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From Nonsense
to Holding Hands
Sixty Years as a Psychologist

Jan Smedslund Taos Institute Publication

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Contents 7
Preface 9
Chapter One: Early Personal Background 11

Chapter Two: Learning the Basics 14

Chapter Three: Liberation from Repression 24

Chapter Four: On the shore of Lac Leman 28

Chapter Five: Go West, Young Man! 37
Chapter Six: Harvard and the Birth of the Cognitive Revolution 45
Chapter Seven: Professor in Bergen 51
Chapter Eight: Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences 54
Chapter Nine: The Student Revolution 59
Chapter Ten: Clinical Pre-Education in Minnesota 64
Chapter Eleven: Psychologist on the loose 67
Chapter Twelve: Tornado Boulevard 78
Chapter Thirteen: London, Oxford, and Search for Allies 83
Chapter Fourteen: The birth of Psycho-Logic 92
Chapter Fifteen: International exchanges 98
Chapter Sixteen: The Structure of Psychological Common Sense 107
Chapter Seventeen: Mandatory but only Apparent Retirement 113
Chapter Eighteen: Continued Activity and Dialogues about a New Psychology. 118
Chapter 19: Concluding remarks 124
References 144

Appendix: 144
A Selection of Articles by Jan Smedslund
Reprinted with permission from the author.

Circular relation between understanding and logic. Scand. J. Psychol., vol. 11,
Banduras theory of self-efficacy: A set of common sense theorems. Scand.J.
Psychol, vol 19, 1-14, 1978.
Ebbinghaus, the illusionist: How psychology came to look like an experimental
science. Beitrage zum Internationalen Hermann-Ebbininghaus Symposion Passau,
vom 30, Mai bis 2.Juni, 1985.
The mismatch between current research methods and the nature of psychological
phenomena: What researchers must learn from practitioners? Theory and
Psychology, vol. 19 (6): 778-794, 2009.
The bricoleur model of psychological practice. Theory & Psychology, vol. 22 (5)
643-657, 2012.

Cognition and neurosciences psycho-logic: Some thoughts and after-thoughts.

Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 53, 295-302, 2012.

What follows from what we all know about human beings. Theory and Psychology,
vol. 22 (5), 658-668, 2012.


This book describes some of my memories from a professional life that began
in the spring of 1948, and continues until today. It contains episodes,
research, persons, and reflections upon these in retrospect. It is my hope that
the account throws some light on, and makes some sense as one view of a
complex historical process in which I participated. No one can fully know
what really happened, but I report here what I now remember and think
happened. My memories are supported by notebooks from every year since
1951, by numerous saved letters from the pre-computer era, and by accounts
given in my several personal and professional travel reports.

As the reader will recognize, the presentation is organized around two

connected central themes, namely a search for a unified foundation for a
science of psychology, and a better integration between research and
practice. Throughout my professional life, I have increasingly encountered the
futility of theorizing without roots in practice, and the poverty of practice
unsupported by reflection. But, above all, I have been looking for a
sustainable and unified conceptual foundation for psychology.

I have had great qualms selecting whom and what to mention in these pages.
There were many more persons and occasions than I can reasonably include
in the text. Those mentioned are primarily colleagues I have learned
particularly much from, and/or talked with extensively, but I also mention
briefer encounters with some very generally known psychologists. My
purpose has all the time been to describe the professional environment I have
interacted with, and some of my own reflections. However, I have assumed
that even the mere mentioning of a name, may tell something to some
readers about the content of the interactions I have engaged in.

I sincerely hope that no one is hurt by what I write, or by what I dont write. I
have attempted to tell the truth and nothing but the truth and I hope that my
account has some validity. When it comes to the whole truth, I can only say
that the selection of what to mention and what to omit was guided by attempts
to judge what might hurt still living persons or their descendants, and what
would be of general interest.

The limited number of pages of this work can be explained both by my own
preference for brevity, and by consideration for the readers time. For those
who would like to know more, I have marked some articles with an * in the list
of references. These are articles that I regard as central in my production.
Some of them are older, but still representative of my general position and
some are recent, and reflect my latest reformulations.

I have also included some photographs of the major figures that have deeply
influenced me in my professional life.

Indirectly, this work is obviously the result of my interactions with others, and
of what I learned from many of them. These friends and colleagues are too
numerous to thank separately. Together with my family and many fortuitous
events they determined the story. The one person that stands out, and whom
I want to thank separately, is my dear wife Dr. sebrit Sundquist. She has
been my constant companion-in-dialogue ever since the fall of 1955, and she
has supported also these latest writings with invaluable comments, both
logical and evaluative.

Oslo August 2013 Jan Smedslund

Chapter One

Early Personal Background

In order to give the reader a glimpse of my earliest background and parts of

my subsequent personal life, the following facts may suffice to describe the
precursors and context of my professional development. I was born on May 1,
1929 in Oslo, Norway. My father was a diplomat and at that time working at
the Finnish Embassy. Later in life he became Finnish Ambassador to Japan,
and finally to Switzerland. He belonged to the Swedish-speaking minority in
Finland, and grew up in Helsingfors (Helsinki). My paternal grandfather
worked in a bank, and my paternal grandmother gave private lessons in
French and Italian. I think both of them had lower level degrees in Law from
the University of Helsinki. My mother was a Norwegian artist with a
background both from an Art school in Paris (Lothe), and from being an
apprentice of the well-known Norwegian painter Ludwig Karsten. My maternal
grandfather owned a leather factory in Drammen, and my maternal
grandmother grew up in Washington D.C. as the child of Norwegian

