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A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR PSYCHOLOGY

Tory Hoff, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology
University of Saskatchewan

October, 1993


     We relate with the world first of all through our perceptual realities. Of interest to me is the historical development of objective perception, a perspective which has emerged from an original perspective which I refer to as participatory perception. Stated briefly, objective perception is more abstract, separate from personal sensory experience, and often quantifiable, whereas participatory perception is more experientially concrete, immediate, personal and qualitative. Other theorists have of course made a similar distinction. What I emphasize is that we should consider both to be valid and real yet should not give the same status to each. Objective perception and the knowledge obtained through it should be the tool of participatory perception rather than the starting point for our human living. It is particularly good for the technical side of problem solving, but not for its existential side. I am asserting that our experiential perceptions, rather than a so-called objective reality with the experiential point of view removed, remains our primary reality, even if we try to live or theorize to the contrary.

A Three-Stage Recapitulation Theory

     I place this distinction between participatory and objective kinds of perception and knowledge within the framework of a recapitulation theory which identifies parallels between the historical development of our culture and the cognitive development of the individual. Generally consistent with arguments made by Foucault (1970) and Feyerabend (1975), I propose the following three historical stages in Western culture. 1) Participatory perception dominated the belief systems of people during the Homeric period in Greece and the Old Testament period in Israel. The world was primarily perceived as being a spiritual/religious reality. 2) Participatory perception still guided the knowledge of Classical Greeks and Romans as well as the Medievalists, though to a lesser extent than people during the first stage. Guided by the Platonic distinction between appearance and reality and the Aristotelian concepts of form and substance, people first of all perceived animate beings as psycho-social agents, and their bodies as quasi-psychological. 3) The turning point being the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, objective perception and its knowledge slowly emerged in conjunction with the development of modern science and technology. The modern concept of the "object," first evident in notions such as Galileo's primary qualities, Descartes's res extensa and Locke's mental ideas, represents a new cognitive stage in Western intellectual history, one which has come to dominate the belief systems of our culture. It was not, however, until the early nineteenth century that, for instance, psychologically-laden concepts such as sensibility and sympathy were consistently removed from physiology and neurophysiology.

     In my opinion, the infant, which Piaget described as being in the initial sensori-motor stage of cognitive development, meets the world entirely through participatory perception, and hence in this one important respect recapitulates the perceptual framework of the Homeric Greeks and Old Testament Hebrews. The pre-school child, which Piaget stated exhibits the pre-operational stage of cognitive development, also attains knowledge in terms of participatory perception. Having acquired the ability to symbolize, the young child enters into a beginning level of abstraction, but it is one which has not entirely departed from the naive realism of the Homeric-like infant. The child is still guided by the experiential world of the senses, although now the child can also engage this world in terms of symbolic representation. About the time that the child enters elementary school, however, he or she enters into what Piaget described as the concrete operational stage. During this stage the child begins, for instance, to comprehend Copernican and Newtonian cosmologies, that is, to achieve an abstract kind of knowledge which takes them beyond their immediate sensory experience. Nowadays this feat begins at about the age of seven, whereas prior to the seventeenth century few adults entered into this cognitive perspective. Presently, I do not identify a separate category of perception which corresponds to Piaget's second cognitive stage, "pre-operational" thought, though in the future a "semi-participator" or "pre-objective" stage could be offered.

A few parenthetical points.

     I am not saying that theorists from Plato to Aquinas were no more intelligent or cognitively sophisticated than is a five-year old child of today. Rather, I am simply claiming that the ratiocinations of these philosophers to a large degree remained consistent with an experiential perspective which typifies the modern pre-operational child. I also add that I do not agree with the positive value which Piaget usually attached to concrete operations and especially to his next stage, formal operations. If anything, I lay myself open to the criticism that I emphasize the negative aspects of entering a new stage over the positive, and thereby invert the value which Piaget gave to these stages.

     To give one of my favourite examples of the parallel between cultural history and individual development, what Piaget described as the acquisition of conservation of weight had its parallel during the Scientific Revolution when people began to accept the notion that objective, quantifiable weight applies to human bodies. As van den Berg (1960-61) suggests, Santorio was the first to apply the Galilean perspective and method to the weight of his own body, that is, to approach his own body as a purely physical object. Prior to the acquisition of this new perspective, it was generally thought that people weigh more just after death than they did just prior to it, unless it was, for instance, also believed that some kind of departing soul has weight. The empirical evidence for this conclusion was the practical experience of lifting dead bodies as compared to living bodies. Similarly, during the Medieval period some people assumed that a person weighs less after eating breakfast rather than more, because, after all, he or she then feels less sluggish and more nimble than shortly after rising from bed. With respect to individual cognitive development, Piaget argued that around the age of seven a child acquires similar ideas regarding conservation of weight, and that this acquisition occurs as part of the process of learning to perform concrete operations.

