William James: “It Is Impossible To Bore A German”


In the midst of a biographical interview, Steven Pinker calls up a quote I’ve never heard before:

When I got to Harvard, the Psychology Department, at least the experimental program in the Psychology Department, was extremely mathematical. It specialized in a sub-sub-discipline called psychophysics, which was the oldest part of psychology, coming out of Germany in the late 19th century. William James, the namesake of this building, said “the study of psychophysics proves that it is impossible to bore a German.”

It’s oddly similar to the complaint of an alcoholic singer in a Garrison Keillor short story about how Norwegians will not allow themselves to be entertained.