Sunday, December 23, 2018

Vygotsky :Critique of Psychoanalysis,Reflexology, Gestalt Psychology, and Personalism.

“Psychology is in need of its own Das Kapital – its own concepts of class, basis, value etc. - in which it might express, describe, and study its object”. Lev Vygotsky

To illustrate the model for the development of general ideas in psychology just described, we will examine the fate of four ideas which have been influential in the last few decades. 

In doing so our sole interest will be the fact that made the development of these ideas possible, rather than the ideas in themselves, i.e., a fact rooted in the history of the science, not outside of it. 

We will not investigate why it is precisely these ideas and their history that is important as a symptom or indication of the stage that the history of the science is going through. 

At the moment we are interested not in a historical but a methodological question: to what extent are the psychological facts elicited and known at the moment, and what changes in the structure of the science do they require in order to make possible the further acquisition of knowledge on the basis of what is already known? 

The fate of the four ideas must bear witness to the need of the science at the present moment, to the content and dimensions of this need. 

The history of the science is important for us insofar as it determines the degree to which psychological facts are cognised.

These four ideas are: Psychoanalysis, Reflexology, Gestalt psychology, and Personalism.

The idea of psychoanalysis sprang from particular discoveries in the area of neuroses. 

The unconscious determination of a number of mental phenomena and the hidden sexuality of a number of activities and forms, until then not included in the field of erotic phenomena, were established beyond doubt. 

Gradually this discovery, corroborated by the success of therapeutic measures based on this conception, i.e., sanctioned by practice, was transferred to a number of adjacent areas – the psychopathology of everyday life and child psychology – and it conquered the whole field of the theory of neuroses. 

In the struggle between the disciplines this idea brought the most remote branches of psychology under its sway. It has been shown that on the basis of this idea a psychology of art and an ethnic psychology can be developed. 

But psychoanalysis at the same time transcended the boundaries of psychology: sexuality became a metaphysical principle amidst all other metaphysical ideas, psychoanalysis became a world view, psychology a metapsychology. 

Psychoanalysis has its own theory of knowledge and its own metaphysics, its own sociology and mathematics

Communism and totem, the church and Dostoyevsky's creative work, occultism and advertising, myth and Leonardo da Vinci's inventions – it is all disguised and masked sex and sexuality, and that is all there is to it.

The idea of the conditional reflex followed a similar course. Everybody knows that it originated in the study of mental salivation in dogs. 

But then it was extended to a number of other phenomena as well. It conquered animal psychology. In Bekhterev's system it is applied and used in all domains of psychology and reigns over them. 

Everything – sleep, thought, work, and creativity – turns out to be a reflex. It ended up dominating all psychological disciplines: the collective psychology of art, industrial psychology and pedology, psychopathology, even subjective psychology. 

And at the moment reflexology only rubs shoulders with universal principles, universal laws, first principles of mechanics. Just as psychoanalysis grew into a metapsychology via biology, reflexology via biology grows into a world view based on energy. 

The table of contents of a textbook in reflexology is a universal catalogue of global laws. And again, just as with psychoanalysis, it turned out that everything in the world is a reflex. Anna Karenina and kleptomania, the class struggle and a landscape, language and dream are all reflexes (Bekhterev, 1921; 1923).

Gestalt psychology also originally arose in the concrete psychological investigation of the processes of form perception.

There it received its practical christening; it passed the truth test. But, as it was born at the same time as psychoanalysis and reflexology, it covered the same path with amazing uniformity. 

It conquered animal psychology, and it turned out that the thinking of apes is also a Gestalt process. It conquered the psychology of art and ethnic psychology, and it turned out that the primitive conception of the world and the creation of art are Gestalten as well. It conquered child psychology and psychopathology and both child development and mental disease were covered by the Gestalt. 

Finally, having turned into a world view, Gestalt psychology discovered the Gestalt in physics and chemistry, in physiology and biology, and the Gestalt, withered to a logical formula, appeared to be the basis of the world. 

When God created the world he said: let there be Gestalt – and there was Gestalt everywhere (Kofflka, 1925; Kohler, 1917, 1920; Wertheimer, 1925).

Finally, personalism originally arose in differential psychological research. 

Being an exceptionally valuable principle of personality in the theory of psychometrics and in the theory of occupational choice, etc., it migrated first to psychology in its entirety and then crossed its boundaries. 

In the form of critical personalism it extended the concept of personality not only to man, but to animals and plants as well. 

One more step, well known to us from the history of psychoanalysis and reflexology, and everything in the world is personality. 

The philosophy which began by contrasting the personality with the thing, by rescuing the personality from the power of things, ended up by accepting all things as personalities. 

The things disappeared altogether. A thing is only a part of the personality: it does not matter whether we are dealing with the leg of a person or the leg of a table. 

But as this part again consists of parts etc. and so on to infinity, it – the leg of a person or a table – again turns out to be a personality in relation to its parts and a part only in relation to the whole. 

The solar system and the ant, the tram-driver and Hindenburg, a table and a panther – they are all personalities (Stern, 1924).

These fates, similar as four drops of the same rain, drag the ideas along one and the same path. The extension of the concept grows and reaches for infinity and according to the well-known logical law, its content falls just as impetuously to zero. 

Each of these four ideas is extremely rich, full of meaning and sense, full of value and fruitful in its own place. But elevated to the rank of universal laws they are worthy of each other, they are absolutely equal to each other, like round and empty zeros. Stern's personality is a complex of reflexes according to Bekhterev, a Gestalt according to Wertheimer sexuality according to Freud.

And in the fifth stage of development these ideas meet with exactly the same criticism, which can be reduced to a single formula. To psychoanalysis it is said: the principle of unconscious sexuality is indispensable for the explanation of hysterical neuroses, but it can explain neither the composition of the world nor the course of history. 

To reflexology it is said: we must not make a logical mistake, the reflex is only one single chapter of psychology, but not psychology as a whole and even less, of course, the world in its entirety (Vagner, 1923; Vygotsky, 1925a). 

To Gestalt psychology it is said: you have found a very valuable principle in your own area. But if thinking consists of no more than the aspects of unity and the integrated whole, i.e., of no more than the Gestalt formula, and this same formula expresses the essence of each organic and even physical process, then the picture of the world becomes, of course, amazingly complete and simple – electricity, gravity, and human thinking are reduced to a common denominator. 

We must not throw both thinking and relation into one single pot of structures: let it first be shown that it belongs in the same pot as structural functions. The new factor guides a broad though limited area. 

But as a universal principle it does not stand up to critique. Let the thinking of bold theoreticians in their attempts to explain be characterised by the motto “it's all or nothing.” But as a sound counterpoise the cautious investigator should take account of the stubborn opposition of the facts. After all, to try and explain everything means to explain nothing.

Doesn't this tendency of each new idea in psychology to turn into a universal law show that psychology really should rest upon universal laws, that all these ideas wait for a master-idea which comes and puts each different, particular idea in its place and indicates its importance? 

The regularity of the path covered with amazing constancy by the most diverse ideas testifies, of course, to the fact that this path is predetermined by the objective need for an explanatory principle and it is precisely because such a principle is needed and not available that various special principles occupy its place. 

Psychology, realising that it is a matter of life or death to find a general explanatory principle, grabs for any idea, albeit an unreliable one.

Spinoza [1677] in his “Treatise on the improvement of the understanding” describes a similar state of knowledge:

A sick man struggling with a deadly disease, when he sees that death will surely be upon him unless a remedy is found, is compelled to seek such a remedy with all his strength, inasmuch as his whole hope lies therein.



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