by Wolfgang Metzger (1972)

(2nd part - for the 1st part click here)

[W. Metzger Bibliography of Publications in English, French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish]


Special lecture at the 36th Congress of the Japanese Psychological Association. Osaka University 1972, 1-20.
A German version, titled "Gibt es noch Psychologische Schulen?", was first published in 1973 in Westermanns pädagogische Beiträge (1973/6, 314-325), re-published in 1986 in Wolfgang Metzger, Gestalt-Psychologie (Frankfurt: Kramer, 109-123).

5. On the Principles of Elementarism and Connectionism

Under the assumption that the principle of objectivity is rejected, it becomes necessary to discuss the above two principles with a view to the three following problems:

1) The problem of autonomous motions (motorics)

2) The problem of the surrounding world (situations)

3) The problem of the relation between the situation and motorics, which is the basis of behaviour.

The alternative to the statement that all larger complexes in the psychological sphere result from the connection of elementary facts is not the statement that, in the psychic life, "everything is interconnected" at the beginning and that, only in time, by means of maturation and learning processes, this universal interconnection is gradually split up and resolved (William JAMES, Hans CORNELIUS, Felix KRUEGER, Heinz WERNER).

The alternative is rather an assumption that the development and learning proesses :

a) split up and resolve existing larger complexes,

b) combine existing small complexes, which, in extreme cases, may have the character of elements, into larger complexes, and

c) that existing structures may change into others by simultaneous resolving and reombining.

In such a psychology, too, the question arises as to whether one of these processes is primary and, if this is the case, which one. Here only the following is certain:

1) in the sphere of motorics, the primary process of development is the process a), the splitting or differentiation of the originally total motion patterns which employ all available muscles, (COGHILL).

2) similarity, in establishing the structure of the surrounding world, the primary one is not the problem of combining "units" but rather that of establishing boundaries, that means, again, the problem of differentiation.

3) on the other hand - at least in the case of man - the secondary connection between situations and activities in the sense of behaviourism seems to be the more frequent or perhaps the main means of change even when, as the possibility of extinction of existing connections proves, not the only one.

6. On the Principle of Contiguity or Contact

Contact or time-space vicinity is an important but neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for the formation of connections.

It is not sufficient. The perception field is a continuum without gaps. Thus, the problem arising here may be verbalized in the following way: how is it possible that two processes A, B, taking place in an immediate contact with each other, form a unity whereas two processes B, C, taking place in an immediate contact with each other as well differentiate from each other. Apparently, other principles must be involved.

The same as has been said about the primary field differentiation may be repeated in the case of association experiments. Under completely identical time-space conditions, very different numbers of repetitions are needed in order to establish a connecion independent of the materials which are to be connected. In addition, the durability of such connections is very different. Even in this case it is not possible to speak of an exclusive effectiveness of the space-time factor.

On the other hand, the space-time vicinity is not necessary. In problem solving processes, the facts which are "required" in order to fill in a specific gap are often brought from a considerable distance. This does not always happen through an active search but frequently results immediately from the dynamics of the process.

7. On the Principle of Contingency or of Arbitrariness

What is missing in the principle of time-space vicinity for the explanation of the primary field differentiation is provided for by the principle of non-arbitrariness of the connections. The connections and differentiations occur unequivocally according to optimum and/or minimum conditions. (METZGER, 1966).

On the other hand, the animal and human nervous systems, beyend the primary field differentiation, have a very remarkable capacity to form and preserve completely arbitrary (accidental or deliberately chosen) connections, for instance, that of a person and a name or of a name and a telephone number, apparently on the grounds of a mere "togetherness".

Ceteris paribus, however, between the meaningless and meaningful connections, there exists a remarkable difference in the ease of their establishment, and in the stability of their preservation. Here, the expression "meaningful" has two denotations:

a) one of the facts may be an image of the other one (e.g., series of numbers and series of digits on a dial) or it has similar or corresponding "general properties".

b) one of the facts is "missing" in the other one - it is "required" by the other one. By its introduction, a "complete" whole of a uniform lawful structure is formed (WERTHEIMER, 1945).

