Paper 4: The Drive to Explain

A discussion of the background issues of a general theory of psychology




Dr Graham R Little PhD AFNZIM



Abstract and introduction

Why do we need a theory?

Notes on the notion of mature science

On the nature of psychological science

The conceptual circularity in the search for a general theory

What should we expect of a general theory of psychology? What must it achieve?

Can any theory uncover the causality of human behaviour?

Comment on the current state of psychological theory

Can psychology be unified?

The necessary conceptual structure of a general theory

The steps of theory creation

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Abstract and introduction

The previous papers developed from what amounts to first principles, a general theory of knowledge. In so doing offered clear and unequivocal guidelines on the processes for developing a general theory of psychology and what such a theory can and cannot tell us.

The next steps are to fully understand the first papers, what they did say and how that effects the search for a general theory of the person, this then followed by the application of the tools of theory creation to the problem of creating a general theory of psychology, finally, applying the theory to the issues of the academic literature and to issues of common understanding of a person and what that means.

In this paper we will consider the background issues to a theory of the person, or a theory of psychology. Notice the confusion of terms, which is deliberate, with ‘theory of psychology’ being interchangeable with ‘theory of the person’.

The theory to be produced is not a theory ‘in’ psychology it is a theory of psychology. It will and must describe all that is a person, hence the alternative term. Within the theory there will be detailed theories of attention, of memory and of neurology. These are theories ‘in’ psychology dealing, as they must with the detailed issues ‘in’ psychology. What is to be produced however, is the overview, the orientating theory that binds and contains all the detail.

In this series of papers we begin to move toward consideration of the issues noted in the preamble to the papers, issues of spirit, of hope and faith and of soul. My position remains more determined than ever, these issues cannot be resolved, cannot be understood even to any significant degree without first and in a systematic manner dealing with the intellectual details on which any such understanding must be based. Fail in this and no matter how persuasive, no matter how passionately held, any statement is only unsubstantiated conjecture. I cannot accept this, and I hope that your intellectual rigour and determined search for something beyond mere opinion leads you down the same path.

This first paper in this part deals with questions such as why do we need a theory? What is the current state of psychological theory? What can any theory in fact tell us? How do we need to proceed in creating a theory that we know and understand? And can in fact we establish the causal parameters underlying human conduct and feeling and experience?

We begin. But before doing so, again I stress the ideas did not come in this tidy and organised manner. The process used was iterative, with each attempt being applied to the resolution of all the issues implicated. This presentation is merely regarded as a sensible way in which to guide you, the reader into the ideas and understanding that arose from the deliberations.


Why do we need a theory?

At first sight, the need for a theory of the person, a theory of psychology, many seem academic, unrelated to reality. This is a serious mistake.

There are several broad groups of reasons why such a theory is important.

First, there are important moral and legal implications. For instance, a psychiatrist has certain legal standing and powers. But what if the core issues of psychiatry, namely conceptions the unconscious and its role are in error? How is the line to be drawn between psychiatry and psychology? A theory of the person must point the way to definitions of mental illness and its causality. The social and legal implications are significant.

Second, there are issues of integrating the detail in academic psychology. For instance, what is self? Is it important? How? How does it arise? What is attention and memory? And how do physiological issues of the brain meld with psychological questions of faith and hope and thought? A theory of psychology must address these issues, and while not necessarily providing all the details of an answer it must provide the strategic guidance for research into the detail.

Third, there are the practical, daily considerations for people living their lives. Am I driven and determined by my unconscious? Can I overcome my urges? Should I? How? If I believe I cannot, will this reduce my success at doing so? If I believe I am what I am, and if this belief is reinforced by various accepted theories of psychology, am I likely to fight to be other than I am? And can excesses of urge be excused? Can I be temporarily insane? All judgement suspended, all self-restraint excused? How should I think about me, what I am, who I am and how will it affect me? Can I make my life better?

Then there is the issue of giving help to people. A theory of the person must provide a framework of counselling and therapy. And while, again, not providing all the detailed answers it must provide the strategic guidance and direction in which the answers are to be found.

Finally, a valid theory of psychology must also clarify and provide a base for social understanding. What does move and shape society? How can we manage it to better effect? What are the tensions compromises and trades off?

Within all of science it is social science, psychology in particular, that most needs a general theory.


