Article ID: CBB206423864

Sensory studies, or when physics was psychophysics: Ernst Mach and physics between physiology and psychology, 1860–71 (2021)


This paper highlights the significance of sensory studies and psychophysical investigations of the relations between psychic and physical phenomena for our understanding of the development of the physics discipline, by examining aspects of research on sense perception, physiology, esthetics, and psychology in the work of Gustav Theodor Fechner, Hermann von Helmholtz, Wilhelm Wundt, and Ernst Mach between 1860 and 1871. It complements previous approaches oriented around research on vision, Fechner’s psychophysics, or the founding of experimental psychology, by charting Mach’s engagement with psychophysical experiments in particular. Examining Mach’s study of the senses and esthetics, his changing attitudes toward the mechanical worldview and atomism, and his articulation of comparative understandings of sensual, geometrical, and physical spaces helps set Mach’s emerging epistemological views in the context of his teaching and research. Mach complemented an analytic strategy focused on parallel psychic and physical dimensions of sensation, with a synthetic comparative approach – building analogies between the retina, the individual, and social life, and moving between abstract and sensual spaces. An examination of the broadly based critique that Mach articulated in his 1871 lecture on the conservation of work shows how his historical approach helped Mach cast what he now saw as a narrowly limiting emphasis on mechanics as a phase yet to be overcome.

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Authors & Contributors
Itagaki, Ryoichi
Blackmore, John T.
Regt, Henk De
Visser, Henk
Blackmore, J. T.
Tanaka, S.
Perspectives on Science
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of Psychology
Journal for General Philosophy of Science
Physics in Perspective
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Edizioni ETS
Kluwer Academic
Tokai University Press
Sentinel Open Press
University of California, Los Angeles
Cambridge University Press
Philosophy of science
History of philosophy of science
Senses and sensation; perception
Mach, Ernst
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Fechner, Gustav Theodor
Stumpf, Carl
Schrödinger, Erwin
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
United States
Vienna (Austria)
Prague (Czechia)
Københavns Universitet (Copenhagen)
Marburg School of Philosophy

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