Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/44

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40
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

GUSTAV THEODOR FECHNER
By Professor FRANK ANGELL
LELAND STANFORD UNIVERSITY

SOMEWHERE Huxley says that certain men are counted great because they represent the actuality of their own age and mirror it as it is.

Such a one was Voltaire, of whom it was said that he expressed everybody's thoughts better than anybody. But there are other men who are great because they embody the potentiality of their own day and magically reflect the future.

In both of these respects Gustav Theodor Fechner was one of the greatest men of his age and perhaps, as not a few psychologists feel, one of the greatest in the history of science.

But in reflecting the tendencies of his age Fechner's influence was less like that of a mirror than of a many-sided prism which bends and reflects light in all directions, sending it out tinged by the action of the medium through which it has passed. There are few divisions of the domain cultivated by natural science in the first half of the nineteenth century over which Fechner did not pass, and there are few on which he did not leave the imprint of his originality. In the second edition of the "Elements of Psychophysics," a work in which Fechner laid the foundations and built somewhat of the superstructure of the present science of psychology, the editor, Wundt of Leipzig, has appended a list of Fechner's published writings. Excluding editions other than the first, and including translations of physical and chemical works which with Fechner usually meant critical revisions, the list comprises 124 titles, and a classification of these under the headings of nonsensical, humorous, literary, chemical, physical, psychological, esthetic, statistical, physiological, encyclopædic, logical and philosophical, would perhaps more than anything else give a representative idea of Fechner's almost unparalleled many-sidedness.

His first published works were an inverted reflection of his university career as a student of medicine. The condition of medical study in the first quarter of the nineteenth century may be inferred from Fechner's objections to entering a profession in which he had taken his degree; although qualified by the examination to practise medicine, he remarks:

I could neither open a blood vessel, apply a bandage nor perform the simplest obstetrical operation.