Learning Theory, Personality Theory, and Clinical Research: The Kentucky Symposium

By Donald K. Adams; O. H. Mowrer et al. | Go to book overview

Ego Psychology, Cybernetics, and Learning Theory

O. H. MOWRER

It will best serve our present purposes if I discuss the three topics constituting the title of this paper in the reverse order of that in which they are here mentioned. But first a more general word. It can hardly escape even commonplace observation that we tend to take, as models for interpreting the complex and mysterious, phenomena which are simpler and more fully understood. Hence, the machine, being man-made and intelligible, has often patterned our thinking about the less intelligible aspects of man himself.

Today we face a new challenge in this respect. Stanton and Sylva Cohn, writing in a current issue of The Scientific Monthly, put the matter well when they say:

The nineteenth century was the "Age of Power." It saw the development of the machine, and concomitant with it there arose a mechanistic philosophy of life and a mechanical interpretation of life processes. . . .

Science has advanced heyond the mechanistic stage, however. Just as the nineteenth century was the Age of Power, the twentieth century is the Age of Communication and Control. It is not enough to make a powerful machine, having the ability to do many times the work of man. There must be an intelligent application of this energy--it must be controlled [1, p. 87].

In recent decades engineering has moved rapidly forward along these lines, producing, oddly enough, machines that are more "intelligent" in practice than living organisms are in theory! Of course, some of these machines are actually more "intelligent," as regards certain specialized tasks, than are animals, including men. Here we think particularly of the "giant computers," for example. But we are presently concerned rather with the extent to which living creatures are, per hypothesis, more limited in their potentialities than we know

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