Sam S. Rakover (1995) Metapsychology: a Pessimistic View of Psychology?. Psycoloquy: 6(35) Metapsychology (9)

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Psycoloquy 6(35): Metapsychology: a Pessimistic View of Psychology?

Reply to Fletcher & Burghardt on Metapsychology

Sam S. Rakover
Department of Psychology
Haifa University, Haifa
Israel 31905



Both Fletcher and Burghardt criticize my book Metapsychology: Missing Links In Behavior, Mind and Science (Rakover, 1990, 1993), suggesting that it presents a pessimistic approach to the possibility of solving such issues as the mind-body problem and the reduction of psychology to neurophysiology. In my reply I attempt to respond to their critique and other related questions.


behavior, causality, experimentation, explanation, introspection, mind-body problem, observation, philosophy, psychology, reductionism, science, theory.
1. Fletcher (1994) seems disappointed with the fact that in Metapsychology, I devoted much effort to discuss many methodological and epistemological problems in psychology, without providing the reader with solutions. As examples of his assertion, he mentions scientific progress, the mind-body problem and the question of whether teleological explanations can be reduced to causal explanations.

2. Should I be embarrassed by this critique? I think not, for there are several issues in Metapsychology, such as the structure of psychological theory, introspection and the progress of psychology as a scientific discipline for which I did provide the reader with outlines of relatively new approaches. For other issues, such as the mind-body problem, I did not propose any solutions for the very simple reason that I am skeptical whether such solutions can be found. Consider the mind-body problem. Many Philosophers have tried to solve, resolve and dissolve this problem and failed. It seems that the mind-body problem defies any attempt to develop a coherent theory about the nature of mind and its relationship to the body. Indeed, some authorities (pessimists?) hold that the mind-body problem is insoluble (e.g., Jackson, 1982; McGinn, 1989; Nagel, 1974, 1986). In an intriguing paper entitled Can We Solve the Mind-Body problem? McGinn writes: "We have been trying for a long time to solve the mind and body problem. It has stubbornly resisted our best efforts. The mystery persists. I think the time has come to admit candidly that we cannot solve the mystery." (1989, p. 349). Yet, there are other researches (optimists?) who believe that the mind will be explained some time in the future by expanding our knowledge of the brain (e.g., Dennett, 1991; Churchland, 1983). However, my impression of the huge literature regarding the mind and its relationship with the body (brain) is that currently there is no single accepted theory that can uncover the mystery of the mind. (Note that this answers also Burghardt's part 6 critique.)

3. Given my (pessimistic?) impression that currently the mind-body problem is unsolvable, I attempted to examine the impact of this insoluble problem on scientific progress in the history of psychology (see Rakover, 1990, 1992). I have proposed a hypothesis (called the Outflanking Hypothesis) according to which the history of psychology can be understood in terms of the attempts to solve the mind-body problem by applying certain conceptualizations developed in the natural sciences. If such an attempt is a central issue in a research program, as in the cases of structuralism, behaviorism and cognitive psychology, then the research program must fail. However, if such an attempt is not cardinal to a research program, then this program is very likely to show continuous development in scientific thought, or in other words, to exhibit scientific progress like in the natural sciences. Radical behaviorism and psychophysics were suggested as examples in support of the latter part of this hypothesis.

4. Fletcher points out that in some cases, such as scientific progress, I did provide the reader with an outline of a solution. However, he complains that it is too brief and it occupies only six pages (pp. 142-148). This is not entirely correct, for in pp. 353-355 and 360-364 I continued to develop the idea that scientific progress can be characterized by learning processes. In pp. 360-364, for example, I proposed the idea that scientific knowledge is a function of scientific endeavor, where the relationship between the two variables is characterized by the chain of learning or logistic functions. The chain is combined in a manner that the asymptotic level of a given learning function is the starting point of a new learning function. Nevertheless, it is true that my ideas on scientific progress are presented in outline fashion. The major reason for this derives from the book's attempt to critically analyze the field of philosophy as applied to psychology. Therefore, there was no room left to reach a full development of my ideas.

