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The Conflict of the Psychologies


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First published in 1929.


The acceptance of psychology in the confederation of the sciences is accomplished. But an internal warfare continues which in historical circumstance is unfortunate and in professional responsibility scandalous. There is no parallel elsewhere. If physicists, chemists or biologists spent as much futile argument in discussing the purposes of their science and held as antagonistic views of the fundamental concepts and direction of progress, that progress itself would be just so far hampered. The state of affairs is not without justification. When the object of research involves the researcher himself, cross lights are inevitable. One is reminded of the myth that Socrates was so strabismic or so introverted as well as so flat-nosed that, in his passion for self-analysis, he trained one eye to look into the other, thus carrying introspection to its experimental extreme. The salvation of all science is its extraverted objectivity-its conviction that things are so regardless of our peculiar insights or outlooks. "Know thyself" may have been a precept in the objective temper; if so, it was promptly counteracted by the subjective presumption: "Man is the measure of all things." Presumably a psychological congress in ancient Athens would have had no more resemblance to a peace conference than a modern one, despite our increasing knowledge of human relations.

It may not be amiss to rehearse the stages by which modern psychology was made possible. In Freudian version the story would be one of decentralizing or deflating the human ego. In the beginning was a superiority complex. Man regarded himself as the center of the universe; a planet that held so noble a creature could be no less than the pivot about which the sun and the cosmos turned. Copernicus and his followers inflicted a harsh blow upon man 's planetary dignity; and "e pur si muove" has always had to be uttered with hushed breath. When capable of reflection, man sought his future in the impressive stars; nothing was too vast to serve as a medium or a herald of his fate. When the sun no longer rose and set in his honor, he developed the astrological consolation. By the like presumption he made himself the lord of creation, and created gods in his own image. He elevated to the place of consideration that part of his nature that was quite properly his supreme heritage, his immortal soul; he fantasized a paradise for it in the past, a heaven in the future, and from the outset and continuously fell into the hands of the medicine-man who filled his mind with magical ceremonies and glorified mysteries for which the earthly realities were but vicarious or symbolic pathways.

In due course, as truth penetrated despite the resistance offered by the primal urge to self-importance, man's cosmic ego received one traumatic shock after another. He discovered that he was living in one of the minor planets, and that even these did not move in what he regarded as the perfect orbit of the circle, symbolizing his own perfection, but gyrated in such degenerate Gestalts as ellipses. He discovered or suspected that the world did not begin with his own creation, but that life, not so dissimilar to his own, preceded it by many eons. The insult of geology and biology was added to the injury of astronomy. His superiority complex suffered under the successive revelations of his insignificance. Evolution inflicted the most unkindest cut of all, the resentment continuing to this day in the fundamentalism of the American wilderness. He had to accept the genealogy of his anthropoid kin. But through it all, especially in the high seats of academic learning, he clung with tenacity to his philosophical dignities. And if he was declared an apish biped without feathers, he still plumed himself upon the exclusive integrity and unique distinction of his clamorous soul. In his psychological ark, which was to ride high and dry above the scientific inundations, he assembled the instincts in graded animal array, but reserved to himself the gift of reason. His moral urge to perfectionism stood by him. Throughout the ages of shifting darkness and light, he sought the compensations of religion and philosophy, and cultivated the defense mechanisms of morality. He was determined to save his psyche at all costs from the degradations of nature. The supernatural, the mystically natural, the philosophically over natural, held the stage in turn, and jointly. The last, by its command of the instruments of learning, became the most enduring citadel. There could be no psychology in our modern sense until this slow process of disillusionment was completed.

There are more reasons than this why psychology was late in appearance upon the scientific scene; yet part of the delay resulted from the persistent conflict between the resistance to what was regarded as a mechanistic degradation and the cherished self-determining glorification of human dignity, more and more centrally symbolized by man 's reasoning, moralized, possibly immortal soul. In altered temper the conflict continues. The extreme behaviorist insists that the cosmopolitan human herds diving hurriedly into subways and emerging restlessly into skyscrapers are as readily intelligible in their gyrating responses as are rats in a maze seeking what they may devour; while the Freudian analysts maintain that there is no slightest gesture in all this locomotor perturbation that is not complexly animated by vestiges of motives as primal as the sex ridden cave-man, and as complicated as the urge to security and completion that accounts for the maze-like patterns of civilization.

But it is high time that we should realize that we have fully awakened from this psychological dream. When we pass from its latent meaning thus portrayed in sub-self motives to its patent incidents of plot and circumstance, we find ourselves in a different world alike of interest and of vocabulary. I shall be bold enough to give my own solution first, for I am convinced that all psychology is one no less than is physics or biology, and that the conflicts of the psychologies, so confusing to child study associations, editors of popular magazines, backwater professors of education and the inquisitive laity generally, and likewise so dear to cultist devotees within and without the profession-that this appearance of hopeless division is for the most part illusory, and can be resolved as readily as the famous contradictory description of the elephant by the blind men, one of whom had him by the ears, another by the tail, another by the leg, another by the trunk, and none saw him rightly or whole for lack of eyes to see. For the structural and the functional, the dynamic and the purposive, the introspective and the experimental, the behaviorist and the Freudian, the Gestaltist and the self-psychologist and the other "ism" renderings of the field of mind, are all partial gropings to describe the same beast, as nature made him, and as those whose psychological organs of vision are fully opened can readily see him. 

