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Letters of Buchanan to Research Advisor

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Dear Research Advisor,

How have you been recently? Hope you are doing well. Actually, I found an article on my book shelf and I think I should share this with you. This article talks about Prof. Joseph Buchanan’s contribution in the field of science in 19th century. This newspaper article also mentioned about how they found a new methodology in science and it was published in 1878. This article raises a pertinent question to me – is Prof. Joseph Buchanan really the first psychologists? I have what I consider my informed opinion and would like to share it with you. 

The article has intrigued me. I want to discuss the issues prior to the “official” formation of psychology. From the past to now, psychology is a subject that consists of various subjects. It involves some history which helps us to improve the knowledge of psychology because it assists us to understand how and why various things arose. Over the passage of time, Psychology tried to establish itself as an experimental science. People intended to derive some knowledge about psychology through the experiments. Due to a combination of different fields, I do not think Prof. Joseph Buchanan was the first psychologist.

The article introduces Buchanan’s new system of anthropology, whereby he gives an introduction of psychometry, his newly discovered method of science after 6 years of research. Buchanan classifies psychometry as one of the seven fundamental sciences of psychology. He describes psychometrics as the power to explore mind, character and disease.  In addition, he describes psychometry as the ability to discover medicine, poisons, and crimes, rectify history and biography. According to Buchanan, psychometry enlarges the boundaries of many sciences and reveals man’s character to himself, enabling him to determine proper associations of life. He argues that his new discoveries originated from the work of Gall and Spuzheim on brain physiology. He also points out that through psychometry, the votaries of the brain are able to determine mental influence of other people with whom someone comes into contact and even discover the psychic influence of any manuscript submitted to them. (“A discourse on Seven Science”, 1878)

In the years of the publication of Buchanan’s article, psychology was not well developed. People tended to utilize the history of the objects to determine the phenomena and the situation they were having. According to Putting Psychology in its Place, Richards thinks that people are prone to use the perceptions of rationalism and associationism to solve the contemporary problem in psychological issues (Richards, 2002, p.21). In other words, they used reasoning to explain the psychological problems. These views were held by some philosophers such as Lock. According to, (Benjamin, 2008, p.25), children were to learn to value reason and to be guided by it.

In 19th century, the scientists answered psychological questions by gathering empirical data. In this regard, Richards, (2002, p.21) asserts that sufficiently logical and rigorous data can help the scientists to attain knowledge of certain matters of logical importance, the certainty of which actually surpasses anything based on our fallible senses. Rationalistic views were for the idea that logical materials could be convincing to answer psychological problems. Furthermore, they use the view of associations to explain the psychological phenomena and come up with the more complex ideas by combining the simple “laws of association”. Contemporary scientists used both physiological and philosophical lens to view and solve the psychological questions. For example, rationalism can be traced from Descartes’ ideas and associationism from Locke. In Why Don’t They Understand Us, Benjamin said “A discourse or treatise on the human soul; or the doctrine of man’s spiritual nature” (Benjamin, Jr, 1986). Spiritual things are a key of philosophy. We can obviously find out there is philosophy and physiology as psychology’s major roots.

Buchanan’s approach does connect to some people and some materials under protopsychology period. He emphasizes using mind and body as a science. This approach is proposing the secularizing human experience since Buchanan projects the mind. Mind, obviously, is immaterial thus, we cannot touch it. Furthermore, Buchanan treats mind as an effective tool to determine one’s mental influence. While he treats the mind as a tool, Buchanan encourages the view of objectify human experience. According to Buchanan, mental processes and content can be categorized such as sarcognomy, pneumatology, and pathognony etc. (“A discourse on Seven Science”, 1878). He further states that rational actors use mind to determine mental process. Therefore, mind is one of the measurements. It totally matches the view of objectifying human experience since Buchanan is capable to study a subject to determine something’s existence by measuring the mind. Moreover, what Buchanan tried to present is also encouraging the naturalizing human experience. In the article, Buchanan mentioned that we can use power to explore mind, character, and disease by using the methodology of psychometry. This is viewed as the power of naturalizing because psychometry uses sensory perception to feel the object and to know about the history of those objects. Apparently, sensory perception is innate. It comes when we were born.

This situation is also analogous to Gall’s projects. Gall’s project of 1978 sought to figure out the propensities and faculties by measuring the shape of human’s skulls. (Gall, 1798) Buchanan and Gall also utilize one thing to measure another variable. Gall was using skull to find out localization in brain whereas Buchanan was using mind to measure one’s mental process and do the experiment for medical issues. One cannot therefore fail to see the similarities in approaches of the two works. Gall, (1798, para. 3), posits that it is necessary for the establishment and illustration of the fundamental discipline by use of common mathematical principles that unite these sciences in one, and revealing the fundamental laws of expression in an oratory and manner. From those words, we can see both Buchanan and Gall also work on the fundamental issues. Gall thinks this is impossible to study about propensities and faculties in brain in a detailed manner. Therefore, he just approximately found out the localization. Beyond Gall’s idea, we can also relate Buchanan’s idea to Locke. In Locke’s letter, we can see Locke combined mind and soul as an identifiable mental process and products. (Benjamin, 2008) And Buchanan showed that the sympathy link between mind and body is science-sarcognomy. Moreover, we can find out Buchanan has similarities with many other scientists like Darwin. Buchanan practically demonstrates his theory on what makes medications work, and Darwin also gathered different information and collected the facts to demonstrate his evolutionary thoughts.