Notes on the notion of mature science

Psychology is theoretically fragmented, which brings many difficulties and constraints. This lack of a paradigm has led to suggestions that psychology is an immature science (1), which in turn leads to questions on what exactly is mature science.

The position I wish to consider can be summed in the question: is physics a mature science because it has a paradigm, or does it have a paradigm because it has conceptualisation tools able to lead the conceptualisation process? The issue of conceptualisation is crucial within the epistemology I have created, and as will be seen it also emerges as crucial within the general theory.

The mathematical relationship E=mc² was written before being proved as an actual physical reality. Such is the power of mathematics in physics. Chemistry also has tools of a different character, more immediately conceptual, existing in notions of atom, molecule and the three dimensional structure of those. This in turn supported by valence theory. There are other examples, but this alone illustrates how mathematics and other conceptual tools not only summarise and contain what is known, but can lead the conceptualisation by producing new relationships. Social sciences have no such system of tools. Such tools must do two things first they must encapsulate the variables under consideration and second, must describe the relationship between those variables.

To illustrate the problem is psychology, we can ask quite simple questions such as ‘what is the relationship between emotions, thought and attention such that we can gain some insight into the dynamics of at least part of the system that is a person?’ There are no agreed tools that enable the exploration of this question in the way that mathematics enables such questions to be explored in physics. In every other respect psychology is a mature discipline with a vast database, quality insights and defined domains.

As has already been discussed, it is the very structure of knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, based as it is on relations of the type ‘a change in A is followed by a change in B’, that enables mathematics as the tools of physics. The problem in social science is that the relationships under study are less well understood, and are not readily described by mathematics. The other difficult is in fact the definition of the variables, any imprecision or mismatch between the concept and Reality will disenable mathematics as a tool for leading the conceptualisation. For now social science must develop other tools that have precision, and can be used to lead conceptualisation, but are presented and applied differently to mathematics. The tools developed and used here are immediate and ultimate effects, the conceptualisation of the change relations the basis of knowledge. These then supported by clarification of the notion of variable, system and fact as an instance of a variable or system all based on the proposition that knowledge is the classification of events (understood as a set of interrelated changes, see the first three papers in this series).

On the nature of psychological science

The questions relating to a general theory of psychology and knowledge flow into each other, from either direction. To discuss knowledge in the absence of a general theory of psychology, given that knowledge is created by our psychology, is to speculate without a firm base. Conversely, to discuss a general theory of psychology without understanding the relationship between knowledge and a reality represented by that knowledge, given that any theory of psychology is itself knowledge is equally to build on sand.

The problems are compounded by the question: what is psychology? Is it a social science, as assumed in the last section, or is it all or part a biological science?(2) This has two aspects, first is the aspect of biology being involved in psychology such that biological factors play some part in the causality of our psychology. This could be so without psychology being reducible to biology. The second aspect is whether or not psychology is reducible in full to underlying biological factors.

Before seeking an answer to these questions, we need ask further questions such as: how do these issues relate to the questions already asked? Specifically science is knowledge intended to provide description, explanation and prediction of the universe. Psychology is that part of science relating to the description, explanation and prediction of people. Therefore questions relating to the nature and status of science generally apply to psychology. How then can we categorise psychology, when there remain significant questions about the actual status of science? To decide whether psychology is reducible to biology in total or in part, we first have to understand the process of reduction as it applies in science generally.

There is now a scientific theory on the reduction of scientific knowledge(3). But to create such a theory required answers to many other questions, for instance: how do variables arise and what is their relationship to the reality from which they were abstracted? How do we ‘abstract’, and what is it we have when we do? Is it possible to have a theory of the reduction process in science without having a theory of scientific knowledge? And must this theory of scientific knowledge involve theories of the growth of knowledge and the growth of understanding?

The questions can become tedious. But I have found no other process able to carry the mind forward. In the constant questioning a state of uncertainty is sustained keeping the mind off balance, avoiding the comfort of a position, never mind the luxury of some preferred position. In the questions we also map the bounds of what must be solved. If in any solution there remain unresolved questions, then we have no solution.

The question of the exact nature of psychology, particularly the role of biology, neurological-biology in particular will not need to be addressed directly, particularly at this stage of our explorations. If the process is correct, if the proposed understanding of knowledge contained in this papers is correct, and if we follow the process that arises from this understanding and theory of knowledge, then the relationship between psychology and biology will be evident. For now, I can however point to the issue already considered, namely that any particular domain of science is not necessarily reducible to its underlying mechanisms.