It is obvious to the point of a truism that there is only one psychology, and my stock answer to the persistent inquiry as to what brand of psychology I profess is naturalistic psychology. In common with every other psychologist I am a student of human nature, and my first and last obligation is to see that nature as nature made it, and as man has remade it for his own purposes; for that remaking and that comprehension is the true human glory. The rest is a matter of emphasis, dominance of interest and detail of interpretation. I am convinced that despite their special allegiances the great majority of active psychologists are naturalistic psychologists, and would be willing so to enroll themselves. Science advances not by way of isms but by clarification of concepts. The shifting concept of the human psyche is the core of the history of psychology. The naturalistic concept is established, and thereby sets the course of present-day and all future pursuits.

Still viewing the prospect from our privileged position of clarity and unity, psychology is seen to be the study of the motives and mechanisms of behavior and their organization, and it was never anything else, however mistakenly through presumption or prejudice these motives and mechanisms were misread. The precisionist will insist upon the insertion of the word "mental" before "behavior," and thereby precipitate the unavoidable issue. Unfortunately, the term consciousness became entangled with the ancient dignities as well as with the intraverted strabismic attitude called introspection (from which Professor Bentley vainly wishes to remove the curse by calling it inspection). It still requires a drastic correctional operation to make it plain that this self-awareness is as naturalistic a function as any other. It is in nature's program, and is embedded deep in the evolution of the nervous system. A simple recognition of this naturalization of cerebral function in terms of awareness and all its implications appears in Professor C. Judson Herrick's "The Thinking Machine"-a recent biological version of the essentially human type of behavior. He speaks of the organs of consciousness as readily as of the organs of digestion or the organs of sex, and recognizes in the interplay of those mechanisms the impediments of behavior that may ensue if digestion or sex intrude too constantly upon the domain of consciousness. He makes it plain that without the awareness function, the specifically human gradient of behavior would not have arrived. Consciousness in all its varieties, including sub consciousness and simple orders of sensibility, finds its place in the naturalistic series.

The actual struggle for the establishment of psychology is accordingly the conflict between the pre-naturalistic or anti-naturalistic or super-naturalistic positions versus the naturalistic psychology that has been in the making since Darwin, though it presents previous to that critical era quite an interesting group of antecedents in the story which Baldwin, Dessoir, Brett, Stratton and more recently Gardiner Murphy have presented, and which might well be represented from the approach which I have emphasized. The modern psychologist would be aided and his presumption in turn chastened if he acquired a more intimate historical sense of the story of his profession.

How magical-mystical psychology gave way to a rationalistic view of the human psyche, and how variously it survived and survives, is a tale of significance that runs somewhat parallel and somewhat tangential to the central development with which the historical texts deal. Unfortunately, what is academically central is often not so in the larger view of human interests. Chapter upon chapter must be devoted to the intensive (though to our interests often irrelevant) pursuit of questions of psychological bearing considered in a religious, moralistic and philosophical temper, which for so long made psychology but a subordinate protectorate of philosophy, and infused into it quite alien interests, quite misleading interpretations. The story of all science is full of irrelevancies and false leads, but none perhaps more so than the story of psychology.

The naturalistic psychologist is as prepared as is Watson to reject every vestige of the older approach, but reminds that insurgent behaviorist that this ancient war is over; that there is no purpose in throwing stones at the windows of already deserted houses, however strong the temptation to the small boy that survives even in dignified psychologists. The other errors of behaviorism a la Watson are more interesting, though perhaps important only in so far as it is more difficult to evolve truth out of confusion than out of error. Evidently we are all behaviorists, but how we interpret our behavioristic obligations may determine largely the trend of our psychological interests. I regret that I may seem to be doing extreme behaviorism too much honor in singling out its extravagances for mention, but it is a fact that this petulant challenge. has served the purpose of making responsible psychologists examine their fences and revise their stakes and claims. The dominant and wholesome effect of the naturalistic concept of mind was to divert the over attention to the dignities and lordly prerogatives of the human soul toward the humbler examination of man's communities with the rest of creation and of the simpler beginnings of his mental life. The ,genetic approach and the broadly zoological approach proved to be variously helpful to naturalistic psychology; so did the physiological approach, demonstrating the organic dependence of so-called higher functions. All this activity, which more than anything else characterizes the modern temper in psychology, has as its central direction the study of psychology from below, of the simpler functions and integrations. The emphasis upon child behavior, upon animal behavior, upon physiological behavior in its psychological integration, is all one consistent expression of the supremely important principle that the simpler, earlier, more intimately organic approach is the indispensable clue to all the varieties of emergent superior functions that equip us to behave like human beings and to misbehave according to the same patterns. It was natural and helpful that with the specialization of psychology, owing to its imperialistic expansion in the last generation, there should be those to whom this "primitive" psychology would make the largest appeal. Taking their clue from the reflexes which form the action pattern of primitive response, some have proposed the name of reflexology, or again, objective psychology, for this domain. I see no worthy purpose in giving this division of naturalistic psychology a special brand. If we continue in that direction we may have to recognize tropismic psychologists and thalamic or visceral psychologists as well as cortical or neo-palliumistic psychologists; and though we shall enrich our vocabulary we shall impoverish our cooperation.

