Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/December 1896/Two Scientific Congresses



THE pursuit of science does not stop in summer, and those who go abroad for rest or recreation find that science pursues them. It is a very profitable form of science which is thus prosecuted in summer, however, and that in two respects: for, in learning science in a summer congress, one gets the things which the best men oftentimes save up for just this or that occasion, and then again one gets the men thrown in. This latter fact is really the redeeming feature of a scientific congress. It is appreciated, too; and the social side of the congress idea has had such development that it is a question whether the fatigue incident to the attendance upon the social functions does not sometimes enervate the scientist when he should be mentally most brave and sharp.

The International Congress of Experimental Psychology, of which I shall first speak, certainly touched the summit of social privilege, as a citizen in any monarchy would certainly agree, since certain of the members were given a dinner in Munich—the seat of the congress—by the reigning house in the person of Prince Ludwig Ferdinand of Bavaria, himself a man with a medical degree and the author of sundry medical monographs. This, together with the official reception by the city of Munich and the many other private and collective entertainments, will make this meeting memorable to those who had the good fortune to attend it. It was a chance, too, to meet almost every great—or less great—worker in the various departments of psychology in Germany.

The organization of an international congress for psychology dates back to 1888, when the first assembled in Paris under the presidency of Prof. Th. Ribot, of the Collége de France. It was devoted very largely—and that intentionally—to two topics which were then uppermost in the French psychologists' minds: hypnotism and telepathy. Very few Germans were there. Of English-speaking delegates, Prof. Sidgwick, of Cambridge, and Prof. James, of Harvard, who were the two best men at that time—as they are yet—interested in both these subjects, were prominent. The second meeting was in London, in 1892, under the presidency of Prof. Sidgwick—a large and profitable meeting; and it is significant of the change that had come over the personnel of the congress, as well as of the growth of ideas in the interval between the two meetings, that at this second session the name of the organization was changed from "Congress of Physiological Psychology" to "Congress of Experimental Psychology." For at the London meeting the range of topics was greatly broadened; both hypnotism and telepathy took a much less prominent place; and all the varied branches of psychological work came in for treatment, especially the purely academic experimental psychology of the laboratory.

The third session of this congress, held August 6th to 9th in Munich, showed the same development, and so became the great unrestricted body that it should be. All departments of psychological investigation were adequately represented in the five sections into which it was found necessary to divide the more technical papers; while the general sessions, devoted to topics of more universal interest, were full and most instructive. Indeed, the president found it necessary to repeat what the former presiding officer had said in London, that the word "experimental" in the title of the body did not describe laboratory work alone, but all investigations into mental things which were conducted by competent men in accordance with inductive scientific methods. This range is shown by the titles of the five sections referred to: "Neurology, the Senses, Psychophysics"; "Normal"; "Abnormal"; "Dreams, Hypnotism"; "Comparative and Educational." Consequently, at the Munich Congress the word "experimental" was dropped from the official designation of the body.

The work of the general sessions was interesting to a wider circle than that of the professed psychologists, in several respects. The president. Prof. Stumpf, of Berlin, discussed the relation of mind and body in a way which may be profitably read by those moderately versed in philosophy. His address has since appeared in full in the Revue Scientifique of Paris, and will also appear in full in the Proceedings of the congress. Prof. Richet, of Paris, discussed "Pain" in a way which did not throw much light on the subject, and his paper has also come out in the Revue Scientifique. Prof. Ebbinghaus presented an interesting new method of testing the mental capacities of school children, which I have already outlined in the Nation for September 10th.

President Hall, of Clark University, was to speak in one of the general meetings, but did not attend. Prof. Preyer, who is known for his excellent books on the child's mind, presented a general treatment of "The Psychology of the Child."

In the sections much exact work was done. It would be impossible, in the space I have, even to cite the different papers; so I shall have to leave the reader to consult them in the Proceedings. There were, besides the regular programme, several things of the nature of "side shows" which deserve comment. In the first place, there was an exhibition of apparatus, containing many interesting and some new things, under the charge of Dr. Marbe. Then the members of the congress were treated to a demonstration of the Röntgen ray effect which has possibly not yet been surpassed anywhere. Led into a dark room, the observer was stationed before a prepared screen about two feet square or more, and behind the screen a boy was gradually passed at the same time that the Röntgen rays made the screen fluorescent. The shadow outlines of the internal organs of the boy were clear—lungs, heart, etc.—and the movements of these organs in regular rhythm were plainly seen. This exhibition excited great enthusiasm among the members of the congress. Another rather sensational "side show" was the exhibition made of an Indian yogi, who went off into his sleep in a private room for the edification of some of the psychologists.

