AILUN International Graduate Program Psychology: From Pythagoras to Present MIT Press, 2009 Dr. John C. Malone University of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. (Isaac Newton, in Ferris, 1988, p. 362) Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.
(John of Salisbury, 1159, Ibid., p. 41) Gell-Mann...remarked...that if he had seen further than others, it is because he was surrounded by dwarfs. (Ibid., p. 310) What is Psychology? In 1890 William James defined psychology as the study of mental life. But he meant more than the mere study of conscious experience. Mental, or mind is defined by activity. It requires behavior that is: (1) goal directed (2) variable, teachable (3) survive injury, but retain the
same goals As I define psychology, it is the discipline concerned with the following questions:
The nature of mind - is it different in kind from matter, or are both matter and mind merely aspects of some underlying reality? Perhaps mind is all that exists and matter is illusion. Or perhaps mind is illusory. Each of these views had its defenders and continues to have defenders today. Statics & dynamics - is psychology best viewed as a process, as activity? Or may it be better treated as interactions among things? For example, is sensation best seen as the taking in of copies of objects or as an activity we perform? The nature of knowledge/belief - what can we know and how do we know it? Is all knowledge and belief the product of sense experience or are we born with innate knowledge? Perhaps we are born with mental categories that determine how we will construe the world. What is the self? - Is the self a stable entity that is born, lives, and dies or is it a constantly-changing thing, so that we are not the same self in youth and in old age?
The question of ethics - what is the best way to lead our lives and what is the goal of life? Should we seek happiness, or is there a better goal, as the Epicureans and Stoics believed? The nature of will - what is free will and is it only an illusion? How do we account for our voluntary, willed acts? Also important to psychology is the nature of explanation and the definition of science, a topic that I will consider very briefly. Positivism This is the view that our descriptions and explanations of phenomena must be anchored in sense experience. In its simplest form, it demands that our accounts be sensible; we must be able to refer our audience to
happenings that are describable in sensory terms. For example, phlogiston was a substance proposed by two German chemists, Johann Becher and Georg Stahl, in the 18th century to account for what we call combustibility. The problem with phlogiston was that it was supposed to be a substance, but one that had no effects on our senses and was thus undetectable. However, its supposed existence could make sense of many chemical phenomena, as well as rusting, burning, and the like, and research based on the phlogiston theory may have transformed alchemy into chemistry. Historians of science nonetheless treat the phlogiston theory as an unprofitable diversion and an impediment to the proper chemistry that was introduced by Lavoisier. And phlogiston was surely not a concept compatible with the
new positivism. August Comte wrote a six-volume treatise, Philosophe Positive, that described a progression in science from theocratic to metaphysical to positive. Theocratic accounts invoke the supernatural, whether fire and rain gods or the Judeo/Christian God, to account for the existence of nature and the course of events. Comte saw metaphysical explanations as an improvement, though still unsatisfactory. They refer to things beyond the appearances - Platos forms and Kants noumena and Descartes intuitions - which refer to agents that are incomprehensible, since they transcend the senses. The positivists will have none of this, correctly charging that metaphysics is (literally) nonsense. Comte was only one of a long line of thinkers, from
Francis Bacon through Ernst Mach and B. F. Skinner, who made a simple and powerful argument. That is, if we wish to explain something, we must stick with the sensory experiences that define that thing and if we devise a theory that relies on unobservable, nonsensical agents, we are far astray. Ernst Mach, an Austrian physicist and positivist, who is frequently misunderstood, was a modern positivist. He argued against non-sensory constructs such as the atom and the electron, so he was routinely criticized for disallowing things that were commonly accepted. However, if you look into the history of the concept of the electron, you will find that Mach may have had a point. The electron apparently does not exist as a thing and we mislead ourselves if we believe in a subatomic world of tiny solar systems, with nuclei and electrons as sun and planets.
Objectivity This is of course the most frequently-cited characteristic of science and it is sad to be charged with failure to be objective. But what is objectivity? We are told that to be objective is to be impartial-unbiased and we know, as did Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and many others, that we are always biased. The trick is to be properly biased, which must mean to be biased as are other people. Objectivity, as reflected in agreement among observers, has its problems, however. There have been many opinions shared by many people over many centuries that we regard as obvious nonsense. Many still believe in astrology, magic, and learning while asleep, so consensus need have nothing to do with objectivity and the essence of science. Maybe verifiability
is the hallmark of science and objectivity. Verifiability Edmund Halley had plans to calculate the distance of the planet Venus by observing its transit time from two widelyseparated spots on earth. This was a fine idea in 1716, but the opportunity for such observations comes only rarely. In the case of Venus, the next opportunities would be in 1761 and 1769, by which time Halley would be over a hundred years old if he were living at all. All he could do is urge others to do the work. And what kind of a criterion is verifiability? It specifies that an objective statement concerns an observation that can be repeated by the same observer or by someone else. For example, the action of sulfuric acid on marble is capable of objective description I may observe it repeatedly or we may observe it. Notice that this way of defining verifiable makes clear that it is essentially the same as intersubjective, or equivalent to public
knowledge. Agreement by more than one observer is a simple case of verification and, as we know, verification is not enough! Peirce and Popper: Refutability Karl Popper (1963) argued persuasively that verification is a poor criterion for objectivity or scientific meaningfulness, using an argument similar to that made by physicist and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (sic) in 1874. That is, if one were truly to verify something, say the relation between thunder and lightning, one must make enough observations of thunderlightning to be confident of the relationship. But how large must that sample be? As Peirce pointed out, there is no large enough number of observations that we
can make to assure certainty, given the number of potentially-observable instances that have occurred over the millennia, each of which might have provided a counter instance. This holds for observations and for experiments of whatever kind and Peirce suggested that conducting an experiment to determine whether some part of nature is orderly or not is equivalent to putting a spoonful of saccharine into the ocean in order to sweeten it. In the same vein, Popper argued that refutability is the hallmark of scientific statements, since nothing can be truly
verified, for the same reasons given by Peirce. But statements can be shown false, given a single counter-instance. I need only one case of an object falling in a vacuum and accelerating faster than 32 feet per second per second and a law is broken. Refutability, not verifiability is the criterion for objectivity, or the guide to deciding whether statements or questions are meaningful or vain. Meaningful Questions By meaningful questions, Peirce and Popper meant those that we can hope to answer decisively. Such questions must be cast in such form that refutation is possible. We cannot ask, to use an example from Peirce,
whether the taking of the communion is really properly interpreted by the Catholic Church or by Protestant denominations: is the taking of the sacraments really the taking of the body and the blood of Christ or is it symbolic? What experiments could be performed and what observations could be made to settle the issue? None that we can conceive, hence the question is not meaningful. By the same token, Popper was inspired to adopt the criterion of refutability when he was struck by the apparent irrefutability of Freudian theory, compared with the refutability of Einsteins theory of relativity. Many common questions are meaningless unanswerable because there are no observations that could allow their refutation. Are humans basically good or evil? Are all things in the process of self actualization? Good
is an undefined - or vaguely defined - attribute and self actualization is a name for the fact that things change over time. Could any observations answer either question? What of astrology, an ancient discipline as popular now as it was three thousand years ago? Can an astrological prediction be tested shown to clearly be wrong? Or are the predictions sufficiently vague that a believer can find confirmation in them? When believers overzealously seek confirmation of predictions made in chemistry, physics, or biology, the case is different. Consider the almost-daily discovery of cures for cancer and the demonstrations of cold fusion in the late
20th Century. In the case of the cancer cure of the moment and cold fusion, accepted criteria for testability and falsifiability settle the questions for most researchers. In astrology, such issues can never be settled. That is why astrology is not science - we might wonder whether much of psychology is in a similar state. Progress in Science Boring and the Zeitgeist Many accounts for the progress of science emphasize the influence of the times in which advances occur . Thus, Newton attributed his success to his predecessors, such as Galileo and Kepler, who provided the
shoulders of giants on which he stood. Freuds insights on unconscious motivation were amply supported in Fechners writings and his theories of biological drives and energy were held earlier by his teacher, Ernst Brcke, in whose laboratory Freud worked during his student years. Where would Darwin have been if there were not ideas of evolution in the air all around him? His grandfather, Erasmus, as well as Malthus and Wallace, more than paved the way; given the Zeitgeist of the early 19th century, someone was bound to propose a plausible theory of evolution by mid-century. If not Darwin, someone else would have played the part. Edwin G. Boring, whose views (1950) on the history of psychology exerted tremendous influence during the 20th century, was a prime exponent of the
Zeitgeist (Hegels spirit of the times) interpretation of the progress of science. According to this view, progress is an accretion, the building up of facts and the evolution of theories, so that Newtons, Faradays, Freuds, and Madam Curies are inevitable, given their precedents. This is the point of view taken for granted by the public at large and by the traditional philosophy of science, whose job it is to pass on the received view. It is the way that all of us are taught to see the progress of science, both in high school courses and in college. And this view has to be at least roughly true, since we have seen progress over the centuries, at least in technology. But did this all happen gradually, as a function of the Zeitgeist?
Kuhns Revolutions Kuhn wrote of the moment, in 1947, when while reading Aristotle he made his own great insight. Over the last thirty years, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has sold over a million copies, an astonishing number for a work of serious scholarship. Im much fonder of my critics...than my fans... Kuhn even tried to take back the word paradigm, suggesting instead exemplar. (All four quotations are from Gladwell, 1996, p. 32) Thomas Kuhn, with a PhD in physics, published an unlikely best seller, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), for a series of monographs called the International Encyclopedia
of Unified Science. Philosophers had made science, the most exciting of disciples, dull and plodding - the Zeitgeist raises enthusiasm in few. Kuhn argued that the progress of science is not the slow accretion of accomplishments by one generation that lays a foundation for the next. Instead, it is a series of intellectually violent revolutions, separated by peaceful interludes. The fact that he specifically excluded psychology and other social sciences need not concern us - his book stirred sociology and psychology as much as it did the natural sciences, where it clearly applied. The influential little book proposed that science was a social enterprise characterized by
revolution not evolution. Far from an orderly accumulation of facts that add to a universallyshared view of reality, Kuhn argued that science shows revolutionary struggles, leading to fundamental changes in the way that whole sciences are construed. Later viewpoints are not necessarily more scientific than earlier ones and there is nothing essentially unscientific about Aristotelian dynamics, phlogistic chemistry, or the thermodynamics of caloric. These world views were simply replaced by other world views, following a sequence that probably has more to do with the sociology of science than with science versus pseudoscience. Kuhn used the term paradigm to refer to a set
of beliefs shared by virtually all workers in a scientific field. Newtons mechanics serves as a familiar example - a paradigm that treats space, time, and mass as absolutes and that successfully accounts for an amazing variety of phenomena, ranging from the motion of a projectile to the falling of leaves to the orbiting of planets. This paradigm, that treats the universe as dead, purposeless matter obeying universal mechanical laws, replaced the mechanics of Aristotle, which envisioned the universe as filled with purpose and composed of essential natures. With Newtons triumph, we no longer saw plants as trying to grow and stones falling due to their jubilance in returning to earth.
A paradigm includes all the beliefs that are taught to professionals in a field and no one ignorant of the paradigm can be taken seriously as a scientist. Newtonian physics, Darwinian evolution, and the astronomy of Copernicus were all paradigms, as were their predecessors, the physics of Aristotle and the chemistry of the phlogiston theory. But, as Kuhn described paradigms, it is clear that there have been none in psychology, since no general framework of interpretation has been universally accepted. While philosophers of Newtons time might question the fundamental status of time, no physicists did and, while some question the details of evolutionary theory, no biologist questions the theory in general aspects.
No such state of affairs has existed in psychology. But The History of Paradigms Given a paradigm, normal science never involves real discoveries; rather, research is concentrated on puzzle solving, or showing how more and more phenomena of interest can be explained within the framework of the paradigm. The scientists of the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries were not trying to discover new phenomena - they were trying to fit all phenomena into the mechanical space/mass/time framework that Newton had used to explain the motion of bodies. Does the fall of a stone exemplify the same laws shown in the flight of an arrow or of a comet? Are the
bodies of animals and of humans merely complicated clockwork mechanisms? All efforts aimed to show that the laws at hand could encompass all reality. The normal science paradigm chugs on for years or for centuries, with ordinary puzzle solving sometimes bothered by anomalies, or findings that seem foreign to the paradigm. In physics, the finding that heavier objects do not fall faster in a vacuum was a difficult anomaly for Aristotelian physicists. When anomalies become numerous enough or serious enough, the paradigm is modified to deal with them. This blurs the paradigm, of course and, in the classic example, the geocentric theory of Ptolemy endured for over a thousand years because Ptolemy had modified it so much with added eccentrics and
epicycles. It thus accounted for otherwise anomalous observations of heavenly bodies, but everyone knew that it was so bizarre that it could represent no conceivable reality. Kuhn proposed that the final stage is that of crisis, where the paradigm is defended by the old generation of scientists, if only because it is in that paradigm that their reputation and prestige is invested. Younger scientists lack that baggage and so join their senior dissenters who have brought about the crisis. All of this finally leads to the dissolution of the paradigm and its replacement by a new one. Aristotelian physics would never
have left unless Newtons paradigm had been there to replace it. Do Revolutions Really Occur? Kuhn saw science as a social enterprise that advances through the violent overthrow of one paradigm by another. Russell Hanson (1958/1965) proposed a similar theory but emphasized the way that people conceive things, so that the change from Aristotelian to Galilean physics is a Gestalt shift, or a new perspective on the world. Hence, his view was revolutionary, like Kuhns, but occurring at the level of individual scientists. Others, like the philosopher Laudan, combined the evolutionary and the revolutionary accounts, really no trick, showing that great individuals were more important than Boring allowed and softening the
disruptive influence of revolutions in science. But thank heaven for Thomas Kuhn, whether he exaggerated his case or not. Finally there was something interesting in the philosophy of science! Is Science Possible? An unintended effect of Kuhns book was its appeal to cranks, who would publish manuscripts that the authors felt were paradigmatic, while the postmodernists used his book to suggest what he never believed: that his scientific paradigms were as faddish and ephemeral as trends in art (Gladwell, 1996, p. 32). Kuhn had emphasized social/cultural influences on science, providing a welcome revision of the logical positivist introductory chapter model. However, in the late 20th century, the social/cultural aspects of science
were stressed to an extreme degree by humanists who might be called postmodernists. They argue that science is wholly a social enterprise, as are art and literature, and that there is no such thing as objective truth. This is a position that is difficult for many people to understand, let alone accept. In particular, chemists, physicists, and other physical scientists may have more difficulty in comprehending it than do their colleagues in the humanities. One writer tried to help by translating postmodern thought into words that are understandable to scientists. A biological anthropologist and anatomist named
Cartmill (1991) offered this simplified description: First, objective reality is a myth. There is no other out there to be objectified. All others are part of the self. All so-called realities are subjective, and all of them are constructs. Facts are arranged and negotiated, not discovered. Second, since different reality constructs are incommensurate with each other and potentially infinite in number, observation and experiment can never force us to choose one to the exclusion of all others. It follows from this that any claim to know something about a real world is at bottom a power grab, a bid to eliminate cultural and
political diversity by dictating the terms and content of everybodys discourses. Therefore, scientists claims to knowledge are really political claims, dressed up as detached objectivity... Richard Rorty: What we rely on for truth Religion: pre-17thC Science/Philosophy: post-17thC Literature: 20thC, but only imaginative literature, with no arguments or facts Such an astounding proposal is actually only the extreme of very reasonable views and they are held by advocates who are unaware that less extreme contextualist views have been held by many others, such as Wundt, Meade, Kantor, and
Skinner. Those authors were not advocating the abandonment of science; they promoted merely a change from the primitive mechanical science of the Enlightenment. This seems to have been realized by Cartmill, who was not totally opposed to all forms of this view. He proposed that scientists deal with postmodern critics by emphasizing technology. We may never be able to answer questions like, "Do we really understand thermodynamics, and how can we be sure?" But what of the question, "Do we really know how to make automobiles, or are we just kidding ourselves?" The answer here is that we do know and the
ancient Greeks did not. This supposes that advances in technology must correspond in some way to advances in understanding of reality, a case that is not necessarily easy to make. Perhaps a wiser method for dealing with the recent crop of "pop" critics of science is Cartmill's proposal that all students (and postmodernists) dissect a human body, "which is one of the great transforming experiences." The Two Strains in Ancient Greek Thought It is not always recognized that there were two clear strains in early Greek thought - the naturalist scientific and the mystical scientific. The philosophers of Miletus, beginning with
Thales, were the naturalists. They showed that mind and body are not necessarily natural divisions of reality - it is possible, even "natural," to see all reality composed of one substance, not two. To a lesser extent, the philosophers of the Greek colony of Elea, in what is now Italy, were also naturalists. But, while they agreed that mind and matter were one, they taught that truth was discernible only through reason, not through bare sense experience. Monists Natural scientists Milesians
Thales Dualists (Metaphysical & Epistemological) unnatural scientists Eleatics Xenophanes Anaxagoras Parmenides Anaximenes Zeno
Pluralists Pythagoras Aristotle Empedocles Avicenna Anaxagoras Aquinas James
Plato Augustine Descartes (and all of us) These two groups were the naturalistic strain in Greek thought and they are usually given appropriate attention by philosophers, and historians of psychology. However, differences in the opinions of Milesians and Eleatics in the sixth century B.C. were negligible when the teachings of either group were compared with those of the Pythagoreans, who combined the dualism and mysticism of Eastern religion
with the science of the Greeks. Pythagoras The dualism, which separates matter and mind, body and soul, God and the world, won however a place in Greek philosophy even at this early period, when Pythagoreanism arrayed Orphic mysticism in a cloak of science. (Zeller, 1883/1964, p. 41) For a thousand years scientist-mystics followed the teachings of Pythagoras, whose ideas had immense and lasting influence, aside from that exerted on his followers. It may seem odd that science and mysticism coalesced for long, but that has frequently happened in history.
Even Isaac Newton, perhaps the most important figure in the development of western science, was obsessed with alchemy and religious mysticism - John Maynard Keynes, having gone through a trunk of Newton's papers that he bought at auction, was shocked at what he found and called Newton "the last of the magicians" (Ferris, 1988, p. 104). Pythagoras established a school in southern Italy, at Croton, and taught advanced material to those he admitted as Students (called "Esoterics") and presented only rough outlines to those called Auditors. Records could thus arise from either group, making it difficult to sort the essential from the trivial.
Even Heraclitus, who was almost a contemporary, seriously misunderstood him. Kathleen Freeman noted that sifting the genuine precepts of Pythagoras from later modifications and counterfeits and correctly interpreting their meaning "was even in ancient times a thankless task (1953, p. 256). It was Pythagoras who coined the word, "philosophy." He was born on the island of Samos in Ionia, the Greek colonies in western Asia Minor, and moved as an adult to Croton, one of a number of Greek colonies in what is now southern Italy. He influenced contemporaries at the nearby colony of Elea, Xenophanes and Parmenides, and he influenced Plato.
Religious Views Pythagoras' religious teachings were a modification of Orphism, the worship of nature that was always the real religion of the ancient Greeks; the pantheon of gods (Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and so on) represented only the official religion, not the religion of the people. That was Orphism, also called the cult of Bacchus or of Dionysus. According to one of many versions of the myth, Bacchus/Dionysus was born the son of Zeus and his daughter Persephone. He was killed by the titans (e.g., Chronos, Oceanus, Prometheus), who tore him apart and ate him. Luckily, the goddess Athena rescued the heart and gave it to Zeus, who ate it and produced from it a new Dionysus. Zeus, understandably angered, destroyed the titans with thunderbolts. From their ashes, including Dionysus-as-digested,
came humanity. Here is an early version of the idea of death and rebirth that is part of many religions, as well as the belief that people are partly earth-born (the titans were considered non-divine) and partly divine. In practice, devotees would seek ecstasy in dancing by torchlight on mountaintops, arousing "enthusiasm," or communion with the god. Eventually, the sacrificial goat would seem to be Dionysus himself and he would be attacked, torn to pieces, and eaten, re-enacting the acts of the titans. Orphism was predominately feminine and many husbands hesitated to interfere with these celebrations. The Pythagoreans did not accept these barbaric aspects of Orphism and in fact they were
usually vegetarians who forbade animal sacrifice and emphasized the importance of intellectual over sensual pleasures. The Air is Full of Souls Not only did the many members of the cult of Dionysus/Bacchus believe in souls, they believed in the transmigration of souls, or metempsychosis. Depending on the good or evil done during a lifetime, a man might be reborn as a man, a woman, a horse, dog, insect, or other animal. Proper living meant upward transmigration, the endpoint being life in a star. One corollary of the doctrine of metempsychosis is the possibility that a stray soul could enter any body. Pythagoreans believed that the air itself was full of souls; the constant motion of dust particles seen in a shaft of
light (Brownian movement) was evidence for that. These souls can affect our dreams and send omens to both humans and animals (Freeman, 1953, p. 253). Themistoclea Interestingly, a woman may have supplied the ethical portion of the Pythagorean philosophy. According to Menage (1690/1984), Themistoclea (Theoclea/Aristoclea) may have been the sister of Pythagoras. She was priestess of Apollo at the famous oracle at Delphi, where questions put to the god, accompanied by offerings, were answered through the priestess. It appears that in this way Pythagoras received many of the ethical principles that he espoused. Themistoclea is also the first recorded woman to be
called a philosopher, a title made possible by Pythagoras' coining the term "philosophy" - the love of truth for its own sake, rather than for some immediate practical purpose. The Music of the Spheres The Pythagoreans are best known for their doctrine that the key to reality lies in number. Everything had a number that "explained" it - the soul was 4, as was health, the earth was 2, the sun was 1, justice was 4 or 9, and even number itself had a number: 10. Ratios, consonances (symphonies), and harmonies were everywhere. Even the planets in their orbits made music, "the music of the spheres," which we don't hear because we are so
accustomed to it (though Pythagoras claimed to hear it, according to Freeman, 1953, p. 82). It is in music that the power of number showed itself most clearly. Imagine quantifying something that mysterious! Suppose you pluck a string (line AE in the figure) that produces a tone that we A----------B----------C----------D----------E call "f". While it sounds, you clamp the string at 3/4 of its length (at B). When this shorter segment (BE) is plucked it makes a pleasing "consonant" sound, probably because of a sharing of harmonics (see the clear and authoritative discussion of this subject in Handel's classic 1989 text.). Every third harmonic of the higher frequency (3/4
of the string 300Hz, 600Hz, 900Hz, 1200Hz) matches every fourth harmonic of the sound produced by the previous vibration of the whole string (400Hz, 800Hz, 1200Hz). When the ratio of the lengths of the two vibrating strings is composed of small whole numbers, the number of matches of harmonics is greatest and the more "consonance" results. This 4:3 ratio produces a "fourth," or an increase in pitch of four steps (f, g, a, b). Pythagoras also found that when the string was clamped so as to form a ratio of 3:2, a pleasing sound was produced. This would be the case if, after BE was plucked, a clamp were placed at C, two/thirds of the previous length, and the string again plucked.
This is a "fifth" (an increase in pitch of five steps - b, c, d, e, f) and likewise probably depends on matching harmonics for its pleasing sound. Finally, when he plucked AE and clamped the string at C, producing a ratio of 2:1, plucking CE (or AC) produced a consonant sound raised an octave, or eight steps (as in f, g, a, b, c, d, e, f). Musical harmony was thus explainable by ratios of small numbers how wonderful! Pythagoreans stressed the constant changes and conflicts in the world and the ideal state of harmonia. This applied to their views on health, since that too is a harmony, achieved largely through diet. Pythagoras believed that all food has
pharmacological effects and should be treated as drugs; the drug effect is apparent in the case of wine, where the effects are extreme. But all foods have pharmacological properties. Epistemology Pythagoras proposed a geometrical atomism that was adopted in its entirety by Plato in the Timaeus, predictably enough, based on number. The four elements later attributed to Empedocles were given specific geometrical forms so that earth was assumed to be composed of tiny cubes, six-sided figures. Fire, prickly as it is, was made of tiny tetrahedrons, four-sided pyramidal figures, while water is so slippery because of atoms shaped as icosohedrons, twenty-sided figures very
nearly spherical. Air was composed of octohedrons, or eight-sided particles. Later this copy theory was modified to a like-knowslike version. So the fire-in-your-eye knows the fire of light, the earth of your body knows objects by touch, and so on. The theory became attached to Empedocles, a physician in Agrigentum, Sicily. Pythagorean Precepts Pythagoreans constituted a cult, for whom the opinions of Pythagoras were Truth. Countless bits of wisdom were attributed to him and followers memorized as many as they could. Critics, such as Heraclitus, charged that they measured wisdom merely in terms of the number of allegorical precepts that a person had memorized. Some examples from Freeman (1953, p. 255) of these precepts are: - "Do not poke the fire with a sword." (Or irritate the angered
person.) - "Do not eat beans." (Since they appear to hold a tiny embryo...) - "Shoe the right foot first. - "Do not speak without a light."- "Do not have intercourse with a woman wearing gold. Milesian Naturalists and Eleatic Rationalists Do the earliest Greek thinkers really have anything to do with our understanding of psychology? One eminent author (Brett/Peters, 1912/1965, p. 37) wrote: To those who think of psychology exclusively in terms of rats in mazes, neurotics in the consulting room, intelligence tests, and brass instruments, it cannot seem anything but odd to start the story of psychology with the early Greek cosmologists. He then went on to show how basic ideas of Freud and many
others were appreciated by the ancients. Early philosophers are often described as concerned solely with the physical world and we are told that only with Socrates and the Sophists did consideration of the human psyche begin. This is false - the earliest Greek thinkers were materialist monists, a view that has clear and important implications for psychology, as we will see below. The Materialist Monists of Miletus The city of Miletus lies on the coast of Asia Minor and was a center for commerce and industry in the sixth century B.C. Many writers have speculated on the reasons that this was the site for the first human thoughts that we would call "philosophical." That is, the Milesians were the first to show serious concern for matters that were not obviously utilitarian. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, and other civilizations had devised calendars, made astronomical observations, invented writing, and accomplished many building projects that seem amazing even today. But they were invariably done in the
service of practical matters, such as agriculture, navigation, commerce, and industry. The Milesians were the first to seriously wonder about the nature of reality - the question, "what is real?" is the question of ontology. They asked questions about the origin and nature of knowledge - "what can we know and how do we know it?" is the question of epistemology. They wondered what ways of living are best if one is to find happiness, thus asking questions of ethics. And in all of this they speculated on the nature of mind, beginning the study of what we call psychology. Thales and the First Scientific Statement
Some say that soul is diffused throughout the whole universe; and it may have been this which led Thales to think that all things are full of gods. (Aristotle, de Anima, 1.2, 405a19) Thales (636-545) was one of the "seven sages" of ancient Greece, as listed by later historians and commentators. A total of 27 people appeared in various "lists of the seven," but only Thales and a few others (for example, Solon and Bias) appeared on every list. As an engineer, Thales altered the course of a mighty river (the Halys) while serving on a military expedition for Croesus, the king of Lydia. He invented the manhole, predicted an eclipse on May 28, 585
B.C., cornered the market on olive presses after predicting a rich harvest, and experimented with static electricity, which he viewed as related to lightning. The prediction of the (solar) eclipse was possible because of his knowledge of Babylonian observations that led to what was called the Saros - a period of 18 years and 11 days separating solar eclipses. He was also the first to accurately measure the height of a pyramid.. The "first scientific statement" was something like, "water is best," or "water is the physis." By physis is meant the substance that is the basis for all existence and that accounts for phenomena through constant change - largely, through condensation and rarefication. As the Greeks viewed matters,
understanding and explanation of phenomena was largely a problem of determining what material was involved. A burning feeling is explained when one sees that a flame has touched the skin and one knows that "flame-material" produces such effects. Anaximander suggested a neutral physis the infinite and Anaximenes proposed air as the physis. But what the physis is hardly matters we dont know today. But what does matter? The Microcosm and the Macrocosm Like the other Greeks of his time, Thales was a naturalist. Naturalism, in this context, treats all phenomena as occurrences in nature, all explainable in the same terms. We are part of
nature and the universe as a whole, the macrocosm, may be viewed as an enlargement of the individual human (the microcosm), or vice versa. We are each a little part of nature and nature itself is an extension, so to speak, of us. Hylozoism or Hylopsychism or Vitalism If we are a part of nature and nature is nothing but constant transformations in water, or whatever physis, then what is mind and what is consciousness? Are we reduced to mindless mechanisms? Where is mind? The answer for the Milesians is that mind is distributed through the universe and it is not "unnatural. Greeks of this period saw nature as animate and
psychology (and theology) as part of physics. Before the fifth century B.C., the only thinkers who believed that mind and matter were separate were the Pythagoreans, who were regarded (rightly) as mystics. What is good about the Milesians monism? The virtue of this view is that humans are seen as part of the natural universe and thus their passions and thoughts are subject to laws. As the universe is lawful and may be predicted to an extent, the human psyche is lawful and may also be mastered. For these ancients, habit, climate and diet were the key to the control of the psyche
(Brett/Peters, 1912/1965). The alternative is that of the Pythagoreans and the dualists who followed. For them mind and body are different in kind and the mind is, essentially, beyond understanding or control. Clearly, the material monist view is the optimistic one, though, oddly enough, it is almost always interpreted as pessimistic! What would Milesian psychotherapy be like? Heraclitus was a nasty and contemptuous man who wrote obscurely purposely, so as not to be understood. He is best known for his doctrine that all is in constant change we cant step into the same river twice. He was also a materialist and mind was only one kind of matter - fire. The following excerpt comes from Sextus
Empiricus: The natural philosopher is of the opinion that what surrounds us is rational and endowed with consciousness...we become intelligent when we get this divine reason by breathing it in, and in sleep we are forgetful (Nahm, 1962, p. 97) Though we "breathe it in," the rationality around us is really fire and when we sleep the rationality in us (our fire) dims. The "fire" in us communes with the fire that surrounds our bodies.