Vygotsky. The Historical Meaning of The Crisis in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation
The need for a fundamental elaboration of the concepts of the general science – this algebra of the particular sciences – and its role for the particular sciences is even more obvious when we borrow from the area of other sciences. Here, on the one hand, it would seem that we have the best conditions for transferring results from one science into the system of another one, because the reliability, clarity and the degree to which the borrowed thesis or law have been fundamentally elaborated are usually much higher than in the cases we have described. We may, for example, introduce into the system of psychological explanation a law established in physiology or embryology, a biological principle, an anatomical hypothesis, an ethnological example, a historical classification etc. The theses and constructions of these highly developed, firmly grounded sciences are, of course, methodologically elaborated in an infinitely more precise way than the theses of a psychological school which by means of newly created and not yet systematized concepts is developing completely new areas (for example, Freud’s school, which does not yet know itself). In this case we borrow a more elaborated product, we operate with better-defined, exact, and clear unities; the danger of error has diminished, the likelihood of success has increased.
On the other hand, as the borrowing here comes from other sciences, the material turns out to be more foreign, methodologically heterogeneous, and the conditions for appropriating it become more difficult. This fact, that the conditions are both easier and more difficult compared with what we examined above, provides us with an essential method of variation in theoretical analysis which takes the place of real variation in the experiment.
Let us dwell upon a fact which at first sight seems highly paradoxical and which is therefore very suitable for analysis. Reflexology, which in all areas finds such wonderful coincidences of its data with the data of subjective analysis and which wishes to build its system on the foundation of the exact natural sciences, is, very surprisingly, forced to protest precisely against the transfer of natural scientific laws into psychology.
After studying the method of genetic reflexology, Shchelovanov, with an indisputable thoroughness quite unexpected for his school – rejected the imitation of the natural sciences in the form of a transfer of its basic methods into subjective psychology. Their application in the natural sciences has produced tremendous results, but they are of little value for the elaboration of the problems of subjective psychology. Herbart and Fechner mechanically transferred mathematical analysis and Wundt the physiological experiment into psychology. Preyer raised the problem of psychogenesis by analogy with biology and then Hall and others borrowed the Muller-Haeckel principle from biology and applied it in an uncontrolled way not only as a methodological principle, but also as a principle for the explanation of the “mental development” of the child. It would seem, says the author, that we cannot object to the application of well tried and fruitful methods. But their use is only possible when the problem is correctly stated and the method corresponds to the nature of the object under study. Otherwise one only gets the illusion of science (the characteristic example is Russian reflexology). The veil of natural science which was, according to Petzoldt, thrown over the most backward metaphysics, saved neither Herbart nor Wundt: neither the mathematical formulas nor the precision equipment saved an imprecisely stated problem from failure.
We are reminded of Munsterberg and his remark about the last decimal point given in the answer to an incorrectly stated question. In biology, clarifies the author, the biogenetic law is a theoretical generalization of masses of facts, but its application in psychology is the result of superficial speculation, exclusively based upon an analogy between different domains of facts (Does not reflexology do the same? Without investigation of its own it borrows, using similar speculations, the ready-made models for its own constructions from the living and the dead – from Einstein and from Freud). And then, to crown this pyramid of mistakes, the principle is not applied as a working hypothesis, but as an established theory, as if it were scientifically established as an explanatory principle for the given area of facts.
We will not deal with this matter, as does the author of this opinion, in great detail. There is abundant, including Russian, literature on it. We will examine it to illustrate the fact that many questions which have been incorrectly stated by psychology acquire the outward appearance of science due to borrowings from the natural sciences. As a result of his methodological analysis, Shchelovanov comes to the conclusion that the genetic method is in principle impossible in empirical psychology and that because of this the relations between psychology and biology become changed. But why was the problem of development stated incorrectly in child psychology, which led to a tremendous and useless expenditure of effort? In Shchelovanov’s opinion, child psychology can yield nothing other than what is already contained in general psychology. But general psychology as a unified system does not exist, and these theoretical contradictions make a child psychology impossible. In a very disguised form, imperceptible to the investigator himself, the theoretical presuppositions fully determine the whole method of processing the empirical data. And the facts gathered in observation, too, are interpreted in accordance with the theory which this or that author holds. Here is the best refutation of the sham natural science empiricism. Thanks to this, it is impossible to transfer facts from one theory to another. It would seem that a fact is always a fact, that one and the same subject matter – the child – and one and the same method – objective observation – albeit combined with different objectives and starting points, allow us to transfer facts from psychology to reflexology. The author is mistaken in only two respects.
