Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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Outlines of Psychology

Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)

Translated by Charles Hubbard Judd (1897)



1. All our ideas are at once spacial and temporal. Just as the conditions for the spacial arrangement of impressions belong originally only to the tactual and visual senses, and just as spacial relations are only secondarily carried over from these to all other sensations, so there are only two kinds of sensations, namely, the inner tactual sensations from movements and the auditory sensations, which are the primary sources of temporal ideas. Still, there is a characteristic difference between spacial and temporal ideas in the fact that in the first the two senses mentioned are the only ones which can develop an independent spacial order, while in the second the two most important kinds of sensation are merely those in which the conditions are most favorable for the rise of temporal ideas. These conditions are not entirely wanting, however, for any sensations. This indicates that the psychological bases of temporal ideas are more general, and that they are not determined by the special structures of particular sense-organs. It follows from this fact that even when we abstract from the ideas that enter into any series of psychical processes, and take account only of the subjective phenomena accompanying the ideas, such as feelings and emotions, we still ascribe to the affective processes thus isolated through abstraction exactly the same temporal attributes as to the ideas. In philosophy the conclusion has generally been drawn from this fact that time is a "universal form of perception", that is, there is absolutely no psychical content that does not have a position in time, though such content may exist without spacial attributes. This conclusion that time-perception is more universal, arising, as it does, from the greater universality of the conditions of such perception, is erroneous and is not confirmed by psychological observation. [p. 143]

In the same way that we carry over spacial attributes from the two senses that give us space-pereeption to other kinds of sensations, we also give them secondarily to feelings and affective processes through the sensations and ideas inseparably connected with them. It may with equal right be doubted whether affective processes in themselves, without their related ideas, would have temporal attributes, for among the conditions of a temporal order are certain attributes of the sensational elements of ideas. The real facts in the case are that our ideas and, therefore, since ideas enter into every psychical experience, all psychical contents are at once spacial and temporal. The spacial order arises from certain particular sensational elements: in normal cases where vision is present from visual, in blindness, from tactual impressions; while time-ideas can arise from all possible sensations.

2. Temporal compounds like spacial and in contrast to intensive ideas, are characterized by the definite, unchangeable order of their component elements. If this order is changed, the given compound becomes another, even though the quality of its components remains the same. In special compounds, however, this unchangeableness of the order refers only to the relation of the elements to one another, not to the relation of the elements to the ideating subject. In temporal compounds, on the other hand, when the relation of one element is changed with regard to other elements, it is at the same time changed with regard to the ideating subject. There is no change of position in time analogous to that possible in the case of space-compounds.

2a. This property of the absolute, strictly speaking unchangeable, relation of every temporal compound and every time-element, however short, to the ideating subject, is what we call the flow of time. Every moment in time filled by any content whatever has, on account of this flow, a relation to [p. 144] the ideating subject that no other moment can be substituted for it. With space the case is just reversed: the very possibility of substituting any spacial element in its relation to the subject for any other element whatever, is what gives rise to the idea of constance, or absolute duration, as we express it, by applying a time-idea to a space-idea. The idea of absolute duration, that is of time in which no change takes place, is strictly speaking impossible in time-perception itself. The relation to the subject must change continually. We speak of an impression as lasting, when its single periods in time are exactly alike so far as their sensational contents are concerned, so that they differ only in their relation to the subject. The concept of duration when applied to time is, therefore, a merely relative concept. One time-idea may be more lasting than another, but no time-idea can have absolute duration, for without the double relation of different sensations to one another and to the ideating subject, no such ideas at all could arise. Even an unusually long unchanging sensation can not be retained. We interrupt it continually with other sensational contents.