After two years in Norway my father was transferred for a year to Helsinki,
and then to London where we lived for approximately four years, first in
Ealing, and then in a stately house in St. Johns Wood. My sister Laila was
born in London in 1933, and I started school there in the fall of 1934. In 1936
my mother eloped with a Finnish lover to Spain, my sister was taken care of
by a professional nanny, and I was sent to a boarding school in Seaford on
the Channel coast. The Headmaster was a retired colonel who had served in
India, and was set on training future empire-builders. Six years old, I faced
some bullying by older roommates, learned to box and play soccer, wear
woolen underwear, and endure cold showers. My father visited me every
Sunday, and for the most part I fared well. In 1937 my mother, sister, and I
moved back to Finland (Helsinki), my parents were separated and then
divorced. In the summer of 1938 we moved to the fashionable suburb of
Brnd, where my mother built a house and where I was to live and go to
school for most of the next nine years. Brnd was a small wealthy
community with an initially Swedishspeaking majority and was to become
the only stable place I experienced as a child. My language in school was
Swedish, and the other languages were Finnish (9yrs.), German (8yrs.),
English (6yrs.), French (3 yrs.) and Russian (1 yr.) My first stepfather, who
was a Finnish-speaking artist and ultimately a Professor at the Art Academy
in Helsinki, lived with us for some time, but was away as a soldier during the
two wars with Russia. In 1940 my half-brother Tom was born. In February
1944 Helsinki was severely bombed, schools closed, and we children were
evacuated to Sweden and lived for half a year in Vrmland. I went to school in
Arvika. After we returned to Brnd, my mother and my first stepfather were
divorced and a second stepfather, also a diplomat, entered the picture. My
relations with my stepfathers can be characterized as friendly, armed
neutrality. My sister and I prepared the dinners and did the dishes. My
mother dominated the family, with her artistic temperament and various
projects. She did not like house work, but together the family usually
managed to keep things in order. I think of it as a generally happy childhood,
with two close friends, and increasingly frequent visits to the local library. I
graduated from senior high school in the spring of 1947 with good grades,
and left Finland for my land of birth, Norway. Two major reasons were that I
did not want to live in an increasingly Finnish-speaking country, and also that,
influenced by my mother, I idealized Norway. I enrolled as a student at the
University of Oslo in 1947. In 1954 my mother divorced my second stepfather
and returned to Norway bringing my two younger siblings. This is not a
personal biography and, therefore, I will end these introductory remarks by
mentioning only that after a brief first marriage, initiated mainly by the

impending birth of my daughter Maj (b. 1953), I met and after a year married
(1956) my present wife sebrit Sundquist . We have by now had 56 good and
eventful years together, and two sons Geir (b. 1962) and Jrn (b. 1966). My
wife has a doctorate in American literature and has published altogether four
books comparing fiction written by and about Native Americans, Latinos, and
Samis, and many articles about Native American and Sami fictional
characters. As will become apparent, many of our married years were spent
abroad at various universities, in Switzerland, in UK, and most frequently in
the United States. We live in a house with a garden in a suburb of Oslo.
Although I write about my professional life, I frequently write we, and hence
include my wife, and in the earlier years also the entire family.
In the chapters to follow my emphasis will be on professional encounters and
thoughts, and the broader personal context will be only occasionally and
briefly mentioned. My main concern in this book has been to describe and
reflect on my life as an academic and professional psychologist. In the last
chapter, I elaborate and summarize my conclusions which have become
increasingly radical, and are also reflected in the title of this book.

Chapter Two

Learning the Basics

All psychologists have undergone a process of socialization into the brother-

and sister-hood of our profession, and probably very few of us understood
what we went through at the time. In retrospect I will try to formulate an
interpretation, based on my own memories, and on my later understanding of
them. I do this as part of a process of making sense of my professional
career, and I can only hope that my story has some interest and
entertainment value for those who share my engagement in psychology.

I was eighteen when, in the winter of 1948, newly arrived from Finland, I
enrolled as a student of psychology, after having taken and passed a required
half-year introductory course in philosophy. Psychology was at that time a
relatively new subject at the University of Oslo. I will mention some of my
experiences as a student that stand out as particularly significant and central.

The Masters degree I aimed at also included separate curricula in philosophy

and in anatomy/physiology, and was dimensioned to take altogether eight
years. However, I was part of a small group of four very cocky male students
who, partly because we could not afford to spend such a long a time, aimed
at finishing in four years.

Very early in my studies, I became a great admirer of Clark L. Hull, and I was
particularly impressed by his Mathematico-Deductive Theory of Rote
learning (Hull et al., 1940), where he used the new symbolic logic (that I was
learning from Arne Naess, my philosophy teacher), in order to formulate
axioms and logically derive testable predictions about the learning of lists of
nonsense syllables. This was scientific psychology! This was applying the
ideals from Galileo and Newton to the new mental science!

I spent many hours in the Institute- laboratory; a room where everything was
painted black and the ventilation shafts were blocked (to exclude irrelevant
auditory stimuli). The prominent instrument was a device called the
Ranschburg Mnemometer (probably constructed by a Hungarian
psychologist by that name). It was an electrically driven rotating disk which
displayed printed nonsense syllables in an opening, one at a time. For me,
this instrument came to symbolize the project of scientific psychology. A
subject sitting in front of the mnemometer in this black laboratory, with a
written instruction, represented a very high degree of control of the exact
conditions of memorization. At that time, I did not see the problematic side of
this approach to psychology, and I will return repeatedly to my gradual
disillusionment and to why it occurred.

However, even at that early time, I had some thoughts and made some
observations that did not fit well into my belief in the scientific gospel,
although, at first, I tended to push them aside. One was the chasm between,
on the one hand, Hulls belief that everything that exists in nature, exists in
some amount (Hull et al., 1940), and that science must be quantitative, and
on the other hand, the exciting new observations and thoughts that came
from Freud and his followers, phenomena that were hard to measure, but that
could be described qualitatively.

As a curiosity, I can add that the preoccupation with measurement by my

teachers also had its side-effects. My teacher in experimental psychology was
studying the psychophysics of pain, looking for the mathematical relation
between judgments of intensity of pain and the strength of an electric current,
and I participated as a subject. He used application of electric current to the
skin, and I was supposed to evaluate the varying sensations of pain on a
written scale. Once, something went wrong because I suddenly experienced,

not only a very strong pain, but also got a nasty burn mark on my brow that
took some time to heal!

