The titles and headings that Wundt used in his work were as much a part of understanding his work as the theories themselves. In the case of his Principles of Physiological Psychology, (1902 edition) the categories he provided served as more than simply an outline. They provided a direction, resonating with the significance of organization that Wundt brought to psychology: Part I, "The Bodily Substrate of the Mental Life;" Chapter I, "The Organic Evolution of Mental Function;" and, Section 1, "The Criteria of Mind and the Range of the Mental Life." His first paragraph for that edition presented the guiding force, not only for this treatise, but for his entire, lifelong investigation. He wrote that:
The mental functions form a part of the phenomena of life. Wherever we observe them, they are accompanied by the processes of nutrition and reproduction. On the other hand, the general phenomena of life may be manifested in cases where we have no reason for supposing the presence of mind. Hence the first question that arises, is an inquiry concerning the bodily substrate [defined here as the foundation, or core element upon which a force acts to cause change or motion] of mentality, is this: What are the characteristics that justify our attributing mental functions to a living body, an object in the domain of animate nature?
Wundt was not the first scientist to begin such an investigation, and he conducted his research at a time when the destination of such an inquiry remained unknown. He was like an engineer who tears down a building that he has analyzed from its pinnacle, examining each piece of the demolished structure to see how the whole had been created from the parts. In the case of human beings and the state of their mental life, Wundt began with the top of the pyramid—the human—and worked his way down to the smallest organism capable of sustaining life. His stated his mission this way:
Here, upon the very threshold of physiological psychology, we are confronted with unusual difficulties. The distinguishing characteristics of mind are of a subjective sort; we know them only from the contents of our own consciousness. But the question calls for objective criteria, from which we shall be able to argue to the presence of a consciousness. Now the only possible criteria of the kind consist in certain bodily movements, which carry with them an indication of their origin in psychical processes.
According to one biographical profile, Wundt's fame was "based principally on his having founded an experimental psychological science." Many critics and historians have suggested that his views and research were not as important as the methods he established for psychological investigation. Even Helmholtz declared that Wundt's experiments were "sloppy," and not up to his standards. The question remains whether Wundt has been represented fairly by observers and critics throughout history.
Wundt's basic tool of introspection became the guiding force for his research as well as for others' investigations. His ultimate goal was to understand human consciousness and the mental processes that composed the elements of it. His underlying approach to testing would later become known as structuralism, particularly under the American interpretation of Wundt's methods.
Was this article helpful?