We may, however, separate the two temporal relations always united in actual experience, that of the elements to one another and to the ideating subject, since each is connected with certain particular attributes of time-ideas. In fact, this separation of the two relations found its expression in particular words for certain forms of occurrence in time even prior to an exact psychological analysis of time-ideas. If the relation of the elements to one another is alone attended to, without regard to their relation to the subject, temporal modes come to be discriminated, such, for example, as brief, long, regularly repeating, irregularly changing, etc. If, on the contrary, the relation of the subject is attended to and the objective forms of occurrence abstracted from, we have as the chief forms of this relation the temporal stages past, present, and future.


3. The orginal development of temporal ideas belongs to touch. Tactual sensations, accordingly, furnish the general substratum for the rise of both the spacial and temporal [p. 145] arrangements of ideational elements (p. 104, 3). The spacial functions of touch, however, come from the outer tactual sensations, while the inner sensations which accompany movements are the primary contents of the earliest temporal ideas.

The mechanical properties of the limbs are important physiological bases for the rise of these ideas. The arms and legs can be moved in the shoulder-joints and hip-joints by their muscles, and are at the same time subject to the action of gravitation drawing them downward. As a result there are two kinds of movements possible for them. First, we have those which are continually regulated by voluntary activity of the muscles and may, therefore, be indefinitely varied and accommodated at every moment to the existing needs -- we will call these the arhythmical movements. Secondly, we have those in which the voluntary energy of the muscles is operative only so far as it is required to set the limbs oscillating in their joints and to maintain this movement -- rhythmical movements. We may neglect for our present consideration the arhythmical movements exhibited in the various uses of the limbs. Their temporal attributes are in all probability derived from the rhythmical movements, and only a very indefinite comparison of the duration of irregular movements is possible.

4. With rhythmical movements the case is different. Their significance for the psychological development of time-ideas is due to the same principle which gives them their importance as physiological organs, namely, the principle of the isochronism of oscillations of like amplitude. In walking, the regular oscillations of our legs in the hip-joints not only make the muscular energy expended less, but reduce to a minimum the continual voluntary control of the movements. Furthermore, in natural walking the arms are supplementary aids. [p. 146]

Their oscillation is not interrupted at every step like that of the legs by the placing of the foot on the ground, so that they furnish because of their continuity a means for the more uniform regulation of their movements.

Every suite period of oscillation in such a movement is made up of a continuous succession of sensations that are repeated in the following period in exactly the same order. The two limits of the period are marked by a complex of outer tactual sensations: the beginning by the impression accompanying the removal of the foot from the ground, the end by that accompanying its return to the ground. Between these there is a continuous series of weak inner tactual sensations from the joints and muscles. The beginning and end of this series of inner sensations coincide with the outer sensations and are more intense than those between them. They arise from the impulse of movement coming to the muscles and joints and from the sudden inhibition of the same, and serve also to mark off the periods.

Connected with this regular succession of sensations is a regular and exactly parallel series of feelings. If we consider a single period in a series of rhythmical movements, there is always at its beginning and end a feeling of fulfilled expectation. Between the two limits of the period, beginning with the first movement, is a gradually growing, feeling of strained expectation, which suddenly sinks at the last moment from its maximum to zero, to make place for the rapidly rising and sinking feeling of fulfillment. From this point on the same series is again repeated. Thus, the whole process of a rhythmical of a touch-environment consists, on its affective side, of two qualitatively antagonistic feelings. In their general character these feelings belong to the direction of straining. and relaxing feelings (p. 83). One is a momentary feeling, that is, one that rises very rapidly to its maximum and then [p. 147] sinks with equal rapidity; the other is a feeling of long duration which gradually reaches a maximum and then suddenly disappears. As a result, the most intense affective processes are crowded together at the extremities of the periods, and are made all the more intense through the contrast between the feeling of satisfaction and the preceding feeling of expectation. Just in the same way that this sharply marked limit between the single periods has its sensational substratum in the strong outer and inner tactual impressions that arise at this instant, as above mentioned, so we have a complete correspondence between the gradual rise of the feeling of expectation and the continuous series of weaker inner tactual sensations accompanying the oscillatory movements of the limbs.