I have also read the Outlines of Psychology by Wundt. I see there are some connections between Wundt and Buchanan; which further increases my intent to share my opinion with you. Wundt’s work focuses on problems and methods of psychology and explained it in detailed. Buchanan talks about the science of mind. How scientists could explore mind to improve the medication in contemporary world is the main point that Buchanan wanted to bring out. According to his theory, it is the force contained in matter that makes medicine to work but not the matter itself. He proves this theory by practically administering some medication to his students and asking them for results. (“A discourse on Seven Science”, 1878) Buchanan uses psychometry and the mind to have an experiment on medical issues. This method does connect to natural science that Wundt mentioned in his excerpts. People do not use other kinds of objects to test the variable, but utilize their own experience which is called immediate experience. (Wundt, 1897) Mind is an inner experience that must be experience by a person himself in order to know the result of the experiment. And psychometry, which is coined by Buchanan, also is one of the inner experiences. The methods that Buchanan mentioned associates with the Wundt’s idea. “Psychology has, like natural science…the experimental method, serving for the analysis of simpler psychical process” (Wundt, 1897, para.8) Wundt also states psychology is originated from psychic and philosophy. This matches pneumatology, psychometry and sarcognomy by Buchanan. Actually, their purpose is simple. They just want to project what they have found out in the field of science to make contribution to the society. Buchanan presented a lecture to explain psychometry because he wants to make improvement in medical area and get more understanding science. And more importantly, Buchanan want to “enlarge the boundaries in many science” (“A discourse on Seven Science”, 1878, para.1). Wundt also did the same thing. He wrote such two excerpts about methodology of psychology because he wanted audience to get a more detailed understanding in psychology and to have more concrete concepts of this in order to extend the knowledge of psychology based on the methods that Wundt had projected. Obviously, both Buchanan and Wundt want to advantage the audience.

When I talked about what Buchanan want to give to the audience via the article, it makes me think what kind of audience that Buchanan has been talking to. I think the article targeted individuals or rather audiences who sought to answer Milton’s definition of the term fit through few. Broadly speaking, the article probable audiences are all individuals interested in anthropology. Issue addressed in the lecture which was among the six to be carried out sought to define psychometry. Furthermore, since it is an article in New York Times, I will assume Buchanan want to share his work with the scientists. I have already mentioned that this article is talking about psychometry which is also related to medical issue. According to Nation News and the Nation which is written by Wallace, he claimed that New York Times was changed into another format. It became more concrete, more comprehensive, gained more lifestyle and became more relevant to personal lives (Wallace, 2005). Historically, the professor after being influenced by the works of Spurzheim and Gall indulged himself in trying to verify the views of such scholars as of Spurzheim and Gall. Generally, among the relevant events that are of concern to the audiences are the examples and demonstration carried out by the professor. From the review of the article, the definition of terms, breakdown of the whole topic and use of demonstration are among the things that will contribute to my understanding of the topic According to Nation News and the Nation, the new format of newspaper makes this article more attractive. Additionally, due to the desire of the audience, it urges New York Times published such an article to satisfy readers’ desire. Therefore, their ultimate goal is to spread their finding. Moreover, Buchanan hopes people can work more on it and gain deeper understanding in the field of science.

This article was successful, and New York Times did help a lot to guarantee its success. What Buchanan wrote had been circulated in the scientific society. There is a similar situation in both articles which are about Buchanan and Darwin (“Mr. Darwin’s infant”, 1877). Their works were also published on the New York Times. Since New York Times is a formal and well-known daily paper in the contemporary, it can help those articles to stay away from sensationalism (Wallance, 2005). Thus, the articles could come out without huge controversies. This is an advantage of New York Times because sensationalism can be harmful to the people who come up with those ideas.

To sum issues that have been mentioned above, it is imperative to ask this critical question; is Professor Buchanan really the first psychologist in this field? I do not agree with these sentiments. As far as I am concerned, I do not think there is person who can claim to be the first psychologist. This is because all people invent the ideas and coin the concepts with prior incidents that have been experienced by other people. For instance, the philosophers such as Locke and Descartes used reasons and mind to explain the psychological problems. Their reasoning changed in empiricism. So, I think we can only say Psychology gathered different information and knowledge from other subjects like philosophy, anthropology etc.

After doing this research, I still have some more to know about concerning the original question. I wonder how the ideas raised by Buchanan helped to improve the field of psychology as well as of medical issues. Moreover, I also have questions about if Buchanan concentrated only about the research discipline and discoveries or whether he also he looked at how those terms were determined by the society? Those are the questions which I want to know more about since both the research discipline and the reactions from society is really important.



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