     Anyone who believed that the heart is the primary organ of the body and is the innate source of bodily heat was operating in terms of an experiential perspective. The Homeric Greeks believed it plays a great role in human conduct, and assumed that the brain has little spiritual or psychological significance. Aristotle concluded that the primary purpose of the brain is to cool the blood which heated when the heart performed various psycho-physiological processes. Thus he held to a theory which reflects a pre-operational perspective. Plato and Hippocrates, however, were among the first to state that the brain is an anatomical organ which is important to psychological processes. This belief that psychological phenomena are functions of the nervous system finally became established during the Scientific Revolution, though did not pervade the medical sciences until the early nineteenth century when Gall, the phrenologist, and then the French neurophysiologists became influential. This modern approach to brain function is consistent with concrete operations because it treats the brain and the mind as "objects" when it removes from its theories and methods the experiential perspective and its naive empiricism.

     Human growth is analogous to that of a tree which develops rings every year. With every landmark in our life we add another layer of one sort or another. Problems arise in our modern world when adults repudiate or, oppositely, retreat to earlier cognitive layers, and thereby either dissociate from or regress into layers that once typified their distant ancestors as well as themselves when children. Unfortunately, the general tendency among modern scientists has been to degrade if not to exclude from their domain this more primitive layer within which dwells what I refer to as participatory perception as well as the knowledge generated by it. For instance, from the experiential viewpoint of the "lived" body, that is, from participatory perception of one's own body through proprioceptive experience or of another's by means of non-verbal communication, it is still true today that the heart is the primary organ of the body and indeed generates heat. However, too often we interpret and conceptualize our experience only in terms of modern objective knowledge. At the same time, problems occur when people try to deny knowledge obtained through objective measures when it apparently threatens certain beliefs they have attained through participatory perception. For instance, the Jehovah Witness stance against blood transfusion is consistent with the ancient Hebrew understanding of the psychological and religious aspects of blood. I believe this group should be commended for upholding this older view of blood which is consistent with participatory perception, but unfortunately they maintain it at the expense of accepting a modern, technological procedure which, although subject to abuse, can benefit and save lives.

On Modern Science in Relation to the Christian Faith

     The conflict between Christianity and modern science partially can be understood as revolving around a tension between participatory, experiential perception and objective perception with its abstract, impersonal perspective. What stands out to me about the controversy between Galileo and the Church is that this scientist presented the heliocentric world as the primary reality, which means that he described a physical world itself devoid of (though not necessarily autonomous from) spiritual and psychological realities. The Church was correct to the extent that it defended the world as known through participatory perception but was mistaken to assume that any cosmologies and physics different than the ones based on the participatory perception employed by the writers of the New Testament and particularly of the Old Testament, were inherently opposed to the Christian faith. Admittedly, Galilean, Cartesian, Lockean and Newtonian approaches to the physical world are opposed to the Christian world-view in that they portray an impersonal universe or, worse yet, understand the universe in terms of the technological mechanisms we humans make. That Christians today usually defend Galileo shows the degree to which they too denigrate the original world of participatory perception and to which they too mistakenly believe that the physical world he described is more real or more true than the personal world described in Genesis.

     Regarding the nineteenth-century debate over the origin of species and the Darwinian Revolution which followed, I make similar points. Eventually the Christian Church of the nineteenth century willingly gave the human body over to the objective perception of Galileo, Descartes and Darwin, with the conservative branch unwilling to apply this perceptual mode to the human person and with the liberal branch naive about the negative consequences of such an application. Conservative Christians are mistaken to believe that objective perception is not a legitimate mode through which to comprehend human personality but that it is necessary for understanding the physical world including the human body. Unfortunately, this belief is common among those who mistakenly presume that `man in the image of God' refers only to a personality or, worse yet, only to a rational soul, and who neglect realizing that this image also applies to the human body. In my opinion there is nothing inherently wrong with objective perception and its facts and theories, whether employed by Darwin or another, although there is the tendency of its users to forget its origins and basis in participatory perception. During the Darwinian Revolution the conservative branch of the Church was unable to distinguish between the scientific facts and theories presented and the impersonal, objectifying philosophies underlying them. They were correct that the Darwinian perspective fostered an impersonal, biological world. Nevertheless, it is important to explore the theoretical frameworks generating this objective, technical knowledge and to understand how they express themselves in our societal values and life style. On the other side, the liberal branch of the Church was unable to realize that these impersonal, objectifying philosophies which removed participatory knowledge from the scientific realm would themselves promote societal alienation, foster de-personalization and permit social control by behavioural engineers. This group was naive to believe that no conflict exists between the participatory knowledge reflected in Genesis and the objective knowledge of evolutionary theories.