The conceptual circularity in the search for a general theory

The issues above are complex perhaps not each, alone, but in their inter-relatedness. For several years at a time I seemed to lose direction in the issues, eventually concluding that they were interrelated, and to solve one is necessarily to solve them all. That is, to solve the problem of a general theory of psychology is also to solve the question on the structure and status of knowledge, which is also to solve the problem of causality.

The difficulty is circular. Following the previous discussion(4) of a process whereby integration could proceed I judged it impossible to unravel the situation above and to deal with them separately. I conceptualized the issues as follows.

  1. We need a general theory of psychology that integrates the best of the thought in the literature, Freud, Skinner, Neisser, Piaget, Kelly, and so on. We do not need more data, nor do we need more ideas. There do exist great insights that simply need to be ordered.
  2. But if I want to add thought to the theory, then how does it influence the body and the brain? Is it causal? There are many attempts in the literature to solve this problem, and many intellectual positions from inter-action to parallelism etc. None are very successful. And it is best to avoid these historical labels and seek to re-conceptualize the issues from the beginning.
  3. It follows that we need to examine the notions of cause and to build a theory of cause so that we can have a sound base on which to build a general theory of psychology.
  4. Now Hume analyzed issues of cause as perception of constant conjunctions, and concluded, rightly, that noting of mere constant conjunction is not sufficient. But what is constant conjunction? In what way is it related to questions above on variables and abstractions? What perceptual mechanisms are at work here?
  5. In addition, current notions on cause have it as a physical phenomenon. But this seems to confuse two quite different things. The hypothesis is that knowledge is independent of that represented by the knowledge. So when I watch an atomic explosion and think E=mc², and any other differential and quantum equations, then there are two things, the mechanisms in reality which result in the explosion, and our representations of those mechanisms. What we know of reality resides in the equations. The mechanisms simply are. The extent that we can and do predict what will happen using the equations is testimony to the fact that we have certainly grasped the essence of the reality in the equations. But for all that they remain distinct from the reality, and from the mechanisms. So is cause an aspect of reality or an aspect of our knowledge of reality? What are the exact relationships here?
  6. The implication is that if we had better understanding of how knowledge relates to reality then this would provide better insight into causality, what it is, and how it arises? So we need a general theory of knowledge.
  7. We need a theory of knowledge, to unravel issues of causality and to provide the platform for us to integrate the insights in the literature to form a general theory of psychology.
  8. But humans create knowledge therefore any valid theory of knowledge must arise from within a general theory of psychology. At very least, any theory of knowledge not arising from within a general theory of psychology must be treated with caution until such a theory of psychology is produced. So to create a theory of knowledge we need a general theory of psychology.

The circle is complete. They are not separate. Upon reflection, this has intuitive appeal. That is, the issue is the location of humanity within the universe, and even more generally, the location of intelligence and consciousness within the universe.

What should we expect of a general theory of psychology? What must it achieve?

Previously(5) I summarized the view emerging in the literature as consisting of four themes: early experience, stimulus-response, cognitive processes, and the development of knowledge within the individual.

Building on this beginning and refining it, the emergent view could be summarized as follows.