To conclude that because this "primitive " gradient underlies the whole of our psychic life, therefore its pattern dominates the whole of psychology is an error of the first magnitude. Dr. Watson's invitation to psychology to commit hari-kari under his assurance that the psychologist has no insides to speak of must be politely declined. The conditioned reflex though real is most limited, and the problem of the true behaviorist is to explain how we develop our intelligence by remaining so largely free from conditioning. That the proper appreciation of our "primitive" psychology required an emancipation from the fallacies of our introspective dignities I have made clear; but the transformation of that emancipation into an "ism" is responsible for much of the fallacious appearance of the conflict of our psychologies. Dr. Watson's dramatic execution of consciousness reminds one of Mark Twain's similar response to a similar "religious"' stimulus. Having listened under durance to a sermon on the God-given nature of conscience and the high privileges of that endowment, this skeptical penitent decided that he was much too frail a creature to undergo so severe a strain; so he took his conscience down cellar and killed it with a hatchet. The similar destruction of imagery, of heredity, of insanity, I must on the present occasion decline to take too seriously. I am considering behaviorism and not Watsonian idiosyncrasies. My purpose is accomplished if I can make plain that extreme behaviorism is a radicalistic reaction to the neglect of primitive psychology, and is thus partly responsible for the fallacious conflict of the psychologies.

We may interpret Freudianism as a similar overstatement of cortical psychology to put it neurologically, of spiritual psychology, to put it historically. It is no longer the primitive fear and wonder of our make-up, but a far more sophisticated and perhaps equally strabismic and certainly more harrowing soul introspection that appears in psychoanalysis. A Socratic Freud would be represented as an introverted oversoul suffering from a complex, peering into the subsoul that from its place of repression in the nether regions looks and answers back. Yet the Freudian may claim that such is nature; the only difficulty is to prove it. Its naturalistic intention may be admitted. Observe also how closely these tendencies, and as subconsciously as the complexes which it discovers, turn about those two pivotal phases of the human psyche, its motives and its mechanisms. Freudian psychology is motivation psychology, or motivationism as Troland properly calls this approach; and it discovers its mechanisms in the motivistic temper. So once again, though all psychologists deal with motives and mechanisms, some are primarily motivationists, others primarily mechanists. The behaviorist proposes one set of mechanisms, the Freudian another; and they are not farther apart than are the gradients of the application. What at the one level is called the conditioned response is at the other called (psychic) fixation. We may have brain-stem conditionings and cortical fixations. So far as they validly describe psychic integrations, they are naturalistic.

Again we are fortunate in that as a result of the experimental advances we have come upon an aid to the resolution of this conflict between psychology from below and psychology from above. For we have established a glandular psychology, and have found in its intimate correlation with autonomic functions that nature herself supplies the resolution of the conflict. We are provided with two nervous systems and not one, both alike nature-set; and as we are autonomists or neo-pallic devotees, we shall emphasize our glandular bondage or our cortical self-determination. The danger in assimilating the insight is that of going beyond the evidence. We may be safe in speaking of a hyper-thyroid personality; but if we go on to say that President Harding gave us an adrenal administration and President Wilson a pituitary one, we endanger the quality of our psychological as well as our political affiliations. Naturalistic psychology likewise has its temptations.

And what about the Gestaltist? He is equally naturalistic and turns to the nature-set patterns of behavior for the interpreting concepts of his system. He has introduced a valuable correction of the stimulus-response formula applicable to a wide range of behavior. He has even ventured to find in the analogues of physical constitution a questionable support of his configuration principles. Gestaltung is organization, which in turn is an emphasis upon the total organism affected by the total situation and its total meaning; it is a protest against the detached analyses of an outgrown psychology. Organization extends from the lowest to the highest. It is inherent in this view to seek the supporting data in the natural range of behavior from low to high, alike in the ascending development of the infantile to the mature, and in the simplest and more rigidly patterned insect behavior to the occasionally rational chimpanzee and the frequently irrational human responses. The Gestaltist has been sanely rational in his claims and on good terms with his colleagues. Repeating the proffered definition of psychology as the study of the mechanisms and motives of behavior and their organization, the Gestalt psychology centers upon the organization.

The menace of the conflicting psychologies is that each will lay claim to the jurisdiction of the whole. By recognizing their common cause in a naturalistic interpretation, the conflict disappears. The day of isms is past; the history of isms is unfortunate. Psychology has come to its own by the same irregular dispensation by which the human mind has found itself, through the outgrowing of the presumptions and the errors of the ages. The story of psychology finds its reflection in the story of each of the sciences. But the unique fact that in this instance the instrument of enlightenment is also the object of study makes the story of man centrally the story of his psychological emancipation.

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