Psychologist at Large: An Autobiography and Selected Essays

By Edwin G. Boring | Go to book overview

Psychological Factors in the Scientific Process
1954

My concern with the history of psychology made me become interested in the psychology of history. In my presidential address before the American Psychological Association in 1928 I dealt with the psychology of controversy and how egoism, since it blinds scientists, hinders progress. Later I came to see that there is a "motivational predicament" in that egoism hinders by blinding and helps by energizing the productive drive. With these problems in mind and also the matter of how thinking is helped and hindered by the current Zeitgeist (see the next paper), I wrote this summary of how scientific activity operates perpetually under the intellectual and motivational psychodynamics of the scientists—the very human scientists.

The scientific process is partly observation and partly logic. You observe particular relations and then by induction you arrive at such a generalization as a fact, a function, a law, or a theory. Or, having formed a generalization by logic, insight, or hunch, you deduce from it a testable relationship and submit that to observation. There are other formulations that describe the scientific process, but my point here is nothing more than that science is a human activity and that you have, therefore, to take into account the properties of human beings when you are assessing facts and theories. This thought is not new. Errors of observation, both instrumental and human, have long been matters of

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Reprinted with permission from the American Scientist, 1954, vol. 42, 639-645.

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