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Lecture 5

PSYC 215 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Logic Theorist, Aphorism, Christian Von Ehrenfels

Course Code
PSYC 215
John Lydon

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The Würzburgers, by contrast, designed experiments in which the experimental subject was
presented with a complex stimulus (e.g., a Nietzschean aphorism or a logical problem) and after
processing it for a time (e.g., interpreting the aphorism or solving the problem), retrospectively
reported to the experimenter all that had passed through his consciousness during the interval. In
the process, the Würzburgers claimed to have discovered a number of new elements of
consciousness (over and above Wundt's sensations, feelings, and images)
including Bewußtseinslagen(conscious sets), Bewußtheiten (awarenesses),
and Gedanken (thoughts). In the English-language literature, these are often collectively termed
"imageless thoughts", and the debate between Wundt and the Würzburgers as the "imageless
thought controversy."Wundt referred to the Würzburgers' studies as "sham" experiments and
criticized them vigorously. Wundt's most significant English student, Edward Bradford
Titchener, then working at Cornell, intervened in the dispute, claiming to have conducted
extended introspective studies in which he was able to resolve the Würzburgers imageless
thoughts into sensations, feelings, and images. He thus, paradoxically, used a method of which
Wundt did not approve in order to affirm Wundt's view of the situation.
The imageless thought debate is often said to have been instrumental in undermining the
legitimacy of all introspective methods in experimental psychology and, ultimately, in bringing
about the behaviorist revolution in American psychology. It was not without its own delayed
legacy, however.Herbert A. Simon (1981) cites the work of one Würzburg psychologist in
particular, Otto Selz (18811943), for having inspired him to develop his famous problem-
solving computer algorithms (e.g., Logic Theorist and General Problem Solver) and his "thinking
out loud" method for protocol analysis. In addition, Karl Popper studied psychology under
Bühler and Selz, and appears to have brought some of their influence, unattributed, to his
philosophy of science.
Whereas the Würzburgers debated with Wundt mainly on matters of method, another German
movement, centered in Berlin, took issue with the widespread assumption that the aim of
psychology should be to break consciousness down into putative basic elements. Instead, they
argued that the psychological "whole" has priority and that the "parts" are defined by the
structure of the whole, rather than vice versa. Thus, the school was named Gestalt, a German
term meaning approximately "form" or "configuration." It was led by Max Wertheimer (1880
1943), Wolfgang Köhler(18871967), and Kurt Koffka (18861941). Wertheimer had been a
student of Austrian philosopher, Christian von Ehrenfels (18591932), who claimed that in
addition to the sensory elements of a perceived object, there is an extra element which, though in
some sense derived from the organization of the standard sensory elements, is also to be regarded
as being an element in its own right. He called this extra element Gestalt-qualität or "form-
quality." For instance, when one hears a melody, one hears the notes plus something in addition
to them which binds them together into a tune the Gestalt-qualität. It is the presence of
this Gestalt-qualität which, according to Von Ehrenfels, allows a tune to be transposed to a new
key, using completely different notes, but still retain its identity. Wertheimer took the more
radical line that "what is given me by the melody does not arise ... as a secondary process from
the sum of the pieces as such. Instead, what takes place in each single part already depends upon
what the whole is", (1925/1938). In other words, one hears the melody first and only then may
perceptually divide it up into notes. Similarly in vision, one sees the form of the circle first it is
given "im-mediately" (i.e. its apprehension is not mediated by a process of part-summation).
Only after this primary apprehension might one notice that it is made up of lines or dots or stars.
Gestalt-Theorie was officially initiated in 1912 in an article by Wertheimer on the phi-
phenomenon; a perceptual illusion in which two stationary but alternately flashing lights appear
to be a single light moving from one location to another. Contrary to popular opinion, his
primary target was not behaviorism, as it was not yet a force in psychology. The aim of his
criticism was, rather, the atomistic psychologies of Hermann von Helmholtz (18211894),
Wilhelm Wundt (18321920), and other European psychologists of the time.
The two men who served as Wertheimer's subjects in the phi experiment were Köhler and
Koffka. Köhler was an expert in physical acoustics, having studied under physicist Max
Planck (18581947), but had taken his degree in psychology under Carl Stumpf (18481936).
Koffka was also a student of Stumpf's, having studied movement phenomena and psychological
aspects of rhythm. In 1917 Köhler (1917/1925) published the results of four years of research on
learning in chimpanzees. Köhler showed, contrary to the claims of most other learning theorists,
that animals can learn by "sudden insight" into the "structure" of a problem, over and above the
associative and incremental manner of learning that Ivan Pavlov (18491936) and Edward Lee
Thorndike (18741949) had demonstrated with dogs and cats, respectively.
The terms "structure" and "organization" were focal for the Gestalt psychologists. Stimuli were
said to have a certain structure, to be organized in a certain way, and that it is to this structural
organization, rather than to individual sensory elements, that the organism responds. When an
animal is conditioned, it does not simply respond to the absolute properties of a stimulus, but to
its properties relative to its surroundings. To use a favorite example of Köhler's, if conditioned to
respond in a certain way to the lighter of two gray cards, the animal generalizes the relation
between the two stimuli rather than the absolute properties of the conditioned stimulus: it will
respond to the lighter of two cards in subsequent trials even if the darker card in the test trial is of
the same intensity as the lighter one in the original training trials.
In 1921 Koffka published a Gestalt-oriented text on developmental psychology, Growth of the
Mind. With the help of American psychologist Robert Ogden, Koffka introduced the Gestalt
point of view to an American audience in 1922 by way of a paper in Psychological Bulletin. It
contains criticisms of then-current explanations of a number of problems of perception, and the
alternatives offered by the Gestalt school. Koffka moved to the United States in 1924, eventually
settling at Smith College in 1927. In 1935 Koffka published his Principles of Gestalt Psychology.
This textbook laid out the Gestalt vision of the scientific enterprise as a whole. Science, he said,
is not the simple accumulation of facts.What makes research scientific is the incorporation of
facts into a theoretical structure. The goal of the Gestaltists was to integrate the facts of
inanimate nature, life, and mind into a single scientific structure. This meant that science would
have swallow not only what Koffka called the quantitative facts of physical science but the facts
of two other "scientific categories": questions of order and questions of Sinn, a German word
which has been variously translated as significance, value, and meaning. Without incorporating
the meaning of experience and behavior, Koffka believed that science would doom itself to
trivialities in its investigation of human beings.