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The Story of the Champions of the Round Table By Howard Pyle Characters: 27828

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Science. Before attempting to define psychology, it will be helpful to make some inquiry into the nature of science in general. Science is knowledge; it is what we know. But mere knowledge is not science. For a bit of knowledge to become a part of science, its relation to other bits of knowledge must be found. In botany, for example, bits of knowledge about plants do not make a science of botany. To have a science of botany, we must not only know about leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, etc., but we must know the relations of these parts and of all the parts of a plant to one another. In other words, in science, we must not only know, we must not only have knowledge, but we must know the significance of the knowledge, must know its meaning. This is only another way of saying that we must have knowledge and know its relation to other knowledge.

A scientist is one who has learned to organize his knowledge. The main difference between a scientist and one who is not a scientist is that the scientist sees the significance of facts, while the non-scientific man sees facts as more or less unrelated things. As one comes to hunt for causes and inquire into the significance of things, one becomes a scientist. A thing or an event always points beyond itself to something else. This something else is what goes before it or comes after it,-is its cause or its effect. This causal relationship that exists between events enables a scientist to prophesy. By carefully determining what always precedes a certain event, a certain type of happening, a scientist is able to predict the event. All that is necessary to be able to predict an event is to have a clear knowledge of its true causes. Whenever, beyond any doubt, these causes are found to be present, the scientist knows the event will follow. Of course, all that he really knows is that such results have always followed similar causes in the past. But he has come to have faith in the uniformity and regularity of nature. The chemist does not find sulphur, or oxygen, or any other element acting one way one day under a certain set of conditions, and acting another way the next day under exactly the same conditions. Nor does the physicist find the laws of mechanics holding good one day and not the next.

The scientist, therefore, in his thinking brings order out of chaos in the world. If we do not know the causes and relations of things and events, the world seems a very mixed-up, chaotic place, where anything and everything is happening. But as we come to know causes and relations, the world turns out to be a very orderly and systematic place. It is a lawful world; it is not a world of chance. Everything is related to everything else.

Now, the non-scientific mind sees things as more or less unrelated. The far-reaching causal relations are only imperfectly seen by it, while the scientific mind not only sees things, but inquires into their causes and effects or consequences. The non-scientific man, walking over the top of a mountain and noticing a stone there, is likely to see in it only a stone and think nothing of how it came to be there; but the scientific man sees quite an interesting bit of history in the stone. He reads in the stone that millions of years ago the place where the rock now lies was under the sea. Many marine animals left their remains in the mud underneath the sea. The mud was afterward converted into rock. Later, the shrinking and warping earth-crust lifted the rock far above the level of the sea, and it may now be found at the top of the mountain. The one bit of rock tells its story to one who inquires into its causes. The scientific man, then, sees more significance, more meaning, in things and events than does the non-scientific man.

Each science has its own particular field. Zo?logy undertakes to answer every reasonable question about animals; botany, about plants; physics, about motion and forces; chemistry, about the composition of matter; astronomy, about the heavenly bodies, etc. The world has many aspects. Each science undertakes to describe and explain some particular aspect. To understand all the aspects of the world, we must study all the sciences.

A Scientific Law. By law a scientist has reference to uniformities which he notices in things and events. He does not mean that necessities are imposed upon things as civil law is imposed upon man. He means only that in certain well-defined situations certain events always take place, according to all previous observations. The Law of Falling Bodies may be cited as an example. By this law, the physicist means that in observing falling bodies in the past, he has noticed that they fall about sixteen feet in the first second and acquire in this time a velocity of thirty-two feet. He has noted that, taking into account the specific gravity of the object and the resistance of the air, this way of falling holds true of all objects at about the level of the sea.

The more we carefully study the events of the world, the more strongly we come to feel that definite causes, under the same circumstances, always produce precisely the same result. The scientist has faith that events will continue to happen during all the future in the same order of cause and effect in which they have been happening during all the past.

