The Psychology of Communication



Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our own mind.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

I want to suggest that the concept of mind is the blur with which Western intellectuals become obsessed when they finally give up on the blur which was the theologian's concept of God. The ineffability of the mental serves the same cultural function as the ineffability of the divine - it vaguely suggests that science does not have the last word.

Richard Rorty, Mind as Ineffable

7.1 Behavior And Experience

The nervous system is unique among all systems in the universe, because it can be viewed from the inside (experience) as well as from the outside (behavior). A full description of the function of the nervous system must explain both behavior and experience. The view from the inside and the view from the outside overlap. However, there can be aspects of behavior which are not aspects of experience, and aspects of experience which are not aspects of behavior.1

Psychology started as the study of experience. Wilhelm Wundt, who founded the first psychological laboratory at Leipzig, Germany in 1879, was an introspectionist. His laboratory was the "in" place at the end of the last century. Students converged from around the world to sit at Wundt's feet and diverged again to spread the gospel. What was the gospel? Psychology is the study of experience. How is experience studied? By submitting oneself to a particular stimulus and observing one's experience. What is the aim of this study? To analyze experience into its constituent elements: sensations, feelings, images.

Thus, for example, if I were to say to you "Add --- two and three", you would probably respond "five". What was your experience during the pause between add and two and three? If I had said multiply rather than add, you would have immediately responded with another answer. Something must have happened in your brain, then, between add and two and three, which set you to say five. If you observed images during this pause, you are a Titchenerian; if you did not observe images, then you are a Kulpian.

Edward Titchener and Oscar Kulpe were two students of Wundt, who got into a debate after Titchener went to Cornell University and Kulpe went to Wurzburg University. Kulpe claimed that it was possible to have thoughts without images. Titchener disagreed. There are images, said Titchener. There are no images, said Kulpe. There are so. There are not. There are so. There are not. There was no way to resolve this transatlantic debate. Titchener was the world's foremost authority on the experience of Titchener and Kulpe was the world's foremost authority on the experience of Kulpe.

John B. Watson headed the introspectionists off at this impasse. He published the manifesto of behaviorism in 1924 and, since then, most psychologists have been behaviorists, post-behaviorists, neo-post-behaviorists, or anti-behaviorists. What was his gospel? Psychology is the study not of experience but of behavior. How is behavior studied? By submitting a stimulus not to oneself but to a subject and by observing not your own experience but the subject's response. What is the aim of this study? To find the functional relationships between stimuli and responses.

As a graduate student at Cornell University, I was very sensitive to this introspectionist thesis and the behavioristic antithesis, since both persisted there side-by-side.2 Courses in perception used the language of experience and courses in cognition used the language of behavior. Stumbling across General Systems Theory (GST), I realized that the nervous system was unique among all the systems studied by science, because it can be observed from the inside (experience) as well as from the outside (behavior). A major theme of my career in the forty years since graduation, has been an attempt to create a synthesis of the thesis of the introspectionists and the antithesis of the behaviorists around the insight from GST that they provide inside and outside views of the functioning of the nervous system. Using another metaphor, the introspectionist and the behaviorist could be considered as two blind men, holding the tusk and the tail of the elephant, and generalizing to the whole elephant. This chapter is a rough sketch of the whole elephant drawn by a third blind man.

By depicting the person as the triple overlap of ecosphere (natural world), sociosphere (social world) and technosphere (artificial world), the Triad Model, depicted in Figure 3-1 focuses on the objective world of behavior with respect to those three aspects of the environment. However, each person at the centre has a subjective map of this objective world which partially determines this behavior. That is, our behavior is determined by the world-as-we-see-it rather than by the world-as-it-is. A tree in our objective world would not affect our behavior unless it becomes part of our subjective map. We could run into it if we did not see it. However, an enemy that we imagine to be lurking behind the tree would affect our behavior even though he is not really there. It is necessary then to add an inset to our model, depicting this subjective map (see Figure 7-1). This is the level of experience.

1   For example, one of my students informed me that I finger the top of my fly from time to time during lectures. This may have been due to the fact that another student had once told me - after a two-hour lecture to 700 students - that my fly was open! However, I was not aware of this behavior. It was unconscious. Indeed, unconscious behavior could be defined as that which is part of behavior but not part of experience. On the other hand, I often am reminded of my mother when lecturing. To explain to her neighbors in my village in Scotland how I manage to survive while still going to school after allowed to leave, she says "He lives by his wits - and he's on half salary". If I don't articulate this thought, then it is part of my experience but not part of my behavior.

2   The entrance to the Psychology Department was dominated by a huge portrait of E. B. Titchener, its founder, and Rosamund Valentine, the department secretary who was enthroned below it. There were no course requirements, but one had to pass a series of tests to demonstrate competence in each area of psychology. One of my early graduate experiences was approaching Rosamund about the results of two such exams. "Name?" "Gaaaardiner" She drew her finger down the Y-axis of a matrix in front of her and stopped. "Exam?" "Cooooognition" The finger moved along the x-axis and stopped. "Flunked!" I summoned up enough confidence to confess to having taken a second exam. "Peeeerception" The finger moved along and stopped. "Flunked again!" As I slunk away, I heard "That last flunk was a high flunk" I'll always be indebted to J. J. Gibson for that high flunk - it kept me going. By the way, I took a course from Ryan who was a student of Bentley who was a student of Titchener. Thus - as a student of Gardiner who was a student of Ryan who was a student of Bentley who was a student of Titchener who was a student of Wundt, who founded the first psychology lab - You are only five generations away from the beginning of psychology.