His first mistake resides in the assumption that child psychology got its positive results only by applying general biological, but not psychological principles, as in the theory of play developed by Groos . In reality, this is one of the best examples not of borrowing, but of a purely psychological, comparative-objective study. It is methodologically impeccable and transparent, internally consistent from the first collection and description of the facts to the final theoretical generalizations. Groos gave biology a theory of play created with a psychological method. He did not take it from biology; he did not solve his problem in the light of biology, i.e., he did not set himself general psychological goals as well. Thus, exactly the opposite is correct: child psychology obtained valuable theoretical results precisely when it did not borrow, but went its own way. The author himself is constantly arguing against borrowing. Hall, who borrowed from Haeckel, gave psychology a number of curious topics and far-fetched senseless analogies, but Groos, who went his own way, gave much to biology – not less than Haeckel’s law. Let me also remind you of Stern’s theory of language, Buhler’s and Koffka’s theory of children’s thinking, Buhler’s theory of developmental levels, Thorndike’s theory of training: these are all psychological theories of the purest water. Hence the mistaken conclusion: the role of child psychology cannot be reduced, of course, to the gathering of factual data and their preliminary classification, i.e., to the preparatory work. But the role of the logical principles developed by Shchelovanov and Bekhterev can and must precisely be reduced to this. After all, the new discipline has no idea of childhood, no conception of development, no research goal, i.e., it does not state the problem of child behavior and personality, but only disposes of the principle of objective observation, i.e., a good technical rule. However, using this weapon nobody has drawn out any great truths.
The author’s second mistake is connected with this. The lack of understanding of the positive value of psychology and the underestimation of its role results from the most important and methodologically childish idea that one can study only what is given in immediate experience. His whole “methodological” theory is built upon a single syllogism: (1) psychology studies consciousness; (2) given in immediate experience is the consciousness of the adult; “the empirical study of the phylogeneticand ontogenetic development of consciousness is impossible”; (3) therefore, child psychology is impossible.
But it is a gross mistake to suppose that science can only study what is given in immediate experience. How does the psychologist study the unconscious; the historian and the geologist, the past; the physicist-optician, invisible beams, and the philologist – ancient languages? The study of traces, influences, the method of interpretation and reconstruction, the method of critique and the finding of meaning have been no less fruitful than the method of direct “empirical” observation. Ivanovsky used precisely the example of psychology to explain this for the methodology of science. Even in the experimental sciences the role of immediate experience becomes smaller and smaller. Planck says that the unification of the whole system of theoretical physics is reached due to the liberation from anthropomorphic elements, in particular from specific sense perceptions. Planck [1919/1970, p. 118] remarks that in the theory of light and in the theory of radiant energy in general, physics works with such methods that:
the human eye is totally excluded, it plays the role of an accidental, admittedly highly sensitive but very limited reagent; for it only perceives the light beams within a small area of the spectrum which hardly attains the breadth of one octave. For the rest of the spectrum the place of the eye is taken by other perceiving and measuring instruments, such as, for example, the wave detector, the thermo-element, the bolometer, the radiometer, the photographic plate, the ionization chamber. The separation of the basic physical concept from the specific sensory sensation was accomplished, therefore, in exactly the same way as in mechanics where the concept of force has long since lost its original link with muscular sensations.
Thus, physics studies precisely what cannot be seen with the eye. For if we, like the author, agree with Stern [1914, p. 7] that childhood is for us “a paradise lost forever,” that for us adults it is impossible to “fully penetrate in the special properties and structure of the child’s mind” as it is not given in direct experience, we must admit that the light beams which cannot be directly perceived by the eye are a paradise lost forever as well, the Spanish inquisition a hell lost forever, etc., etc.. But the whole point is that scientific knowledge and immediate perception do not coincide at all. We can neither experience the child’s impressions, nor witness the French revolution, but the child who experiences his paradise with all directness and the contemporary who saw the major episodes of the revolution with his own eyes are, despite that, farther from the scientific knowledge of these facts than we are. Not only the humanities, but the natural sciences as well, build their concepts in principle independently from immediate experience. We are reminded of Engels’ words about the ants and the limitations of our eye.