The astronomer, knowing the relations of the members of the solar system-the sun and planets-can successfully predict the occurrence of lunar and solar eclipses. In other fields, too, the scientist can predict with as much certainty as does the astronomer, provided his knowledge of the factors concerned is as complete as is the knowledge which the astronomer has of the solar system. Even in the case of human beings, uncertain as their actions seem to be, we can predict their actions when our knowledge of the factors is sufficiently complete. In a great many instances we do make such predictions. For example, if we call a person by name, we expect him to turn, or make some other movement in response. Our usual inability to make such predictions in the case of human beings is not because human beings are not subject to the law of cause and effect, it is not that their acts are due to chance, but that the factors involved are usually many, and it is difficult for us to find out all of them.

The Science of Psychology. Now, let us ask, what is the science of psychology? What kind of problems does it try to solve? What aspect of the world has it taken for its field of investigation?

We have said that each science undertakes to describe some particular aspect of the world. Human psychology is the science of human nature. But human nature has many aspects. To some extent, our bodies are the subject matter for physiology, anatomy, zo?logy, physics, and chemistry. Our bodies may be studied in the same way that a rock or a table might be studied. But a human being presents certain problems that a rock or table does not present. If we consider the differences between a human being and a table, we shall see at once the special field of psychology. If we stick a pin into a leg of the table, we get no response. If we stick a pin into a leg of a man, we get a characteristic response. The man moves, he cries out. This shows two very great differences between a man and a table. The man is sensitive and has the power of action, the power of moving himself. The table is not sensitive, nor can it move itself. If the pin is thrust into one's own leg, one has pain. Human beings, then, are sensitive, conscious, acting beings. And the study of sensitivity, action, and consciousness is the field of psychology. These three characteristics are not peculiar to man. Many, perhaps all, animals possess them. There is, therefore, an animal psychology as well as human psychology.

A study of the human body shows us that the body-surface and many parts within the body are filled with sensitive nerve-ends. These sensitive nerve-ends are the sense organs, and on them the substances and forces of the world are constantly acting. In the sense organs, the nerve-ends are so modified or changed as to be affected by some particular kind of force or substance. Vibrations of ether affect the eye. Vibrations of air affect the ear. Liquids and solutions affect the sense of taste. Certain substances affect the sense of smell. Certain organs in the skin are affected by low temperatures; others, by high temperatures; others, by mechanical pressure. Similarly, each sense organ in the body is affected by a definite kind of force or substance.

This affecting of a sense organ is known technically as stimulation, and that which affects the organ is known as the stimulus.

Two important consequences ordinarily follow the stimulation of a sense organ. One of these is movement. The purpose of stimulation is to bring about movement. To be alive is to respond to stimulation. When one ceases to respond to stimulation, he is dead. If we are to continue alive, we must constantly adjust ourselves to the forces of the world in which we live. Generally speaking, we may say that every nerve has one end in a sense organ and the other in a muscle. This arrangement of the nerves and muscles shows that man is essentially a sensitive-action machine. The problems connected with sensitivity and action and the relation of each to the other constitute a large part of the field of psychology.

We said just now, that a nerve begins in a sense organ and ends in a muscle. This statement represents the general scheme well enough, but leaves out an important detail. The nerve does not extend directly to a muscle, but ordinarily goes by way of the brain. The brain is merely a great group of nerve cells and fibers which have developed as a central organ where a stimulation may pass from almost any sense organ to almost any muscle.

But another importance attaches to the brain. When a sense organ is stimulated and this stimulation passes on to the brain and agitates a cell or group of cells there, we are conscious. Consciousness shifts and changes with every shift and change of the stimulation.

The brain has still another important characteristic. After it has been stimulated through sense organ and nerve, a similar brain activity can be revived later, and this revival is the basis of memory. When the brain is agitated through the medium of a sense organ, we have sensation; when this agitation is revived later, we have a memory idea. A study of consciousness, or mind, the conditions under which it arises, and all the other problems involved, give us the other part of the field of psychology.

