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Lecture 1.....
Instructor:  Jeremy Jackson   |    Jan 6, 2019

Location:    Online    |   Blackboard


Key concepts - you will be responsible for knowing a number of definitions of key concepts. You may be asked to give an accurate definition and example of any of the key concepts. Key concepts are in italics, bolded and colored red throughout the notes.

Discussion questions - the lecture notes contain three discussion questions. These are to be answered on Blackboard at the times given in the syllabus.

Critical points - there are some points that require extra emphasis because they are fundamental to the example or concept being discussed. Critical points are bolded, in italics and colored orange.

Course learning objective questions - These are the questions given in the learning objectives document.


Before starting the reading....go ahead and watch this video about how to work through the lecture materials in the course.


What is a Critical Issue?

Critical issues have four important features:

1) Longstanding: the issue has been of concern to practicing psychologists and/or philosophers for well over one generation. The issues we will discuss in this course have been of concern for hundreds if not thousands of years.

We are NOT interested in questions like: "What do the latest FMRI results show about what parts of the brain are involved in memory?"

This question has, of course, only been relevant since the invention of the FMRI and so is perhaps only 30 or so years old. And, of course, we already have courses in the psychology department that deal with this kind of question. Many of you will have taken such courses and be able to give rough answers to this kind of question.

We ARE interested in questions like: "What are memories?" and "Are memories in the brain?"

This question has been of concern since Socrates and throughout the history of psychology. Typically, there are very few courses in psychology departments in which students deal explicitly with this kind of question. We have just one at Douglas College. This is it!

2) Cross-specialty relevance: The questions of importance to us here are NOT "local" or "provincial" questions. They are NOT questions relevant to specialties or sub-disciplines within a specific area of scientific inquiry. The questions that concern us here are questions that are relevant not only across academic disciplines but also within social, cultural, and political areas of study.

We are NOT primarily interested, for example, in questions about the relative efficacy of cognitive/behavioural vs psycho-dynamic therapies for depression.

We are interested in questions like: "Is depression an illness or mood problem?" and "How does our conceptualization of depression effect the way in which we believe it should be treated, who should treat it, and the level of personal responsibility we should take for dealing with it?"

3) Disagreement between experts: We do not deal with questions in this course about which the vast majority of psychologists and philosophers agree. When we say "critical", we mean that there is ongoing debate and disagreement about the issue.

But the disagreement must be between fully trained professionals in our discipline. That means that the disagreement must be between academics with a PhD that are part of the published record of a discipline. All arguments and points of view discussed in this course must be published in academic journals or codified in important texts.

This is not to suggest that non-scientists or non-academics do not have useful or important things to say about our discipline and the way in which we deal with important issues in our discipline - far from it!

4) Practical/Applied implications: This criterion matters a great deal to me in this course.

I have a deal to make with you all.

The deal is this: even though there may be times in this course when it appears that what you are learning is mere historical, theoretical detail that has little to do with the current practice of psychology or the way in which we think about important current issues, we will only ever learn about things that are immediately and directly relevant to modern psychology and modern life. This I promise you.

It may take some time to get to the current issue, but please trust me, I will not waste your time here with mere theory. So, for example, although we will take some time learning about ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, we will only do this because the methods they used/invented are methods we use in psychology today. Knowing about Aristotle, for instance, will help you understand just how longstanding the issue you are learning about really is.

And it turns out....that matters. For example, it is often necessary to convince students in psychology today that the interest in brain function and it's relationship to psychology is not new. That is, that the question of the relationship between brain physiology and psychology is not a progressive, enlightened, modern development in psychology.

Try to place the following quotation in the history of psychology. When, approximately, do you think the following was said? Is it current, was it said 30 years ago, 50 years ago, take a guess.....

