Popular Science Monthly/Volume 84/January 1914/Psychology: Science or Technology?
|PSYCHOLOGY: SCIENCE OR TECHNOLOGY?|
PSYCHOLOGY has, of recent years, been exhorted to be practical, praised for its willingness to be practical, blamed for its unwillingness to be practical. "A kind of psychology which is needed is that of every-day people." "Psychology is ceasing to be a purely academic science and is now willing to study questions dealing with every-day life." "Psychology as it is being taught and investigated deals with matters of no concern, or of too abstract a nature, for practise." "The normal psychologist has been forced out of his academic reserve." A psychology is needed "which is aimed at practical ends," "a psychology which works and lives rather than a psychology easy to teach or easy to write," a psychology of a "matter-of-fact type," which adopts "the common-sense attitude," a psychology whose problems "really go at the causal relationships vital to the student, vital to any layman who wants to know what psychology is and does, vital to the physician,"—in a word, a truly "dynamic" psychology. The demand, as these few quotations show, far exceeds the supply; exhortation and blame are more strongly in evidence than encouragement and praise.
If, now, such amenities meant simply that there is a family quarrel among psychologists, or if the attack upon theory and the call to practise were confined to psychology alone, then discussion and reply would find their proper place in some technically psychological journal. It seems, however, to a lay reader of scientific magazines, that the stir in and about psychology is typical of what is just now going on in many other fields of scientific work, and that the issue between theory and practise has been raised in many quarters. That would, of itself, be good ground for appeal to a general scientific audience; but the present writer has a second reason for bringing discussion into the open. He believes that, so far as the matter may be argued, so far (that is to say) as we leave out of account temperamental differences and idiosyncrasies which are beyond the reach of argument, hostilities are in the main kept up through the neglect of a very elementary distinction, the distinction of Science and Technology; and he believes that, if that distinction is regarded, there may be an end of railing accusation and a new birth of what theory and practise both alike require—serious and well-weighed criticism. It is true that the mere expression of this belief may defeat his purpose: the practically-minded reader may refuse to read further; for the practical man is nothing if not outspoken in his dislike of hairsplitting distinctions and formal definitions. Let it then he said, at once, that there shall be no formal definition in the present paper, and that there shall be as many loose ends left as the most matter-of-fact common sense can desire. The distinction to be drawn is, in truth, elementary, and the drawing will here be done in the grossest way.
What follows, therefore, is an attempt at an eirenicon; and it begins at the beginning, with the question—What do we mean by science?
We are still told, in text-books and scientific addresses, that the various sciences represent various departments of knowledge. The territory of science, that is to say, is conceived of as parcelled out among the separate sciences, very much as a continent is mapped out into a number of adjoining countries. If the tale of the sciences were complete, the whole map would be variously colored; since, however, there are "gaps" in our knowledge, the map shows blank spaces, unexplored regions to which the methods of science have not yet attained. "The gaps are being filled; we are no longer isolated, but are working side by side on adjacent areas which are inseparably connected;" so said the president of the recent Medical Congress; and the figure was probably as familiar to his hearers as it fell naturally from his own lips.
A figure of this sort, however uncritically it may afterwards be employed, is always suggested in the first instance by some aspect of the facts; and in the present case the suggestion is not only obvious, but is also continually renewed. Few of us would hesitate to say, offhand, that the "tree" belongs to the province of botany, and the "inclined plane" to the province of physics. The things that we find in our surroundings fall, as we say, into groups, as subject-matter of this or that science; and the sorting or classifying of things, which is perhaps the earliest form of man's intellectual mastery of his world, still suffices for practical purposes and may, as our quotation shows, prove to be sufficient also in scientific contexts. That figure, nevertheless, together with the principle of classification which it implies, must now be discarded; the sciences can not be looked upon as departments of knowledge, adjoining and mutually exclusive, each one covering and exhausting a certain tract or region of experience, and each one concerned with a separate kind of subject-matter. The tree, we said, is placed by our ordinary thinking in the province of botany; yet this same tree may be considered from the points of view of taxonomy, ecology, distribution, morphology, physiology; it may be discussed by chemistry, or by general biology; and finally as look and feel it belongs, with all the looks and feels, to psychology. The inclined plane is in a like ambiguous position. These are, no doubt, trivial examples; but they serve to bring out the fact that one and the same item of human experience may enter, as part of their subject-matter, into a large number of sciences; whence it follows that the sciences themselves can not be distinguished, in any final accounting, by the specific character of the "objects" with which they deal.
