§ 1. DEAD-ENDS. The opening of the twentieth century witnessed the beginnings of many diverging movements in psychology, all intended to escape the limitations of existing systems and methods and to improve the status of the science. Two main trends can be distinguished, the one mechanistic and the other vitalistic. By the mechanistic view is meant the assumption that Nature functions like a machine; that wholes are assemblages of parts, and therefore that organization and unity do not transcend the aggregate; and that action is brought about through the influence of one part as such upon another part. By vitalism is meant the view that posits the existence of a special outside force acting upon an assemblage of mechanically arranged parts, a force that may be considered independent of the assemblage or capable of being separated from it. It may also be considered as one part of the assemblage capable of governing the other parts.
§ 2. MECHANISM IN PSYCHOLOGY. The mechanistic view was motivated by a desire to make the facts of psychology more precise and specific, and to avoid the evident necessity of speculation, a necessity which seemed almost inevitable if the larger, grosser problems of behaviour—the self, the will, personality—were to be investigated. The vitalistic trend was motivated by an unwillingness to forsake the personal, humanitarian aspects of the science. Investigators whose faith was restricted to a study of the simpler processes sought guidance for their purposes and methods in the physical sciences. Those who preferred not to limit their inquiries to the simpler processes hunted diligently for a set of principles peculiar to psychology in terms of which they might present an adequate picture of the dynamic human mind. Both groups drew from the association and attention psychology of the past; both struggled with the problems of epistemology and dualism.
§ 3. INTROSPECTIONISM AND BEHAVIOURISM. The first group split on the mind-body problem into the ranks of introspectionists and behaviourists; those who regarded psychology as the science of consciousness and those who endeavoured to rule consciousness entirely out of consideration. Although these smaller groups were on opposite sides of the wall that divided mind from body, their psychologies are logically very much alike. When the breach between them seemed to be widening, rather than closing, there were several attempts to combine the two points of view.
§ 4. INTROSPECTION: STRUCTURALISM. The combination of mechanistic and dualistic points of view had curious consequences. There was no possibility of envisaging mental life as a dynamic thing, purely in mentalistic terms; for to do so would be to forsake the mechanistic position and to concede the teleological. Accordingly, introspectionists were of necessity structuralists, in that their investigations were limited by a dissection type of analysis and by a description of its results. All that the psychologist could do was to introspect upon the simpler mental processes, reduce them to their smallest terms, and correlate these introspective data with data pertaining to the limited stimulus-conditions under which they were obtained. While relatively unfruitful of immediate practical results, the insistence of the structuralist upon exactness and control of method and upon training of observers was morally wholesome. Incidentally, the insistence upon training of observers unwittingly proved that observers can be over-trained and that introspection under these conditions is a learning process set up in the laboratory and directed by whatever the point of view under which the introspector was required to achieve his skill. In other words, the results from introspection are the direct products of the method and, as compared with experiences of everyday life, are in many instances artificialities. The systematic status of these results still remains to be determined. Titchener in the United States and Külpe in Germany stood out as leaders in this movement. Both gradually extended their interests to certain of the higher thought processes, and bent their efforts towards an introspective analysis of these processes into their constituent elements.
The data of introspection, obtained as they were by structural analysis, were like the results of anatomical dissection, dead, inert, unrelated bits of experience, unless interpreted. To interpret means to organise the data in terms of dynamic principles. But these investigators were fundamentally mechanists, although in some instances they intended not to be. Titchener and his followers for the most part begged the question of interpretation by relegating the problem to physiology, the “body-side” of the dualism. To some extent they relied upon the mechanistic laws of association.
§ 5. CONTENT AND ACT. Külpe and his followers attempted to solve the problem in another way. Mental life exhibited itself in a dual fashion, in the form of mental contents such as sensations and images, and in the form of mental acts or functions, sensationless dynamic units; but these dynamic units were either systematically treated as contents, just like sensations and images, or else the expedient of psychic determining forces was relied upon. Some even went so far as to insist upon a mysterious, unanalysable will-element or faculty of the ego, for which they claimed to have presented introspective evidence.
§ 6. REASSERTION OF DUALISM. The dilemma in which Descartes found himself, when he posited a material and a spiritual substance, now duplicated itself on the side of the mind. Mind must have its structure; it must have its function. Recall that instead of finding the functions of matter in its behaviour, that is, in its dynamic relations, which could be nothing else but mind as the early Greeks were clever enough to see, Descartes thought that mind, as something dynamic, must have its own structure in the form of a mental substance. Once committed to this view there is nothing to do but to duplicate the structure-function problem on the side of mind. Once the duplication process is begun, there is no place to stop. So Külpe and his followers, under the influence of their predecessors, did for mind what Descartes had done for reality. They created a dualism. Mind has its material aspects, sensations and images. But instead of discovering the functions of mind in the behaviour of these sensations and images, they thought that mental functions must have their own status as mental substances. So there results still another dualism on the side of the acts of mind. Mental contents are left behind; acts must exhibit their own structural and functional aspects. In all, therefore, there are mental contents, mental acts-as-contents, and mental acts, and so on ad infinitum.
