Psychology Lose Its Mind? Not A “Chace”
Following William James’ decision to quit Psychology when Harvard University failed to grant a Ph.D. to “the most gifted graduate student he ever taught” --because she was a woman…James went on to:
- co-develop with Charles Pierce the School of Philosophy known as Pragmatism (which is now the inescapable “matrix” of our existence known as the Information Age), and
- Psychology proceeded to "lose its mind."
- Specifically, in the wake of the pragmatic, freewill-based, purposive Psychology of James and his students, Psychology (apparently in a state of inconsolable grief stemming from its abandonment by James) became captured by a pathological state of “Physics Envy”.
Technically, this era which held sway over Psychology from approximately 1920-1960 was known as the age of Behaviorism.
Behaviorism sought to be emulate other “objective and testable” sciences --particularly Experimental Physics and Chemistry. It sought to be impeccably objective. Accordingly, it's most devoted theorists (NOTE: I have deliberately refrained as much as possible from name dropping toward the goal of focusing on the concepts --please forgive me if I occasionally screw up on this and you come across names like “Ivan Pavlov”, “John Watson”, “B.F. Skinner” [although I do have a cool story of an encounter with him in an elevator at an APA conference in Boston when he was in his late 80’s and I was in my early 20’s --he was surrounded by five to ten of the most beautiful women I've ever seen --dressed to the nines; I assume they were graduate students; and not one of them even glanced at me...yet I digress], or “Clark Hull”) concentrated almost entirely on those aspects of behavior that could readily be observed and measured: Stimuli and Responses.
- The science of behavior became a question of discovering precise relationships among stimuli and responses
- some of the more “compulsive” of these “Behavioral Scientists” (they had even stopped calling themselves “Psychologists” apparently) began to speak of and operationally define “intervening variables” and “hypothetical constructs” --being extraordinarily careful to link these “thingies” as directly as possible to observable events.
- For Behavioral Scientists, intervening variables were much more than “simple minded shorthand” or complex constructs expressed in mathematic-like “symbolic notation”...in other words Behavioral Scientists took them seriously --they were far more than helpful abstractions; they were actual neurological events or processes that (rapidly evolving) scientific tools and methods might...in time...discover.
Another important characteristic of traditional behavioristic theories is that they sought to explain behavior by analyzing it at a molecular or elemental level.
- This approach, termed reductionism, is most evident in Pavlovian (CLASSICAL) Conditioning but is also characteristic of Skinnerian (OPERANT) Theories.
In keeping with my earlier promise to avoid “crassly dropping names” such as PAVLOV (from which the term “Pavlovian” is derived) or the “babe magnet” SKINNER (from which the term “Skinnerian” is derived --I tried to think of how my man” William James would have defined these two major approaches to “Behavioral Science” in terms of his “freewheeling/freewill perspective” --I think I pulled it off, I wish he were alive to grade me: Okay...let's do this --the ONLY RULE is that ALL animals have FREEWILL:
- PAVLOVIAN CONDITIONING EXAMPLE: You exercised your freewill by having cased your dog to associate the sound of your car pulling up and you entering your house with dinner time and it begins pushing its food bowl around and drooling all over the floor.
- OPERANT LEARNING EXAMPLE: Your dog has exercised its freewill by pushing its food bowl around and drooling until you can't take it anymore and feed it.
The final fundamental characteristic of traditional Behavioral Science is that it makes practically no assumptions about the PURPOSES of behavior except insofar as these can be related directly to specific needs or drives.
A strong negative reaction to traditional Behavioral Science (the ghost of William James?) took the form of
- COGNITIVISM...which I will define simply as “why the hell are you and your dog acting like “The Odd Couple” in the first place????
Tada: “Enter stage left” one EDWARD CHACE TOLMAN (1886-1959).
- Tolman began his teaching career at Northwestern University (Near Cleveland, [shout to Teresa]), from which he was released 3 years later because of his Quaker-based pacifist convictions during WWI.
- From there he went to the University of California at Berkeley,where he spent most of the remainder of his academic career.
- Finally, though, he was compelled to leave there as well --this time after refusing to take a controversial loyalty oath spawned by the McCarthy purges.
- As a result, in 1950 he accepted teaching positions at he University of Chicago and at Harvard. As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union he was instrumental in bringing about the granting of certain elements of academic freedom.
- One of the results of this effort was that he returned to Berkeley in 1953.
- His writing style has been accurately described as not only strikingly original but also noteworthy for being filled with whimsy and anecdotes. He even dedicated one of his most important books to Mus norvegicus albinus (the white Norway rat).
One of the most fundamental differences between Tolman’s position and the previously discussed behavioristic positions is both explicit and implicit (recall the vital importance of PURPOSE to William James...both in his Pioneering Academic Psychology Program and his perhaps even more influential branch of Philosophy: PRAGMATISM) in the name he gave to his concept of the goal of Psychology as a science: “PURPOSIVE BEHAVIORISM”.
The behaviorism that Tolman invented and described is exactly that PURPOSIVE! The actor, be it human or rat or dog or even Phil Friedman is assumed (a priori) to have a purpose!
Indeed, in spite of his seemingly behavioristic inclinations, Tolman Insisted that ALL behavior is purposive. By this he meant that behavior is directed toward some goal by freewill (cognitions) rather than simply being the result of Stimulus-Response connections...
...to wit; a number of studies in the Berkeley laboratory of Edward Tolman appeared both to show flaws in the Radical Operant Behaviorism as promoted by Skinner and his followers ...and to require (gasp!!) mental representation in their explanation. For example, rats were allowed to explore a maze in which there were three routes of different lengths between the starting position and the goal. The rats behavior when the maze was blocked implied that they must have some sort of mental map of the maze. The rats prefer the routes according to their shortness, so, when the maze is blocked at point A, stopping them using the shortest route, they will choose the second shortest route. When, however, the maze is blocked at point B the rats does not retrace his steps and use route 2, which would be predicted according to the law of effect, but rather uses route 3. The rat must be recognising that block B will stop him using route 2 by using some memory of the layout of the maze. Tolman's group also showed that animals could use knowledge they gained learning a maze by running to navigate it swimming and that unexpected changes in the quality of reward could weaken learning even though the animal was still rewarded. This result was developed further by Crespi who, in 1942, showed that unexpected decreases in reward quantity caused rats temporarily to run a maze more slowly than normal while unexpected increases caused a temporary elevation in running speed (The animals are making statistical calculations); using mathematical spatial navigation algorithms, and vector algebra/analytical geometry and trigonometry to a degree that would no doubt impress both Rene Descartes, Pythagoras, Morpheus and both the Oracle and Architect.
© Gerald Hecht, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerald Hecht with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.