The Core Features of Psychological Theories Continued

As discussed in my previous article: “the core features of a psychological theory,” I showed how all psychology-based explanations can fall under two theoretical perspectives: namely, behaviourism and cognitivism. The primary differences between these two schools of thought are discussed in greater detail in the original article, and so I will not reiterate them here. The aim of this article is to explain how it can be that all psychological theories can fall under two paradigms.

The explanation begins with a close analysis of ontologically universal categories predicated on re-occurring perceptual patterns. To elaborate, the perceptual features associated with the notion of a circle can be found on many different levels of complexity and can be found in various representations; for example, when I open a box of cheerios, I can find the perceptual features which I associate with the notion circle; when I look at a car wheel, I can find the perceptual features which I associate with the notion circle; and when I look at a cell, I can find the perceptual features which I associate with the notion circle. This re-occurring perceptual pattern, which occurs on various levels of complexity, leads us to the recognition that each object is a circle. And to add emphasis to the nuance of the point made in the previous sentence, consider the following: the recognition of a circle requires that neural cells activate upon the recognition of some essential features that we declare as representative of the category named circle. In other words, a limited range of neural cells become active upon the recognition of a specific object, regardless of the ontology. It is when we then organize all the representations of that object, regardless of ontology, into a few essential features that it then becomes a category. So, our sensory mechanisms detect object features, and then we abstract those object features into a category: I.e. circles. It is not the case, however, that we abstract all re-occurring perceptual patterns. Moreover, this entails that the notion of a circle is not contained in the environment but rather in the brain; the patterns of the object are in the environment and the category for the set of objects, being distinct from the environmental object, is in the brain. Each object is distinct, as according to the law of identity, and so we cannot say that each object is a circle in an empirical sense, only in a rationalist declarative sense. Consider that each person has a name, and sometimes those names overlap: I.e. more than one James, yet we do not say that James and James are the same thing. The same notion applies to the objects we have placed into the category of circle. No object is the same physically, though we treat them the same categorically. So, the notion of circle is a category that is applicable to many representational ontologies. Be it, under a microscope or in a cheerio box, the category that fits the re-occurring pattern can be activated.

Now, once we realize that something belongs to a category, we can begin to associate predications and entailments that come with that category to the object which we are discussing. For instance, the knowledge that complex systems, which is a category, have feedback mechanisms can lead us to infer that other things which have all the essential perceptual features necessary for predication into the complex systems category may also have feedback mechanisms. Even furthermore, consider that the notion of a circle entails nothing about material, and so predication into the circle category tells us nothing about material, though it does tell us something about structure, evidently. This, in turn, leads us to ontologically relative epistemologies based on predications and entailments.

Since certain categories are ontologically relative, it follows that the entailed knowledge for those categories is ontologically relative as well. That is, upon the activation of the category for circles, the neural cells that are linked to the neural basis of the circle category will activate as well. And so, knowledge linked to the relative perceptual pattern that activates the category of circle will also activate the knowledge linked to that category. But, when there is no perceptual compatibility for the extra knowledge, that is the knowledge which gets activated in relation to the activation of the circle category, we must be cautious. For instance, the activation of the category for line-segments may loosely be associated with squares, yet there are instances where line-segment categories may become active independently of the perceptual patterns necessary for the empirical basis of a square. From this understanding, we can see that ontologically relative categories have a context-independent epistemology; that is, they do not depend on context for knowledge.

The knowledge we associate with the functions of complex systems, cultures, and societies, though varies in quality, does not vary in abstracted properties associated with its categories. That societies consist of genetically related groups, that cultures are networks of beliefs and attitudes, and that complex systems compute information between constituent pieces are all context-independent forms of knowledge associated with the categories above mentioned. Of course, this knowledge does not always line up with empirical reality, though it lines up enough; that is, this knowledge is formulated by reoccurring activations of the neural cells which strengthen in their connectivity to one another each time the empirically corresponding basis of the knowledge is present: either by top-down misconception or genuine conception of the environment, and so the knowledge must have some degree of accuracy because there would be a lack of connections otherwise. We would not associate culture with beliefs or attitudes if it were simply not empirically the case at any point in time.  To do precisely that would be no different than a person who associates prolonged periods of television consumption, 8 or so hours, with a healthy lifestyle: these simply have nothing to do with each other, empirically speaking. But, as already said, people may misconceive and associate healthy lifestyles with prolonged television consumption; in this instance, there would be a developed connectivity between networks of neurons, but the knowledge would still be predicated on empirical perception.

As we can see, an ontologically relative epistemology concerns its self with categorization and association, it is drastically less concerned with context. This is not to say, however, that all knowledge is context-independent; certainly, there are forms of knowledge which require context. But, nevertheless, when it regards ontologically relative knowledge, such as the notion of a circle, there need be no contextual information for the recognition of categories. Recall the infamous example of the cheerio: whether the cheerio is swimming inside a bowl of milk or sitting inside the box matters not, for we can recognize the features of a circle in both conditions. With that said, I must also add that the notion of a context can be ontologically relative as well.  For instance, the recognition of a forest requires one to perceive more than one object and recognize that each object is embedded into the notion of a forest. This also requires an understanding of context as being relative to respective levels of complexity; put more precisely, the context of a single tree is its surrounding trees, the context of a single forest is its surrounding forest; inversely, the context of a single leaf is its surrounding leaves. The notion of a context is always relative to the position of its user or the object under consideration; from that specific position or object, the notion of context loses its relativity and becomes incredibly specific. Thus, an ontologically relative epistemology allows us to correlate on many levels of complexity, and develop mental models of various ontologies; all without ever before perceiving these ontologies: a true general intelligence in conjunction with informal epistemology.