"There is an extensive region of the brain that appears, so far as sensory and motor symptoms are concerned, to be similarly affected by external stimulation and internal change. This is the portion of the frontal lobes that lies anteriorly to the anterior margin of the motor zone (Fig. 88, p. 205). Pathological observations show that injuries to this region, sometimes involving the loss of considerable masses of brain tissue have failed to produce any reduction in motor and sensory functions [114]. As a rule, however, observers report a permanent disturbance of the mental attributes associated with these functions. In a famous American case, a pointed iron rod, one and a half inches in diameter, was driven through the head by an explosion, entering at the angle of the left lower jaw and emerging near the anterior extremity of the sagittal suture. The patient, who lived twelve and a half years after the accident, gave no indication of disturbance of sensation and voluntary movement, but suffered a complete change of personality "He combines the personality of a adult with the intellectual acuity of a child," wrote the attending physician[115]. "

Note: I changed some of the wording in the above quote in order to match more closely modern parlance. For example, in the last sentence, the word "man" was replaced by "adult". This was done so as not to give away the era in which this passage was written. I made no substantive changes in meaning or language to the passage at all.

So when was this written? In fact, this was written by the very first psychologist (Wilhelm Wundt) in 1902!

Wundt once said:

"Physiological psychology is, therefore, first of all psychology. "


"Psychologists….have tended to regard as superfluous any reference to the physical organism…. We take issue with every treatment of psychology that is based on simple self-observation…. We shall, wherever the occasion seems to demand, employ physiology in the service of psychology."

Let's Do A Survey - What do you think about selected critical issues?

I'd like you all now to go ahead and follow the link below to a survey about basic critical issues. It will be interesting to see what you currently think about some critical questions in psychology.

Go ahead and take a look at the survey. You will find it HERE. At the bottom of the page there is a link to the actual Online survey. Go ahead and follow the link to complete the survey Online. Please record the answers you give to each question as we may go back and look at them later. Do the survey now BEFORE you read further.

I'd now like to just go through the answers you gave to questions 1 and 2 on the survey. Most students say the following to these questions:

1) Memories are in the brain

2) I am pretty confident that memories are in the brain.

It turns out that there is significant debate about this question. In fact, it turns out that the debate is longstanding, crosses disciplines, is found in published academic articles, and has direct relevance to a great deal of the work going on in psychology today.

In the following short video, I will explain the debate from two different points of view: 1) memories are in the brain and 2) memories are not in the brain. Click on the image to view the video.


If the video above does not function, click HERE to watch the video

Did this change your mind? Maybe not yet, but as the course progresses, you will begin to understand why you believe memories are in the brain and how this relates to historical and current issues within psychology.

For now though, the video serves as an example of a critical issue and the kinds of arguments that might be made for or against a given position.

The Most Important Critical Issues.

Below are some examples of the kinds of critical issues we will discuss in the course.

  • What is and should be the subject matter of psychology?
  • What are mental phenomena?
  • What should be the method of psychology? For instance, should psychology be a science?
  • What is Science? What is good science?
  • Why do we value science over other forms of knowing?
  • What is the nature of mental disorder? Are mental disorders illnesses?
  • Is Psychology progressing rationally towards a greater understanding of human nature?
  • All of the work we do here will prepare you to answer any one of the critical questions that have been assigned to you for your term assignments. You can see the list of term assignment questions/topics on the "term assignments" page of this website.

    Take a look through these questions to get a sense of the kinds of issues we will be learning about in the course. Also see if you can identify any particular questions in which you might be personally interested. You will be choosing to do your term assignment on one of these questions with 3 other students in the class. Pick a question in which you are interested and then go to the "Introductions" discussion thread on Blackboard and find 3 other students that might like to work with you. Form a group, give your group a name and let me know which question your group would like to work on.

    Once you have done this, start a thread on the discussion board named "Term Assignments". Name the thread with your topic number and group name. List the names of the members of your group. Once you have done that, I will begin to work with the group on finding references and the direction you will need to go in answering your question.

    Understanding critical issues

    To deal properly with the critical issues we will cover in this course, we will need to cover three general topic areas. They are: 1) Philosophy and philosophy of science, 2) Critical thinking and 3) The history of psychology. Let's briefly look at each topic area.