We are not merely acting beings; we are conscious acting beings. Psychology must study human nature from both points of view. We must study man not only from the outside; that is, objectively, in the same way that we study a stone or a tree or a frog, but we must study him from the inside or subjectively. It is of importance to know not only how a man acts, but also how he thinks and feels.

It must be clear now, that human action, human behavior, is the main field of psychology. For, even though our main interests in people were in their minds, we could learn of the minds only through the actions. But our interests in other human beings are not in their minds but in what they do. It is true that our interest in ourselves is in our minds, and we can know these minds directly; but we cannot know directly the mind of another person, we can only guess what it is from the person's actions.

The Problems of Psychology. Let us now see, in some detail, what the various problems of psychology are. If we are to understand human nature, we must know something of man's past; we must therefore treat of the origin and development of the human race. The relation of one generation to that preceding and to the one following makes necessary a study of heredity. We must find out how our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and ideas are dependent upon a physical body and its organs. A study of human actions shows that some actions are unlearned while others are learned or acquired. The unlearned acts are known as instincts and the acquired acts are known as habits. Our psychology must, therefore, treat of instincts and habits.

How man gets experience, and retains and organizes this experience must be our problem in the chapters on sensations, ideas, memory, and thinking. Individual differences in human capacity make necessary a treatment of the different types and grades of intelligence, and the compilation of tests for determining these differences. We must also treat of the application of psychology to those fields where a knowledge of human nature is necessary.

Applied Psychology. At the beginning of a subject it is legitimate to inquire concerning the possibility of applying the principles studied to practical uses, and it is very proper to make this inquiry concerning psychology. Psychology, being the science of human nature, ought to be of use in all fields where one needs to know the causes of human action. And psychology is applicable in these fields to the extent that the psychologist is able to work out the laws and principles of human action.

In education, for example, we wish to influence children, and we must go to psychology to learn about the nature of children and to find out how we can influence them. Psychology is therefore the basis of the science of education.

Since different kinds of work demand, in some cases, different kinds of ability, the psychology of individual differences can be of service in selecting people for special kinds of work. That is to say, we must have sometime, if we do not now, a psychology of professions and vocations. Psychological investigations of the reliability of human evidence make the science of service in the court room. The study of the laws of attention

and interest give us the psychology of advertising. The study of suggestion and abnormal states make psychology of use in medicine. It may be said, therefore, that psychology, once abstract and unrelated to any practical interests, will become the most useful of all sciences, as it works out its problems and finds the laws of human behavior.

At present, the greatest service of psychology is to education. So true is this that a department has grown up called "educational psychology," which constitutes at the present time the most important subdivision of psychology. While in this book we treat briefly of the various applications of psychology, we shall have in mind chiefly its application to education.

The Science of Education. Owing to the importance which psychology has in the science of education, it will be well for us to make some inquiry into the nature of education. If the growth, development, and learning of children are all controlled and determined by definite causal factors, then a systematic statement of all these factors would constitute the science of education. In order to see clearly whether there is such a science, or whether there can be, let us inquire more definitely as to the kind of problems a science of education would be expected to solve.

There are four main questions which the science of education must solve: (1) What is the aim of education? (2) What is the nature of education? (3) What is the nature of the child? (4) What are the most economical methods of changing the child from what it is into what it ought to be?

The first question is a sociological question, and it is not difficult to find the answer. We have but to inquire what the people wish their children to become. There is a pretty general agreement, at least in the same community, that children should be trained in a way that will make them socially efficient. Parents generally wish their children to become honest, truthful, sympathetic, and industrious. It should be the aim of education to accomplish this social ideal. It should be the aim of the home and the school to subject children to such influences as will enable them to make a living when grown and to do their proper share of work for the community and state, working always for better things, and having a sympathetic attitude toward neighbors. Education should also do what it can to make people able to enjoy the world and life to the fullest and highest extent. Some such aim of education as this is held by all our people.

