Psychology and Social Sanity
by Hugo Muensterberg
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But let us rather turn to sayings in which the subtlety of psychological observation deserves admiration: "The drunkard, the careless, the insane, the fatigued, the angry, the hungry, the greedy, the timid, the hasty, and the lover know no law"; "If a man commits a crime, his voice and the colour of his face become changed, his look becomes furtive, and the fire is gone from his eye"; "The best remedy for a pain is no longer to think of it; if you think of it, the pain will increase"; "A greedy man can be won by money, an angry man by folding the hands, a fool by doing his will, and an educated man by speaking the truth"; "The wise man can recognize the inner thoughts of another from the colour of his face, from his look, from the sound of his words, from his walk, from the reflections in his eyes, and from the form of his mouth"; "The good and bad thoughts, however much they are hidden, can be discovered from a man when he talks in his sleep or in his drunkenness"; "The ignorant can be satisfied easily, and still more easily the well educated, but a man who has become confused by a little knowledge cannot be won over even by Brahma"; "Good people are pacified by fair treatment, even if they have been very angry, but not common people; gold, though it is hard, can be melted, but not grass"; "By too great familiarity we produce low esteem, by too frequent visits, indifference; in the Malaja mountains a beggar woman uses the sandalwood tree for firewood"; "The silly man steps in without being invited, talks much without being questioned, and trusts him who does not deserve confidence"; "New knowledge does not last in the mind of the uneducated any more than a string of pearls about the neck of a monkey"; "The inner power of great men becomes more evident in their misfortune than in their fortune; the fine perfume of aloes wood is strongest when it falls into the fire"; "The anger of the best man lasts an instant, of the mediocre man six hours, of the common man a day and a night, and the rascal will never get rid of it"; "The scholar laughs with his eyes, mediocre people show their teeth when they laugh, common people roar, and true men of wisdom never laugh"; "Truthfulness and cleverness can be found out in the course of a conversation, but modesty and restraint are visible at the first glance"; "Grief destroys wisdom, grief destroys scholarship, grief destroys endurance; there is no perturbation of the mind like grief." Often we hardly know whether a psychological observation or a metaphor is given to us. In any case we may appreciate the fineness of a saying like this: "Even a most translucent, beautiful, perfectly round and charming pearl can be strung on a thread as soon as it has been pierced; so a mind which longs for salvation, perfectly pure, free from quarrel with any one and full of goodness, will nevertheless be bound down to the earthly life as soon as it quarrels with itself." On the borderland of psychology we may find sayings like these: "As a tailor's needle fastens the thread in the garment, so the thread of our earthly life becomes fastened by the needle of our desires"; "An elephant kills us if he touches us, a snake even if he smells us, a prince even if he smiles on us, and a scoundrel even if he adores us." But there is one saying which the most modern psychologist would accept, as it might just as well be a quotation from a report of the latest exact statistics. The Indian maxim says: "There is truth in the claim that the minds of the sons resemble more the minds of the fathers, those of the daughters more those of the mothers."

We may leave the banks of the Ganges and listen to the wisdom of Europe. Antiquity readily trusted the wonderful knowledge of men which Homer displays. He has instinctively delineated the characters with the inner truth of life. How far was this art of the creative poet accompanied by the power of psychological abstraction? I do not think that we can find in the forty-eight books of Homer even a dozen contributions to our unwritten system of the naive psychology of the nations. To be sure we ought not to omit in such a system the following reflections from the "Odyssey": "Wine leads to folly, making even the wise to love immoderately, to dance, and to utter what had better have been kept silent"; or "Too much rest itself becomes a pain"; or still better, "The steel blade itself often incites to deeds of violence." We may have more doubt whether it is psychologically true when we read: "Few sons are equal to their sires, most of them are less worthy, only a few are superior to their fathers"; or, "Though thou lovest thy wife, tell not everything which thou knowest to her, but unfold some trifle while thou concealest the rest." From the "Iliad" we may quote: "Thou knowest the over-eager vehemence of youth, quick in temper, but weak in judgment"; or, "Noblest minds are easiest bent"; or, "With everything man is satiated—sleep, sweet singing, and the joyous dance; of all these man gets sooner tired than of war." Some may even doubt whether Homer's psychology is right when he claims: "Even though a man by himself may discover the best course, yet his judgment is slower and his resolution less firm than when two go together." And in the alcohol question he leaves us a choice: "Wine gives much strength to wearied men"; or if we prefer, "Bring me no luscious wines, lest they unnerve my limbs and make me lose my wonted powers and strength."

