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Lecture 3.....
Instructor:  Jeremy Jackson   |    Jan 4, 2017

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.

Philosophy of Science

The following are examples of the kinds of questions that are important to the philosophy of science:

  • What is science?
  • What is good science?
  • Is science a purely rational enterprise in which over time knowledge moves closer to the truth?
  • Is psychology a science?
  • What types of methods for gaining knowledge are scientific and what kinds of methods are not scientific?
  • What kinds of concepts are admissible in science? May we use hypothetical concepts in science (gravity, mind, dark matter, mental representation, consciousness), or must all scientific concepts denote directly observable phenomena?

    Philosophy of science is the branch of philosophy that studies the philosophical assumptions, foundations, and implications of science, including the formal sciences, natural sciences, and social sciences. In this respect, the philosophy of science is closely related to epistemology.

    Science draws conclusions about the way the world is and the way in which scientific theory relates to the world. Science draws upon evidence from experimentation, logical deduction, and rational thought in order to examine the nature of the world. Science is a method, not to be confused with the content or subject matter of any particular science.

    Theory-dependence of observation

    As I indicated above, the scientific method is rooted in observation. Observation involves perception, and so is in part a psychological process. That is, one does not make an observation passively, but is actively involved in distinguishing the thing being observed from surrounding sensory data. Therefore, observations depend on some underlying understanding of the way in which the world functions and that understanding may influence what is perceived, noticed, or deemed worthy of consideration.

    A good example of this might be the difference between what you see and what I see when we read your textbook for this class. Certain things in your text jump off the page to me because of my experience in the discipline. I am predisposed to see certain things because I have lived them. Because you have not experienced psychology as a profession yet, you may not even recognize things that startle me.

    Thomas Kuhn argued that observations are always made within a specific paradigm or from a specific point of view. The paradigm determines what is observed, and the relevance of what is observed. For example, within the evolutionary paradigm in biology, we look for examples of the survival of species under competitive environmental conditions. We do not look for evidence of Noah’s Ark.

    Another controversial example might be the view that today in psychology and sociology we look for reasons why and how women and minorities have been repressed or discriminated against. We generally do not look for reasons why men and Caucasian majorities may have been repressed or discriminated against.

    In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn argues that:

    'A paradigm is what the members of a community of scientists share, and, conversely, a scientific community consists of men who share a paradigm'.

    On this account, science can be done only as a part of a community, and is inherently a communal, human activity subject to all the political, social, cultural and economic forces of any human activity (for example, I mean things like greed, power, influence, control, fame, fortune, curiosity and so on).

    NOTE: Did you notice the word ‘MEN’ in the quotation above? You probably did. Forty years ago, no one would have noticed it. Why did you notice it? Because today the social/cultural theory you hold sensitizes you to any possibility of this kind of ‘discriminatory’ language.

    Describe the effect of the prevailing view in science on the impact and acceptance of new ways of thinking. Use examples from the text and from class to support your answer.

    To remind ourselves of this idea, we should look back at Chapter 1 of your text and on these lecture notes (go back to around page 8 of the text). Take a look at the following quotations from Chapter 1:

    “data may be hidden deliberately from public view or altered to protect the reputation of people involved”

    “When the correspondence of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung was published, the letters were selected and edited in a such a way as to present a favourable view of Jung and his work”

    “The more I study human character, the more convinced I become that all records, all reminiscences, are to a greater or lesser degree based on illusions”

    “People may,…, produce biased accounts to protect themselves or enhance their public image

    “Often, the contributions of scientists, artists, and scholars were ignored or suppressed during their lifetimes, only to be recognized long afterwards”

    “The history of science is also the story of discoveries and insights that were initially rejected”

    “An idea too unorthodox for one time and place may be readily received a generation later”

    “The dominant theoretical position in a scientific field may obstruct or prohibit consideration of new viewpoints. A theory may be believed so strongly by the majority of scientists that any investigation of new issues or methods is stifled”

    “Findings that contradict or oppose current thinking may be rejected by a journal’s editors, who function as gatekeepers or censors, enforcing conformity of thought by dismissing or trivializing revolutionary ideas….”

