Application VI: Science and Behavior

A behavioral science? Yes and no. A more behavioral science, to be sure. But a behavioral science to join other disciplines in laying out territorial claims on the Nature of things? Not unless such a science takes a more productive view of its own behavior and that of the behavioral entities it observes.

Science has two very serious behavioral problems, the first with respect to its own behavior (, , , esp.) and the second with respect to the observed behavior of other behavioral entities (Topics 0, I, II, V-XI, esp.). BFPS says that the two problems share two common roots, the first with respect to the overemphasis given the order of things relative to the Nature of Things (, ), resulting in a primacy given discovery over invention as a platform for knowing – and a primacy of sorts for physics and chemistry (and their methods), which deal with orderly behavior, the second with respect to the neglect of the behavioral problem (: Pbeh) shared by observer and the observed.

G. G. Simpson, advocating back in 1962 for a re-centering of science on biology (in contrast to a core of physics and chemistry), called for more attention to biology by the scientific community. Questions of “What for?” and “How come?” re behavior were not getting needed study by scientists who were themselves biological, he said. (The coverage problem is much more extensive than these two questions, however, as illustrated by the questions of “What might we do?” and “What ought we do?” – along with “How can we do it?”)

Biology has since asserted itself more forcefully with its genome studies, expanding if not re-centering science. But questions germane to the Nature of Things remain subjugated to the “IS, WAS, MUST BE” (big questions) of the order of things emphasis. Possibility, ethical and moral conduct, public policy, compositional design … such are left to others. There is a fundamental imbalance within science – which should be obvious given that any order of things is but a portion of the Nature of Things (III: partial order). (It is not “metaphysics” to say that matters of consequence lie outside the realms of physics, chemistry and biology disciplines.)

Consider the fable of the blind men describing an elephant: How relatively little improved are their observations if they, given sight, are still wearing blinders (: Impediments) and if all they observe is the movement, in physical space and time, of the elephant? Does the Nature of Things’ behavioral necessity have no consequentiality for the elephant? Clearly, the elephant does things, takes steps that are incompletely and inaccurately described without a better understanding of behavior.

Behavior is, after all, the most consequential of all that is consequential. Science depends on consequentiality for its processes of knowing via empirical test. And then there is the evidence in the human condition of the last ten millennia and of the last few centuries most pointedly: Compositional change is increasing exponentially in relation to circumstantial change. Process consequentiality – i.e., behavior – is coming to the fore.

Consider another, somewhat modified fable: Suppose a king with a daughter yet to be promised is looking for a deserving husband for her. Suppose that he entertains a first suitor with the request that he bring back the secret of the goose that lays the golden eggs. This first suitor comes back with a basket of eggs, but the king denies his suit because, he says, these are but examples of the secret. A second suitor comes back with the goose, but the king denies his suit too because, he says, this goose will eventually die and the secret will die with it. A third suitor appears and the frustrated king tells him, “Come back with the process, dammit, if you want to win the hand of my daughter!”

Science, as an enterprise in knowing, and in light of the Nature of Things, is not nearly as helpful to the human condition as it might and ought to be. Discovering the order of things is useful and defensible, to be sure. But we have seen that responsibility does not end there. For the professional observer, there is a responsibility to develop the capability to observe – i.e., to mind, and, most assuredly, to help others develop their minding capabilities.

To better see what’s missing here, take the case of units of behavior, first in the behavior observed. That’s typically behaviors, actually, which in the problem solving context would be particulars of situation and solution (: Psit and Sbeh). In contrast to the control foci specified by behavioral necessity’s requisites and imperatives (Topics VI to XI), which are essential to composing needed solutions, empirical research employs gross (in molecular terms) units of behavior after the fact in the pursuit of the order of things. Its generalities are to be found – if at all – in logical tools applied to aggregates of these particulars.

Accompanying and representing these gross units of behavior are the observer’s categories for them – as though behavior were synonymous with behaviors, as though behavioral generality could only be derived from behavioral particulars. Yet the Nature of Things posits and elaborates on the fact of behavior, with specification of where the process consequentiality comes from and what it does.

Thus, despite knowledge to be gained from compositional effort, predicated on generalities which are in the Nature of Things (: general persisting conditions) researchers are, instead, “searching under the streetlight” of the order of things – and like the “little boy with a hammer” using logical necessity and neglecting behavioral necessity.

The result of this stunted observer behavior (: Impediments) can be seen in the kinds of outcomes behavioral researchers and clinicians obtain. Whatever order they discover tends to be actuarial. Their categories (aka concepts) are fuzzy and ill-defined (: Behavioral manifold) and the relationships between them offer little to problem solvers in need of compositional help (beyond better than chance, better than the competition, etc. (See .)

