clara Wieck, a famous German musician and composer.
In 1833 Fechner married Clara Maria Volkmann, the sister of his friend  Alfred W. Volkmann, a famous physiologist, anatomist, and philosopher, who also worked at the University of Leipzig.  Gustav and Clara had no children.
Gustav Fechner died in 1889 at the age of 88.
Zest: While still a student, he began writing articles that satirized contemporary science.  Francis Galton in a letter in 1875 praised him for having laid “the foundation of a new science” in his Elements book. It seems, Fechner, discovered his own law, intuitively – at the one sleepless night on October 22, 1850.
Later, it will become clear that Fechner’s law is not universal and is valid only within certain limits. Each year, psychophysicists celebrate 22 October as Fechner Day In his writings, Fechner always opposed materialism, starting with “The little book about the afterlife” (Das Büchlein vom Leben nach dem Tode, 1836)