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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Bead Theory and the Problem of Consciousness - Continued

Continuing to unravel the problem of contrasting consciousness and behavior discussed in the prior post, Holt (1915). The influence on people like J.J. Gibson and Skinner continues to be evident, in the search for functional relations. This also connects to my assertion that the goal of William James's later work - and hence Holt's work - was to try to layout the foundational conditions for a science of psychology:

An exact definition of behavior will reveal this. Let us go about this definition. Behavior is, firstly, a process of release. The energy with which plants and animals move ('behave')  is not derived from the stimulus, but is physiologically stored energy previously accumulated by processes of assimilation. The stimulus simply touches off this energy.
Secondly, behavior is not a function of the immediate stimulus. There are cases, it is true, in which behavior is a function, though even here not a very simple function, of the stimulus. These are cases of behavior in its lower stages of development, where it is just emerging from the direct reflex process. They demonstrate the continuity of evolution at this point—a most important fact. But as behavior evolves, any correlation between it and the stimuli which are immediately affecting the organism becomes increasingly remote, so that even in fairly simple cases it can no longer be demonstrated.
This fact, that the immediate stimulus recedes in importance, is the interesting point about the integration of reflexes. It has been widely recognized in psychology; perhaps most conspicuously by Spencer, who generally refers to it under the term ' higher correspondence.' One will see in what relatively early stages of integration the immediate stimulus is thus lost sight of, if one considers how even the ‘retinal image ' (to say nothing of the distant object which casts that image) is not, in an exact sense, the actual physiological stimulus; yet the organism ‘behaves ' with regard only to the distant object. Since, then, behavior is not essentially a function of immediate stimulus, this latter cannot enter into a definition of behavior.

But on the other hand, thirdly, behavior remains a function of some object, process, or aspect of the objective environment… Here we need only note that the behaving organism, whether plant, fellow-man, or one's own self, is always doing something, and the fairly accurate description of this activity will invariably reveal a law (or laws) whereby this activity is shown to be a constant function of some aspect of the objective world. One has here the same task as in any other strictly physical science. In both cases some accuracy is needed, and in both alike this accuracy can generally be advanced by more exhaustive observation. Thus it is inaccurate to say that a river flows toward the sea, since it meanders about in all directions; while it is fairly accurate to describe it as always flowing toward the next lower level of the earth's surface, and this is a law describing flow as a constant function of the earth's crust and the position of the earth's center. The test is, of course, whether this or that could be removed without changing the river's course: the ‘sea' could be removed, the ‘next lower level ' could not. So in behavior, the flock of birds is not, with any accuracy, flying over the green field; it is, more essentially, flying southwards; but even this is only a rough approximation to a law of migration. In all events the flock of birds is doing something, and the sole question which we need ever ask is, "What is it doing?" I have elsewhere explained how the same question, and it alone, is applicable to one’s own behavior (voluntary or other). (p. 164-167)
In the first part of this article I expressed the opinion that behaviorists have not fully realized the significance of what they are doing because, while in practice they have discarded it, in theory they still, like most psychologists, adhere to the ‘bead theory ' of causation. Now their opponents, who believe in ‘consciousness ' and a subjective soul-principle, are equally addicted to another view of causation, the teleological. This view, however, which indeed does justice to a feature of causation which the bead theory ignores, is equally wide of the truth. The functional view combines and reconciles the two, and accounts for ‘teleology.' This is why the behaviorist who, whatever his theory, practices the functional view, finds in his phenomena no residue of unexplained ‘teleological' behavior. For brevity I must let a single illustration suffice to show this. Why does a boy go fishing? The bead theory says, because of something in his 'previous state.' The teleological theory says, because of an ‘idea of end' in his ‘mind'. The functional theory says, because the behavior of the growing organism is so far integrated as to respond specifically to such an environmental object as fish in the pond. It, too, admits that the boy's ‘thought' (content) is the fish. But now a mere attitude or motor set could condition the same ‘idea of end'—the fish—and it need go no further; so that the ‘idea of end' has no causal efficacy whatsoever… The whole truth of teleology is taken up, and rectified, in that objective reference which behavior as function of an object provides for. (p. 201-203)

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