  1. There are unconscious factors, significantly derived from early experience. And the later development of knowledge structures contrary to the unconscious thrust does not necessarily mean the person will act consistently with what they know and what they know they know(6).
  2. People are reactive to the environment, whether it is a simple removing of a hand from a hot element or the complex reaction to a slight in a social situation. What is more, the nature of the interaction seems to come in 'packets'. That is, a set of thoughts, feelings and actions associated with situation or type of situation. And that there is considerable neural processing of even 'simple' reactions of removing one's hand from heat(7).
  3. We are profoundly influenced by the knowledge we acquire, the brain being a seen as a 'semantic engine'; thought clearly being a causal factor in shaping action and feelings, even if the mechanism remains elusive (this point will be explored later)(8). In addition, there is the critical adjunct to these views on knowledge in that knowledge is created by people, and a general theory of the person is knowledge, therefore any general theory must explain itself.
  4. Cognitive processes also play a part. By cognitive processes is meant the relationship the activation of one part of the brain makes to other parts of the brain. This based on the view that all mental acts have a neurological counterpart. It is also at this point that genetics has the greatest influence in determining what could be called the initial neural networks and energy barriers making the person pre-disposed to some neural flows over others(9). (It is important to note that not all neural flows are genetically determined, and this is not to be inferred.)
  5. As a species we are also free, exhibiting choice and self-responsibility. We also consistently act in a manner to achieve a preferred state at some future time; the sight of an athlete training hard for the world championships makes this very difficult to refute, regardless of any philosophical issues(10). But exercising this freewill is hard. Sometimes with the overpowering feeling of having to battle oneself to avoid the direction that every cell in one's body is thrusting toward and sometimes one doesn't understand why(11).
  6. Finally, without hope the very core of the life force, the will to live, can leave us(12). Psychology cannot ignore the spiritual reality of consciousness, and while no omnipotence is to be inferred, and there is no inference of a soul, there are crucial issues here if the general theory is to truly be explanatory of all human endeavours. The issue of hope and its potency needs to be explained.

These ideas are evident in the literature on psychology. They tend to transcend the schools that exist, and at this stage ignore some of the philosophical issues. But by adopting this perspective and understanding the conceptual and philosophical issues implicated, we gain an appreciation of the territory that must be negotiated. This is the minimum that any valid general theory of psychology must explain.

In addition to the above notes the following list summarises other important factors.

  1. A general theory of the person must offer insight into all aspects of behaviour and of being, from simple to complex. It cannot ignore simple habits, nor can it ignore complex issues of personal experience, the will to live and of human spirituality.
  2. It must also address crucial philosophical questions such as the problems of free will, mind and body, causality, consciousness, and how and why humans differ from animals.
  3. There are complex intellectual questions that need considering. For example, what is knowledge, how does it arise, and how can we understand it? Further, mathematics is knowledge, created by us. Yet, the universe seems to follow mathematical laws. Is our knowledge reality or a conceptual representation of it? If the latter why is it then that what we can unravel in the mathematics of theoretical physics seems to come true?
  4. The theory must also be able to explain itself. This is crucial. Knowledge is created by people therefore any theory of the person must explain knowledge, its power and its status. Conversely, any theory of the person is merely an aspect of knowledge.
  5. It must offer the framework of explaining how we become mentally ill, and how that illness might be addressed.
  6. It must be able to be summed in identifiable and specific ways such as to provide insight and understanding into the crucial determinants of societies, culture, the evolution of both and the way both influence the evolution of the individual.
  7. Finally, the theory must integrate the existing core ideas, providing a strategic framework - a paradigm - guiding the answers to old questions and giving rise to new questions.

Can any theory uncover the causality of human behaviour?

A theory of psychology must describe and inter-relate the variables the determinants of behaviour. And there can be nothing beside for if there is, then it is not a theory of psychology merely another theory in psychology. If there is a soul, then the theory must embrace it, and it should arise from within the process adopted. But if we can explain the person without using the notions of mind or soul, then Occam's razor decrees it must not be added to the theory. We choose to be scientists or not. We choose to adopt accepted ethics and tenants or not. We seek, not truth, but a minimalist clarity of concept that produces the full range of explanation we seek. If in so doing we offend some, we need respect their concerns but pursue our own.

In our pursuit, we must be wary of metaphor, pursuing the actual variables and relations between them. And we must do this in a manner whereby we understand what we have created, once it is created. In short, we need tools, understood and known tools producing knowledge of reliable nature and theory of understood structure.

Once such a theory is created will we then have the cause of all human behaviour, thought and emotion? Will we have the underlying cause of all that is human?

First we need to review cause itself. Cause is the explanation of a system such that all variables are at appropriate conceptual levels and there exists sufficient knowledge of the underlying mechanisms enabling us to say that there is no likelihood (or only a diminishingly small likelihood) of events that will result in an unexpected perturbation at the highest conceptual level (see the foregoing papers for the elaboration of this statement).

The solar system, for example, we have a clear model of how it works, we have our mechanisms. We also know sufficient of the surrounding universe, the environment of the solar system to state that there is nothing evident that would result in an unusual perturbation, so we may go to bed confident that indeed the sun will rise on the morrow. This, it must be emphasised is only sufficient cause. And this is all we can ever achieve.