It is not surprising that the theoretical psychology of the Bible is no less meagre. Almost every word which deals with man's mind reflects the moral and religious values and is thus removed from pure psychology into ethics. Or we find comparisons which suggestively illuminate the working of the mind without amplifying our psychological understanding. We approach empirical psychology most nearly in verses like these: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the word of correction should drive it far from him"; or "He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much"; or "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant"; or "The full soul loatheth an honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet"; or "For if any man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man beholding his natural face in a glass, for he beholdeth himself and goeth his way and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was"; or "Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better." But here we have almost overstepped the limits of real psychology; we are moving toward ethics. Nor can we call metaphors like this psychology: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls."

Let us turn for a moment to the greatest knower of men in mediaeval days, to Dante. How deeply his poetic eye looked into the hearts of men, how living are the characters in his "Divine Comedy"; and yet he left us hardly any psychological observations. Some psychology may be acknowledged in words like these: "The man in whose bosom thought on thought awakes is always disappointed in his object, for the strength of the one weakens the other"; "When we are wholly absorbed by feelings of delight or of grief, our soul yields itself to this one object, and we are no longer able to direct our thoughts elsewhere"; "There is no greater grief than to remember our happy time in misery." It is hardly psychology if we hear, "The bad workman finds fault with his tools"; or, "Likeness ever gives birth to love"; or "The wisest are the most annoyed to lose time."

From Dante we naturally turn to Shakespeare. We have so often heard that he is the greatest psychologist, and yet we ought not to forget that such a popular classification does not in itself really mean that Shakespeare undertakes the work of the psychologist. It does mean that he creates figures with the temperament, character, thought, and will so similar to life and so full of inner mental truth that the psychologist might take the persons of the poet's imagination as material for his psychological studies. But this by no means suggests that Shakespeare phrased abstract judgments about mental life; and as we seek his wisdom in his dramatic plays, it may be taken for granted that in this technical sense he must be a poor psychologist, because he is a great dramatist. Does not the drama demand that every word spoken be spoken not from the author's standpoint, but from the particular angle of the person in the play? And this means that every word is embedded in the individual mood and emotion, thought, and sentiment of the speaker. A truly psychological statement must be general and cannot be one thing for Hamlet and another for Ophelia. The dramatist's psychological sayings serve his art, unfolding before us the psychological individuality of the speaker, but they do not contribute to the textbooks of psychology, which ought to be independent of personal standpoints. And yet what a stream of verses flows down to us, which have the ring of true psychology!

"Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep."

"Trifles light as air Are to the jealous confirmation strong As proofs of holy writ."

"Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such sharp fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends."

"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all."

"Present fears Are less than horrible imagining."

"Too swift runs as tardy as too slow."

"Never anger made good guard for itself."

"Anger is like A full-hot horse; who being allow'd his way Self-mettle tires him."

"Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind."

"All things that are, Are with more spirit chased than enjoy'd."

"Celerity is never more admir'd Than by the negligent."

"Strong reasons make strong actions."

"The whiteness in thy cheek Is apter than thy tongue to tell thy errand."

"The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils."

"Sweet love, I see, changing his property, Turns to the sourest and most deadly hate."

"Love is a smoke rais'd with the fume of sighs."

"I do not know the man I should avoid So soon as that spare Cassius; he reads much; He is a great observer...."

And so on.

* * * * *

We all know it, and we know it so well and feel so much with Caesar or with Lear or with Othello or with Macbeth, that we instinctively take it all for true psychology, while it after all covers just the exceptional cases of the dramatic situation.

