Chapter 1: Problems and Methods of Psychology

James Rowland Angell

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Definition of Psychology.-- Psychology is commonly defined as the science of consciousness. It is the business of a science systematically to describe and explain the phenomena with which it is engaged. Chemistry, physics, and the various branches of biology all attempt to deal in this manner with some special portion of the facts or processes of nature. Mental facts, or facts of consciousness, constitute the field of psychology.

The Nature of Consciousness.-- Consciousness we can only define in terms of itself. Sensations, ideas, pains, pleasures, acts of memory, imagination, and will-these may serve to illustrate the experiences we mean to indicate by the term; and our best endeavour to construct a successful definition results in some such list, of which we can only say: " These taken together are what I mean by consciousness." A psychological treatise is really an attempt to furnish the essentials for such a catalogue.

It is generally maintained that despite our difficulty in framing a satisfactory definition of consciousness, we can at least detect one or two of its radical differences from the physical objects which make up the rest of our cosmos.

(2) These latter always possess position and extension, i.e., they occupy space. Psychical facts, or events, never do; on the other hand they possess one characteristic which, so far as we know, is wholly wanting to physical facts, in that they exist for themselves, A man not only has sensations and ideas, he knows that he has them. A stone or other physical object has no such knowledge of its own existence or of its own experiences. Yet, whatever may be the value of these distinctions, we need entertain no real fear of encountering tiny serious misapprehension of the inner nature of consciousness, for each one of us experiences it every day for himself and each is thus fitted to discuss it with some measure of accuracy.

Former Definitions of Psychology. -- Formerly psychology was often defined as the- science of the soul. But the word soul generally implies something above and beyond the thoughts and feelings of which we are immediately conscious; and as it is these latter phenomena with which psychology is primarily engaged, this definition is now rarely used by careful writers. Psychology is also defined at times as the science of mind. The objection to this definition is that the word mind ordinarily implies a certain continuity, unity, and personality, which is, indeed, characteristic of normal human beings; but which may, for all we can see, be wholly lacking in certain unusual psychical experiences like those of insanity, or those of dream states, and may be wanting at times in animals. All consciousness everywhere, normal or abnormal, human or animal, is the subject matter which the psychologist attempts to describe and explain; and no definition of his science is wholly acceptable which designates more or less than just this.

The Procedure of the Psychologist. -- In his description of conscious processes the psychologist attempts to point out the characteristic features of each distinguishable group of facts and of each member of such groups, and to show how they

(3) differ from one another. Thus, for example, the general group known as "sensations" would be described and marked off from the groups known as "feelings"; and the peculiarities of each form of sensation, such as the visual and tactile forms, would be described and distinguished from one another and from those belonging to the auditory form. The psychologist's explanations consist chiefly in showing (1) bow complex psychical conditions are made up of simpler ones, (2) how the various psychical groups which he has analysed grow and develop, and finally (3a) how these various conscious processes are connected with physiological activities, and (3b) with objects or events in the social and physical world constituting the environment.

The Fields of Psychology. -- In this book we shall be primarily concerned with the facts of normal human consciousness, its constitution, its modes of operation, and its development. But we shall avail ourselves, wherever possible, of useful material from the allied fields of child psychology, abnormal psychology, social psychology, and animal psychology.

Child psychology is occupied with the study of the mental processes of infants and young children, with special reference to the facts of growth. Abnormal psychology has to do (1) with the study of the unusual phases of conscious process, such as are met with in trance, hallucinations, hypnotism, etc.; and is concerned (2) with the more definitely diseased forms of mentality, such as characterise insanity. Social psychology, in its broadest sense, has to do mainly with the psychological principles involved in those expressions of mental life which take form in social relations, organisations, and practices, e. g., the mental attributes of crowds and mobs as contrasted with the mental characteristics of the individuals constituting them. A branch of social psychology, often known as folk psychology, or race psychology, is concerned with the psychical attributes of peoples, especially

(4) those of primitive groups as contrasted with civilised nations. Animal psychology is engaged with the study of consciousness, wherever, apart from man, its presence can be detected throughout the range of organic life. The four last-mentioned branches of psychology taken together are sometimes spoken of as comparative psychology, in distinction from the psychology which describes facts concerning normal adult human beings. Those phases of psychology which touch particularly upon the phenomena of development, whether racial or individual, are sometimes spoken of as genetic psychology.