    Now, Kuhn argued that paradigms are incompatible. That is that the findings and discoveries within one paradigm are entirely irrelevant to another. For example, under the behaviourism paradigm in psychology, mental events were not publicly observable and were therefore irrelevant. However, under the current cognitive paradigm, the search for the nature of mental representations is a large part of the scientific problem.

    For Kuhn, the choice of paradigm was based upon a consensus of the community of scientists. Acceptance or rejection of some paradigms is, he argued, more a social than a logical/rational process. And exactly the social forces that the quotations from your book reference are the kind of forces that Kuhn is talking about. That is, social, political, economic,religious, moral, etc.

    Recall the current paradigm that determines our approach to aboriginal problems in Canada. According to Dr Chrisjohn, we take a scientific and medical approach to a problem that is economic, political, religious and moral.

    Why do the natives suffer and what do they suffer from we ask?

    Within the current paradigm, it is likely that you will be taught to say that they suffer from a psychosocial syndrome caused by various mental health problems. Your objective will be to identify, within the individual, causes of their health problems (called methodological individualism) and give treatments designed to increase the likelihood of recovery.

    It is very unlikely that you will be taught in a psychology class today that aboriginal problems are not diagnosable syndromes or mental health problems and that the causes of their problems are not explained by some kind of inner pathology. You will not be taught that aboriginal problems are the normal reactions of normal human beings to the genocidal, imperialist practice of destroying ways of life in the pursuit of national power.

    This is, according to Kuhn, part of the power of paradigms in science. They serve to divert attention from certain problems, from questionable assumptions, and from new and different ways of thinking.

    One area of interest among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science is the extent to which scientific theories are shaped by their social and political context. This approach is usually known as social constructivism. In its strongest form, social constructivism sees science as mere interaction between scientists, with objective fact and rational analysis playing a small role.

    A weaker form of the constructivist position might hold that social factors play a large role in the acceptance of new scientific paradigms. For example, a social constructivist might argue that the acceptance of the idea that intelligence can be objectively measured in psychology was not due to the fact that it has been clearly shown to be measurable but due to the fact that the idea provided psychologists with vastly more opportunities to practice psychology in applied settings. This in turn gave psychologists greater social and cultural relevance, not to mention more economic opportunity.

    The same can be said of the practice of calling mental disorders illnesses. In the “Myth of Psychotherapy” Szasz argues that:

    If we now classify certain forms of personal conduct as illnesses, it is because most people believe that the best way to deal with them is by responding to them as if they were medical diseases…. The fact that this claim has been accepted as valid by intellectual, legal and political authorities of most modern societies has had beneficial consequences for the claimants and baneful consequences for nearly everyone else.

    The argument is that the use of phrases like “mental illness” is a rhetorical ploy to promote a certain way of thinking that serves the interests of pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists. What is this way of thinking? Simply that if a mental problem IS a physical problem, it stands to reason that the appropriate response to a mental problem is medical in nature. If the psychological and behavioral problems that form the basis of a diagnosis of ADHD in an individual child, for instance, ARE illness, it makes sense that the sick child be given some form of pharmacological cure. Who benefits? An industry that exists for the sole purpose of selling and prescribing drugs to children.


    Reductionism is the belief that all fields of study are ultimately amenable to scientific explanation in terms of objective, physical processes. Perhaps a historical event might be explained in sociological and psychological terms, which in turn might be described in terms of human physiology, which in turn might be described in terms of chemistry and physics. The historical event will have been reduced to a physical event. This might be seen as implying that the historical event was 'nothing but' the physical event.

    In bio-psychology today, one important philosophical idea is that mental events and processes like thinking and remembering can be reduced to nothing more than the physical and chemical interactions of the brain. A strong reductionist would hold that thinking for example IS a physical/chemical process of the brain. When a psychologist says "memory is located or stored in the brain", this is, in part, a philosophical claim. The claim is that memories ARE brain processes/states. To some degree, statements like this are reductionist.