§ 7. INTROSPECTION AND MECHANISM. It hardly seems possible that a psychology based upon introspection and defined as the science of consciousness could be mechanistic. But it turned out just as easy to be a mental mechanist as a physical one. There is nothing on the physical side of the dualism that compels one to be a mechanist. One chooses to be a mechanist by the assumptions underlying his thinking. A mechanist is one who does not see, in the data of science, evidence of any organising or directing principle, and accordingly interprets events as happening in a schemeless and undirected, purposeless way, yet determined by law. A curious paradox! To avoid the paradox, the mechanist may insist that he really does not mean that events are determined by law, but only that events occur with such regularity and precision, under observed and constant conditions, that he can make predictions. His laws are the laws of chance, which are really not laws at all. He will say that uniformities are statistical and have no meaning except a mathematical one.
§ 8. CRITICISM OF MECHANISM. An illogical position will give itself away sooner or later. The last assertion gives the mechanist away. Mathematical meanings are products of the human “mind”; they are laws of reasoning, of intelligence, conceived in accordance with a plan and executed with reference to an end. They belong to a teleological system of events, at least while being thought by a human being. Why then, should one turn right round and apply these meanings to a physical world with the assumption that now they belong to a mechanistic system?
The reason does not lie in the materialistic assumption that the physical world is made of matter. Mechanistic and materialistic thinking are not necessary bedfellows. The reason lies in the method selected in order to explain a given event, or a given object. This method is that of explaining the whole in terms of its parts, with the assumption that parts, for some mysterious reason or other, sum themselves together, or subtract from one another. It makes no difference whether that whole be defined as physical or mental, unconscious or conscious. The laws of association so popular in psychology are mechanistic laws, and as such are fictions. Applied to mind, they make mind as much of a machine as the physical world is supposed to be; or they are laws of chance, which is to deny that they are laws at all.
But this is only one part of the mechanistic story. The assumption that wholes are additively and subtractively obtained by a juggling of parts leads to elementarism, the belief that there are parts by their own nature indivisible, unanalysable, indestructible-in other words, elements. There is a fallacious logic lurking beneath the supposition of elements. An element is by definition a discrete, independent entity, capable of isolation from everything else; it is sui generis, self sufficient, self-defining. As everyone knows, no one thing exists out of relation to anything else. To admit this is to admit that an element does not have independent existence, that it derives its properties from those things upon which it depends, and is therefore neither discrete nor sui generis, neither an entity, nor an element.
And finally, the mechanistic position harbours the notion that cause and effect apply to the action of one discrete thing upon another, one part upon another part. It divides the universe into blocks; mind into a mosaic. The laws of “physical” dynamics could not account for such a monstrosity. Imagine several dominoes standing close together in a row. Tip an end-one over and the entire row falls down. It is only in popular language that one domino knocked the other down. Why did they all fall down instead of up? Why did some of them not fall up and some down? They are all parts of a gravitational system which must be taken into account in explaining their behaviour.
§ 9. EXAMINATION OF KÜLPE’S SYSTEM. With this somewhat lengthy digression it will now be possible to inspect the Külpean psychology a little more closely in order to ascertain its mechanistic character. Mind was analysed into elements, and among them were, to be sure, intents, purposes, Aufgaben, acts of will and resolutions of the ego. But these were elements, parts. To be efficacious they must act upon other parts in accordance with whatever strength they might possess as parts or elements just like dominoes standing in a row. And so, it was held, a purpose attracts ideas to it and thus selects the subsequent train of thought and fulfils itself in that way. Or, a purpose in mind pushes the subsequent train of ideas into line. These parts obtain their strength by means of association. The discovery of something in mental life of the same order as the gravitational system in the domino illustration, that really explains why purposes can be efficacious, was precluded by the structural and atomistic bias of the theory under which this psychology was formulated.
§ 10. VITALISM. There are many biological theories of life and even a larger number of psychological theories of mind, formulated within the logical framework of mechanistic thinking, that purpose to avoid these dilemmas. These are the vitalistic theories. They can never be made to work and therefore have never been satisfactory. There is good reason, for vitalism comes into being as a protest against mechanism when mechanism is interpreted as materialism. Consequently, it is naively supposed that substituting the terms life, vital force, or psychic energy for “material” energy, resolves the dilemma. But it repeats the dilemma of mechanistic thinking with a new set of terms. Life is regarded as an entity, something elemental, a part of the organism that somehow makes the rest of it go. An ego is posited in mental life as a part of mind, something elemental, which controls all the other parts one by one. “Machinism” over again and no possible way of explaining how the control is effected. There is a way out of the difficulty, which fits the so-called mental and physical worlds equally well; but we are getting ahead of our story.
§ 11. ATOMISM IN MODERN PSYCHOLOGY: BEHAVIOURISM. Typical psychologies of the structural movement have been considered and inspected critically. By far the greater number of efforts have been directed toward the formulation of functional systems. Indeed, the Külpean psychology ended in a vitalistic functionalism that turned out to be mechanistic as all true vitalisms must. The psychology that has stood out in sharp contrast to the types thus far considered, is behaviourism.