How do the sciences proceed in the study of what is not immediately given? Generally speaking, they reconstruct it, they re-create the subject of study through the method of interpreting its traces or influences, i.e., indirectly. Thus, the historian interprets traces – documents, memoirs, newspapers, etc. – and nevertheless history is a science about the past, reconstructed by its traces, and not a science about the traces of the past, it is about the revolution and not about documents of the revolution. The same is true for child psychology. Is childhood, the child’s mind, really inaccessible for us, does it not leave any traces, does it not manifest or reveal itself? It is just a matter of how to interpret these traces, by what method. Can they be interpreted by analogy with the traces of the adult? It is, therefore, a matter of finding the right interpretation and not of completely refraining from any interpretation. After all, historians too are familiar with more than one erroneous construct based upon genuine documents which were falsely interpreted. What conclusion follows from this? Is it really that history is “a paradise forever lost”? But the same logic that calls child psychology a paradise lost would compel us to say this about history as well. And if the historian, or the geologist, or the physicist were to argue like the reflexologist, they would say: as we cannot immediately experience the past of mankind and the earth (the child’s mind) and can only immediately experience the present (the adult’s consciousness) – which is why many falsely interpret the past by analogy with the present or as a small present (the child as a small adult) – history and geology are subjective, impossible. The only thing possible is a history of the present (the psychology of the adult person). The history of the past can only be studied as the science of the traces of the past, of the documents etc. as such, and not of the past as such (through the methods of studying reflexes without any attempt at interpreting them).
This dogma – of immediate experience as the single source and natural boundary of scientific knowledge – in principle makes or breaks the whole theory of subjective and objective methods. Vvedensky and Bekhterev grow from a single root: both hold that science can only study what is given in self-observation, i.e., in the immediate perception of the psychological. Some rely on the mental eye and build a whole science in conformity with its properties and the boundaries of its action. Others do not rely on it and only wish to study what can be seen with the real eye. This is why I say that reflexology, methodologically speaking, is built entirely according to the principle that history should be defined as the science of the documents of the past. Due to the many fruitful principles of the natural sciences, reflexology proved to be a highly progressive current in psychology, but as a theory of method it is deeply reactionary, because it leads us back to the naive sensualistic prejudice that we can only study what can be perceived and to the extent we perceive it.
Just as physics is liberating itself from anthropomorphic elements, i.e., from specific sensory sensations and is proceeding with the eye fully excluded, so psychology must work with the concept of the mental: direct self-observation must be excluded like muscular sensation in mechanics and visual sensation in optics. The subjectivists believe that they refuted the objective method when they showed that genetically speaking the concepts of behavior contain a grain of self-observation – c.f. Chelpanov (1925), Kravkov (1922), Portugalov (1925). But the genetic origin of a concept says nothing about its logical nature: genetically, the concept of force in mechanics also goes back to muscular sensation.
The problem of self-observation is a problem of technique and not of principle. It is an instrument amidst a number of other instruments, as the eye is for physicists. We must use it to the extent that it is useful, but there is no need to pronounce judgments of principle about it – e.g., about the limitations of the knowledge obtained with it, its reliability, or the nature of the knowledge determined by it. Engels demonstrated how little the natural construction of the eye determines the boundaries of our knowledge of the phenomena of light. Planck says the same on behalf of contemporary physics. To separate the fundamental psychological concept from the specific sensory perception is psychology’s next task. This sensation itself, self-observation itself, must be explained (like the eye) from the postulates, methods, and universal principles of psychology. It must become one of psychology’s particular problems.
When we accept this, the question of the nature of interpretation, i.e., the indirect method, arises. Usually it is said that history interprets the traces of the past, whereas physics observes the invisible as directly as the eye does by means of its instruments. The instruments are the extended organs of the researcher. After all, the microscope, telescope, telephone etc. make the invisible visible and the subject of immediate experience. Physics does not interpret, but sees.
But this opinion is false. The methodology of the scientific instrument has long since clarified a new role for the instrument which is not always obvious. Even the thermometer may serve as an example of the introduction of a fundamentally new principle into the method of science through the use of an instrument. On the thermometer we read the temperature. It does not strengthen or extend the sensation of heat as the microscope extends the eye; rather, it totally liberates us from sensation when studying heat. One who is unable to sense heat or cold may still use the thermometer, whereas a blind person cannot use a microscope. The use of a thermometer is a perfect model of the indirect method. After all, we do not study what we see (as with the microscope) – the rising of the mercury, the expansion of the alcohol – but we study heat and its changes, which are indicated by the mercury or alcohol. We interpret the indications of the thermometer, we reconstruct the phenomenon under study by its traces, by its influence upon the expansion of a substance. All the instruments Planck speaks of as means to study the invisible are constructed in this way. ‘To interpret, consequently, means to re-create a phenomenon from its traces and influences relying upon regularities established before (in the present case – the law of the extension of solids, liquids, and gases during heating). There is no fundamental difference whatsoever between the use of a thermometer on the one hand and interpretation in history, psychology, etc. on the other. The same holds true for any science: it is not dependent upon sensory perception.
Stumpf mentions the blind mathematician Saunderson who wrote a textbook of geometry; Shcherbina (1908) relates that his blindness did not prevent him from explaining optics to sighted people. And, indeed, all instruments mentioned by Planck can be adapted for the blind, just like the watches, thermometers, and books for the blind that already exist, so that a blind person might occupy himself with optics as well. It is a matter of technique, not of principle.