The theory of knowledge gives rise to two types of description, descriptive explanation which is all at one conceptual level and describes how a perturbation will travel through a system but offers no insight or understanding of the underlying mechanisms of that system. And causal explanation consisting of the first, but supported by knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the description such that the two systems, the description and the mechanisms exist as a system of ultimate and immediate effects.

Any theory is and can ever only be a set of variables and the relations between those variables such as to describe how a perturbation travels through the system. A theory of the person can and must be only of this nature (see the note on the easy and hard problems of consciousness after paper 3 in the series for further elaboration on this point).

To answer precisely the question the title to this section, yes it is possible in principle to create a theory providing causal understanding into why we do what we do. But any such theory can only provide sufficient cause, and as I will show in later papers, the level of complexity and the atomic nature of feeling, thinking and action seriously limit obtaining sufficient information for anything but the broadest estimate on what any particular person will do in any particular circumstance. In fact the theory will lend weight to the well-known premise that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

Comment on the current state of psychological theory

The number of theories generated in the last sixty years has compounded popular disrespect for psychology. As I wrote in 1984(13), theories of psychology come and go, yet man remains eternal. And the problems that caused the loss of perspective remain today. At root, those problems are philosophical, a concern with the supposed nature of science, psychology, and whether or not thought was or could be a factor in the causality of human feeling and conduct. As put by Chris Brewin(14) …’when behaviour therapists came to address depression and more generalised anxiety disorders, the significance of personal meanings assumed greater importance. The investigation of individual thought processes, as recommended by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, became the cornerstone of the new cognitive-behavioural approaches… the fear was behaviour therapy no longer clearly differentiated from psychoanalysis … and the uncertainties of the scientific status of psychoanalysis’. And earlier, in a major work addressing the interface of psychology and psychoanalysis(15), the question was raised as to whether or not psychoanalytic theory was scientific. Emphasising as well the deficiencies of verification of Carnap and falsification of Popper.

Three points need to be raised. First, the very existence of these books presses the point that there is no valid theory of psychology, no theory of the person. Second, the problems highlighted on the nature of science and the status of aspects of domains of science equally presses the point that there is no valid theory of knowledge. And the third point is the emphasising of the issue made here, namely that the issues of cause, knowledge and a theory of psychology are fully intertwined. To consider one is inevitably to be drawn into considering them all. In Bolton and Hill’s book (Bolton 1996), for example, there is extensive discussion on the problems of causality and an attempt to circumvent the problems it causes by separating out two types of causality. The attempt fails simply because it does not establish a sound base from which to move forward. It does not address the problem of the process implicated in the creation of knowledge and so does not begin to clarify what it is we are in fact talking about when we choose to discuss the notion of cause at all. The circularity was not grasped, a problem common to most previous attempts to resolve these issues.

While such esoteric debate on the status of science and psychological was being pursued, common judgement had it that hopes, fears, dreams of a better future, attitudes and opinions were the very stuff of humanity. The essence of social and political existence, the core of relationships and family and the very heart of being and spirit, academe has yet much to learn from popular wisdom, which while it may lack intellectually, has the sharpness to know how frequently and how deeply we stand and fall on personal judgement.


Can psychology be unified?

Thought seems to be accepted as causal in behavior, and there is a renewal of teleological discussion. And while this may, in part, be the result of acceptance of goal directed actions in artificial intelligence and robotics it is also a more comfortable proposition within a science of psychology that accepts thought as a causal factor. In some considerable part this statement is tautological, saying that thought is causal in a science that accepts thought as causal. This is intended emphasizing the extent that humankind becomes enmeshed in its own conceptual creations. We create ideas to explain and order the universe, but once created we become prone to fit events of the universe into the pre-existing ideas or theory. Science can claim no special exemptions from this process, in fact this domineering tendency of ideas is given special emphasis in the term ‘paradigm’ as referring to well developed theories in some particular domain of science held be the greater number of scientists in that field.

If, however, a paradigm precludes some types of ideas, then the idea can be effectively excluded, simply by being ignored by readers or not be accepted by publishers. These are important considerations in the ethics of science, and to the extent they relate to the maintaining of an open mind in the scientist and to the management of knowledge they are important considerations in epistemology.

