II International Congress of Psychology
August 1 - 4, 1892, London, England
[Adapted from: Rosenzweig, M., Holtzman, W., Sabourin, M. & Bélanger, D. (2000). History of the International Union of Psychological Science. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.]
The 2nd International Congress of Psychology, London 1892 (International Congress of Experimental Psychology)
The International Congress of Experimental Psychology took place at University College, London, August 1–4, 1892. The president was Henry Sidgwick, professor of utilitarian philosophy at the University of Cambridge and president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) of London. Sidgwick was the initial president of the SPR (1882–85) and served a second term as president in 1888–93. The Honorary Secretary of the congress was Mr Frederick W.H. Myers, also a member of the SPR. Professor James Sully shared the work of Secretary and was influential in organizing the experimental aspects of the program. The proceedings did not include a list of registrants but noted that over 300 persons attended, “including nearly a hundred foreign visitors, from all parts of Europe and from America and Australia” (International Congress of Experimental Psychology, 1892a , p. iv).
Because the number of papers presented—42—seemed large to the organizers, they were divided into two concurrent sections: (a) “papers dealing with Neurology and Psycho-physics,” and (b) “papers dealing with Hypnotism and phenomena akin to those of Hypnotism.” The latter heading included psychic phenomena.
The inclusion of psychic or metapsychological papers was a controversial subject. The leading German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, who had attended the 1st congress, protested against this subject by refusing to attend the 2nd congress. Professor Sidgwick regretted this in his presidential address (Sidgwick, 1892 ). He expressed the hope that the narrowness of his own interests:
had no tendency to narrow the conception that I have formed of the proper work of the Congress. I observe that Professor Wundt, in a recent number of his Philosophische Studien, suggests the probability that under my influence “clairvoyance, under the innocent mask of a statistic of hallucinations”, will be the chief topic at our present meeting; but this only shows that the most accomplished psychologist is liable to go rather wide of the mark, if he is determined to express his opinions on matters on which he is determined to seek no information. It has, on the contrary, been my aim— as I hope our programme shows—to avoid giving an undue place to the enquiries in which I am especially interested; to make our list of papers as adequately representative as possible of the various lines of enquiry, pursued by very
diverse methods, which are included within the range of our subject (H. Sidgwick, 1892 , p. 2).
In fact, Sidgwick was scrupulous in avoiding giving a major place in the congress to psychical research. He wrote in his memoirs that he had attended the Paris congress purely out of friendship for Richet and was surprised there to be elected President of the 2nd congress:
Behold me, then, President-elect of a Congress of experimental Psychologists—most of them stubborn materialists, interested solely in psychophysical experiments on the senses; whereas I have never experimented except in telepathy. Water and fire, oil and vinegar, are too feeble to express our antagonism! What was to be done? I sought out James Sully—probably the one Englishman known to German Professors as a writer on physiological Psychology— and said to him, “… be secretary: write to leading Germans: and, in short, get up the Congress so far as ordinary experimental Psychology goes; Myers and I will provide the extraordinary element; and we will trust in Providence to make the explosion when the two elements meet endurable” (A. Sidgwick & Sidgwick, 1906 , pp. 515–516).
Sidgwick took further steps to try to get German experimental psychologists and physiologists to take part in the 2nd congress. Because he had not used German in many years, he spent his Easter vacation of 1892 in Germany to revive his fluency, and he visited several German professors and encouraged them to participate in the congress.
Finally, only a few reports at the congress were on psychical research. One was an international survey of cases of hallucinations, including cases of telepathy, among the sane. This survey, planned at the 1st congress, was co-authored by Henry Sidgwick in England, William James in the United States, and Léon Marillier in France. Other reports at the congress covered a wide range of topics, including mechanisms of color vision, intersensory associations, functional attributes of regions of the cerebral cortex, development of arithmetic concepts in children, sex differences in sensory sensitivity, and relations between respiration and fluctuations of attention. Conway Lloyd Morgan discussed “The limits of animal intelligence” and made an early presentation of what later became known as Lloyd Morgan’s canon: “In no case is an animal activity to be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be fairly interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale.” Hypnosis was discussed extensively, as at the 1st congress. Some speakers stressed its therapeutic value. The downfall of the Salpêtrière concept of hypnosis as an abnormal phenomenon was now considered complete.
In commenting on the development of psychology in England, Professor Sidgwick confessed that England had fallen behind in converting psychology to an exact science by making precise determinations and measurements. He noted that England did not yet have a properly equipped psychological laboratory. He hoped that one of the benefits of holding the congress in England would be to stimulate development by comparing the position of England “not only with that of Germany, which originated and still leads in this movement, but also with that of our American cousins—who, with characteristic energy, have developed eight or nine psychological laboratories in the last few years ...” (H. Sidgwick, 1892 , p. 3).
Professor Charles Richet, one of the Vice-Presidents of the congress, gave an address on the future of psychology. He held that a major field of psychology is “transcendental psychology,” that is, the study of extraordinary powers of human intelligence which may hold the keys to clairvoyance, transmission of thought, and prevision. Richet declared that determining whether or not such powers exist would be a major accomplishment and would require great perseverance.
Reports on the Congress