In addition to laboratory work and reading textbooks, my introduction to

psychology also had other sides. Along with many of my fellow students, I
underwent a prolonged so-called training analysis. My therapist was a
female psychiatrist named Nic Waal, a follower of Wilhelm Reich. In 1951
she had just returned from a couple of years at the Menninger Foundation in
Topeka, Kansas. She labeled her somatically focused treatment character-
analytic vegeto-therapy. I spent altogether four years, once or twice a week,
lying on the couch, talking about my thoughts and feelings, and sensing my
muscular tensions. During those same years I was also doing experiments,
first with nonsense syllables, and later with probability learning, and engaging
in advanced theoretical/philosophical analyses. Hence, the gap between my
personal experiences in therapy and my scientific activity was enormous, but
somehow it did not consciously bother me at that time. A similar kind of
potentially incommensurable set of experiences occurred when we
psychology students were introduced to the first beginnings of clinical
practice. We were bussed to a psychiatric clinic, and were provided with white
jackets to distinguish us from the patients who had grey. I remember being
asked to administer a Rorschach-test to a patient. We were not introduced,
and I knew nothing about him. I gave the required instructions but to my
intense embarrassment the patient said nothing! Since I had been told not to
engage in any conversation, we remained seated, both silent, and I became
more and more uncomfortable. I thought that in front of me was a suffering
fellow being, and in the name of science (the requirement of exact equality of
conditions), I was compelled to merely read an instruction, and then remain
expressionless! A teacher finally rescued me, and the patient and I parted
without even saying goodbye. This memory of having behaved inhumanly in
the name of science stayed with me, but was somehow temporarily put aside.
As far as I remember, I simply went on with my life, doing experiments,
focusing on theoretical analysis of the foundations of psychology, and
becoming increasingly familiar with statistics, which was the backbone of the
new science.
I wrote to Hull and asked him about recent studies of something called Josts
Law, and I remember I was shocked when he answered that his health was
failing and that he did not remember whether any of his numerous assistants
had done a replication of Josts work! I then went to my teacher and asked
about possible projects to pursue. He suggested that I tried to replicate some
recent findings indicating a superiority of so-called distributed practice over
so-called massed practice. The difference consisted in the time allotted
between successive repetitions of a list of nonsense syllables. I proceeded to
do a replication study with some of my fellow students as subjects. After the
results had been collected I went to my teacher and complained that I was
unable to replicate the findings reported in literature. Some of the subjects
learned faster with distributed practice and some with massed practice! My
teacher asked how many subjects I had studied and I answered eight. He
then smiled and said, that was too few, and I should try out at least 30
subjects! I then returned to the laboratory and gathered more subjects and, lo
and behold, it gradually became apparent that a majority learned, on the
average, faster with distributed than with massed practice! After that, I
realized more clearly that all the results reported in the textbooks on
experimental psychology were based on averages, and that the considerable
individual variations were ignored and referred to as noise. I came to
understand that modern psychology was indeed a science of the generalized
human mind!

There were many other potentially conflicting experiences in my student

years that I managed to put aside. One of the more disturbing occasions
came up after a lecture by an older professor of psychiatry who concluded by
saying something like as you see, you do not, metaphorically speaking, find
genuine knowledge (about people) in textbooks, but only in the sack
(sengehalmen.) I indignantly dismissed the old man as being unscientific
and pre-senile! Only many years later, when I had first-hand experience with
psychological practice, did I fully understand what he referred to!

Slowly, my misgivings about a psychology based solely on experimental

research such as the study of nonsense syllables in a black, soundproof
laboratory, grew, partly by listening to the American visiting-professor David
Krech who told us about the ongoing debates in the psychology of learning
and Tolmans purposive psychology (Tolman, 1932), and his own
demonstrations of cognitive maps even in rats. The holistic theories of the
Gestalt psychologists and Kurt Goldsteins writings also helped my liberation
from Hulls mechanistic theories. Finally, the walls of the old fashioned
classical laboratory were demolished by an exciting new monograph by Egon
Brunswik called Systematic and Representative Design of Psychological
Experiments (Brunswik, 1949). He followed a person around in his daily
activities and at random intervals asked him to estimate the sizes of the
objects he just then happened to look at. By this he arrived at a measure of
perceptual size constancy, more representative of daily life than the findings
in a classical laboratory. Brunswiks general lens model (Brunswik, 1952)

also expressed his new approach by emphasizing probabilities, goal
directedness, and a warning against too molecular analyses of psychological
processes. His motto focus where the person focuses directed the
researcher towards topics closer to real life and away from artificial studies of

Egon Brunswik 1903-1955

My Masters thesis was entitled Studies in Psychological Theory. The four

main chapters were respectively called Some formal properties of
psychological theories ( Conclusion: Theories should become more precise),
Some formal properties of psychological experimentation (Conclusion:
Experiments should become more ecologically representative), The place of
individual differences in experimentation and theory (Conclusion: The
idiosyncratic (non-nomothetic) position implies an a priori denial of the
possibility of applying scientific methods to psychology), and Comments on
some basic concepts in psychology (Analyses of the concepts of
psychological event, stimulus, cue, generalization and learning).

Reading these pages and their conclusions after more than 60 years was a
challenging experience. The challenge lay in trying to pinpoint exactly what is
outmoded in these analyses, except for a lack of references to the enormous
literature that was accumulated over the subsequent years. Presumably, we
ought to know much more about psychology now than 60 years ago. But
exactly what? I return to this question.

After my graduation in 1951, I received a scholarship from the Institute for

Social Research in Oslo, and also started to look for a topic for my doctoral
thesis. I corresponded with Egon Brunswik who gave me much
encouragement, and I soon selected to study experimentally the learning of
multiple probabilistic cues. This seemed to me to be a formal model for
understanding the processes underlying clinical intuition. In retrospect, I also
see this choice of topic as a (very nave) first attempt to bridge the gap
between laboratory research and psychological practice.

As one part of my thesis, I also did one study of a group of children, clinically
diagnosed as more or less neurotic by Nic Waal , and found a rank order
correlation of -.84 between her diagnosis of degree of neuroticism, and the
ability to learn to utilize multiple probabilistic cues in the laboratory. I saw this
finding as supporting my hypothesis that intuition (correct apprehension of
complex and uncertain situations) was the result of efficient multiple
probability learning, and that people with many neurotic complexes suffered
from intolerance of ambiguity and therefore were less adept at learning
from, and combining, multiple probabilities.

Another expression of my vague desire to bridge the gap between theory and
practice was that soon after my graduation with a Masters degree, I walked
over to a Kindergarten near the Institute for Social Research where I worked,
and asked whether they had an opening for an unsalaried assistant two hours
in the mornings. I had begun to be interested in the theoretical works of Jean
Piaget, and I wanted to observe and interact directly with pre-school children.
I was warmly welcomed, and so I started to assist with the daily tasks such as
helping the children with their outdoor clothing, meals and toilet visits, and
participating in and observing their play.
I remember vividly one time when they discovered I had a darkly colored
tooth. The children formed a ring around me and chanted Uncle Jan has a
blue tooth, uncle Jan has a blue tooth. I remember feeling self-conscious and
blushing, and for the first time reflecting over the fact that, in his job, the
psychologist must be prepared for interactions of a direct and personal kind.

I kept up my Kindergarten practice for several months.

