Classics in the History of Psychology

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

(Return to index)

Classics Editor's note: The original page numbers of the Judd translation are given in square brackets. The page numbers given in round brackets are Wundt's own references to earlier parts of the translation.

Outlines of Psychology

Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)

Translated by Charles Hubbard Judd (1897)



1. The normal state of consciousness upon which the discussion of the foregoing paragraphs has been based may undergo such a variety of changes that general psychology must give up the attempt to discuss them in detail. Then, too, the more important of these changes, namely, those which are observed in the various forms of nervous diseases, brain diseases, and insanity, belong to special branches of pathology which border upon psychology and are more or less dependent upon it. All that psychology can do is to indicate the main psychical conditions for such abnormal states of consciousness. We may distinguish in general, in accordance with what has been said about the attributes of psychical processes and their interconnection in consciousness three kinds of such conditions. They may consist 1) in the abnormal character of the psychical elements, 2) in the way psychical compounds are constituted, and 3) in the way psychical compounds are combined in consciousness. As a result of the intimate interconnection of these different factors it scarcely ever happens that one of these three conditions, each of which may appear in the most various concrete forms, is operative alone; but they usually unite. The abnormal character of the elements results in the abnormity of the compounds, and this in turn brings about changes in the general interconnection of conscious processes.

2.The psychical elements, sensations, and simple feelings, show only such changes as result from some disturbance in the normal relation between them. and their psycho-physical conditions. For sensations such changes may be reduced to [p. 268] an increase or decrease of the sensitivity for stimuli (by hyper-aesthesia, and anaesthesia) resulting especially from the of certain physiological influences in the sensory centres. The most important psychological symptom in this case is the increased excitability which is one of the most common components of complex psychical disturbances. In similar fashion,. changes in the simple feelings betray themselves in states of depression or exaltation as a decrease or increase in the affective excitability. These different states may be recognized from the way in which the emotions and volitional process occur. Thus, changes in the psychical elements can be demonstrated only by the influence that they exercise on the character of the various psychical compounds.

3. The defects in ideational compounds arising from peripheral or central anaesthesia are generally of limited importance. They have no far-reaching effect on the interconnection of psychical processes. It is essentially different with the relative increase in the intensity of sensations resulting from central hyperaesthesia. Its effect is especially important because under such circumstances reproduced sensational elements may become as intense as external sense-impressions. The result may be that a pure memory-image is objectified as a sense-perception. This is an hallucination. Or, when elements axe united which are partly from direct external: stimulation, partly from reproduction, the sense-impression may be essentially modified through the intensity of the reproduced elements. The result is then an illusion of fancy.[1] [p. 269]

The two are not always distinguishable. In many cases, to be sure, particular ideas can be shown to be illusions of fancy, but the presence of pure hallucinations is almost always doubtful because it is so easy to overlook some direct sensational elements. In fact, it is by no means improbable that the great majority of so-called hallucinations are illusions. These illusions are in their psychological character nothing but assimilations (p. 228 sq.). They may be defined as assimilations in which the reproduced elements predominate. Just as normal assimilations are closely connected with successive associations, so for the same reason the illusions of fancy are closely related to the changes in the associative ideational processes to be discussed later (5).

4. In the case of complex affective and volitional processes the abnormal states of depression and exaltation are clearly distinguishable from the normal condition. The state of depression is due to the predominance of inhibitory, asthenic emotions, that of exaltation to a predominance of exciting, asthenic emotions, while at the same time we observe, in the first case a retardation or complete checking of resolution, in the second an exceedingly rapid, impulsive activity of the motive. In this sphere it is generally more difficult to draw the line between normal and abnormal conditions than in that of ideational compounds, because even in normal mental life the affective states are continually changing. In pathological cases the change between states of depression and exaltation, which are often very striking, appear merely as an intensified oscillation of the feelings and emotions about an indifference-condition (pp. 34, 80). States of depression and exaltation are especially characteristic symptoms of general psychical disturbances; their detailed discussion must therefore be left to psychical pathology. General psychical disturbances are always symptoms of diseases of the brain, so [p. 270] that these abnormities in affective and volitional processes are doubtless accompanied, like those of the sensations and ideas, by physiological changes. The nature of these changes is, however, still unknown. We can only surmise, in accordance with the more complex character of affective processes, either. that they are more extensive than the changes in central, excitability accompanying hallucinations and illusions, or that they effect the central cortical regions directly concerned in apperceptive processes.