The second question is also answered. Psychological analysis reveals the fact that education is a process of becoming adjusted to the world. It is the process of acquiring the habits, knowledge, and ideals suited to the life we are to live. The child in being educated learns what the world is and how to act in it-how to act in all the various situations of life.

The third question-concerning the nature of the child-cannot be so briefly answered. In fact, it cannot be fully answered at the present time. We must know what the child's original nature is. This means that we must know the instincts and all the other inherited capacities and tendencies. We must know the laws of building up habits and of acquiring knowledge, the laws of retention and the laws of attention. These problems constitute the subject matter of educational psychology, and at present can be only partially solved. We have, however, a very respectable body of knowledge in this field, though it is by no means complete.

The answer to the fourth question is in part dependent upon the progress in answering the third. Economical methods of training children must be dependent upon the nature of children. But in actual practice, we are trying to find out the best procedure of doing each single thing in school work; we are trying to find out by experimentation. The proper way to teach children to read, to spell, to write, etc., must be determined in each case by independent investigation, until our knowledge of the child becomes sufficient for us to infer from general laws of procedure what the procedure in a particular case should be. We venture to infer what ought to be done in some cases, but generally we feel insecure till we have proved our inference correct by trying out different methods and measuring the results.

Education will not be fully scientific till we have definite knowledge to guide us at every step. What should we teach? When should we teach it? How should we teach it? How poorly we answer these questions at the present time! How inefficient and uneconomical our schools, because we cannot fully answer them! But they are answerable. We can answer them in part now, and we know how to find out the answer in full. It is just a matter of patient and extensive investigation. We must say, then, that we have only the beginnings of a science of education. The problems which a science of education must solve are almost wholly psychological problems. They could not be solved till we had a science of psychology. Experimental psychology is but a half-century old; educational psychology, less than a quarter-century old. In the field of education, the science of psychology may expect to make its most important practical contribution. Let us, then, consider very briefly the problems of educational psychology.

Educational Psychology. Educational psychology is that division of psychology which undertakes to discover those aspects of human nature most closely related to education. These are (1) the original nature of the child-what it is and how it can be modified; (2) the problem of acquiring and organizing experience-habit-formation, memory, thinking, and the various factors related to these processes. There are many subordinate problems, such as the problem of individual differences and their bearing on the education of subnormal and supernormal children. Educational psychology is not, then, merely the application of psychology to education. It is a distinct science in itself, and its aim is the solving of those educational problems which for their solution depend upon a knowledge of the nature of the child.

The Method of Psychology. We have enumerated the various problems of psychology, now how are they solved? The method of psychology is the same as that of all other sciences; namely, the method of observation and experiment. We learn human nature by observing how human beings act in all the various circumstances of life. We learn about the human mind by observing our own mind. We learn that we see under certain objective conditions, hear under certain objective conditions, taste, smell, feel cold and warm under certain objective conditions. In the case of ourselves, we can know both our actions and our mind. In the case of others, we can know only their actions, and must infer their mental states from our own in similar circumstances. With certain restrictions and precautions this inference is legitimate.

We said the method of psychology is that of observation and experiment. The experiment is observation still, but observation subjected to exact methodical procedure. In a psychological experiment we set out to provide the necessary conditions, eliminating some and supplying others according to our object. The experiment has certain advantages. It enables us to isolate the phenomena to be studied, it enables us to vary the circumstances and conditions to suit our purposes, it enables us to repeat the observation as often as we like, and it enables us to measure exactly the factors of the phenomena studied.

A Psychological Experiment. Let us illustrate psychological method by a typical experiment. Suppose we wish to measure the individual differences among the members of a class with respect to a certain ability; namely, the muscular speed of the right hand. Psychological laboratories have delicate apparatus for making such a study. But let us see how we can do it, roughly at least, without any apparatus. Let each member of the class take a sheet of paper and a pencil, and make as many strokes as possible in a half-minute, as shown in Figure I. The instructor can keep the time with a stop watch, or less accurately with the second hand of an ordinary watch. Before beginning the experiment, the instructor should have each student taking the test try it for a second or two. This is to make sure that all understand what they are to do. When the instructor is sure that all understand, he should have the students hold their pencils in readiness above the paper, and at the signal, "Begin," all should start at the same time and make as many marks as possible in the half-minute. The strokes can then be counted and the individual scores recorded. The experiment should be repeated several times, say six or eight, and the average score for each individual recorded.