The Institute for Social Research was a stimulating place with a constant
stream of distinguished foreign visitors among names I remember Daniel
Katz, Talcott Parsons, Paul Lazarsfeld, Margaret Mead, Leon Festinger,
and Lee Cronbach. Lee Cronbach became my first acquaintance from the
faculty at Stanford, and we were to meet many times in the years to follow.
We had many serious and engaging conversations. I remember one
occasion when he expressed admiration for the theory of Piaget, and another
when he made a half-joking reference to himself as a researcher with all form
and no content. In retrospect, I can see that he represented the best in a
tradition that I now sincerely believe was a mistaken approach to psychology

The Institute of Psychology at the University of Oslo also had its share of
visitors in my years as a graduate student. I vividly remember a session with
Louis Thurstone, also attended by the Norwegian Nobel Prize winner in
economy Ragnar Frisch. I expressed my growing doubts about the role of
measurement in psychology and got clobbered by an angry Thurstone who
thought this was unscientific. My question about in what sense mathematical
factors (as in factor analysis) can be said to exist, was also dismissed both by
Thurstone and Frisch as not worthy of discussion. I was a very cocky young
man. A good indication of this was that some friends reproached me for
having engaged in a heated discussion with Festinger, while eating an apple!

Meanwhile, I pursued my work on multiple probability learning, inspired by

Brunswik. However, I could not afford to have built a simple apparatus for
presenting the visual cues and the feedback. One day I met our Visiting
Professor David Krech on the street and mentioned my problem to him. I
was totally surprised when he just asked me what the apparatus would cost,

and then simply handed me the sum in cash, without even asking for a
receipt! The apparatus was then built in a technical shop and used for doing
the experiments reported in my Doctoral Dissertation.

My time as member of the Institute for Social Research passed, filled with
work on the project of multiple probability learning, hours playing table tennis,
the weekly sessions in therapy with Nic Waal, and for a period, as
Kindergarten assistant.

Then one thing happened that was to have decisive influence on my entire
future career. I had started to become interested in the kind of theoretical and
experimental work pursued by Jean Piaget and his collaborators in Geneva,
and my interest was shared by Arne Naess who had recently done a study of
the development of philosophical thinking in teenagers. Together we decided
to invite Professor Piaget to Oslo. In October 1953 he came by train
accompanied by an English researcher named W. Mays, and gave a talk in
French at the Institute for Social Research. It was my first experience of being
a host to a visitor from abroad, and everything became horribly complicated
because Piaget insisted on speaking only French. My own mastery of that
language was at that time very weak, and very few of my colleagues
understood French at all. During the visit I invited Piaget for dinner at my
home and managed to find enough acquaintances that could speak French.
The last evening I invited Piaget and Mays to dine at Frognerseteren
Restaurant, which was very expensive, but had a magnificent view of Oslo.
We had an interesting evening where Professor Mays was forced to play the
role of interpreter. The next morning I had to ask the Director of the Institute
for an advance for the rest of the month, since I had spent everything I had on
the dinner at Frognerseteren! Piagets visit to Oslo was in the fall of 1953,
and it would later result in my being invited to spend a year in Geneva.

In spite of what I regard as a surprisingly early grasp of many of the basic

characteristics of the field of psychology, in my graduate student years, and
before my visit to Geneva, I think I can, in retrospect, discern lacunae in my
early understanding, with respect to what I now see as essential.

Oversimplifying, at the risk of being cryptic, I can summarize these lacunae in
five points:

1. I did not yet see the importance of logic in psychological processes, and
the circular relation between the concepts of logic and understanding
(meaning). The meaning of something for someone is what follows from
that thing for that someone.
2. I did not yet have a clear understanding of the various meanings of the
concept of rationality.
3. I did not yet recognize the importance of the concept of stability for
induction and empirical research, and the central role of irreversibilty in
psychology. Psychological phenomena are historical and can never be
exactly repeated.
4. I did not recognize the importance of the concept of trust, and I did not
fully realize how deeply social a person is. A person is essentially a
repertory for social interaction (dialogical).
5. I did not realize the importance of fortuitous events in psychology and the
severely limited prospects for prediction.

In the following chapters, I will return to these points.

Looking back on my student years, I can see how I was gradually

indoctrinated with a basic attitude with many unstated taken-for-granted
premises. The deepest of these may have been a belief in the face value of
empirical findings and an assumption there are stable laws that allow for the
accumulation of knowledge. Findings are worthwhile reporting because they
reflect something invariant and, hence, are replicable. What was observed
yesterday can be predicted to be repeated today (as long as we are satisfied
with relying on averages and probabilities). The catchword was psychology is
an Empirical Science.

Chapter Three
Liberation from Repression

While my experimental work was part of academic psychology, my therapy

with Nic Waal led me to participate in another group of colleagues, namely
those inspired by psychoanalysis. The influence of Sigmund Freud and his
followers was strong also in Norwegian Psychology, especially represented
by its Old Man, Professor Harald Schjelderup. Schjelderup had been
successively philosopher, experimental psychologist, and psychoanalyst and
was a Founding Father of modern Norwegian psychology, both as a teacher
at the university and by having written an influential textbook attempting to
integrate behaviorism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis.

Outside the university, Nic Waal had founded her own Institute dedicated to
therapy with children, and this attracted all kinds of professionals such as
child psychiatrists, child psychologists, social workers, and teachers of
various kinds. The atmosphere in the early years was revolutionary and filled
with new theories about treatment, and new views of child rearing, and of
human life in general. The common theme was liberation from old repressive
ideologies. I will mention some episodes that illustrate what went on. The
descriptions that follow are sometimes very direct, but in the interest of
history, and since most of the participants are now dead, I have selected to
present some episodes here as I remember them, however obliterating

The young students and professionals in the behavioral and social sciences
in Oslo carried the new ideas very far, by acting out against everything that
smacked of control and repression. The ideal was to express all ones
impulses and feelings. Parallel to my treatment with Nic Waal, I also
participated in some of the seminars and workshops going on at her Institute,
and also in the frequent parties. The general mood was to rebel against all
bourgeois rules and customs, and to follow ones intuitions and impulses. The
parties were wild and liberally sprinkled with 96% alcohol (provided by the
MDs that participated), mixed with orange juice. Many of the parties were
joint arrangements by the Institute of Social Research and Nic Waals
Institute, where the localities alternated between the two institutions and
where NWI provided bongo drums and cymbals from their play therapy

I was naively unprepared for these occasions, and sometimes got seriously
drunk. I remember an episode when a friend and I looked at each other, and
one of us suddenly said. I have never experienced pulling so hard at another
guys shirt that the buttons are torn. Let us try! We immediately proceeded to
enact the fantasy and ended with partly button-less shirts! On another
occasion, I was sitting on a staircase, when my face was suddenly scratched
by sharp nails. I turned and saw an unknown woman standing there. I asked
why did you do that? She answered because you are a man!

