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Re: Re[2]: [evol-psych] What is the "psychology" in evolutionary psychology?

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  • Timo Jarvilehto
    ... Perhaps I may add here my five cents: From its beginnings psychology has had trouble in defining its basic unit of study: what should be regarded as a unit
    Message 1 of 7 , Sep 2, 2002
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      Philippe Gouillou wrote:
      > There are many many many theories whith even more names, and even
      > more definitions, and they are very difficult to distinguish [1].
      > 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.

      Perhaps I may add here my five cents:

      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
      doesn’t 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-
      environment system.

      Best wishes,
      Timo Jarvilehto
      Timo Jarvilehto

      Professor of psychology,
      University of Oulu,
      PB 2000, 90014 Oulun yliopisto, Finland
    • Philippe Gouillou
      Bonjour, Thanks for your very interesting answer. Alas, I ll have no time tonight (appointment with my publisher tomorrow) to write a deep answer,
      Message 2 of 7 , Sep 2, 2002
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        Thanks for your very interesting answer. Alas, I'll have no time
        tonight (appointment with my publisher tomorrow) to write a deep
        answer, sorry.

        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.

        A bientôt,


        Philippe Gouillou - Monaco - pg@...
        Presentation, Competences, CV : http://www.gouillou.com
        QI (IQ) - Intelligence - Douance : http://www.douance.org
        [Ethnic Wars] : http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ethnicwars
      • Timo Jarvilehto
        Message 3 of 7 , Sep 4, 2002
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