Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

Synopsis

Encountering the World reorients modern psychology by finding a viable middle ground between the study of nerve cells and cultural analysis. The emerging field of ecological psychology focuses on the "human niche" and our uniquely evolved modes of action and interaction. Rejecting both mechanistic cognitive science and reductionistic neuroscience, the author offers a new psychology that combines ecological and experimental methods to help us better understand the ways in which people and animals make their way through the world. The book provides a comprehensive treatment of ecological psychology and a unique synthesis of the work of Darwin, neural Darwinism, and modern ecologists with James Gibson's approach to perception. The author presents detailed discussions on communication, sociality, cognition, and language - topics often overlooked by ecological psychologists. Other issues covered include ecological approaches to animal behaviour, neural mechanisms, perception, action, and interaction. Provocative and controversial, Encountering the World makes a significant contribution to the debate over the nature of psychology.

Excerpt

The science of psychology is in a perilous intellectual state. Beset on all sides, it has not yet found the resources needed to sustain itself and grow to meet these challenges. On one hand, biochemistry and neuroscience have become increasingly successful at identifying the cellular and molecular bases of behavior. On the other hand, the historical and comparative human sciences, using the techniques of hermeneutics and "thick description" (Geertz, 1973), are increasingly challenging the individualistic and essentialist model of the person that remains at the center of the psychological universe. The only active middle ground to emerge in recent years between these two extremes has been "cognitive science," a form of descriptive reductionism in which people disappear and are replaced by symbolic constructs and manipulations analogous to those of computer programs. (A scientistic version of deconstruction?)

Such a crisis is by no means new in psychology. Even before its self-congratulatory origin as a science in the positivist heyday of the 19th century, psychology was being clipped from below and buffeted from above. And well-intentioned outsiders (such as cognitive scientists) have often tried to come to our rescue. Psychologists with any serious historical memory will know that "scientific psychology" began as a result of serious clashes between physiological and interpretive psychologists, with act psychologists as outside agitators. Then, after the failure of the original Wundtian program of scientific psychology led to a new set of clashes, behaviorism, Gestalt theory, and even Vygotsky's sociohistorical psychology all were developed as solutions to that second crisis of psychology. Once again, outside agitators stepped in, this time in the form of "operationalists" and "logical positivists," who effectively persuaded most American psychologists to follow their advice. This led to the third crisis, the spectacular implosion of the 1950s, in which several major research enterprises (Hull's, Tolman's, and Skinner's) lost their ability to organize the thought and activity of the psychologists in the laboratories. Few experimental psychologists changed their practices in fundamental ways between 1945 and 1970, but many psychologists eagerly latched on to yet another group of outside agitators: the information theorists, the cyberneticians, and the early proponents of what ultimately came to be called artificial intelligence (Reed, 1996c). And with the evidence of the failure of this "cognitive revolution" increasing . . .

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