The next psychological congress is to meet in Paris in 1900, in connection with the French Universal Exposition. Prof. Ribot, who is considered the official representative of psychology in France, is again made president, and M. Ch. Richet vice-president. M. Pierre Janet will be secretary. The international committee for the next meeting has four American representatives—Profs. James, Hall, Titchener, and the present writer. There seems to be a general feeling that America should have the congress soon; indeed, the going to Paris for a second session is a matter of special consideration in view of the coming exposition.

The other congress of which I have promised to write briefly is that of "Criminal Anthropology": the fourth, which met in Geneva in the last week of August. This congress has had about the same lease of life as that for psychology, the earlier sessions having been held in Paris, Rome, and Brussels. It aims to be official, and invitations to take part are sent to the different Governments. This year quite a remarkable array of governmental appointees were in attendance. It seems that this policy is somewhat doubtful, from the point of view of science, since the Governments are sometimes disposed to take what representatives they can get in order to save expense; and, besides, their appointees are likely to be men whose interest is rather in the practical and administrative side of criminology than in the purely scientific side. I am far from meaning by this to make any disparaging reference to the Government representatives in the congress of this summer, but only to say that the general policy is likely to give the development of the work of the organization a set in a practical rather than a scientific direction. This, indeed, already shows itself in the work of the congress. Of course, a congress on administrative criminology—there has been a congress on "Prison Reform"—would be a good thing; but what criminology as a science needs the rather is the earnest discussion of the fundamental concepts on which it rests; especially seeing that the origin of the movement which issued in the organization of the present congress and which gave rise to the phrase "criminal anthropology"—was an extremely one-sided and in many respects extravagant and unscientific one.

This year's congress did not make much progress in settling fundamental questions—such as the real definition of criminality from a psychological point of view, or the classification of criminal classes, or the nature of moral insanity, all of which are necessary preliminaries to the more practical problems of treatment, etc.—but spent its time in sharp, sometimes violent, discussions between the school of criminal anthropologists in Italy, led by Lombroso and Ferri, and the party of doubters who have as yet little to offer in its place. Among the more serious and important papers I may mention: V. Hamel, L'Anarcliisme; Dallemagne, Dégénérescence et criminalité; Tarde, La Criminalité professionnelle; Ballet, Les Persécutés processifs; Naecke, La Psychiatrie crimmelle; Legrain, Conséquences sociales de l'alcoolisme des ascendants; and Mr. Francis Galton's report on his "finger-print" method of identification.

The next session of this congress is to be held in the Hague, on invitation of the Dutch Government, in 1901.

It is in line with the criticism made above—to the effect that this congress is not sufficiently severe in its devotion to the pure science of the criminal—to suggest that the psychologists of the other congress should give more attention to what is called criminal psychology. The psychology of abnormal types of mind has been greatly advanced in recent years, especially in France; and this advance has extended to a great many phases of mental defect. But the particular line of defect which criminology has in view has not been much treated by professed psychologists, although the first determination of criminology—as to whether crime is in its nature really a mental defect at all—is of course a psychological one. I do not wish to disparage the anthropological investigations of the Italian school as far as they have been made with due severity of method—as some of them have not—but, allowing that much has been done and that much more will be done by the investigation of the physical side, it still remains true that the closer approach to the real criminal must be from the psychological side. Suppose, for example, we should admit the results of Lombroso, Ferri, and the rest, and say that there are certain physical "stigmates," or signs, which are found more often singly or together in law-breakers than in any law-abiding group of people, still two very important questions would have to be asked and answered before we should have the first start toward a real science of the criminal as such. First, What proportion of people who are potential criminals do not become law-breakers?—and, second, What proportion of the law-breakers are not criminals? The first question asks us to decide what type of mind is a potential criminal, or what degree of abnormity, social obliquity, etc., a man must have to be a criminal. This calls for a psychological definition of criminality. The second question takes us in exactly the same direction; for to ask how many law-breakers are not criminals is to admit that there are degrees of abnormal defect which the law takes cognizance of simply because more appropriate agencies do not. There are men and women in the jails who ought to be in reformatories, and others in the reformatories who ought to be in the asylums. This, then, calls upon us for a psychological determination of the lower limit of criminality—the limit below which we are dealing with the insane and the irresponsible—as the former question calls for the upper limit, that which sets bounds to the class of criminals who are never caught by the law at all. Both of these are accordingly psychological questions; and the main value of the results of the so-called criminal anthropology, as so far worked up, is to set these problems clearly in the light, especially the latter one. To establish moral atavism for one class of men, and degeneracy for another class, and criminal heredity in this fashion or that, is to throw these classes out of the really criminal class altogether, as far as any psychological definition which is now in sight would seem to indicate.


It is mentioned as a characteristic of Japanese artists that they will not repeat identical elements. They, in fact, understand the difference between the meanings of the terms "likewise" and "also," and they will have none of the latter. Accordingly, of fifty stencils of theirs recently published in an art work, there is not one which in all respects reproduces another, although there are many which resemble one another.