Archive for April, 2011
The field of psychology abounds with dichotomies- some of which are patently false/outdated, as per the grapevine. The familiar ones include Nature-nurture and mind-brain; in the former it is assumed that now everything is a mixture of both nature and nurture while in the latter both mind and brain have been conflated to be the same. However as separate disciplines of neurology and psychology attest , and the naive disorder classification system scientists themselves use, which squarely puts one disorder as psychological while other as more neurological attests, there is some merit in considering things at different level of explanation- at the brain or neuronal level of explanation and at the mind or self/ organism level of explanation,
In this article I argue that not only there is merit in these dichotomies, but that these dichotomies grasp fundamental aspects of being and all provide a glimpse of the proverbial elephant to the blind men that we are.
To begin with , the most fundamental dichotomy I consider is that of BRAIN-MIND or DETERMINISM-FREE WILL. To me the proponents of BRAIN fall on the DETERMINISM side of the table, while those of MIND fall into the FREE WILL camp. Let me elaborate. On the one side is reductive materialism that believes everything can be reduced to and explained in terms of neural firings and that all behavior is predetermined( from say the time of the Big Bang); on the other hand are people who tout the HARD problems and propose that qualia exists, subjectivity exists, agency exists, even if the basis for that be found only in quantum effects, or rather the basis for which will never be found in classical brain based accounts but will always be non-computable/ non -comprehensible but intuitively grasped by phenomenological experiences alone. To me there is merit in both arguments and my personal belief is that we are both determined and free, both brain and mind and that one is not the same as other but entails a different sort of world view. If I can go out on a limb, the first view of BRAIN is mechanistic/autistic in nature; while the second view that of MIND is mentalistic/psychotic in nature. But we are moving ahead of ourselves.
The first belief system, that based around BRAIN/ DETERMINISM, is not without its own challenges/dichotomies. Consider that the BRAIN is sculpted and so everything is pre-DETERMINED. Who sculpted the BRAIN? NATURE or NURTURE? Both GENES and ENVIRONMENT can be equally strongly deterministic and capable of shaping our brain and predisposing us to act in a particular way. No matter whether you believe in the all-empowering GENES or in the power of SITUATION to elicit behavior, or in the childhood influences that still govern adult REACTIONS, or believe in middle ground of developmental unfolding and epigenetic mechanisms, the predominant theme is that of doom and gloom and predestination. So NATURE-NURTURE is the dichotomy relevant here.
What about the FREE WILL/MIND camp? They too have to answer some tough questions as to what causes agency- is it REASON or PASSION? Does the freedom come from a lifetime of UNCONSCIOUS HABIT that gets engrained as character/PASSION or do we make a CONSCIOUS and REASONED DECISION every time we ACT ? Is it FREE because it is an inbuilt IMPULSE; or is it WILL because it can veto and CONTROL? The focus is squarely on ACTIONS- but Actions driven by PASSIONS or Actions driven by REASON? Note that in the NATURE-NURTURE theme the focus was on REACTIONS- what hidden force (genes/environment) causes us to react so and so; here the focus is on actions and what drives them ; here the focus is on the perennial battle between romanticism and enlightenment /rationalism. We grant that someone acts- but what is the basis of that action- is it PASSION or is it REASON? is it hidden, unconscious and spontaneous or is it deliberate, conscious and planned? the basic dichotomy here is between PASSION and REASON as the drivers of human action.
What about finer levels of dichotomies. Here again , on further analysis one can see that NATURE /GENES has a dichotomy in terms of Paternal genes or Maternal genes (working at cross-purposes at times as per genomic imprinting theory) ? NURTURE/ENVIRONMENT has a dichotomy in terms of SHARED (or PASSIVE) ENV. influences versus nons0hared or ACTIVE (niche constructing) ENV. influences. PASSION has tensions between SPONTANEITY/random/Life force/EROS versus HABIT/ingrained/Death instinct/THANTOS; while REASON has to balance between IRRATIONAL (mythos/chaotic) reasons versus RATIONAL (logos/orderly) reasons .
GENES are historical past facing; ENVIRONMENT is organism past + present facing; PASSION is Present + organism future facing; while REASON is totally future facing.
So where am I getting from here. It is to my ABCD model of psychology. Affect, Behavior , Desire/Motivation and Cognition.
To me, BRAIN-MIND/ DETERMINISM-FREE WILL debate is a manifestation of debates between primacy of Affect/behavior over motivation/cognition. Motivation /cognition are not directly observable/ measurable while in some sense affect and behavior are . Further, in BRAIN side there is tension between Affect (mostly inbuilt or genetic) and Behavior (mostly learned and a result of environmental influences) ; in a similar view, on the MIND side there is tension between Motivation (FREE/ PASSION) and Cognition (WILL/REASON).
Of course, there are finer levels of dichotomies embedded in ABCD as per the eight stage model where each of ABCD splits in two components based around- that of pleasure-pain, active-passive, self-other and broad-narrow. To me these dichotomies make perfect sense now.
To extend to one particular domain of personality psychology: you have deterministic personality theories emphasizing traits or behaviorism and you see a conflict/debate in personality theory in terms of Person (genes/traits) vs. situation(environment) variables. On the other hand are free-will theories of personality centered around Psychoanalytic theories and Phenomenological/existential theories where the fundamental conflicts is between conscious/ and unconscious; between past and future orientation, between passion/libido and reason/actualization.
To extend to another domain – that of psychopathology- Motivation defects in EROS and THANTOS lead to Mania and Depression respectively and remain in conflict with each other; Cognitive deficits in REASONs, that is, in MYTHOS based chaotic/dreamy/irrational reasoning versus LOGOS based orderly/reality-oriented and logical reasoning lead to the opposed and yet conflated phenotypes of Autism spectrum disorders and Psychotic spectrum disorders.