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25 Jan 08 – E. G. Boring – Myth Making in Psychological History?

25 January 2008

On this day in 1933, Edwin G. Boring’s book entitled, Physical Dimensions of Consciousness was published. As the title of this book implies, Boring was inclined to conceive of psychological phenomena in biological terms. Given this, it is no small wonder that Boring’s history of psychology (entitled, A History of Experimental Psychology) was revisionistic – putting a revised slant on the history, which made biological theorizing central to the foundation of psychology. There are three examples, which stand out among others, of how Boring went about revising history: the selection of 1879 as the official date of psychology’s beginning, the selection of the “father of experimental psychology,” and the characterization of this “father” as a physiological reductionist.


Boring solidified 1879 as the beginning of experimental psychology. His selection of this date has had such a profound impact that it is now rare to sit through a history of psychology course, especially in undergraduate psychology, and not be required to select this date on an examination. In fact, I think this showed up on my licensing exam (I know it was in the study materials).

How did Boring arrive at this date? Honestly, I am not quite sure. Based on other research (e.g., Robert Watson’s historical research) it is clear that even the suggested location of “the very first formal psychological laboratory in the world” was not actually formally “founded” until about 1894. I think we can be sure that Boring had some justification for choosing this year. Unfortunately, this is lost to “history.”

Father of Experimental Psychology?

What we do know is that Boring had a clear preference for whom he associated with this date and this formal psychological laboratory: Wilhelm Wundt. Based on what we learn in the history of psychology, this is the patently obvious selection as the father of experimental psychology. Wundt, unfortunately, was not the obvious choice. Two other psychologists, at minimum, preceded Wundt in their experimental efforts in psychology: William James and Gustav Fechner.

William James, for example, began teaching at Harvard University in 1875, four years before the chosen date of 1879. There, he brought together threads of psychological experimentation, physiological medicine, and forms of explanation derived from the theory of evolution. He was involved in active psychological experimentation and his seminal work on the topic of psychology, presenting elements of all his early interests, entitled, The Principles of Psychology was published in 1890, 4 years before the formal founding of Wundt’s laboratory.

Alternatively, Gustav Fechner was conducting research even earlier. With a background in physics (and during his career holding the chair of the physics department at Leipzig), Fechner was probably the first “psychologist” to develop experimental methods for the study of psychological phenomena. His work was a conjunction of experimental methods for the study of perception and philosophical debate regarding the fundamental nature of psychological phenomena. Fechner’s views on both, in the are called “psychophysics,” were summed up in his book entitled, Elements of Psychophysics (English translation of the German), published in 1860 – a full 19 years prior to the chosen date for the beginning of experimental psychology!

Why Wundt, then?

Given the foregoing, we are certainly left with the question of why Wundt was chosen to hold the exalted title of “Father of experimental psychology.” Well, there are somewhat apparent responses to this question, both founded in Boring’s perspective on psychology and in his writing on the history of psychology.

Boring (born in 1886), as a professor at Harvard University (where he developed and chaired the Department of Psychology in 1934), would certainly have been familiar with James (not to mention he would have been familiar with him by notoriety alone). Yet, by the time that Boring interacted with Jamesian thought, James had moved from experimentation to investigation of philosophical concerns. James’ perspective on philosophical concerns and the role of religion in psychological (presented in his text entitled, Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature published in 1902) had a decidedly dualistic tone. That is, he conceived of humans as having both a corporeal body and a metaphysical/spiritual mind (his framing of which sometimes made it difficult to determine whether he believed humans were determined or had agency – “free will”). Boring, alternatively, as the title of his book (which started this blog) suggests, was more inclined to view humans as the product of their biology alone.

Similarly, Fechner, while steeped in the physics of his time, also conceived of humans in a different manner than did Boring. In fact, Fechner saw body and mind as two ways of conceiving of the same thing. Fechner’s perspective, then, was a holistic conception, not unlike the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Physics, which conceived of physical objects as having a complementary composition that is both “corporeal” and, for lack of a better word, “inferred.” From both perspectives, it was essential to understand both sides of the whole in order to understand the phenomena under analysis. Boring was quite aware of this aspect of Fechner’s position and chose to see it as prompted by the fact that Fechner suffered through a period of physical and mental illness: for Boring, instead of considering this perspective as possibly legitimate (based on his own biases), he instead considered it the ramblings of a troubled man. It didn’t hurt that it clearly did not fit with Boring’s own conceptions.

However, there was one person he knew he could at least make conform with his own perspectives, through a tricky kind of slight of hand: Wundt. This slight of hand was the fact that Wundt was portrayed by his student Titchener as a physical reductionist (e.g., someone who saw humans as essentially the product of their physical composition).

Physiological Reductionism?

Unfortunately, Wundt’s own writing does not even conform to this physiological reductionism perspective. Wundt, not unlike James, was a dualist. He perceived that conceiving of humans as only the products of their physiology as something that would take away all meaning from the human condition. Still, in his experimentation, he focused on those “objective” elements of the dualism (e.g., the physical), which Titchener took with him to the United States (and to Boring). Wundt, however, continued to present his philosophical analyses outside of the laboratory, where he clearly indicated this dualistic mindset.

In then end, then, Boring revised the history of psychology in a way that fit with his own perspectives. He chose Wundt (and a date that “sufficed”) because, via Titchener, Wundt could be painted to fit Boring’s conception of what psychology (and, specifically, experimental psychology) was all about.

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.


January 25, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

24 Jan 08 – Alcoholism – Where’s the Humanity?

24 January 2008

On this day in 1930, Charles R. Schuster was born.  Schuster conducted behavioral pharmacology studies, which changed the view of drug abuse from a disorder of the will to a behavior maintained and altered by basic mechanisms of operant and classical conditioning. 

As a result of the studies conducted by Schuster, it is not uncommon to read statements such as the following (made by Thomas H. Kelly in an article published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology):        

            “Drugs of abuse are unconditioned reinforces whose functional effects are

            mediated through neuropharmacological mechanisms.”

I’m actually quite amazed that scientists are willing to give such emphatic statements regarding the causes of psychological phenomena, such as drug abuse.  I’m amazed – and am likely to continually be amazed – because the majority of us have Doctorates of Philosophy but do not appear to understand the philosophical implications of such statements.   The foregoing statement is based on the assumption that research data has “proven” that drugs of abuse develop from operant and classical conditioning means and are demonstrated in their effects on the brain.  Unfortunately, the philosophy of science teaches us that we cannot, in principle, prove anything!  In fact, the closest we can come is falsifying something (showing that it is false).  This, even, is incredibly difficult as those with a particular perspective on something very often come up with arguments that allow them to maintain their perspective, even with disconfirming results.  In fact, what is required is a crucial test or, simply, a change in regime – new people entering the field that are willing to see things in different ways than those who came before them.

