| John B. Watson headed the instrospectionists off at this impasse. He published the manifesto of behaviourism in 1919 and, since then, most psychologists have been behaviourists, post-behaviourists, neo-post-behaviourists, or anti-behaviourists. What was his gospel? Psychology is the study not of experience but of behaviour. How is behaviour 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 behaviouristic antithesis, since both persisted there side-by-side. Courses in perception used the language of experience and courses in cognition used the language of behaviour. Stumbling across General Systems Theory (GST), I realised 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 (behaviour). A major theme of my career in the thirty years since graduation, has been an attempt to create a synthesis of the thesis of the introspection-ists and the antithesis of the behaviourists 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 behaviourist could be considered as two blind men, holding the tusk and the tail of the elephant, and generalising to the whole elephant. The following section is a rough sketch of the whole elephant drawn by a third blind man.
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