The Methods of Psychology. (1) Introspection. -- The fundamental psychological method is introspection. Introspection means looking inward, as its derivation indicates. As a psychological method it consists simply in the direct examination of one's own mental processes. Much mystery has been made of the fact that the mind can thus stand off and observe its own operations, and criticism has been lavishly devoted to proving the impossibility of securing scientific knowledge in any such fashion as this. But it is an undeniable fact that by means of memory we are made aware of our mental acts, and we can trace in this manner by careful and systematic observation many of the rudimentary facts and principles peculiar to human consciousness. When a number of -us cooperate in such introspective observation, we greatly augment the exactness and the breadth of our results, and the accepted doctrines of psychology have actually been established by the successive observations of many investigators in much this manner.

(2) Direct Objective Observation. -- Moreover, we are able to supplement introspection by immediate objective observation of other individuals. It is thus possible, for example, to detect much which is most characteristic of the emotions, such as anger and fear, by watching the actions of persons about us and noting their expressions, their gestures, etc.

(5) The facts which we thus obtain must of course be interpreted in terms of our direct knowledge of our own experience, gained introspectively. But such observation of others often makes us sensitive to psychological processes in ourselves, which we should otherwise overlook. Finally, it is clear that our psychological facts, whether gained from observation of ourselves, or of others, before they can become of scientific value, must be made the subject of careful reflection and systematic arrangement; otherwise they would be purely haphazard, disconnected fragments, with no more meaning than any other collection of odds and ends. The need of such orderly reasoned arrangement is no more and no less true of the psychological facts gained by observations of others, or by introspection, than it is of physical facts discovered in any realm of science. The facts of gravity had been noticed again and again, but it required the ordering mind of a Newton to set them in intelligent array. Whenever we speak of direct observation, or of introspection, as methods, we shall understand, therefore, this systematic and scientific use of the terms. All the other psychological methods which we shall mention are simply developments of introspection, either in the direction of systematising and perfecting its employment, or of applying its results interpretatively in fields not open to its immediate application; for example, the field of animal consciousness.

(3) Experiment. -- Experimental psychology, sometimes spoken of as " the new psychology," or the " laboratory psychology," is perhaps the most vigorous and characteristic psychological method of the present day. It is simply an ingenious system for bringing introspection under control, so that its results can be verified by different observers, just as the result of a chemical experiment may be verified by anyone who will repeat the conditions. In every branch of science an experiment consists in making observations of phenomena under conditions of control, so that one may know just what

(6)causes are at work in producing the results observed. A psychological experiment is based on precisely the same principle.

(4) Physiological Psychology and (5) Psychophysics. -- Physiological psychology and psychophysics, which are both closely connected, in spirit and in fact, with experimental psychology, are especially devoted to investigating the relations between consciousness on the one hand, and the nervous system and the physical world on the other. Much of physiological psychology, and all of psychophysics, is experimental so far as concerns the methods employed. They both furnish information supplementary to that gathered by ordinary introspection.

The Psychologist's Standpoint. --In our study of mental pr ocesses we shall adopt the biological point of view just now dominant in psychology, and regard consciousness, not as a metaphysical entity to be investigated apart from other things, but rather as one among many manifestations of organic life, to be understood properly only when regarded in connection with life phenomena. We shall discover, as we go on, abundant reason for the belief that conscious processes and certain nervous processes are indissolubly bound up with one another in the human being. But at this point, without attempting to justify the assertion, we may lay it down as a basal postulate that the real human organism is a psychophysical organism, and that the mental portion of it is not to be completely or correctly apprehended without reference to the physiological portion. The psychophysical Organism is, moreover, a real unit. The separation of the mind from the body which we commonly make in thinking about them is a separation made in behalf of some one of our theoretical or practical interests, and as such, the separation is often serviceable. In actual life experience, however, the two things are never separated. Therefore, although our primary task is to analyse and explain mental facts, we shall attempt

(7) to do this in closest possible connection with their accompanying physiological processes.

Our adoption of the biological point of view, while it implies no disrespect for metaphysics, will mean not only that we shall study consciousness in connection with physiological processes wherever possible, but it will also mean that we shall regard all the operations of consciousness-all our sensations, all our emotions, and all our acts of will-as so many expressions of organic adaptations to our environment, an environment which we must remember is social as well as physical. To the biologist an organism represents a device for executing movements in response to the stimulations and demands of the environment. In the main these movements are of an organically beneficial character, otherwise the creature would perish. Mind seems to be the master device by means of which these adaptive operations of organic life may be made most perfect. We shall consequently attempt to see in what particulars the various features of consciousness contribute to this adaptive process. Let it not be supposed that such a point of view will render us oblivious, or insensitive, to the higher and more spiritual implications of consciousness. On the contrary, we shall learn to see 'these higher implications with their complete background, rather than in detachment and isolation.