Behaviourism followed the dualistic doctrine even more naïvely than introspectionism, for the latter would refer to physiology when necessary, but the former almost boastfully declared its repudiation of mental life. It refused to work on the “mind-side” of the fence. All one needed to do was to “put in a stimulus” and to watch what “came out”! It was a stimulus-response psychology. The elements were reflexes. Just as sensory elements were supposed to combine into all other kinds of mental processes in introspection psychology, so reflexes were supposed, in behaviouristic theory, to combine and concatenate into instincts and habits. Again the appeal was to laws of association, now translated into laws of the conditioned reflex. Responses were built up and taken away by addition and subtraction. In the logical framework of its assumptions and working principles, behaviourism was structuralism over again on the side of muscular movement. The psychologies of Watson and Titchener were twins, the one on one side and the other on the other side of the dualistic barrier. The only excuse behaviourism had for claiming a title to be a functional system was its use of the term behaviour and its effort to predict. Its assumptions and working principles were atomistic. Just as, in association psychology, mental development was treated as a passive outcome of the chance order in which sense-impressions were aroused contiguously in time and in space, so the development of behaviour was construed in behaviouristic theory as a passive outcome of mechanical, conditioning processes. The new, both in mental life and in behaviour, was nothing but a rejuggling of numerous elements, a rehashing of the old. The elements were assumed to exist in the beginning. Unfortunately for behaviouristic theory, however, it has been demonstrated that parts are not primary and that reflexes will not integrate with each other to form the complicated movements required by the theory. (P. 108.)
§ 12. OTHER FORMS OF FUNCTIONALISM. Other varieties of so-called functionalism wandered less far into the pitfalls of the mechanistic position but, as was inevitable under a dualistic scheme, struggled with the vitalistic substitute for materialism in an atomistic framework of thinking. These systems, however, were much more wieldy, more comprehensive, and gave a much more satisfactory picture of human behaviour just as it is found. Perhaps one reason for this was the fact that they refused to ignore the larger and more human problems of psychology; another is the appeal that vitalism in any form makes to human sentiment because of its use of such terms as will, purpose and drive.
§ 13. “SELF” PSYCHOLOGY. Among these systems were, first, the “self” psychologies in which the source of mental processes was sought in an ego or self. This self was a substructure that cemented unrelated bits of experience together; it was one part of mind, the core, perchance, that acted upon all the other parts. Accordingly, every experience supposedly contained an element of self-awareness. In this general way the self was intended to explain the unity and continuity of mental life. The weakness of this type of psychology, like any vitalism, was its inability to account for the technique by which the self imposed its influence upon the rest of mental life. It had either to rely upon some mysterious psychic power, capable of doing anything required of it, or upon the machinery of apperception and association. Ward in England and Calkins in the United States wrote psychologies that have emphasised the self. In these psychologies is to be found a serious but abortive attempt to avoid the absurdities of building up a whole from its parts.
§ 14. HEDONIC AND HORMIC PSYCHOLOGIES. Other systems have stressed feeling (pleasure-pain) as the fountain of mental life. In these systems feeling is the dynamic aspect of mind, something of which all other mental processes partake; or it is an attendant of all other processes, giving to any complex state its dynamic character. Thus it explains continuity. Unity may be accounted for on the ground that all other mental processes are offsprings of feeling.
Quite similar to these systems are the conative psychologies that find in the basic aspect of mental life a striving, a tendency for all mental processes to pass beyond themselves into others. A given experience, by virtue of its inherent nature, demands its own completion. Conation is construed as one general aspect of mind, paralleled in any given process by two other aspects, feeling and cognition. In certain of the conation psychologies there is a perceptible approach to a position that is neither vitalistic nor mechanistic but contains some of the desirable features of both. The atomistic logic is implicitly denied in Stout’s acceptance of the law of relativity with regard to mental processes. Every mental state is what it is because of its relation to other mental states. Mental development, likewise, hinges upon the fact that modes of consciousness depend upon their psychological relations to other modes. Then, too, there is a recognition that the new in mental life emerges out of the old.
The essence of conscious behaviour, according to McDougall, is a striving toward a definite end; hence all behaviour is purposive or hormic. The simplest forms of behaviour reveal themselves as impulses or instincts which, as they run their course, involve intelligence. A certain amount of mental development comes about through a differentiation process from very crude beginnings all under the influence of some instinct that demands its own completion. On the other hand, the organism is equipped with habit mechanisms that can be woven together through a purposeful use and disuse of them by the organism itself. At this juncture McDougall attempts to avoid the conventional laws of association by relying upon a drainage theory of learning.