Korniov (1922) beautifully demonstrated that (1) disagreement about the procedural aspect of the design of experiments makes for conflicts which lead to the formation of different currents in psychology, just as the different philosophies about the chronoscope – which resulted from the question as to in which room this apparatus should be placed during the experiments – determined the question of the whole method and system of psychology and divided Wundt’s school from Kulpe’s; and (2) the experimental method introduced nothing new into psychology. For Wundt it is a correction of self-observation. For Ach the data of self-observation can only be checked against other data of self-observation, as if the sensation of heat can be checked only against other sensations. For Deichler the quantitative estimations give a measure for the correctness of introspection. In sum, experiment does not extend our knowledge, it checks it. Psychology does not yet have a methodology of its equipment and has not yet raised the question of an apparatus which would – like the thermometer – liberate us from introspection rather than check or amplify it. The philosophy of the chronoscope is a more difficult matter than its technique. But about the indirect method in psychology we will come to speak more than once.
Zelenyj (1923) is right in pointing out that in Russia the word “method” means two different things: (1) the research methods, the technology of the experiment; and (2) the epistemological method, or methodology, which determines the research goal, the place of the science, and its nature. In psychology the epistemological method is subjective, although the research methods may be partially objective. In physiology the epistemological method is objective, although the research methods may be partially subjective as in the physiology of the sense organs. Let us add that the experiment reformed the research methods, but not the epistemological method. For this reason, he says that the psychological method can only have the value of a diagnostic device in the natural sciences.
This question is crucial for all methodological and concrete problems of psychology. For psychology the need to fundamentally transcend the boundaries of immediate experience is a matter of life and death. The demarcation, separation of the scientific concept from the specific perception, can take place only on the basis of the indirect method. The reply that the indirect method is inferior to the direct one is in scientific terms utterly false. Precisely because it does not shed light upon the plentitude of experience, but only on one aspect, it accomplishes scientific work: it isolates, analyzes, separates, abstracts a single feature. After all, in immediate experience as well we isolate the part that is the subject of our observation. Anyone who deplores the fact that we do not share the ant’s immediate experience of chemical beams is beyond help, says Engels, for on the other hand we know the nature of these beams better than ants do. The task of science is not to reduce everything to experience. If that were the case it would suffice to replace science with the registration of our perceptions. Psychology’s real problem resides also in the fact that our immediate experience is limited, because the whole mind is built like an instrument which selects and isolates certain aspects of phenomena. An eye that would see everything, would for this very reason see nothing. A consciousness that was aware of everything would be aware of nothing, and knowledge of theself, were it aware of everything, would be aware of nothing. Our knowledge is confined between two thresholds, we see but a tiny part of the world. Our senses give us the world in the excerpts, extracts that are important for us. And in between the thresholds it is again not the whole variety of changes which is registered, and new thresholds exist. Consciousness follows nature in a saltatory fashion as it were, with blanks and gaps. The mind selects the stable points of reality amidst the universal movement. It provides islands of safety in the Heraclitean stream. It is an organ of selection, a sieve filtering the world and changing it so that it becomes possible to act. In this resides its positive role – not in reflection (the non-mental reflects as well; the thermometer is more precise than sensation), but in the fact that it does not always reflect correctly, i.e., subjectively distorts reality to the advantage of the organism.
If we were to see everything (i.e., if there were no absolute thresholds) including all changes that constantly take place (i.e., if no relative thresholds existed), we would be confronted with chaos (remember how many objects a microscope reveals in a drop of water). What would be a glass of water? And what a river? A pond reflects everything; a stone reacts in principle to everything. But these reactions equal the stimulation: causa aequat effectum.  The reaction of the organism is “richer”: it is not like an effect, it expends potential forces, it selects stimuli. Red, blue, loud, sour – it is a world cut into portions. Psychology’s task is to clarify the advantage of the fact that the eye does not perceive many of the things known to optics. From the lower forms of reactions to the higher ones there leads, as it were, the narrowing opening of a funnel.
It would be a mistake to think that we do not see what is for us biologically useless. Would it really be useless to see microbes? The sense organs show clear traces of the fact that they are in the first place organs of selection. ‘Taste is obviously a selection organ for digestion, smell is part of the respiratory process. Like the customs checkpoints at the border, they test the stimuli coming from outside. Each organ takes the world cum grano salis – with a coefficient of specification, as Hegel says, [and] with an indication of the relation, where the quality of one object determines the intensity and character of the quantitative influence of another quality. For this reason there is a complete analogy between the selection of the eye and the further selection of the instrument: both are organs of selection (accomplish what we accomplish in the experiment). So that the fact that scientific knowledge transcends the boundaries of perception is rooted in the psychological essence of knowledge itself.