    Daniel Dennett invented the term greedy reductionism to describe the assumption that such reductionism was possible. He claims that it is just 'bad science', seeking to find explanations which are appealing or eloquent, rather than those that are of use in predicting natural phenomena. He also says that:

    "There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination." —Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995.

    In psychology, reductionism has had a significant influence. When we look at the work of the very first psychologist, Wilhelm Wundt, later in the course we will see that he attempted to reduce the mind or consciousness to a series of mental elements. In part, the idea was that complex mental phenomena like imagining, etc., could be explained as made-up of or reducible to more basic mental elements.

    Distinguishing Science from Non-Science

    Describe Karl Popper’s views about the nature of scientific theories. Be sure to make clear what he thought distinguished good from bad scientific theories. Give an example of a good and bad scientific theory from Popper’s point of view.

    One popular way to distinguish science from pseudo science (e.g. astronomy from astrology), called falsifiability, was invented by Karl Popper in 1919 and was reformulated by him in the 1960s. This principle states that:

    in order to be scientific, a scientific statement ('fact', theory, 'law', principle, etc) must be falsifiable.

    That is, we must be able to show that it is wrong.

    Popper described falsifiability using the following observations, paraphrased from a 1963 essay on "Conjectures and Refutations":

    1) It is easy to confirm or verify nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations.

    Consider psychoanalytic theory, for example. Freud argued that we all poses and Id, which is a component of personality that demands gratification of its immediate sexual and aggressive urges. Since we can easily find numerous examples of people gratifying sexual urges, we might be tempted to argue that the theory is a good scientific theory.

    If I have a theory that government officials are corrupt, it would not be difficult to find numerous examples to verify my theory. But is it a good scientific theory?

    Well, according to Popper, it is not a good theory on the basis of these confirmations only. We must do more than look for confirmation in order to show that our theory is a good one.

    2) Confirmations are significant only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is, the theory makes predictions we would not ordinarily expect without prior knowledge of the theory.

    A risky prediction might be something like: “if E=MC squared then the speed of light must be exactly 299, 792, 458 meters per second”.

    This prediction is risky because it says something exact about what we should observe if the theory is right AND what we should observe is not something we would ordinarily expect if we did not have the theory.

    How about this one, is this risky? If Freud’s theory that humans have an Id is correct, humans would be expected to pursue sexual and aggressive urges.

    I think Popper might well say that this is not a risky prediction. Why? Because we would ordinarily expect humans to pursue sexual and aggressive urges even if psychoanalytic theory did not predict it.

    But, if you like Freud, don't worry. Popper is only commenting on what makes a theory scientific. He is not saying anything at all about the usefulness of the theory. Psychoanalytic theory may be non-scientific according to Popper’s criteria, but it still may be very useful to a psychologist trying to help a person suffering with depression.

    3) "Good" scientific theories include prohibitions which forbid certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

    Again, psychoanalytic theory might not be viewed too positively against this criterion. Psychoanalytic theory does not seem to forbid a lot of things from happening that we might ordinarily think should not happen.

    We might say that psychoanalytic theory forbids the observation that humans should be non-sexual and non-aggressive, but we knew this already so criterion 2 above would not be satisfied.

    4) A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutably is not a virtue of a theory.

    Now, if you’re going to be a good, informed psychologist, you will need to understand that a lot of physical scientists might view this to be a significant problem with the scientific status of many theories in psychology.

    I’m going to remind you again and again of this criterion as we look at Wundt, Titchener, James and even modern-day cognitive psychology. I’m going to ask you to think about whether or not it is possible to refute a number of the psychological theories we will be looking at.

    Why would I do this? Because I think you need to know where our strengths as well as our weaknesses lie in psychology. From some points of view, this criterion identifies a weakness in many psychological theories. So, let’s, be sure we know it well.

    To know this criterion well, you will need an example.

    Example: The information processing theory of cognitive psychology.

    In this theory it is argued that the mind/brain is an information processing mechanism. That is, that the mind/brain is analogous to a computer in the sense that it is programmed to processes information. In this view, the mind is akin to a software program and the brain is akin to computer hardware.