What in fact differentiates science from science is, as an earlier sentence has hinted, something that we may term objectively point of view and subjectively attitude. Giving up the figure of the map, one might conceive of the world of experience as contained in a great circle, and of scientific men as viewing this world from various stations upon the periphery. There are then, in theory, as many possible sciences as there are distinguishable points of view about the circle. Every science seeks to view the whole world of experience from its particular station; and every science deals, from that station again, with identically the same subject-matter, namely, with human experience. The separate sciences are, therefore, not at all like the countries on a map; they are rather like the successive chapters of a book which discusses a complex topic from various points of view. In this sense, they overlap; they are mutually complementary; no one of them in truth exhausts experience or completely describes the common subject-matter, though each one, if ideally complete, would exhaust some aspect of experience.
It is, then, from some such figure as that of the circle and the men around it that a classification of the sciences must start. We must add, however, both for the sake of clear thinking and to forestall criticism, that the figure does not "work"—it loses its regular outline and at the same time grows more complex—when we come down to details. Thus, to say that the world of experience is a circle is to say that all the sciences, at least in their ideal completion, are coextensive; and to say that the sciences are views of the world obtained from standpoints about the circle is to say that all the separate sciences are, as sciences, coequal; and both of these statements may fairly be challenged. Such matters of detail, difficulties as they are to those who attempt a classification of the sciences, need not however detain us; the fundamental idea of our figure is sound. The figure itself helps us even a little further; for the question how it comes about that men can take up their stations around the circle, and so view human experience as if from without, is evidently the problem of a theory of knowledge, of logic in the broader sense; and the question of the essential nature of the whole, of experience viewed and experiencers viewing, is as evidently the problem of a metaphysics. With the latter discipline, science has nothing to do; with the former, as we shall soon see, it has a great deal.
If, however, there are certain difficulties which we may, in the present connection, rightly pass over, there is a further question which can not thus be avoided. We are bound to characterize more closely the scientific attitude, or the scientific point of view. Human experience may be brought together in other than scientific ways; and while we still need not seek for formal definition or final classification, we must try at least to differentiate science from the appreciating disciplines and from what we have called technology. We must find distinguishing adjectives for the attitude itself, for the method which it implies, and for the problem which it discovers.
The history of science leaves no doubt of the answer to be given to this threefold question. The attitude of science, to begin with that, is before all things a disinterested attitude: witness the rise and growth of astronomy, of chemistry, of physiology. Until mankind has learned to take experience in serious earnest "for its own sake," to subordinate personal ends to the pursuit of truth, there is no science, but only something which at its worst is quackery and pseudo-science, at its best common sense and rule of thumb; and conversely, so soon as a man starts out to examine some aspect of experience as if it were for itself important and knowledge of it were intrinsically desirable, so soon does the germ of a science appear. For the race, the learning of this lesson was difficult enough; and so, in the large, the negative form of the adjective—dis-interested—may be justified; science sets aside the oldest and what we might consider the most natural interests of man. For the individual, on the other hand, a positive term would be more suitable. The curiosity or, as Helmholtz named it, the Wissensdrang which marks the scientific temperament renders the "disinterested" work of science the most interesting thing, as Helmholtz also said, that its possessor can find to do. The adjective must be kept, partly for its historical associations, and partly because the writer can not think of a positive word that should replace it; but it must be understood, when the worker in science, the scientifically-minded individual is in question, as meaning self-fulfilment rather than self-renunciation. Otherwise, science would never have had its martyrs.
The scientific attitude, then, is disinterested; the point of view of science is one that shall reveal the unvarnished fact; so much we are plainly taught by the history of science. We gather from the same source that the method of science is observation. All the "facts" of science are gained by a disinterested observation; sometimes, by an unaided observation; more often, since the conditions are complex, by the roundabout way—which is still observation—of experiment and measurement. We need not pause to illustrate, or to cite the authorities; the conclusion is generally accepted; and every piece of apparatus in our laboratories shows as an instrument for the control or the extension or the refinement of observation.
