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Blank, H.R. (1956). The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954: Notes on the Discussion between Frenkel-Brunswik and Skinner. Michael Scriven.. Psychoanal Q., 25:292-293.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954: Notes on the Discussion between Frenkel-Brunswik and Skinner. Michael Scriven.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:292-293

The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954: Notes on the Discussion between Frenkel-Brunswik and Skinner. Michael Scriven.

H. Robert Blank

Scriven, also a philosopher of science, confines himself to 'the fundamental issue' between Frenkel-Brunswik and Skinner: 'Does the theoretical aspect of psychoanalytic discussion contribute anything useful over and above the admittedly important observed correlations (for example, between specified types of trauma and neuroses)? Dr. Skinner disagrees in a fundamental way with the method involved rather than with the actual results of the method. He does not believe that the process of hypothesizing in a new theoretical language is ever fruitful.' Scriven disagrees with this position, first 'on historical grounds. I believe that the suggestive power of conceptual terms is indispensable to scientific activity; and I do not think that this can be dismissed as a property of an immature science—it seems to me to be what distinguishes a science from a summary.'

The second point of disagreement is a logical one. 'I do not think that there is a fundamental difference between the observation terms and theoretical terms of science, even at a given moment. There are important differences, indeed, between terms such as "length" or "response frequency", on the one hand, and others such as "entropy" or "intelligence". But it is a mistake to think that these differences correspond to the difference between theory-neutral and theory-contaminated terms. For observation terms are also embedded in a theory, albeit a very well-established one, and every now and again we are awakened by the discovery that this theory is not inviolable and that we have to change our concept of, let us say, length in a fundamental way, perhaps by introducing a reference to the velocity of the measured object. Conversely, although we may observe entropy changes or intelligence levels in a different way from length and response frequency—a way that makes people want to say that we really infer them from other observations—this is only half the truth, for we do observe that a man is intelligent or introverted or unconsciously motivated.'

Scriven is very gentle with Skinner, whom he regards as not primarily interested in the explanation of behavior but rather in providing the descriptive laws that form an important part of explanations. 'Skinner's interest appears to

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be in answering the "how" rather than the "why" about behavior.' In considering Skinner's and Scriven's contributions, it is important to restate the indispensable emphasis of psychoanalysis: the psychoanalyst is immediately and primarily interested in the what rather than the how and why. If the psychoanalyst can tolerate the anxiety of not knowing (Frenkel-Brunswik's tolerance of ambiguity), and can search for the what, the how and why tend to fall into place, chiefly through preconscious activity, without conscious straining for explanations. The what, how and why thus obtained must then be subjected to strict scrutiny and further testing in the experimental situation provided by every psychoanalytic session. Actually the emphasis on the what characterizes every scientific approach; the unique contribution of psychoanalysis to scientific method is the discovery and continuing elucidation of those factors in the scientist that create blind spots or interfere with his making the most of what he sees.

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Article Citation

Blank, H.R. (1956). The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:292-293

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