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The Logical Foundations Of Psychology

I. Relevance of Science to Discovery and Application Fields of Psychology

Science does not produce statements that get to be labeled “the truth.” Rather, the ground rule “only demonstrable real world truth” has come to be labeled “science.” A key to understanding the activity labeled science; what it is, what it's not, why it’s emphasized in courses such as this, and why you should follow its guidelines lies in the way it came about. It did not come into existence when some authority figure defined a creed called Science; and then began ordaining people as Scientists if they took the “oath.” Science came about when people who demanded to know the truth and who demanded to understand what they were doing were seen as a group and came to be called scientists. The procedures that avoided erroneous conclusions and which lead to the truth came to be called the scientific method. These methods of science are best seen as conventions that have evolved through the pressure brought about by a primary emphasis on truth and understanding. Science is simply man's attempt to keep from being deceived by nature.

When you have something important at stake you demand truth. You should be no less “scientific” when the body of knowledge or the welfare of your patient is at stake. The following anecdote illustrates that whenever it matters to you, you already know enough to demand truth, and to understand what's going on (i.e., to be "scientific"). Suppose that you and I were going to bet $100.00 on the outcome of a coin toss. I flip; you call heads while it is in the air; it lands, I cover it, sneak a look, call it tails, and quickly put it in my pocket. You would not pay. You would demand that you see an outcome before believing it or you would require that trustworthy people see an outcome and report it to you. If you are uncertain about something that is personally important, you appeal to direct observation as your final arbiter. It is what you can experience for yourself that ultimately determines what you accept as truth. If someone tells you something, you assess its truth by asking whether or not you can experience it directly or indirectly; whether there are several lines of evidence supporting it; whether the information is consistent with information from several other sources which are generally reliable or whether the information is consistent with what you already know. When this informal notion of appealing to direct observation is used in an explicit, open, and consistent fashion, it is called the scientific method.

It is because of science's track record in producing desirable results that psychology is moving toward “science” as fast as it can. Science is only one of many ways of viewing the world. However it should be realized that science, which specifically rejects "trying to do good" has produced more good than any other system. It seems that being concerned with truth and understanding has the side effect of producing "good." Whereas being concerned with "good" very often has the side effect of producing half truths, misunderstanding, and horror (the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and Auschwitz).

There is occasional resistance to the idea that psychology can be scientific. This resistance is based in a belief that behavior can never be understood, i.e., be measurable, analyzable, or controllable. This objection typically takes one of two forms: that behavior is capricious and without a cause, or alternatively, that behavior can be understood only by methods that are incomprehensible, unlearnable, or innate in a few very special people. (This latter view is typically argued most vociferously, of course, by people who think that they have that "special" skill.) The objections to scientific psychology are obviously not true when one considers the many professions that exist because of their ability to routinely change behavior on command, such as advertising, public relations, entertainment, education, and politics. However, even if the objections to the comprehendibility of behavior are partly true we should get on with understanding what we can understand, and not be stultified by what at best is only a half truth or a rumor. We should assume that we can have an impact on behavior unless proven otherwise.

If I were to ask you to list five good things about lynching someone, you would, after the shock of the apparent oxymoron wore off, put down that it is quick, inexpensive, requires no difficult or complex preparation, and that those who do it claim that it is appropriate, the best thing possible, and that they enjoy it because they are helping society. If I were to ask you to list 5 bad things about civil law, you would point out that it is slow, expensive, requires a lot of preparation and work, and is stressful because it must be done right and is not always fun.

The challenge faced by someone interested in justice is an analog to that faced by a psychologist. We can do to our readers and patients what feels intuitively satisfying and what does not require taking difficult courses or we can become properly prepared at whatever the cost and do the most scientific thing possible. In criminal justice, no one argues that the easy path (lynching) is better than the hard path (civil law). We should be equally offended when someone in psychology wants to do things in some particular way simply because it is the easiest way to graduate and has the least homework.

The following step by step explicit reasoning shows that science is relevant and even essential to psychologists involved in either the application of psychology (psychotherapy) or to the discovery of new behavioral principles (research).

The first step in building a logical foundation for your practice of psychology is to decide what is at the heart of your system of wants, beliefs or values. An onus is the most primitive or most basic demand a person feels obliged to meet, even if it is not fun and even if it is not easy. Generally these are obligations so basic as to require no justification. Is there any reason for you to do anything other than the easiest, fastest, simplest most natural thing that any 15-year old already goes? Is there any reason to know anything more than you already do or to behave any differently?

The following set includes some of the typical things that people consider obligatory.
You would want to go to a maximally competent therapist who understands what is really going on and how to fix it. You would want to read a maximally revealing paper that helps you understand what processes actually occurred.

In complex situations where no simple "completely right" versus "completely wrong" decision can be made, a maximizing rule only makes sense. Any decision should be based on an understanding of the big picture rather than a first, narrow impression. What is the best answer for the larger perspective out of the possible alternatives? What will most positively affect the greatest number?

If you have to study more to understand a problem; work harder to get the job done; research more rather than publish sooner; or give up an erroneous position to which you are emotionally committed, then so be it. Decisions should be based on the truth rather than self interest.

If you do therapy you must know how to help people and help them in the best possible way. If you are adding to the knowledge base of psychology by doing research, you must provide your reader with the most useful knowledge presented in the most articulate way possible. The best solution requires a clear understanding of the actual factors involved.

Know what you can or cannot do. Solve the problem when you can, but defer to others when appropriate. Terminate if you are not helping, even if it means a loss of income. Pass a research question on if you cannot handle it. Your decision must be based on your ability to understand the determinants of the task.

The preceding list of skills, activities, and attitudes is generally labeled "ethical." They are what gives psychologists the right to consider themselves better than money-grubbing self-serving con artists. A Psychologist who simply does what he "thinks" is right or "feels" is right or "knows" is right is really no better than a con man. They both usually hurt people, produce half truths, and are called quacks.
It is morally wrong to do something other than what is maximally beneficial and maximally efficient to someone in your care. It is morally wrong to publish a paper that leaves an impression that is not supported by the facts. The ethical foundation of psychology therefore hinges on truly understanding the nature of behavior, truly understanding the problem at hand, truly understanding the best solution and truly understanding the best way to accomplish the solution. To the extent that we have maximized our understanding of what is truly going on, to the extent that we truly understand the issue as well as anybody, we are ethical. To the extent that we use second-rate information or have a second-rate understanding, then we are unethical.

The following set includes most of the remaining kinds of things that people typically consider obligatory. Simply put, they are the things that give us a good job, a good salary, and security in that job.

All theories claim to be correct and all therapies claim to be right. Just as all parents consider their children good kids, all weight loss programs claim to work, and all used-car salespeople claim that their cars are good buys. Unfortunately, the immediate, naively perceived, "real" world can trick us like a magician tricks inexperienced children. If you are to become a good consumer of psychological knowledge you must be able to separate truth from fiction even when appearances are deceiving.

The knowledge base of humans has surpassed what is explainable to a 5 year old. In fact it has surpassed what is quickly explainable to many college graduates. You must be able to understand the advanced and sophisticated knowledge of psychology in order to properly function as a psychologist. Psychology has come an unimaginably long way since 1950 (about where history of psychology books leave off) and a very long way since the 1970s when most current faculty graduated.

A simple technician can cope with problems once they are trained to step through that particular solution. A professional on the other hand can solve problems which have never before occurred because they are trained how to solve problems and find the real answers. The ability to discover the true determinants of behavior is an essential prerequisite of being a professional. The difference between a bright high school graduate with 7 years of experience in the "real world" and a person with a doctorate is the difference between vocational and professional training.
In general, a professional must have the analytical skills necessary to unravel complex behaviors into understood functional relationships, and the competency to design procedures which will clarify causal factors or which will alter behavior.

If you are to succeed at what you are doing you must be right more often than you are wrong. If you are to make consistent progress then you must know when things are getting better and when they are getting worse. In fact, a theorem in mathematics shows that unsystematic (random) movements get nowhere. A drunk walking from a lamp post and turning randomly will not stray far from the lamp post. This is true for both the field of Psychology as a whole and you as an individual researcher or therapist. With accurate feedback, errors can be eliminated and correct solutions obtained. It is very much like searching for something when you are told when you are "hotter" or "colder" as opposed to getting no feedback at all until you actually find it. Imagine getting your clues in the game hot and cold from someone who doesn't know where to steer you. You will stumble around, always thinking you are on the right track but in reality you will be lost, never getting any closer to the solution. Similarly, common sense moves you back and forth in no consistent direction. For every adage that points you one way, there is another one which moves you the other way (e.g., it's never too late, you can't teach an old dog new tricks / he who hesitates is lost, look before you leap).

You will be required to demonstrate the efficacy of what you do because when the people supplying your income become good consumers, they will demand it of you.

Agencies which fund psychological services or research expect to get something for their money. This is increasingly so as government agencies become more accountable for their expenditures. You will be required to show that you produced something.

The courts are increasingly involved in psychological services. It is likely that you will be required to present evidence admissible in a court of law, and under cross examination which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that your procedures work.

The hallmark of free enterprise is that the best are likely to prosper and the ineffective are likely to disappear. Natural contingencies simply work that way. Producing results is a function of your understanding the true determinants of behavior.

Consider the problems facing our society today, it is apparent that most are behavioral. Imagine for a moment that you had complete and perfect knowledge of psychology. What problems could you solve? What employment could you get? How much money could you earn (e.g., stock broker, boss, politician)?

You will be able to attract more customers if you can show that your procedures actually work rather than simply trying to talk them into believing you accomplished something.

Your status with respect to other job candidates and fellow workers will be based most likely on your competence and ability to produce results. You will be more likely to be upwardly mobile if your procedures work better than your colleague's procedures.

Sooner or later you will be held accountable for what you do. Job evaluation and malpractice suits are becoming a fact of life. Your only security will be to have done what has the best possible evidence supporting it, proven in the most objective way possible. Layoffs never start with the most competent and productive workers. The outcome of a malpractice suit against you is governed by the nature of your knowledge. What would you consider important if you were a juror on a malpractice case brought by a friend of yours? What would the therapist be obliged to prove and what would be acceptable evidence? What would make you side with the therapist against your friend? Whatever that is, should of course, be the foundation of your practice of psychology. Imagine your friend suing a physician who treated your friend for a broken leg or cancer. What would compel you to side with the physician?

Psychologists have a right to expect to be successful and secure in their profession. However, it is not enough to only want to be a psychologist, you have to be good at it to succeed. The preceding list of skills are likely to help you in becoming successful and secure in your profession. Therefore, there are also pragmatic reasons for you to truly understand the nature of behavior, truly understand the problem, truly understand the best solution, and truly understand the best way to accomplish the solution. To the extent that we have maximized our understanding of what is truly going on, to the extent that we truly understand the issue as well as anybody, we are likely to be successful. To the extent that we use second-rate information or have a second-rate understanding, then we are in jeopardy of being unsuccessful.

In sum, most people probably feel some onus to be ethical, and some onus to be pragmatic, even if it's not the path of least resistance. The second step in building a logical foundation for your practice of psychology is therefore to determine just what will make you "ethical" and "pragmatic." As we shall see, a scientific perspective is the only perspective which will allow you to practice psychology and be either or both ethical and pragmatic. It is possible that you may marry the boss, or win the California lottery or get a job where everyone but you is totally incompetent, but those are pretty risky bets for betting on your career. If you wish to be ethical and pragmatic, then you must do those things which give you those things. Given psychology's ethical and pragmatic onus, your course is relatively obvious. The everyday language versions of what you must do are given as 1 and 2 below.

You must have good evidence that things are true before you believe in them and that is not as simple as it sounds. 1. Unfortunately, truth is not necessarily obvious, what you like, nor the easiest. 2. Neither is common sense an acceptable arbiter of reality. Common sense can be as dangerous as helpful. Common sense is the "intellectual" force underlying adages horoscopes and the burning of witches. They can only be misconstrued into some caricature of truth in retrospect. Often they are true only in the sense that they predict everything, for example "opportunity knocks once", and "it's never too late." One or the other is certainly true on any one occasion. The need is to know in advance not after the fact when it is too late. 3. That your mother, teacher, or best friend believes something does not make it true either. That your friends support your view is no help. Everyone, including a psychopathic murderer, has a mother, a best friend and a dog that believes in them. 4. The fact that something is popularly known is also no reason to believe in it. Everything that is now known to be wrong was once thought to be true by people in the street. 5. Knowing or feeling that you're right is of no help. Even though most people do believe that they can be wrong, few people ever believe that they are wrong "this" time. Most people (including you) can be talked into believing a nonsensical theory, and most people fall for trick personality tests.

Your task is to set up a judicial system which will judge the truth or falsity of issues according to prescribed procedures known to work. It is necessary for you to accept that your "inner ability to understand people and recognize the truth" could be the problem rather than the solution. The actual solution is to determine what in the past has been shown to produce truth as opposed to procedures which only produced strong emotional commitment but little in the way of enduringtruth. Some things can be taken as evidence, other things are only conjecture, and are inadmissible. Your choice is essentially the same as that faced by society: rule by law; based on fact, and truth - or rule by lynch mob; based on popularity and what seems right at the time. Truth comes no easier to psychology than to society, and for the same reason: it's easier and more fun to do things by your heart than by your head. Let's face it, people are convinced that they are right while they're lynching someone. They also feel that a court hearing is an unnecessary delay and hardship which gets in the way. Lynchings require no homework and have no prerequisite and are therefore popular among people who care more about how they feel about something than the facts.

We must be more concerned about real facts than what we "feel" is the truth. We as psychologists have a great deal of power over people's lives. However, we cannot give ourselves the right to "lynch" our patients or readers just because they trust in us, they are unlikely to complain, and we earn a good living at it. Additionally, we must understand those facts.

We must understand how, when, and why things work the way they do. It is not sufficient to only be able to redescribe a demonstration we once saw. You must comprehend the controlling factors underlying the functional relationships involved. You will be unable to predict what will happen in other situations and you will be unable to control behavior in alternate situations if you do not understand what makes behavior work the way it does. By returning to the "see the motorcycle" metaphor, the point could be illustrated. For example, suppose a person came to be able to find which of a number of objects was imbedded in each of a wide variety of pictures; then that person would be likely to also be able to find and see the new objects in a wide variety of completely novel pictures; whereas a person only memorizing that a particular picture contains a motorcycle would be unable to identify which objects are in which new and different pictures. You must understand the set of various unifying principles which underlie various phenomena and how to find them if you are to be successful. The object is not to memorize that in this situation you do this procedure (the picture with squiggly lines has a motorcycle in it) and not ever really understand what's going on.

Another example of the difference between really seeing something and only giving the appearance of seeing something is someone, who after being told that the picture has a motorcycle, simply says everything they can remember about motorcycles. Clearly, many things they say are generally correct. The problem is they still don't see the motorcycle and will make a great many mistakes acting on their inability to see what's really there. Imagine a surgeon cutting on your brain with the same level of understanding.

Being able to do nothing more than follow directions, or memorize an answer to a specific case is well illustrated by the fable of the child sent shopping. Being sent to get butter he carried it home in his hand, a reasonable thing if you don't understand the properties of butter and hot summer days. It melted. His mother chastised him telling him he should have wrapped it in wet leaves. She then sent him to fetch a loaf of bread. He wrapped it in wet leaves. The story goes on for many trips. The boy always doing what he learned by rote, never understanding the principles underlying why he was doing what he was doing. As a result he always did "the right thing in the wrong specific case."

The third step in building a logical foundation for your practice of psychology is to determine what do these words "truth" and "understanding" really mean? So far we have seen that we as psychologists should demand "truth", and should "understand" our subject matter if we are to satisfy our goal of being "ethical" and "pragmatic." Simply put, "understanding the truth will make you free." But, we have relied on only our intuitive feeling for the meaning of truth and understanding. What is proper and acceptable evidence? When can we claim to understand something? As a minimum we need to know how to prove to someone that we are speaking the truth and that we understand what we are doing.

There must be rules to screen-out knowing-that-you're-right, opinion, bias and conjecture from the truth. Simply put, what does the word truth mean? What makes something true? In essence truth is an accurate description of something that is real. If three people tell you three different combinations to a safe, the one that works is the truth. It means that the information has passed a reality test. You already test perceptual information. You would look to see if a big rabbit were following Elwood Dowd around. You would reality test. If you didn't test to confirm that things were real you would be what is meant by crazy. You must learn to test cognitive information in the same way - for the same reason. Imagine a court room where all things were accepted as evidence and you were on trial, and the prosecutor hated your family and your ethnic origins. You would be lynched by the system.

The fact is, without deliberate and careful thinking we are no more intrinsically objective or intelligent than people we ridicule for their bias or stupidity. We populate our unknown frontier (space) with the same monsters born of ignorance that the early seafarers did. Often, when we attempt to understand why someone else does something we simply substitute what our own reason would have been if we were to have done it. Each of us can remember a painful incident when someone has made that error when they tried to understand our motivation. When we infer our own reasons into other people or animals we can be very wrong. What would you demand of someone who could hurt you either deliberately or by negligence with their therapy before you would accept their treatment? Contrary to some popular misconceptions, the discipline of psychology has more to offer you than rhetorical self serving tricks to convince people you really helped them, or that any problems which arose were not really your fault.
The following principles have been very useful in separating truth from fiction.

Sense data is the final arbiter of reality. Things are real because we can experience them not because we can imagine them or because we like them. We cannot claim that a space man did "it", and then when no space man is to be found, claim that it must therefore be an invisible space man. We cannot claim that an overactive ego caused the problem and then claim that it is an invisible overactive ego, detectable only by properly trained psychotherapists, of whom we are one and the questioner is not. If we wish to claim that something we cannot experience is real then the burden is on us to prove it to a skeptical audience; that is only fair. That we can prove it to ourselves, our friends, and our students is taken for granted.

Things are real or true if a second look confirms their existence. If we add a column of numbers twice, and get the same answer; then the answer is likely to be correct.

The more evidence from the wider a variety of sources, the more believable. If the police find a finger print the same as yours at a murder scene, maybe it means you are guilty, maybe it doesn’t. However, if the police also find your wallet there, and the murder weapon in your house, and the tire tracks of your car at the murder scene, and the victim's jewelry at your house, and your teeth marks on the victim's throat, and a VCR tape of the murder with you in the starring role - well, then you're in trouble. (Unless you have a very good lawyer, of course. This is where the analogy breaks down; law and science play by very different rules.)

In science this has two aspects: 1) multiple measures of different types all indicating the same fact, and 2) an explanatory context which is very general with many cross validating findings in the theoretical net.

If several observers who abide by the “rules” of science all agree concerning an event then it is probably true. It is reliable, it is objective. If only one person observes something and others do not observe the same thing then it is subjective. Just as you believe that the true sum of a column of numbers is the one that both you and others have obtained, so does science depend on consensual support. This criterion avoids the problem of considering a dream or a drug induced hallucination a fact. For this reason it may be the most important criterion. If a theory precludes consensually validatable statements then it is metaphysics not science. This criterion works especially well if the observers are widely separated with respect to theoretical orientation, time, etc. Oddly enough, complete agreement is not necessary. You only need to agree over the issues under discussion and to whatever extent is necessary for the discussion to proceed. If you want to know if your group can pay for the dinner you need not argue over whether you have $105.75 or $107.21 between you when the bill is only $25.00. It is an entirely different question however if the bill is $106.00.

The boundary of the concept of a thing, or the set defining a thing, must correctly capture the essence of that thing. The concept of a horse is false if it includes the saddle or fails to include four legs; it is false if it includes speaking English or fails to include galloping. This simple idea has two important ramifications. The first is with respect to precisely what are we “pointing to” (i.e., the referent); the second is an ontological issue (i.e., what exists).

The meaning of a word is intended to include some elements and exclude others. In the case illustrated in the above figure, 1 and 2 are correctly included as part of the referent. 3 and 4 are correctly excluded as not part of the referent. But, what about 5, 6 and 7? A good definition is unambiguous with respect to what is included and what is not.

Things cannot be said to exist outside the impact they have on sensation (resulting measures) or the impact on other things (functional definition). If your idea of the correct concept of a thing exceeds its operational/functional definition, the burden of proof or burden of communication is on you to prove, explain, and communicate the difference.

Entities are best defined by the functional relationships defining the entity and the operations used to prove they exist or not. You cannot have unwritten clauses in a contract and expect people to agree to "what they signed." You cannot have unspecified meanings to words and expect people to agree to "the meaning of the word" when you change that meaning from what they originally agreed to. You can easily accept the value of operational/functional definitions if you commit yourself to a psychiatric hospital and then try to get out. Without operational/functional definitions of "sanity" and "insight into your problem" your freedom would depend on the whim of your ward supervisor. Imagine that the person you cannot avoid arguing with every time you see them was your therapist. Could you get out of the institution? How would you cope with Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?" Nurse Ratched allowed her clinical judgment or intuition to govern her behavior. She in effect allowed her personal feelings to establish the reality in which the patients had to survive. She was a lynch-mob psychologist rather than a scientific psychologist. There were no operationally defined boundaries to her concepts. She could pick and choose meanings to suit her purpose.

The Magna Carta and the Constitution were the operationalization of the power of government. It provided people with operationally defined rules, which in turn gave people "freedom." Both the government and the people were bound by the rules, neither could make things up to suit themselves. The king could not arbitrarily jail someone based on his regal judgment nor could he extend a sentence for a small crime indefinitely based on his regal judgment. If the society agreed that a crime was heinous, then the punishment was set to fit the crime as a matter of public record not as the whim of a single unaccountable individual. For the same reasons, we must operationalize the meaning of good psychological health and when someone is ready for release. We must operationalize our theoretical constructs.

Most disagreements can be resolved by simply checking that both parties agree to the meaning of the words. Are the people talking at one another or are they communicating? It's wrong to believe intelligence is something more than what a particular IQ test measures. If you took a test and scored IQ = 100 and the psychometrician said your IQ was actually 150 you would admire his depth of knowledge. But what if you took an IQ test, scored IQ = 150, and the psychometrician said you actually have an IQ of only 90. You would then immediately ask what the mystery component was and how it was measured. The psychometrician would say it was nonempirical good clinical judgment and unmeasurable and that you do not get the job. You would complain that he had made it up to bias things the way he wanted, and you would be right. If you think that something exists which does not show up on tests, you must ask yourself how you know its there and how you are any different than Elwood Dowd and his rabbit, Harvey; or any other delusional flake. If you believe in a trait which is communicable; OK, specify it. If you think you have transcendental knowledge you are foolish and more than a small part of the problem.

In actuality we define or name things by convention. Chair is defined by our community as "this example" and "this example" and "this kind of thing" and "not these kinds of things," etc. There is no giver of meaning - a dictionary writer in the sky, so to speak. There is no a priori meaning of words or boundaries of concepts. There is no platonic ideal chair. This distinction of world views (conceptualizations for language) was labeled nominalism (meaning from the convention of a group) versus essentialism (meaning from intrinsic essence) by Popper.

For example, while it is relatively easy to talk about the mountains and the plains or valleys, or night and day, it is difficult to point to the exact spot in the ground or point in time where one becomes the other to everyone's satisfaction under every circumstance. This is not to say, however, that we give permission to the sophists and pedants to bring meaningful communication to an end. There is, in fact, a difference between night an day. If the distinction is of importance, we can and must resolve it. Recall the example about paying for dinner. If the distinction is of no importance in the discussion, we can move forward. We can define the "essence" of a thing rather than the essence. Serious argument about whether this or that is or is not a chair, must be seen in the context that produced those words. In one sense it is all arbitrary, but in another, it is of very real importance. Our paradigm is defined in part by how we define things. If anything can be defined in any way and no two observers need agree, progress ceases. Definitions and boundaries flow from the paradigm. If they are wrong and the paradigm does not permit change, then a new, better paradigm is warranted.

The following figure illustrates the essence of the present meaning of the word truth. There are things which have the characteristics specified in the previous sections (a through e). We call these things true in everyday language. We also call these things scientifically established facts. People who deal with things in the inner circle are called scientists. Science is nothing more than truth. Truth is nothing more than science. Science is NOT a subset of the truth. Rather than to start with the notion of truth and then provide science as a subset, we start with the notion of empirical, reliable evidence with multiple converging support which is operationally/functionally defined and has consensual validation and ask what is beyond. If someone wants to offer something else as a "truth" it must be proven. Truth does not mean anything anybody wants it to mean. Anyone wanting to extend the meaning of truth to something beyond what science has already substantiated must explain to us what they are talking about.

The irony is that by this criterion, we would simply expand the number of scientifically established elements not increase the difference between science and truth. Neither can we say truth is some eventual ideal. In the first place we cannot know the future. Secondly, that position would suggest that we no longer have to worry about the accuracy of what we do today. The buck must stop now. The allure of reifying a future truth that is beyond what we know today is that it seems to give the speaker the "right" or "authority" to believe anything they want. By simply asserting "this may be right eventually," that view comes to have a footing equal to any currently "proven" view. By similar logic, the person could reject anything regardless of the evidence supporting it by asserting that sometimes scientific paradigms change. The mechanism underlying the dynamic nature of science, with which science advances, is relatively complex and is detailed later.

Understanding is like seeing the image in a random-dot stereogram. In fact, it is the same physiological process. Giving someone the words to memorize misses the point. That is NOT what it is to "see" it; that is the appearance, NOT the substance. To the extent that giving the answer diverts attention from seeing it - it is destructive. What you are after is the skill to come to see the image within. The irony is that it is more work to memorize words than to understand. The trap is that memorizing is mindless; coming to understand is "the fog of confusion." It is trying to "wiggle your ears." It is pulling a random dot stereogram into "focus." It is "understanding." To understand is to be able to arrive at solutions for problems no one before has ever encountered and for which neither a "study guide" nor "answer sheet" is available. If you understand a phenomenon you can use that information in new situations. Understanding begins with having a hunch, a rule, or a theory which specifies why things are happening the way they are and which specifies how the rules are to be modified so that they work in changed situations (or fail to predict and therefore show you how to fix your theory). Understanding provides you with the ability to be fruitful or productive because you can predict.

The classical statement of someone who does not understand a phenomena is "it works in theory, but not in the real world." This means that that person can redescribe a classroom demonstration they once saw ("there is a motorcycle in the picture"). But that doesn’t help them any because the picture is different than the one they memorized in graduate school. The problem is that they don't understand why the phenomenon happened and what makes it happen or not happen in changed situations. (They never actually "saw" the motorcycle in the picture; they knew only to say the words.) When presented with a picture they had never before seen, that happened to have a lion in it; they said "there is a motorcycle in the picture" and they were obviously wrong! They did not understand the organizing principle or paradigm (discussed in Section II. I.). An additional problem with their lack of understanding is that it is also very likely that over time their memory will slowly shift to something completely different from the original "theory." If you memorize nonsense syllables or disconnected facts without any underlying pattern you will slowly lose track of what goes where. (You may come to claim that there is a motorcycle in the wrong picture or that there is none when there actually is one, or that the motorcycle looks like a big Harley instead of its actual appearance.) If I told you the following series of letters O T T F F S S E N T E T T F F S S E N was important; even if you believed me, correctly remembering them for ten years would be difficult unless you understood that the underlying principle was that the letters were the first letters of the numbers from 1 to 19. To understand how things work is to be able to use information in a variety of situations.