Figure I.-Strokes Made in Thirty Seconds.

A test of muscular speed

Whether the result in such a performance as this varies from day to day, and is accidental, or whether it is constant and fundamental, can be determined by repeating the experiment from day to day. This repetition will also show whether improvement comes from practice.

If it is decided to repeat the experiment in order to study these factors, constancy and the effects of practice, some method of studying and interpreting the results must be found. Elaborate methods of doing this are known to psychologists, but the beginner must use a simpler method. When the experiment is performed for the first time, the students can be ranked with reference to their abilities, the fastest one being called "first," the second highest, "second," and so on down to the slowest performer. Then after the experiment has been performed the second time, the students can be again ranked.

A rough comparison can then be made as follows: Determine how many who were in the best half in the first experiment are among the best half in the second experiment. If most who were among the best half the first time are among the best half in the second experiment, constancy in this performance is indicated. Or we might determine how many change their ranks and how much they change. Suppose there are thirty in the class and only four improve their ranks and these to the extent of only two places each. This would indicate a high degree of constancy. Two different performances can be compared as above described. The abilities on successive days can be determined by taking the average rank of the first day and comparing it with the average rank of the second day.

If the effects of practice are to be studied, the experiments must be kept up for many days, and each student's work on the first day compared with his work on succeeding days. Then a graph can be plotted to show the improvement from day to day. The average daily speed of the class can be taken and a graph made to show the improvement of the class as a whole. This might be plotted in black ink, then each individual student could put on his improvement in red ink, for comparison. A group of thirty may be considered as furnishing a fair average or norm in this kind of performance.

In connection with this simple performance, making marks as fast as possible, it is evident that many problems arise. It would take several months to solve anything like all of them. It might be interesting, for example, to determine whether one's speed in writing is related to this simple speed in marking. Each member of the class might submit a plan for making such a study.

The foregoing simple study illustrates the procedure of psychology in all experimentation. A psychological experiment is an attempt to find out the truth in regard to some aspect of human nature. In finding out this truth, we must throw about the experiment all possible safeguards. Every source of error must be discovered and eliminated. In the above experiment, for example, the work must be done at the same time of day, or else we must prove that doing it at different times of day makes no difference. Nothing must be taken for granted, and nothing must be assumed. Psychology, then, is like all the other sciences, in that its method of getting its facts is by observation and experiment.

Summary. Science is systematic, related knowledge. Each science has a particular field which it attempts to explore and describe. The field of psychology is the study of sensitivity, action, and consciousness, or briefly, human behavior. Its main problems are development, heredity, instincts, habits, sensation, memory, thinking, and individual differences. Its method is observation and experiment, the same as in all other sciences.


Make out a list of things about human nature which you would like to know. Paste your list in the front of this book, and as you find your questions answered in this book, or in other books which you may read, check them off. At the end of the course, note how many remain unanswered. Find out whether those not answered can be answered at the present time.

Does everything you do have a cause? What kind of cause?

Human nature is shown in human action. Human action consists in muscular contraction. What makes a muscle contract?

Plan an experiment the object of which shall be to learn something about yourself.

Enumerate the professions and occupations in which a knowledge of some aspect of human nature would be valuable. State in what way it would be valuable.

Make a list of facts concerning a child, which a teacher ought to know.

Make a complete outline of Chapter I.


Münsterberg: Psychology, General and Applied, Chapters I, II, and V.

Pillsbury: Essentials of Psychology, Chapter I.

Pyle: The Outlines of Educational Psychology, Chapter I.

Titchener: A Beginner's Psychology, Chapter I.

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