5. The simplest temporal ideas of touch are made up of the rhythmically arranged sensations that follow one another with perfect uniformity in the manner described, when like oscillatory movements are repeatedly carried out. But even in ordinary walking a slight tendency toward a somewhat greater complication arises; the beginning of the first of two successive periods is emphasized, both in the sensation and in the accompanying feeling, more than the beginning of the second. In this case the rhythm of movement begins to be metrical. In fact, such a regular succession of accented and unaccented ideas corresponds to the simplest measure, 2/8 time. It arises easily in ordinary walking because of the physiological superiority of the right side, and appears very regularly when several persons are walking together in marching. In the latter case even more than two periods may be united into one rhythmical unit. The same is true of the complicated rhythmical movements of the dance. But in such composite tactual rhythms the auditory temporal ideas have a decided influence. [p. 148]


6. The attribute of the auditory sense which most of all adapts it to the more accurate apprehension of the temporal relations in external processes, is the exceedingly short persistence of its sensations after the external stimulation; so that any temporal succession of sounds is reproduced with almost perfect fidelity in the corresponding succession of sensations. In close connection with this we have certain psychological properties of temporal auditory ideas. In the first place, they differ from temporal ideas of touch in that often only the extremities of the single intervals that go to make up the total idea, are marked by sensations. In such a case the relations of such intervals to one another are estimated essentially by the apparently empty or heterogeneously filled intervals that lie between the limiting sensations.

This is especially noticeable in the case of rhythmical auditory ideas. There are in general two possible forms of such ideas: continuous or only rarely interrupted successions of relatively lasting sensations, and discontinuous successions of strokes, in which only the extremities of the rhythmical periods are marked by external sounds. For a discontinuous succession of entirely uniform sounds the temporal attributes of the ideas are in general more apparent than for lasting impressions, since in the former case the influences of the tonal qualities are entirely wanting. We may confine our consideration to discontinuous series, because the principles that apply here hold for continuous successions also. In fact, the rhythmical division in the latter case, as may be easily observed, is made by means of certain single accents which are either given in the external impression or abitrarily applied to it. [p. 149]

7. A series of regular strokes made in this way as the simplest form of temporal auditory ideas, is distinguished from the simplest form of temporal touch-ideas, described above (p. 147), mainly by the absence of all objective sensational content in the intervals. The external impressions here do nothing but divide the separate intervals from one another. Still, the intervals of such a series are not entirely empty, but are filled by subjective affective and sensational contents which correspond fully to those observed in tactual ideas. Most emphatic of all are the affective contents of the intervals. These feelings in their successive periods of gradually rising and suddenly satisfied expectation, are the same as in the course of a rhythmical tactual movement. Even the sensational substratum for these feeling is not entirely absent; it is merely more variable. Sometimes it is nothing but the sensations of tension of the tympanum in their various intensifies. Then again it is the accompanying sensations of tension from other organs, or finally other sensations of movement in cases where an involuntary rhythmical movement is connected with the auditory series. But on account of the changeable character and generally small intensity of these motor sensations, the affective processes in auditory ideas 'are very much more clearly perceptible.

It follows from the conditions described that the influence of the subjective elements on the character of time-ideas is the easiest to demonstrate. First of all, this shows itself in the effect which different rates of the sensations have on the formation of temporal ideas. It is found that there is a certain medium rate of about 0.2 sec. which is most favorable for the union of a number of successive auditory impressions. Now, it is easy to observe that this is the rate at which the above mentioned subjective sensations and feelings are most emphatic in their alternation. If the rate is [p. 150] made much slower, the strain of expectation is too great and passes into an unpleasurable feeling which becomes more and more unendurable. If, on the contrary, the rate is accelerated, the rapid alternation of feelings becomes fatiguing. Thus, in both directions limits are approached where the synthesis of the impressions into a rhythmical time-idea is no longer possible. The upper limit is about one second, the lower about 0.1 sec.