    Now, the question is, what specific research finding would show that this theory is wrong? What would we have to find in order to show that the mind/brain is NOT an information processing mechanism? If you are taking cognitive psychology, you should ask your instructor.

    5) Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify or refute it. Theories that take greater "risks" are more testable, more exposed to refutation.

    6) Confirming or corroborating evidence is only significant when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; "genuine" in this case means that it comes out of a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory.

    Criteria 5 and 6 are interesting to me because they speak to the generally critical nature of science. I think that this is what Popper is trying to get at here. He is saying that good scientists are critical, perhaps even hyper-critical. Popper wants to say it seems that you are only a good scientist to the extent that you expend a great deal of energy trying to show why your own theory (and the theories of others are) is wrong.

    My own opinion here is that this is very important. To me, this is what should separate science from other endeavors like business. Sales (and business in general in North America today) are about accentuating the good and de emphasizing the bad. In real-estate, the agent focuses on the good things about properties they are trying to sell, not the problems. Advertisers do their best to paint the rosiest picture possible of their products.

    But according to Popper, the good scientist does exactly the opposite of the good sales person. The good scientist looks for flaws, finds fault and applauds criticism of their own theories. But you see it’s not that simple. What if we hold a position very dearly? What if we are deeply ideologically, emotionally and professionally committed to a point of view? Do we have to spend our career showing that our own view is wrong? If Popper is right, we do. This kind of intellectual honesty can be very very painful and is I'm afraid a rare commodity. It's not easy to live up to criteria 5 and 6.

    In this course, you may find yourself struggling with this. We will explore positions that are counter to our own ways of thinking. As a result it might be very difficult to take them seriously. But serious we must be if we want to emulate Popper's scientific values.

    In 1974, Nobel Prize winning physicist, Dr Richard Feynman gave a commencement address at Caltech in which he spoke almost entirely about Popper's criteria for good science. It is a beautiful speech that all young people interested in science should listen to carefully. It is a speech in which Feynman takes Poppers' somewhat technical, philosophical ideas and makes them simple, clear, and accessible. He describes what I think most people believe is at the core of GOOD science. That is, what the essence of good science is really about. Sadly, we all know that is often often hard to live up to high standards, and so we often fail. In this speech, Feynman accuses the social sciences of failing to live up to Poppers' basic tenets of good science. Go ahead and listen....



    With that we will move on from philosophy of science to the mind-body problem.


    The Mind Body Problem


    What is the mind/body problem and what are the two basic positions on the problem? Give an example of the existence of the mind/body problem in psychology today.

    The mind body problem is a classic problem in psychology that relates to all 3 areas of philosophy. In fact, one can view the history of psychology as one long attempt to solve (or try to ignore in the case of behaviorism) this problem. Let’s take a look at it.

    Your text discusses this problem beginning on page 31. Generally, the issue is attributed to Rene Descartes, but the basic question of the relationship between mental and physical phenomena goes back probably as far as Plato.

    The modern form of the mind-body problem as defined be Descartes is:

    How does a non-physical mind interact with a physical body?

    As we saw earlier, most psychologists today would probably agree that this problem is not solved. We do have a view in psychology today but I think that most psychologists would say that it is merely an interim position until we really understand the nature of mental phenomena.

    Part of the problem here is that it seems to be important to understand what mental phenomena actually are before we can discover how they interact with physical phenomena. In the DVD you watched last week, I think it was clear that there exists today some disagreement about what mental phenomena actually are.

    Some people hold the view that mental phenomena are simply brain states/events and others think that mental phenomena are somehow fundamentally different to brain states.

    So it seems that until we determine exactly what consciousness/mental phenomena/the mind really are, it is going to be rather difficult to answer the question about how they interact with the body.

    Although this is not typically done in treatments of the mind-body problem, it helps me to distinguish between the questions:


    1) What is the mind?


    2) How does the mind interact with the body?


    The former question is a metaphysical question about the nature of the mind; the latter question is the mind-body problem.

