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28 Jan 08 – Baldwin, The Baldwin Effect, and Human (Non-Deistic) Teleological Evolution.

28 January 2008

On this day in 1902, Andrew Carnegie endowed the Carnegie Institution. This institution was created in order to support scientific research, including psychological research. A committee, then, was formed to recommend worthy psychological research projects. This committee was headed by James Mark Baldwin. I would like to use this blog to talk a little bit about Baldwin, especially the “Baldwin Effect,” and to talk about an issue that is currently a “hot topic”: evolution.

James Mark Baldwin was an American philosopher and psychologist, trained in philosophy under the tutelage of James McCosh at Princeton University. Similar to the philosopher Thomas Reid, McCosh felt that our beliefs were the direct result of sensation and, thus, not open to question (this belief was central to Gibson’s account of perception in yesterday’s blog post).  McCosh also felt that evolution glorifies the divine designer:

                 “All that science has demonstrated, all that theism has argued, of the order, of the
                 final cause and benevolent purpose in the world is true, and can not be set aside.
                 Every natural law — mechanical, chemical, and vital — is good. Every organ of the
                 body, when free from disease, is good. There is certainly the most exquisite
                 adaptation in the eye, however we may account for its formation, and for the
                 numerous diseases which seize upon it. Agassiz has shown, by an induction of
                 facts reaching over the whole history of the animal kingdom, that there is plan in
                 the succession of organic life.”

We can see from this statement of McCosh’s that he believed that there was a final cause (or teleology) in evolution. That is, from McCosh’s perspective, evolution proceeded in a purposive way. For McCosh, this purpose was determined by God – it was a deistic teleology:

                 “Development implies an original matter with high endowments. Whence the original matter?
                 It is acknowledged, by its most eminent expounder, that evolution can not account for the
                 first appearance of life. Greatly to the disappointment of some of his followers, Darwin is
                 obliged to postulate three or four germs of life created by God. To explain the continuance
                 of life, he is obliged to call in a pangenesis, or universal life, which is just a vague phrase for
                 that inexplicable thing life, and life is just a mode of God’s action.”

Inclined toward consideration of evolution as his mentor McCosh was, Baldwin is probably best known for what has come to be called, “The Baldwin Effect.” In the Baldwin Effect, he drew heavily from his interaction with McCosh in formulating theories on both development and evolution. There is an interesting pseudo-teleology in Baldwin’s theory, evidencing a mix of McCosh’s teleological take on Darwin (while appearing to want to maintain a more deterministic perspective) and a pseudo-Lamarckian perspective (where acquired characteristics were inherited). The Baldwin Effect essentially states that the sustained behaviour of a species can shape the evolution of the species. For example, if learning to create a shelter quickly makes it more difficult for the weather to kill individuals in the species, individuals who learn to do this quickly have an advantage. As time passes, the ability to acquire that skill with be genetically selected for and at some point it will be an instinct.

The “pseudo-teleology” in this is that there appears to be a purpose to the behaviour and the genetic selection of the behaviour. That is, the purpose is that individuals do not want to get killed. So, they engage/develop this behaviour. It is a trial and error sort of mechanism. Unfortunately, it is the mechanistic portion, driven by genetic variability, which underlies the Baldwin Effect: essentially, it is not driven by human choice. Instead, it is driven by random chance of the genetic variation that creates this ability. This is where the Darwinian (and “Spencerian” – Herbert Spencer who used the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe) “natural selection” enters into Baldwin’s theory: everything is “selected” naturally (with no human interference) from the random variations in genetic code.

Alternatively, the modern counter-argument is that there is some “intelligent design.” Intelligent design can mean many things. One of these many perspectives on intelligent design is that God designed the world with a clear purpose and it is this design that is followed through evolution. Every change in species was predetermined. What we are now and what we will be are similarly determined by something (or someone) outside of human choice determined our current status.

Though this is more appealing to people who believe and accept divine intervention, such intelligent design formulations have the same limitation that evolutionary theory does: it removes responsibility from the individual (and society). How, for example, can we be responsible for our actions if they were either the result of genetic forces outside of our control or of Godly forces outside of our control? We had no choice in the matter and, hence, we cannot be responsible. Given this lack of responsibility, we could therefore not be held accountable for those behaviors, at least not with any credibility. It would be akin to saying, “bad dish,” to a dish that fell out of a cupboard: the dish had no choice in the matter, it was the result of factors outside its control. The only difference between such intelligent design formulations and Darwinian formulations is that the intelligent design formulations are less random and chaotic (its interesting that scientists who are so concerned with prediction and control accept a formulation, which is a deterministic basis of much of their scientific work, that is itself fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable…its almost as if they rule out the real ability to predict and control when they accept such a formulation).

