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 RATIONALITY vs AUTHORITARIANISM
by
Juan Carlos Garelli
Rationalism

The fact that the rationalist attitude considers the argument rather than the person arguing is fo far-reaching importance, It leads to the view that we must recognize everybody with whom we communicate as a potential source of argument and of reasonable information; it thus establishes what may be described as the "rational unity of mankind". Conversely, the irrationalist will think of the argument as of the least importance, and focus on the source, how he sounds, whether he is polite or impolite, whether he has manners or not, whether he is vehement or calm, whether he is arrogant or humble, and will try to argue on the basis of equating personal attitudes to scientific outcomes.

The history of science is quite telling about the role of of authoritarianism among the forerunners of today's empirical sciences.

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SCIENCE

By way of an example, take Lavoisier's discovery of oxygen in the 18th century. He never dared publish it during his lifetime, he left his theory under a sealed envelope in the French Academy of Sciences with instructions that it not be opened unless he either requested it or if he died. This latter outcome, unfortunately, prevailed, as he was deeply involved in politics and he finished his days at he hands of the French revolutionary tribunal which ordered his execution. Lavoisier was guillotined on May 8, 1794.

Why did Lavoisier fear to publish his revolutionary discovery? Because current trends at the time were led by alchemists of the calibre of Joseph Priestley who was a fervent supporter of the phlogiston theory, so much so that he called oxygen "dephlogisticated air". As is now known, the phlogiston cannot be disproved (phlogiston being a mysterious entity which is displayed whenever the substance which houses it flames), nor can it be proved, hence it's as untestable as the existence of Zeus.

Lavoisier knew he couldn't challenge Priestley on a peer footing insofar as Priestley's prestige was currently domineering within the learned community.

Matters of seniority and renown count more than matters of truth or degree of testability of assertions

Something very much along similar lines happened to Darwin, who had already concocted his theory of evolution on his return from his Beagle voyage round the world, by about 1839. Odd, don't you think? He kept his invaluable theory on the evolutionary change of species in a drawer for 20 years!

He reluctantly published his Origin of Species in 1859 -he was 50 by that time- only because his friend Alfred Wallace, who had independently come to the same conclusions regarding species' selection by natural means, convinced him to read a joint paper at the Linnean Society in July 1858.

So, again, why was Darwin so afraid of publicly advancing his discovery? Very much for the same reasons as Lavoisier's: current thinking in the evolution of species bore the brand of Lamarck, who affirmed evolution was to be seen as species changing over time due to an innate tendency towards perfection; quite different from Darwin's view that changes in the evolution of species were hazardous -not purposeful, let alone tending towards perfection- whereby organisms best fit to cope with the environment were apt to reach reproductive age, thus endowing them with a differential survival edge.

Moreover, due to Darwin's shy temper, after his first edition of The Origin of Species had met public disdain and scorn, he felt so uneasy he backtracked his own steps and subsequently modified his original theory in the successive editions to the extent of making it almost undifferentiated from Lamarck's.

Thomas Kuhn, a science historian, published an important book back in 1962 called "The structure of scientific revolutions" where he elaborates at length on a so-called sociology of knowledge. And I think that is the way the book has to be read, as one of the first important contributions to the sociology of scientific evolution, rather than a book on the philosophy of science (which is currently equated with the concept of epistemology).

What Kuhn tells us deals with the way men have managed scientific principles throughout history, and that he labels "the natural history of science".

Many scientists and epistemologists -Kuhn included- have taken it to be a normative body of epistemological guidance nobody is likely to escape.

Kuhn's central thesis is that in order to attain a status of a truly consensuated science, like physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, a paradigm or a set of paradigms must be set up and gain the upper hand so as to guide scientists in their search and practice.

Newtonian physics, for instance, proved a fruitful paradigm for over 300 years, as it led researchers and practitioners to explore and exploit all aspects of Newton's laws on nature to their ultimate consequences. This kind of scientific activity he calls "normal science", that is, scientific research and practice under the unchallenged aegis of Newton's governing variables.

He further purports the idea tha it is not until the paradigm begins to fail - in this particular case, for instance, Michelson & Morley's repeatedly failed experiments- that a gateway is open for a "scientific revolution": in this case Einstein's theory of relativity.

But the very notion of paradigm is wholly in keeping with the concept of worldview, since the governing variable -the paradigm- is never challenged, on the contrary, if anything goes wrong, like Michelson & Morley's experiment, it is their fault; it is their choice of action strategies that has to be examined and changed over and over until their results confirm the governing variable: the paradigm.

However much we may regret it, the way social sciences, and particularly psy-sciences currently deal with theories about human behaviour is very much in keeping with the authoritarian model or worldview. Worldviews are contrary to the spirit of th Scientific Method, which lays emphasis on such concepts as objectivity of approach to, and acceptability of the results of, scientific study. Objectivity indicates the attempt to observe things as they are, without falsifying observations to accord with some preconceived world view. Acceptability is judged in terms of the degree to which observations and experimentations can be reproduced.