All the conative or hormic psychologies make, at least implicitly, a distinction between what is mechanical and what is not, a distinction that is disastrous to the system. Sooner or later the author finds, in one form of behaviour or another, evidence of a building up of a unified reaction by the piecemeal method; and the older concepts of association and apperceptive synthesis are relied upon to account for the products. This splitting of the organism against itself is an inevitable consequence of the dualistic position. The body functions as a machine, according to the mechanistic theory that is supposed to hold on the matter-side of the dualistic fence. Mind is obviously related to the body and must somehow be capable of functioning as the body functions, like a machine. Yet it is not a machine; it can take over the mechanical products of bodily activity and use them to suit its needs. To do this the mind must possess the mechanical working technique of the body as well as a teleological technique of its own of fulfilling purposes. Accordingly, the mechanical principles of association and apperception must be resorted to in the end; for these are mechanistic techniques analogous to those supposedly found in the physical world. They are the mental operations through which mental atoms are supposed to combine into larger complexes, akin to chemical union and synthesis. The hormic and conative principles, therefore, fail to meet the final test; although they are distinct steps in advance of other functional principles. They do recognise the demand for purpose in behaviour, and contain certain possibilities of a system that need not become self-inconsistent in order to bring the laws of behaviour into relation with the laws of Nature elsewhere. The difficulty arose in making the assumption that there is, strictly speaking, any such thing as a machine, and that atomistic logic will hold anywhere in Nature.
§ 15. PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY. Next, in its application of the principle of striving (another case of the hormic principle), Freudian psychology borrowed definitely from the “physical” laws of dynamics and did much to promulgate the conception that human behaviour, including mind, is the expression of an energy system. Its systematic possibilities, however, were clouded at the outset, first by its fantastic supposition of a subconscious mind, borrowed from attention psychology, and second, by its undue emphasis upon sex. Nevertheless, its frontal attack upon the problems of real human life, its subjugation of personality and the emotions to definite scientific inquiry by methods that yielded a surprising amount of prediction and control, place it among the best contributions of the century. Its systematic importance accrues to its emphasis upon a balance of striving tendencies. Personality is normal so long as one’s pains balance his pleasures. Desires are dynamic, conative impulses, demanding their own gratification. If gratification is not obtained in one way, it will inevitably be obtained in another, because desires are energy-potentials constantly seeking release. The human being will resolve its tension in some form of an equilibrium, either in the process of attaining a goal or by acquiring counter desires that compensate and therefore bring about a balance. While these principles were first applied to abnormal behaviour, psychologists were quick to see that similar principles obtained in normal behaviour.
§ 16. THE WAY OUT OF THE DEAD-END: Gestalt. Meanwhile, what may be characterised, without much question, as the outstanding psychological movement of the century had commenced, namely, Gestalt psychology led by Wertheimer, Köhler and Koffka. Its claim to importance lies in the discovery that unlocked a new psychological world. It pulled aside the curtains of a new and larger whole into which the best of previous efforts can be seen to fit, and it has already gone far in painting a picture of that whole. Its contributions range all the way from a general conception of man’s place in Nature and his relations to the “outside world,” to precise and revolutionary disclosures in the specialised fields of learning, vision and touch.
The movement is still in its infancy; but it may be characterised, without premature judgment, as an expression within the field of psychology of a widespread change in point of view that has been taking place in all branches of human thought. This general change, to hazard an interpretation, may be characterised in many ways. First, it is a complete shift from atomistic logic and elementarism, even from its subtler form the synthetic approach. For synthesis presupposes chaos among pre-existing elements and that the elements exist out of relation to themselves and therefore out of relation to anything else. This position forever immunises the elements against being brought into relationship with each other. Second, it is a repudiation of dualism and its camouflaged forms—psycho-physical parallelism and all metaphysical, epistemological and ethical dichotomies. It finds artificial and self-contradictory all distinctions between the mechanical and the vital, the blind and the purposive, the determined and the free. It sees no conflict between the conditions under which so-called physical laws are found to operate, and the conditions under which the laws of “mind” are found to operate. It can discover no conflict between the laws of dynamics and the purposive execution of activities by conscious, human beings.
It finds in the physicist’s laws of dynamics the implication that energy systems are organic wholes, in principle, organisms; that the logical significance of life and will are found in the unity of meteorological, magnetic, temperature and gravitational fields; that these unitary fields, in virtue of their own nature, control all events that transpire within them, after the same fashion, in principle, whereby man voluntarily moves the parts of his body, speaks, and thinks. It discovers in the concept of potential a point of reference that frees the scientist from the dilemmas of atomism; for, unlike the atom, a potential is not self-defining; it presupposes a dynamic relation to other potentials, a system of differentials in which one potential exists only in relation to the others. It applies the logic of relativity to the descriptive unit.
Unlike previous notions of sui generis forces, which were atoms of energy, the organised field of force requires no reference to a push from behind or a pull from the front, no striving or driving or urging that presupposes a mind within the atom of energy or within the line of force to furnish the beginning, the direction, and the termination of a given event. All of the dynamic psychologies of the past have made these vitalistic assumptions.
