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The history of a personal search.

The question of the causality of human behaviour has always been a mystery and a puzzle to me. I recall as a young man, staring intently at an object, actually some keys, then closing my eyes to examine the after image. I surmised it was some form of biochemical decay, and wasn't really a psychological phenomenon. At the time, I was studying chemistry and went on to complete a Ph.D. It was the line of least resistance, but not really the line of greatest interest. I was from a small coal-mining town, and I'm not even sure I understood that you could study psychology and forge a career in it.

I joined Shell Oil as a chemicals sales specialist. This bought to the fore again my interest in why people do what they do. This time with the specific focus of making my sales budgets. Both to my surprise and to Shell's, we found I was good at it. I have always likened a Ph.D. to climbing to the top of a tall pin and sitting on the point. Once there, all one can see in every direction are other people sitting on their pinpoints looking equally bemused. I went from the esoteric heights of knowing a great deal about very little, to selling styrene monomer, acetone and turpentine by the tonne.

After two successful years in the field, Shell shifted into Head Office to a position they created occasionally for 'bright young men'. It was 'Training and Recruitment Officer' in Head Office Personnel Department. Here my interest in the causality of human behaviour became a passion and the core of all my endeavours for the next eighteen years.

The passion and career merged in two ways. First, the training aspect of the role stimulated me. I deeply enjoyed assisting to conduct manager development courses, then in conducting them myself. On leaving Shell I established my own counselling, human development and training company. And have been involved in what I call the 'personal development' industry since. This is the practical aspect of what is a business. Necessarily run on commercial lines, but always there was the technological question, the operational efficiency question, namely: how can we stimulate the growth and development in this person such that they and the client are well satisfied, and do this with the minimum possible input? This is clearly a question aimed to balance a profit motive with product quality and customer satisfaction. It is, in my mind, the essence of the technological side of the business. And like all technology, it will help the business make more money, but it does not answer 'why'.

As one new to training I took the opportunity at Shell to absorb all they could offer on insights into why people do what they do. I also began to read the psychological literature. Freud, Jung, Carl Rogers, Skinner and the numerous other writers and academics contributing to the international journals. Repeatedly I was offended by what I was offered. In the first instance I would react, 'but that's not how it is in me!' Then, upon sharing and talking to friends and to people on the courses I was running, I found it seldom, if ever, applied to them either. This process has continued for some fifteen years. It is, in effect, my empirical research base. Over the twenty plus years since 1973 I have accumulated some eighteen thousand hours of face-to-face group experience as a facilitator and trainer (although I prefer the former term, it better reflects what I do), and have interacted with some twenty thousand people, mainly from businesses.

In my time at University (I graduated Ph.D. in 1971) chemistry was taught as a conceptually precise discipline. In practical terms this meant that the 20% brown sludge in the bottom of a test tube, after the experiment, was conveniently ignored as you quoted an 80% yield.

The fact that many chemists had become famous by examining what was in the sludge was also never discussed. Thus my education had given me a propensity to intellectual precision (rightly or wrongly) and a strong empirical bias in the form 'if it doesn't fit the data, find another theory'. My questioning people (lots of people) on psychological theories said that the facts didn't fit, time for another theory.

I looked for a theory modelled on existing theorists, namely Freud, Skinner and the, then, 'new' field of cognitive psychology as given impetus by Ulric Neisser. After several fruitless years, I decided 'this isn't working, need a new approach'. I was busy pursuing a business at the time so I put it aside for a year. When I came back, almost immediately I realised that a theory of psychology is knowledge, but people create knowledge, therefore there is an intimate relationship between a theory of psychology and a theory of knowledge. This was the first 'Aaha'. I was off down another research track, this time, theories of knowledge, epistemology.

By and large I found these no more enlightening, except for Karl Popper. He gave precision to the more emotive ideas of the World Spirit, of Hegel or the nousphere of Tielhard de Chardin. Popper forcibly put forward the proposition that once formed, knowledge has an existence in its own right. I accepted his argument, then went further. If knowledge once formed is part of the universe, then like everything else in the universe, it must have a structure. Can we conceptualise knowledge itself? And if so, how will these influence theories of psychology and of human behaviour? My search took a new twist. I'm now about six years in.

I found my answer in the work of the British cyberneticist W. Ross Ashby in his little heralded book 'Design for a Brain'. Here was the intellectual framework to provide a coherent theory of psychology. Ashby plus Popper solved the problems, well, nine years later they did.

I drafted my first version. Frankly, it didn't work very well. The data didn't fit and the theory felt intellectually hollow. I know I'm an empirical scientist, but intuitions like 'it felt hollow' are the core guidelines of what leads to follow, and when to abandon a direction.

I now believed without quite understanding why, that the problem of a general theory of psychology was bound to the problem of knowledge and to the problem of cause. To solve one was to solve them all. I formalised a model of scientific knowledge, dealing along the way with issues of what is a variable? How do they arise? What is the relationship between a variable and that which it represents? What is a fact? How do facts relate to all the above? I had a complete theory of objective knowledge, I could also account for how this knowledge arose from Reality (that is that which exists beyond our senses), and for the necessary state of Reality before any knowledge of it was possible. I had come a long way. But I still did not have a theory of The Person. I was now ten years in.

I mentioned the term Reality. There is a distinguished philosophy on the issue of the existence of the external world. I had to deal with this problem as part of the theory of knowledge and of perception. I will henceforth use the term Reality to denote that beyond the senses. I had a theory of scientific knowledge, which I regarded as one half a general theory of knowledge. Because I had no theory of psychology, I did not have a theory of belief.

By now I was beginning to despair. The pursuit that had been my intellectual passion appeared out of reach. I had done some interesting things, but the problem was unsolved and I began to believe it to be beyond me. I gave it up. I was fourteen years in.

During my annual holiday at a beautiful bay in the north of New Zealand in the 1995-96 Christmas period, I resolved to return to writing. I had for some time been sorting out what Gail Sheehy now calls the 'Second Adulthood'. I decided that writing was still in me. I revived a project I had toyed with for two or three years entitled 'People and Profits'. My first attempt was rejected. So I decided to rewrite the manuscript. Basically it is a theory of management built using the intellectual tools I developed to solve the problem of a theory of psychology. I always regarded the tools as the generic tools for a systematic theoretical social science. Just as physics has mathematics as its tool for theoretical physics (although Stephen Hawkins has recently added new tools), so social science needed systematic tools for theoretical social science. I had developed just such tools. And management was part of social science so a general theory ought to be resolvable using the tools. On rewriting the manuscript in early 1996, I suddenly found myself in the middle of writing about a theory of psychology I had not quite conceived.

I left it. Then, on a Saturday morning in April, I awoke early, went to my desk and wrote down the conceptual schematic that is the core of this work. Sixteen years. The success of the search is for you to now judge.

 

 


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