Article ID: CBB085736438

Fechner on a Walk: Everyday Investigations of the Mind-Body Relationship (2021)


The Leipzig physicist Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–88) is best known for his introduction of psychophysics, an exact, empirical science of the relations between mind and body and a crucial part of nineteenth-century sensory physiology and experimental psychology. Based on an extensive and close reading of Fechner’s diaries, this article considers psychophysics from the vantage of his everyday life, specifically the experience of taking a walk. This experience was not mere fodder for his scientific practice, as backdrop, object, or tool. Rather, on foot, Fechner pursued an investigation of the mind-body parallel to his natural-scientific one; in each domain, he strove to render the mind-body graspable, each in its own idiom, here everyday and there scientific. I give an account of Fechner’s walks as experiences that he both undertook and underwent, that shaped and were shaped by the surrounding everyday cacophony, and that carried a number of competing meanings for Fechner himself; the attendant analysis draws on his major scientific work, Elemente der Psychophysik (1860; Elements of Psychophysics), as the thick context that renders the walks legible as an everyday investigation. What results are three modes of walking—physiopsychical, interpersonal, and universal—each engaging the mind-body at a different level, as also engaged separately in Elemente’s three major sections, outer psychophysics, inner psychophysics, and general psychophysics beyond the human. This analysis ultimately leads to a new view of Fechner’s belief in a God who was “omnipresent and conscious in nature” and whom Fechner encountered daily on his walks in the budding of new blooms and rustling of the wind. More broadly, I aim to bring the analysis of everyday experiences as experiences into the historiography of science.

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Authors & Contributors
Zudini, Verena
Robinson, David K.
Stephen W. Link
Danielle Coriale
Mitchell, Micky R.
Stephen A. Tedeschi
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of Psychology
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Sudhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift fuer Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society
Russian Review
The University of Alabama
University of California, Los Angeles
Cambridge University Press
Mind and body
Experimental psychology
Discipline formation
Fechner, Gustav Theodor
Wundt, Wilhelm Max
Weber, Ernst Heinrich
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
17th century
21st century
20th century, late
Edinburgh (Scotland)
Leipzig (Germany)
United States
University of Edinburgh
Københavns Universitet (Copenhagen)

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