    1) Philosophy & Philosophy of Science

    Here we will learn about what philosophy is and how philosophy is relevant to modern psychology. We will learn about the methods of philosophy and how these methods differ from the methods of science.

    We will also look at philosophy of science questions relating to the nature of science, the nature of good science, and the status of knowledge that derives from science (as opposed to say philosophy, art or mathematics).

    2) Critical Thinking

    This is a very important aspect of this course for me. Many of the questions we will deal with here are challenging and potentially deeply confusing. You will be both challenged and confused at a number of stages throughout this course. Part of the purpose of this course is to help you with such challenges. I will strive to help you think more clearly about difficult problems and give you intellectual methods you can use to analyze potentially confusing problems within our discipline. But this won't come easily or quickly. It will take some time.

    We will begin with a few examples of critical thinking (for example, the video on memory you watched earlier) and then we will look at methods shared by all the examples. Just for fun.....let's do another example of critical thinking from the survey you completed earlier. Recall the question:

    Does Santa Clause exist?

    I'm going to demonstrate to you now that Santa Clause does exist....and it will be quick and easy to do so.

    Watch the video.......



    If the video above does not function, click HERE to watch the video


    The final topic area of inquiry that is important to understanding critical issues in psychology is the history of psychology. Let's look at this now....

    3) The History of psychology

    Your text authors argue:


    “there is no single form, approach, or definition of psychology on which all psychologists agree”


    “there is an enormous diversity, even divisiveness and fragmentation [in psychology] ”

    then it follows that

    "the only thing that binds all psychologists is their history"


    The authors of your text are saying that there are a lot of different views about what psychology should be and that there has been disagreement and a fair bit of criticism of prevailing views throughout the history of psychology.

    Part of the purpose of this course then is to learn about why such disagreements exist, where they come from and what the basic disagreements are all about.

    We need to learn about what kinds of views have been held, what kinds of views have been rejected and why we have rejected them. In part, this will teach us about the views we hold today.

    The authors also talk about another reason to learn about the history of psychology. On this I could not agree more.

    Psychology is an incredibly rich, complex, challenging and important discipline. And because of this, its history is just simply fascinating.

    My own view is that psychology is by far the most interesting and challenging scientific subject. In psychology, we have every kind of intellectual and practical problem that any science or intellectual pursuit has ever faced. We have:

  • Moral and ethical issues
  • Philosophical issues
  • Scientific issues
  • Statistical and analytic issues
  • Practical issues
  • Although certainly physics and chemistry are challenging disciplines, they seem to me to have fewer significant problems to overcome than does psychology.

    Consider the moral question whether a particle or electron has rights or responsibilities. Can an electron do the “right” thing?

    Consider as well the philosophical question about the nature of a molecule. Although there are some philosophical issues here to be sure, few people would argue that they are more difficult issues than the issue about the nature of psychological phenomena like consciousness or memory.

    The question about the nature of consciousness is an enormously difficult question. The question has attracted the greatest philosophical, scientific and theological minds in intellectual history and still eludes a final solution upon which we can all agree.

    So difficult and fundamentally important is the question about the nature of consciousness that today there are Nobel Prize winning physicists working on the question.

    Just watch the struggle that Roger Penrose (emeritus professor of mathematics from Oxford) has with the nature of consciousness. Click the image below to watch the video.



    What about the scientific issues we face in studying the human being? One scientific issue that we will see many times throughout the course and that psychologists struggle with a great deal is the private nature of mental phenomena. What I think, feel, believe, etc., is, according to some people, only knowable to me alone. Although you can ask me what I think, you can never be sure that my answer is the truth. My thoughts, feelings, etc., are not public. But it would seem as if the results of experiments in physics and chemistry are mostly public. And since a public result is verifiable by others (can be replicated publicly), the findings of physics and chemistry may be seen to be more scientific than those of psychology. On this issue there is a great deal of debate as well. We will encounter this question many times throughout the course.