From this it follows that as methods for judging scientific truth, direct evidence and analogy are in principle completely identical. Both must be subjected to critical examination; both can deceive and tell the truth. The direct evidence that the sun turns around the earth deceives us; the analogy upon which spectral analysis is built, leads to the truth. On these grounds some have rightly defended the legitimacy of analogy as a basic method of zoo-psychology. This is fully acceptable, one must only point out the conditions under which the analogy will be correct. So far the analogy in zoo-psychology has led to anecdotes and curious incidents, because it was observed where it actually cannot exist. It can, however, also lead to spectral analysis. That is why methodologically speaking the situation in physics and psychology is in principle the same. The difference is one of degree.
The mental sequence we experience is a fragment: where do all the elements of mental life disappear and where do they come from? We are compelled to continue the known sequence with a hypothetical one. It was precisely in this sense that Høffding [1908, p. 92/114] introduced this concept which corresponds with the concept of potential energy in physics. This is why Leibnitz introduced the infinitely small elements of consciousness [cf. Høffding, 1908, p. 108].
We are forced to continue the life of consciousness into the unconscious in order not to fall into absurdities [ibid., p. 286].
However, for Høffding (ibid., p. 117) “the unconscious is a boundary concept in science” and at this boundary we may “weigh the possibilities” through a hypothesis, but:
a real extension of our factual knowledge is impossible. ... Compared to the physical world, we experience the mental world as a fragment; only through a hypothesis can we supplement it.
But even this respect for the boundary of science seems to other authors insufficient. About the unconscious it is only allowed to say that it exists. By its very definition it is not an object for experimental verification. To argue its existence by means of observations, as Høffding attempts, is illegitimate. This word has two meanings, there are two types of unconscious which we must not mix up – the debate is about a two-fold subject: about the hypothesis and about the facts that can be observed.
One more step in this direction, and we return to where we started: to the difficulty that compelled us to hypothesize an unconscious.
We can see that psychology finds itself here in a tragicomic situation: I want to, but I cannot. It is forced to accept the unconscious so as not to fall into absurdities. But accepting it, it falls into even greater absurdities and runs back in horror. It is like a man who, running from a wild animal and into an even greater danger, runs back to the wild animal, the lesser danger – but does it really make any difference from what he dies? Wundt views in this theory an echo of the mystical philosophy of nature [Naturphilosophie] of the early 19th century. With him Lange (1914, p. 251) accepts that the unconscious mind is an intrinsically contradictory concept. The unconscious must be explained physically and chemically and not psychologically, else we allow “mystical agents,” “arbitrary constructions that can never be verified,” to enter science.
Thus, we are back to Høffding: there is a physico-chemical sequence, which in some fragmentary points is suddenly a nihilo accompanied by a mental sequence. Please, be good enough to understand and scientifically interpret the “fragment.” What does this debate mean for the methodologist? We must psychologically transcend the boundary of immediately perceived consciousness and continue it, but in such a way as to separate the concept from sensation. Psychology as the science of consciousness is in principle impossible. As the science of the unconscious mind it is doubly impossible. It would seem that there is no way out, no solution for this quadrature of the circle. But physics finds itself in exactly the same position. Admittedly, the physical sequence extends further than the mental one, but this sequence is not infinite and without gaps either. It was science that made it inprinciple continuous and infinite and not immediate experience. It extended this experience by excluding the eye. This is also psychology’s task.
Hence, interpretation is not only a bitter necessity for psychology, but also a liberating and essentially most fruitful method of knowledge, a salto vitale, which for bad jumpers turns into a salto mortale. Psychology must develop its philosophy of equipment, just as physics has its philosophy of the thermometer. In practice both parties in psychology have recourse to interpretation: the subjectivist has in the end the words of the subject, i.e., his behavior and mind are interpreted behavior. The objectivist will inevitably interpret as well. The very concept of reaction implies the necessity of interpretation, of sense, connection, relation. Indeed, actio and reactio are concepts that are originally mechanistic – one must observe both and deduce a law. But in psychology and physiology the reaction is not equal to the stimulus. It has a sense, a goal, i.e., it fulfills a certain function in the larger whole. It is qualitatively connected with its stimulus. And this sense of the reaction as a function of the whole, this quality of the interrelation, is not given in experience, but found by inference. To put it more easily and generally: when we study behavior as a system of reactions, we do not study the behavioral acts in themselves (by the organs), but in their relation to other acts – to stimuli. But the relation and the quality of the relation, its sense, are never the subject of immediate perception, let alone the relation between two heterogeneous sequences – between stimuli and reactions. The following is extremely important: the reaction is an answer. An answer can only be studied according to the quality of its relation with the question, for this is the sense of answer which is not found in perception but in interpretation.