Furthermore, agreement of a conclusion with an actual observation does not itself prove the correctness of the hypothesis from which the conclusion is derived. It simply renders the premise that much more plausible.

The ultimate test of the validity of a scientific hypothesis is its consistency with the totality of other aspects of the scientific framework. This inner consistency constitutes the basis for the concept of causality in science, according to which every effect is assumed to be linked with a cause.

Scientists, like other human beings, may individually be swayed by some prevailing worldview to look for certain experimental results rather than others, or to "intuit" some broad theory that they then seek to prove.

The scientific community as a whole, however, judges the work of its members by the objectivity and rigour with which that work has been conducted; in this way the scientific method prevails.

Given the sombre state of human affairs, the pervading influence of psychoanalysis on psychology bodes ill for essential future developments in this badly needed area in that it discourages rather than promote prosocial behaviour.

I have trained in psychoanalysis. I qualified as a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association back in 1983. So I can assure that within the realm of this world organization there is no possibility whatsoever to challenge any of Freud's fundamental postulates, e.g., his OEdipus complex.

Having understood this, I started a search through several disciplines in order to find a different approach to tackling the problem of human mental development in health and ill-health.

Fortunately, I found a discipline-in-the-making which proved fruitful for both theoretical and practical purposes and developments: post-Lorenzian ethology.

Post-Lorenzian ethology deals with the study of animal behaviour under the theoretical framework of neodarwinism, or the synthetic theory of evolution contrived by a group of geneticists -Julian Huxley was an outstanding member of that group- back in 1931.

This theoretical framework has proved fruitful for research and practice in psychiatry and psychotherapy. And as I explain below, that is why I feel so involved in doing research concerning prosocial behaviour. There are significant correlations between early parent-infant bonding and the process of socialization in childhood and adulthood.

Other researchers have studied the process of early socialization adopting the ethological approach, eg. John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Dan Stern. I buttress their assertions insofar as they focus on observational phenomena, whereas I am not prone to view the whole of their work - which they call Attachment Theory- under the same valid light.

I have undertaken a particularly difficult research project. We are trying to study mother-newborn interactions immediately after delivery. We are currently up against a host of cumbersome troubles, mainly related to prevailing social environmental conditions that make the gathering of the sample particularly hard to obtain.

Drawing on Bowlby's and Ainsworth's assertions about the onset of attachment behaviour, we learn that the average baby shows the first signs of proximity- sensitive feelings around the age of 6 months.

Now Daniel Stern (1985) has renewedly taken up the subject in his book 'The Interpersonal World of the Infant' where he elaborates on the fist stages of the senses of self which he calls the stage of the 'Emergent Self'. We think Stern's ideas about the emergent self to be contradictory with his own proposition that humans are social as from birth, and hence already manage the ability of intersubjective communication which he addresses at a much later stage in development.

We believe -and that is what we are trying to show in our study- that the newborn actively seeks interpersonal, intersubjective contact with his mother in the immediate postpartum. Moreover, the launching of this social connection is the only activity the newborn is interested in.

We are addressing what has typically been referred to as the period of 'Alert Inactivity' of the newborn, which many Early Developmentalists have observed and reported, and which has, up to now, been said to last at most 1 hour. This period we think is the sensitive period for the establishment of an attachment relationship with the baby's mother. It is our thesis that curtailment of this period by early separation or by lack of mother-infant connection retards the onset of overly attachment behaviour for at least 6 months.

Our work methodology roughly consists in: 1) Contact would-be mother during last quarter of pregnancy in order to reach an agreement on our observation procedures; 2) Coordination with medical staff surveying delivery; 3) Videofilm immediate postpartum mother-infant interactions for at least 1 hour; 4) Follow-up during the first year of life; 5) Strange Situation test at 12 months of age.

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References

Ainsworth, M. et al (1978) Patterns of attachment. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bowlby, J. (1969/82) A&L, vol. 1: Attachment. Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973) A&L, vol. 2: Separation. The Hogarth Press.

Bowlby, J. (1980) A&L, vol. 3: Loss. The Hogarth Press.

Darwin, C. (1859) The Origin of Species. Pelican Classics (1979).

Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. OUP.

Garelli, J.C. (1983) Bases biologicas del miedo y la angustia (Biological bases of fear and anxiety). Buenos Aires, Psicoanalisis, 5, 477-503

Garelli, J.C. (1984) Bases etologicas de la teoria del apego (Ethological roots of the theory of attachment). Buenos Aires, Psicoanalisis, 6, 119-145.

Garelli, J.C. (1997) Attachment and Aggression. Journal of Italian Psychology (in press)

Leakey, R.E. (1981) The Making of Mankind. The Bumbridge Publishing Group.

Maynard-Smith, J. (1975) The theory of evolution. Pelican.

Trivers, R.L. (1985) Social evolution. Bejamin/ Cummings.

Wilson, E.O. (1975) Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Harvard University Press.