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Gustav Theodor Fechner: biography of the father of psychophysics

Gustav Theodor Fechner: biography of the father of psychophysics

January 22, 2021

Although interest in the human psyche has existed since antiquity, it is not until the contributions of Wilhelm Wundt and the creation of the first laboratory dedicated to his research that it is not considered the birth of psychology as a scientific discipline.

But the truth is that in addition to Wundt, other authors have been of great importance in the beginnings and development of psychology as a science, the first moments of which are linked to the creation of psychophysics. In this sense the figure of Gustav stands out Theodor Fechner, considered the father of this discipline and of which in this article a brief biography is presented .

  • Related article: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories"

Brief biography of Gustav Theodor Fechner

Son of a Protestant pastor, Gustav Theodor Fechner was born on April 19, 1801 in Gross-Särchen , territory belonging to Germany at present. His initial education was traditional and in a religious setting, the spiritual being an aspect that would have great relevance in his life. His father died of illness when Fechner was five years old. What followed next was one of the most important careers in the scientific study of psychophysics.


Years of formation, marriage and position as a teacher

Fechner was initially interested in medicine, beginning his studies in this field at the Medizinisch-Chirurgische Akademie in Dresden. However, in 1818 he would enter the University of Leipzig, where he would meet and work with Weber. His interests were changing towards the world of physics. At 29 he would meet Clara Volkmann , with whom he would marry three years later. In 1834, a year after getting married, he would accept a position at the university as a professor of physics.

It would be when he began to investigate about color when he would begin to show professionally his interest in the psychic, working initially with the perception of color and subjectivity with which he was caught, performing different experiments in this matter.


Brief incapacitation and reflection on philosophy

In 1840 Fechner would suffer a severe vision problem , caused in large part by a prolonged exposure of his retina to the sun, which would blind him. The effects of the blindness, together with the pressure to which he was subjected as a university professor ended up causing Fechner to be incapacitated in such a way that he had to temporarily leave his position as a professor in the university. He suffered a deep depression for about three years.

In this period of their life they grew his concerns about the essence of things and metaphysical aspects such as the soul and the body. This author considered that the physical and spiritual were not separate elements, but reflected different faces of the same reality. He maintained that all living beings had their own soul, and even inorganic matter possessed spirit, a point of view reminiscent of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. After three years, he left his depressed state to begin to feel sensations of well-being, euphoria and exaltation that he himself would call the pleasure principle.


The interest in the metaphysical aspects of reality and the conviction that body and mind were united would lead to it, once recovered, I went back to the University of Leipzig as a teacher , but this time of philosophy. In 1848 he would publish Nanna; oder Über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (Nanna or about the spiritual life of the plants) and Zend-Avesta; oder Über die Dinge des Himmels und des Jenseits, von Standpunkt der Naturbetrachtung (Zend-Avesta or things of heaven and beyond from the point of view of nature), both works that would treat elements such as the link between body and spirit.

The birth of psychophysics

Fechner would perform various experiments to demonstrate the mind-body connection, and looked for years for a mathematical model and an equation that determined the existence of a relationship between the material and spiritual / mental aspects.

His research includes the analysis and observation of the models proposed by Weber and the observation of the existence of absolute and relative thresholds in the collection of stimuli, having great importance in the improvement and expansion of the so-called "Weber's Law".

In 1860 he systematized his works and discoveries and published the book that would cause psychophysics to be born as a discipline , "Elements of psychophysics", in which he explored the mathematical and physical relationships between body and mind through the investigation of sensation and perception.

He also explored aspects such as measurement errors , and his interest in the spiritual continued in aspects such as spiritualism or what is now known as parapsychology. He continued publishing various works dedicated to different aspects, such as aesthetics, and expanding his interest and research in subjects close to his pleasure principle or humor.

  • Related article: "Psychophysics: the beginnings of Psychology"

Death and legacy of Fechner

Gustav Theodor Fechner died on November 1887 in Leipzig. His works have been a remarkable advance that allowed psychology to be born as a science, influencing authors such as Wundt or Sigmund Freud.

Psychophysics and the psychometry that derives from it , likewise, it continues to be an important part of current experimental psychology, especially that which has to do with behaviorism.


Gustav Fechner (January 2021).


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