The furthering effects of consistency holds according to everyday experience for the S-R-relation as well. This, naturally, is to be assessed by further systematic research.

As it appears in a more precise analysis, the multiplicity of the behavioural patterns produced during the first phase of the trial and error process is in no way, as mainained, arbitrary with regard to the sought goal. Rather, from the infinite multitude of possible behavioural patterns, a choice is made in the sense of an - at least seeming - goal relevance, i.e., in the sense of preferring those actions which promise, because of their character, the possibility of attaining the goal.

All in all, a psychology in which the principles of contiguity and contingence would be banished to a more modest place which is proper for them is possible as well as required by the facts.

8. On the Question of the Machine Character of the Relations between Situations and Reactions

As shown above, behaviourism has three different models of this relation - two strictly mechanistic, and one with dynamic properties. The mechanistic models are:

a) The conduction and switching model (telephone network type)

b) The release mechanism model (trigger type)

The quasi-dynamic one is the homeostatic model.

According to the first two models, the organism is an aggregate of mechanisms, according to the third one, an aggregate of (normally) idle subsystems with feedback connections, remaining in a state of rest unless their equilibrium is disturbed. The aggregate structure is characteristic of all three models. Further, all three models maintain that a psycho-physical organism, if not stimulated, is in a quiet state which is changed by stimulation into activity only for a limited time. In the first and second case, this reflects the fact that the psychic subsystems are considered mechanisms ready for eventual use, in the third case, that the equilibrium state of the subsystems is understood as a static equilibrium.

However, there is a fourth possibility, the most probable one (taking into account the fact that the psycho-physical processes take place in a living organism). It has two complementary assumptions:

a) Not only within the subsystems of the psycho-physical system there exists a dynamic relation between their elements. Such a relation also exists between the different subsystems themselves and between the total psycho-physical system and the rest of the organism as well. Thus, there exists a highly complicated system of highly sensitive equilibriums with a hierarchy of smaller and larger areas.

b) As to these equilibria, they are not static. Rather, in each point of the system, there constantly exists a characteristic static disequilibrium which preserves certain active processes. In physics these processes are called stationary or quasi-stationary processes. Ludwig von BERTALANFFY introduced the simple expression "steady states".

That means, however, that the organismic subsystems are constantly active. Thus, the "stimulus" S does not cause the activity of the organism; as a change in the conditions surrounding the organismic system, it only modifies an already existing activity. This was already supposed by E. HERING (in his Chromology). Wolfgang KÖHLER, proceeding from an idea of Max WERTHEIMER (1922), proved in the year 1920-22 that this supposition is in accordance with the current ideas of physics and used it in his theory of perception. Ludwig von BERTALANFFY, proceeding from biological facts and ideas, showed the basic significance of the steady state. E. von HOLST, in his theory of position reflexes, strictly proved the fact of continuous activity of the nervous system modified only by external conditions.

Static equilibriums and steady states have one characteristic in common. Both tend towards structurally defined, time-independent, final state, determined solely by the parameters of the system, and thus independent of the initial conditions. These final states are established or re-established (in case of disturbances) in different ways according to the initial conditions. Thus, the entire process achieves a character of finality withut defying natural laws.

Moreover, systems preserving a steady state have some properties which are missing in the systems tending towards a static equilibrium only. The processes which enable a system in a steady state to stay in it take materials from the surroundings of the system, and, with them, "negative enthropy". There is another fact which is connected with this which was shown by W. KÖHLER and Ludwig von BERTALANFFY in independent works. They have a capability of transition into states of higher complexity and regularity, into states of higher order, and, that means of lower enthropy. Thus, they behave seemingly in defiance of the second law of thermodynamics.

