Did psychology begin with Wundt, James, Freud and Jung?

1879 is often cited as ‘the birthday of psychology’ the year when Wilhelm Wundt created the very first psychological research laboratory at Leipzig University and this has led to Wundt being hailed as ‘the father of psychology.’ Yet of course this is like saying that before 5 July 1687, when Newton ‘discovered’ gravity, that we were all floating around in space; we need to differentiate between formalised academic study and the realities of what has been going in peoples’ lives, and minds, for centuries.

I was re-reading Wordsworth recently and if we drill deep into what he was really saying we can see that he ‘knew’ free association long before the term had been coined and he drew on past strengths to shore him up during times of present angst.

And think ye not with radiance more sublime
For these remembrances, and for the power
They had left behind? So feeling comes in aid
Of feeling, and diversity of strength
Attends us, if but once we have been strong
— William Wordsworth, ‘The Prelude, Book Twelfth,’ 1799
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration
— William Wordsworth, ‘Above Tintern Abbey,’ 1789
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years
— William Wordsworth, ‘Above Tintern Abbey,’ 1789

The brain states are the sub-conscious, (sometimes called the unconscious), and the conscious mind. Every event from birth, and even pre-birth, gets stored in the sub-conscious, without us realising it. The process through which events ‘leak’ out, (or are brought out), from the sub-conscious to the conscious, waking mind is called ‘free association.’ In the 1960s Penfield conducted some experiments around free association and found that all events were recorded and stored. He found that:

  • Memory is evoked in a single recollection in detail, rather than generalisations.
  • The feelings which were associated with the event are also recorded, therefore we ‘relive’ rather than ‘recall.’
  • Memory continues intact - even after the mind’s ability to recall it has disappeared.
  • The brain ‘tape-records’ every experience from birth (possibly even before birth) and all this is recorded in the temporal cortex section of the brain.
  • The key therefore is that we not only remember the event and remember the feeling, but can feel the same way now.

So we can see that Wordsworth ‘used’ his memories, his experiences of the past, to help him through the present. He would go to places where he had wandered as a young man and he not only remembered, he not only remembered how he felt but he could feel the same way again; and for Wordsworth this was how he drew on his previous strengths to ensure he remained strong during ...”hours of weariness.” Wordsworth was by all accounts a solitary figure and his writing gives us a wonderful insight into how he coped with ‘modern life.’ Predating ‘Psychology’ by almost a century Wordsworth shows us that there is a huge difference between ‘Psychology’ and ‘psychology,’ ie between formalised academic study and the realities of what is going on in peoples’ lives.