The physicist has advanced far in the development of relativistic logic, the logic of unity; but approach him to-day with the organismic implications of his own thinking and he will retreat as if from some loathsome object, so ingrained in his mind is the supposition that the laws of dynamics are mechanistic laws. The thinking of the physicist, no less than of the psychologist, is saturated with philosophical tradition. That man should consider anything physical to behave as if it were mental is to admit blasphemy and to disgrace the science of physics; to believe that anything mental behaves as if it were physical is a sacrilege and marks the psychologist at once as a hopeless materialist, even brands him as an atheist. Both sides have false traditions concerning the dignity and high intellectual status of their science. The materialist and mechanist on the one hand, and the purposivist and vitalist on the other, are suffering from false intellectual pains. Not to be a mechanist is not to be a scientist, and not to be a vitalist is not to be a real human being. The consistent way to be a scientist and at the same time a human being is to be neither a mechanist nor a vitalist. While, therefore, the logic of the organismic position has long been implied in the way that the physicist has pictured the forces of Nature, face him with his own assumptions, and he is at once on the defensive. Nowadays a popular mode of defence is the seeking of refuge behind mathematics. Nature is not dynamic; for the purposes of sciences it is merely a table of probabilities. This position, of course, precludes the use of all descriptive terms; in fact it denies the validity of description in science, and of all concepts except those of number. This position, too, is taken in ignorance of the fact that mathematics itself rests upon an organismic logic.
§ 17. CONVERGENCE OF SCIENCES. It can hardly be claimed, therefore, that physics, even with its recent organismic implications, is responsible for the new movement. No one field, no one group of persons, is responsible. It has exhibited signs of life in various specialised fields, for it is a growth process, a matter of cultural development in human evolution. Philosophy has always flirted with the problem of unity, but always in the end as if it were something to be explained, always with an ultimate reliance upon atomistic principles; a proof that philosophy was fighting the imperfections of its own atomism without solving the problem. Sociology, biology and psychology began almost at the same time, independently, to experiment with the new idea, while its significance for epistemology was being felt by the philosopher. The experimenting is still in progress.
§ 18. HISTORY OF THE DESCRIPTIVE UNIT IN PSYCHOLOGY. So persistently are the layman and the scientist still thinking in terms of obsolete descriptive units, logical atoms, that the approach to the new psychology is fraught with the serious danger of reading the old into the new and missing the meaning of the new. In order to offset this difficulty, let us review, briefly, the history of atomistic logic.
§ 19. ATOMISM. Atomism was born in a premature attempt to account for complex events in Nature. It began in the thinking of primitive man and, in a similar form, is found in the thinking of children. Note how a young child observes a complex situation, say a complicated picture. It is a kitchen scene. Ask him to tell you about the picture and he enumerates discrete, isolated objects:—a chair, table, woman, dish, cat. Observing is a form of structural analysis; it takes things in relation and abstracts them from other things, leaving out the relations as far as explicit interpretation goes. Primitive man did the same thing. Upon looking out over the world about him he observed only discrete objects. Here was a tree, there a brook, somewhere else a mountain; there was rain and thunder; there were birds, animals, and other people. When it came to an explanation of these things he apprehended only one object at a time; each was a discrete, isolated entity, a whole, homogeneous in content, unanalysed and unanalysable. Since he thought in terms of object-entities, another discrete, isolated object must be the cause of any given thing. This object was another whole, another discrete entity, a spirit, phantom, ghost or God. By implication each object had its own independent origin; it was causally related to no other thing except its own ghost.
In so far as primitive man had a rational philosophy, therefore, his universe was a pluralism (monistic) and a chaos. Here, logically, developed the notion of a descriptive unit and this unit was a discrete, independent entity, unanalysable, homogeneous, and indivisible in structure. It was the forerunner of the logical atom, the elemental unit. Each unit, by implication, was an organic whole. But in the course of evolution, man failed to observe the laws of his own thinking, as will soon be evident.
By the time we reach early civilised man, there had developed the concept of a larger or more comprehensive unity, that of a complex whole. This type of whole is more difficult to grasp, and the logic involved in explaining it is very abstract. This is the crux of the issue to-day. Man committed the error of over-simplification. Since the elemental type of unity was easier to envisage (its organic character overlooked) and had been conceived first, it was only natural that the ancient Greeks should have attempted an explanation of the harder in terms of the easier, the complex in terms of the simple, the higher in terms of the lower. Remember that in the very nature of the observing process parts of complex situations are apprehended, first, as wholes. This has been true phylogenetically; it is true in the intellectual development of the child. Thus it happened that complex situations were reduced to, and explained by, atoms. We have been doing this ever since, first in one way and then in another.
§ 20. COMPLEX UNITY. But the Greeks were shrewd reasoners. They saw that atoms were of their own accord unrelated to each other when construed as discrete entities, and at the same time as the exclusive reality in the universe. They knew that atoms, alone, could not provide unity and organisation of complex wholes. But the atom was basic; it was the simplest existing thing, and simplicity is basic. Thus, upon an original conception of unity, that of structural homogeneity, another was built, namely, that of a derived unity. The latter was a unity to be derived from a plurality; an order to be obtained from chaos; things in relation to be obtained from things out of relation. It was an impossible problem, but its impossibility was a discovery of the twentieth century. That man should have tried for 2000 years to solve an impossible problem is not so surprising if there is anything at all in the process of evolution in human thought. What, then, were these futile efforts, keeping in mind that man has struggled with two conceptions of unity, the primary and the derived, a situation that presupposes in the beginning unity within a chaotic pluralism?