It is, perhaps, less apparent that all the problems of science may be summed up in the single problem of analysis; that the task which lies before the man of science, in his character as scientific, is always the analysis—under which is included, of course, that synthesis which is a test of analysis—of some complex object or complex situation. The reduction of a compound to its elements, the differentiation of factors, the establishment of correlations among the components of a given whole,—these are the things that the scientific investigator finds himself doing. True, we shrink a little from running all men of science into the same mold; we individualize them; we think of Newton as wielding "the ponderous instrument of synthesis," of Darwin as "working on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collecting facts on a wholesale scale." We are right in thus individualizing; for not only is the man of science something more than a scientific machine, but science itself is also (as we are to see in a moment) something more than what we have so far made it out to be. The witness of history is, nevertheless, straightforward enough; what Newton and Darwin, as scientific men, had before all things to do was to analyze, and to analyze again, and again to analyze. To be scientifically active is disinterestedly to apply the method of observation to the task of analysis.
Our three adjectives are thus given: disinterested, observational, analytical. Taken together, they characterize the scientific attitude with sufficient accuracy for the purposes of this essay. They do not, however, cover the full meaning of "science" as that word is ordinarily used and understood. When we speak of science, we mean, not an assemblage of observed facts, the direct results of analysis, but rather an organized and systematized body of knowledge, a closed and self-contained whole. That every science, every transcription of the world from a scientific point of view, should yield a system, as if there were of necessity some immanent principle of order which the facts illustrate and to which they conform, is of course an assumption, and an assumption that we might find curious were it not so familiar. Originating perhaps in physics, supported by the belief in the general uniformity of nature, and favored by the tendency to regard the sciences as departments of knowledge, and therefore as concerned with divisions of the cosmic mechanism, it has been accepted, more or less consciously, by biology and psychology. Whether the acceptance was wise, and whether economy of thought may not be paid for too dearly, are questions beside our immediate point. What we have to note is this: that to systematize the facts of science, by any principle immanent or external, is to bring logic to bear upon them, to arrange them in the light of those logical laws which the experience of the race has tested and found secure, and which therefore form the stock-in-trade of a beginning theory of knowledge. We proceed, says Bacon, "by observing or by meditating on facts"; "to the formation of a science," writes Whewell, "two things are requisite,—Facts and Ideas; observation of Things without, and an inward effort of Thought"; and Huxley demands for a science "scientific observation" and "scientific reasoning." Science, that is to say, in the meaning of a scientific system, is the outcome of scientific activity ordered by logic.
It is only, be it remarked, when we thus consider science as a system, that we can at all subscribe to Huxley's definition of science as "organized" or "perfected common sense." Scientific activity is almost the antipodes of common sense. For science is disinterested, and common sense is self-centered; science is observational, while "there is not one person in a hundred who can describe the commonest occurrence with even an approach to accuracy "; and science is analytical, while common sense, as Huxley shows by reference to "the natural object Water," is content with gross appearance and total function. Common sense is the average man's intellectual modus vivendi; and the one practicable bridge that connects it with science is the bridge of logic; the average man is, in his own way, a very Aristotle. Were that bridge to fall, the definition would be impossible; we should have merely the occasional instances in which the points of view of science and of common sense coincide,—limiting cases, too few to provide even stepping-stones from the one to the other.
Science, therefore, may mean two things, scientific activity and the scientific system; and this twofold meaning is a fertile source of confusion. There is always the danger, for instance, that logic, which is a good servant, become the master,—as it does when Pearson tells us that the goal of science is "nothing short of a complete interpretation of the universe." Science, as scientific activity, aims at no goal; even the phrase "pursuit of truth," useful and inevitable as it may be, may also be misleading; science is, in strictness, only self-directed upon an endless task. So the result of scientific activity is not an interpretation, in any pregnant sense of that term, but only a transcription of the world of human experience as it appears from a certain point of view. Science, in Pearson's formula, thus stands for the system of science; and the system in turn is made to stand, not only for the outcome of scientific activity as worked over by an accepted theory of knowledge, but also for a special theory of knowledge under which the outcome of scientific activity has, to Pearson's satisfaction, been subsumed; logic has become the master. The same logic is, none the less, an indispensable servant. We may set aside the whole business of making systems: yet we shall never plan an investigation, or carry out a research, or. present our results to our fellow workers, without calling in the aid of logic. Scientific activity and logical activity are always and everywhere intermingled; a book like Jevons' "Principles of Science" is, in the nature of the case, very largely a logic; it is logic that adds the subjunctive and imperative moods to Poincaré's scientific indicative. And if, for all these reasons, the clean distinction of the two activities is intrinsically difficult, it becomes the more so in the concrete case, seeing that the specialist in science is likely to employ a special logic, the logic of his special point of view and of the "facts" which that point of view discloses, so that he seems presently to work by "intuition" and the activities appear to have been blended rather than intermixed.