5. Both Fletcher (1994, part 3) and Burghardt (1994, part 13) have pointed out that I am too pessimistic about the possibility of reducing psychology to neurophysiology. This is a very complex and difficult issue, and I devoted a large part of Metapsychology to its examination (see for example sections 7.6 and 10.1). Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about reductionism. Allow me to introduce a new argument, which I call the "argument from the theory of measurement" and which supports my approach in this regard. Consider the following teleological law (TL): if a person X wants G and believes that doing B would bring him G, then X does B. Could TL be reduced to a neurophysical theory? I think not, and the major reason is that teleological concepts are measured in a way completely different from the measurement of behavioral concepts. While teleological concepts are measured by subjective self-reports, behavioral or physiological concepts are based on certain objective observational procedures. Theoretical reduction does not permit such a difference. Reduction of one theory to another requires that the concept of both the reduced and reducing theories be based on the same procedures of measurement. For example, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics is based on a bridging law which equates temperature in the reduced theory to mean kinetic energy in the reducing theory, where the combinations of the units of measurement on either side of this equation are the same. But the problem is even more severe than this, because TL itself connects concepts which are based on different qualitative methods of measurement: while we come to know of desires and beliefs through subjective self-reports, we objectively observe and measure behavior. No natural law is based on concepts which are based on such qualitative different methods of measurement: subjective and objective. Rather, all concepts are based on the same fundamental (or derived) procedures of measurement by which we obtain objective information regarding distance, weight, time, temperature, speed, energy, etc. Consider the law of free falling bodies: S=1/2 gt2 where S refers to distance, g refers to gravitation, and t refers to time (t2 means t is raised to the power of 2). Note that the law must equate the units of measurement on either side of the equation: S is measured by distance and so must be gt2. Simple algebra shows that indeed gt2 is measured by the same units of measurement: (distance/(time)2) X (time)2=distance. It is clear that TL does not fulfill this essential demand.

6. My impression of Burghardt's (1994) criticism of Metapsychology (see Rakover, 1990, 1993) is that the main difference between him and myself regarding the mind-body issue is a matter of an approach or attitude. While Burghardt optimistically believes that natural science can address the mind-body problem, I do not believe that the problem can be solved. However, one cannot conclude from my approach that research ought to be stopped in its tracks (see Burghardt, part 12). As a matter of fact, in pp. 227-228 of Metapsychology I wrote that: "I am neither dualist, nor materialist, nor functionalist in my approach to the mind-body problem. The term that would seem to me best to describe my own attitude is mind-body skepticism. A mind-body skepticist is aware that the mind-body theses offered to date have failed to solve the mind-body problem; moreover, he doubts that the problem can be solved within the context of our present culture. But neither is he pessimist, since he is emphatic in proposing that research on the mind should be continued, and that each approach should be explored to its utmost limits." In this spirit I argued against excluding introspection from the scientific domain of psychology (see section 6.5 in Metapsychology). Instead, I proposed the Methodological Introspection approach, according to which private behavior is a legitimate data for psychological research, that is, it can be used as data to be explained, data for testing a theory, and data for inducing theoretical concepts and generating hypotheses (see Metapsychology, pp. 215-217). These ideas are not far from Burghardt's position: "Knowing about perceptual and neural bases of behavior in animals and using a critical anthropomorphism can be good starting points for developing testable inferences about their private experiences." (see part 10).

7. Burghardt complains that I did not pay attention to the evolutionary theory and to its application to psychology and philosophy (see parts 3 and 4). In fact, he proposed that I, as many other philosophers, applied to natural sciences and psychology "... archaic, Newtonian physics ... as if Darwin and evolution ... had never existed." (see part 3). This is not strictly accurate, since section 9.2. 4.1: "the goal of science" in Metapsychology is devoted to the attempt of understanding scientific progress by appeal to Darwinian theory. One major purpose in this regard is to displace the problematic teleological explanation of scientific endeavor by acceptable natural selection theory. Hence, many philosophers began to develop evolutionary epistemology. Consider for example the Campbell-Popper approach. Accordingly, there must be "variations" of scientific ideas corresponding to genetic mutations; there must be a mechanism of "selection" among these variations corresponding to natural selection or biological adaptation; and there must be a mechanism of "retention" of scientific ideas corresponding to the genetic code stored in the DNA. More specifically, evolutionary epistemology proposed that new scientific hypotheses and theories are generated analogously to genetic mutations, and that the competition among hypotheses results in a process analogous to natural selection. Hence the ecological environment in Darwinian theory is paralleled by the observational data or experimental results in scientific environment.


Burghardt, G. M. (1994). Evolution and analysis of private experience. PSYCOLOQUY 5(73) metapsychology.6.burghardt.

Churchland, P.S. (1983). Consciousness: The transmutation of a concept. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 64, 80-93.

Dennett, D.C. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little Brown and Company.

Fletcher, G. J. D. (1994). The missing links. PSYCOLOQUY. 5(47) metapsychology.7.fletcher.

Jackson, F. (1982). Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly, 32, 127-136.

McGinn, C. (1989). Can we solve the mind-body problem? Mind, 98, 349-360.

Nagel, T. (1974). What is like to be a bat? Philosophical Review, 83, 435-450

Nagel, T. (1986). The view from nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rakover, S.S. (1990). Metapsychology: Missing Links In Behavior, Mind and Science. New York: Paragon/Solomon.

Rakover, S.S. (1992). Outflanking the mind-body problem: scientific progress in the history of psychology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 22, 145-173.

Rakover, S.S. (1993). Precis of Metapsychology: Missing Links In Behavior, Mind, and Science. PSYCOLOQUY 4 (55) metapsychology.1.rakover.

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