    A few early ideas about the nature of the mind were given by two very famous philosophers...James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill.

    Just prior to discussing the beginning of the discipline of psychology, in chapter 2 your book talks about a number of philosophers that were beginning to argue that the mind and how it interacts with the body could actually be studied scientifically.

    Let’s begin with

    James Mill (1773 - 1836)

    Mill’s position about the nature of the mind (what the mind is) as it is described in your text was as follows:

    1. The mind is a machine
    2. If the mind is a machine psychology can take a mechanistic position on how the mind functions
    3. If the mind is a machine it follows that humans do not have free will. The mind is a passive machine that merely reacts to physical inputs.
    4. If the mind is a machine, we can determine how it works by breaking it down in to its elementary components. It follows from this that we can take a reductionist position about how the mind works. We can argue that all mental phenomena such as thinking, feeling, etc., can be reduced to (are nothing more than) the working parts of the mental machine.
    5. Two kinds of mental elements exist: a) sensations and b) ideas.

    Now it is clear that Mill is taking a particular position on the mind-body problem here. He is taking one of many different, competing positions. It’s not as if this view has gone unchallenged.

    But for the purposes of this course, it’s more important that we look at the implications of this view for psychology rather than its philosophical correctness.

    The implication of the mind being a machine is that it must ultimately be publicly observable. Machines are directly and publicly observable kinds of things. Now, since the mind is publicly observable, it stands to reason that we should study it using an observational method. Science is an observational method; therefore, it makes sense to study the mind scientifically.

    This is how philosophy began to turn against the view that “the soul [mind] can not be placed on the dissection table” and accept the view that mental phenomena can be studied scientifically.

    But let’s make sure we are clear that:

    Mill did not discover in the normal sense that the mind is a machine.

    He did not look inside the brain or the head or the soul and find a mind where no one hand found one before.

    In a manner of speaking he did what Aristotle and all other philosophers since have done:

    He theorized that the mind is a machine and used logical argument to support his claim.


    John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

    Now Mill's son (John Stuart) differed from his father on the exact nature of the mind. John’s views were:

    1. The mind is active and therefore can not be merely a machine
    2. The sense in which the mind is active and not passive is that the mind plays an active role in the association of ideas.
    3. The mind combines mental elements to form complex ideas. These complex ideas are different than the elements that form them (H2O is different from hydrogen and oxygen)

    Now your book talks about where ideas such as Mills (and Descartes idea that the human is like a machine) come form. The book suggests that, in part, the motivation for these kinds of ideas was the development of machines that did things strikingly like human beings. So at this time, philosophers used the machine as a sort of analogy for the mind.

    Another basic motivation came from developments in chemistry in which complex physical phenomena were being broken down into more basic elements.

    Such terms as “mental chemistry” (pp. 43) were terms used by early philosophers to imply that mental phenomena were fundamentally similar to (or analogous to) physical phenomena.

    But it’s important to understand that these terms did not denote some new phenomena that were discovered by looking into the mind. These words were made-up, or developed as ways to draw the analogy between mental and physical phenomena.

    One might say that Mill did not discover mental chemistry; he DECLARED it to exist.

    So, even though these philosophers made no empirical or scientific discoveries about the nature of the mind, they did significantly influence the course of psychology. Your book argues that their influence was simply to promote the idea/perspective that the mind is enough like physical entities that it makes sense to study it using empirical methods.

    Now, the tendency here is to assume that because psychology is now a science and not a philosophical discipline, that we do not make these kinds of rationalist arguments in modern psychology. But you will see that throughout the history of psychology we have shifted our views about the nature of the mind pretty dramatically. And these shifts of position can be viewed as fundamentally philosophically justified (that is, the shift was not the result of an empirical discovery about the nature of the mind but a result of a new way of looking at the nature of the mind).

    Consider the following statement from a modern text in cognition:

    “Let’s be clear, though, that the use of the computer metaphor does not commit us to claiming that “the mind is just like a computer”….Instead, we are suggesting only that the mind is enough like a computer that we can profitably explain much about the mind in using the language of computer processing.”

