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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bead Theory and the Problem of Consciousness - Highlights for Holt's writing

E.B. Holt 1915 book continues to be central to my scholarship. Appended to the book are two articles Holt had published the prior year, on "Response and Cognition." There is much overlap between the works, but in a few places I think the articles add significantly. One is in discussion of explanations that Holt disparagingly calls "Bead Theories", characterized by description of a series of events with no reference to the fact that a larger thing is happening. He begins by describing the how other sciences used to be in the same "unstable" state as psychology, and 100 years later, psychology seems to me not to have improved. Remember that a book published in 1915 must have been started quite a bit before Watson's Manifesto, and that this book was influential in the professional development of J.J. Gibson, B.F. Skinner, and J. Jastrow, along with most others who trained at Harvard in the teens or Princeton in the '30s. Indeed many core aspects of Gibson's Ecological Psychology, and Skinner's attempt to separate of "Psychological" questions from "Neurological" questions can be seen here decades earlier:

Before proceeding … we shall probably find useful an illustration from another science, which was once in the same unstable state of transition as psychology is now. In physics a theory of causation once prevailed, which tried to describe causal process in terms of successive ‘states,’ the ‘state’ of a body at one moment being the cause of its ‘state’ and position at the next. Thus the course of a falling body was described as a series of states (a, b, c, d, etc.), each one of which was the effect of the state preceding, and cause of the one next following. This may be designated as the ‘bead theory ' of causation. In asmuch, however, … [the states] gave no clue toward explaining the course or even the continuance of the process, an unobservable impetus (vis viva, Anstoss, ‘force') was postulated. This hidden impetus was said to be the ultimate secret of physical causation. But, alas, a secret! For it remained, just as the ‘consciousness’ of one's fellow-man remains today in psychology, utterly refractory to further investigation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The problem with alternatives to cognitive psychology

In the last post, I pointed out the problem with cognitive psychology: While often hopelessly ambiguous, it creates a practical and useful sense of solidity, making it easy to use for normal professional activities. But what about alternative approaches?

Alas, the situation is almost the complete opposite for most attempts to get “beyond cognitivism”: They are not, or at least do not seem, useful in the above sense. They are not flexible, in that they are picky about which theoretical constructs are plugged into a given hole; they are not utilitarian, in that it is often unclear how to implement a program of research based on the theories, even if you agree with them completely; and they are non-conformist, in that they involve rejecting the way lay westerners think of the world. Further (or perhaps as a result), though the terms used might be quite concrete, they provide a firm illusion of being hopelessly ambiguous. The combination of little flexibility, little usefulness, unintuitiveness and seeming ambiguity, make it difficult for aspiring psychologists to understand, and further, once the neophytes become convinced, it will be difficult for them to go about standard professional activities. (p. 195)

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Probelm with Cognitive Psychology

Martin Dege and I shared an office for a year at Clark University. He was a grad student studying cultural psychology, I a post doc studying parent-infant interaction from an evolutionary and ecological perspective. Our work was not very similar, but we got along well, including collaborating on a paper. It was, technically, a comment on a target article, but we did our best to make it stand alone. The focus was on explaining why "alternative approaches" to psychology - alternatives to the cognitive paradigm - struggled so much. To make this more clear, I started the paper with as blunt a statement as I could about the bar set by the current paradigm. Here are the first 2 paragraphs, with a link to full manuscript at the bottom: