Friday, March 21, 2014

Maxims for Vertebrates (Policies and Behavioral Logic)

and how chasing your tail makes sense. 

Policies are guides to how we'd like to live our lives. Maxims are the behavioral logic that guide proper description.

"If the situation calls for a person to do something they can't do, they will do something they can do instead," is different from the more hopeful, "people do the best they can", since it is pretty clear, often enough, they don't. People doing the best they can is a kind and generous variation of the policy "give people the benefit of the doubt," and that's usually a good first move. 

There is a conceptual difference between behavioral logic, the Descriptive Psychological maxims employed to guide proper description, and personal and therapeutic policies that represent our values and the direction we hope life will take. To give people the benefit of the doubt, to treat them as doing the best they can, is a good first move since it usually avoids starting off on the wrong foot with a degradation. Of course, when we treat someone as doing the best they can and they know damn well they're not, we might end up disqualifying ourselves as competent judges. It's a risk, but that's why policies are different from maxims. Policies are to be followed until or unless we have reason enough not to, whereas behavioral logic in the form of maxims are the constraints or the rules for correctly framed descriptions.

The body of behavioral logic that constitutes the maxims in Descriptive Psychology is "an open-ended collection, since there is no limit to the different warning, reminders, etc. that might appropriately be given by one person to another in regard to describing persons and their behavior" (Ossorio, PLACE, 1998/2012).

People always act within their values, knowledge and competence. What else can they do? But do they do their best? Sometimes, maybe. This illustrates the difference between logical forms, the grammar of making sense, and social policies and choice principles. "If the situation calls for a person to do something they can't do, they will do something they can do instead," is a logical form, a tautology. Treating people as doing the best they can, is a social policy, a manner of not engaging in a dismissive or degrading stance.  

Maxims can also serve as a sort of grammar that guides the shape of a hypothesis or empirical generalization. In these cases, the logical structure serves as the frame for the empirical content.

"When over-excited or in doubt, groom," is an example of an empirical generalization of a pattern of vertebrate behavior.  Grooming, whether a response to over-excitment or confusing uncertainty, is an example of the more general notion of displacement behavior, something I was taught when I was going to be a zoologist. I was taught that displacement behavior sometimes occurs when an animal is in a situation that might call for aggression but where aggression, for whatever reason, would be problematic for the animal’s survival. This includes conflicts over food, dangerous sexual challenges, or when a juvenile gets too rough with an adult of greater threat potential. For some zoologists, displacement was a manner of bookkeeping drive and excitement, a way of accounting for “frustrated aggression”.

The maxim, "If the situation calls for a person to do something they can't do, they will do something they can do instead" can provide a structure to house displacement behavior in the form of the hypothesis, “If a situation would appear to call for an animal to do something that might put it in a worse position, it will likely do something else instead”. This is also informed by a modification of the maxim, “A person values some states of affairs over others and acts accordingly”.  Grooming serves social cohesion and also feels good, prudent and hedonic motives, and so also fits the maxim, "If a person has two reasons for doing X, they have a stronger reason for doing X than if they have only one of these reasons."

The Maxim, “if a situation calls for something a person can’t do, they will do something they can do", is open concerning what it is that the person will choose or select from their behavior potential. Selections are not random or arbitrary, hence, “If a person values a specific something….they will thereby also value other specific things of the same kind to the extent that they are relevantly similar to the original.”

Displacement attempts to accomplish something relevant, given the circumstances, even if it is not what the observer might expect at first glance.

My puppy Hart has a policy, “When you can’t steal the bone, chase your tail.”

More on Maxims can be found in the entry, People Make Sense...., and on therapeutic policies, Mindful Uncertainty: What is Psychotherapy.  And in the Degradation Ceremonies of Everyday Life.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Short Course in Descriptive Psychology

.... All explanation must disappear, and description alone must take its place. ... (109)
.... Since everything lies open to view, there is nothing to explain. .... (126) 

The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a young science....For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion....

The existence of experimental methods make us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and methods pass one another by. (xiv)

What makes an individual a person is, paradigmatically, to have mastered the concept of a Person. Peter G. Ossorio, PLACE

It is unfortunately clear that the social enterprise called Behavioral Science lacks an adequate and shared framework. The absence of an explicit articulation and map of the concepts that constitute the behavioral sciences impedes intelligible communication and comparative study.  Descriptive Psychology, developed by Peter Ossorio, addresses this head on and provides a fresh start.    

Descriptive Psychology is the intellectual discipline that makes explicit the implicit structure of the behavioral sciences. It concerns conceptual, pre-empirical and theory-neutral formulations that allow and facilitate the identification of the full range of a subject matter. To the extent legitimate examples or possibilities are found outside an existing Descriptive formulation, the formulation is enlarged or revised. 

The pre-empirical work is accomplished through identifying and interrelating the essential concepts, the vital distinctions, characterizing all possible instances of a subject matter. The empirical project, on the other hand, involves finding the specific possibilities and patterns that actually occur. To do this, we use our conceptual tools and go out and look. 

Descriptive Psychology separates the conceptual and empirical from the theoretical. 

We start with conceptualization, then find the data that has a place within the conceptualization. Conceptual formulation is logically prior to finding appropriate empirical instances. 

Once an adequate conceptualization is achieved, theory can be employed for explaining why, out of the full range of possibility, only certain empirical patterns are found. But that is not Descriptive Psychology's job. For that task, I might wear my psychoanalytic hat or assemble the tools and hypotheses provided by any of the standard theories or invent new ones. 

Descriptive Psychology's conceptual tools explicate and assemble the logical structure of behavior and serve as a formal check on the logical adequacy of description and theory. 

Descriptive Psychology explicates the Person Concept as the fundamental structure of the behavioral sciences. The Person Concept is a single, coherent concept which involves the interrelated concepts of Individual Person, Behavior, Language and World. Descriptive Psychology establishes the rules of construction, composition, and relationship that articulate how these concepts are interconnected.

Only Individual Person and Behavior will be addressed in this entry and only in a very basic manner. 

The diagrams and illustrations that follow are ones I use in classes on psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice taught from the perspective of Descriptive Psychology.  I also use them in a seminar on supervision.  They are applicable across the behavioral sciences.  Most of the diagrams have a link elaborating the content.

Let's start with the concept of a person:

 I explore this in greater detail in the essay What is a Person? And how can we be sure?

And then examine behavior through the concept of Intentional Action by way of the Agency Diamond:

This represents five of the eight parameters of the full case of Intentional Action that has the conceptually separable dimensions of Identity, Wants, Knows, Knows How, Performance, Achievement, Significance, and Personal Characteristic.  

Behavior = Intentional Action = < I, W, K, KH, P, A, S, PC > 

I: The Identity of the actor.
W:  What the actor Wants to accomplish.
K:  What the actor Knows, distinguishes, or recognizes in the circumstance that is relevant to what the actor Wants. (In Deliberate Action the actor recognizes different options, in Cognizant Action the actor is self-aware of the ongoing behavior).
KH:  What the actor Knows-How to do given what the actor Wants and Knows about the relevant circumstance.
P:  The procedural manner or Performance of the action in real time.
A:  The Achievement of the action.
S:  The Significance of the action for the actor.  What the actor is up to by performing the act in question.
PC:  The Personal Characteristics of the actor expressed by the action.                                                                                       

Agency descriptions concern goal directed or purposeful behavior. These descriptions are defined by something recognized and wanted that the person knows how to do. Behavior is motivated by opportunity and dilemma. It involves a performance in real time that achieves some difference in the person's world.

This is explored further in the blog entry, Intentional Action, Empathy and Psychotherapy.

We then go on to represent Cognizant and Self-Aware Action:


In Cognizant Action people know they are engaged in some sort of an Intentional Action.  This is represented by the small diamond above the Knows parameter.

We are now ready to look at a special case of Intentional Action called Deliberate Action in which people choose an action from alternative ways of reaching a goal given how they understand or appraise their circumstance. This is the paradigm case of the behavior of persons. 

IA=Intentional Action; I=Identity; W=Wants; K=Knows; KH=Knows How; P=Performance; A=Achievement; PC=Personal Characteristic; S=Significance.   Adapted with permission from Joe Jeffrey, Ph.D

The larger blue diamond notations are a shorthand that represent an Intentional Action without commitment to the Identity of the actor, the Significance of the act, and the Personal Characteristics that the act reflects. The little blue diamonds represent the person's Intentional Action options given the circumstances. In a Deliberate Action, the actor is both Cognizant of what he is doing (IA in K) and Chooses to do it (IA in W).

Another way of going about this is to remember that persons as Deliberate Actors are able to self-regulate or adjust their behavior to fit their changing circumstances in response to their appraisal of how effective they are in achieving  their goals. For this we employ the Actor-Observer-Critic feedback loop of self-regulation. A person is an Actor able to Observe and describe his behavior and Critique and adjust his behavior accordingly. 

Adapted with permission from C.J. Stone's "Actor Central". 

Although this feedback could be a process of deliberation, of thinking through the possibilities, it ordinarily isn't. Instead, for the most part, people simply recognize their options and what they take is the "best" course to follow. 

Psychopathology involves something going wrong in this feedback loop and psychotherapists, one way or another, intervene by taking on the function of an adjunctive observer-critic. 

The A-O-C model naturally relates to the concepts of Intentional, Cognizant and Deliberate Action. Cognizant and Deliberate Action are types of Intentional Action along with Emotional and Unconscious action. All are intentional but not all involve the same degree of awareness. Emotional actions are cases where a person has a tendency to act intentionally and immediately on their recognition without deliberation. 

I take up the concept of emotional action and emotional competence in the posting Emotional Competence, Self-Experience, and Developmental Patterns.

At this point it might be useful to look at the Judgment or Decision Diagram that illustrates the structure of making an appraisal.

This is a reconstruction, performed after an action, given an agent's Personal Characteristics, of how they weighed their hedonic, prudent, aesthetic, and ethical/moral values in their Judgment or Decision on what Behavior to enact. Although Judgment or Decision could be an active process of thinking through options, of deliberating about the circumstances, it usually isn't. Often enough, a person simply knows what they want to do. Their appraisal of a situation is immediate. On the other hand, if the behavior goes wrong, a person might rethink their judgment by reconstructing their action in a way the diagram illustrates. Later, we will use this diagram to help understand unconscious motivation, transference, and symptomatic or compromised behaviors.

But first I'd like to show how the Intentional Action model can provide insight into Empathy in a non mysterious way: 

We can use this model to look in more detail at the more or less quality of an empathic understanding as well as the kindred concept of mentalization, a concept I find far less problematic than "theory of mind". Wil does not have a theory that Gil is a deliberate actor with a mind of his own.  He simply takes it to be the case unless he has reason not to. Wil's becoming a person required engaging with others as deliberate actors. He didn't first need a theory or assumption to see others as like himself in this way. However, if in some autistic manner he does not adequately know others to be minded, this model might be a way to teach him by showing the factors involved. 

This is elaborated in the essay, "The Parameters of Empathy."

Bear in mind that Wil does not have direct access to Gil's Wants, Knowledge, or Know How, but can only observe and think about the Significance of Gil's Performance and Achievement. The yellow and green IA diamonds above Wil's representation of Gil's behavior show that Wil more or less empathically recognizes that Gil has his own choices and is also a Deliberate Actor, i.e., a person like himself. This is how I understand "metallization". This is how Wil can put himself in Gil's shoes. 

Earlier, I probably should have introduced a very important conceptual tool, The Relationship Formula, since this is logically related to the concept of Intentional Action and will be a key to understanding both emotional behavior and behavior that doesn't follow the expected norm, along with a host of other important questions we often ask when behavior doesn't go as expected (and even when it does). As you will see, we are very fond of unless clauses in Descriptive Psychology. 

Should you be interested, I make use of this formula in my essay, Sex and a Person's True Colors.

So let's use the concept of Intentional Action and the Relationship Formula to make sense of Emotional Behavior. Say, for example, you are sitting quietly at your desk working on your blog when a Zombie enters:

Regardless of what you might report feeling, stomach dropping, heart pounding and nearly breathless, what makes this an example of emotional behavior is your immediate attempt to escape the danger without having to think it over. This impulsive quality is typical of what we are call an emotional response. Here's the behavioral logic:

     Adapted from The Behavior of Persons, 2013, Peter G. Ossorio

And we can make sense of most of what we are likely to call emotion this way: 

A lot to digest. But if you're ready, I'd like to pull some of this together by way of clarifying some aspects of unconscious action. Since I am a psychoanalyst, this seems obligatory. Let's start with the logically necessary reminder that the unconscious is an Observer's construct. The unconscious refers to what I notice about you, that you can't recognize about yourself.  Since no one has a pipeline to the truth, when interpreting something as unconscious, we are entering a domain of disagreement, contention, and defensiveness. I liken this to the lawyer's dilemma when facing opposing counsel, jury and judge. It boils down to making a case that regardless of its merits will be accepted or rejected.

The issues of interpretation are explored in the earlier post  On the interpretation of unconscious action and self-deception.

And now, finally, I going to reposition some of this using a variant of the Judgment diagram that was introduced earlier. Here are some fundamental distinctions that involve the concept of unconscious action and recognition (transference) as well as motives that a person might refuse to acknowledge as their own (although if given sufficient reason, they might.)  

Notice how domains two and three are likely sources of disagreement and are also sources of behavior going wrong, being compromised, bungled, or mysterious to the Actor.  The unconscious and unexamined is difficult to socialize since it is unavailable for moral dialog, self-correction and negotiation.  It's where we mess up.

At this point, I think I'll call it a day.

Another way of approaching the question of What is Descriptive Psychology can be found in the entry: People Make Sense: Foundations for Behavioral Science.

And the concept of Reality and World in: What is reality?

The Person Concept with an updated parametric analysis of Tony Putman's concept of Community can be found in: The Person Concept: The foundation of behavioral science.