8. Then again, this influence of the course of our sensations and feelings upon our apprehension of temporal intervals, shows itself just as clearly ill the changes that our idea of such an interval undergoes when the conditions of its apprehension are varied without changing its objective length. Thus, it has been observed that in general a period divided into intervals is estimated as longer than one not so divided. We have here a phenomenon analogous to that observed in the illusion with interrupted lines (p. 125). The overestimation is generally much greater for temporal intervals. This is obviously due to the fact that the oft repeated alternation in sensations and feelings in an interval of time have a much greater influence than the interruption of the movement through points of division in the case of the similar spacial illusion. Furthermore, if in a long series of regular beats single impressions are emphasized by their greater intensity, or by some qualitative peculiarity, the uniform result is overestimation of the intervals preceding and following the emphasized impression, in comparison with the other intervals of the same series. If, however, a certain rhythm is produced successively with weak and then with strong beats, the rate appears slower in the first case than in the second.

These phenomena are also explicable from the influence of the sensational and affective changes. An impression distinguished from the rest, demands a change in the [p. 151] course of the sensations, and especially of the feelings, preceding its apprehension, for there must be a more intense strain of expectation and a, correspondingly stronger feeling of relief or satisfaction. The feeling of expectation lengthens the interval preceding the impression, the feeling of relief that following. The case is different when the whole series is made up at one time of weak impressions, and at another of strong ones. In order to perceive a weak impression we must concentrate our attention upon it snore. The sensations of tension and the accompanying feelings are, accordingly, more intense, as may be easily observed, for weaker beats than for stronger ones. Here too, then, the different intensifies of the subjective elements that give rise to them are reflected in the differences between temporal ideas. The effect is, therefore, not only lost, but even reversed, when we compare not weak with strong but strong with still stronger beats.

9. The tendency found in the case of rhythmical touch-ideas for at least two like periods to unite and form a regular metrical unit shows itself in auditory ideas also, only in a much more marked degree. In tactual movements, where the sensations that limit the single periods are under the influence of the will, this tendency to form a rhythmical series shows itself in the actual alternation of weaker and stronger impressions. With auditory sensations, on the other hand, where the single impressions can be dependent only on external conditions, and are, therefore, objectively exactly alike, this tendency may lead to the following characteristic illusion. In a series of beats which are exactly alike in intensity and are separated by equal periods of time, certain single beats, occurring at regular intervals, are always heard as stronger than the others. The time that most frequently arises when there is nothing to determine it, is the 2/8-time, that is, the regular alternation of arses and theses. A slight [p. 152] modification of this, the 3/8-time, where two unaccented follow one accented beat, is also very common. This tendency to mark time can be overcome only by an effort of the will, and then only for very fast or very slow rates, where, from the very nature of the series, the limits of rhythmical perception are nearly reached. For medium rates, which are especially favorable to the rise of rhythmical ideas, a suppression of this tendency for any length of time is hardly possible. If the effort is made to unite as many impressions as possible in a unitary time-idea, the phenomena become more complicated. We have accents of different degrees which alternate in regular succession with unaccented members of the series and thus, through the resulting divisions of the whole into groups, umber of impressions that may be comprehended in a single idea is considerably increased. The presence of two different grades of accent gives 3/4-time and 5/8-time, the presence of three grades gives 4 /4-time and 6/4-time, and as forms with three feet we have 9/8-time and 12/8-time. More than three grades of accentuation or, when the unaccented note is counted, more than four grades of intensity, are not to be found in either musical or poetical rhythms, nor can we produce more by voluntarily formation of' rhythmical ideas. Obviously, these three grades of accentuation mark the limits of the possible complexity of temporal ideas, in a way analogous to that in which the maximal number of included beats (§15, 6) marks the limits of their length.

