First PY106 Tutorial

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sat Oct 11 1997 - 15:00:48 BST

Hi Psychological Thinkers:

This is a summary of the first tutorial (mainly for the 4/8ths
of you who were not there):

Thinking Psychologically will meet in Shackleton Room 4033
every Friday from 10:00 - 10:55, but the next two Fridays
(Oct 17 & Oct 24) I will be overseas, so we will instead meet
for a double-session on Thursday October 16 from 3:30-5:30.
Come to my office at 4129 unless my secretary sends you
the room number before that.)

It is very important for those of you who missed the first seminar
that you start to attend regularly, otherwise you will be left
behind. So please, each of you reply to this email to confirm
you will be able to attend. But please don't use R or Reply
to reply, otherwise your message will got to everyone and
we'll also 8 replies! Send it to (and always
be careful when you use R or reply that you really do want the
message sent to everyone on the list, rather than just me!).

First some general information about PY106. Read the course
description in the Year 1 Booklet, but every tutor and group
will be different. There are 17 readings in the tutor boxes
in the reserve room of the library. If you want any of
them to be used in PY106, let me know; otherwise, I'll be
using different readings. Here are the four we'll be discussing.

Read Luriia's "The man with a shattered world" first and after you've
read it, send a couple of screens-full to the Skywriting List:

It can either describe what you read, comment on what you've read, or
ask about what you've read. Look in other Student Skywriting archives
on the Web in:
     The man with a shattered world: a history of a brain wound [by]
     A.R. Luria translated from the Russian by Lynn Solotaroff
     Luriia A.R. WL 354 LUR RESV-HART (Available: SHORT-LOAN) #3
     The mind of a mnemonist [by] A.R. Luria
     Luriia A.R. 154 LUR RESV-HART

     The man who mistook his wife for a hat Oliver Sacks
     Sacks Oliver W. WL 340 SAC RESV-HART

     Nobody nowhere the extraordinary autobiography of an autistic Donna
     Williams Williams Donna BF 723.A79 WIL RESV-HART

In the first session we discussed what Psychology is, but we didn't
quite settle it! It was suggested that it is the study of human
behaviour. (This might have appeared in a textbook 20 years ago,
while Behaviourism was still flourishing, but no one thinks that
that is the right description today.)

"The study of human behaviour" does not capture what Psychology is
for the following reasons:

(1) There are other fields that study human behaviour: anthropology,
sociology, psychiatry, sports medicine, criminology, education, etc.
So if your life depended on picking Psychology out uniquely using that
definition, you wouldn't live very long!

(2) What about nonhuman behaviour? Is that not part of Psychology?

Next it was suggested that Psychology is a science. So I asked what
science was, and someone said it proved the laws of nature (or something
like that).

I suggested that only mathematics and logic can "prove" anything:
You can prove that 2 + 2 = 4 by showing that if 2 + 2 did not
= 4 then this would lead to a contradiction. Anything that leads
to a contradiction is untrue. Why? Because if contradictions were
allowed, than everything and anything would be both true and false
and nobody could say anything that was meaningful and informative:
Not the simplest statement, like "I need to go to the loo" would
have any meaning, because "I don't need to go to the loo" would
also be true.

I leave it to you to work out how the world would be if every "true"
statement in it were paired with an equally true statement that said
the first statement was false. There would be no point saying anything
in such a world of "anything goes."

So in maths you can prove a statements (by showing that if that
were false, it would lead to a contradiction and hence to "anything
goes." So the statement must be true).

In science, there are no proofs. In physics, the law "F = ma"
(Newton's Law) is supported by every piece of evidence anyone
has ever seen to the present day, but tomorrow could always be
different. So F=ma is not proven to be true; it is only extremely
likely, because it has been supported by all the evidence till now.

Another way to understand the difference between a proven fact in
maths and a highly probably fact in science is in terms of possibility:

2 + 2 = 4 is not only true, but it is NECESSARILY true; it has to be
true. It is not possible for it to be false (and we can prove that).
But although F=ma is probably just as true as 2 + 2 = 4, it is not
NECESSARILY true; we can't prove it. It is possible for F = ma
to be (or for it to have been) false, but it is not possible for 2 + 2 = 4
to be (or ever to have been) false.

So Psychology is like other branches of science in that it cannot prove
that its facts and theories are true; it can only show that all the
evidence (or most of the evidence, or even just a lot of evidence)
supports them.

But I still don't know what Psychology is: what is unique to it, that no
other science studies, and how does it study it.

In the seminar, it was suggested that that unique something mght be the
mind: but what is THAT? and how can you study it?

Read the previous Student Skywriting about what Psychology
is/isn't and post your comments or questions about it.

I'd like to see at least one intellectual message on py106sh
from each of you before we meet next Thursday.

Cheers, Stevan

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