Darwin and William James “The Inroads of Physiology and Biology”: The History of Psychology(Brett and Peters):

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“The influence of biology proved to be the most far-reaching of all influences coming into psychology from outside the philosophical, religious and medical traditions from which psychology, in the main has developed. But its full influence did not make itself felt until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when men who had been trained in Darwinian Biology started to study man in the same sort of way as they studied animals and to use the same sort of explanatory hypotheses for human behaviour. There was, however, a transitional period before the rise of various schools of psychology in the 20th century when the biological outlook exerted a correcting rather than a radical influence on the old tradition of “idea” psychology.. The systematizers, Ward , Stout and James, for instance, though strongly influenced by biology were what we would now call “philosophical psychologists”. They were interested primarily in traditional topics like the relationship between perception and conception, the self, and self-consciousness, the association of ideas etc…..stress on conation, on plasticity and adaptability, and on function was beginning to replace the old interest in cognition, faculties, and structure. But Psychology remained predominantly introspective. The mind rather than behaviour remained the centre of interest: the difference was that a more biological account was given of mental processes.”(Brett and Peters)

The latter half of the 18th century was a period of intense activity in the sciences including some interesting research on the brain in which memory, for example, was explained as  “the persistence of impressions on the brain substance”. Cartesian dualism surprisingly dominated psychological discussion and the physiological “vis nervosa” was distinguished from the soul or psychic force. In Germany the notion of “Lebenskraft” was influential and the concept of development was the focus of much theorizing. The Sciences were beginning to assemble themselves into a series of ascending steps beginning with physics reaching through chemistry, physiology,  biology to psychology. Functionalism supplemented the materialism of the day and was interwoven with the activity of the will.  Bichat, for example in the spirit of functionalism defined life as “the complex of functions which resist death”. The dualism was almost Platonic: man was a divided being composed of natural forces functioning mechanically . and the spontaneous force of a conscious will. Hughlings Jackson’s reflections   advanced the scientific position that the real “organ of the mind” is the body and  claimed that the nervous system of the body is representative  of three levels of evolution: impressions and movements(sensori-motor), these representations are then re-presented in a larger integrated context: finally at the highest level there is re-re-presentation in terms of thought and volition. Even in this case we encounter the assumption of dualism and consciousness is assumed to be a mere effect or accompaniment of the neural processes we are dealing with. Towards the end of the 19th century, the issue of feelings becomes controversial and two debates occurred, relating firstly, to lower feelings and their connection to sensation and, secondly, to the relation of higher feelings to moral and aesthetic ideas. The former in a dualistic context, claims that the increase or decrease of intensity of sensation produces differences that are felt and this leads inevitably to a theory of unconscious “feelings”. Hartmann disagreed with this and asserted categorically that feelings can only exist in consciousness. He concedes also that all feeling is to placed on a pleasure-pain continuum. All qualitative differences of feeling are actually differences in accompanying sensations or ideas which can shift in levels of awareness.  A key shift in emphasis occurred when  Horwicz in his work “Analysis of Thought” claimed that  Feeling is “always accompanied by an impulse to act”—-“sensation is always incipient movement”. the mental space that is thus created allows a possible choice of movement to be represented in the light of an anticipation of represented consequences. This thinking process comes to an end when the agent inclines himself to one action. Thinking, on this view, is a stream of representations controlled by feeling and a striving toward action. Horwicz realizes that abstract and scientific thinking is compromised in this position and claims that even the search for the causes of a sensation is related to the positive feeling of pleasure and the driving force of desire to experience pleasure. Kant, in contrast, had attempted to unify practical consciousness by reference to the will and reason in relation to an ethical standpoint. Horwicz attempts the same task by the use of feeling: a new basis, but arguably a basis manifesting the most inner and private of phenomena accessible, one presumes only to introspection. Darwin’s writings had obviously tuned the European mind into the theme of the emotions and the so-called “peripheral theory” of Lange and Sergi began to emerge and was developed and elaborated upon by the Americal Physiologist William James. These thinkers focussed on the order of events in an emotion  and claimed that the idea of a bear, for example, is not the cause of emotions “as a match might be said to cause a fire: but along with the “idea” there is a total organic reaction which makes the “idea” itself a uniquely personal event, and wields it into that concrete psycho-physical process called experience”. Brett argues that this position is in harmony with Kant’s insistence on allowing the subjective to be part of, for example, his transcendental deduction and also allowing it to play such a prominent role in the critique of judgment:

“..for Kant leads the modern school of thinkers who insist on a) giving to feeling an independent position and b) regarding it as the subjective complement of the objective processes(sensation, ideation)”(Brett and Peters)

In England Spencer had been propagating for Psychology to be treated as a natural science and then partially deserted that position with his “two aspect” theory which retained an inductive approach to the phenomena of Psychology. Among the consequences were strange terminological inventions such as “cerebration” which were used for processes of thinking. In this context consider Dr Irelands famous quote:

“Cerebration!–what a name for thought! When the liver secretes bile one does not say that it hepatates, or when a man breathes we do not say that he pulmonates”

The above of course  is an example of a technical or technological relation to language which was to cause problems at many different levels for the discipline of psychology during the next century.

With Spencer, the life of the mind was divided: into inner and outer activities. Darwin’s work was in the spirit of Aristotle and introduced the spirit of deduction into an atmosphere of induction, an atmosphere where all the energy of researchers was devoted to the collection of facts without any thought concerning the problem of how these facts should be ordered. Darwin’s theory of change regarded Nature as infinitely and ceaselessly productive, a process in which every change was an experiment directed by the processes of random variation and selection. It became clear now that there should be a general biological treatment of mental functions and the lives of animals and children were especially relevant to such investigations. His view of emotions also had great effect: replacing the focus on consciousness with a focus on habit. Consciousness came to be regarded as a consequence of the process of evolution. Darwin’s position implied a rejection of  dualism in favour of Aristotle with a Spencerian twist, namely :

“The cooperation of the physical and psychic factors which this theory employs is explained by giving to the body a capacity for producing certain movements, and to the intelligence a power of selecting, and so finally establishing some modes of action in preference to others.”(Brett and Peters)

It was clear that Darwins theories would provide more insight into the study of life and also that a platform was provided for the union of physiological, biological and psychological viewpoints. But the fruits of this union had to wait for the works of Bain and Ward. It is at this point that we first begin to see the beginning of a new attitude to the problems of the theory of mind in particular and philosophical psychology in general. Spencer had talked about induction and associationism but Ward sought for a deeper method and a deeper unity. Ward argued that the phenomena of psychology are not specifically inner as opposed to outer but are rather :

“certain distinct characteristics of conscious individual life. These characteristics must be assigned to a subject or an Ego. A sequence of “states” has no inner unity and could not know itself: there is an agent as well as an action, and in addition to knowing, feeling and doing we must admit that which knows, feels, and does.

This agent  is equivalent to the total state and processes of consciousness and further:

“Every distinguishable element of the mental life is, therefore, a phase of its activity: it is no more separated from its phenomena than the moon is separated from its phases: the subject is the knowing, feeling and doing in their own living unity.”