These futile attempts to account for derived unity have given us our vitalisms and mechanistic systems down through the ages. The necessity of carrying along two types of unity, the elemental and the complex, has resulted in no end of confusion, not only in current thought concerning current problems but in the interpretation of historical systems. Over this period of twenty centuries, whenever man has talked or written about a unity that was real to him he has defined it in the way primitive man defined it, as a homogeneous, simple thing. Thus he forced upon himself an artificial dualism of unities, for the unity that is real and primary must account for the unity that is secondary and artificial.
We see this confusion in all vitalistic systems. An organism, a complex of parts, functions as an organic whole. But this unity is not indigenous, logically, for the body is a machine, an assemblage. There must be something that gives it unity, apart from the machine itself, something that makes it run, a force separable from it, a life or spirit. Indeed, the universe itself, if made of atoms, must have a soul or mind that gives unity to the isolated parts. This is precisely the function of the ancient idea of a World Soul. Thus conceived, life or soul is an arch-entity, a simple, unanalysable, discrete thing, that can only be named and not described. It is a King ruling over his subjects, which are the parts, holding them together by no other instrument than his own fiat. These Kings have reigned in every branch of human thought.
§ 21. ARISTOTLE. In Aristotle’s psychology, for example, we have one of these Kings, the Soul of the mind, a unit without parts, indivisible and unchangeable; and then, we have the Body of the mind, divisible into parts, to be explained by its parts, a mental machine that can be described while the soul can only be named. Aristotle worked industriously to resolve this implicit dualism in his notion of form; but he failed completely, for the soul has many discrete forms which add and subtract. Space does not here permit an analysis of Aristotle in detail. Suffice it to say that to read a conception of organic unity into Aristotle’s thinking is grossly to falsify Aristotle, for he had no higher conception of unity than did primitive man beyond the realisation of a complex type of unity whose nature he utterly failed to comprehend. He confined his unity to his notion of form; and failing to realise what this could have meant, he left it behind, and proceeded with the usual atomism of his time.
§ 22. JAMES. It was the same in the case of William James. In the Thought, with a capital T, James postulates the vitalistic Soul of the mind, the agent of unity, and separates it neatly from the objects of the thought. There, in the realm of objects thought of, we have the atomistic pluralism of old, the Body of the mind, a mental machine composed of an infinite array of psychic atoms of all shapes and sizes—sensations, space-perceptions, time-perceptions, fiats, ideomotor actions, feelings of relation; a heterogeneous army, each item by definition discrete and unrelated to every other except through the fiat of a unifying Thought. Out there in the realm of objects thought of, association could be assumed to operate without implying original chaos in mental life. His was a most artistic dodging of the issue; a shutting up of the unity of mind in one box, a simple Thought, just as Aristotle shut up the unity of mind in the simple Soul; while a chaotic plurality ruled in the field of experience. A scheme cleverly executed; a battle bravely fought, for no man fought atomism harder than James, and no man ever landed in a purer atomism when he was done.
§ 23. TITCHENER. It was the same in the case of Titchener. Here we have a less explicit separation of unity and plurality from one another; but a none the less virile dualism. The unity of experience for Titchener was as safely encased against description, or any form of elucidation, as was that of primitive man; it was a unity that, like Aristotle’s Soul and James’s Thought, was named, and that is all. Nothing was done about it. This whole was Titchener’s so-called genetic unit, behind which he always sought refuge when his chaotic pluralism of described experience was challenged; or else he sought refuge in an implied organisation of the nervous system, rendering consciousness a meaningless epiphenomenon. The units of described experience were logical abstractions, we are told. Nevertheless these, not the genetic wholes with which experience commences, were the working tools of psychology. These, not the genetic units, were the real mind, the mind of psychological science. Here, in the mind of psychological science were the elements, the dimensions, or the phenomena (whatever they happen to be called, it makes no difference) that must be united by the artificial means of attention and association. Once more there was the secreting of unity within an isolated compartment. As a consequence of this procedure, coupled with an extremely narrow definition of psychology, we have an aggregate of alleged psychological fact as meaningless and artificial as any in the history of psychology. The dualism of logical and genetic units is the form taken, in Titchener’s system, by the dualism of simple and complex unity. This dualism cannot exist, even for the purpose of science. Thus, Titchener, like Aristotle and dames, ended in pure atomism and a chaotic pluralism. But in Titchener, as well as in his predecessors, we had valiant psychologists who made lasting systematic contributions, albeit these contributions were negative.
§ 24. PERSISTENCE of VITALISM. We have indicated the persistence of the vitalistic logic in man’s psychological efforts to handle the problem of derived unity. In every instance the experiences actually dealt with, described or explained were like the world of primitive man, a pluralistic chaos having no unity in its own right, but dependent, for its organisation, upon an external agency, a deus ex machina in the form of a capitalised Thought, a soul, a genetic unit, or the nervous system. It makes no difference; the systems are all alike in principle.
