Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

By Edward S. Reed | Go to book overview

Introduction: The Significance of the Psychological

Psychology's Perennial Crisis

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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Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface and Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction: the Significance of the Psychological 3
  • 1 - Regulation Versus Construction 9
  • Conclusion: the Fundamental Hypothesis of Ecological Psychology 18
  • 2 - An Evolutionary Psychology 20
  • Conclusion 27
  • 3 - Affordances: A New Ecology for Psychology 29
  • Conclusion: the Evolution of Behavior Among the Affordances of the Environment 45
  • 4 - The Importance of Information 47
  • Conclusion 67
  • 5 - Functional Systems and the Mechanisms of Behavior 68
  • Conclusion 82
  • 6: Varieties of Action Systems 83
  • 7 - The Effort After Value and Meaning 96
  • Conclusion 110
  • 8 - The Human Environment 111
  • Conclusion 125
  • 9 - Becoming a Person 126
  • Conclusion: Becoming A Person and Entering into A Culture 138
  • 10 - The Daily Life of the Mind 140
  • Conclusion 151
  • 11 - Entering the Linguistic Environment 153
  • Conclusion 167
  • 12 - Streams of Thought 169
  • Conclusion 183
  • Epilogue: The Significance of Ecological Psychology 184
  • Conclusion 189
  • References 191
  • Index 207
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