Still, individuals such as Victor Stenger, a very thoughtful, intelligent physicist who has made many efforts to combat “pseudoscience” and, especially, “post-modernism” concedes this point.  However, he says that we know the truth well enough from scientific research that we would bet our lives on the findings of research.  I certainly am willing to accept that we have the requisite knowledge for someone to conduct a surgery on me and get it right, for example (even though there are plenty of times, even with the requisite knowledge, that they get it wrong).  Or, to use an example that Stenger gives, the law of gravity has been tested by enough experiments to conclude that it is “real” and will help us predict, with confidence, that after jumping off a tall building we will fall to our precipitous death.

Still, even this example is marred with the “reality” of the philosophy of science.  This reality is that what our data tell us is not the truth.  Instead, they tell as an indicator.  As David Hume, the noted British empiricist, admitted, we must rule out all other possible explanations.  The problem is that we rarely do so.  Even Stenger’s wonderful example regarding the proven construct of gravity has counterarguments.  One of the counterarguments comes from physics, itself.  In fact, it comes from Einstein.  Einstein conceived not of gravity but the curvature of space as the reason why we fall to the precipitous grounding.  Gravity is a metaphysical construct (a theory regarding something that we cannot see) that Newton created even in his attempt to describe things in as physical terms as possible.  Einstein felt that this was unnecessary and developed an alternative. 

Whether the curvature of space (or any other alternative to gravity) is correct or not is not my current concern.  Instead, I use this example to indicate that it is not our data that tell us anything.  It is our interpretations, the theories and philosophies that we apply, that we use to explain and give meaning to the data.  Still, as the example of gravity demonstrates, there are many ways to interpret the same phenomenon. 

Like the perspective on gravity, the operant and classical conditioning with physiological mediation of drug abuse is just one possible interpretation.  From my perspective, while the entire behavioral (e.g., conditioning) perspective is designed to be parsimonious (simplify description and removing superfluous constructs), I don’t even think that it is the most simple explanation of drug abuse.  The reason I do not think that it is is that it does not explain all components of drug abuse.  For example, it does not explain spontaneous remission, people with identical environments not succumbing to drug abuse, the variant effects of drug abuse, etc.  In other words, I believe parsimony requires sufficiency of explanation and the conditioning approach does not give us this.

I think the reason that this is so is that it is restricted to one (or two) aspect(s) of the issue of drug abuse.  That is, it is focused on the environmental (and the biological) aspects of drug abuse.  But, it does not take into consideration the personal choice that is involved.  Even if we are pushed/determined by environmental contingencies and biological mechanisms to drink alcohol, for example, there is always the opportunity to choose not to do this (see Libet’s physiological experiments on free will – even if we do not possess a true choice in doing something, it appears that we do have a choice to not do things…I won’t get into the potential problems of Libet’s experiments negating the original choice right now, however).  In other words, what is missing is the exploration of choice.  The reason it is missing is because behaviorists deny that choice exists; it is a human fabrication (or anthropomorphizing…falsely attributing human characteristics to humans!).

Following this lack of belief in choice, “meaning” is not explored in this research.  That is, what it means for people to engage in drug abuse is not explored.  The reason for this is that meaning requires an individual agent acting; there is no meaning to actions if they are determined.  For example, when a rock rolls down a hill, we don’t say, “Why did you do that Mr. Rock?”  There is no significance to the action: it just happens.  Likewise, when we conceive of humans as having no choice, there is also no meaning (no significance) – and no responsibility – in the action.

Still, choice and meaning would explain some of the findings that clearly speak against the conditioning models and disease models, for example, of alcohol.  The most prevalent contemporary theories of alcohol abuse clearly rely on conditioning and disease model formulations.  An outgrowth of such a conceptualization is that people with alcohol problems should abstain completely form alcohol use because any use of alcohol will re-engage the disease process, which lays dormant until the individual starts to drink again.  However, the findings can certainly be interpreted as not conforming to this model.  For example, a number of studies indicate that the drinking of chronic “alcoholics” is not characterized by loss of control.  Instead, it is frequently goal directed – they do it because they want something out of it (e.g., it is a choice).  Furthermore, alcohol-related problems are quite diverse and, themselves, fluctuate over time, even within the same individual.  This means that different contexts have different meanings at different times.  There also appears to be a social element, with a tendency toward binge drinking in conservative Protestant sects (especially those from dry regions – not desert but those places that prohibit alcohol consumption) and in Irish Americans in comparison to those from Mediterranean backgrounds.  This would indicate not only a drinking culture (perhaps in Irish Americans) but also a somewhat retaliatory drinking culture (in responses to proscriptions – the cultural requirement to abstain).  The latter indication is quite remarkable given the mandate for “alcoholics” to abstain.  It is even more remarkable given the finding that those who are in abstinence programs are even more likely than those in “controlled-drinking” programs to “relapse.”  That is, abstinence does not work (especially force abstinence as the prohibition movement in the United States demonstrated).  Finally, socialization toward moderation in alcohol use appears to be more productive as a treatment.  Changing the meaning and the choices that people make regarding use appears to be more helpful in preventing alcohol problems than requiring them to abstain.

A human with choice and meaning and…responsibility?  This must be fantastical!  It certainly is easier to give that all away to environmental and biological determination.  Still, it would lack sufficient explanatory power…and it is utterly ruinous for society (see my blog on emotional disorders and expulsion a couple days ago).

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

23 Jan 08 – Cognitive Psychology – Revolutionary?

23 January 2008

On this day, in 1970, the journal Cognitive Psychology was first published by Academic Press.

With the advent of cognitive psychology, behavioral theory was, at least theoretically, supplanted.  With a growing belief in psychology about the existence of intervening variables or mediator variables, cognitive psychology appeared to permit a true involvement on the part of human beings in determining their behaviors.  That is, unlike behaviorism that conceived of humans as determined by the environment or past reinforcements, cognitive psychology appeared to present a conceptualization of human beings as agents in their own behaviors.   

Was the “cognitive revolution,” however, really a revolution? The long and short of the answer is, “probably no.”  Cognitive explanations have come to dominate not only the basic aspects of the discipline, such as learning and language, but also the more applied aspects of the discipline such as school psychology and clinical psychology/psychotherapy.  This domination of the discipline means that explanations are now based less on observable behaviors and more on inclusion of the mind. 

Although mainstream psychologists have been more willing to theorize about non-observables, they have maintained their Newtonian heritage and their models have been instrumental in preserving the Newtonian paradigm for modern use.   

During Newton’s time, the universe was conceived of as operating like a great clock (he was, of course, a clock maker), flowing continuously and objectively along the line of time.  Today, the analogy used by cognitive psychology is the modern digital computer – but the concept has remained fundamentally unchanged.  While the new computer analogy places more emphasis on the software, it has not changed the characteristics of the machinery itself.   

Time – one parsimonious way of summing this up is to point to their common temporal metaphysic.  A Newtonian, linear approach to time, as Slife points out, remains a primary assumption in cognitive psychology.  Events are conceived as taking place across time and cognitive processing of these events is itself subject to temporal constraints.  Objective, linear time relations, wherein the past is the determining factor in present events, still organizes input from the environment.   