On the Subject of Body and Mind

     An emphasis on a recapitulation theory involving participatory and objective perceptual modes also re-structures current discussion of the mind-body problem. For one thing, the perspective here argued requires that the relation of mind and body be understood both historically and developmentally. Mind as distinguished from body is something which has emerged over the centuries in conjunction with the rise of objective perception as well as modern individuality and privacy, and which now develops from infancy to adulthood in a roughly parallel way.

     In terms of their experience and also their implicit conceptualizations, Homeric Greeks and the ancient Hebrews perceived a primitive duality. Their particular sense of two realms, however, was significantly different from the more modern distinction between physical body and metaphysical mind. Dreams, for instance, were perceived as visitations from another world and internal unspoken language in the form of thoughts were frequently attributed to the gods or to angels and demons. These people, who were thoroughly immersed in participatory perception, experienced and conceptualized phenomena which we would consider to be mental as having their origins in external agents. In other words, aspects of what we now refer to as our mental life, especially our dreams, were experienced and understood as being `other worldly' and fostered a sense of connectedness with events which are not influenced by our death. At the same time, they did not experience or conceive the body to be a physical appearance or physical object lacking psychological or spiritual aspects, that is, to dwell in a realm beyond psychological and spiritual realities. Hence they did not conceive conscious experience (except to the extent that they attributed it to external agents) to be something separate from body anymore than an infant does today. After death, they believed, the person continues as a sort of dream/sleep being.

     At the beginning of the second historical stage, however, Greeks such as Plato and Aristotle began to experience and conceive of mind as something separate from a physical body, a development which involved the emergence of conceptual thought, individuality, privacy and inhibition of expression in the public arena, and which roughly has its parallel in the personality development of the pre-operational child. No ancient Greek, Roman or Medieval theorists articulated a modern version of the mind-body issue, or experienced a modern dualism, one reason being that they still experienced and understood emotions as aspects of a psycho-physical body. During this extended historical era, however, a split appeared between mind and body as experienced and mind and body as conceptualized, that is, between an experiential perception and a conceptual perception.

     To complicate matters further, it can be argued that a new conception of experience involves a change in experience at least with respect to recent layers of personality. Applied to the subject of body and mind, people during this second stage began to experience mind as something separate from body, to experience their body as an "other," an event which had its parallel in a new split between urban culture and rural nature. It also has its parallel in the emergence of the split between body and ego in four- and five-year olds of today. Notice, however, that this split between body and mind was considerably different than the primitive duality known to Homeric Greeks and ancient Hebrews.

     This drifting apart which occurred between experience and conception, that is, between being and thinking, manifested itself in the experience and understanding of the human heart. During this stage, people to a great extent experienced the heart as their central religio-psycho-physical organ but they also began to conceive that their brain plays an important role in mental life. This new conception was not possible during the first historical stage because the brain, having no sensory organs for itself, does not participate in proprioceptive sensori-motor experience and therefore does not directly contribute to participatory perception. It is hard for me to believe, however, that this split did not somehow involve a change in a person's actual experience of the heart. During this second stage a greater number of people and to a greater degree did not experience their beating and heating heart through a pure kind of participatory perception. Their awareness shifted away and dissociated itself from such a heart.

     Initiating entrance into the third stage, Descartes and Locke posited a qualitative difference between the physical body and metaphysical mind. To various degrees they conceived of body and mind as material and immaterial objects respectively and their analogous properties as the motion of their divisible parts. Particularly for Locke, the physical and the mental were both conceived to be Newtonian objects in motion. This stage entered a second phase in the early nineteenth century when the French vivisectionists established neurophysiology as an experimental science and philosophers concurrently established a psychology of consciousness. Thus it was during this second phase that clear lines were drawn between materialism and idealism.

Levels of Explanation

     Consistent with the above arguments, I propose that there are three levels of explanation possible for a given behavioural act -- physical, psycho-social and religious. I am therefore taking the old tripartite theory of body, soul and spirit and positing that the distinction is not best used to describe structural entities or components of a person or even various kinds of functions or processes. I tend to reject tripartite theories as much as dualistic theories because they both neglect the historical argument that any basic partitioning with respect to human nature is not original but has developed over the centuries. I also reject such theories because they fail to emphasize that no matter how much a modern person has become a psychologically divided self, he or she still remains one ontological being. At the same time I reject monistic theories because they try to restore the original unity of being without giving full respect to our modern realities, however fragmented they might be. Monistic theories generally gloss over the actualities of the modern divided self.

     An explanation on one level does not rule out the legitimacy, validity or integrity of an explanation on another level. Hence a full explanation of a behavioural event generally requires reference to all three dimensions. Thus I hold that the tripartite distinction has value as levels of explanation which are not mutually exclusive. For instance, the act of falling down after tripping over a crack in a sidewalk can be explained using three different frames of reference, all of which are to some extent required for a complete explanation of the act. Conceivably, a modern physical explanation might present the physiological and neurophysiological processes operating during the event, perhaps the improper dragging of the foot which caused the shoe to catch on the crack, and might note that no image of the crack reached the retina of the eyeball. A psycho-social explanation might entail reference to a lack of attention to the sidewalk conditions and to a preoccupation with an earlier or future social engagement. A religious explanation would explore the event in terms of its fundamental meaning. Perhaps no fundamental meaning came to the person who fell because the event was trivial, but perhaps the event nevertheless reminded the person that this life is precarious and terminal. Perhaps, instead, the behavioural event was not mundane because as a result of the fall on the sidewalk the person broke an arm and began to ask questions about the ultimate meaning of his or her life. Perhaps the person concluded that God was trying to communicate something about how to live despite the insecurities of existence or, if an atheist, concluded that he or she indeed participates in the ebb and flow of the universe. Whatever the case, the insight, the message and any perceived spiritual influences are given as reasons for why the event occurred. Although such explanations can themselves be interpreted as psycho-social in origin, this re-interpretation denies the validity of the original explanation. In other words, this kind of explanation lies beyond any psycho-social reasons given for behaviour.

     To develop this framework further, I add that each of these levels of explanation can involve knowledge attained through either the participatory mode or the objective mode of perception, or both. For instance, if one states that his or her body did not feel good or manifested a proprioceptive sense of clumsiness when it lacked agility, then one has resorted to a physical explanation based on participatory knowledge. If, however, one states that he or she did not feel good, felt clumsy, and lacked agility, then one has resorted to a psycho-social explanation based on participatory knowledge. Likewise, if someone reports that he or she bodily sensed that another person was feeling a certain way, then this is more of a physical frame or reference, whereas if someone reports that he or she was aware that another person was feeling a certain way, then this is more of a psycho-social frame of reference. Note that, since the perspective of participatory perception does not allow one to clearly distinguish body and person, the explanations are not especially different. Note as well that, since mental events and "other worldly" experiences are not clearly distinguishable from the perspective of participatory perception, explanations regarding body, person and spirituality are not obviously different. They tend to blend together.

     If one resorts to modern neurophysiology for an explanation, then one has chosen a physical explanation based on objective knowledge. If one turns to modern information processing theory that uses an analogy between mental processes and the operations of a computer, then one has employed a psycho-social explanation of an objective kind. The same can be said of Skinnerian behaviourism to the extent that it posits that human action has no "I." What a spiritual/religious explanation of an objective kind could be is evident in the professional study of this dimension of life as well as writings about it. This study makes use of objective knowledge attained through objective perception, and this intellectual pursuit is something different than the reflections of a participant who seeks a religious explanation using participatory perception.

     As a way of summarizing the above theoretical perspective, I combine my two ways of knowing and my three levels of explanation, and end up with the following 2X3 chart:

participatory knowledge objective knowledge
religious existence before God religious studies
psycho-social I (we, you, they) act,
person as participant
social sciences
objective behaviour
mind as computer
social environment
physical lived body as known
proprioceptively and
through body language
natural sciences
(neuro)physiology
genetic heredity


Specific Applications of the Theoretical Framework

     I place the diverse subjects studied by psychologists within this overall framework. My main point on sleep research, for instance, is that academic psychologists have devoted little time to sleep from the viewpoint of the sleeper, a perspective which would involve participatory perception in its lived body, psycho-social and religious dimensions, and have instead concentrated on its neurophysiology. According to the above framework, neurophysiology is not a psychological science but is one which investigates the physical correlates of psychological phenomena. On the subject of memory, I make the historical point that mnemonic devices have taken on more abstract concepts of loci, that is, of the location of things to be remembered. In Medieval period, people used actual geographic places to locate information needing to be remembered, whereas today mnemonic techniques operate more in terms of the location of new information in a conceptual or semantic system, a contrast which has some resemblance to Tulving's contrast between episodic and semantic memory. From the viewpoint of participatory perception and its knowledge, a memory is located in the object which instigates the recollection and also in the lived body, particularly for memories with an emotional aspect. In terms of objective knowledge, however, a memory is, physically speaking, located in the brain, and, psycho-socially speaking, located in cognitive structures/processes. On the subject of where a pain is located, I state that from the viewpoint of participatory perception, it is located where it is proprioceptively felt or is observed through another's body language. But from the viewpoint of objective perception for the purposes of physical explanation, it is located in the nervous system, and, for the purposes of psycho-social explanation, located in mental structures such as long-term memory or in mental storage processes.

     I interpret the Muller-Lyer illusion (where two lines are perceived as different in length but are the same when measured) as an arranged conflict between knowledge attained through participatory perception which, based on the actualities of our three-dimensional Western world, finds a difference, and that of objective perception which abstracts these lines out of their two-dimensional context as well as out of their tacit three-dimensional context and measures them as the same. It is common to assume that only objective knowledge regarding these lines is real, and that the knowledge with which participatory perception provides us is an illusion. A similar example from the history of science is the difference between the older geocentric view of the universe and the more recent heliocentric view. Participatory knowledge apprehends an actual sunset, whereas from the vantage point of objective perception this phenomenon is actually due to an earth rotation.

     An interesting example of the notion that participatory knowledge and objective knowledge are both real and legitimate as academic pursuits is the relation between the traditional theory for acupuncture and the explanation now given for this phenomenon by means of modern neurophysiology. Traditional theory describes various acupuncture points, all of which are body loci for an energy called Chi. In contrast, modern neurophysiology has identified trigger points based on neuroanatomical networks and has hypothesized that somehow the pituitary gland is stimulated to release a certain neurotransmitter which has analgesic properties. All trigger points discovered, however, are points previously known by acupuncturists.

     On the subject of the psychology of religion, I argue that psychology, which owes its existence to the rise of a secular orientation in the seventeenth century and to the concurrent emergence of a private, individual mind, should not be the starting point for understanding things such as worship of God and prayer, although it can help illuminate such practices on the level of their psycho-social dimension. Subsequent to the demise of the eighteenth-century concept of sympathy (fellowship of the distant parts), mainstream academia has not provided any psychological concepts which do not potentially undermine the religious dimension of such practices, or for that matter the religious dimension of any other human actions. Purely from the viewpoint of modern, adult objectivity, which inspires most psychological research, the religious dimension loses its integrity. Many religious doctrines, however, have a trustworthy `sensori-motor' or `pre-operational' quality to them. Take, for instance, faith in a Creator who cares. What is the difference, psycho-socially speaking, between an adult Christian who believes in the God described in the Scriptures and converses with this Creator and a child who believes in trustworthy "imaginary beings" and converses with them? In terms of a psycho-social explanation, no fundamental differences exist as far as I can tell because both involve acts of faith in that which is intangible. This is not to say that the adult belief is "only imaginary," for neither is the child's. The child's non-pathological tendency to "construct" such beings is meant to mature into an adult trust in God, but what too often happens is that modern adults instill in the child the idea that belief in God is primarily something different than his or her earlier belief in these angel- and demon-like beings. This lesson means that when an adult, the person holds to religious beliefs primarily by means of later cognitive levels, and becomes, therefore, too much removed from the earlier child-like trust in the God that the Scriptures describe. To take another example, the belief shared by some Christians that the death and resurrection of Christ created the possibility (though not necessarily the actuality) for all people of all times, indeed the entire creation, to become reunited to God at the most fundamental level of their being, typifies a pre-operational view of causality. The idea that Christ's death and resurrection has direct ultimate relevance to every individual and group in the twentieth century is certainly not consistent with what is considered to be an adult cognitive style. To state that these beliefs about Christ refer primarily to a `mystical' reality is to lessen the worth of the cognitive style which typified our cultural and personal past, that is, the style of thinking typical of Medieval people and of pre-operational children in our times.

     To give one last example, I apply this framework to the subject of diseases in which physical symptoms predominate. Regarding their causal origin, the above theoretical framework acknowledges the modern theory of germs and viruses, and, for instance, acknowledges the organicity of cancer. However, by positing that such organic conditions are not the sole cause of the ailment, I thus use this framework to suggest that physical disease also has psycho-social and religious dimensions to its origin and therefore to its treatment as well. Technical interventions based on objective knowledge operate on the level of "repairwork" yet may be a catalyst for existential healing. Technical interventions at whatever level make a contribution, but healing directly involves the personal being known through an early mode, namely participatory perception and its knowledge.

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