Still, the activities are in themselves different; and in the main, in the broad, our thinking must recognize their difference. We are, again, not to split hairs, or to attempt any hard and fast distinction. But let the reader take up a text-book—that very practical thing—in some one of the newer sciences; let him go through it, pencil in hand; and let him mark, as he reads, the passages that are derived from scientific activity on the writer's part and the passages that are logical. Sometimes, of course, he will be in doubt; and the doubtful passages, since we are making but a rough and ready test, may be left unmarked. They will occur most often in the early chapters of the book,—partly because the introductory chapters are likely to be of a general character, partly because the reader is not yet skilled to distinguish the one sort of writing from the other. As more and more pages are turned, the marking becomes easier, more prompt and more certain; the reader feels that he has the key to the cryptogram; and the result is instructive enough to warrant the few hours that have been given to the task.
We may sum up these paragraphs in the statement that science is defined by its point of view. The scientific man looks out upon experience from a certain standpoint; sees and can see his world only under one aspect; and by this attitude, which he has taken up toward experience, is limited to a particular type of method and to a particular type of problem. To invite him from his "academic reserve," or to demand that he interest himself in "practical ends," is simply to bid him cease from scientific activity. The scientific man, again, is logical, just as the historian or the jurist is logical; but logic is not science; and within science the facts of observation take precedence, and logical methods are secondary. To say that science leads to, or suggests, some general 'interpretation' of things, is to say what may or may not be true; but the saying, in either case, transcends science itself and changes the man of science into the philosopher. It must, indeed, be acknowledged that science, despite the immensity of its scope and the multitudinous variety of its subject-matter, confines its followers within relatively narrow limits; the shadow of the three adjectives is always upon them; and it is just because science is thus narrower than life that the man of science, unless he be of a certain temperament, is tempted to transgress the limits, and to betake himself in the long run to philosophy—or to spiritism.
Over against science, now, stands what we have called technology. In a certain restricted meaning, this term—which we have so far employed without comment—is familiar enough; the greatly extended meaning which it is here to receive must be justified by the sequel. The word is used henceforth to cover, in the broadest way, the activities that are ordinarily and misleadingly referred to as "applied science"; such things, that is to say, as engineering and medicine, in all their branches; such things as scientific agriculture, and domestic science, and school hygiene, and industrial chemistry, and eugenics. All these disciplines have a common character, by which they are set off from science; for, if science is defined by its point of view, technology (in the new and wider sense) is defined by its end or goal. Technology thus has its own narrowness; it is held down to the pursuit of some particular practical end; but this narrowness is different from the limitation of science. The technologist may change his point of view as often as he likes; he will use any method that promises to be serviceable; he will attack any problem that rises in his path. The result is that a "system" of technology is likely to appear to the man of science a mixed medley of more or less unrelated knowledge, and that a pure science is likely to appear to the technologist an example of fine-spun and quite needless consistency. A text-book of engineering will range from sections on pure mathematics and pure mechanics to practical directions for the setting-up of instruments and the reading of indicator cards; and a system of medicine, in the same way, will skip from theory to practise and from practise back again to theory within the boundaries of a single paragraph. The authors are entirely in the right; their readers are physicians and engineers, and not physiologists and physicists; their subject-matter is held together and unified by a practical aim, and not by an initial point of view; it is unfair to judge them by the standards of science. A textbook of physics or of physiology, on the other hand, is—as we have seen—a transcription of the world of experience from a particular standpoint, which is deliberately adopted at the outset and deliberately maintained to the end; no item of experience that is not visible from this standpoint can properly get into it; and it is unfair to judge it by the needs and aims of a technology. All human activities have their limitations: and if the technologist is less clearly conscious of the restriction laid upon him by his practical end, and the man of science feels more keenly the narrowing of his universe by the scientific point of view,—the rule is certainly not without exceptions; but we may grant the tendency,—that is due partly to the greater outward diversity of the technological career, and partly to the more rigorous training in logic that scientific investigation affords and demands. The technologist never, to be sure, handles experience in its totality, but he deals with individual cases, and so comes nearer to the concrete than his scientific colleague; and he may, moreover, change from the practical to the scientific or the appreciative attitude without any great fear of leaving his last; his interests are thus diversified. The man of science, constantly applying the principles of logic, and constantly on his guard against the encroachment of logical theory upon the facts of observation, is forced to be self-critical, and so comes nearer to a true perspective.