Cognitive psychology does, on first blush, appear to represent more rationalistic theorizing than did behaviorism, given the representation of mind in its theorizing.  However, when analyzed more closely, the cognitive turn is, in fact, just as empirical in its perspective as behaviorism was.  Past input governs all cognitive systems.  Even cognitive explanations that seem to emphasize present constructive or reconstructive aspects of cognition are often reducible to conventional linear, Newtonian, theorizing, just as behaviorism before it. 

While cognitive psychology has liberalized behavioral method and theory to include the “software” of the mind, it still relies exclusively on mechanistic metaphors and preserves every characteristic of Newton’s temporal framework.  Thus, the cognitive revolution was not, in fact, very revolutionary at all. 

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

22 Jan 08 – Mental Illness Commitment, Deinstitutionalization – Public Crisis?

22 January 2008

On this day in the history of psychology, a number of occurrences related to the development of mental institutions occurred.  For example, in 1821, the Ohio legislature authorized construction of the state’s first mental hospital. In 1825, the Virginia legislature authorized Western State Hospital in Staunton, the nation’s fifth public mental hospital.   In 1836, the cornerstone of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane was laid, at the hospital’s site in West Philadelphia.

Today, I want to discuss not the opening of mental hospitals but their closing.  This closing has been referred to as “deinstitutionalizing” and has both supporters and detractors.  There are interesting and sometimes poorly constructed arguments against deinstitutionalizing.  There are also some fair arguments against.  I want to combat some of the more poorly framed ones, discuss a little bit the ones that are well-framed, and offer an alternative to both involuntary hospitalization and deinstitutionalization.

Deinstitutionalization officially began some time in the 1950s.  While some have suggested that it was the result of psychiatric medication availability, the truth is that talk of reducing the number of people hospitalized for “mental illness” had begun many years earlier and due to overcrowding of hospitals as a result of a huge number of such individuals holding the beds.  From 1955 to 1989, it has been estimated that the number of such hospitalized individuals decreased from 500,000 to about 150,000.   Essentially, what happened was that doors were opened to these hospitals and then closed…it was “discharge and be damned.” 

Many of the individuals were maintained in somewhat institutionalized, state-financed community arrangements.  Sometimes, that phrasing a mere anachronism for jail, prison, nursing homes, half-way houses, etc.  Others were simply left homeless or destitute, without the requisite skills to hold jobs and maintain productive relationships.

The fact that so many were left without treatment has led some to say that deinstitutionalization has been bad because of the effects on society.  This, in and of itself, perhaps is not a bad argument.  However, the argument is maintained by an appeal to emotion that is simply a logical fallacy, in itself.  Furthermore, it is an argument that the data does not support.

The argument is that untreated mentally ill were released to the streets.  Given the fact that they were not forced to be treated, through such involuntary means as commitment, and due to their psychopathology leading to believe they were fine and did not require treatment, these unmedicated people acted on violent urges and committed murder.  This argument, put simply, states that such mentally ill individuals are more likely to commit murder, leading to a public crisis.

It is interesting, however, reading such statements.  Invariably, the supporters of this notion note that such individuals commit 1,000 murder per year nationally (across the United States).  Certainly, this is too many.  However, consider the fact that, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics from 1976 to 2005 somewhere between 15000 and 35000 murders are committed per year.  This means that at most 1% of murders are committed by this population.  Furthermore, the year they are drawing this data from (1994), the Department of Justice report indicated that there was some history of mental illness in 4.3% of those homicides but did not indicate the severity of the mental illness (which could be as simple as depression or anxiety).  (BTW, 4.3% in 1994 amounted to about 727 homicides not 1,000 and, by 1999, this was about 645).

In fact, using the same data, it is conceivable to make a counter-argument: given that the estimated prevalence of diagnosable mental illness is about 22% (at most) of the United States population, even if we were to say that this entire population was killing people, this would mean that 22% of the population was responsible for 4.3% of homicides – and 78% of the population is responsible for 95.7% of homicides.  Hence, to address homicides, it makes more sense to look at the rest of the data related to homicides.  Again, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics from 1976 to 2005, blacks were 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicides (and 6 times more likely to be victims of homicides) and males were 90% of the homicide offenders (and 77% of the victims).  Half of the offenders were under the age of 25 and rates peaked between the ages of 18 to 24.  Hence, borrowing the logic of those arguing the ridiculous position that we are unsafe due to mentally ill being on the streets and their potential dangerousness to others, we should take this data and say that only white females over the age of 25 should be allowed to be free!  This is insanity!  (and a downright poor argument)

The other part of the argument is that by deinstitutionalizing, these people are not getting the treatment (specifically psychiatric medications) they need to prevent them from commit crimes.  This ignores a tremendous amount of literature that indicates at least some increased anxiety and aggression when on psychotropic medications, the increased comparative violence of inmates who are on medications (compared to even themselves when not on medication), crimes committed by people who have been on medication, and the fact that the only good longitudinal study we have (published in 1978 in the American Psychologist) indicates that treatment really is not helpful in preventing crimes – in fact, there is some indication that treatment, itself, is related to recidivism (committing a crime a second time or more).  Given the foregoing, such arguments are basically groundless. 

Another argument, however, has some merit – though, tenuously.  The other argument is that deinstitutionalization is equally as coercive as involuntary hospitalization and commitment to insane asylums.  This argument follows the libertarian perspective that humans have a right to choice in treatment.  I do not necessarily disagree with this.  I also think that the “discharge and be damned” mindset certainly followed this perspective.  Furthermore, I believe that there is likely a social (or contextual) element involved in the process (e.g., there is a fair amount of “social construction” or theoretical haggling, so to speak, in the diagnostic process). 

Still, I think this position misses the point, even while arguing it, that there are frequently problems in these people’s relationships, both with themselves and with others, that do need to be addressed.  That is, by saying that these people should just be given the implicit (not necessarily explicit) option of treatment misses the point that such individuals (and even individuals who are not “mentally ill”) do a great job of denying that they have problems.

As such, I would recommend a two-fold change, that probably could not happen in this society. 

One, I would recommend that we all stop treating the word “responsibility” like it is a four letter word.  We, as a community, have a responsibility to help these people.  These people have a responsibility to help themselves.  We also have a responsibility to hold them accountable for the (poor) choices they make.  Yes, there are values involved in this – but that is the basis of our legal system (and, while implicit to our medical system, the medical system is about treating illnesses not about holding people accountable for their value infringements). 

Second, I recommend a relational rehabilitation program, which involves the development of a sort of “therapeutic community.”  This community would be a community, like others, but designed for the purpose of addressing problematic relationships both with others and with self.  It would be based on a principle of promotion of authentic relating, accepting responsibility, and taking responsibility.  It would function, to use a phrase Yalom made popular, as a “corrective recapitulation of the primary family group.”  Instead of marginalizing these individuals, by placing them in hospitals, jails, prisons, etc., we give them the opportunity to become part of something greater than themselves and to create meaning in their lives that they otherwise lack. (The Alldredge Academy is a good analogue exemplar for what I am talking about here)

Perhaps this is simplistic (in my mind, it is actually quite a complex process – which is why I question its feasibility).  Anyway…

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 22, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , | 2 Comments

21 Jan 08 – Gestalt Psychology, Formal Causation, and the Question of Humanity

21 January 2008

On this day in 1887, Wolfgang Köhler was born. Köhler is best known for his contribution, along with Koffka and Wertheimer, to the creation of Gestalt psychology. I would like to start with some background, dating all the way back to Ancient Greece, to present the unique contribution of Gestalt Psychology.