Before we move on, let me clarify the notion of boundary. The recognition of the boundaries depends on either sensory perception or cognitive labeling; consider the following images:

With the image on the left, a clear ontological representation of boundaries is evident, and so we can infer that those objects are distinct from the environment. With the image on the right, even though the ontological representation is different, there are still distinct boundaries that allow us to demarcate the objects from the background; and therefore, perceptual mechanisms lead to the representation of boundaries. In addition to that, we can also rearrange the top-down organization of our labels to achieve the inverse relationship: cognitive labeling. For instance, suppose that the orange and brown represent 2D renditions of objects, and that they are printed onto the side of an object much bigger than the perceptual field its self; meaning, the blue and green backgrounds are not really backgrounds but rather a fragment of surface for an object that goes beyond the perceptual field. This would be another possible, though not likely, interpretation.

Now, to answer the primary concern of this essay: how can it be that two paradigms can encapsulate all psychological theories. Indeed, this is quite a peculiarity; we assume that the diversity in human thought would not bring about such a homogeneity in theoretical explanation, though it certainly does. We will start with the macro-explanation of the organism’s behaviour.From the level of organism behaviour within an environment, we can place our notion of causation in only two places: namely, internal, or external. This gives the following possible outcomes.

Internal 0 0 1 1
External 0 1 0 1


In the first column, there is no placement of causation, and so there is no theory. In the second column, the placement of causation is completely environmental, and so the theory is that some aspect of the environment has caused the behaviour in the organism. In the third column, causation of behaviour is relegated to the mechanisms inside the organism, and so the theory is radically biased towards innate theorizing or pre-determined information processing. In the fourth column, causation is bi-directional, which is to say that the theory will have both nature and nurture aspects to it.Furthermore, from the level of societal behaviour, we can suggest the same thing: namely, external and internal causation. One can propose that a given society collapsed because its’ political ideology lead to ill-advised economic strategies, and so processed economic information in an incoherent fashion. Comparatively, one can also propose that a given society thrived because it responded to the immediate environment; that is, it became a worldwide powerhouse in the natural resource market because the lands of the society were abundant with natural resources: the environmental stimulus causing behaviour.These options are the only possible options because of the features associated with the cognitive category for “system”. For every system, we recognize an inside and outside to that system; which is to say that there are clear boundaries to the system. This type of reasoning stems from ontologically relative judgments about causation and objects which have an internal component that is distinct from the external world, which would be indicated by the boundaries of the object, as well as an internal component which responds to other internal components. These features are linked to the category of “complex system,” and so are applicable to nearly all complex systems.So, the reason for there being only two paradigms within psychology relates to the ways in which the human mind organizes reality. We treat all complex systems as internally or externally motivated, and we develop ontologically specific variables that fall on either side of the system. Let us consider two such specific variables, one of which will fall on the internal and the other on the external side of the system. Suppose a man has experienced a psychotic break from reality due to stress, and it is now up to a psychologist to explain the causation of this event; how will the psychologist approach? On the one hand, the psychologist can take notice of the heavy social burdens that this man faces: namely, the financial and emotional support for his loved ones, the extra stressors coming from an unsatisfied boss, and perhaps a serious medical problem which is of recent development. This, a handful of external variables, is what a psychologist would, though not necessarily all psychologists, argue as being causal in the man’s psychotic episode. Of course, these external variables, indeed, interact with internal variables, though those internal variables may return back to base-function upon the alleviation of the external stressors, and so are not necessarily causal. Now, on the other hand, the psychologist may think nothing of the environmental factors and recommend further medical examination. After further examination, doctors notice abnormal functioning in the pituitary and prescribe appropriate medications to aid the situation. In both instances, we see a shift in causation; that is, one can say the external is causing the internal to perform poorly, or one can say the internal is bringing about poor external function. This multi-directional causal reasoning across boundaries is the sole reason why there are two and only two paradigms in Psychology[1].[1] And not only does this dichotomy show up in psychology, but it also occurs in any other area of study that demarcates objects from the environment. Certainly, if one views reality as one continuous thing, then this dichotomizing will not appear, but neither will knowledge about specific variables. It is when we give something boundaries that it then becomes subjected to inside versus outside causation. This, might I add, is far from being a negative thing, for it seems to be a key component to the foundations of all human knowledge

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A lover of ideas, literature, and black coffee; the religious trifecta necessary for good writing. With an education in psychology, economics, and mathematics, Jordan writes weekly articles about science, philosophy, politics, and society. He offers an interdisciplinary perspective on any topic he discusses in his articles, as he has years of academic research experience in multiple fields. His articles are informative, well researched, and highly original. He is a coherent writer and controversial thinker worth following.

2 thoughts on “The Core Features of Psychological Theories Continued

  1. Knowledge is a cluster of statements. Essence of accumulated knowledge is called as intuition, which instigate, HOW? Word as is an image and its produced image is mounted upon primary image. Two lifeless images are interacting because of sound.

    Liked by 1 person

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