Within this terminology, psychology has a number of competing paradigms, none fully adequate, but each with an important insight. The task is to integrate these insights without bias, but how? Using what process and what tools? What ideas and philosophical position can we usefully adopt that enables a mind truly objective and accepting of the best from all existing schools of psychology? While simultaneously avoiding any pre-dispositions as to what may or may not be causal, and avoiding becoming trapped in pre-existing philosophical considerations such as how can thought (non-physical) effect behaviour (physical)? It is simply not enough to be determined to stay above these issues, to be merely well intentioned, there needs to be a process guiding the very manner in which a person thinks, so that he or she is maintained above them. These are some of the preliminary issues that must be considered before attempting to create a general theory of psychology. As a final point, this self-fulfilling tendency of ideas is something that any general theory of psychology must also explain.

To return to the question the heading of this section, it devolves into two issues (1) can psychology in principle be unified? (2) Even if it is successfully unified will the people populating the individual schools give up of their position and status within a school, give up of their opinions and beliefs on the potency of this or that past master of the art? The politics remain far more tenacious and pernicious than the struggle with the intellectual complexities of the science.

There is nothing in principle to stop the creation of a thorough, scientific theory of the person. But to achieve this demands, as has been stated several times a thorough and full solution to a host of long standing philosophical and intellectual issues. No theory can be full and complete unless it thoroughly addresses the interrelated issues of a theory of knowledge, of cause and finally of psychology.

The necessary conceptual structure of a general theory

If we take by way of analogy the equation on the pendulum T= Kƒl/g (where ‘K’ is twice pi, ‘ƒ’ the square root, ‘l’ is length and ‘g’ the constant of gravity). If we consider the period as parallel to behavior, and that without knowledge of the period we have no knowledge of the crucial aspects of the pendulum, then this equation is the general theory of the pendulum.

The question now is 'what is the period of a pendulum in London, or Santiago, or Rangiputa?' We cannot have a general answer to the question. The theory merely tells us the variables, and describes the relationship between those variables. To obtain an answer to the question of the ‘behavior’ of a pendulum we must measure the length and insert it in the theory. More specifically, we must go to the place or have someone go for us, observe the actual pendulum, measure its length, then complete the calculation.

The implication is all theories must have the same relationship with reality, only providing understanding of what to measure and how one variable interacts with another.

This gives rise to the proposition: any theory intended to offer explanation and prediction must consist of variables or systems with a description of how those variables or systems interact. With the notion of ‘interact’ being defined as how a change in one variable or system affects other variables or systems. A theory of psychology can only be an example of this general proposition.

This means that any general theory of psychology cannot provide understanding of specific people in specific instances. The theory can only consist of variables or systems of variables, all at the same conceptual level, with arrows describing which variable or system immediately changes if some particular variable or system is changed. With time and with full elucidation and understanding of some of the mechanisms it may be that mathematics can give greater precision to some of the arrows. But in this first instance, a general theory of psychology can only be of the form Aè B(16). This conceptual representation is then supported by a dialogue that describes how the theory accounts for the multitude of aspects of a person.

The steps of theory creation

The steps in theory creation can be summarised as follows.

  1. Identify the system to be studied. That is set the bounds. This is normally done perceptually. In the case of a general theory of psychology, the system under study is a person. Note also that it is a system assumed to consist of some number of as yet unidentified variables. This definition of the system under study is also the highest conceptual level for the particular study.
  2. Decide upon the variables or systems to be used to describe and system. This process is where previous knowledge (called ‘borrowed knowledge by Ashby) and experience with the system is introduced. That is the variables arising as being those to represent the system are not normally derived from first principles form the system, rather we inevitably begin the process with pre-existing conceptual structures. Care must be taken at this point for the decision on which variables are adopted is very prejudicial to what is and is not subsequently perceived of the system.
  3. Initiate a perturbation in the system and then observe the immediate effects as the change travels through the system.
  4. Seek progressive reduction of any systems of variables into the underlying variables, then reapply step 3 to establish the manner a perturbation travels through the sub-system.
  5. The output of this first stage is a descriptive explanation. It is a conceptual schematic of variables describing the immediate effect of a change in any of the variables. This is supported by a discussion on how the theory explains the observed features of the overall system at the highest conceptual level.
  6. If, for example, the system under study contained only Variables, then no further reduction of the system was possible. Given that a Variable is defined as a coherent concept having a single property. Development of the theory would then proceed via the progressive analysis of the arrows in the descriptive explanation, each arrow explained by a sequence of variables being the elucidation of the mechanism the arrow represents. The process of elucidating immediate effects underlying each arrow is the elucidation of the causal explanation of the system under study. With the development of this amount of detail, then it is possible that the theory, rather than being a graphic representation of variables (as boxes) and arrows becomes a mathematical description.

