Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

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Psychologists are human, too

The condition under which the inductive method of natural science can be applied to an object is that it be separable from the subject who conducts the examination. But if Dilthey is right, the object of historical research is not an object of this kind.

An ornithologist can study birds with an inductive method because he is not a bird himself: no matter what – correct or incorrect – statements he makes about birds, They will never change a single characteristic of any bird. Radically different is the situation in which “the person who researches history is identical with the one who makes it.” When under such circumstances the one who researches history makes some statement about those who make history, it can no longer be claimed that this does not change any characteristic of any history-maker, for there does exist one (i.e. the researcher of history, who is, at the same time, a history-maker) who has one characteristic (i.e. making or not making a statement about history-makers), that has thus been changed.

Of course, the researcher of history does not include himself in the object of research; and if this is a methodologically conscious reservation, not a result of the researcher’s ignorance, it is a justified procedure. But this is not the case in the natural sciences, in which it is not a question of interpretation whether the ornithologist, for instance, belongs to the class of the studied birds or not. Here, on the other hand, we have at issue a science in which the frames of the inductive elaboration of experiences are always determined by interpretation.

That psychology is in some way related to such interpretative sciences as well as to the natural sciences, that is what is claimed by Dilthey (and since then by many other theoreticians). This link is claimed not to be a secondary or accessory one. As a matter of fact, Dilthey’s above cited consideration is effective even if its conclusion is turned around: it may be claimed not only that those who research history are identical with the ones who make it, but also that history-makers are at the same time history-investigators. For the object of psychology is man in reciprocal interaction with others (and not just with the natural environ­ment); man who, on the one hand, makes history with each of his steps whose precedents he keeps a record of and, on the other, researches history at the same time, in that he does not react to the steps of others as to any natural “stimulus” to which a preliminary learning process has conditioned the response, but by interpreting them in light of the precedents of their prehistory, the traditions of their interactions.

According to the description by the Palo Alto school10, interaction between A and B can be schematized as follows:

A’s message to B contains a metacommunicative instruction on how to interpret it;

B perceives the instruction by interpreting the message, thus the instruction affects the interpretation depending on the interpretation itself; B’s response also contains a meta-communicative instruction on how to interpret it, e. g., how to sever those moments that are to be ascribed to the circumstances of the interaction from those for which B assumes responsibility;

A, for his part, perceives this instruction by interpreting B’s message, but when interpreting the message, he will be influenced not only by this message mediated by his interpretation, but also by the prehistory of the current stage of their interaction: that A remembers what his former message was in his interpretation – this complex of co-effective factors will then determine A’s counterreply;

B will again react to it according to a similarly complex set of factors, but perceiving the new message will also depend on the interpretation of rules created by the prehistory of the interaction: If this is your answer to my reply, then that will be mine to yours, etc.

Thus the interaction by which those involved in it make history implies in each of its steps an interpretative manoeuvering by which they research history.

The ultimate stake of this manoeuvering is to define what functions each of us shall fulfil within our interaction: Am I, for instance, the principal of the on-going process or merely its agent? When in marriage therapy the wife tells the therapist she cannot help raising her voice in despair whenever her husband comes home late at night as drunk as a fish, and the husband tells the therapist that he cannot help drinking a glass or two in his despair when his wife keeps shouting at him at the top of her voice – then both of them interpret their interaction as if both of them were but its agent. In another sort of competition, both parties interpret themselves as the principal of the interaction: at an ironic point in their book Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson illustrate this by interpreting the manoeuvering of the experimental white rat which might express the events of the experiment this thus: “I have successfully conditioned the experimenting psychologist to give me something to eat whenever I push the pedal.”

This bit of irony derives its earnestness derived from the fact that according to the philosophy of the Palo Alto school a sort of game is played between experimenter and experimentee in which the psychologist is a player just as the experimental subject is, though the former tries to describe this latter as a natural scientist describes his object. When doing so, the experimenter as well as the experimentee do interpret the events and thereby manoeuver for managing to turn the other into the object of the processes to be induced in the experiment.

“How hypnotist and subject manoeuver each other?” – Haley asks in the title of a chapter of one of his books11, describing actually not only the hypnotizer’s manoeuvering but in more general terms games psychologists (be they psychoanalysts or practitioners of, say, short-psychotherapy) play with their patients.

One may argue that the psychotherapist is involved in the state of affairs he is dealing with by practically interfering with it, while the research psychologist, contrary to him, merely observes matters with a purely theoretical interest from the outside. However, Haley’s description of the psychotherapist’s attitude is weirdly similar to how one could describe that of the research[ing] psychologist’s on the basis of one’s experiences:

According to Haley’s arguing, the theories of hypnosis focuses on the individual, though this phenomenon is entirely linked to the relation. When Messmer evoked the hypnotic trance by means of his magnets it was quite comprehensible that the theory meant to explain the effect of the magnetism upon humans and didn’t bother itself too much about the relation of the patients to Messmer. But later when suggestion got into the focus of the research work, one would have supposed the moment had come for a shift toward an investigation into the relations between those giving and those receiving suggestions. But the subject of research kept being the individual and suggestion was depicted the same way as the magnet used to be: like a thing in itself influencing the individual, independently of his relations.

Thus the same is true for the research psychologist. When in 1966 (note that it is the same year in which the psychology as a natural science celebrated its apotheosis at the Moscow International Congress) Rosenthal was publishing his psychological experiments whose object was the psychological experiment itself, it could no longer be denied that in the behavioral sciences a considerable part of the facts produced in the style of natural scientific experiments were laboratory artifacts.12 What this is due to are the implications discussed by Haley in the above quoted passage: when the psychologist thinks he as the subject of experimentation is manipulating the object of experimentation in the way a natural scientist does, he is, instead, involved in a game in which both players – the experimenter as well as the experimentee – interpret the events and thereby manoeuver for managing to turn the other into the object of the processes to be induced in the experiment.

When the psychologist succeeds, the rest of the experiment may well be like a natural scientific investigation, and the produced research result may accordingly have a degree of reliability. Nevertheless, the manoeuvering phase does differentiate a research of this kind from a natural science investigation that succeeds in experimentation without such a pre­paratory, interpretative phase.

For a long time psychology failed to notice the necessity of this manoeuvering, inter­pretative preparation; this feature justifies the critical revision of psychology’s experimental results achieved without such methodological reflection.

At the beginning of his book Rosenthal gives a long list of cases in which both scholars of natural and of behavioural sciences fall victim to psychosocial issues operating on them, when e. g. they fail to recognize facts that contradict their hypotheses, or fancy the perception with a greater certainty of the happening of the factual event they expect whereas in reality it only occurs with a certain degree of probability. Another group of the cases of distortion listed by Rosenthal include the misinterpretation of correctly observed facts, and in some cases distortion derives from some intention propelled by this or that motive (ambition, colleague’s jealousy, assistant’s over-zeal, etc.).13

However, what may happen to a researcher in psychology is not only what he has in common with the natural science researcher when they lack submitting themselves to the impact of his object of research. Actually, the research psychologist may also (unconsciously but actively) submit his study object to his own influence, and may then observe that object only as operating under that influence.

This feature markedly distinguishes psychology from natural sciences in which it would be absurd to suppose any similar responsiveness of the observed object. Unlike a human being, a celestial or earthly body doesn’t change its speed or acceleration depending on the sex, age, skin colour or religion of the scientist it encounters. An observed natural process does not react, even unconsciously, to the observer’s reactions to that process but an observed mental process does. It would hardly happen that, say, a double decomposition would be stronger or weaker depend­ing on the extent to which the acid and base chosen as its medium would want involuntarily to further the scholar’s cause, or contrarily, to foil his expectations; or on the extent to which they would like to act in the experiment similarly or differently from the way the scholar would presumably act in their place; or again, on the extent to which the acid, for example, would want to pass itself off as the base.

On the other hand, we know from Rosenthal’s book that such and similar distortions are quite “natural” when behaviour is the studied object. Thus, we must realize how far from a truly natural science experiment a psychological experiment is.

Since the time when, with the spread of psychosocial experimentation, the research psychologist was forced to deal consciously with these special methodological problems, it has been noted that an ever-growing part of the peculiar tricks of experimentation are related to the preparatory phase. These are, specifically, the techniques of manoeuvering by means of which the experiment leader manages to subject individuals to his experiment. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explicate how alien to the methodological logic of research in natural sciences is, for example, the social psychology’s routine methodological trick of employing confederates of the experimenter. Whereas in the natural sciences the research techniques is meant to separate the subject of the investigation from its object,14 that trick in social psychology aims to incorporate the subject in the object – via participation of the confederates in the experiment as if they were among its real subjects. Just imagine the methodological absurdity in natural sciences of, for example, a bacteriologist placing his assistant in the bacterium culture under the microscope.15

Does anybody know whether Fraisse, in opening the Paris Congress made the above-quoted statement concerning the new crisis in psychology and the need to shift its paradigm from studying behaviour to investigating man, was aware of the complications linked to the fact that the psychologist is human too?

As a matter of fact, if psychology fails to investigate its object – be it man or behaviour – according to the norms of natural science, it does not follow that psychological research cannot be scientific: it is perhaps scientific by the norms of some other science. That is why it is unfortunate if a psychologist finishes his professional training without learning that the procedural pattern of historical science, linguistic science, literary science, legal science or any other “moral” science might apply to examination of certain questions in psychology just as that of the natural sciences applies to other questions. And it is unfortunate if, consequently, he has no chance of learning that from these two half-sciences the construct of a unified logic of psychology cannot be built by having the logic of one half be denied by the logic of the other.

A well known procedure in this denial is when psychology concedes that beside studying the individual in relation to his natural environment, he must also be examined as faced with his social environment. The moment history is postulated as a social environment, the assumption is tacitly made that the world of history is as external to the person as the world of nature. Thus, it is assumed that the same positivistic method of investigation can be applied to both system of reference as equally separated from man.16

On the other hand, it would not be more fortunate if the matrix were imposed upon psychology, cultivated as a natural science, by the logic of the new tendencies of historical sciences: within such a matrix no insights of that scientific psychology concerning links between mental phenomena, on the one hand, and the survival strategies of the living organism, on the other, would survive.

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