In Ancient Greece, the reputed philosopher Aristotle set out to develop an understanding of the cause of phenomena. It must be noted, however, that Aristotle’s concept of cause was used to account for responsibility. That is, Aristotle wanted to determine what was responsible or accountable for a phenomenon occurring or coming about when he discussed cause. Given this logic, when a cause was determined by Aristotle, blame could also be placed. Hence, if a certain cause was determined then the other causes thought to be implicated in a phenomenon could be exculpated. More than this, however, Aristotle was attempting to account for, in their entirety, any phenomena that might be investigated. In order to account for phenomena in their entirety, Aristotle borrowed ideas from several prominent philosophers.

The first form of causation, what was referred to as “material causation,” should be familiar to anyone attempting to understand and account for human phenomena based on the body. Borrowed from the belief of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales of Miletus that the world is made up entirely of water in various guises – which was later named by Anaximander “the boundless,” the principle behind material causation is that, “To account for something, one must describe the substance of which it consists.” As applied to humans, then, in order to account for a human, one must describe the humans body, especially the inner substances of that body. Following from this principle, modern researchers expend a great deal of effort to describe the biology of individuals, especially pathological individuals.

The second form of causation, “efficient causation,” very often accompanies material causation in our efforts to understand biological mechanisms. The principle behind this form of causation was taken by Aristotle from an argument between Parmenides and Heraclitus. Parmenides argued that there is no such thing as change. Alternatively, Heraclitus argued that there was a constant flux of change within the overlaying order of events. The principle that followed from this was that, “To account for something, one must describe it in terms of the motions it takes on over time, bringing it to be what it now is.” As applied to humans, this is most often reflected in the notion that we must understand that individuals upbringing and background. However, this form of causation also relates to looking for the changes that are occurring in the body. That is, while the principle of material causation requires us to look, for example, at what the difference is between non-pathological and pathological humans, the principle of efficient causation requires us to look, for example, at what changes are occurring in the pathological individual that bring about the pathology. Combining the two principles, then, we are required to look at the biological (material causation) changes that come about over time (efficient causation) to account for humans. This is the common effort to discover biological mechanisms.

The next form of causation is “formal causation.” The principle behind formal causation was borrowed from Heraclitus. Heraclitus believed that the pattern we see over and above the constant flux of events was of true importance, stating that, “we never step in the same river twice.” This constant pattern is the logos of nature – from which logic, the study of patterned meanings, has its root. This principle is summarized as follows: “To account for something, one must describe it according to the reliable pattern it takes on.” In relation to accounting for humans, this principle means that we must account for the context in which the individual exists. This context involves the relationships the individual has and the interactions he or she has. It also involves how the individual experiences the different interactions in his or her life and how he or she, himself or herself, interacts.

After borrowing these three principles from other philosophers, Aristotle still felt that there was a principle unaccounted for. This last principle of causation he called “final causation.” Final causation was “that for the sake of which” something exists or takes place. It amounts to the reason, purpose, goals, or intentions of an object or event in existence. The principle for this form of causation is, “To account for something, one must describe it in terms of that reason it has for being, or the end (goal, purpose) toward which it is intending.” In terms of humans, this means that, in order to account for an individual, we must understand his or her goals, what he or she is directed toward.

Aristotle called these principles his concepts of “aitia” or “cause.” The suggestion was that we only truly have a complete knowledge of something when we can explain it in terms of all of those causes (material, efficient, formal, and final) that are responsible for its occurrence or existence. That is, from Aristotle’s perspective, in order to fully account for any phenomenon, we must account for all of these forms of causation.

The last two forms of causation (formal and final), however, have found little place in science. This is especially true since the time of Nathaniel Hobbes who believed and did an admirable job of convincing the world that both the realm of mind and of human action were material or biological in nature. As such, the only forms of causation that were important were those that considered the motion (efficient causation) of biological material (material causation) that bring about states in humans. Given Hobbes’ belief and his ability to convince the scientific community that only these two forms of causation (material and efficient) were important, the final two forms of causation that Aristotle proposed were, fundamentally ignored. These often ignored final two forms of causation, however, were, for Aristotle, of primary importance in understanding and accounting for phenomenon. Without them, we would be left with incomplete and potentially misleading knowledge. In essence, we would remain in ignorance.

Gestalt psychology represented a valiant effort in the history of psychology to combat the tendency to formulate explanation in merely material and efficient causal terms. Gestalt psychologists, including Koffka, Kohler, and Wertheimer, presented a theoretical perspective that was essentially formal causal. That is, the structure of the relationship of the parts to the whole was what was ultimately important for the gestaltists. For example, the popularly recognized “optical illusion” that involves, when perceived in one way a duck, and when perceived in another a rabbit was used by the gestalt psychologists to demonstrate that we do not see the lines in the drawing and then either a duck or a rabbit. Instead, we see whole first and then deconstruct them into the various components.

As such, the reductionistic nature of the positivistic science that we were using in psychology was conceived by the gestaltists to be counter to what we were proposing to do in the early history of psychology: develop a scientific discipline with its own unique subject apart from physiology. This was so because in reducing phenomenon from their whole to their parts would necessarily ultimately end up with a reduction to physiological conditions. Gestalt psychology, alternatively, proposed that psychological conditions were primary. Perhaps, there were biological wholes that correlated to the psychological wholes but they were not as important to the discipline. What was important was the relationships among the parts, which made “the whole more than just the sum of its parts.”

The gestalt theorists, then, provided a unique perspective on psychological phenomena, certainly quite unique from the structuralistic and behavioralistic perspectives that predominated at the time gestalt was taking form. It is interesting to note, however, that, even though Gestalt developed largely from phenomenological philosophical positions (in fact, Koffka, Kohler, and Wertheimer were students of Carl Stumpf who was a student of Franz Brentano – also the teacher of Edmund Husserl – the “father of phenomenology”), there is an interesting, phenomenological question that remains in the gestalt formation. Phenomenology, itself, is surely based on a Kantian distinction between the phenomena and the noumena. The noumena is “objective reality” that is conceived to exist “out there.” However, it is not directly accessible. Instead, what we have is interpreted reality, “phenomena.” Unfortunately, from the gestalists’ perspective, there is a structure to perception that comes together as a whole. However, it is uncertain what the role of the person is. In phenomenological philosophy, the role of the person is clear: the person is the interpreter, generally interpreting “for the sake of” something (e.g., in final causal terms).