5. Connected with these changes in the sensory excitability and with states of depression and exaltation, there are regularly simultaneous changes in the interconnection and course of psychical processes. Using the concept consciousness that we employ to express this interconnection (p. 203), we may call these changes abnormal changes of consciousness. So long as the abnormity is limited to the single psychical compounds, ideas, emotions, and volitions, consciousness is of course changed because of the changes in its components, but we do no speak of an abnormality of consciousness itself until not merely the single compounds, but their combinations also exhibit some noticeable abnormities. These always arise, to be sure, when the elementary disturbances become greater, since the combination of elements to compounds and of compounds with one another are processes that pass continuously into each other.

Corresponding to the different kinds of combination that make up the interconnection of consciousness (p. 223), there may be distinguished in general three kinds of abnormities of consciousness: 1) changes in the associations, 2) changes in the apperceptive combinations, and 3) changes in the relation of the two forms of combination to each other.

6. Changes in associations are the first to result directly from the elementary disturbances. The increase of sensory [p. 271] excitability changes normal assimilations into illusions of fancy, and this results in an essential disturbance in the associative processes of recognition (p. 237): sometimes that which is known appears to be unknown, and then again what is unknown appears familiar, according as the reproduced elements are connected with definite earlier ideas, or are derived from perceptions that have only a remote relation to one another. Then, too, the increased sensory excitability tends to accelerate the association, so that the most superficial connections, occasioned by accidental impressions or by habit, are the ones that predominate. The states of depression and exaltation, on the other hand, determine mainly the quality and direction of the association.

In similar manner the elementary ideational and affective change influence apperceptive combinations, either retarding or accelerating them, or else determining their direction. Still, in these cases all marked abnormities in ideational or affective processes result in an increase, to a greater or less degree, of the difficulty of carrying out the processes connected with active attention, so that often only the simpler apperceptive combinations are possible, sometimes even only those which through practice have become simple associations. Connected with the last fact mentioned are the changes that take place in the relation between apperceptive and associative combinations. The influences discussed so far are in the main favorable to associations, but unfavorable to apperceptive combinations, and one of the most frequent symptoms of a far-reaching psychical abnormity is a great preponderance of associations. This is most obvious when the disturbance of consciousness is a continually increasing process, as it is in many cases of insanity. It is then observed that the functions of apperception upon which so-called imagination and understanding are based, are more and more supplanted [p. 272] by associations, until finally the latter are all that remains of the disturbance progresses still further, the associations gradually become more limited and confined to certain habitual combinations (fixed ideas). Finally this state gives place to one of complete mental paralysis.

7. Apart from mental diseases in the strict sense of the term the irregularities of consciousness just discussed are to be found in two conditions that appear in the course of normal life: in dreams and hypnosis.

The ideas of dreams come, at least to a great extent, from sensations, especially from those of the general sense, and are therefore mostly illusions of fancy, probably only, seldom pure memory-ideas that have become hallucinations. The decrease of apperceptive combinations in comparison with associations is also striking, and goes to explain the frequent modifications and exchanges of self-consciousness, the confusion of the judgment, etc. The characteristic of dreams that distinguishes them from other similar psychical states, is to be found, not so much in these. positive, as in their negative attributes. The increase of excitability which is attested by the hallucinations, is limited entirely to the sensory functions, while in ordinary sleep and dreams the external volitional activity is completely inhibited.

When the fanciful ideas of dreams are connected with corresponding volitional acts, we have the very infrequent phenomena of sleep-walking, which are related to certain forms of hypnosis. Motor concomitants are generally limited to articulations, and appear as talking in dreams.