Another impact that the requirement for understanding has on the scientific endeavor is that it focuses attention on what is the same about a variety of behaviors, rather than on what is different about those behaviors. This is much like a chemist focusing on the common elements of various substances rather than being stupefied by the superficial differences in those substances. The important task is to see through differences to the common underlying principles. With an understanding of the common principles governing nature, comes the ability to describe, predict, control, synthesize, and explain.

Given a language, a minimal understanding is exhibited by a description: which elements are contained in the set which are not.

To predict is to specify what will happen in a new situation by virtue of understanding a rule which applies in a known situation; knowing how the unknown situation relates to the known situation; and how to correct the rule if differences exist between the situations. The importance of this aspect of science cannot be overestimated. It drives most of what science is. In order to predict in a new situation, nature must be correctly understood. Only by knowing the fundamental process will the person be able to correctly predict into a new situation. Knowing that the pigeon pecked the blue light more slowly doesn’t help predict much. But, understanding that decreases in reinforcement rate typically reduce the rate of the supported behavior helps predict into a very large variety of situations for all life forms.
If you understand a functional relationship then you have the opportunity to modify its causes, which in turn allows you to modulate it or make it occur or cease. If you do not understand what makes a phenomenon work you will be unable to control it. It will occur or not occur irrespective of your efforts.

If you understand what makes a phenomenon work, not only will you be able to create or abolish it as you desire, you will also be able to produce completely new variations to suit your needs. You will be able to produce a behavior in an organism that previously did not occur.

To explain is to integrate the phenomena within a larger context or paradigm. This provides general rules in order to more easily describe, make predictions, control, and synthesize new phenomena and to communicate this ability to other people. A proper explanation must be based on the criterion specified under truth: it must explicitly and unambiguously specify its elements, it must be testable or capable of being validated, it must be nontautological and it must minimize errors. These factors are discussed in more detail in the section on explanation.

The final step in building a logical foundation for your practice of psychology is to know as much about, and to do those activities which are known to produce, what people have labeled "truth" and "understanding" because that will give you what you want. If you want to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and if you want to be successful at your job, then you should demand empirical, reliable measures, multiple converging evidence and consensual validation with operational/functional definitions for its elements and be able to describe, predict, control, synthesize and explain the natural world. Scientific psychology gives you the right to assert that you are ethical and the confidence to believe that you will be successful at your job. Note that science does not attempt to be ethical and pragmatic; rather, it attempts to truthfully understand things.

Only to the degree that the practice of psychology rests on the truth and understanding; is it ethical. A scientific basis is what makes psychology something more than money grubbing, self-serving hucksters, because the product of science is what is labeled truth and understanding.

Only to the degree that the practice of psychology rests on truth and under-standing will its practitioners have good reason to predict that they will be successful and secure. Your job success will most probably be based on your possessing skills or capabilities that are more productive than your competitors. Additionally, it will depend on your ability to demonstrate the actual effectiveness of what you do. Science has by far the best track record for providing them both, because science is the activity which produces truth and understanding.

When you wish to produce aproduct, then you do those activities which are known to produce that outcome. When you have a particular goal or destination in mind, you take the path that is known to go in that direction. If you want to be ethical and pragmatic, then be "scientific." Few people would articulate their onus as “I want to be empirical.” But, most would say that they want to be ethical, and then go on to say that to be ethical is to base their practice of psychology on the truth; and further, that the “truth” is that which can be seen or felt in person. This section of Chapter 1 can be seen as having been the elaboration of what it actually means to say you want to be ethical and pragmatic.




All this is often simplified to: “Psychology must be scientific.” The underlying logic being that the scientific method is the instantiation of what people actually mean when they use the words: truth, understanding, ethical and pragmatic.

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Date Last Reviewed : November 17, 2002