No! If we are to seek real generalities, we must not consult the playwright. Perhaps we may find the best conditions for general statement where we do not even have to deal with an individual, but can listen to the mind of the race and can absorb its wisdom from its proverbs. Let us take the word proverb in its widest sense, including popular sayings which have not really the stamp of the proverb. There is surely no lack of sharply coined psychology. This is true of all countries. I find the harvest richest in the field of the German proverbs, but almost as many in the field of the English, and a large number of sayings are common to the two countries. Very characteristic psychological remarks can be found among the Russian proverbs, and not a few among those in Yiddish. But this type of psychology is sufficiently characterized, if we confine ourselves here to the English proverbial phrases. Often they need a commentary in order to be understood in their psychological truth. We hear in almost all countries: "Children and fools speak the truth." As a matter of course we all know that their chance of speaking the objective truth is very small. What is psychologically tenable is only that they are unable to hide the subjective truth. Many such phrases are simply epigrams where the pleasure in the play of words must be a substitute for the psychological truth; for instance: "Long hair and short wit." Not a few contradict one another, and yet there is not a little wisdom in sayings like these: "Beware of a silent dog and still water"; "Misery loves company"; "Hasty love is soon hot and soon cold"; "Dogs that put up many hares kill none"; "He that will steal an egg will steal an ox"; "Idle folks have the least leisure"; "Maids say no and take"; "A boaster and a liar are cousins german"; "A young twig is easier twisted than an old tree"; "Imitation is the sincerest flattery"; "Pride joined with many virtues chokes them all"; "Offenders never pardon"; "The more wit, the less courage"; "We are more mindful of injuries than of benefits"; "Where there's a will, there's a way"; "An idle brain is the devil's workshop"; "Anger and haste hinder good counsel"; "Wise men change their minds, fools never"; "Sudden joy kills sooner than excessive grief"; "Lazy folks take the most pains"; "Nature passes nurture"; "Necessity is the mother of invention"; "We are apt to believe what we wish for"; "Where your will is ready, your foot is light."

All these proverbs and the maxims of other nations may be true, but can we deny that they are on the whole so trivial that a psychologist would rather hesitate to proclaim them as parts of his scientific results? As far as they are true they are vague and hardly worth mentioning, and where they are definite and remarkable they are hardly true. We shall after all have to consult the individual authors to gather the subtler observations on man's behaviour, even though they furnish only semi-naive psychology. But the English contributions are so familiar to every reader that it may be more interesting to listen to the foreigners. Every nation has its thinkers who have the reputation of being especially fine knowers of men. The French turn most readily to La Rochefoucauld, and the Germans to Lichtenberg. Certainly a word of La Rochefoucauld beside the psychologizing proverb looks like the scintillating, well-cut diamond beside a moonstone. "We imitate good actions through emulation, and bad ones through a malignity in our nature which shame concealed and example sets at liberty"; "It is much easier to suppress a first desire than to satisfy those that follow"; "While the heart is still agitated by the remains of a passion, it is more susceptible to a new one than when entirely at rest"; "Women in love more easily forgive great indiscretions than small infidelities"; "The reason we are not often wholly possessed by a single vice is that we are distracted by several." But is this not ultimately some degrees too witty to be true, and has our system of prescientific psychology the right to open the door to such glittering epigrams which are uttered simply to tickle or to whip the vanity of man? Or what psychologist would believe Lichtenberg when he claims: "All men are equal in their mental aptitudes, and only their surroundings are responsible for their differences"? He observes better when he says: "An insolent man can look modest when he will, but a modest man can never make himself look insolent"; or when he remarks: "Nothing makes a man old more quickly than the thought that he is growing older"; or "Men do not think so differently about life as they talk about it"; or "I have always found that intense ambition and suspicion go together"; or "I am convinced that we not only love ourselves in loving others, but that we also hate ourselves in hating others." Often his captivating psychological words are spoiled by an ethical trend. For instance, he has hardly the right to say: "In the character of every man is something which cannot be broken; it is the skeleton of his character." But he balances such psychological rashness by fine observations like these: "The character of a man can be recognized by nothing more surely than by the joke he takes amiss"; and "I believe that we get pale from fright also in darkness, but I do not think that we would turn red from shame in the dark, because we are pale on our own account, but we blush on account of others as well as on account of ourselves." And we are in the midst of the up-to-date psychology when we read what he said a hundred years ago: "From the dreams of a man, if he report them accurately enough, we might trace much of his character, but one single dream is not sufficient; we must have a large number for that."