The phenomenon of subjective accentuation and its influence on the sensation of rhythms, shows clearly that temporal ideas, like spacial ideas, are not derived from objective impressions alone, but that there are connected with these, subjective elements, whose character determines the apprehension of the objective impressions. The primary cause [p.153] of the accentuation of a particular beat is always to be found in the increased intensity of the preceding and concomitant feelings and sensations of movement. This increase in the intensity of the subjective elements is then carried over to the objective impression, and makes the latter also seem more intense. The strengthening of the subjective elements may be voluntary, through the increase of the muscular strain which produces sensations of movement, and in this way, finally results in a corresponding increase in the feelings of expectation; or this strengthening may take place without volition, when the effort to perceive a number of impressions together brings about an immediate articulation of the temporal idea through the corresponding subjective sensational and affective variations.


10. If we seek to account for the rise of temporal ideas on the basis of the phenomena just discussed, and of the regular combination of subjective sensational and affective elements with objective impressions, as it is there apparent; we must start with the fact that a sensation thought of by itself, can no more have temporal that it could have spacial attributes. Position in time can be possible only when single psychical elements enter into certain characteristic relations with other such elements. This condition of the union of a number of psychical elements holds for temporal ideas just as much as for those of space, but the kind of union is characteristic, and essentially different from that in space-ideas.

The members of a temporal series ab c d e f, can all be immediately presented as a single whole, when the series has reached just as well as if they were a series of points in space. In the latter case, however, they would, on ac- [p. 154] count of original ocular reflexes, be arranged in relation to the point of fixation, and this fixation-point could, at different times, be any one of the impressions a to f. In time-ideas, on the other hand, it is always the impression of the present moment in relation to which all the rest are arranged in time. When a new impression becomes, in a similar manner, the present impression, even though its sensational contents axe exactly the same as that of the earlier, still, it will be apprehended as subjectively different, for though the affective state accompanying a sensation may, indeed, be related to the feelings of another moment, the two can never be identical. Suppose, for example, that following the series a b c d e f, there is a second series of impressions, a' b' c' d' e' f' in which a' = a, b' = b, c' = c, etc., so far as their sensatiolial elements are concerned. Let us represent the accompanying feelings by a b g d e j and a' b' g' d' e' j' Then a and a', b and b', g and g', ect., will be similar feelings, because the sensations are the same; but they will not be identical, because every affective element depends not, only upon the sensation with which it is immediately connected but also upon the state of the subject as by the totality of its experiences. The state of the subject is different for each of the members of the series a' b' c' d'. . ., from what it was for the corresponding member of the series a b c d because when the impression a' arrives, a has been present, and so a' can be referred back to a, while no such thing was possible in the case of a. Analogous differences in the affective states show themselves in composite series when repeated. These states are never identical, however much the subjective conditions of the momentarily present feelings may agree, for every one of them has its characteristic relation to the totality of psychical processes. If we assume, for example, a succession of a number of similar series [p. 155] a b c d, a' b' c' d', a" b" c" d", etc., in which a equals a' and a", b equals b' and b", etc., so far as their sensational contents are concerned, still, a" differs from a' in its affective conditions, for a' can be referred back only to a, while a" can be referred back to both a' and a. Besides this, it is true that other differences between impressions like in themselves always ,trise from some chance accompanying sensations which influence the affective state.

11. Since every element of a temporal idea is arranged in relation to the impression immediately present, as above remarked, it follows that this present impression will have one of the attributes of the fixation-point in spacial compounds. It will be more clearly and distinctly perceived than other elements of the same idea. But there is a great difference in the fact that this most distinct perception is not connected, as in the case of spacial ideas, with the physiological organization of the sense-organ, but is due entirely to the general attributes of the ideating subject, as expressed in the affective processes. The momentary feeling accompanying the immediately present impression is what helps to its clearest apprehension. We may, accordingly, call the part of a temporal idea which forms the immediate impression the fixation-point of the idea or in general, since it does not depend on external structure, as does the fixation-point of spacial ideas, we may call it figuratively the inner fixation-point. The inner fixation-point is, then, that part of a temporal idea which corresponds to the most clearly ideated and the immediately present impression. The impressions that lie outside this point of fixation, that is, impressions that have preceded the present, are directly perceived. They are arranged in a regular gradation of diminishing degrees of clearness, from the fixation-point. A unitary temporal idea is possible only so long as the degree of clear- [p. 156] ness for each of its elements has some positive value. When the clearness of any element sinks to zero, the idea divides into its components.

