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In the history of Psychology, which men would have been said to 'make history' and for what reasons... and how does this relate to the zeitgeist of the times?

-- Rachael Edge (rachaeledge@hotmail.com), August 05, 2004


This is the big question historians of psychology try to answer. You'll need to read a history of psychology text to see how many great men and women have made history--and also for the discussion of whether it is "great men" or the Zeitgeist that is most important in making history. There are some previous postings about this on the website, including some references to discussions on this topic by E. G. Boring.

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (hendrika@cox.net), August 05, 2004.

Hi Rachael, The Zeitgeist (literally the spirit of the times) refers to the general beliefs and attitudes of a large group of people (e.g., North American psychology or North American culture in general) in a particular time period. One might think of this Zeitgeist as creating a certain amount of momentum and direction to views and events of the period. Depending on how vulnerable the Zeitgeist is to change, and how powerful the person or their ideas are,it may be easy or difficult to change the Zeitgeist. As an analogy, it might be useful to examine some phenomena and concepts from meteorology, which may be applicable to many others areas of the natural world (including the history of psychology). On the one hand, sometimes weather patterns can be influenced by seemingly small and insignificant factors as in the famous hypothetical example where a single stinging insect starting a stampeed of many thousands of wildebeasts in Africa (and dust storm), which months later eventually dramatically influencing weather in North America (sometimes referred to as the butterfly effect). This sometimes is called a chaotic phenomena, in the sense that conditions were such that a normally weak factor had a surprisingly large effect (e.g., think of the proverbal "straw that broke the camel's back"). On the other hand anti-chaotic weather conditions can exist, where a weather pattern will "hang" over a country for days or weeks and does not seem to be disrupted easily by the usual weather changing variables. Back to psychology. A historical case can sometimes be make for vast influences due to a given individual, while sometimes the mainstream views of the culture or subculture seem either resistent to change, or if they do evole, they seem to do so within the framework of exiting mainstream ideas and develop in ways that naturally follow from prior work in the field. Can you think of any extremely influential people who shaping psychology or can you think of some "environmental forces" (political or economic events, out of field discoveries, population changes, etc.) that significantly shaped psychology? I hope this helps. Paul.

-- Paul Kleinginna (pkleinginna@georgiasouthern.edu), August 07, 2004.

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