This is the way everybody proceeds.
Bekhterev distinguishes the creative reflex. A problem is the stimulus, and creativity is the response reaction or a symbolic reflex. But the concepts of creativity and symbol are semantic concepts, not experiential ones: a reflex is creative when it stands in such a relation to a stimulus that it creates something new; it is symbolic when it replaces another reflex. But we cannot see the symbolic or creative nature of a reflex.
Pavlov distinguishes the reflexes of freedom and purpose, the food reflex and the defense reflex. But neither freedom nor purpose can be seen, nor do they have an organ like, for example, the organs for nutrition; nor are they functions. They consist of the same movements as the other ones. Defense, freedom, and purpose – they are the meanings of these reflexes.
Kornilov distinguishes emotional reactions, selective, associative reactions, the reaction of recognition, etc. It is again a classification according to their meaning, i.e., on the basis of the interpretation of the relation between stimulus and response.
Watson, accepting similar distinctions based on meaning, openly says that nowadays the psychologist of behavior arrives by sheer logic at the conclusion that there is a hidden process of thinking. By this he is becoming conscious of his method and brilliantly refutes Titchener, who defended the thesis that the psychologist of behavior, exactly because of being a psychologist of behavior, cannot accept the existence of a process of thinking when he is not in the situation to observe it immediately and must use introspection to reveal thinking. Watson demonstrated that he in principle isolates the concept of thinking from its perception in introspection, just like the thermometer emancipates us from sensation when we develop the concept of heat. That is why he [1926, p. 301] emphasizes:
If we ever succeed in scientifically studying the intimate nature of thought. ... then we will owe this to a considerable extent to the scientific apparatus.
However even now the psychologist
is not in such a deplorable situation: physiologists as well are often satisfied with the observation of the end results and utilize logic. ... The adherent of the psychology of behavior feels that with respect to thinking he must keep to exactly the same position [ibid., p. 302].
Meaning as well is for Watson an experimental problem. We find it in what is given to us through thinking.
Thorndike (1925) distinguishes the reactions of feeling, conclusion, mood, and cunning. Again [we are dealing with] interpretation.
The whole matter is simply how to interpret – by analogy with one’s introspection, biological functions, etc. That is why Koffka [1925, pp. 10/13] is right when he states: There is no objective criterion for consciousness, we do not know whether an action has consciousness or not, but this does not make us unhappy at all. However, behavior is such that the consciousness belonging to it, if it exists at all, must have such and such a structure. Therefore behavior must be explained in the same way as consciousness. Or in other words, put paradoxically: if everybody had only those reactions which can be observed by all others, nobody could observe anything,i.e., scientific observation is based upon transcending the boundaries of the visible and upon a search for its meaning which cannot be observed. He is right. He was right [Koffka, 1924, pp. 152/160] when he claimed that behaviorism is bound to be fruitless when it will study only the observable, when its ideal is to know the direction and speed of the movements of each limb, the secretion of each gland, resulting from a fixed stimulation. Its area would then be restricted to the physiology of the muscles and the glands. The description “this animal is running away from some danger,” however insufficient it may be, is yet a thousand times more characteristic for the animal’s behavior than a formula giving us the movements of all its legs with their varying speeds, the curves of breath, pulse, and so forth.
Köhler (1917) demonstrated in practice how we may prove the presence of thinking in apes without any introspection and even study the course and structure of this process through the method of the interpretation of objective reactions. Kornilov (1922) demonstrated how we may measure the energetic budget of different thought operations using the indirect method: the dynamoscope is used by him as a thermometer. Wundt’s mistake resided in the mechanical application of equipment and the mathematical method to check and correct. He did not use them to extend introspection, to liberate himself from it, but to tie himself to it. In most of Wundt’s investigations introspection was essentially superfluous. It was only necessary to single out the unsuccessful experiments. In principle it is totally unnecessary in Kornilov’s theory. But psychology must still create its thermometer. Korniov’s research indicates the path.
We may summarize the conclusions from our investigation of the narrow sensualist dogma by again referring to Engels’ words about the activity of the eye which in combination with thinking helps us to discover that ants see what is invisible to us.
Psychology has too long striven for experience instead of knowledge. In the present example it preferred to share with the ants their visual experience of the sensation of chemical beams rather than to understand their vision scientifically.