Wards Psychology is one in which the material of presentations is largely given but the life of consciousness involves attention in relation to these presentations plus a voluntary direction of attention onto “motor presentations from which result changes in the field of consciousness” Again in this we can see the trace of Kant the scientist. There is a large primitive mass of undifferentiated intuitions out of which we differentiate sensible and conceptual entities, all of which constitute the antecedents of knowledge. The matter is form-ed(hylomorphism) and here we hear echoes of Aristotle. But it is the activism of the German school which is mostly the driving force of Ward’s theorizing:  the active organizing subject is responsible for  the unity of experience:

“they are not transcendental principles of mind regarded universally, but organic principles of individual conscious existence. Time and space are the first of these organizing principles: unity, identity, resemblance, difference comes next: the higher intellectual categories come lates(substance, cause etc)”

Ward thus rejected associationism and the building up of the whole out of the synthetic activity of combining parts. According to Ward only ideas are capable of association. his treatment of emotional and conative action is in terms of firstly, natural selection and secondly in terms of human purposive selection which also takes effect at a very early age was an advance in thinking.  Purposive movement differs from reflex movement in that the former are “selected, purposive, and capable of reinforcing the emotion as a whole”. Feeling is retained as an important element of the theory and purposive movement as is the case with all intellectual activity is actually steered by desire and feeling. Ward also prefigured James and Freud in insisting that “life and growth belong to the mind as truly as they belong to the body.

Stout takes Ward’s theory further into the territory of consciousness. Consciousness, for Stout, has three fundamental modes of functioning: thinking feeling and willing. His characterization of these modes, however, is not functional and is more reminiscent of  the characterization of different attitudes:

“the matter given to consciousness is the sum of presentations: to each presentation there is a possible reaction in one of three ways. If the presentation is referred to an object, and regarded only as significant, we are said to think: if we find ourselves in an attitude of liking or disliking, we have the volitional or conative mode: from this arises pleasure or pain(the third mode)… In reality, then, only two modes are fundamental: we either think or will…Thought and will are operations by which the creature strives to regain its lost equilibrium.”

This last thought concerning the equilibrium of the organism recalls the early work oF Freud who suggested an energy regulation principle and a pleasure-pain principle was involved in this work of balancing the consciousness of the individual. “Thought is the creatures way of satisfying its needs”(Brett and Peters).

James carried on in this spirit and introduced the term “stream of consciousness” against the background of a solid physiological and almost positivistic orientation toward “the study of the phenomena and conditions of mental activity”(James’s definition of Psychology). He believed that experience could not throw light upon itself and was committed to Lotze’steachingss about the difference between knowing something and knowing about something:

“In a certain way, one only knows vision by seeing: but sciences are not immediate experiences, and a chapter on vision must describe the eye and its functions simply because the greater knowledge toward which men strive is attained by this particular circumnavigation…..To say that physiology throws no light on mental processes is very true: the fundamental error is in asking physiology to explain something which has previously been made inaccessible, instead of taking all the facts as capable in some degree of being explained by all others.”

James then also explains the psychologist’s fallacy which in essence amounts to believing that if one has an idea of a year that one also has an idea of its 365 days. Of course, the object “year” has 365 days but the “idea” of a year does not. James and Freud, it is reputed, were the only two psychologists Wittgenstein studied carefully.  This example reminds me of the Wittgensteinian discussion of a painting of a kettle with steam coming out of the spout. Wittgenstein asks whether it makes sense to claim that there is water boiling in the kettle.Here too the distinction between object and idea is being debated.

James weaves introspection  into his otherwise “scientific” account but there are elements of mysticism and there is also a nod in the direction of Freud:

“I cannot but think that the most important step forward that has occurred in psychology since I have been a student of that science is the discovery, first made in 1886, that, in certain subjects at least, there is not only the consciousness of the ordinary field with its visual centre and margin, but an addition thereto in the shape of a set of memories, thoughts, and feelings which are extra-marginal and outside the primary consciousness altogether, but yet must be classed as conscious facts of some sort, able to reveal their presence by unmistakable signs. I call this the most important step forward because, unlike the other advances which psychology has made, this discovery has revealed to us an entirely unsuspected peculiarity in the constitution of human nature.”

With these reflections, I bring the 19th century to a close and will move on to a discussion of 20th-century Psychology. Bretts work came out in 1921 but Peters who abridged the three volumes wrote a chapter on 20th-century Psychology. This chapter will be the subject of the next thread.