Paradigm Shift: Abandonment of One Paradigm in Favor of Another


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The notable “psychophilosophers” of Ancient Greek; Hippocrates, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were leading proponents into the foundations of modern-day psychology as well as the science within it. Doing so the study of epistemology was unraveled; a concoction of belief, knowledge, and justification which began to segregate the knowledge we acquire into several precipitating factors the scientific field within psychology was filtered by these factors leading to its evolution or degeneration. Psychology has evolved by differentiating between beliefs and knowledge and then using knowledge to justify externally, developing a paradigm; a distinctive approach on psychology formulated based on a psychologist’s background and reactions to events at the time. According to Kuhn, 1970 (as cited in John G. Benjafield, 2010 p.12) history of a particular science is not a continuous accumulation of knowledge, but rather it is punctuated by discontinuities. Similar to normal science, violations occur where some things cannot be explained with our current theories, thus exploratory research is done to create new theories; becoming the basis of a new paradigm which Kuhn, (1970) labeled a paradigm shift.

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Rationalism and Empiricism are two types of paradigms that have been taken within epistemology. Rationalists ushered the idea that knowledge is gained and construed independently of sense experience, a school of thought within psychology introduced by Descartes (1628). He doubted the truth of sensory information, Descartes (1628) quoted “I think, therefore I am” he imagined himself with nobody and as existing in no specific place which removes himself of sensory awareness. A reaction to Rationalism is Empiricism the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience as the mind is developed by empirical means thus all ideas are derived by experience. This theory was the premise to the birth of psychology as a science. According to Hume, (1711–1776), (as cited by Jonathan Cottrell, 2019), a philosopher and empiricist, alleged that the mind and body are physical things, he described knowledge as ‘impressions’; “the basic elements of mental life” which are sensations and perceptions but in the absence of physical stimuli and ‘Ideas’; which is having the same mental experiences in the absence of any immediate stimulating object. Both Empiricism and Rationalism are concerned with the sources of knowledge. With empiricists believing the mind is developed by observable means and rationalists placing value on information acquired via the senses. Together these arguments can be restructured as philosophers require to be both rationalists and empiricists. Reason and logic must be rationalized and empirically tested placing both paradigms under epistemology.

Falling into Kuhn’s (1970) theorem that psychology has a paradigmatic shift we see how rationalism and empiricism weave into each other by filling in the latter’s anomalies.

For Descartes (1628), the form of rationalism he argued stated that the ideas that are critically important for philosophy, mathematics, and physics are innate, and sense experience is at most the agency that elicits these ideas. However, when in practice, Descartes realized that human intellect is finite, it is necessary to rely on experience to confirm these propositions when the rational proof is beyond reach. He was inspired by Jacques de Vaucanson’s (1739) ‘Digesting Duck’ which empowered Descartes’, 1596–1650 (as cited by Lokhorst, 2018) mechanical-hydraulic theory. He initially proposed that ‘animal instincts’ travel through the brain through hollow nerves to reach the muscles, causing them to move. Repeated experiences make certain pores in the brain more open than others to the flow of the ‘spirits’- the more we repeat the movement, we no longer need conscious awareness to execute these responses and movements. His theorem which was the first to describe a reflex action theory failed to explain consciousness, reasoning, and functions of the soul and mind. The Innate Concept thesis was created and Descartes argued that our concepts are gained from rational makeup, we sense experiences that are remembered and later triggered to form the same response; this idea being fundamental in gestalt psychology and psycholinguistics, however, innate knowledge is not enough. Still committed to the idea of innate concepts, Descartes classified that our ideas of God are solely gained from experience because only a being with finite amounts of various perfections, knowledge, power, and good can provide this. We cannot, however, empirically test the concept of infinite perfection, and thus precipitating factors are introduced. We are unable to explain concepts such as God using rationalism, as our experience with God is beyond the concept it provides. Descartes was a mathematician and injected this into philosophy; he wanted singular answers from the singular question and thus the nuanced, ambiguous answers psychology provided was not agreeable to him. This reduced his out outlook on the complexity of philosophy.

Empiricists intervened, and began to move away from the acceptance of dogma; although they did not conduct experiments like modern-day psychologists they similarly relied upon observation. Locke (1690), an advocate for empiricism had remarkably similar views to Descartes on the nature of our ideas in his book “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, (1689) whilst rationalism proposes it takes many repeated actions to be innate, Locke ties them all to experience. Locke deeply believed in humanity and was highly invested in the political changes occurring in England at the time (cited from C Hewett, (2006) thus motivating his interest in the mind; he wanted to change society by organizing it in a rational way that maintained the status quo of epistemology; the truth is discovered by observation and justification. As for Locke, it makes no sense to imagine both that ideas or knowledge are innate and that we do not know them, thus in his own words: “It seems to be a near contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting if it signifies anything, being nothing else but the making certain truths to be perceived.”(Locke, 1690 Book I, Chapter I, pg. 1). Subsequently stating that, unlike rationalism, flawed due to its presentation of innate ideas being a ‘perfect triangle’ experience; Empiricists observe the pain we experience. Thus, like a politician at the time, Locke wanted to use our failed experiences in a flawed society to create a better world – much like Hume, 1778 (as cited by Beebee, H. 2016) causality is expressed as a habit of the mind; we do not and cannot perceive causality, we only infer that when A next occurs, B will probably follow. Experience is required to learn new ideas we cannot rely on contiguity as the mind is more complex than this. Underlining, how rationalism and empiricism only conflict when formulated to cover the same subject as separately they can be used under epistemology to filter out evolving and failing science.

Aristotle (384-322), developed a distinctive way to explain the universal qualities of everything in our world. Much similar to various psychophilosophers of the time, Aristotle was inspired by his antecedent Plato – an idealist.

Aristotle’s immanent realism means his epistemology is based on the study that objects exist in themselves, independently of our consciousness to them. He regarded the essential raw material of knowledge as untrustworthy; His father Nicomachus was a physician, (as cited in Lennox James, 2019) he likely planted a scientific and empirical perspective in Aristotle, which he trusted and followed. Dissimilar to Plato who explored memories as being encoded, much in the way that someone writes on wax tablet (as cited in Chappell, Sophie-Grace, 2019) the wax tablet passage offers an explicit account of the nature of thought and its relationship with perception. Plato recognized that memory has individual differences in which every person’s capacity, ability to learn, and retentiveness are different. The tablet made out of wood and covered in wax was a portable writing surface that varied in size, softness, and malleability much like our encoding of memory. Thus, concluding how two separate paradigms idealism and realism were born out of the reactions of their surroundings at the time which thus fuels evolutionary shifts in paradigms as society internalizes contextual factors into theorems we now use every day. Aristotle fostered his physician father’s trust in empirical perspectives whilst Plato recognized individual differences in society.

As well as contextual factors advancing paradigms within epistemology, an anomaly or rejection in a current paradigm can also advance a shift. Very contrary to Plato’s flawed memory theory, Aristotle proposed that the more we repeat an experience, the better we remember them, and events that have been experienced once may be better remembered under the influence of strong emotions. Subsequently, inspiring the theory that we call today – Associative Memory. This ability to learn and remember the relationship between unrelated items played a vital role in understanding how we learn behavior in what we now call operant and classical conditioning.

Overall, the abandonment of one paradigm in favor of another is what essentially drives a pragmatic shift. Society and culture, become more modern and westernized introducing contemporary ideas that stimulated psychophilosophers to delve into exploratory research to uphold the “continuity and development” of psychology as Leahey (1992, p.316) argued.  

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