I add a few characteristic words of distinctly psychological temper from the great nonpsychological authors of modern times. Lessing says: "The superstition in which we have grown up does not lose its power over us when we see through it; not all who laugh about their chains are free"; or again, "We are soon indifferent to the good and even to the best, when it becomes regular"; "The genius loves simplicity, while the wit prefers complexity"; "The characteristic of a great man is that he treats the small things as small, and the important things as important"; "Whoever loses his mind from love would have lost it sooner or later in any case." But on the whole, Lessing was too much of a fighter to be truly an objective psychologist. We may put more confidence in Goethe's psychology: "Where the interest fades away, the memory soon fails, too"; "The history of man is his character"; "From nature we have no fault which may not become a virtue, and no virtue which may not become a fault"; "A quiet, serious woman feels uncomfortable with a jolly man, but not a serious man with a jolly woman"; "Whatever we feel too intensely, we cannot feel very long"; "It is easy to be obedient to a master who convinces when he commands"; "Nobody can wander beneath palms without punishment; all the sentiments must change in a land where elephants and tigers are at home"; "A man does not become really happy until his absolute longing has determined its own limits"; "Hate is an active displeasure, envy a passive one, and it is therefore not surprising that envy so easily turns into hate"; "No one can produce anything important unless he isolate himself"; "However we may strive for the general, we always remain individuals whose nature necessarily excludes certain characteristics, while it possesses certain others"; "The only help against the great merits of another is love"; "Man longs for freedom, woman for tradition"; "A talent forms itself in solitude, a character in the stream of the world"; "The miracle is the dearest child of belief"; "It is not difficult to be brilliant if one has no respect for anything."

Whoever falls into the habit of looking for psychologizing maxims in his daily reading will easily bring home something which he picks up in strolling through the gardens of literature. Only we must always be on our guard lest the beautifully coloured and fragrant flowers which we pluck are poisonous. Is it really good psychology when Vauvenargues writes: "All men are born sincere and die impostors," or, when Brillat-Savarin insists: "Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you who you are"? Or can we really trust Mirabeau: "Kill your conscience, as it is the most savage enemy of every one who wants success"; or Klopstock: "Happiness is only in the mind of one who neither fears nor hopes"; or Gellert: "He who loves one vice, loves all the vices"? Can we believe Chamfort: "Ambition more easily takes hold of small souls than great ones, just as a fire catches the straw roof of the huts more easily than the palaces"; or Pascal: "In a great soul, everything is great"; or the poet Bodenstedt when he sings: "A gray eye is a sly eye, a brown eye is roguish and capricious, but a blue eye shows loyalty"? And too often we must be satisfied with opposites. Lessing tells us: "All great men are modest"; Goethe: "Only rascals are modest." The psychology of modesty is probably more neatly expressed in the saying of Jean Paul: "Modest is he who remains modest, not when he is praised, but when he is blamed": and Ebner-Eschenbach adds: "Modesty which comes to consciousness, comes to an end."

But in our system of naive psychology, we ought not to omit such distinctly true remarks as Rabelais' much-quoted words: "The appetite comes during the eating"; or Fox's words: "Example will avail ten times more than precept"; or Moltke's: "Uncertainty in commanding produces uncertainty in obedience"; or Luther's: "Nothing is forgotten more slowly than an insult, and nothing more quickly than a benefaction." It is Fichte who first said: "Education is based on the self-activity of the mind." Napoleon coins the good metaphor: "A mind without memory is a fortress without garrison." Buffon said what professional psychologists have repeated after him: "Genius is nothing but an especial talent for patience." Schumann claims: "The talent works, the genius creates." We may quote from Jean Paul: "Nobody in the world, not even women and princes, is so easily deceived as our own conscience"; or from Pascal: "Habit is a second nature which destroys the original one." Nietzsche says: "Many do not find their heart until they have lost their head"; Voltaire: "The secret of ennui is to have said everything"; Jean Paul: "Sorrows are like the clouds in a thunderstorm; they look black in the distance, but over us hardly gray." Once more I quote Nietzsche: "The same emotions are different in their rhythm for man and woman: therefore men and women never cease to misunderstand each other."