Even the codes that were gradually becoming established for professional
conduct were more unclear in this atmosphere. Let me give one example.

The fact that a young psychologist was in treatment with a therapist, did not
prevent the therapist from inviting him to a dinner party for a very prominent
foreign visitor. The visitor was a female psychoanalyst and author of an
influential monograph. The young mans therapist got rather inebriated and
started to attack the foreign visitor for being so formal, restrained, and old-
maidish. The visitor was totally unaccustomed to this kind of directness and
just sat there with a stony expression. The therapist kept rocking violently on
a chair and finally toppled to the floor. The young psychologist and a couple
of others had to hold the therapist under a cold shower. I also heard that the
next morning he was lying on the couch as usual, and his therapist continued
the treatment, drinking black coffee, and no doubt suffering from a severe
hangover. Interestingly, one did not, at that time, judge the therapists conduct
as a severely unprofessional. In the years to follow, the importance of
distinguishing professional and personal relations became much more

Another episode illustrating the effect of the revolutionary ideas occurred

when my wife and I were invited to dinner in the home of a married couple of
colleagues who had just published a book about child rearing. They had a
two-year-old boy who walked around in the apartment completely naked. The
parents simply explained this by saying that he did not like wearing clothes.
When we sat down to dinner, the boy did not like the food and threw his plate
on the floor. The parents cleaned up the mess and asked what he would like
to eat instead. They then proceeded to prepare an alternate meal. These
colleagues believed that the drawing of limits, frustration, and punishment
could create neurotic complexes and that children ought to grow up in
complete freedom.

Looking back on these events, I am struck by the many times psychologists

have tried to deviate from common sense and create new theories with
more or less disastrous consequences. Around the same time, I remember
discovering a (mercifully) unread book in my mothers library. It had been a
gift from my father just before I was born. It was written by John B. Watson
about child rearing and, among other things, admonished parents not to
cuddle their babies when they were crying, because, this would reinforce
their crying behavior! This was the exact opposite advice of the one given by
the eager Freud-disciples mentioned above, who tried to avoid frustrating
their children! Today we have returned to common sense recognizing both
the value of caring, and the importance of the drawing of limits! Children want
to find out what the world is like and relentlessly explore it. In this process
they should learn about their surroundings, including both the rules people
must follow, and the feelings and thoughts people have. This constitutes what
it means to become socialized and to become a person.

The 1950s in intellectual circles in Oslo was a time where one experimented
with the (half-baked) implications of the new psychoanalytic theories. For me,
it also included such things as seeing women fight physically with each other
at a party, and hearing a man saying that he was attracted both to me and to
my wife (!) and suggesting that we accompany him home. All impulses and
limits were explored.

Hence, in my student years I lived in two very different psychological

environments, the experimental/academic and the personal/clinical, and I
enjoyed and was stimulated by both. In the years to follow, the academic side
of psychology would at first dominate for me.

Chapter Four

On the Shore of Lac Leman

In 1955 I defended my Doctors Thesis Multiple Probability Learning

(Smedslund, 1955) and the next year I received an invitation from Piaget to
spend 1957/58 at the Centre International Dpistmologie Gntique in
Geneva. The Center was founded by Piaget with Rockefeller money and was
located on the first floor of Palais Wilson (The old United Nations building).
My office had a view of the lake and, on clear days, Mont Blanc. That year
only two Visiting Scholars were in attendance, namely Dr. Pierre Greco from
Paris, and I. A third one, a biologist, had become ill. In addition to Piaget and
Brbel Inhelder, I remember Albert Morf , Benoit Matalon, Vinh Bang,
numerous student assistants, and one American visitor, Jack Wohlwill, with
whom I also played table tennis once a week. My wife and I found a
minuscule apartment a five-minutes-walk from Palais Wilson. She took
lessons in classical ballet, with a Russian teacher, followed lectures in
psychology and education at the university, and took shorthand notes in my
sessions with preschool-children.

Slowly and laboriously, I absorbed a fourth new intellectual world created by

Piaget, in the French-language academic tradition. The first one had been the
American mainstream experimental and statistical approach, the second the
approach of Clark L. Hull, and the third that of Egon Brunswik. Looking back, I
remember the intellectual patience, suffering, and stamina required to
manage these transitions.

The research theme for that year was announced as Learning and Logic
(Can one learn to be logical, and can logic influence how one learns?). Within
this broad domain, the two Visiting Scholars were free to develop research
projects, but the common theme ensured that what they and the other
members did was of interest to everyone. At the first meeting of the Centre,
Piaget announced that he expected the first data to be reported after two
weeks. Accordingly, we all scrambled to find places to experiment. Because
of my uncertain French, I chose the International School, where the children
spoke English. My project was to study whether preschool children could
acquire concepts of conservation and transitivity of substance and weight by
straight-forward empirical learning, and my first experiment started with
randomly dividing a class of preschoolers into two groups. The children in the
learning group were told directly, after observing changes in the shape of
pieces of clay that this does not lead to a change in the amount. The control
group was simply pre- and post-tested. It turned out that the learning group
did not acquire a concept of conservation of quantity more frequently than the
control group that was not taught anything, nor did they acquire transitivity.
The findings in these studies were complicated and hard to interpret. The
criterion of acquisition was that the child had conservation and could explain
its belief in conservation, for instance by pointing out that nothing had been
added and nothing taken away. The criterion of transitivity was similarly
correctness of judgment and an adequate explanation, such as that the blue
contained more than the red and the red contained more than the black, so
the blue must contain more than the black. I interpreted the findings as
supporting Piagets view that these logical structures cannot be acquired by
direct observations per se, but only by a realization of their logical necessity.


After my return to Norway, I did a long series of experiments, which clarified

some aspects of the processes involved. I showed that even direct
demonstration of conservation of weight on a pair of scales, did not lead to a
deeper understanding in most pre-school-children. This was demonstrated by
showing that although they appeared to have learned to anticipate
conservation by external reinforcement, they gave up predicting conservation
after seeing a few apparent contrary examples. The children having acquired
the concept of conservation during their normal development were not
impressed by the (manufactured) contrary examples (where deformation of a
piece led to apparent increase or decrease in weight). Children who had
understood the concept responded to the manufactured contrary examples by
saying we must have lost something on the floor, something must have
stuck to your hand, the instrument should be repaired, or even the correct
you have cheated. After a certain age most children understand that if
nothing is taken away or added, the amount must remain unchanged, even if
the shape is changed so that it looks more or less than before. This insight
does not come about by demonstrating that weight in fact does not change
over changes in shape, but only by some kind of logical structuration.