The process is fundamentally one of conceptualisation, resulting in a conceptual representation of the system under study.

Have you ever sought to learn a new card game by reading the rules? In written form they are often dreadful, seemingly difficult to unravel. Yet once the game is on, the rules most frequently fall into place and we wonder why we thought it so difficult. So it is with this process, it is best understood when the game is on. And the next paper will apply the rules and process to the system ‘person in their environment’.




Moss 1986. Moss, Leendert P. Annuals of Theoretical Psychology, vol 4. New York: Plenum Press.

Moss 1985. Moss, Leendert P. Annuals of Theoretical Psychology, vol 3. New York: Plenum Press.


The issue is relevant and was raised in private communication by Professor Michael Corballis of Auckland University, 1997.


The theory is developed in the previous papers in this series.


Little 1984.Little, Graham R. Creativity and conflict in Psychological Science. UNESCO: Impact of Science on Society 134/135, 203-210.


Little 1984.Little, Graham R. Creativity and conflict in Psychological Science. UNESCO: Impact of Science on Society 134/135, 203-210.


Hunt 1979.Hunt, J.McVicker. Psychological Development: early Experience. Ann.Rev.Psychology, vol 30.

Cioffi 1973.Cioffi, F(Editor). Freud: Modern Judgements. London: Macmillan.

Sarnoff 1971.Sarnoff, Irving. Testing Freudian Concepts. An experimental social approach. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

Barron 1992.Barron, J. Eagle, and Wolitzky, D.(Editors). Interface of Psychoanalysis and Psychology. Washington: American Psychological Assn.

Gardner 1993.Gardner, Sebastian. Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis. London: Cambridge University Press.


DeBerry 1993.DeBerry, Stephen. Quantum Psychology. Steps to a postmodern psychology of being. Westport, Conneticut: Prager.

Bry 1975.Bry, A. A Primer of Behavioural Psychology. New York: Mentor books.


Piaget 1953.Piaget, J. The Origin of Intelligence in the Child. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Kelly 1955.Kelly, G. The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton.

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Burns 1992.Burns, Barbara.(Editor). Advances in Psychology 93. Percepts, concepts and categories. Holland: Elsevier.


Hardcastle 1995.Hardcastle, Valerie Gray. Locating Consciousness. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing.

Gazzaniga 1995.Gazzaniga, Michael S.(Editor). The Cognitive Neurosciences. Mass: MIT Press.


Pink 1996.Pink, Thomas. The Psychology of Freedom. United kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Franklin 1968.Franklin, R.L. Freewill and Determinism. London: Routledge and kegan Paul.

Thornton 1989.Thornton, M. Do We Have Freewill. United Kingdom: Bristol Press.


In the last twenty years I have experienced some fifteen thousand hours face-to-face in business, communication and stress workshops. These points of view I have heard so many times I take them as a reality that must be embraced by any theory likely to have general acceptance and living usefulness.


There is a rich literature on hope, faith and death that I have made no attempt to quote. At a personal level I suffered a heart attack and open-heart surgery. Researchers at Green Lane Hospital interviewed me, because in strict medical eyes I should have died. They had been collecting data on such events for several years, when asked if they had uncovered anything, the reply was that all they could say was some people had a stronger will to live. They did not understand why, although could speculate.


Little 1983.Little, Graham R. Is Psychology Relevant? New Zealand: Industrial Business Magazine vol 1, August.

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Bolton 1996 (In the forward). Bolton, D. and Hill, Jonathon. Mind, Meaning and Mental Disorder. The nature of causal explanation in psychology and psychiatry. New York: Oxford University Press.


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It is crucial to note that this is now a very precisely defined diagram. Boxes represent the variables with the arrow describing the relationship. However, these diagrams as used here are very different from those used often in the literature. The difference being in the precision with which every part of the diagram is defined and based on the most fundamental aspects of scientific knowledge as necessarily the perception of change.