Psychology and Natural Science. -- In one important particular the method of psychology follows the procedure of the natural sciences, such as physics, botany, and geology. Psychology takes for itself a certain definite domain, i. e., consciousness as a life process. Moreover, it starts out with certain assumptions, or postulates, as they are called, about its subject matter, which it refuses to challenge. The chemist, for example, never stops. to inquire whether matter really exists or is, simply an illusion. He assumes its reality without question, and forthwith goes about his business. So the psychologist assumes in a common-sense way the reality of

(8) mind and the reality of matter. Nor does he question that mind can know matter. These assumptions prevent the necessity of his untangling the metaphysical puzzles which are involved at these -points, and leave him free to investigate his field in a purely empirical way. He also attempts, wherever possible, to emulate the natural scientist's use of the idea of causation. Our most reliable forms of knowledge about nature are based upon our knowledge of cause and effect relations. A great deal of our chemical knowledge is in this way exceedingly precise and exact; whereas the lack of such knowledge renders much of our acquaintance with disease extremely superficial and unreliable.

The subject matter of psychology evidently brings it into a distinctly universal relation to all the other sciences, for these sciences are severally engaged in the development of knowledge, and the knowledge-process is itself one of the subjects in which psychology is most interested.

Psychology and Biology.-- Inasmuch as psychology is occupied with life phenomena, it is clearly most nearly related to the biological sciences. Indeed,, as a natural science it obviously belongs to the biological group. This relationship is as close in fact as it is in theory. The modern psychologist makes frequent use of material furnished him by the anatomist, the physiologist, the zoologist, and the alienist, and he gives them in return, when he can, such psychological facts as they find it necessary to employ.

Psychology and Philosophy. -- Psychology has developed historically out of philosophy, and although it is now in many ways practically independent, its relations with philosophy are necessarily very intimate. The connection is particularly close with those branches of philosophy commonly called normative, i. e., ethics, logic, and aesthetics. These inquiries are primarily concerned with questions of right and wrong, truth and error, beauty and ugliness. It is evident that the profitable discussion of such problems must involve a know

(9) -ledge of the mental operations employed when we make a right or wrong choice, when we reason falsely or truly, when we experience pleasure in listening to music, etc. In a sense, therefore, psychology furnishes the indispensable introduction to these several philosophical disciplines. It affords an acquaintance with the mental processes which lead respectively to conduct, to knowledge, and to the creation and appreciation of art. It thus enables an intelligent apprehension of the problems which arise in these spheres, and furnishes much of the material essential for their solution. A similar thing is true, though in a less conspicuous and obvious way, of the relation of psychology to metaphysics, and to that form of metaphysical inquiry which formerly was known as rational psychology.

By rational psychology was commonly understood the in quiry into the conditions rendering the existence of consciousness possible. Evidently these inquiries, i. e., rational psychology and metaphysics, together with what is known as epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, are engaged with just such problems as underlie the assumptions of psychology and the natural sciences, e. g., the reality of matter, its independence of mind, etc. It is on this account that metaphysics -which fundamentally represents an effort to solve the problem of the ultimate -nature of matter and mind and their relation to one another -- is said to be the science of sciences. Although metaphysics is in this sense more fundamental than psychology, and logically antecedent to it, it is so extensively concerned with mental processes that a knowledge of psychology is commonly recognised as practically indispensable for its effective conduct or apprehension. All these branches of philosophy clearly involve, as does psychology, the study of consciousness in a certain sense. But whereas these distinctly philosophical disciplines are primarily interested in Some one or another of the implications and products of thought processes, psychology is interested primarily in the

(10) constitution and operation of consciousness itself. We may. question whether ultimately there are any hard and fast lines severing these philosophical inquiries from one another and from psychology. The distinctions are perhaps rather practical than ultimate. One inquiry inevitably shades off into the others.

Psychology and Education.-- Psychology is related to educational theory in much the way that it is to ethics. It may be said to be related to actual educational procedure as theory is to practice. Education has as its function the symmetrical development of the powers of the individual. What the natural relation may be among these faculties, what are the laws of their -unfolding, what the judicious methods for their cultivation or repression-these and a thousand similar practical questions can be answered by the assistance of psychological observation, or else not at all. The result which we desire to attain in our educational system must be, in a considerable measure, determined by the social and ethical ideals we have in view. But the securing of the results, the realising of the ideals which we have set up, through our educational machinery-this must be accomplished, if we would work with true insight and not by blind experiment, through a real knowledge of human mental processes. We shall keep constantly before us in this book the facts of growth and the facts of adaptation to the demands of the environment. Clearly these are the facts of practical significance for educational procedure.


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