    So today one might argue that the computer metaphor has replaced the machine and chemistry metaphors of the early philosophers. Did we discover, in the traditional sense of the word discover, that the mind is like a computer? I don’t think most people we say yes here.

    Your book talks about some discoveries that might be thought to have a bearing on the mind body problem. These were made just prior to the beginning of psychology proper in a discipline known as psychophysics.




    Ernst Weber (1795-1878)

    • Weber developed something called the two-point threshold
    • Recently, a doctor used exactly this idea on me when he tested my left hand for nerve damage. He simply took out a bent paper clip with ends about 1 cm apart and poked my left and right hands with it while I held my eyes closed. I was able to discriminate two distinct points with my right hand but not my left hand. In fact, I have nerve damage in my left arm and hand (coming from a motorcycle crash when I was 21) that has caused me to loose a great deal of feeling and sensitivity in my left hand.
    • Weber developed “Weber’s Law” that is a mathematical statement of something called the just noticeable difference. Weber’s Law is:


    JND= DR/R


    JND = just noticeable difference

    R= the physical intensity of the stimulus

    DR= the change in the intensity of the initial stimulus

    • This equation says: the difference between two stimuli that a person notices (JND) is (=) a function of the amount of change in the intensity of the initial stimulus (DR) and the intensity of the initial stimulus (R).
    • The critical idea here is that the value of JND is fixed for different kinds of stimuli. Lets say the JND for cost stimuli is .1. This means that if I raise the price of a 100c chocolate bar by 10c, you will notice this difference because .1=10c/100c. But if I raise the price of the chocolate bar by 5c, you will not notice this difference because 5c/100c=.05 which is less than .1. The change in price is below the just noticeable difference for cost stimuli so you don’t notice it. Now, the equation says that the change in the cost of the stimulus ( DR) is not the only factor that influences whether a change is noticeable. The equation says that the initial cost of the stimulus is also a determinant of whether a given change is noticeable. Imagine we raise the price of a new Porsche that costs $100,000 by $.1. The equation says that $.1/$100,000 = .000001 which is well below the JND of .1. Hence, we would not notice a 10c price increase for a $100,000 Porsche.
    • Now, the idea of the JND applies to all sorts of stimuli. If I add 1 grain of rice to a 10lb bag of rice you are holding, you would not notice the difference because the change in weight would be below your JND (see again representationalism and instrumentalism).


    Gustav Fechner (1801-1887)

    • Now, Fechner was an intellectual that attended some of Weber’s classes and came up with another way to mathematically phrase the idea of thresholds and JND’s. Interestingly, there is a clear mathematical relationship between Weber’s results and Fechner’s so that they are essentially the same finding.
    • Because of this, the law that was developed by Fechner is now called the Weber-Fechner Law.




    S=Perceived intensity of the stimulus

    R=physical intensity of the stimulus


    • It helps me to understand this law by looking at a graphical depiction of it. The graph below shows the relationship between perceived and actual intensity of a stimulus for a K value of 1.


    • Now, notice how the perceived intensity (vertical axis) increases only a small amount when we have a 5-point change (this is DR from Weber's Law) in the physical intensity (horizontal axis) of the stimulus AND the initial physical intensity is high (this is R from Weber's Law).
    • When the initial physical intensity is low (dashed lines) a 5-point change in the physical intensity of the stimulus leads to a much larger change in the perceived intensity of the stimulus.
    • There is, according to Fechner, an important implication of his work for the mind-body problem AND for the discipline of psychology. To me, this is one of the most important findings in the history of our discipline because it showed to many people that a scientific study of psychology might be possible.
    • In your text, an original work of Fechner’s shows that he thought that he had solved the mind-body problem. He thought he had found a way to quantify the precise nature of the relationship between the mind (perceived intensity) and the body (physical intensity). According to modern philosophy and cognitive psychology, it seems not everyone (almost no one) thinks he did.
    • BUT, he did do something incredibly important for psychology. He showed that quantification of a relationship between perception and reality was at least possible. Now, it’s important to understand that quantification is viewed by very many scientists to be squarely at the heart of science. I would say that most scientists think that if a phenomenon cannot be represented numerically, it cannot be treated scientifically.
    • So Weber and Fechner showed how a science of perception was possible and in so doing, provided perhaps the single greatest impetus for the founding of psychology.