Different, however, as science and technology may be, they are also closely related. Technology draws on many other than scientific sources; it draws upon common sense, upon existing technologies, upon pre-scientific practise; but it draws continually upon science. Science, in its turn, is furthered by technology. The pursuit of a practical end often reveals some defect of theoretical knowledge; and the repairing of this defect, itself a contribution to science, may perform more than it promised, may in fact open up some wholly new field of scientific enquiry. That is the nature of the relation; and at first sight the advantage seems to lie with technology; for if the technologist needs the aid of science, he also appears capable of supplying for himself the science that he needs; he has only, for a little while, to shift his attitude, and the science is forthcoming. Where, then, would be the loss if pure science, with its "unreal" and "abstract" concerns, went by the board, and we all became practical together?
In answer to this question there are two things to be said. We must remember, in the first place, that every technology is limited by its end. When a technological need suggests a problem in pure science, the suggestion bears directly upon the need out of which it arises, and upon that need only; when the need is satisfied, there is no further sanction, within the technology, for purely scientific work. If, in other words, the progress of science were made dependent upon the progress of technology, and theory were never invoked save for the sake of practise,—if such a state of things were conceivable,—then our scientific knowledge would perforce remain scrappy and partial, so scrappy and so partial that a halt would ultimately be called to the advance of technology itself. An all-embracing technology, starting out with things as they are today, would no doubt be able to maintain itself for a relatively long time; theory is, in general, so far ahead of practise that, though science now stopped short, technological advance would long be possible. It is this fact, of course, which gives a plausible coloring to the demand that science leave its heights and come down among "every-day people," and that the man of science, instead of adding to his store of observed facts, use his scientific capital for "practical" and "vital" purposes. Sooner or later, however, the capital would be exhausted; sooner or later, progress would slow down to stagnation; the needs of technology, occasional needs of a circumscribed activity, would not suffice in the long run for the advancement of science. And then there is the other side of the shield! Technology, we said, draws from many sources, but is continually drawing upon science; each separate technology, we may here add, upon many sciences. Now if any induction from the history of human achievement is secure, it is surely this: that there is nothing in science so abstract, or so remote from matter of fact, or so indifferent to common sense, that it may not, some day or other, prove of service to a technology; and since this is the case, it is really to the interest even of the most practical man that scientific activity should be conserved and encouraged.
A second consideration brings us by a different road to the same conclusion. The close relationship that we have shown to hold between science and technology is the relationship that holds in a scientific age,—at a time when science has won to recognition, is cultivated internationally, is widely popularized. In such an age, it is natural, as it is also the best policy, for technology to draw upon science. Technological activity, however, is a very complicated affair; and it may be doubted whether technology, if left wholly to itself, would turn instinctively even to the best scientific systems available; still more that it would supply for itself, by arduous and unaccustomed work, the knowledge that those systems fail to-furnish. The tendency would rather be (and this is no dispraise to the technologist, who may never lose sight of his practical end) to fall back upon past science, upon science that was already more or less familiar, or to extend technological activity by purely technological means. Indeed, this tendency may be observed at the present day. The leader of a reform-movement in psychiatry, which has found critics and adherents over the whole civilized world, expressly bases his teaching upon psychology; but the psychology which he has in part adopted, in part worked out anew,—and which he appears to find entirely adequate to his technological needs,—is in essentials the psychology of a past generation. The writer takes this illustration from the field which is most familiar to him; the reader will be able to supply others from his own experience. The moral of such things is surely plain: that the technologist, for the very sake of his technology, needs the stimulus, the criticism and the assistance, of the man of science. Practical work tends, always and everywhere, to become routine work; routine tends toward conservatism, toward the defence of the old and the avoidance of the new; and conservatism ensures social stability. But if our ideal of society is a progressive equilibration, rather than the mere inertia of routine, then the conservatism of practical work must be tempered by the radicalism of science.
