THE BEGINNINGS OF THE MENTAL LIFE DATE FROM THE BEGINNINGS OF LIFE
The idea that non-human animals have minds and are capable of some form of thought dates back to the ancient Greek philosophers.Aristotle believed that there are three kinds of mind: plant, animal, and human.The plant mind is concerned only with nutrition and growth.
The animal mind has these functions, but can also experience sensations, such as pain, pleasure, and desire, as well as initiating motion.The human mind can do all this and reason; Aristotle claims that only humans have self-awareness and are capable of higher-level cognition.
The similarity of humans to animals was a critical issue for philosophers, but even more so for psychologists.In the 15th century, the French philosopher René Descartes claimed that animals are no more than reflex-driven, complex machines.If Descartes was correct, observing animals could tell us nothing about our own behaviour.
However, when Charles Darwin asserted some 200 years later that humans are linked to other animals genetically, and that consciousness operates from the creatures at the very lowest end of the evolutionary scale to ourselves, it became clear that experiments on animals might be revealing.
This was the position held by the German physician, philosopher, and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, who described a continuum(连续体) of life from even the smallest animals to ourselves. In his book Principles of Physiological Psychology, he claimed that consciousness is a universal possession of all living organisms, and has been since the evolutionary process began.
To Wundt, the very definition of life includes having some kind of mind. He declared: “From the standpoint of observation, then, we must regard it as a highly probable hypothesis that the beginnings of the mental life date from as far back as the beginnings of life at large.The question of the origin of mental development thus resolves itself into the question of the origin of life”.
Wundt went on to say that even simple organisms such as protozoa(原生动物) have some form of mind.This last claim is surprising today, when few people would expect a single-celled animal to demonstrate even simple mental abilities, but it was even more surprising when first stated more than 100 years ago.
Wundt was keen to test out his theories, and he is often called “the father of experimental psychology” because he set up the world’s first formal laboratory of experimental psychology in Leipzig University, Germany, in 1879. He wanted to carry out systematic research on the mind and behaviour of humans, initially through subjecting the basic sensory(感觉的) processes to close examination.
His laboratory inspired other universities in the USA and Europe to set up psychology departments, many of which were modelled on(模仿) his original laboratory and were led by pupils such as Edward Titchener and James Cattell.
Wundt’s laboratory set the style for psychology departments around the world.His experiments moved psychology out of the domain of philosophy and into that of science.
Wundt believed that “the exact description of consciousness is the sole aim of experimental psychology”.Although he understood consciousness as an “inner experience”, he was only interested in the “immediately real” or apparent form of this experience.This ultimately led him to the study of behaviour, which could be studied and quantified by “direct observation”.
Wundt said that there are two types of observation: external and internal. External observation is used to record events that are visible in the external world, and is useful in assessing relationships such as cause and effect on physical bodies – for example, in stimulus and response experiments.
If a nerve fibre in a dead frog is given a small electric shock, the connecting muscles twitch(抽搐), causing the legs to move.The fact that this happens even in a dead animal illustrates that such movements can occur without any consciousness.In living creatures, such actions are the basis of the automatic behaviour that we call “reflexes(反射)”, such as immediately moving your hand when you touch something hot.
Wundt’s second type of observation, termed “introspection(内省)” or “self-observation”, is internal observation.This involves noticing and recording internal events such as thoughts and feelings.It is crucial in research because it provides information about how the mind is working.
Wundt was interested in the relationship between the inner and outer worlds, which he did not see as mutually exclusive, but as interactive, describing it as “physical and psychical(心理的)”.He began to concentrate on the study of human sensations, such as the visual sensation of light, because these are the agencies that link the external physical world and the internal mental world.
In one experiment, Wundt asked individuals to report on their sensations when shown a light signal – which was standardized to a specific colour and a certain level of brightness, and shone for a fixed length of time.This ensured that each participant experienced exactly the same stimulus, enabling responses of different participants to be compared and the experiment to be repeated at a later date, if required.
In insisting upon this possibility for replication(复制), Wundt set the standard for all future psychological experiments.In his sensory(感觉的) experiments, Wundt set out to explore human consciousness in a measurable way.He refused to see it as an unknowable, subjective experience that is unique to each individual.
In the light-response experiments, he was particularly interested in the amount of time between a person receiving some form of stimulus and making a voluntary reaction to it (rather than an involuntary one), and he used various instruments to measure this response exactly.He was also just as interested to hear what his participants reported in common as he was in apparent individual differences.
Pure sensations, Wundt suggested, have three components: quality, intensity, and “feeling-tone”.For example, a certain perfume may have a sweet odour (quality) that is distinct but faint (intensity) and is pleasant to smell (feeling-tone), while a dead rat might give off a nauseating(令人恶心的) (quality), strong (intensity) stench(恶臭) (feeling-tone).
All consciousness originates in sensations, he said, but these are not internalized(内在化) as “pure” sensory data;instead, they are perceived as already collected or compounded into representations, such as a dead rat.Wundt called these “images of an object or of a process in the external world”.
