A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Modeler's Hippocratic Oath

This will be familiar to some people already. In an essay put out in 2009 Emanual Derman and Paul Wilmott write a manifesto aimed at the financial modelers, but with points that can apply to any modelers. The highlight of the article is the Modeler's Hippocratic Oath. Of course, the original Hippocratic oath was the medical doctors pledge (to the Greek gods) to do no harm (sort of). What would it look like if modern modelers were forced to make such a pledge? Maybe something like this:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eco Psych Textbook Project Update 11/2011

Two years ago, I attended the Ecological Psychology meeting in the city of Normal, Illinois. It was hosted by Jeff Wagman, who does solid empirical research as well as solid theoretical work, including two fun papers with David Miller focusing on the similarities between Ecological Psychology and Developmental Psychobiology (see also, the mission statement of this blog). Anyway, at that meeting Bill Mace, long time editor of the journal Ecological Psychology, gave a talk titled "Ecological Psychology Today." His intent was to imagine what one might put in a chapter for the Annual Review of Psychology or a book length reference for the current state of the field. He had some good ideas about the broad topics that would need to be covered (more on that if I can find my notes, or if he will share his slides), but the two main messages I saw in the talk were:
1. The field has grown tremendously since the last big treatments of the field (Gibson, 1979 and Claudia and Carello 1981), and no one is quite sure what the best format for such a treatment would be today.
2. Even if we can determine the format, it is quite possible that no one is qualified to write such a treatment by themselves (the field has simply grown to large). 
That night, I started working on a project. Why not have the whole field write a textbook?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eight steps in Neuro-muscular Integration

In the early 1930's E. B. Holt was a lecturer at Princeton. He had retired from Harvard several years earlier and moved up to Maine to live the isolated philosopher's life. A friend named Herb Langfeld, who had been a Harvard colleague, convinced Holt out of retirement to come teach at Princeton, where he was much beloved by the students (undergraduate and graduate, including J. Gibson). While in Maine, Holt had deepened his interest in physiological psychology, and was desperately trying to tackle the biggest questions regarding how a physical body could do mental processes. This lead to his long, and difficult book Animal Drives and the Learning Process. It also lead to a chapter in a festschrift for Beritoff, a Russian physiologist, entitled "Eight steps in neuro-muscular integration." These works are great early examples of epigenetic thinking about behavioral development, it is contemporary with Kuo's earliest work, and anticipates Schneirla, Lehrman, and Gottlieb by decades.
It is not necessary... to assume the existence of any "inherited" pathways as a basis for reflex conditioning or learning. The very first and simplest reflex paths are learned, that is, conditioned (prenatally) according to the reflex-circle principle; and the earliest muscular contractions, as required for the starting of reflex-circles, are the early random movements of the foetus.... and this fact leads one to question whether the important role so universally ascribed to "heredity", at this point, is anything more than an old myth. (Holt, 1936, p. 27)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Embodied Cognition

Scientific American had a recent blog entry about embodied cognition, and Andrew Wilson made some additions / corrections / clarifications over on his blog. I thought I would ride their coat tails a bit and try to clarify a few more issues. Andrew states:
Embodiment is not the weak claim that you can see small effects of the behaviour of the body in our mental representations of the world. Embodiment is the radical hypothesis that the brain is not the sole resource we have available to us to solve problems. Our bodies, and the meaning-filled perception of the world they allow, do much of the work required to achieve our goals, and this simple fact changes utterly what our theories of 'cognition' will look like.
The last part is spot on: Taking embodied cognition seriously requires developing theories of cognition that are quite different from mainstream theories. The first part is, I think, a touch muddled: It confuses the basic requirements for believing in embodiment with a particular solution that Andrew (and I) favor. Some of the confusion has to do with a historic shift in who the opponent of embodiment is.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Physiology and behavioral causation: Part 2

In the last post, I claimed:
...given the questions we typically ask about behavior --- "we" being either psychologists or laymen --- the fact of physiological happenings is typically implicit in the description that starts the question rolling. Though we might not know the details of the physiology, and we might find those details interesting on a personal level, they do nothing to help answer the questions we are asking. Thus, relative to the concerns of the psychologist, physiological facts should rarely be accepted as explanations
 And yet, people commonly accept physiological facts as explanations for behavioral or psychological happenings. Why? This question is, I suspect, pretty easy to answer, and the answer is telling about one of the major problems in psychology:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Physiology and behavioral causation

Sorry for the delay, aside from gallivanting around more than usual (Tony Chemero invited me out to teach a class and give a department seminar at Franklin and Marshall), I have been trying to take a bit of a mental break since the Holt book finally came out. To try to get started again, I want to write at least a little bit about the potential difficulties in talking about physiological causation (including neural causation) of behavioral phenomenon.