    Now let's take a look at some specific philosophical positions on the mind body problem.





    Let's go through each position now and see how it is relevant to the history of psychology.


    There are two kinds of phenomena - mental and physical. The mind is something special, something other than the brain, for example. Dualism is important to psychology. If dualism is correct, then there is something to study other than the brain. If only the brain exists, then it might seem difficult to make the case that psychology has a distinct subject matter from biology, medicine or pathology. This matters! If only the brain exists, then in order to understand human behavior fully, the expertise one would require is physiological or biological. As a student, this would mean that you would start your degree in psychology with calculus, physics, chemistry and biology - you would need to be trained as a PHYSICAL scientist because all the exists would be the physical brain.

    Property Dualism

    This is a kind of dualism in which the mind is not viewed as a substance or entity but a set of properties that emerge from the brain. The best way to understand this position is via examples. Let's imagine we are interested in the nature of cars and the capabilities of cars. We might look at a car as a set of physical substances, metal, plastic, the engine, etc., and a set of emergent properties such as speed, acceleration, stopping, etc. In this view, the brain is analogous to the engine of a car and memories, for example, are analogous to speed or acceleration.

    One argument against this view is that property dualism is not correct but it is close to being correct. Why is it not correct? Simply because speed and acceleration are not properties of cars. Memory is not a property of a human being. Memory is, in part, an ability. If one has a good memory, one has an ABILITY to remember things. Abilities are not properties.

    Predicate Dualism

    This is a form of property dualism that simply argues that statements like "memories are stored in the brain" are incorrect. In this view it makes no sense to say that thinking, memories, etc, are brain events or processes. In this view, the brain contains neurons, blood vessels, bone, etc., not memories, thinking or any other mental phenomena such as intelligence or depression. The implications here are very important to you. In your education and probably in your life you will come across people that will tell you that depression IS a brain disorder or that your child has ADHD and ADHD IS a brain abnormality. If predicate dualism is correct, statements like this are wrong.

    In a view we will learn about explicitly later in the course, the basic premise of predicate dualism is right. In this view it makes no sense to say that depression or ADHD are brain diseases. In fact, the idea that ADHD and depression are brain illnesses must be wrong given the definition of mental disorder contained in the vast majority of psychology text-books. Mental disorders are defined as patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior that are unjustifiable, maladaptive, disturbing and atypical. Depression, for instance, is a mental disorder. Since mental disorders are abnormalities of thinking, feeling and behavior and since thinking, feeling and behavior are not illnesses (by definition they are not pathological abnormalities of the body) depression can not be an illness.


    This view can be separated in to two views - physicalism and mentalism/idealism. Physicalists believe that the only kinds of things that exist are physical things. In physicalism, there is no such thing as the mind and there are no such things as mental events. This view is anti-psychology to be sure. If this view is correct, psychology has no subject matter other than human behavior. There are no real mental entities like thoughts and feelings to study. All there is to study is the brain and behavior. The basic premise of this view must be, in my opinion, wrong. Thursday is not a physical entity, but it certainly exists.

    Idealism is a rather bizarre view in which it is held that there are no physical entities. Idealism is related to phenominalism (see epistemology).

    Eliminativist Materialism

    In this view, it is pointless for the psychologist to attempt to identify the relationship between brain events/states and mental states because there is no such thing as a mental state. It is pointless, for example, to try to understand the relationship between serotonin level and depression because depression does not exist.

    Reductive Materialism

    In this position, mental states are brain states. When we say we are depressed, for example, what we really mean is that our serotonin reuptake mechanisms are malfunctioning. Those that hold this view might argue that the old phrase "demon possession" (meaning possessed by the devil) was actually a term that referred to schizophrenia and that someday we will learn that the term schizophrenia actually refers to a specific brain state.



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