So, for example, if we see a face with certain features – mouth shape, eye colour, nose size, and so on – we may recognize the face as a person we know.
"The exact description of consciousness is the sole aim of experimental psychology."
Our sensations provide details of shape, size, colour, smell, and texture, but when these are internalized, Wundt says, they are compounded into complex representations, such as a face.
Categories of consciousness
Based on his sensory experiments, Wundt claimed that consciousness consists of three major categories of actions – representation, willing, and feeling – which together form an impression of a unitary(统一的) flow of events.Representations are either “perceptions”, if they represent an image in the mind of an object perceived in the external world (such as a tree within eyesight), or “intuitions” if they represent a subjective activity (such as remembering a tree, or imagining a unicorn(独角兽)).
He named the process through which a perception or intuition becomes clear in consciousness “apperception(统觉)”. So, for example, you may perceive a sudden loud noise and then apperceive(统觉) that it is a warning sign, meaning that you are about to be hit by a car if you don’t get out of the way quickly enough.
The willing category of consciousness is characterized by the way it intervenes in the external world; it expresses our volition(意志), or “will”, from raising an arm to choosing to wear red. This form of consciousness is beyond experimental control or measurement.
However, Wundt found that the third category of consciousness, feeling, could be measured through subjective reports from experimental participants, or through measuring levels of behaviour such as tension and relaxation or excitement.
For Wundt, the psychological development of a person is determined not only by sensations but also by complex social and cultural influences, which cannot be replicated(重复的) or controlled in an experimental situation.He included religion, language, myths, history, art, laws, and customs among these influences, discussing them in a ten-volume work, Cultural Psychology, which he wrote during the last 20 years of his life.
Wundt saw language as an especially important part of culture’s contribution to consciousness.Any verbal communication begins with a “general impression”, or unified idea of something we wish to say.Having “apperceived” this general starting point, we then choose words and sentences to express it.
While speaking, we monitor the accuracy of the intended meaning.We might say, “No, that’s not right, I mean…”, and then choose a different word or phrase to express ourselves better. Whoever is listening has to understand the meaning that the speaker is trying to convey, but the actual words may not be as important as the general impression, especially if strong emotions are involved.
As evidence of the fact that we use this process, Wundt points out that we often remember the general meaning of what a person has said long after we’ve forgotten the specific words that were used. The ability to use true language, as opposed to just exchanging limited signs and signals, is today considered by many psychologists to be a key difference between human beings and the rest of the animal kingdom.
There may be a few exceptions, including non-human primates(灵长类) such as chimpanzees(黑猩猩), but language is generally considered to be a human ability that is very important in consciousness.
"In the course of normal speaking… the will is continuously directed to bringing the course of ideas and the articulatory movements into harmony with each other."
Consciousness and species
The definition of consciousness continues to be debated, but it has not fundamentally changed since Wundt. The level of consciousness within animals has not yet been established, and this has led to the formation of special Codes of Ethics for animal experiments, intensive farming, and blood sports such as fox hunting and bull fighting.
Of particular concern is whether animals experience discomfort, fear, and pain in ways that resemble the form in which we feel them ourselves. The fundamental question of which animals have self-awareness or consciousness remains unanswered, although few psychologists today would assume, as Wundt did, that it applies even to the microscopic protozoa(原生动物).
"The beginnings of a differentiation of mental function can be found even in the protozoa."
Even single-celled organisms have some form of consciousness, according to Wundt. He suggested the amoeba’s(变形虫的) ability to devour(吞噬) food items indicates a continuity of mental processes.
MORE TO KNOW…
- 5th century Ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato claim that animals have a low level, distinctly non-human consciousness.
- 1630s René Descartes says that animals are automata(机器人) without feeling.
- 1859 British biologist Charles Darwin links humans to animal ancestors.
- 1949 Konrad Lorenz changes the way people see animals by showing their similarities to humans in King Solomon’s Ring.
- 2001 American zoologist Donald Griffin argues in Animal Minds that animals have a sense of the future, complex memory, and perhaps consciousness itself.
Born in Baden (now Mannheim, Germany), Wilhelm Wundt was the fourth child in a family with a long history of intellectual achievement.His father was a Lutheran minister.The young Wundt was allowed little time for play, as he was pushed through a rigorous educational regime, attending a strict Catholic school from the age of 13.
He went on to study at the universities of Berlin, Tübingen, and Heidelberg, graduating in medicine in 1856.Two years later, Wundt became assistant to the physician Hermann von Helmholtz, who was famous for his work on visual perception.While at Heidelberg, Wundt started teaching the world’s first course in experimental psychology, and in 1879 opened the first psychology laboratory. Wundt wrote over 490 works and was probably the world’s most prolific(多产的)scientific writer.
- 1863 Lectures on the Mind of Humans and Animals
- 1896 Outline of Psychology
- 1873 Principles of Physiological Psychology