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

20 Jan 08 – Children with Emotional Disturbances and Expulsion from School

20 January 2008

On this day in 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Honig v. Doe, that schools may not expel children with emotional disorders for more than 10 days without parental consent or court order. I would like to offer a dissenting opinion on this case, as I think that it reflects our tendency to “biologize” psychological phenomena (e.g., see them as biologically determined, without any personal or interpersonal choice involved) and sets a poor precedent, starting early in people’s lives, for excusing bad behaviors.

I believe that the underlying thought process behind this is that children with emotional disorders really have no choice in their behaviors. They are, instead, determined by forces (such as “chemical imbalances”) outside of their control. These children are not responsible for their behaviors; nor are they responsible for changing their behaviors. As such, expelling them is unreasonable and requires some checks and balances to prevent undue abuse of these disabled individuals.

This certainly could have some important implications. One important implication for the children is that their behavior has nothing to do with the choices that they make. That is, as long as these individuals are perceived to not be responsible for their behaviors, it also follows that their behaviors are not a result of the choices and decisions they make.  Instead, it is merely their biology, working at a level over which they do not have control, which is responsible for and governs their actions. Furthermore, it means that they are perceived and perceive themselves as incapable of changing their behaviors on their own, either making it better or worse, because they have no choice in their actions.

An analogy, here, might help to clarify how this perception operates. Based on the deterministic logic that underlies this perspective on such children and their behaviors and that implies that children are controlled by natural (in this case, biological) forces over which they have no control, we could logically analogize these children to any other natural object that was being controlled by other forces (e.g., if children are determined, like any other natural object, by sources over which they have no control, they are no different, in-kind, from these natural objects). Take, for example, a ball being thrown from a pitcher to a catcher, bracketing out, for the moment, the involvement of the pitcher. Much like this ball has no choice about where it will land and what it will do between the pitcher and the catcher, based on the deterministic perspective, neither does the individual diagnosed with an emotional disorder have any choice or control over his or her actions or behaviors. The individual, like the ball, is controlled by hypothetical natural – in this case neurobiological – forces over which he or she has no control. As indicated above, with no control over his or her own behavior, this individual can also not be held responsible for his or her behaviors and is, thus, not perceived to be responsible for these behaviors. There is, in essence, no one – no human, at least – who is perceived to be blamable for the individual’s behaviors.

Substituting neurobiology for the pitcher, it is merely the individual’s neurobiology that is perceived to control how the individual will behave. Certainly, there are other forces that can act upon the ball and this is also true of the individual. Still, all of these forces are considered to be natural – or, similarly, neurobiological – over which the child is perceived to have no control or no choice in changing. The ball is not seen as choosing to curve or be pushed by the air. Similarly, the individual diagnosed with an emotional disorder, if the emotional disorder is perceived to be caused by neurobiology, is not seen as capable of choosing to change his or her behavior.

There is certainly a paradoxical sense in which those in the child’s social environment (such as the school system look toward expulsion) want to hold the child responsible, as if he or she was choosing his or her behaviors. Still, it would make little sense to say, “bad ball,” for not heading in the proper direction as the ball had no choice in its direction. Similarly, following the deterministic perspective, it would make little sense to say, “bad child,” for not behaving appropriately, as the child had no choice in his or her behaviors. As the biologically deterministic logic goes, the children are perceived as not responsible for their behaviors. Still, schools want to hold the children responsible. The Supreme Court, evidently, however, felt that the children were not responsible and a check of attempts to hold them responsible was warranted.

So what? Why should we be concerned about this apparent irresponsibility? The possible implications of such meanings of medication are important considerations in addressing these questions. The most important implication of what such meaning of medication may indicate has to do with society. The past president of the American Psychological Association, George W. Albee, for example, noted that, ” …the conservative view of causation [of the medical model]…perpetuates social injustice.” What does Albee mean by joining forces that “perpetuates social injustice?” Simply put, Albee’s appraisal implies that the medical model and the centrality, in this model, of biological causation is responsible for the experience of medication as indicating lack of personal responsibility. The result of this lack of personal responsibility is what Albee refers to as, “social injustice.”

What, then, might be meant by social injustice? If someone is not considered responsible for his or her behaviors, especially those behaviors considered negative, asocial, or maladaptive, because he or she is biologically determined to act in certain manners, then, as noted above, he or she also cannot be held to blame for those actions. The implication of not being held responsible for negative actions is especially important when those actions are defined as including impulsive and potentially destructive social actions. If, for example, an individual happens to be apprehended committing a crime of an impulsive and potentially destructive nature, and the individual has been diagnosed with an emotional disorder, by virtue of the logic that this individual is a product of his or her biology, this person cannot be held responsible for these actions. He or she could say, following the biologically deterministic perception of his or her emotional disorder-related behaviors, “I am not to blame. My neurobiology made me do it.” He or she might blame the physician for not refilling the medication in a timely manner. Alternatively, the parents might be blamed for not ensuring that the medication was given or taken by the individual.

According to the implicit deterministic logic, in the end, however, not only would personal responsibility be forfeited when one is considered to not be responsible for his or her behaviors but so would societal responsibility. Why, for example, would an individual have to answer to society for his or her crimes if they were not his or her crimes but crimes caused by something over which he or she did not have control, such as his or her neurobiology? This is, in fact, the logic that underlies some interpretations of the insanity defense, indicating that the perception of irresponsibility due to mental state – equated to physiological state – is a cultural perspective accepted by far more individuals than merely those included in this investigation. This is also what is meant by social injustice here: justice – in the sense of upholding the law and ensuring equitable treatment for breaches of conduct – cannot be served because the individual committing the crime could not, legitimately, be held culpable for the actions if other phenomena (e.g., biochemicals, physicians, parents) could be blamed in the individual’s stead.

Alternatively, the child could be interpreted as someone who does possess responsibility. Conceptualizing the child as someone who does possess responsibility would mean a dramatically different perspective on such children and their behaviors. The concept of personal responsibility is interwoven with the concept of experiential meaning. Experiential meaning, experiencing an individual’s actions as meaningful (e.g., intrinsically important and significant), occurs only when the individual doing the acting is responsible for the actions taken.

An action could certainly be meaningful without the individual perceiving himself or herself as responsible. That is, the individual could be responsible, whether or not the individual perceives himself or herself to be so. However, if the culture perceives them to not be responsible, then the meaning of the behavior is reduced to the biological determinant and does not relate to what the individual values, thinks, or feels about significant aspects of his or her everyday life and actions. Therefore, for an action to be meaningful in terms of what the action means about what the individual values, thinks, or feels about significant aspects of his or her everyday life and actions, the person has to perceive himself or herself as personally responsible – or be responsible – for that action.

Furthermore, for an individual to experience his or her action as important or significant (e.g., “meaningful”) to the extent that he or she owns it as his’ or hers’, the action must be intentional. The individual must intend to perform the action for a specific purpose. An individual, however, does not have to be conscious of his or her intent for him or her to be responsible for it. This intention, however, does include the act on his or her part of selecting among various options, whether consciously or not, and behaving for the sake of the options chosen. Selection from among the various options implies that personal responsibility requires possibility. As Brent Slife and Richard Williams once stated, “Possibility is a category of assumptions with no ‘must’.” In other words, possibility indicates that an event can be interpreted differently than would be expected based on previous events. Possibility, then, involves the assumption that experiences (which are interpretation plus reality) are not determined by previous events. It is the indication that an “otherwise,” a choice, is available.