As to the methodological spine that is supporting them there are two scientific systems. Methodology is always like the backbone, the skeleton in the animal’s organism. Very primitive animals, like the snail and the tortoise, carry their skeleton on the outside and they can, like an oyster, be separated from their skeleton. What is left is a poorly differentiated fleshy part. Higher animals carry their skeleton inside and make it into the internal support, the bone of each of their movements. In psychology as well we must distinguish lower and higher types of methodological organization.
This is the best refutation of the sham empiricism of the natural sciences. It turns out that nothing can be transposed from one theory to another. It would seem that a fact is always a fact. Despite the different points of departure and the different aims one and the same object (a child) and one and the same method (objective observation) should make it possible to transpose the facts of psychology to reflexology. The difference would only be in the interpretation of the same facts. In the end the systems of Ptolemy and Copernicus rested upon the same facts as well. [But] It turns out that facts obtained by means of different principles of knowledge are different facts.
Thus, the debate about the application of the biogenetic principle in psychology is not a debate about facts. The facts are indisputable and there are two groups of them: the recapitulation of the stages the organism goes through in the development of its structure as established by natural science and the indisputable traits of similarity between the phylo- and ontogenesis of the mind. It is particularly important that neither is there any debate about the latter group. Koffka [1925, pp.32], who contests this theory and subjects it to a methodological analysis, resolutely declares that the analogies, from which this false theory proceeds, exist beyond any doubt. The debate concerns the meaning of these analogies and it turns out that it cannot be decided without analyzing the principles of child psychology, without having a general idea of childhood, a conception of the meaning and the biological sense of childhood, a certain theory of child development. It is quite easy to find analogies. The question is how to search for them. Similar analogies may be found in the behavior of adults as well.
Two typical mistakes are possible here: one is made by Hall, Thorndike and Groos have brilliantly exposed it in critical analyses. The latter [Groos, 1904/1921, p. 7] justly claims that the purpose of any comparison and the task of comparative science is not only to distinguish similar traits, but even more to search for the differences within the similarity. Comparative psychology, consequently, must not merely understand man as an animal, but much more as a non-animal.
The straightforward application of the principle led to a ubiquitous search for similarity. A correct method and reliably established facts led to monstrously strained interpretations and distorted facts when applied uncritically. Children’s games have indeed traditionally preserved many echoes of the remote past (the play with bows, round dances). For Hall this is the repetition and expression in innocent form of the animal and pre-historic stages of development. Groos considers this to show a remarkable lack of critical judgment. The fear of cats and dogs would be a remnant of the time when these animals were still wild. Water would attract children because we developed from aquatic animals. The automatic movements of the infant’s arms would be a remnant of the movements of our ancestors who swam in the water, etc..
The mistake resides, consequentiy, in the interpretation of the child’s whole behavior as a recapitulation and in the absence of any principle to verify the analogy and to select the facts which must and must not be interpreted. It is precisely the play of animals which cannot be explained in this way. “Can Hall’s theory explain the play of the young tiger with its victim?” – asks Groos [1904/1921, p. 73]. It is clear that this play cannot be understood as a recapitulation of past phylogenetic development. It foreshadows the future activity of the tiger and not a repetition of his past development. It must be explained and understood in relation to the tiger’s future, in the light of which it gets its meaning, and not in the light of the past of his species. The past of the species comes out in a totally different sense: through the individual’s future which it predetermines, but not directly and not in the sense of a repetition.
What are the facts? This quasi-biological theory appears to be untenable precisely in biological terms, precisely in comparison with the nearest homogeneous analogue in the series of homogeneous phenomena in other stages of evolution. When we compare the play of a child with the play of a tiger, i.e., a higher mammal, and consider not only the similarity, but the difference as well, we will lay bare their common biological essence which resides exactly in their difference (the tiger plays the chase of tigers; the child that he is a grown-up; both practice necessary functions for their life to come – Groos’ theory). But despite all the seeming similarity in the comparison of heterogeneous phenomena (play with water – aquatic life of the amphibian – man) the theory is biologically meaningless.
Thorndike  adds to this devastating argument a remark about the different order of the same biological principles in onto- and phylogencsis. Thus, consciousness appears very early in ontogenesis and very late in phylogenesis. The sexual drive, on the other hand, appears very early in phylogenesis and very late in ontogenesis. Stern [1927, pp. 266-267], using similar considerations, criticizes the same theory in its application to play.