    What about the practical issues that psychology has? In psychology there is almost no way to isolate our subject matter into controlled conditions in the way in which this can be done in physics or chemistry. Although we can exert some forms of experimental control on our subjects, we must ultimately understand that the conditions of experimentation influence our human subjects a great deal. We simply cannot put a person in a vacuum and study them in the way we can do this with a particle or substance. This issue has been debated vigorously though. We will see part of this debate as we work through the course.

    And finally, what about the statistical and analytic issues we face in psychology? It is a common view amongst many aspiring psychologists that statistics is a course to just get through and then forget about. But it is important to note that psychologists regularly use statistical and analytic techniques of extraordinary complexity. In fact, many statistical techniques invented for the purpose of addressing problems in psychology are now used throughout science. So, for many of us, we must face-up to the challenge of learning how these techniques work and applying them to our data in logically and scientifically sound ways. There are, in fact, psychologists that dedicate their entire careers to such problems. They are called psychometricians - I am a psychometrician.


    But Where Should The History of Modern Psychology Begin?

    Your authors spend 2 pages on this question. We will spend the rest of this class on it.

    The reason I want to give this so much attention is that the answer your text gives reflects a very significant difference between modern psychology and other forms of psychological investigation. It tells us how modern psychology differs from other ways of knowing about human nature.

    Essentially, the point your text makes is that the history that is relevant to us is the history of a SCIENCE.

    In fact, psychology has a long philosophical history dating back to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates and before. Although Socrates and other early philosophers dealt with psychological problems, they did so using a non-scientific methodology.

    The methodology they used is called rationalism. Rationalism is the use of logic to derive truths about the nature of the world. Let's say I was to argue that:

    1) Depression is about control. The less control a person has over their life, the more depressed they will be.

    2) In modern North American society, our freedoms are being reduced over time. It follows from this that we have less control of our lives over time.

    3) It follows from this that depression will increase in North America over time.

    This is a logical argument that predicts that depression will increase and explains why it will increase.

    Now, the text argues that we are not interested in the history of rationalist thought in psychology. Our interest is in the history of empiricist thought. The reason for this is that psychology is primarily an empirical (roughly meaning observational) discipline.

    This is why your book starts with philosophers and scientists that argued that psychology could and should be an empirical/scientific discipline.

    So the point here then is that since science is primarily an empirical or observational discipline, scientific discoveries come from careful observation of reality. If psychology is a science then a study of it's history should begin with a study of the history of science.

    In philosophy, discoveries about the nature of reality come form logical argument not observation. The history of philosophy is very long - at least 2500 years. Your book argues that this far, we do not need to go back. I mostly agree but I think that modern psychology is connected to very early philosophy in important ways so I will spend a bit more time on early philosophy than your text.

    Now, to really see the difference between empiricism and rationalism, I’d like to look at philosophy more carefully. Your text does this in chapter 2 starting with Rene Descartes. I’m going to very briefly go back to the Sophists in around 400 BC and give a short description of ancient Greek philosophy. The reason for this is that I think that the early Greek philosophers had a significant influence on the way in which we think today in both philosophy and psychology. I’d like you to be able to see this influence.

    We will do this starting in the next lecture....lecture 2.

    To finish this lecture, we just need to take a look at an idea your book discusses at length in Chapter 1. This is the idea of the Zeitgeist.


    New ideas - Why they are opposed?

    To understand this, it helps to know a little about the concept of a zeitgeist. A zeitgeist is a socially or culturally held view (a MAJORITY view) about the way the world is and why it is this way.

    I’d like to draw your attention to something the authors of your text say in Chapter 1.

    “Unless the Zeitgeist and other contextual forces are receptive to the new work, its proponent may not be heard, or may be shunned or put to death ” .

    Please be aware of the consequences of this problem. Your text authors think it is important enough to spend some time on and so do I.

    The problem is this. A prevailing or accepted view has a great deal invested in it. Careers, ego’s, dreams, economies and so on are all built around the accepted view. If the accepted view is overturned, careers, lives, political, social and economic institutions are all placed at risk. Those in positions of power in these institutions are naturally disinclined to allow their positions to be put at risk. So for this reason, there is generally great resistance to a fundamentally new or different way of thinking. As Thomas Kuhn, who we will look at more closely in week 3, said:

    "novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance."