Developing his thinking from a French intellectual background, Piaget made

contributions to psychology that in certain ways differ from and complement
the results arrived at in the predominantly empiricist Anglo-Saxon tradition.
Here, I am not referring to his stage model, which simply was inaccurate, and
could not be saved by the constant reference to the auxiliary notions of
decalage horizontale and decalage verticale (horizontal and vertical

From Piagets point of view, it was clear that learning theory and association
models could not possibly account for human development in childhood and
later in life. The simplest way to understand his approach is to recognize that
one cannot learn that there is a connection between two variables A and B,
unless one already is able to recognize what is A and what is B. In Piagets
terminology one can only accommodate to (learn about) what is already
assimilated (incorporated in ones conceptual system).

Later, I did a study that illustrates this very clearly (Smedslund, 1961). Adult
subjects were asked to try to learn to estimate the values of a hidden variable
by looking at a field of variable visual figures. In the visual field, there were
three variables with a multiple correlation of +.93 with the variable that was to
be estimated. The participants were given instant feedback for each trial. It
turned out that there was no learning even after 4800 trials. The simplest
explanation was that the participants did not organize the visual field in such a
way that they could recognize the three variables and their values, and,
therefore, could not learn their connections with the hidden variable. Let us
call the three variables A, B, and C. Their variation consisted of rotations of
irregular but constant figures in different directions. Since the participants did
not organize what they saw as containing A, B, and C, it was no help that they
received exact feedback on every trial, since they did not know why they
succeeded or failed. In my first experiment in Geneva, the children without the
concept of conservation of quantity could not learn because they did not know
why they were correct or wrong in their answers. Therefore, the criterion of
having understood the notion of conservation was that the child could explain
why the answer its the same amount of clay was the correct one, namely
because it must be the same since we did not add or take anything away,
even though the ball looks as if it contains more than the snake.

The Piagetian view is that we can only learn from experience about empirical
relations between variables, if we are able to organize the world in terms of
these variables. Assimilation precedes accommodation. Explaining
development as a result of simple learning was taken to be impossible by
Piaget, and psychological thinking was very much enriched by his emphasis
on the role of logic. Half a century later, Susan Carey (2011) has pointed to a
possible solution of one version of this dilemma in the form of Quinean

Experimenting with children also meant acquiring a keen awareness of the

ambiguity of their responses. In Geneva, the meaning of what a child said or
did was routinely checked by asking the child why he or she answered like
this, or did this. The meaning of a childs reaction was ascertained in
conversation, and not by mechanical classification of the response. This also
meant that what would be transferred, and to what situations, could be better
predicted. It was also consistent with the thinking in an earlier article of mine
(Smedslund, 1953) where I had pointed out that the answer to the question of
what is learned is given by the extent and direction of transfer, i.e. by studying
how a given experience has changed behavior in situations other than the
original. The experiments with children, and the conversations with them,
also reflected a consistent subjectivism, in stark contrast to the then prevailing
behaviorism. The interest was focused on what the world looked like to the
child, and this meant that what a child said and did had to be correctly
interpreted. Basic logicality became an invariant, because factual errors could
always be understood as logically correct given the childs premises. The
concept of understanding itself presupposes logicality. During my stay in
Geneva, I came to see more clearly that logic and understanding (meaning)
are indeed intrinsically linked. The meaning of something for someone is what
follows from that something for that someone (Smedslund, 1970).

Centration and de-centration were also important concepts. They refer to a

subjective aspect of the investigated phenomena (centration on the here-and-
now) and the necessary gradual de-centration (seeing things in relation to
ever broader contexts). At the level of perception, this reflects the initial

dominance of the here-and-now (centration) and the gradual efforts to
overcome this and achieve a balanced picture (de-centration). Piagets
statistical theory of the perceptual illusions attempts to account for the partial
compensation achieved by very rapidly alternating centrations on one aspect
or object and on a comparison aspect or object. Childrens inevitable
progression from centration toward increasing decentration is well illustrated
in a story from a childrens book that I refer to in a publication from that period
(Smedslund, 1966).

It goes like this: A chicken is strolling along enjoying the sunshine. Then it
meets a cow who bellows: How small you are! The chicken continues on its
way mumbling I am small, I am small. Then it meets a worm who says
how big you are! The chicken continues on its way mumbling , I am big, I
am big. But suddenly it stops and thinks I am small and I am big, that cant
be, who am I, perhaps I am medium-sized! In a social environment with other
individuals, de-centration is unavoidable, it becomes necessary to integrate
the different points of view of others in order to cooperate and predict. The
topic of second-order or meta-cognition, and the recognition of relativity are
involved here.

One more topic comes to mind in reflecting on my experiments with children,

namely a slowly emerging awareness of the contrast between the
standardized treatment of the childrens behavior as seen from the adults
point of view, in search for generalities, and the ignorance of the childs
subjective social context. Some times this became strikingly evident. For
example, I recall a small pale girl who meekly followed me toward the
experiment-room and, then, suddenly and surprisingly turned to her teacher
and asked: Will I come out again? Her and my contexts were completely

Childrens dependency on the perceived social context is not unknown in lay

psychology either, as witnessed by the following joke in a magazine: A first
grader was asked by a priest What is brown, has a long bushy tail and jumps
from tree to tree? The child hesitated and then said: It might have been a
squirrel but, since it is you who are asking, my answer is Jesus.
I presume that, in the back of my mind, I was, already at that time, becoming
increasingly skeptical about interpreting my observations as supporting my
abstract hypotheses, while disregarding the others subjective context.

In Geneva there were also discussions about numerous themes familiar in lay
psychology, but as yet only thinly represented in the American dominated
experimental psychology that also prevailed in Oslo. The cognitive revolution
that was just beginning in the US, had some of its roots in Geneva, as
witnessed especially by Bruners lively interest in Piaget. This interest also
led to my later invitation to Harvard.