This holds true not only for the development of more and more highly organized beings in the course of phylogenesis and for the development of a mature organism from the fertilized ovum (morphogenesis), but also for the productive psychic processes. Apparently, they do not take their energy from the external surroundings, like the whole organism, but rather from the psychic surrounding field, from the psychic neighboring systems, so that, in the limit case of a (sound) obsession by a (scientific, artistic, technological, organizational) problem, these neighboring systems may become deprived of energy and the respective man, as it were, "consumes himself" (W. KÖHLER). In other words, during these processes, the dynamics of the gratification of elementary needs may become more or less and, at least for a certain time, the less significant one.

This dynamic approach to the relation between the situation and reaction allows clarification not only of the facts which were already explained in another way by behaviourism, but also of two basic psychological facts which were not explained by behaviourism: finality and productivity.

The fact that this not so simple idea was founded on the basis of both objective (von BERTALANFFY, von HOLST) and subjective data (KÖHLER, WERTHEIMER) indicates that the denial of scientific usefulness of subjective data (the first principle of behaviourism) was aparently based on insufficient facts. By the way, both "subjective data" (Sign-gestalt) and finality is admitted in the "purposive behaviourism" (TOLMAN, 1932).

9. On the Theory of Learning by Success

According to the behaviouristic theory of learning, it may be ascertained only on the basis of a success arrived at already whether some behaviour approaches the goal or not (if there are no previously acquired mechanisms or behaviour patterns).

But, there are certain problem situations, natural or deliberately introduced, which are so accidental or so unclear that there is no other possibility in coping with them but for the classical active conditioning. However, here the question arises as to whether the conditioning may serve as a model for all possible problem solving processes. If this should be correct, then the basic principle would be as follows: There is no primary finality in the behaviour of living beings. This thesis cannot bs valid, as was demonstrated in the preceding paragraph. Wolfgang KÖHLER in his intelligence tests of anthropoids was successful in 1917 in proving the primarily goal-centered behaviour in new situations without any ready behavioural patterns available. As to the primary finality of the productive mental processes of man, see, first of all, Max WERTHEIMER, 1945.

The constantly reappearing assertion that the insightful solving of problems occurs "in reality" through trial and error, and that it is only transferred from exterior to interior (to imagination, or, in the behaviouristic nomenclature, on the "hidden level") has never been proven as yet and, preserving the principle of objectivity, cannot be proven at all.

Replacing overt trials by the assumption of "internal" attempts, "preceding" the external behaviour, misses the essential. First, if a person decides to go to the right around a big round table to reach his goal and not to the left, he does not need to try both possibilities in his imagination in order to find out that it takes a couple of steps less if he goes to the right. Rather, he can observe in his surrounding world that the way to the right is shorter. Second, even intelligent problem solving is often not possible without (external) attempts. However (and this is the decisive point), whereas according to learning theory, one of the attempted activities must have already succeeded in order to be recognized, accepted and memorized as useful, in reality, for an intelligent, primarily goal-centered activity it is characteristic that it displays choice of attempts limited apriori by a view to the goal itself. But, moreover, in a typical case of an external attempt, as it can possibly occur even in the course of intelligent problem solving, long before success or failure are arrived at, it is possible to recognize whether or not it serves the desired use. Blind trials of any activities in the sense of the behaviouristic theory of learning are thus possible and sometimes unavoidable. But in no way are blind trials the only or even only preferred way of problem solving.

10. On the Principle of Additivity in the Development of Personality

W. KÖHLER and L. von BERTALANFFY proved half a century ago that, besides the vegetables bed model of personality as presented by the behaviouristic theory of learning, another model is possible, i.e., the model of a very complex open system with a hierarchy of interrelated subsystems, in full accordance with known natural laws. In the light of our present knowledge of the processes in living organisms, this model is even more probable. It is an important characteristic of such a system that it shows reactions which cannot be understood on the basis of a local disturbance (failure of a certain apparatus) but rather on the basis of a disturbance of the general system equilibrium, and which are therefore to be handled accordingly. The psychoanalytic concept of neuroses, with all that it has in common with S-R-psychology, is, in this respect, clearly in accord with the system theory from the very beginning.

