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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/473

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469
PSYCHOLOGY AND TESTIMONY

evidence of his senses. Most of the examples dwelt upon by Professor Münsterberg are simply proofs of the want of skill of his students—and of most persons—in making certain kinds of numerical estimates. This is interesting, and even important; but it has no such range of bearing as Professor Münsterberg seems to impute to it. And unfortunately in the only instances in which the verdict called for turned on an immediate sense-perception, the subject-matter chosen was of such a character as greatly to reduce the significance of the result. To ask whether a bit of blue paper or a bit of gray paper is the darker is to ask a technical question; the plain man simply can not put himself into the proper attitude of mind to dissociate the question of color from that of illumination, and the most natural conclusion from the failure of a number of Professor Münsterberg's students to answer the question correctly is that they had not succeeded in training themselves to that special task. The other case of direct perception is open to a similar objection. Professor Münsterberg "asked the class to describe the sound they would hear and to say from what source it came. The sound which I produced was the tone of a large tuning-fork, which I struck with a little hammer below the desk, invisibly to the students. Among the hundred students whose papers I examined for this record were exactly two who recognized it as a tuning-fork tone. All the other judgments took it for a bell, or an organ-pipe, or a muffled gong, or a brazen instrument, or a horn, or a 'cello string, or a violin, and so on. Or they compared it with as different noises as the growl of a lion, a steam whistle, a fog-horn, a fly-wheel, a human song, and what not." What does this show but that to the habitual thoughts of a great majority of the men the tuning-fork is highly unfamiliar? Otherwise nothing but diabolical perversity could have caused 98 out of 100 of the men to declare that some other instrument had produced the sound. When driven to a guess as "to what some highly unfamiliar object is whose existence is announced to one of our senses, we do the best we can under the circumstances; but this is something quite different from what we habitually do under ordinary circumstances. I know of a teacher who, whenever his entire class did phenomenally badly in answering a particular examination question, inferred not that the class was stupid, but that the question was an unfair one.

While, then, nothing can be more certain than that great clangers lurk in the possibilities of malobservation, I think I have shown that the case of the average man is by no means as bad as an uncritical acceptance of the specific charges against him so formidably presented by Professor Münsterberg would lead one to believe. One of them falls down completely; most of the others relate to matters that are universally recognized to be matters of estimate or conjecture, and yet are used by Professor Münsterberg as though bearing with full force on the question of the reliability of ordinary simple observation; and even