Piaget was the unquestioned leader of the Center, and was referred to as le
patron (the boss). To my knowledge, neither Piaget nor his associate and
second-in-command Brbel Inhelder ever, wrote about an intimate
relationship, possibly because Piaget was married and had children, but it is
well known that these two gifted researchers cooperated very closely over a
life time. During my stay in Geneva, it was said that if you told one of them
something in the evening, the other one would know about it the next
morning. In that year (1957/58) we were several times invited to dinner in
Piagets home with other members of the Center, but Inhelder was never
present, and the one time all of us were invited to Inhelders place, a small
apartment in Genevas old town, Piaget was absent. Many years later, after
Piagets death, Inhelder showed me pictures from the place in the mountains
where the two stayed every summer, including photographs of two small
adjacent cottages (hers and Piagets) where they used to live.

My stay in Geneva was exceptionally enriching and stimulating, and, in many

ways, it was hard to reconcile my empiricist, statistical, and psychoanalytical
background from Oslo, with this French intellectual tradition. Over the whole
year, characterized by friendly and mutually respectful relations, Piaget got
overtly angry with me only on two occasions. One was when he expressed
irritation over what he saw as my repeated harping about the importance of
statistical significance and strict experimental control. He called this la
question Amricaine. I think he felt that my concern with method meant
getting sidetracked from the real psychological questions involved. At that
time I didnt understand this, since in Oslo I had learned to view sophisticated
statistical methods as the distinguishing mark of scientific psychology.

The second occasion was when he expressed annoyance over my persistent

interest in the social aspect of becoming a person (Smedslund, 1966, 1977). I
remember clearly that he said: This exaggerated interest in the social, is not
worthy of you (digne de vous). I will never know exactly what he meant, but
at that time I thought he meant that introducing considerations e.g. about the
personal relationship between the child and the experimenter and the social
context would lead to unnecessary complications in the theory.

I should mention here one initiative I took in 1959, after our return from
Genve that illustrates my interest in the importance of the social environment
(frowned at by Piaget), and that was also an early effort to apply
psychological thinking to the domain of the practical. Being of the age
preparing to have children and looking for a permanent place to live, I had the
idea of a village for young couples where both partners had jobs, and
needed someone to help with the children and the housework. This also
reflected the changing times when families were becoming financially
dependent on two incomes. I envisaged a collection of one-family houses
clustered around a central building with apartments for house-assistants and
a nursery school, where the children could be taken care of while both
parents worked. Several friends and colleagues and other people became
interested in the idea, and the project later known as the Jrnstad-field was
realized. Twenty-four houses designed by a well-known architect, were built
on a piece of land outside Oslo, and were finished in 1962/63. Although the
central building with apartments for assistants and a nursery school was
never realized we at least had a small village where everyone came to
know each other, and the children had a good place to grow up. My
professional background for initiating the project was at the time pretty vague,
although the outcome was practically satisfactory. The place still exists, and
we lived there for some years, before moving to a bigger house closer to
central Oslo. The project is mentioned here because it is an early one
illustrating my growing emphasis on the social nature of persons, and my

belief that a favorable social environment has great personal consequences. I
return later to two other projects in the same vein, namely treatment in the
homes of patients (1974-76) (Chapter Eleven) and Flettverk (1983- to the
present) also described in Chapter Eleven.

After our return home in the summer of 1958, I participated in one of the
yearly Symposia in Geneva in 1959, but after that the contact waned. I never
met Piaget again. He continued to work until his death in 1980, at the age of
84. In the following years, I made several visits to the Archives Jean Piaget,
and in one of them I happened to be present when they emptied the last room
belonging to the Centre International Dpistmologie Gntique and
removed the sign over the door. A once flourishing intellectual tradition had
died, as so many others in the history of our discipline! In the bathroom of an
apartment in a retirement home at Stanford belonging to Professor John
Flavell, the walls are still covered with pictures of le patron with his
characteristic cigar and beret. I have tried to summarize some of what I owe
Piaget in a recent paper (Smedslund 2012a), included in the appendix.

Chapter Five

Go West, Young Man!

After our return from Geneva, there were a couple of years filled with
experiments on cognitive development, the already mentioned Jrnstad-field-
project, and also interesting occasional visits from abroad. Among these I
can mention one by George Kelly in September 1960. His psychology of
personal constructs represented a much sought-for contact between science
and the clinic. The role- construct repertory test could be applied to everyone
and everywhere, and so could his theoretical credo that psychological
processes are channelized by what is anticipated. I invited him for dinner in
our home and in the years to follow we kept in touch. He inspired me by his
theoretical interest combined with clinical application. Also I gave a talk in
Fritz Heiders seminar while he was staying in Oslo the year 1961. Heider
was gradually to become the psychologist who most profoundly influenced my
professional career (Heider. 1958), by pointing to the conceptual structure of
psychological common sense.

Then my earlier work with Egon Brunswik had an unexpected after-effect. A

letter from Kenneth Hammond arrived, inviting me as a Visiting Lecturer for
a year at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Hammond had been a
student of Brunswik in Berkeley, and had become a life-long admirer and
follower of the migr Austrians ideas. He had heard of my work from
Brunswik and decided to invite me, not knowing that I had moved on to
become more of a Piagetian! Without thinking about this, I accepted, looking
forward to visiting the homeland of modern psychology, and also the
American West of my childhoods fantasies. We departed for the US in July

Since we could not afford the travel expenses, the Director of the Institute for
Social Research, arranged for us to go on a small (7000 t) Norwegian
freighter that left from Hamburg, Germany with an open destination that
turned out to be Jacksonville, Florida.

The first place we visited in the US was the Yerkes Laboratories outside
Jacksonville. We were shown around the facility and told about experiments
where chimpanzee babies were kept in dark sacks until a certain age, when
they were let out and their perception was compared with chimps that had
grown up naturally. Also, we were shown experiments where keepers with
different kinds of masks played different roles. Today, many of the studies
would surely not get past an ethics board! It was a time when animals were
treated almost at the same level as life-less material simply to be
experimented on.

Our first round-trip in the United States was paid by tickets for 99 days on
Greyhound . As will become clear, we used them fully. From Jacksonville we
travelled via Miami and Tampa to Gainesville were we visited a Norwegian
colleague. The next stop was Durham N. C. and Sigmund Koch who had
become an important figure for me. He received us very kindly in his slightly
bohemian and ironic way. We went boating and swimming on Lake Kerr, and
he introduced us to drinking Bloody Mary. In the evening he and I played
drums. Kochs writings had inspired me for some years in retrospect I think
of him as an early postmodernist who in an elegant and witty way distanced
himself from what he saw as an increasingly stuffy and pompous academic
psychology. He later did an impressive work of editing the multiple volumes of
Psychology: The Study of a Science. I met him for the last time, when he was

an old man with a failing health, at a conference in Theoretical Psychology in
Worcester in 1991.

