A Study of Error: A Summary and Evaluation of Methods Used in Six Years of Study of the Scholastic Aptitude Test of the College Entrance Examination Board

By Carl C. Brigham | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Study of Symbols

Science originates in the attempt to answer questions proposed by philosophy. Counting might have given arithmetic but mathematics arose from speculations concerning the properties of geometrical figures in relation to numbers. Sticks may be seen and counted, but roots are relations. Physics was a natural philosophy seeking to discover the nature of matter and the elements -- earth, air, fire and water. In seeking to answer these metaphysical questions, science perfects its techniques of observation, places more apparently independent phenomena into relationships usable for prediction, but never really returns the complete solutions, for science stops at explanation. Science observes and predicts -- philosophy explains.

A perennial problem for philosophy has been the origin of the universal. As psychological knowledge has advanced, the account has been changed, but the universal always springs in some manner from particulars. The persistent asking of the question as to the exact manner in which particulars give rise to universals forces psychology to return some answer.

Now it maybe doubted that the problem as set has significance. Has anyone ever noted anything but an original universal response subsequently changed to meet particular situations? The most accurate descriptions of the behavior of fetal or newly-born organisms seems to be summed up in the term "generalized." Particulars are learned discriminations, as the animal experimenters who have tried to condition to differences in stimulation well know.

The conditioned salivary reflex set up in a dog by simultaneous presentation of food and a certain tons will also be evoked by other tones. The animal must then be conditioned, by withholding food, not to respond to other tones. The original learning is fairly widespread. Klüever's 1 studies on equivalence of stimuli reveal a broad range of stimuli to which monkeys will respond with the same degree of success as obtained after the original learning.

It would seem that the logical universal is the psychological whole experience as it comes. This universal becomes more usable and therefore more of a universal in the pragmatic sense, as it is broken down. Insight into the breaking-down process has come from experimental studies of forgetting. The logical particular is psychologically non-existent and the original question of the origin of the universal should never have been raised.

But the fact that the question was asked led to some consistent observational work. Aveling's 2 thesis sought to answer the question "what is discoverable in consciousness when we think the 'universal' or the 'individual.'" (p.72) He

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