12. The inner fixation-point of the temporal senses differs essentially from the outer fixation-point of the spacial senses, in that its character is primarily determined, not by sensational, but by affective elements. Since these affective elements are continually changing, in consequence of the varying conditions of psychical life, the inner fixation-point is also always changing. This change of the inner fixation-point is called the continuous flow of time. By continuous flow we mean to express the fact that no moment of time is like any other, and that no such moment can return (cf. sup. p. 143, 2 a). This fact is connected with the one-dimensional character of time, which is due to this very circumstance, that the inner fixation-point of temporal ideas is continually moving forward, so that a single point can never recur. The arrangement of time in one dimension, with reference always to a changing point of fixation, in which the subject represents itself, is what gives rise to the result that the elements of time-Ideas have a fixed relation, not only with respect to one another, but also with respect to the ideating subject (p. 143, 2).

13. If we try to give an account of the means for the formation of this reciprocally interdependent order of the parts of an idea, and of their determination in regard to the ideating subject, it is obvious that these means can be nothing but certain of the elements of the idea itself,, which, considered in themselves, have no temporal attributes, but gain such attributes through their union. We may call these elements temporal signs, after the analogy of local signs. The characteristic conditions for the development of temporal ideas indicate from the first that these temporal signs are, [p. 157] in the main, affective elements. In the course of any rhythmical series every impression is immediately characterized by the concomitant feeling of expectation, while the sensation is of influence only in so far as it arouses the feeling. This may be clearly perceived when a rhythmical series is suddenly interrupted. Furthermore, the only sensations that are never absent as components of all time-ideas are the sensation of movement. In the case of tactual ideas these sensations of movement belong to the immediate elements of the ideas themselves, in auditory and other compounds that are brought into the time form, they are always present as subjective accompanying phenomena. We may, accordingly, regard the feelings of expectation as the qualitative, the sensations of movement as the intensive, temporal signs of a temporal idea. The idea itself must then be looked upon as a fusion of the two kinds of temporal signs with each other and with the objective sensations arranged in the temporal form. Thus, the sensations of movement, as a series of intensive sensations, give a uniform measure for the arrangement of the objective sensations as characterized in quality by the concomitant feelings.

13 a. The sensations of movement play a similar part in the formation of both time-ideas and space-ideas. This like sensational substratum leads very naturally to a recognition of a relation between these two forms of perception, which finds its expression in the geometrical representation of time by a straight line. Still, there is an essential difference between the complex system of temporal signs and the systems of local signs in the fact that the former is based primarily, not on the qualitative attributes of sensations, connected with certain special external sense-organs, but on feelings which may come in exactly the same way from the most widely differing kinds of sensation, since they are not dependent on the objective content of these sensations, but on their subjective synthesis. These characteristics [p. 158] of time-ideas account for the universal significance that we attribute to them. This was what was improperly expressed in the Kantian principle, that time is a "form of the inner sense". This expression is to be criticised on the ground of its erroneous presupposition of an inner sense (p. 8 sq.)

Here again we have the same opposed natativist, and genetic theories on the psychological origin of time-ideas, as we had in the case of spacial-ideas (p. 114, 12a). In this case, however, nativism has never developed a theory in any proper sense. It usually limits itself to the general assumption that time is a "connate form of perception", without attempting to give any account of the influence of the elements and conditions of temporal ideas which can be actually demonstrated. The genetic theories of older psychology, as, for example, that of Herbart, seek to deduce time-perception from ideational elements only. This is, however, pure speculation and loses sight of the conditions given in actual experience.