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Guttman, S.A. (1965). Some Aspects of Scientific Theory Construction and Psycho-Analysis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:129-136.

(1965). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46:129-136

Some Aspects of Scientific Theory Construction and Psycho-Analysis

Samuel A. Guttman


I have presented a preliminary over-view of several aspects of scientific theory construction and psycho-analysis. Some notions from science, in particular physics, have been considered. Paradigms are generally accepted achievements that for a time provide model problems and model solutions to a community of practitioners of a science. Without a theoretical framework normal scientific investigation cannot take place. However, this is a double-edged sword because the paradigm can be confining and thus bind down the research activities, as well.

A parallel was drawn between text-book science teaching and professionalization of a psycho-analytic institute. Both tend to be 'paradigm-bound' and novelty has little or no place in such an approach. I suggested that being 'paradigm-bound' is an explanation for at least a large number of contributions to our current psycho-analytic literature. Our professional commitments must not blind us to other possibilities.

Some comments were made about atomism and its evolution. Present-day scientific theory construction in physics, as well as other sciences, is in essence, the science of 'atomism', a study of structure and relationships. The consummation of current atomic theory-construction according

to current structural tradition (in science) is to establish a general theory of order and disorder, of structural transformations and stability, with less emphasis on the units and more on the observed structure of relations. In physics this is taking place. For Freud, the ego, superego, and id, were the mental structures. However, for Hartmann structure is something different (see p. 134); the goal in current scientific theory construction is to have a theory with the broadest context and to discover the finer patterns of changing relations. We should devote our efforts to the basic concepts and fundamental principles (the structure of psycho-analytic theory) and the relationships.

The following anecdote about a student of physics seems appropriate in summing up this paper. Doctor Alexander Calandra (1964) of Washington University in St. Louis told about a physics student who was fed up with college instructors trying to teach him how to think instead of 'showing him the structure of the subject matter'. According to Dr Calandra's tale, the student had been given a zero for his answer to a question on a physics examination. The question was: 'Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer?' The student's answer: 'Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower the barometer to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.' Dissatisfied with this solution but conceding that it was not strictly incorrect the physics teacher gave the student another chance to answer, this time in a way that would show some knowledge of physics. Having selected what he said was the best of many answers he had in his head, the student dashed off the following: 'Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula S = 1/2gt2, calculate the height of the building.' (S = distance fallen, g = gravitational acceleration of the barometer, and t = time). This apparently satisfied the letter, if not the spirit, of the examination question, and the student received almost full credit for the answer. He was then asked what other answers he had had in mind and responded, in part, with the following: 'You could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of a simple proportion, determine the height of the building.' Or, if not limited to physics, you could 'take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent's door. When he answers you say: "Here I have a very fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer."'

The student in the story, Dr Calandra said, really knew the correct answer, which was to use equations relating barometric pressure and altitude to calculate the height from readings of the barometer taken at the bottom and the top of the building. That answer was not given, however, because the student wanted to take off what he regarded mostly as a sham, that is, the teaching of critical thinking, or the scientific method. Dr Calandra maintained that science teachers ought to teach science, but that teaching it from the standpoint that it is a special sort of thinking applying only to science is misleading. The ideas of science can be elucidated just as well merely by emphasizing the patterns in the subject matter and demonstrating them in practice.

There is nothing arcane about psycho-analysis.

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