Henning Schmidgen
Chronos and Psyche: The History of Physiological and Psychological Time Experiments

This project in the history of experimental psychology investigates the discursive and non-discursive practices connecting psychology to technology and architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The focus is on competing forms of psychological time measurement in the second half of the nineteenth century. The goal is to elucidate the various material cultures of psychological chronometry and its epistemological preconditions - notably concerning the relation of subjectivity and time.

With the example of the chronoscope, the project traces the lineages of a psychological instrument and unveils surprising connections between psychology and disciplines such as physics and chemistry. Before entering psychological laboratories, the chronoscope was used in the teaching of physics to demonstrate the law of gravity. Moreover, the performative culture of experimental chemistry provided a model for psychological experimentation. Like the technology of experimental psychology, its architecture too played an important role in the development of research. Through the disposition of separate rooms for specific research topics, the laboratory expressed and reinforced a new organization of psychological research work. These dispositions corresponded in part with the arrangement of topics in psychological textbooks. In the quest for disciplinary independence, psychological laboratories were defined against such spaces as the ward and the morgue and were made part of the discourse on the unity of the discipline.

The project also argues that a key epistemological precondition for measuring psychological time was to conceive of subjectivity as something essentially fluid or streaming. Here, it explores relations between experimental psychology and philosophy. Following Kant's transcendental aesthetics, Johann Friedrich Herbart thematized "the oscillations and the flow of psychological facts". Wilhelm Wundt deviated from Herbart's attempts to mathematize the course of mental representations and turned to the experimental time study of psychological states. This shift decisively demarcates experimental psychology both from the cerebral localization practices of phrenology in the early nineteenth century and from neuropsychology in the twentieth.