Tremendous upheavals are taking place to-day in many branches of science. Whereas the incidents immediately responsible for these changes were carefully controlled laboratory experiments, the significance of the empirical discoveries could not possibly have been understood without the construction of new, and in most respects, radical theories. The relativity movement in physics, the organismic movement in biology and the Gestalt movement in psychology represent advances in a new conception of Nature and a vast amount of startling experimental research which the new conception has promoted.
The revolution in science, however, is so broad in its implications that it cannot be regarded as progress in science alone. Rather, it illustrates an evolution in human thought that is certain to affect profoundly the culture and the destiny of the civilised world. Ethics and religion will not escape from it. Indeed, the same evolution is to be observed, in its less articulate form, in the world of practical affairs, where man’s attitudes toward man are changing.
Briefly stated, man is repudiating the old instruments with which he felt and reasoned; absolutism, materialistic and mechanistic assumptions, logical atomism, vitalism and spiritualism, and their numerous consequences that are now seen as self-contradictions. Even the fight against materialism has always been waged with a mechanistic logic, in the guise of vitalism. A new instrument is now emerging, long since recognised as a fact but hardly employed as a principle, a relative, organismic, descriptive unit, applicable as was the old mechanistic and absolute unit, to all branches of human inquiry.
An attempt has been made to direct the educated reader to the field of psychology as it appears when reinterpreted in terms of the new tool. Obviously such a task would be impossible without a historical approach. Moreover, since the new method of thought breaks down the conventional barriers between psychology and the other sciences, including ethics, the full significance of the present trend will have been missed if the presentation of the subject has avoided a relating of psychology to physics and biology on the one hand, and to sociology and ethics on the other. Of necessity, therefore, this book possesses a strong philosophical flavour, and for obvious reasons, a strict, scientific usage of terms has not always been followed.
It would be impossible to acknowledge credit for ideas and suggestions in all instances where credit is due; and, since this book is not written as a treatise or a text, references are conspicuous by their absence. The psychological reader will recognise at once the main sources from which the views, herein elaborated, were derived. They are the far-seeing contributions of intrepid pioneers, now in their prime, the first to break away from traditions centuries old—Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka. Following close behind them is a legion of investigators young and old, some nearer, some more remote in their views, but all blazers of new trails. Were this volume primarily a history of psychology, it would not omit the outstanding names of the past, or the venerable pioneers, now living, whose contributions are not, in any sense, to be appraised by their contrast with the views here presented. Theirs, like the work now being done, derive importance in the light of the conditions under which the work was accomplished. Their achievements will stand for all time as a monument to the progress of psychological thought.
There were many who aided, in indispensable ways, the preparation of the manuscript. Sections were frequently read and discussed with members of the psychological staff at Kansas University: Drs Harry R. De Silva, Beulah M. Morrison, Donald M. Purdy, Thomas D. Cutslorth, Marjory G. Cutsforth and S. Howard Bartley, and Messrs F. Theodore Perkins, Byron Sarvis and Robert Brigdon. Mrs Cutsforth and Mr Brigdon helped in typing the manuscript. Mr Perkins gave most generously of his time, reading and criticising the copy, and in reading proof. Upon Miss Doris Trower and Mrs Paul Malone rested the greater burden in typing the manuscript. To all of these friends the author wishes to express his gratitude.
To the Editor of this Series, Dr Francis Aveling, the author owes a debt of no small magnitude for his kind criticisms and for his original suggestion that the book be written.
To the T. Y. Crowell Company, New York, the author’s thanks are due for permission to quote from Readings in Psychology, 1930, his statement of eight organismic laws.
Whatever immaterial value shall attach itself to this book will mean more to one person than to any other. To her this book is dedicated.
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