It is difficult, in writing upon a disputed question, not to give the impression that one is trying to disparage one's opponents. Yet the writer has no desire, despite the many hard things that technologists have said of the science with which he is most nearly concerned, to attempt any sort of disparagement of technology. Science and technology are, first of all, different. Science is defined by its point of view; the man of science takes his stand at the handle of the fan, and looks out along the sticks to an undefined periphery. Technology is defined by its practical end; the technologist, moving over the periphery, chooses and shapes the sticks which are to meet at the pivot that he has always held in view. The advice to "let the facts lead us where they will, over the hills and dales of physiology, into the deep borings of anatomy, or upward into the ethereal reaches of psychology" is admirable advice to offer the technologist; but its phrasing shows that it would be fatal if accepted by the man of science. For suppose that the man of science should accept it! Then the technologist, asking physiology for a detail of the landscape, might receive a sample of ore; or asking anatomy for the dip of the strata, might receive a cloud-photograph: things well enough in their own place but, out of place, turning his ignorance into sheer confusion. It is only in so far as he can rely upon the physiologist to keep his physiological point of view, and the psychologist his psychological, that the technologist is able to move freely from the one science to the other in pursuit of his practical end.
It follows from this primary difference that no technology is properly characterized as the application of a special science. Every technology is itself a special discipline, indebted (to be sure) to many sciences and to many other sources than science, but adding matter and method of its own, and rounding up all that it handles into a single whole. It is therefore no more in order to speak to-day, say, of an "applied psychology," than it would be to call engineering by its older name of "applied mechanics"; and the sooner we recognize that, in this particular sense, technology is independent of science, that the technologist lives and moves in a world of his own, has his own problems and methods, is charged with a special message to his generation, the sooner shall we exchange our present bickering for the harmony that we desire.
- Flint's essay on classification in "Philosophy as Scientia scientiarum" is of very uneven merit, but contains much valid criticism and is useful as a general survey of the field. Flint remarks that "the fundamental sciences are not classed according to individual objects. Every object is complex and can only be fully explained by the concurrent application of various sciences."
- Consider, for example, what is probably one of the last attempts to treat the whole of mechanical engineering in a single volume, Lineham's "Text-book" (1902); read and abstract Ch. IX., On Energy and the Transmission of Power to Machines: or consult any chapter of such a work as Thompson's "Practical Medicine." Reading of this sort is instructive, not only to the man of science, but also to the technologist whose interests lie in other fields than those covered by the book under examination. When the engineer or the physician has been shown that the eugenist derives his materials from pathology and medicine, from
- A good illustration of what is here meant is furnished by the current use of the word "dynamic," to which attention has been called in the introduction. Occasionally, "dynamic" as opposed to "static" seems to mean simply temporal as opposed to spatial, or to imply a longitudinal section of experience as opposed to a cross-section. Ordinarily, however, as the term is used in psychiatry and "applied psychology," it seems to go back to an exploded theory of causation, or even behind causation to animism; it seems to imply a driving power, or motive force, or an interplay of effective powers and forces, such as is wholly unfamiliar to modern science. It has become, so far as the writer can make out, a sort of watchword, expressive of emotion rather than of thought; at any rate, he knows of no attempt to define it. Again, one of our leading psychiatrists warns the "professional psychologist. . . [to] come to the hospital clinic. He must imitate the geologist and leave his academic shades and seek his material for study where it is to be found. It is in pathologic conditions of the mind that he will find his true field of research." All honor to the clinic!—but has then the crust of our earth gone moldy, and are all geological formations diseased?
- "The fact is"—so Clifford puts the matter—"that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness."
physical and social anthropology and ethnology, from statistics, from general biology, zoology, botany, thremmatology, from psychology and psychophysics, from ethics, economics, sociology,—then he is the more apt to realize from howmany and how various sources his own discipline is sprung.