From this perspective, then, personal responsibility implies a possible alternative perspective to the deterministic perspective accepted by the Supreme Court in this ruling: agency. Agency refers to such factors as choice, free will, or self-generated thoughts and actions. As it relates to the present issue, agency would imply that children with an emotional disorder are able to do otherwise than some causal force (e.g., the neurochemical imbalance or genetics) has dictated. This definition of agency, as requiring responsibility and possibility, then, is synonymous with the idea that such children have the ability to act “other than” the perceived causal forces – such as neurobiology – would seem to determine.

Furthermore, under the alternative perspective of agency, these children would be perceived as responsible for the choices they make. If we were to perceive the treatment for an emotional disorder as involving agency on the part of the individual, then responsibility, both individual and societal, would re-enter the picture. For example, we might say that, much like the ball being thrown from the pitcher to the catcher, there are certain actions occurring that are not under the direct control of the individual (e.g., the actions of the biochemicals, for example, within the individual). However, if we include the complete picture of the scenario, instead of merely the ball, as a representation of the individual diagnosed with an emotional disorder, the phenomenon of interest becomes more complex. In this case, the ball now has an ability to choose among various options and act intentionally for the sake of those things the child chooses. As such, it might be easier to follow the analogy if we think of the child as the pitcher instead of the ball. The complete picture of the scenario, then, might also involve awareness of the pitcher (the child, himself or herself), the pitcher’s abilities (what the child can truly not do and what the child truly can do), both already developed (what the child has learned) and what is expected (both from self and others), and the pitcher’s motivations and desires (what the pitcher is willing to do and wants to do), as well as contextual factors such as those giving the pitcher guidance (such as the catcher giving signs or the catcher’s analogues – the child’s parents, teachers, and physicians) and the environment in which the pitcher is pitching (including the wind velocity and direction or these factor’s analogues – the limits placed on the child by outside forces). If we limit our focus to merely part of the picture – the ball in its trajectory or, analogically, the individual’s biochemicals or the effects of changes in those biochemicals – it is easy to lose sight of responsibility.

The result, then, of pathologizing and biologizing of behavior, as noted, has some serious implications. Read and Harré, for example, found that people who attributed mental disorder to biogenetic causes tended to hold more negative attitudes toward it. Similarly, Mehta and Farina showed that confederates who disclosed a psychiatric problem were blamed less but treated more harshly when the problem was described as being of biological rather than psychosocial origin. Furthermore, Walker and Read found that a biomedical explanation of a psychotic man’s condition increased perceptions of his dangerousness and unpredictability. Some investigators have argued that biologizing behaviors such as emotional disorder-related behaviors trigger paternalistic responses linked to mandating of treatment, such as medication, and encouraging a view of the disordered as deeply and categorically different. The view of children with emotional disorders as categorically different and requiring the provision of different standards is certainly evidenced by the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case. Furthermore, Read & Harré have asserted that attributing the disorder to causes outside the control of the individual, such as the neurobiological determinants evidenced in this study, produces a perception that the disordered are unaccountable, irresponsible, and unpredictable and may produce a sense of vulnerability among the unaffected. Again, the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case support this assertion.

Finally, the empirical literature indicates that a biologized self-understanding handicaps sufferers, engendering a belief that they are incapable of ever functioning normally, a belief that may elicit pessimism and disengagement if also held by the lay public. This negative view of self can involve a belief that they are deficient and different from others. Such a view is also likely to be held by those in their social network. The empirical literature, according to this perspective, does demonstrate that children with emotional disorders have worse self-esteem than those in control groups. Why wouldn’t they? After all, they perceive themselves and others as less than, or at least different from, others in their social context. Furthermore, research indicates that children diagnosed with emotional disorders show a tendency toward attributing both good and bad behaviors to external forces. In other words, the negative view of self, deficiency, and difference, fostered by a biologized and materialistic perspective on their behaviors, appears to generalize to feelings of incompetence, incapability, and, ultimately, feelings that they are controlled by external forces.

The research on controlled behaviors versus autonomous behaviors predicts exactly this phenomenal experience. Externally controlled behavior, with the implicit assumption of personal irresponsibility, involves an external perceived locus of causality (e.g., that something or someone other than the behaving individual determines the behaviors) and is experienced as pressured by demands and contingencies (e.g., taking or not taking the medication). Autonomous behaviors, on the other hand, have an internal perceived locus of causality (e.g., that the behaving individual determines the presentation of the behaviors) and are experienced as chosen and volitional (e.g., that the individual is agentic). Perceived autonomous, agentic behavior, as opposed to perceived controlled, determined behavior, is related to enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity, heightened vitality, self-esteem, and a general sense of well-being.

Agency beliefs about effort and ability in achieving academic success are also the strongest and most critical predictors of actual school performance. Similarly, when children who attribute failure to a lack of ability rather than to the difficulty of the task or insufficient effort are taught to practice lack-of-effort explanations (e.g., “Maybe I didn’t give it my best effort”) rather than lack-of-ability explanations, both their responses to failure and their school performance are improved. In sum, conceptualizing children as possessing agency empowers them and improves their potential for success.

My dissenting opinion, then, involves a simple counterargument/counterperspective: let’s hold people accountable for their behaviors, even children with emotional disorders. I believe this, ultimately, empowers them, whereas not doing so (as implied in the Supreme Court’s decision) subjects them to an ultimately debilitating state wherein both others and themselves perceive such children as incapable, deficient, and, simply, inhuman.

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 19, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

19 Jan 08 – Rosenhan, Pseudopatients, and “Insanity”?

19 January 2008

On this day in 1973, David Rosenhan’s article entitled, “On Being Sane in Insane Places” was published in the eminently well-respected scientific journal Science.  This was a highly provocative article summarizing the findings of a study that involved eight “pseudopatients” (one graduate student, three psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter, and a housewife) being admitted to twelve different hospitals in five different states on the East and West coasts.  Each of these pseudopatients was admitted after complaining about hearing voices saying relatively innocuous words such as, “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.”  While the facts of these pseudopatients’ names, vocations, and employment were altered, no further alterations in life histories and circumstances were made.  All of these, debatably, “normal” individuals were admitted to the psychiatric ward.  All but one was admitted with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Following admission to the psychiatric ward, these pseudopatients ceased presentation of any symptoms of abnormality and began tracking their interactions in notebooks.  In the absence of “abnormal” symptoms, it was quite common for other patients on the ward to tell the pseudopatients that they did not belong there.  The psychiatric staff, however, did not surmise this.  In fact, the length of hospitalization for these pseudopatients lasted anywhere from seven to fifty-two days, with an average stay of about nineteen days.  During this time, these eight pseudopatients were given approximately 2,100 pills, including antidepressants and antipsychotics (none of which they ingested). 

Rosenhan noted that even the pseudopatients’ tracking of their experience was taken as evidence of psychological disturbance.  Rosenhan suggested that the reason for this misinterpretation is that the behaviors of these pseudopatients were interpreted with reference to symptoms of psychological disorder.  In other words, because these individuals were disordered, and because the location of the disorder, in atomistic fashion, continues to remain within the individual, the behaviors must be indicative of the disorder.  In the end, all of the pseudopatients were discharged with a diagnosis of schizophrenia “in remission,” an indication that the schizophrenia may merely be in hiding but remains within the individual just as a remitting form of cancer remains within a treated cancer patient.

There was much debate regarding this study subsequent to its publication.  Much of the debate focused on the methodological problems.  Still, it is difficult to doubt the role of biases in interpreting not only others’ behaviors but also the results of investigation.  In fact, our values and biases appear to have clear relevance to our clinical decisions in psychology as well as our interpretations of research data.  It is encouraging that such a well-respected journal as Science would publish such a thought-provoking and dialogue engaging article as this.

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 19, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

18 Jan 08 – Piaget – Non-Mechanistic Theorist

18 January 2008

On this day in 1971, the Jean Piaget Society was incorporated in Pennsylvania, marking the official founding of the organization. 

Piaget was a fairly unique theorist, as far as developmentalists go.  He distrusted purely linear and continuous conceptions of development, wherein individuals were believed to follow specific, ordered stages and to gradually progress through these stages.  Instead, he saw people as developing holistic structures that occurred discontinuously, much like moments of epiphany – it all just comes together at once. 

Borrowing from Kantian a priori knowledge concepts, these discontinuous changes did not originate in prior experience.  Instead, they were essentially genetically endowed; there for us to use upon birth.  As such, Piaget saw himself as a scientist engaged in the study of “genetic epistemology,” which has to do with both the formation and the meaning of knowledge.  That is, Piaget was not only interested in how knowledge was formed, he was also interested in what that knowledge meant to people.

Still more unlike other developmentalists (i.e.., Freud, Kohlberg, Erikson, etc.), Piaget preferred the study of normality.  In other words, other developmentalists spent a great deal of time invested in the study of abnormality and applying these concepts to the understanding of normal development.  Piaget focused, instead, on normal development.  He based his studies, then, on careful observation of normal children as they developed in naturalistic settings.

For Piaget, personality was a construction of patterns among related actions.  Much like Heraclitus’ (the pre-Socratic philosopher’s) perspective on the fundamental nature of objects, Piaget felt that the basic nature of reality (including human reality) was change, movement, and development.  From Piaget’s perspective, for example, infants learn by copying the early automatic movements they make in cribs (e.g., reaching), which is essentially reflexive.  They observe themselves in action, first, and they sense what they are doing in their motions.  Hence, they must first act and then learn from this action what they can or cannot do over our life’s ever changing course.  They can, then, take into cognitive awareness the patterned action by abstracting their play in the crib.  As they grow older, they can also copy the behavior of others by observing and forming an image of their behavior. 

The development of knowledge, then, occurs through generalization of “schemes” (what is common among several different and analogous situations) from one action situation to another.  It is important to note that Piaget did not consider schemes to be identical to a “concept” of understanding.  Concepts are broader, taking into consideration both what is common and what is different about not only actions but also all sorts of things.  A scheme is what’s common among different actions carried out at different times.  Because life is similar for everyone, the schemes we all make up share common meanings.  It is such shared schemes that make the learning of language possible.

Alternatively, Piaget conceived of “schemata” as interlacing parts of the much broader structure – a gestalt, if you will.  The schemata, then, is a look at behavior globally rather than reductively.  The whole-part is not just the sum of its parts.  Instead, the parts interlace and are in constantly shifting relations both internally and externally with other parts to form a whole-pattern.  In the formation of patterns, it is the relations among elements that count.  Hence, the structure must have a reliably distinct form (or pattern) which is capable of being abstracted and reorganized again and again.  These are not fixed entities, however.  Instead, Piaget referred to them as “systematic” processes, meaning by systematic the regularly interacting or independent groups of items forming a unified whole.

As can be surmised, then, from this last analysis of Piaget’s theory, his entire formulation was based on a relational perspective of meaning and knowledge development.  Piaget’s theory was, in fact, relational in its entirety, not neatly fitting into empirical scientific proof (which has led to some dispute over Piaget’s empirical grounding).  Instead, his theory was conceptualized based on careful observation and intuitive abstraction.  Furthermore, due to the relational nature of the theory, it meant that discontinuous change occurred not only in each individual, from stage to stage, but also across contexts, where relationships changed.  This was the reason that Piaget made space for such concepts as assimilation (the taking-in of the surrounding environment on the basis of an existing scheme or the more complex whole-structures they make up) and accommodation (the remodification of behavior as a result of experience).  The failure to accommodate new behaviors to experience resulted in lack of progression in development.  Such formulations often defy empirical proof because they are not easily quantifiable.

Given this, Piaget was incredibly unique as a developmentalist.  He was unique, most especially, in his non-mechanistic perspective that focused on discontinuous change and which was based on a fundamentally relational grounding. 

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

17 Jan 08 – Freud/Jung – Agreement in the Midst of Disagreement

17 January 2008

On this day in 1909, Sigmund Freud wrote to Carl Jung predicting that once Americans “discover the sexual core of our psychological theories they will drop us. Their prudery and their material dependence on the public are too great.” Two days later, Jung replied, “I have noticed this prudishness, which used to be worse than it is now; now I can stomach it; I don’t water down the sexuality any more.”Given their many disputes, it is interesting that they found agreement in this.

Jung, a generation younger than Freud, was energetic and imposing. He was trained as a psychiatrist and already working at the internationally known Burgholzi institution in Zurich (directed by Eugene Bleuler) when he met Freud. Despite the fact that Alfred Adler was senior to Jung, Freud saw Jung as his heir-apparent and saw to it that Jung was appointed as the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Association. Still, behind their close association, there were always different agendas.

All of Jung’s work involved a distinctive mixture of both medical and spiritual undertones, the latter of which Freud had difficulty with. This difficulty was especially enhanced by Freud’s continued to desire to find professional acceptability that was so difficult for him to come by. At a time when the theories underlying the physical sciences were changing (e.g., with the development of relativity and, especially, quantum physics), Jung was developing a psychological theory that melded more readily to the new Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics than the classical model of Newtonian physics (in fact, Jung and Wolfgang Pauli were close associates and were involved in a series of dialogues captured in the book entitled, Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters). Freud, alternatively, though he was inclined to see the psyche as less deterministic than the classical model of physics would dictate, was reluctant to present a model that possessed such borderline metaphysical concepts such as non-local effects that underlain Jungian concepts such as synchronicity. Instead, to garner the approval he desired from the medical community at large and more specifically from associates such as Fleiss and Breuer and his professor Brucke, Freud maintained some essentially deterministic components as “add-ons” to his theory.

Ultimately, however, Freud and Jung’s relationship deteriorated and formally broke due to a difference regarding their perspectives on the unconscious. Jung felt that Freud’s concept was incomplete and unnecessarily negative. He preferred a view that encompassed both a collective and personal view on the unconscious, wherein the archetypal symbols of the collective human race were housed in the collective unconscious and the personal unconscious housed those forgotten memories of the present life. In this way, Jung was very much a dialectical thinker, preferring to see everything through the lens of his principle of opposites wherein for every tendency in one direction there is an implicit tendency in another direction. Furthermore, Jung believed that people were driven by ultimate goals through what he called the hermetic energy. Alternatively, Freud conceived of his unconscious (sometimes) in more demonstrative terms, with psychic energies developed over the present lifetime only, with dysfunction the result of fixated energy during specific developmental stages (this, of course, was the “add on” portion related to the concept of the Libidinal energy).

Still, it is curious that both Jung (who saw people as a product of hermetic energy which conflicted with the sexually charged driving force of Freud’s Libidinal energy) and Freud perceived that their theories would ultimately find demise in the United States due to the prudishness that was the mindset of the culture. Is it possible that this perspective is true and that the reason for the lack of widespread acceptability of these theories is due to exactly what Freud recognized and not so much to the reasons currently given (i.e., scientific respectability, falsifiability, etc.)? Certainly such concepts are met with resistance in our culture. Otherwise, we would probably not have such injunctions as to avoid discussion of the three topics of “Politics, Religion, and Sex.” In fact, neither Freud nor Jung were reluctant to talk about any of these topics…instead, each was fairly central in both individual’s theories.

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 17, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

16 Jan 08 – Brentano – Opposition to Wundt’s Physical Reductionism?

16 January 2008

On this day in 1838, Franz Brentano was born.  Brentano is known as the founder of “act psychology.”  Act psychology focused on what the mind does (its activities) rather than what is contained within it.  That is, Brentano felt that psychology should be focused on experiences as an activity rather than as a structure.  Brentano, for example, felt that physics was a secondary science, focused on the noumenal experience that physicists could only know through questioning their or others’ phenomenal experience.  In other words, physics gained knowledge indirectly – from description of experiences.  Alternatively, act psychology was focused on gaining knowledge directly: from the phenomenal experience of individuals.  Brentano’s student, Edmund Husserl, merely furthered this position in his own phenomenology movement.

The history of psychology has painted Brentano in opposition to Wundt.  Unfortunately, as I hope to describe here adequately, this is a false polemic (controversial argument).   This polemic – honestly, I do not feel it is nearly as controversial as it should be – paints Wundt as a physical reductionist and Brentano as a more holistic theorist. 

Unfortunately for this polemic, as noted in one of my prior blogs, Wundt was not a physical reductionistic.  Instead, he was more of a mind/body dualist, believing that humans possessed both a mind and a body.  In fact, he refused to reduce the one to the other.  It was his student Titchener who focused on the reductionistic nature of Wundt’s methods and Titchener’s protege Boring who framed Wundt in reductionistic terms in his very influential history of psychology. 

In fact, Wundt’s portrayal of Brentano was such that Wundt perceived that Brentano was reductionistic, and that this was the fault of Brentano’s position:

           The psychology based on self-observation, which preferred to designate itself empirical 
           [i.e., Brentano’s] psychology, must therefore limit itself to an unsystematic juxtaposition
           of the facts of the consciousness; and, since it is unable to discover an inner connection
           between these facts, it splits up those components which belong together into a larger
           number of dissociated details.

As can be seen from this quote from Wundt, Wundt, in fact, saw himself as a holist and Brentano as a reductionist.  Or, more appropriately, Wundt saw Brentano’s epistemology (belief regarding knowledge development) as reductionistic and his own as holistic.  Wundt believed that he was confronting, in his methods, the mind directly.  Furthermore, he was reluctant to reduce peoples’ character to natural causes (“We cannot therefore decide immediately and empirically that personality in its inmost nature…is itself subject to natural causality.”).  Finally, he was reluctant to reduce mind to body (“…the assumption of a mental substance different from the various manifestations of mental life…involves the unjustifiable transference of a mode of thought necessary for investigation of external nature to a sphere in which it is wholly inapplicable; it implies a kind of unconscious materialism…What can this ‘substance’ do for us, a substance devoid of will, of feeling, and of thought, and having no part in the constitution of our personality?”).  Hence, Wundt was improperly designated as a physical reductionist…as such, Brentano had nothing to oppose on this position. 

In fact, both Brentano and Wundt believed that reality was present “in mind.”  Hence, by both Brentano and Wundt’s estimation, psychology was a different kind of science that made possible the direct understanding of experience (whereas, as noted above, other sciences, like physics, dealt with experience indirectly – using their “objective data” to form indirect meaning merely as they spur on and lead to specific reactions in human beings – the Kantian distinction between the noumena – the reality “out there” – and the phenomena – the reality as perceived, which is all that we have access to in reality). 

Brentano, then, felt that the physicist had to deal with assumed realities – realities that were assumed to be objective (in the noumena) but all the physicist really had to go on was his or her phenomenological data reported to him or her by a person.  Similarly, Wundt felt that not only must the physicist formulate a concept of reality in order to know objective reality, but the physicist must also, necessarily, depend on the indirect evidence (phenomenal evidence) provided by other individuals to the physicist about this or that datum.  Here, then, we see virtually identical beliefs about the difference between the frame of reference of psychological investigation versus other scientific investigation: psychology provided a direct route to understanding experience.

Still, there is a component of Wundt’s scientific outlook that would sensibly lead to a reductionistic perspective…the component which Titchener took from him and that Boring portrayed in his history of psychology.  As a psychophysical parallelist (mind/body dualist), Wundt felt that there was a distinction between what could be scientifically known, in the pursuit of objective fact, and philosophical exploration of grounding issues/questions.  Wundt understood that this led to conceptual problems that are intrinsic to mind/body formulations.  As long as there was evidence for this mind/body dualism, however, Wundt felt that we could proceed on the basis of those observations, without concern to the conceptual problems that plagued such formulations.  Though he believed that the investigation of such questions complemented empirical pursuits, he did not feel they needed to be a part of them.  So, when Titchener took Wundt’s empirical method and did not accept his philosophical formulation, Wundt’s belief that, in a sense, the empiricist leading the way with the philosopher clarifying the reported results, was adapated so that all that there was was the empiricist, without any philosophical clarification.  This, ultimately, meant that all questions of mind were reduced to the physical…allowing for Boring to paint Wundt, falsely, as a physical reductionist in opposition to Brentano’s holisitc position.

In the end, however, Wundt was not a physical reductionist; though, it is probably also not appropriate to paint him as a holist, either.  Still, it wasn’t this opposition (dualism versus holism) that is descriptive of the major differences between Brentano and Wundt.  Instead, it was the methods that they chose to use.   Brentano was more open to considering the philosophical questions in his method, whereas Wundt believed and made efforts to separate empirical investigation from philosophical questioning.

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment