Hermann Ebbinghaus

German psychologist (1850-1909)
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Hermann Ebbinghaus (January 24, 1850 — February 26, 1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve. He was the father of the eminent neo-Kantian philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus.

Herman Ebbinghaus.


  • When we read how one mediæval saint stood erect in his cell for a week without sleep or food, merely chewing a plantain-leaf out of humility, so as not to be too perfect; how another remained all night up to his neck in a pond that was freezing over; and how others still performed for the glory of God feats no less tasking to their energies, we are inclined to think, that, with the gods of yore, the men, too, have departed, and that the earth is handed over to a race whose will has become as feeble as its faith.
    • Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885), "Experiments in Memory," in Science Vol. 6, 1885, p. 198
  • What is true is alas not new, the new not true.
    • Hermann Ebbinghaus cited in: Sills (1968), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, p. 326
  • Language is a system of conventional signs that can be voluntarily produced at any time.
    • Hermann Ebbinghaus, quoted in: Geza Revesz, The Origins and Prehistory of Language, London 1956. footnote p. 126

Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology, 1885


Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology. New York: Dover.

  • Mental states of every kind — sensations, feelings, images— which were at one time present in consciousness and then have disappeared from it — have not with their disappearance absolutely ceased to exist. Although the inwardly - turned look may no longer be able to find them, nevertheless they have not been utterly destroyed and annulled, but in a certain manner they, continue to exist, stored up to speak, in the memory.
    • p. 1; Cited in: Richard F. Thompson, Stephen A. Madigan (2013) Memory: The Key to Consciousness, p. 87
  • The musician writes for the orchestra what his inner voice sings to him; the painter rarely relies without disadvantage solely upon the images which his inner eye presents to him; nature gives him his forms, study' governs his combinations of them
    • p. 3
  • A poem is learned by heart and then not again repeated. We will suppose that after a half year it has been forgotten: no effort of recollection is able to call it back again into consciousness.
    • p. 8
  • The constant flux and caprice of mental events do not admit of the establishment of stable experimental conditions.
    • p. 19
  • The relation of repetitions for learning and for repeating English stanzas needs no amplification. These were learned by heart on the first day with less than half of the repetitions necessary for the shortest of the syllable series.
    • p. 85
  • The schoolboy doesn't force himself to learn his vocabularies and rules altogether at night, but knows that he must impress them again in the morning.
    • p. 89
  • Ideas which have been developed simultaneously or in immediate succession in the same mind mutually reproduce each other, and do this with greater ease in the direction of the original succession and with a certainty proportional to the frequency with which they were together.
    • p. 90; Cited in: Granville Stanley Hall et al. The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 35, 1924, p. 218.
  • Mental events, it is said, are not passive happenings but the acts of a subject.
    • p. 91
  • No matter how thoroughly a person may have learned the Greek alphabet, he will never be in a condition to repeat it backwards without further training. But if he chances to set out purposely to learn it backwards, he will probably accomplish this in noticeably shorter time than was the case in the previous learning in the customary order.
    • p. 113

Psychology: An elementary textbook, 1908


Hermann Ebbinghaus (1908). Psychology: An elementary textbook. New York: Arno Press.

  • Psychology has a long past, yet its real history is short. For thousands of years it has existed and has been growing older ; but in the earlier part of this period it cannot boast of any continuous progress toward a riper and richer development. In the fourth century before our era that giant thinker, Aristotle, built it up into an edifice comparing very favorably with any other science of that time. But this edifice stood without undergoing any noteworthy changes or extensions, well into the eighteenth or even the nineteenth century. Only in recent times do we find an advance, at first slow but later increasing in rapidity, in the development of psychology.
    • p. 3: Partly cited in: Edwin Boring (1929) A History of Experimental Psychology p. ix
  • Natural science served as - if we overlook the hasty identification of mind and matter which had its origin in natural science - as a shining and fruitful example to psychology.
    • p. 6; Partly cited in: Peter Ashworth, ‎Man Cheung Chung (2007) Phenomenology and Psychological Science, p. 54.
  • Popular thought, supported by desires common to all human beings, readily accepts the view that mind is essentially different from matter, that its laws are in every respect different from the laws of material nature, and that the brain, being a part of the material nature, is simply the special tool used by the mind in its intercourse with nature.
    • p. 44
  • The foreseeing of our attention is the will to give attention, is voluntary attention.
    • p. 91
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