If space permitted it might be shown how the same errors are to be found in the psychologies of the conational or hormic type, where emphasis upon the atomic unit shifts more explicitly from structure to function. The descriptive unit becomes a living dynamo of force, a striving toward a self-imposed end. The direction of the striving is given within the homogeneous unit by its own fiat; which is another species of deus ex machina logically analogous to the spirit of primitive man. Or, the direction of the striving is determined by association. The problem of complex unity is solved in neither case.
§ 25. PERSISTENCE OF MECHANISM. Meanwhile we witness another line of development, and perhaps the most popular of all. The logic of this trend is exactly the same as that of vitalism and, in the end, a deus ex machina external to the process to be explained is appealed to. This is the mechanistic trend. It was not long before the assumption of fixed atoms or elements was discovered to be a faulty one. Elementarism did, truly enough, presuppose chaos. But what is the theorist to do, who, left with a derived and unexplained unity on his hands, refuses to admit into his system so tangible an entity as a unifying agent? Simple enough. The elements do it themselves. The complex whole is produced by a union, or seriation, or fusion, or blending of the logical atoms. The atoms are not fixed; they are capable of losing their identity in the course of blending. The derived whole, or complex unity, is a product of synthesis. This is the popular mechanistic view of to-day.
Here, at last, it seemed, was a conception that avoided the absurdities of vitalism. But which, after all, is more absurd, to obtain unity through the fiat of a deus ex machina, or to derive something from nothing? By definition a complex whole, obtained through synthesis, is derived from elements which in the beginning are unrelated and have no unity among themselves. Since the parts are originally out of dynamic relation to each other they are forever immune from each other’s influence. There is no way of getting them related except through dynamic relations and, if the relations already exist, which must be true if the parts are ever to be related in the future, it means that already they are parts of a unified whole; and in that case the notion of synthesis is redundant. In other words, the assumptions necessary in order to have synthesis make synthesis unnecessary. On the other hand, if the parts are construed as unrelated in the beginning, a mysterious agency somehow brings order out of chaos; plays the rôle of a deus ex machina bringing unity into a plurality. This mysterious agent is creative synthesis, a process that derives the properties of the whole from no source whatever, creates a unity out of whole cloth. This, logically, is a more absurd position than vitalism which frankly admits the existence of the agent.
Thus, in psychology, the concepts of association and attention have evolved about the central theme of synthesis, the faith that something can come from nothing, the one applying the faith empirically and the other applying it rationally. Both attention and association were agencies conceived for the purpose of deriving something that did not originally exist, namely, unity. To insist upon them now is simply to follow the old atomistic logic and to presuppose the impossible, namely, that elements out of dynamic relation to each other in the beginning can ever, by any intelligible means, be brought into relation. There is no instrument known to man that can perform such a miracle; if such an agency is assumed it must be a deus ex machina.
§ 26. DESCRIPTION AND EXPLANATION. The atomistic thinker of today hides behind the meaningless expression, “I am not trying to explain; I am only describing”; and goes merrily along, unwilling to inspect his assumptions, at the same time erecting one atomistic system after another. The scientist describes phenomena and infers relations; to treat of things in relation means to explain. Association and attention deals with relations, not with phenomena of direct experience. However sincere, therefore, our attempt may be to make no implications concerning association and attention, the acceptance and use of the concepts imply the need for a derivation of unity from chaos. Indeed, the laws of contiguity and repetition are intended to specify the conditions under which unity arises out of chaos; they are supposedly harmless tools indicating how bonds are formed between discrete and previously unrelated items of experience or units of behaviour; they are the supposed conditions of synthesis and other processes of complication by accretion and summation. That synthesis can be no more than a fictitious summative process is proved by the assumption of nothing but the unrelated parts in the beginning.
The mechanistic hypothesis, as compared with the vitalistic, has the disadvantage of offering no explanation of how a thought or a motor reaction obtains its direction, a difficulty added to the previously mentioned absurdity of the synthetic conception. To presuppose a mental set that gives direction to one’s thoughts, or a predisposition that gives direction to one’s movements, merely clouds the issue; for the mental set or the predisposition must in the same miraculous fashion have become associated, through repetition, with the thoughts and movements over which it supposedly exerts control. A vitalistic force could, logically, be endowed with a fiat to give direction and purpose to behaviour; but association cannot. No associationistic system provides for the original direction of the experiences that are to be associated together; nor does it account for the direction of thought after the associations have been formed. The items of experience originally have no meaning, no intent; they are accomplishing nothing, going nowhere. They are capricious, chaotic happenings; and once chaos, always chaos. Contiguity and repetition of response have no divine right to condition direction of response and, as such, have no efficacy whatever. Once a response has direction and once an idea has meaning, there are no bonds to be formed; there is nothing for contiguity and repetition to accomplish. As circumstances of behaviour, they are, like synthesis, redundant.
