Gustav Theodor Fechner: biography of the father of psychophysics

If interest in the human psyche has existed since antiquity, it is only with the contributions of Wilhelm Wundt and the creation by him of the first laboratory dedicated to his research that the birth of psychology is not considered to be a scientific discipline.

But the truth is that in addition to Wundt, other authors were of great importance in the beginnings and development of psychology as a science, being the first moments of it related to the creation of the psychophysics. In this sense the figure of Gustav stands out Theodor Fechner, considered the father of this discipline and of whom in this article a brief biography is presented.

    Brief biography of Gustav Theodor Fechner

    Son of a Protestant pastor, Gustav Theodor Fechner was born on April 19, 1801 in Gross-Särchen, Territory currently belonging to Germany. His initial education was traditional and in a religious field, the spiritual being an aspect which would have great importance in his life. Her father died of illness when Fechner was five years old. What followed was one of the most important careers in the scientific study of psychophysics.

    Years of training, marriage and teaching

    Fechner first became interested in medicine, starting his studies in this field at the Medizinisch-Chirurgische Akademie in Dresden. However, in 1818 he entered the University of Leipzig, where he met and worked with Weber. His interests ranged towards the world of physics. At 29, he met Clara Volkmann, With whom she would marry three years later. In 1834, a year after his marriage, he accepted a post at the university as professor of physics.

    It was when he began his research on color that he began to professionally show his interest in the psychic, work first with the perception of color and subjectivity with which it was captured, performing different experiments in this area.

    Brief incapacity and reflection on philosophy

    In 1840, Fechner suffered from a serious vision problem, Caused in large part by prolonged exposure of his retina to the sun, which would make him blind. The effects of blindness, along with the pressure he was subjected to as a college professor ended up rendering Fechner unfit to the point that he had to temporarily quit his post as a college professor. He suffered from deep depression for about three years.

    In this period of their life they grew up his concerns about the essence of things and metaphysical aspects such as the soul and the body. This author considered that the physical and the spiritual were not separate elements, but reflected different faces of the same reality. He argued that all living things have their own soul, and even inorganic matter has a spirit, a vision reminiscent of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. After three years, he came out of his depression to begin to experience feelings of well-being, euphoria and elation that he himself would call the pleasure principle.

    Interest in the metaphysical aspects of reality and the belief that body and mind are united will lead him to, when restored, he returned to the University of Leipzig as a professor, But this time of philosophy. In 1848 he published Nanna; oder Über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (Nanna or on the spiritual life of plants) and Zend-Avesta; oder Über die Dinge des Himmels und des Jenseits, von Standpunkt der Naturbetrachtung (Zend-Avesta or on things in the sky and beyond from the point of view of nature), two works which would deal with elements such as the connection between body and mind.

    The birth of psychophysics

    Fechner performed several experiments to demonstrate the body-mind connection, and for years searched for a mathematical model and equation that would determine the existence of a relationship between material and spiritual / mental aspects.

    His research includes the analysis and observation of models proposed by Weber and the observation of the existence of absolute and relative thresholds to the capture of stimuli, having a great importance in the improvement and the extension of the well known like “Weber’s Law”.

    In 1860, he systematized his works and discoveries and he published the book that would give birth to psychophysics as his own discipline, “Elements of Psychophysics”, in which he explores the mathematical and physical relationships between body and mind through the investigation of sensation and perception.

    He also explored aspects such as measurement errors, And his interest in the spiritual continued in aspects such as spiritualism or what is now known as parapsychology. He continues to publish several works devoted to different aspects, such as aesthetics, and broadens his interest and his research on subjects close to his principle of pleasure or humor.

      Death and legacy of Fechner

      Gustav Theodor Fechner died in November 1887 in Leipzig. His work was a remarkable breakthrough that allowed psychology to emerge as a science, influencing authors such as Wundt and Sigmund Freud.

      Psychophysics and resulting psychometryThere also remains an important part of current experimental psychology, in particular that related to behaviorism.

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