Helmholtz’s Physiological Psychology

In Sandra Lapointe (ed.), Philosophy of Mind in the Nineteenth Century: The History of the Philosophy of Mind, Volume 5. Routledge (2018)
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Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) established results both controversial and enduring: analysis of mixed colors and of combination tones, arguments against nativism, and the analysis of sensation and perception using the techniques of natural science. The paper focuses on Helmholtz’s account of sensation, perception, and representation via “physiological psychology”. Helmholtz emphasized that external stimuli of sensations are causes, and sensations are their effects, and he had a practical and naturalist orientation toward the analysis of phenomenal experience. However, he argued as well that sensation must be interpreted to yield representation, and that representation is geared toward objective representation (the central thesis of contemporary intentionalism). The interpretation of sensation is based on “facts” revealed in experiment, but extends to the analysis of the quantitative, causal relationships between stimuli and responses. A key question for Helmholtz’s theory is the extent to which mental operations are to be ascribed a role in interpreting sensation.
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