In the framework of the new theories and models, it was possible to establish aproaches to the process of education which surpass the dubious reward-punishment model. To this, we shall return later.

11. On the Principle of Reductionism

It is a common observation that a living being sometimes stresses its psychic capailities just to get some food under unfavourable conditions, i.e., just to gratify an elementary (organismic) tension. However, the assertion that all psychic activity serves only to gratify elementary tensions and, in the psychoanalytic version, to subjectively gratify the achievement of local pleasant feelings, contradicts the facts observed not only in the case of great thinkers, scientists, inventors and organizers, but even in the case of an animal exploring new surroundings or a playing child. The tension of an unsolved problem and the restless activity which it induces in a scientist or in an artist, as well as in an interested student and in a rat transferred to unknown surroundings, on the grounds of immediate observations is to be considered as just as elementary as the tension of hunger or of the sex drive. Moreover, this may be conceived theoretically as well on the basis of the facts given in paragraph.

The question as to whether the tension resulting in a mental effort is an autochtho- nous one or whether it is induced by elementary needs, or whether both occur simulaneously, is thus not a question of the principle but rather a factual one and it can be answered only for this or that actual case. In paragraph 8, it was shown that the energy for elementary needs may be consumed by mental interests. What happens here sometimes is in a way similar to the FREUDian "sublimation". However, the dynamic relation differs. Whereas in FREUD's concept the block of normal gratification of the accumulated drive energy results in a mental activity, in the model of the open system the opposite appears. An intensive mental activity absorbes the energy available in the neighboring systems like fire absorbes the air with which it grows and preserves itself.

12. On the Principle of Primary Social Atomism

Primary social atomism is, as has been shown already, a subspecies of reductionism. Behaviourism and pychoanalysis agree here again. In the latter, it is expressed even more clearly in the description of the "Erogenous zones" which are supposed to be the main gratification areas in early infancy, in labeling the other man as an "object" of the drive, i.e., as the tool of the primary body-centered gratification, and in that it considers the organism as the main source of gratification so that other people are not indispensable even as tools.

Again, the question arises: is there an alternative ? This question can be divided in the following six sub-questions:

1) Are there some primary and, at the same time, vital social needs?

2) Have other people and beings who form groups together with the Ego really the psychological character of tools serving the Ego, or are they possibly, for a normal human being, of the same psychological relevance and of the same significance as the Ego, and, under some conditions, possibly even of greater importance ?

3) Are the social structures in the framework of which the individual exists and lives realities of the same relevance as his own Ego ?

4) Is the way in which the individual participates in his group relevant to his manner of general behaviour, first of all for his capability of normal behaviour?

5) Does there possibly exist a basic relation between the social needs or tendencies of the individual group members and those of the group as a whole?

6) Do these structures have system properties ? For instance, have they autochthonous tendencies towards transition into extreme or optimum states and towards stabilizaion in these states?

There is no doubt about the answer. The sensitivity of small children towards separation from the second year of their life, discovered by Rene SPITZ, tells all that is necessary as to question 1). Concerning the second question, from the abunance of facts pertaining to it, let us mention only the phenomenon of conformity pressure. Questions 3) and 4) were affirmatively answered long ago in the individual psychology of Alfred ADLER, and recently in certain forms of neo-psychoanalysis. See also Heinrich SCHULTE (1924). It should be stressed here that the proneness to a socially desirable behaviour, which, as was shown at the beginning, cannot be practically influenced by rewards and punishments, is based essentially on the consciousness of one's pertinence to a group as a member, accepted without reserve and enjoying full rights. Only those educational efforts which take account of this fact can be successful. Clearly affirmative for question 5) are the facts found by LEWIN and LIPPITT (1938-39) and from here, it is possible to find illustrative and provable insights even for question 6).

There is no doubt any longer that it is possible in this way to derive immediate suggestions of modern education for which classical behaviourism had no explanation.

IV. An Answer

Now, we are able to answer the question of whether there are still different schools in contemporary psychology, and the answer is a clear "Yes".

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W. Metzger Bibliography of Publications in English, French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish

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