    But in one-way of looking at it, history is a long story of the overturning of previously held views. Those who said that the earth is flat would now be viewed as utterly ignorant. But at some point, this was the prevailing wisdom and those that argued it was false would have been diminished, belittled, trivialized, and marginalized.

    Imagine, before the concept of gravity, how foolish it would have been to argue that we are all standing on something round. That some of us are standing, without falling off, on the bottom of a round object. Imagine how powerful the concept of a flat earth with edges would have been in those times. Imagine how difficult it would be for an ordinary person to imagine that they could conceivably be wrong about the world being flat.

    The point is that we are all, with respect to many things we believe about our world, in exactly the same position today. It is a hallmark of educated, clear thinking people that they demonstrate reasonable humility in their views about the way things are. This demonstrates that they understand the power of the zeitgeist and the long human history of the overturning of beliefs that were once thought to be unquestionably true.

    So try not to get too comfortable with views just because the majority hold them. There are usually other ways of looking at things and these ways are sometimes correct when the prevailing view is not.

    I think that one of the goals of higher education is to prepare students to seriously consider views that are counter to their own view or to prevailing wisdom. From time to time in this course I will introduce you to viewpoints that are not shared by the current majority of psychologists, and I will ask you to take them seriously. You should take them seriously because they may be views that replace our current misconceptions and confusions about the way things are.

    Just to finish this lecture, watch the following excerpt from a video in which Dr Gad Saad, an evolutionary psychologist, discusses the idea that epistemological humility (meaning not being so certain of one's current understanding about the way the world is) should be a hallmark of good scientific and intellectual inquiry.

    Watch the video.......



    Now consider this quotation from one of the world's most influential and sophisticated philsophers - Sir Bertrand Russell:

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”


    Just remember, only 40 years ago, homosexuality was thought to be an illness and defined as such within the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry. What idea that we deeply believe in today will be overturned tomorrow? What are the ideas or beliefs you hold, about which you are certain, that are actually wrong?

    The point of education, in part, is to reveal these things to you. It is to challenge you not only to learn facts but to evaluate and question deeply held beliefs. In this sense, to get a good education is to take a risk. The risk that the world is actually not the way you think it is. And the more dogmatically one holds their beliefs, the more challenging this can be.

    Intellectual humility is an attitude toward life, an understanding of how complex the world truly is.

    It is willingness to say "I don't know" and to accept that there are many things one may never know with complete certainty. The world is ever-evolving and changing, and in many respects a certain mind is nothing but a closed mind.

    One great value of taking such a view of the opinions, theories, perspectives or beliefs of others and oneself, is that it mitigates against overreaction to them. Beliefs can be misguided, opinions can be uneducated, theories are most often wrong. Knowing this makes one less susceptable to outrage and upset about the opinions, beliefs and theories of others. We will need to keep this in mind in this course as we encounter points of view that differ from our own. The key is to incorporate them in to our own understanding of the world, not to take them by fiat as pronouncements of unassailable fact. Watch this very interesting exchange in the British House of Commons in response to statements made by Donald Tusk, the head of the European Union Council President. Just as a background to help those of you not familiar with the issues to understand the video...

    Donald Tusk is charged with insulting British people (on February 6th, 2019) who voted to leave the European Union (EU) by wondering what a "special place in hell is reserved for them". The charge is made in the House of Commons (the British parliament) by Mr Peter Bone. Mr Bone ("the honorable gentleman the member for Wellingborough) is then addressed by the speaker of the house Mr John Bercow. See in the video below what Mr Bercow has to say about Mr Bone's remarks and remarks of the EU council president.

    Watch the video.......



    So the lesson for us from Mr Bercow is to take the course material "seriosuly" and maintain a "jocular spirit" even if we do encounter opinions that differ from our own.



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