Re: Re: [evol-psych] What is the "psychology" in evolutionary psychology?
- Philippe Gouillou wrote:
> There are many many many theories whith even more names, and evenPerhaps I may add here my five cents:
> more definitions, and they are very difficult to distinguish .
> I can't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if the definition from
> Tooby & Cosmides had the objective of trying to reunify a little
> all these.
From its beginnings psychology has had trouble in defining its
basic unit of study: what should be regarded as a unit in any
psychological theory. Following the general divide in philosophy,
psychology has used as a unit internal mental activity in various
forms (idealism), or external stimulus-response relations
(materialism). Both of these approaches have severe problems in
defining psychological concepts. What is "perception", for
example? Some mystical inner image of the outer world?
Computation in the occipital cortex? A form of discriminatory
From my point of view, one of the greatest mistakes of psychology,
since the beginning of experimental psychology during the 19th
century, was the conviction that philosophical problems are no
more relevant in psychology, or that they have been adequately
solved. This led to experimental work, which is completely blind to
its basic philosophical assumptions, and which is based on the
idea that collection of experimental results will somehow magically
show the researchers what they are doing. However, at the
present, the "new" findings on the neural basis of perception,
emotion or consciousness, for example, follow mainly the old
phrenological paradigm about the location of mental faculties in the
brain, now indicated by electrical recordings, or changes in the
blood flow rather than by the bumbs on the scull.
I have tried to define the subject matter of psychology from the
point of view of an approach which is based on (as I call it) The
theory of the organism-environment system. The gist of this
approach is the idea that many conceptual confusions in
psychology are due to its common sense basis, and to an
assumption which is, of course, most obvious from the ordinary
point of view, i.e. that the organism and the environment are two
distinct systems which may be studied separately. This starting
point logically leads to ascription of physical, biological, mental,
and social concepts to the organism, whereas environment is
usually conceived simply as a physical system consisting of
stimuli. It is very difficult to understand how such heterogenous
systems could "interact" and, actually, this systemic confusion
has led to many experimental and theoretical problems which
cannot be solved without scrutinizing the basic assumptions
underlying the research work.
The organism-environment theory is an attempt to solve such
problems by changing the basic assumption of two systems, and
starting with a postulate which is not obvious at once: that the
organism and environment belong together, and cannot be
separately studied in respect to psychological processes. Hence,
the basic unit of psychological investigation is not a subjective
experience or a psychological process *within* the organism, or a
stimulus-response connection between which psychological
processes intervene, but an organism-environment system. If this
system is divided in smaller parts we lose the object of study. One
doesnt find mental activity or "psyche" within the organism, in its
brain or stomach, as little as they can be found in the external
stimulation. Mental activity is not activity of the brain, although the
brain is certainly an important part of the organism-environment
This kind of "systemic" psychology makes possible the definition
of mental phenomena without their reduction either to neural or
biological activity, or to separate mental functions. Mental activity
cannot be separated from the nervous system, but the nervous
system is only one part of the organismenvironment system.
Mental activity extends into the environment and its different forms
refer to different aspects of the organization of the organism-
Professor of psychology,
University of Oulu,
PB 2000, 90014 Oulun yliopisto, Finland
Thanks for your very interesting answer. Alas, I'll have no time
tonight (appointment with my publisher tomorrow) to write a deep
But there is a point I've noticed quickly : don't you think that the
problems you consider in trying to separate the organism from his
environment are already considered in EP as is shown by the frequent
use of the expression "all other things being equals" ?
The problem of reducing the interactions has been the center of all
sciences since the XVII°, and the general orientation has been to try
to separate things, to study elements independantly, and this has
permited many advancements, as for exemple all the physical theories
that are behind our present use of computer and Internet.
The General theory of systems of Von Bertallanfy (1938) you refer to
(systemic) is very interesting, and is very used. But, except perhaps
for the concept of "emergence", I can't see it as in opposition with
the other approach.
The problem of finding the unit in psychology is an important one.
But it seems its resolution doesn't impose to refuse to
intellectually separate the organism from his environment. Following
Von Bertallanfy I would say that the organism is a system which is
part of another system (the environment) and is composed of
sub-systems. And one of these subsystems could be considered as the
unit of present EP : the Evolved Psychological Mechanism.
Philippe Gouillou - Monaco - pg@...
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