The Physical Body and The Rise of Psychology as a Discipline

How does the rise of human interest in the nature and structure of the physical body related to the eventual rise of psychology as a discipline? Please provide specific examples in your response.

I have always been captivated by Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” quote. I suppose before someone could try to explain, through our faculties of reason, that God exists they must first prove that they exist themselves. Oddly, Descartes was so wrong on the mechanics of the central nervous system (CNS) though. He apparently believed that the CNS worked on a system of hydraulics, controlled by a soul situated in the pineal gland. His mistake can be forgiven though because he lacked the knowledge that nerves were indeed not hollow. However, Descartes did represent a new age of philosophy in his own time, an age that brought with it testable, verifiable explanations of human behavior. This transition from purely philosophical (reason driven) explanations of human behavior to a more empirical, materialistic approach is in large part what sparked the rise of psychology as a scientific discipline. Without the mechanism of verifiable experimentation based on scientific research, psychology was inevitably relegated to the realm of phrenology and the like. Nevertheless, the advances of Berkley in our understanding of optics, Helmholtz and the refutation of vitalism, Flourens’ unmasking of phrenology, and Hitzig and Fritsch with their mapping of the relative localization of motor centers in the brain; acted to bring psychology out of the dark alley of relative opinion and mysticism into the bright light scientific experimentation.

References

Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2 nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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