Together the two behavioral problems of observer and observed are not so much a matter of disciplinary re-centering (on biology – but why not communication and cognition?) as they are of disciplinary standing: coming to stand on two feet rather than on one foot (: Life, the double crystal), of finding a better foundation, one which integrates an expanding science with art and humanism: art’s composing and humanism’s problem solving.

Science has given far more emphasis to bodies than to steps, even in regard to its own behavior. So it is unbalanced and bereft of potential productivity from their interdependence and complementarity, and subject to traumatic oscillation as exigency – i.e., problem solving — calls for more emphasis on making and taking steps. Problems of crime, of war, of health, of education, of poverty, of pestilence, of environment … the list goes on and on: they are all behavioral problems requiring a fundamental working knowledge of behavior.

Science has developed its observational capacity impressively, inventing instruments that enable it to see more deeply into bodies: their parts, their structure, their movements and positions, their relationships. But what of their capabilities as behavioral entities? While we have produced a cyclotron we do not yet have a psychlotron. We can use steps to identify bodies, but what about bodies to identify steps – i.e., appropriate behavioral units? (See .) There is reductionism for bodies but not a historical reductionism for steps, yet every thing goes back to Everything, to the Nature of Things, via the problem of behavior (: Pbeh).

Science’s minding is limited by the ways it observes and by the very territorial interests of its observers. Both the process and the product of its minding are thereby flawed. There is a paradigmatic distress here that remains undiagnosed and uncorrected.

Do we need a Behavioral Science? Not really; all of science is behavioral, in its observing and in its observed. (Like behavioral entities, some more than others.) Behavior suffers the same fate that Schramm noted for communication: It is a “crossroads” for everyone else — as Paisley has said, it is a field to their disciplines. Ironic is it not? Behavior, which should be princess of the sciences, as the best “rubbing” of the Nature of Things, is still an unrecognized Cinderella.

How did this come about? The way it started – and has continued – is telling. Those charged with and/or assuming leadership in the earliest days of human history found problems for which they were unable and/or unwilling to assume responsibility. They delegated some of that responsibility to someone else for discovering or inventing a solution – or at least a path to a solution. Professional observing was born. So was alchemy – of communication (e.g., invocations, prayers) if nothing more effective.

Question-answer (Q-A) and problem-solution (P-S) procedures were thus informally, then formally, initiated. Given that solutions too often required more than answers could supply, the two paths and their clients/supporters and followers understandably sometimes diverged. (Pasteur is a notable exception. Of some interest in this respect is the later-in-life switch by accomplished questioners like Schweitzer [religion], Russell [philosophy] and Lewin [behavior] to problem solving on behalf of humanity.) Basic research vs. applied research, research faculty vs. clinical faculty, science vs. technology … these are familiar artifacts of the split. Today’s science uses problem solving to help ask and to help answer its questions, limiting its responsibilities – but, of course, also its capability and consequentiality. (It also sometimes uses P-S as a rationale for its support.) Behavioral dynamics suggests that a balanced, complementary interdependence of Q-A and P-S is called for. And when behavior of the observed is the focus of attention, it seems dubious indeed to be asking behavioral questions, given the behavioral problem, however logical the hypothesis stated, without consideration of these questions’ problematic context for the step taker.

Research conceptualized without regard to the problematic aspects of human behavior (: Pbeh — not just Psit), where problems arise only after the questions are formulated, will suffer the fate of the actuarial (see above): a lack of applicability. On this point, “topic plus method” could hardly be surpassed as an unproductive recipe for behavioral research.

An example from geology, itself now profiting from a more behavioral view of Earth, is suggestive. There is some consequentiality to be had from gathering sand, gravel, stones and boulders for various usages. But those entities comprise minerals. Those minerals, distinguished and separated, have far greater utility, especially for creative purposes, for compositional change. The minerals, we can say, have greater materiality – i.e., consequentiality. This evokes the growing interest in materials science. And this pertains to our behavioral concerns.

There is nothing more material – which is to say consequential – than behavior. If we can get past the sand, gravel, et al stage of globby units, categorical characterizations, and body capacities, past their dedication to the order of things, forward to the fundamental, functional units of behavior then materials science will have fully arrived – not as a separate kind of science but as the Nature of Things’ humanistic and artful course forward for all of science and for all sciences.

The possibility of effectiveness predicated on developed capability implicit in the Behavioral Manifold’s continuum from need toward ideal can become realized: Humanism, art and science united in better solutions for more problems.

(See Comments for further discussions of science and its methods, of its needs and its development.)

(c) 2010 R. F. Carter