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CHAPTER 3

Knowledge


After discussing the criteria by which we should select the way we go about conducting psychology, (i.e. that we should be ethical and pragmatic), we determined that a clear understanding of the truth would provide us with what we wanted. We also came to realize that those were the very products (output) of science. Next we considered the process (or activity) of science by reviewing a variety of ways to define science. In this section we will address "to what does science ask its questions" and what is the nature of the response to those questions; i.e., what is the "problem" science addresses (or input). We will see that we are interested in the relationships between observations, and that we can get our knowledge directly through research or indirectly through explanations gained via vicarious experience such as reading a journal article. Obviously explanation, the source of knowledge for one scientist, is the product of another scientist.

I. Conceptual Precursor: Knowledge of What? What is Knowledge?

We address ourselves to nature. The natural world is all those things which affect us and the things around us. It is the things that are real.

We want to know how to truthfully understand our environment. As previously discussed, we look to the natural world for our answers because that source has been shown to be the most successful. Because we look to the natural world, and demand a truthful understanding of what's going on, we are called scientists.

We react to changes in nature. If we see this page it is because the light changes as we move our eyes from the desk to the book, if we feel a book it is because our touch receptors detect a change in the space in front of us.

What is it to truthfully understand nature? We want to truthfully describe, predict, control, synthesize, and explain nature. In order to predict nature, we must know something which will reliably warn us, or give us notice of a change in our variable of interest. In order to control nature we must know those variables which reliably modulate, or which are necessary or sufficient to change our variable of interest. We can synthesize something only when we understand how precursors can be combined to produce some new change or event. Similarly, we can explain nature only when we can specify the general class of functional relationships which are the general case of the specific changes we observe and understand how those particular changes fit within a larger and more integrated paradigm.

All of these goals require that we not only understand change but also understand change with respect to changes in other events (e.g., predictors or causes). Knowledge is not that a pigeon pecked 300 times - that could be called evidence. Knowledge is a piece of a structure: change with respect to other changes or covariance. Additionally these changes cannot be just any changes which are related to the change of interest but rather, must typically be changes which precede the change of interest. An additional critical element is that our ability to resolve what's going on in nature is limited by our ability to separately change its potential causes. For instance, we must be able to present real depth, and a picture with and without railroad tracks which converge. If we get the response "depth" and "no depth" as we add and remove track convergence, then we have knowledge of what causes depth. None of the common factors in the two pictures can be the cause for "depth." Only the difference in the pictures can cause the difference in the behavior. This is discussed in detail in Chapter 4 Section IV. B. 1. a.

Therefore, to answer "why" is to specify the general functional relationships within which the specific change of interest occurs. What change causes the change of interest, what change predicts the change of interest, what changes will modulate the change of interest, and even what change in nature results from the change of interest. We have therefore shifted from "the study of nature," to the study of change, to the study of the relationship between changes and on to the generation of a coherent framework within which changes can be understood. In this sense, therefore, prediction, control, synthesis or explanation is relating changes to other antecedent changes within some paradigm.

Recalling the sunken steam shovel metaphor, it is the change from a muddy bottom to a high spot of a different texture as we travel across the surface of the lake that is important. The change in the bottom with a change in position. Movement on the lake with a constant bottom is not very informative, the boundary between two types of bottom is important. Secondly the changes in the bottom cannot be random and finally we must gather enough measures to be able to form a picture. We must relate many findings into a coherent picture. Not coincidentally these are the same pieces of information which are necessary for correlation (discussed in the next section).

Reductionistic predictions, control, synthesis or explanation relate changes at one level (e.g., a pigeon pecking) to antecedent changes at a more reductionistic level (e.g., the brain), while Correlative explanations relate changes at one level (e.g., a pigeon pecking) to antecedent changes at that same level (e.g., reinforcement history). Classes of explanation are discussed in Chapter 1 Section III. D.

Science could be seen as the documentation of the relationships between changes in nature and the development of a general model of that covariance. The science of psychology is therefore the documentation of the relationship between changes in nature and the integration of those relationships into a coherent psychological paradigm. The question "why" is directed to change, the answer to "why" or "knowledge," is covariance within some paradigm. Additionally, general knowledge is wanted. Rather than to predict a single instance, we want to predict general classes of relationships. In that regard, when you look at a particular behavior in response to a particular event, you should see an instantiation of a general process. It is not that Johnny jumped, and then got candy, and then jumped again; but rather, that a behavior was reinforced.


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Date Last Reviewed: November 17, 2002