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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Research Article| February 01 2021
Fechner on a Walk: Everyday Investigations of the Mind-Body Relationship
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (2021) 51 (1): 1–47.
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Joshua Bauchner; Fechner on a Walk: Everyday Investigations of the Mind-Body Relationship. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 February 2021; 51 (1): 1–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2021.51.1.1
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