§ 27. NEW PRINCIPLE OF EXPLANATION. Thus the futility of any line of vitalistic and mechanistic reasoning has become apparent. The realisation of the futility marks another step in the evolution of science—all science—not alone psychology. There has arisen a new conception of the descriptive unit, a third phase in the history of scientific logic. The new descriptive unit is not the structurally homogeneous whole of primitive man, nor the complex and derived whole of vitalism and mechanistic logic, but the organic whole, recognised not as a problem but as a solution; not as a fact but as a principle; not something to be explained but something in terms of which to explain. This is the complex whole, not composed of parts but producing them; not made of parts but capable of differentiation. This descriptive unit is dynamic, not in a vitalistic sense but in an organismic sense, for dynamic properties are describable and measurable only in terms of differentials in energy potentials. Each whole is a field, differentiated into alignments of potentials, or structurisations of energy, known as phenomena. Each potential is a relative thing; it is definable, in fact exists, only in terms of the whole, that is, through the organic character of the whole.
The problem of agency, unsatisfactorily met by vitalism with its deus ex machina, and by mechanistic systems with their miraculous derivation of something from nothing, is solved. The conditioning factor is the field property of the total unit, a measurable quantity that is more than the properties of the parts within the field. The problem of the artificiality of analysis is solved, for the larger whole necessary to decrease the limitations of knowledge need only be discovered; it does not have to be manufactured. The problem of indestructibility of the unit is solved. Unity is a matter of form existing under organismic laws of dynamics. The problem of two unities is solved. Plurality differentiates in an organised fashion from an undifferentiated but dynamically balanced or unified field. This plurality is derived within a unity not by machinery but by the laws of dynamics. The problem of the direction of thought and of movement is solved; for they are construed as differentiations within a field of energy whose alignment of potentials gives direction to any activity within the field. The laws of energy are not mechanical; they are organismic laws.
It might be shown that such a basic law in physics as the second law of thermodynamics harbours the assumption that all measurable and observable phenomena in Nature are differentiations of a pre-existing organic system, whether we are thinking of a gravitational system or of a human being. The measurable and the observable lie on the side of loss, the resolution of differentials in potential toward a condition of homogeneity. The gains—the other side of the losses—are, in Nature, processes of growth and evolution which, as such, are not measurable, and they are observable only after they have occurred. In human experience the gains are the emergings of experiences which, the instant they are observed, must be jotted down on the other side of Nature’s loss and gain account.
It could be explained how the new physics, with its law of uncertainty, presupposes an organismic situation in Nature in which certainty is proportional to the knowledge of the organic whole within which a given event is occurring. The more isolated the part the less certain the prediction of its behaviour. It could be shown how relativity and the organismic logic are aspects of the same evolution in scientific thought; how the new descriptive unit places all events in Nature upon the same level functionally, and on different levels phenomenologically; how it places all the sciences on the same plane where principles are universal; how it denies all dualisms; how it limits causation or determinism in all science; how it harmonises purposive behaviour, ethics, and a theory of values, with physical science. Above all, the new descriptive unit forces science to inspect more carefully the atomistic mores that are still so prevalent. A few of these principles will be discussed in the following chapters. The others must remain for more detailed inspections elsewhere.
So complete a reversal in thinking of necessity causes confusion. That the new unit is a whole of whatever simplicity or complexity from the standpoint of its appearance is a principle easy to understand when read, but difficult to understand when followed through. It means that whether a given phenomenon is a chemical atom, a gravitational system, man or the universe, it is a unit of the same dynamic or functional complexity. As many principles are required to account for the simplest thing in Nature as for the most complex; but remember that relative complexity refers only to the structural or phenomenal aspect of the unit, the degree of its differentiation. In plan all units are equally simple or equally complex.
Each whole or unit has a form or configuration of its own, a phenomenological whole-character; and its unity accrues to organisation. Complexity, wholeness, unity, from a functional standpoint, are primary, not derived; organisation is a principle, not a problem. In the beginning as well as in the end there is order, not chaos. Unity is not something to be explained, but a source of explanation. And there is only one type of explanation; the complex explains the simple; the whole explains the part. Size and detail make no difference because they are relative. Variability of performance in no way changes the situation. Structural analysis does not simplify nor does it add explanations; it merely complicates the picture. Where details are useful for a more thorough understanding of an object or an event, analysis is justified; but if an explanation is to be sought in the products of analysis, the searcher is doomed to failure. The explanation can be found only outside, not within, the thing to be explained.
So completely is our thought saturated with atomism that every time we turn around we receive a shock. The resistance to the new logic is terrific. The mechanist holds it in contempt on the ground that it is mysticism and vitalism; the vitalist resents it because, to him, it is sheer machinism and materialism. Neither one understands it. The atomist, unable to rid himself of his atomistic shackles, can see nothing new in it; the mathematical scientist, temporarily a sceptic with regard to the descriptive and conceptual aspects of science, and unobservant of the organismic assumptions in mathematics, seeks refuge behind meaningless statistical laws. All of this is happening, while at the same time no one will admit that orthodox conceptions in science are satisfactory.
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