This leads us to the one topic to which perhaps more naive psychology has been devoted than to any other psychological problem, the mental difference between men and women. Volumes could be filled, and I think volumes have been filled, with quotations about this eternal source of happiness and grief. But if we look into those hundreds of thousands of crisp sayings and wise maxims, we find in the material of modern times just what we recognized in the wisdom of India. Almost all is metaphor and comparison, or is practical advice and warning, or is enthusiastic praise, or is maliciousness, but among a hundred hardly one contains psychology. And if we really bring together such psychologizing observations, we should hardly dare to acknowledge that they deserve that right of generality by merit of which they might be welcomed to our psychological system. Bruyere insists: "Women are extreme; they are better or worse than men"; and the same idea is formulated by Kotzebue: "When women are good they stand between men and angels; when they are bad, they stand between men and devils." Rousseau remarks: "Woman has more esprit, and man more genius; the woman observes, and the man reasons." Jean Paul expresses the contrast in this way: "No woman can love her child and the four quarters of the globe at the same time, but a man can do it." Grabbe thinks: "Man looks widely, woman deeply; for man the world is the heart, for woman the heart is the world." Schiller claims: "Women constantly return to their first word, even if reason has spoken for hours." Karl Julius Weber, to whom German literature has to credit not a few psychological observations, says: "Women are greater in misfortune than men on account of the chief female virtue, patience, but they are smaller in good fortune than men, on account of the chief female fault, vanity." Yet as to patience, a German writer of the seventeenth century, Christoph Lehmann, says: "Obedience and patience do not like to grow in the garden of the women." But I am anxious to close with a more polite German observation. Seume holds: "I cannot decide whether the women have as much reason as the men, but I am perfectly sure that they have not so much unreason." And yet: "How hard it is for women to keep counsel," and how many writers since Shakespeare have said this in their own words.

The poets, to be sure, feel certain that in spite of all these inner contradictions, they know better than the psychologists, and where their knowledge falls short, they at least assure the psychologist that he could not do better. Paul Heyse, in his booklet of epigrammatic stanzas, writes a neat verse which, in clumsy prose, says: "Whoever studies the secrets of the soul may bring to light many a hidden treasure, but which man fits which woman no psychologist will ever discover." To be sure, as excuse for his low opinion of us psychologists, it may be said that when he wrote it in Munich thirty years ago there was no psychological laboratory in the university of his jolly town and only two or three in the world. But to-day we have more than a hundred big laboratories in all countries, and even Munich now has its share in them, so that Heyse may have improved on his opinion since then. But in any case we psychologists do not take our revenge by thinking badly of the naive psychology of the poets and of the man on the street. Yet we have seen that their so-called psychology is made up essentially of picturesque metaphors, or of moral advice, of love and malice, and that we have to sift big volumes before we strike a bit of psychological truth; even then, how often it has shown itself haphazard and accidental, vague and distorted! The mathematical statistics of the professional students of the mind and their test experiments in the laboratories are certainly less picturesque, but they have the one advantage that the results are true. Mankind has no right to deceive itself with half-true, naive psychology of the amateur, when our world is so full of social problems which will be solved only if the aptitudes and the workings of the mind are clearly recognized and traced. The naive psychology is sometimes stimulating and usually delightful, but if reliable psychology is wanted, it seems after all that only one way is open—to consult the psychologists.




Psychology and Life, Boston, 1899 Grundzuege der Psychologie, Leipzig, 1900 American Traits, Boston, 1902 Die Amerikaner, Berlin, 1904 The Americans, New York, 1904 Principles of Art Education, New York, 1905 The Eternal Life, Boston, 1905 Science and Idealism, Boston, 1906 Philosophie der Werte, Leipzig, 1907 On the Witness Stand, New York, 1908 Aus Deutsch Amerika, Berlin, 1908 The Eternal Values, Boston, 1909 Psychotherapy, New York, 1909 Psychology and the Teacher, New York, 1910 American Problems, New York, 1910 Psychologie und Wirtschaftsleben, Berlin, 1912 Vocation and Learning, St. Louis, 1912 Psychology and Industrial Efficiency, Boston, 1913 American Patriotism, New York, 1913 Grundzuege der Psychotechnik, Leipzig, 1914 Psychology and Social Sanity, New York, 1914


Obvious printer's errors have been fixed. See below for the full list. The list of books by Hugo Muensterberg has been moved from the beginning to the end of the project.

Errors fixed

page viii—typo fixed: changed 'pyschology' to 'psychology' page 067—typo fixed: changed 'pulsebeat' to 'pulse-beat' page 086—spelling normalized: changed 'world-wide' to 'worldwide' page 281—typo fixed: changed 'mratial' to 'martial' page 283—spelling normalized: changed 'onesided' to 'one-sided' page 299—spelling normalized: changed 'onesidedness' to 'one-sidedness' page 315—typo fixed: changed 'Eschenback' to 'Eschenbach'


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