Blonsky (1921) makes another kind of mistake. He defends – and very convincingly – this law for embryonic development from the viewpoint of biomechanics and shows that it would be miraculous if it did not exist. The author points out the hypothetical nature of the considerations (“not very conclusive”) leading to this contention (“it may be like this”), i.e., he gives arguments for the methodological possibility of a working hypothesis, but then, instead of proceeding to the investigation and verification of the hypothesis, follows in Hall’s footsteps and begins to explain the child’s behavior on the basis of very intelligible analogies: he does not view the climbing of trees by children as a recapitulation of the life of apes, but of primitive people who lived amidst rocks and ice; the tearing off of wallpaper is an atavism of the tearing off of the bark of trees etc. What is most remarkable of all is that the error leads Blonsky to the same conclusion as Hall: to the negation of play. Groos and Stern have shown that exactly where it is easiest to find analogies between onto- and phylogenesis is this theory untenable. And neither does Blonsky, as if illustrating the irresistible force of the methodological laws of scientific knowledge, search for new terms. He sees no need to attach a “new term” (play) to the child’s activity. This means that on his methodological path he first lost its meaning and then – with creditable consistency – refrained from the term that expresses this meaning. Indeed, if the activity, the child’s behavior, is an atavism, then the term“play” is out of place. This activity has nothing in common with the play of the tiger as Groos demonstrated. And we must translate Blonsky’s declaration “I don’t like this term” in methodological terms as “I lost the understanding and meaning of this concept.”
Only in this way, by following each principle to its ultimate copclusions, by taking each concept in the extreme form toward which it strives, by investigating each line of thinking to the very end, at times completing it for the author, can we determine the methodological nature of the phenomenon under investigation. That is why a concept that is used deliberately, not blindly, in the science for which it was created, where it originated, developed, and was carried to its ultimate expression, is blind, leads nowhere when transposed to another science. Such blind transpositions of the biogenetic principle, the experiment, the mathematical method from the natural sciences, created the appearance of science in psychology which in reality concealed a total impotence in the face of the studied facts.
But to complete the sketch of the circle described by the meaning of a principle introduced into a science in this way, we will follow its further fate. The matter does not end with the detection of the fruitlessness of the principle, its critique, the pointing out of curious and strained interpretations at which schoolboys poke their finger. In other words, the history of the principle does not end with its simple expulsion from the area that does not belong to it, with its simple rejection. After all, we remember that the foreign principle penetrated into our science via a bridge of facts, via really existing analogues. Nobody has denied this. While this principle became strengthened and reigned, the number of facts upon which its false power rested increased. They were partially false and partially correct. In its turn the critique of these facts, the critique of the principle itself, draws still other new facts into the scope of the science. The matter is not confined to the facts: the critique must provide an explanation for the colliding facts. The theories assimilate each other and on this basis the regeneration of a new principle takes place.
Under the pressure of the facts and foreign theories, the newcomer changes its face. The same happened with the biogenetic principle. It was reborn and in psychology it figures in two forms (a sign that the process of regeneration is not yet finished): (1) as a theory of utility, defended by neo-Darwinism and the school of Thorndike, which finds that individual and species are subject to the same laws – hence a number of coincidences, but also a number of non-coincidences. Not everything that is useful for the species in its early stage is useful for the individual as well; (2) as a theory of synchronization, defended in psychology by Koffka and the school of Dewey, in the philosophy of history by Spengler. It is a theory which says that all developmental processes have some general stages, some successive forms, in common – from elementary to more complex and from lower to higher levels.
Far be it from us to consider any of these conclusions the right one. We are in general still far from a fundamental examination of the question. For us it is important to follow the dynamics of the spontaneous, blind reaction of a scientific body to a foreign, inserted object. It is important for us to trace the forms of scientific inflammation relative to the kind of infection in order to proceed from pathology to the norm and to clarify the normal functions of the different composite parts – the organs of science. This is the purpose and meaning of our analyses, which seemingly sidetrack us, but although we make no mention of it we continually hold to the comparison (prompted by Spinoza) of the psychology of our days to a severely diseased person. If we wish to formulate the aim of our last digression from this viewpoint, the positive conclusion which we have reached, the result of the analysis, we must determine it as follows: previously – on the basis of the analysis of the unconscious – we studied the nature, the action, the manner of the spreading of the infection, the penetration of the foreign idea after the facts, its lording over the organism, the disturbance of the organism’s functions; now – on the basis of the analysis of the biogenesis – we were able to study the counteraction of the organism, its struggle with the infection, the dynamic tendency to resolve, throw out, neutralize, assimilate, degenerate the foreign body, to mobilize forces against the contagion. We studied – to stick to medical terms – the elaboration of antibodies and the development of immunity. What remains is the third and final step: to distinguish the phenomena of the disease from the reactions, the healthy from the diseased, the processes of the infection from the recovery. This we will do in the analysis of scientific terminology in the third and final digression. After that we will directly proceed to the statement of a diagnosis and prognosis for our patient – to the nature, meaning and outcome of the present crisis.