Alternatively, a human teleology perspective on evolution would allow for personal choice and responsibility. Under a human teleology formulation, we develop skills for a purpose. That is, we realize that having a shelter (something over our heads) keeps us dry for the rain. For the sake of keeping the rain off of us, we make a shelter. This making of shelters is recognized by others and becomes a social phenomenon. Eventually, it becomes ingrained into the fabric of life. Such a perspective neither rules out the place of genetics or of God. For example, those who do not accept that they should make shelters for the sake of keeping the rain off of them would likely be shunned by those who do. As a result, they would likely mate with those who had similar perspectives. Those with the same perspective, mating with like minded individuals would then continue to present their views to their offspring, thus creating a cultural mindset where the origination of the idea or change was lost to time but the behaviour continued. Eventually, the individuals who chose the perspective that was more adaptive to the environment would continue to thrive in that particular region and those who did not choose that perspective would either migrate to another region or cease to exist.

Similarly, there is nothing to rule out an involvement of God in this process. God could still be conceived as permitting the agency of those humans in either pursuit/perspective. God would still be the creator, much like any other parent, but the actions of the children (or humans) do not necessarily follow the desires (or dictates) of the parent (or God).

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


January 28, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Jan 08 – Client-Centered Therapy

2 January 2008

On this day in 1951, Carl Rogers’ book entitled, Client-Centered Therapy was published.  In this book, Rogers outlined his humanistic perspective on psychotherapy.  Essentially, the book presented what Rogers considered to be the necessary elements for psychotherapeutic change to occur: genuinenes/congruence/authenticiy, unconditional positive regard, and empathic understanding.  The theory, stemming largely from phenomenological philosophy (and sharing a number of core perspectives of Kierkegaardian existentalism), involves the belief that the problems which humans bring to psychotherapy are the result of others in the clients’ lives providing love and acceptance with conditions (e.g., “I will love you if you do x”).  As a corrective recapitulation of this problematic pattern of relating in the client’s life, the client-centered therapist is required to act in a way that reflects his or her genuine caring for the client, regardless of the client’s behaviors.  The therapist, furthermore, is supposed to reflect empathy (understanding) of the client’s behaviors, regardless of how problematic the behavior is.  Finally, the therapist is supposed to be non-directive.  That is, he or she is not supposed to direct the client in the proper course of action for the client.  Instead, the therapist is supposed to merely mirror (e.g., use “reflective listening” in response to) the client’s statements/feelings. 

In a passage from one of Rogers’ other books entitled On Becoming a Person, this position is illustrated quite nicely in Rogers’ position on dealing with children.  In this book, he suggests that, if a child hits a sibling, the parent, like the therapist, should not admonish the child for the behavior.  In fact, the parent, like the therapist, should not even consider the behavior to be bad.  Instead, the parent, again like the therapist, should reflect the child’s feelings.  To paraphrase, Rogers suggests something like the following should be involved in dealing with the child: “I understand that you want to harm your sibling.  It is reasonable and understandable that you might have this feeling.  I am sure that your sibling has done some things that have left you feeling angry and you want to lash out.  Still, I I have an equal desire to have your sibling protected from such harm.  In fact, I feel hurt when you hit your sibling.  Though I still love you and will love you regardless, I would prefer that you not harm your sibling again.” 

This, again, is merely a paraphrase, but, I think, it captures the perspective that is offered on dealing with children as well as dealing with clients.  That is, it is a non-punitive (no real reprimand is involved), non-directive approach (not telling them what to do), that appeals to understanding (empathy for the feelings that are verbally or non-verbally presented), unconditional positive regard (expression of caring regardless of actions), and authenticity (presentation of genuineness). 

Still, the foregoing is somewhat of a simplification of the theory.  And, as I look back at it, the foregoing is a little more stilted in presentation that I truly intended.  I actually have considerable appreciation for Rogers’ theory – in fact, my favorite theoretical presentation of teaching and learning is presented in On Becoming a Person and I highly recommend that you buy a copy of this book if only for this excerpt.  Still, I feel that some supporters have improperly characterized Rogers’ theory (though, probably not in their support of the foregoing).

For example, in terms of individual change, the theory is that, through the therapist’s demonstration of unconditional positive regard and mirroring the feelings that the client is presenting (so that he or she becomes more engaged and cognizant of those feelings) the individual will develop a congruence between internal feelings and external action.  This is referred to as “organismic enhancement,” and the basis for which many believe that Rogers believed that people have a capacity for free will.  Unfortunately, this is probably an improper characterization.  Rogers believed that congruence, as the term “organismic enhancement” implies, is developed from a recognition of “organismic” messages – meaning that they derive from internal biological organs.  For example, the message related to anxiety – indicating an incongruence – derives from unsettling feelings in the stomach (“butterflies”).  When the client develops proper congruence, through the reflective listening offered by the therapist, the client develops the ability to conform his or her external behavior to these internal promptings. 

