Final Public Oral Exam: Joshua Bauchner

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
June 17, 2021 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

The Lives of the Mind: Scientific Concept and Everyday Experience from Psychophysics to Psychoanalysis


Katja Guenther, co-adviser
D. Graham Burnett, co-adviser
Michael D. Gordin
Deborah Coen, Yale University


“The Lives of the Mind” offers a historical account of the mind-body relationship across the sciences of nineteenth-century Germanophone Europe. It centers on the lives of two figures, the physicist Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887) and the physician Josef Breuer (1842–1925), and their major scientific contributions: Fechner’s psychophysics, an “exact science of the relations between body and soul,” and Breuer’s “talking cure,” a method for removing hysterical symptoms and attendant explanatory theory of their psychogenesis. The dissertation approaches the mind-body relation as subject and object of their lives; they pursued this ineffable relationship in adjoined contexts, vocational and personal, rendering it graspable in the idiom of each: scientific concepts in the vocational and everyday experiences in the personal. For Fechner, these were the threshold and taking a walk, and for Breuer, balance and having a conversation.

Part I deals with Fechner and psychophysics. Chapter 2 analyzes how the concept of the threshold was the keystone for the new science, leading to its famous logarithmic relation of stimulus and sensation and a new view of God and the universe. Chapter 3 turns to his everyday walks, thickly describing three modes of walking as they stepped through the major conjunctures of psychophysics. Part II centers on Breuer’s encounter with Bertha Pappenheim, the patient later known as Anna O. who coined the “talking cure.” Chapter 4 considers the type of talk—centered on the self—common to duos such as Pappenheim and Breuer, as it grew from and struggled against Viennese conversational culture. Chapter 5 connects the psychical balance reached via the “talking cure” to Breuer’s physiological investigations of the inner ear and the sense of balance, framed by the personal balance between patient and physician.

Against the backdrop of the rising Germanophone research university and professionalizing laboratory science, my account meets the unending complexity of both the mind-body relation and the daily demands of the scientific life. In so doing, I show exactly how the life of the mind really worked: in the minute construction and transit of scientific concepts and in the mundane but variegated repetition of daily experiences.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

19th Century
20th Century