Exploring the Western Mind: Understanding Psychology in Western Culture

  • The roots of western psychology can be rooted in greek philosophy
  • The word psychology itself derived from psyche – mind
  • During the 17th century the French philosopher Rene Descartes introduced the idea of dualism, which asserted that the mind and body were two entities that interact to form the human experience.
  • The journey of western psychology can be divided into three periods
  • 1. Greek heritage, 2. Mediaeval period, 3. Modern period

Greek heritage

  • The eminent philosophers who made a relevant contribution in the field of psychology are Alcmeon, Hippocrates, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
  • Alcmeon was an ancient greek physician who laid the foundation for psychology as science in 6th century BC
  • He proposed that mental life is a function of a brain
  • His ideology is followed by most of the psychologists nowadays where the mental process has very much relationship with  brain functioning.
  • Hippocrates proposed a typology of human personality as basis of body fluid or humour ( sanguine – blood), ( melancholic – black bile), (choleric – yellow bile ) and (phlegmatic – phlegm)
  • Socrates recognised the mind in addition to soul.
  • He analysed the activities of mind in the forms of thinking, dreaming, memory and imagination.
  • Plato and Aristotle are the students of Socrates where they further reinforced  and strengthened the idea of Socrates, but they do not believe in the concept of the soul called human being, a rational animal.
  • Plato was always interested in knowing the role of mind in controlling human behaviour.
  • Aristotle, the student of Plato, was the believer of the idea that the soul and living body are inseparable.
  • He further insisted that the point of the mind is the result of psychological processes.

Mediaeval period

  • In Europe there’s a huge gap in the development of psychology and psychiatry between the classical period, where scholars such as Aristotle and Plato first began to study the nature of thought and mind.
  • Commonly known as the dark ages from the 6th to the 13th centuries, this period began when the roman empire fell into a terminal decline, a period where we automatically associate it with superstition and fear.
  • Scholars such as St. Augustine Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon made sine astute observations about the inner workings in the human mind, providing foundations for the renaissance.
  • In the east, the Byzantine empire preserved the knowledge of the Greeks and philosophers such as the jewish symeon seth and niketas stethatos, as well as studying mental disorders and the brain.

Modern period

  • In 1879, the first psychological lab was established at the univ of leipzig by the german philosopher and psychologist wilhelm wundt.
  • The first formal psychology lab on the US was set up at Johns Hopkins University in 1883 and within few years most of the major universities has psychology labs and departments
  • Although still philosophical in part, psychology developed as a new separate field of study in the last years of the 19th century and is captured in wilhelm wundt’s famous test book of 1890’s the principle of psychology.
  • Around 1890 a steady stream of what since then was considered radical ideas and theories began to appear. While there were pioneers before him, the acknowledged Father of Modern Psychology is Sigmend freud.
  • Included within the modern framework are names like B.F skinner, Jean piaget, Carl rogers, Carl jund and Erik erikson.
  • wundt , james and other psychologists did experiments to study the mind and its process.
  • They studied the process by which one becomes aware of some external events and not to others.
  • Several experiments were done in the area of imagery, memory, thinking and emotion.

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