Given such a perspective, Rogers’ theory does not fit conventional (or philosophically coherent) perspectives on free will.  As Rychlak in his book entitled Personality and Psychotherapy, free will, or the concept of choice in human action, requires a personal final causal (or personal telic, “that for the sake of which” we act) perspective with possibilities to choose between.  That is, free will (or, probably more properly, “human agency”) is best understood as deriving from having goals, aims, etc., for the sake of which we act, that are chosen from among other possible, sometimes competing (often dialectical) goals, aims, etc.  The human capacity for free will, then, could properly be referred to as a human teleology – a human having goals for the sake of which he or she acts.  Rogers, on the other hand, conceived of humans as having biological mechanisms for the sake of which they act – what might be referred to as a natural teleology.  While certainly providing an essential counterpoint to the externally deterministic perspective offered from the behaviorists of his time, Rogers maintained an internally deterministic perspective – as we are determined to act, if congruent, in ways that our biology directs. 

I should clarify that this natural teleology is still different and, to borrow the label, somewhat more “humanistic” than a material causal perspective that states that we are merely the result of our biology (e.g., biology, alone, is sufficient for explaining psychological experience).  Rogers’ position is more “humanistic” and less mechanistic, in fact, than both the efficient causal perspective – that we are the product of past, external forces that push us to do the things we do – offered by behaviorism and the material causal perspective because, in Rogers’ position, there is, at least, an involvement of the person in recognizing and acting on the internal prompting.  However, it is important for a thorough understanding of Rogers that from Rogers’ perspective we are not agentic (or in possession of a true “free will).  Instead, we are either the result of others not giving us positive regard leading us to not maintain congruence with our internal states or we are congruent with our internal states, acting for the sake of satisfying those internal states – neither of which involves a human teleology. 

Still a further problem – and one that is more readily recognized in mainstream psychology is that non-directive psychotherapy is virtually impossible.  An analysis, for example, of Rogers’ work with a client who has been referred to as “Gloria,” demonstrated that Rogers’ empathic reflection mirrored his own values.  That is, in his nods and reflections of feelings, Rogers acknowledged only those aspects of Gloria’s presentation that mirrored his own beliefs about proper conduct.  In fact, the study of values in psychotherapy demonstrate that objectivity – whether as considered by Rogers, Skinner, Beck, or even the APA ethics code – is impossible.   The literature, in this area, is clear: not only do therapists have values (which should be a no-brainer), but they are involved either overtly or covertly in therapy (and therapists consider clients to have made therapeutic change when the client’s behaviors begin to conform with their own beliefs/perspectives).  One scholar (Paul Meehl) summarized this position by saying that therapists are, in fact, “crypto-missionaries” – meaning that they attempt to convert their clients to their own value position.  (see my paper with Brent Slife and Amy Fisher-Smith at under the heading “Articles”…”Psychotherapy”…”Inescapable Values in Psychotherapy” for a more complete analysis of this problematic).

Still, there are some rather astute observations that Rogers has presented.  Though I found in a recent trend analysis of the PsycInfo database for a professional article I am working on that humanism has never had a firm footing in the mainstream psychology journals (especially as compared to psychoanalytic, behavioristic, cognitive behavioral, and biological accounts), the core principles and perspectives offered by Rogers have been provided with empirical support, at least, from “common factors” researchers (such as Wampold, Lambert, etc.).  Common factors (or non-specific factors) research indicates that there are factors common to all therapeutic practices that relate (more than do specific factors) to therapeutic change.  These common factors, generally, mirror Rogers necessary factors: emphathy, genuine/authentic therapeutic relationship (I added the genuine/authentic portion), etc.  

Furthermore, Rogers was astute in his analysis of the confounds of Skinner’s  behavioral perspective (though, I would argue, here he was also too passive).  In a debate with Skinner, for example, Rogers questioned Skinner on Skinner’s position, saying (again, I am paraphrasing), “If I understand your position, we are all determined by our past environmental contingencies and, as such, your position is the result of your past environmental contingencies and mine is the result of my own.  Given this, neither one of our positions are privileged, because they are merely the result of our own personal environmental inputs.”  His passiveness (from my perspective) was that he did not say, “How can yours’, then, be considered correct when your position, itself, states that it is merely the result of a contingency with no true grounding, either objectively or morally?” 

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

January 2, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment