Cognitive Darwinism: Rational-Emotive Therapy and the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection

Article excerpt

5. A. Ellis. Rejoinder: Elegant and Inelegant RET, in A. Ellis and J. Whiteley, eds. Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Rational-Emotive Therapy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1979.

6. G. M. Edelman. The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness. New York: Basic Books, 1989.

7. A. T. Beck. Cognitive Therapy, Behavior Therapy, Psychoanalysis, and Pharmacotherapy: A Cognitive Continuum, in M. Mahoney and A. Freeman, eds. Cognition and Psychotherapy. New York: Plenum Press, 1985. (Originally published in 1983.) Introduction and Philosophy of Science

ALBERT ELLIS'S THEORY of Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET) shares many basic ideas with general semantics theory.(1) Several of Ellis's books have appeared in E-Prime (2), a writing and speaking methodology developed by David Bourland and used by some general semanticists.

This paper explores the relationship of Ellis's theory of psychotherapy and personality to a particular theory of brain function, Gerald Edelman's Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS). (3) Philosophically, this inquiry is an exercise in "interfield theory," whose relevance to cognitive science has been cogently outlined by William Bechtel. (4) Such an interfield theory aims at a "mechanistic explanation" of emotional disturbance, in addition to purely "functional" analysis. Rather than attempting the "reduction" of psychology to neuroscience, however, interfield theory seeks to "bridge boundaries," rather than "break boundaries," between the two theories. Such an approach seeks to examine the same phenomena at different levels of organization, and also to examine emotional events at the same level from two different points of view.

It should be emphasized that this exercise in "interfield theory" must base itself on the very same assumptions which underly the two parent theories. Every scientific theory must remain underdetermined, to some degree or another, by the available empirical evidence, and RET and TNGS both have plenty of competition within their own respective fields. But since both theories deal at some level with the same phenomena, it should be instructive to demonstrate how these two particular theories could explain the same events. It is likely that different "interfield" programs might also relate alternative theories from each of the two fields.

Specifically, I want to explore more precisely the distinction between Ellis's "elegant" and "inelegant" forms of RET practice. (5) In addition, because RET has frequently claimed a biological basis for the human propensity for "irrational beliefs," I explore this physiology in the present article. Finally, I seek to clarify the relationship between RET and psychopharmacology.

Ever since Egyptian surgeons cracked open the brain 5000 years ago, humans have tried to imagine mechanical models of the brain's functioning. These machine analogs have usually compared the brain's processes to man-made devices of the modeler's own particular historical period -- e.g., pipe organs, steam engines, telephone switchboards, digital computers, computer networks, etc.

Instructionism and Selectionism in Biology

Edelman has chosen as his own analog the humoral, antibody-mediated immune system. This example requires Edelman to remain scrupulously selectionist in all aspects of the theory. At this point, let us look briefly at the differences between instructionism and selectionism in biology. The distinction goes back to the nineteenth century debate between "Lamarckian" and "Darwinian" explanations of evolution. The "instructionist," or "Lamarckian" paradigm suggested that the individual organism gets "instructed," or molded by its environment. In other words, the individual organism adapts to its environment by acquiring more adaptive characteristics, and then passes on those acquired adaptations to its progeny.

On the other hand, the "Darwinian," or "selectionist" paradigm hypothesizes that adaptive characteristics already exist among variant individuals within a biological population. …