8. Hypnosis is the name applied to certain states related to sleep and dreams and produced by means of certain definite psychical agencies. Consciousness is here generally in a condition halfway between waking and sleeping. The main cause of hypnosis is suggestion, that is, the communi- [p. 273] cation of an idea strong in affective tone. This generally comes in the form of a command from some other person (outward suggestion), but may sometimes be produced by the subject himself, when it is called autosuggestion. The command or resolution to sleep, to make certain movements, to see objects not present or not to see objects that are present, etc., -- these are the most frequent suggestions. Monotonous stimuli, especially tactual stimuli are helpful auxiliaries. Then, too, there is a certain disposition of the nervous system of still unknown character, which is necessary for the rise of the hypnotic state and is increased when the state is repeatedly produced.

The first symptom of hypnosis is the more or less complete inhibition of volition, connected with a concentration of the attention on one thing, generally the commands of the hypnotizer (automatism). The subject not only sleeps at command, but retains in this state any position that is given him, however unnatural (hypnotic catalepsy). If the sleep becomes still deeper the subject carries out movements as directed, to all appearances automatically, and shows that ideas suggested to him appear like real objects (somnambulism). In this last state it is possible to give either motor or sensory suggestions to go into effect when the subject awakes, or even at some later time (terminal suggestions). The phenomena that accompany such "posthypnotic effects" render it probable that the latter are due either to a partial persistence of the hypnosis or (in the case of terminal suggestions) to a renewal of the hypnotic state.

9. It appears from all these phenomena that sleep and hypnosis are related states, differing only in that their mode of origin is different. They have as common characteristics the inhibition of volition, which permits only passive apperception, and a disposition toward aroused excitability in [p. 274] the sensory centres that brings about an assimilation of the sense-impressions which results in hallucinations. The characteristics that distinguish them are the complete inhibition of volition in sleep, especially of the motor functions, and the concentration in hypnosis of the passive attention on one thing. This concentration is conditioned by suggestion and is at the same time favorable to the reception of further suggestions. Still, these differences are not absolute, for in sleep-walking the will is not completely inhibited, while on the other hand it is inhibited in the first lethargic stages of hypnosis just as in ordinary sleep.

Sleep, dreams, and hypnosis are, accordingly, in all probability, essentially the same in their psychophysical conditions. These conditions are specially modified dispositions to sensational and volitional reactions, and can therefore, like all such dispositions, be explained on their physiological side only by assuming changes in the activity of certain central regions. These changes have not yet been investigation directly. Still, we may assume from the psychological symptoms that they consist in the inhibition of the activity in the regions connected with processes of volition and attention, and in the increase in the excitability of sensory centres.

9a. It is then, strictly speaking, a physiological problem to formulate a theory of sleep, dreams, and hypnosis. Apart from the general assumption based on psychological symptoms, of an inhibition of activity in certain parts of the cerebral cortex, and increase in the activity of other parts, we can apply only .one general neurological principle with any degree of probability. That is the principle of compensation of functions, according to which the inhibition of the activity of one region is always connected with an increase in the activity of the others interrelated with it. This interrelation may be either direct, neurodynamic, or indirect, vasomotoric. The first is probably due to the fact that energy which accumulates in one region as the [p. 275] result of inhibition, is discharged through the connecting fibres into other central regions. The second is due to contraction of the capillaries as a result of inhibition and a compensating dilation of the blood-vessels in other regions. The increased blood supply due to this dilation is in turn attended by an increase in the activity of the region in question.

Dreams and hypnosis are often made the subjects of mystical and fanciful hypotheses, in some cases even by psychologists. We hear of increased mental activity in dreams and of influence of mind on minds at a distance in dreams and hypnosis. Especially hypnotism has been used in modern times, in this way, to support superstitious spiritualistic ideas. In connection with "animal magnetism", which may be completely explained by the theory of hypnosis and suggestion, and in connection with "somnambulism", there are a great many cases of self-deception and intentional humbug. In reality all that can stand the light of thorough examination in these phenomena is in general readily explicable on psychological and physiological grounds; what is not explicable in this way has always proved on closer examination to be superstitious self-deception or intentional fraud.

[1] The expression "illusions of fancy" is used when this class of illusions is to be distinguished from the sense-illusions that appear in the normal state of consciousness, as, for example, the radiating for in of the stars, which is due to the refraction of light in the crystalline lens, or the varying apparent size of the sun or moon at the horizon and at the zenith.