The next stop was Washington D.C. where I met and talked with Martin
Braine and Jacqueline Goodnow about cognitive development. After that
we travelled via New York to New Haven and I had a conference with Bill
Kessen. We admired the architecture of Yale University and it was also
special for me to see 333 Cedar Street where my former idol Clark L. Hull
had worked. From New Haven we went to Worcester where I had long
discussions with Bernard Kaplan, and then to Boston and intense exchanges
with Daniel Berlyne. Then we travelled to meet our old friend from Geneva
Jack Wohlwill who was vacationing with his family on Cape Cod. We talked
about our experiences with Piaget, and wondered about how profoundly, but
differently, it had affected us. He went on to study how architecture and
ecological factors influence child development, and died prematurely in 1987.

From Cape Cod our bus-trip continued to Chicago where I had a meeting with
Ward Halstead, but also, more interesting for me, with Donald Campbell in
a round summer house by Lake Michigan outside Ogden. That meeting was
decidedly stimulating although our views on Piagets epistemology were
clashing. My memory of the details of our, sometimes a little heated
discussions, has faded over the many years that have passed since we talked
on the beach and swam in the lake that summer of 1961. My last meeting
with this impressive thinker, whose contributions to epistemology and
experimental methodology are so well-known, was at the home of my friend
and colleague Professor Ragnar Rommetveit in Oslo at one occasion in the
early 1990s. I want to mention here that Rommetveit and I were students
together, that he is an internationally known psycho-linguist , and that he no
doubt has influenced and stimulated me deeply. Our views are very close, but
we have also constantly clashed about to what extent words have constant
core meanings, in addition to being context-sensitive. My latest thoughts
about this topic are stated in (Smedslund, 2011).

From Chicago we went to Urbana where I gave a talk and again met Lee
Cronbach who was soon to move to Stanford.
The next and, so we thought, final destination of our long Odyssey by bus
was Denver, where we were met by my host in Boulder, Professor Kenneth
Hammond, a true Westerner in his Stetson, jeans and cowboy boots. During
our year in Boulder, we were to stay in an apartment a five-minutes-walk
across Boulder Creek to the Behavior Research Laboratory of Hammond and
his collaborators. The lab was located in a former church and the offices were
arranged around a big common room. When I arrived, I noted that none of the
offices had doors and that a lot of conversation went on between them and in
them almost incessantly. This was very contrary to my European image of a
university as a sort of monastery with isolated cells were one could think and
work without disturbance. Consequently, I asked where all the doors were,
and was told that they were stored in the basement. In a small voice, I then
inquired if it would be possible to have a door in my office. A door was quietly
installed, and all the following year the Behavior Research Laboratory had a
central space surrounded by open doors and one office with a closed door! At
lunch time, the door opened and I emerged to participate in the often lively

Soon after we arrived, my wife and I realized that one week still remained
before our 99-day bus tickets expired. I explained this to Hammond and after
a few hours I got an invitation from Professor Crutchfield to give a guest
lecture at the University of California in Berkeley. The next morning we were
on our way westward over the mountains across Wyoming, Utah and Nevada
to the eternal spring in the Bay area. We stayed overnight in the house of
Professor Krech, whom I knew from his year in Norway, and saw the sunset
behind the Golden Gate Bridge. My lecture about Piagetian themes the next
morning went well, and we were then driven by a Norwegian colleague, Arvid
s, to his home in Palo Alto. s was a gifted clinical psychologist who at that
time worked with hypnosis in Hilgards lab at Stanford. He died suddenly and
prematurely in Africa a few years later.

On this visit, in October 1961, I had a first glimpse of the beautiful Stanford
campus that I would return to so many times over the years to come. From
the Bay Area we continued on Greyhound via Disneyland, Grand Canyon,

Santa Fe, and back to Boulder. The day after our return the bus tickets

Looking back on those days of almost daily bus travel over thousands of
miles, I am impressed by how much stamina it took, and also how much of
American psychology and landscape I encountered. I must add that my wife
became pregnant at that time and went through a pretty tough period of
morning sickness. But we were young and adventurous, and for me the
meetings with so many interesting colleagues from another intellectual culture
provided a background for complex and challenging thoughts.

It soon became apparent that while Hammond had invited what he thought
was a fellow Brunswikian, he got a visitor who had become much more of a
Piagetian! He took this very nicely and, since most of his students in Boulder
at that time were not interested in Piaget, my teaching became limited to two
evening hours, once a week, when I explained Piagets theory of perception
to Hammond and some of his collaborators. The task was very difficult
because while Brunswik had explained perception as the outcome of complex
probability learning with a focus on distal variables, Piaget had mainly studied
perceptual illusions, i.e. the imperfections of perception, when it fails to
completely achieve the distal variables. Piaget explained perception as the
outcome of an incomplete process of decentration, which does not attain the
full reversibility of thinking. While both Brunswik and Piaget resorted to
statistics in their theories of perception, they did it in very different ways.
Brunswik was an empiricist in this respect, who explained the attainment of
distal variables by referring to the learning of empirical probabilities, whereas
Piaget explained the lack of veridicality of perceptual estimates as the result
of incomplete equilibration or de-centration of successive momentary
impressions. An example of the latter would be looking back and forth on two
sticks. At one moment you look at one stick and it looks longer than a third
comparison stick, at the next moment you look at the other stick and then that
looks longer compared to the same comparison stick. After numerous very
rapid successive eye movements, the impressions are approximately
averaged and form a percept. To Piaget this approximate statistical averaging

process lacks the perfect reversibility of thinking. The comparisons between
Brunswik and Piaget evoked by these evening sessions led me to recognize
fully that Brunswiks psychology, building mostly on theorizing about
perception and learning was much thinner than Piagets who, in addition,
incorporated detailed analyses of thinking processes, play, moral judgments,
dreams, and much more. My conclusions were published in an article with the
title From Constancy to Conservation: A comparison of the systems of
Brunswik and Piaget (Smedslund, 1966b).

Among the other psychologists I met in Boulder, I especially remember

Howard Gruber, and Dick and Shirley Jessor. Gruber later moved to
Geneva for many years. I was also stimulated by the views of the Jessors in
their studies of a tri-ethnic society in southern Colorado.

At the end of my year in Boulder I combined Inhelder and Piagets (1958)

theory of adolescent thinking about correlations with a Brunswik-inspired
empirical study of the learning of correlations in adults. In that study I
discovered that, at least in some situations, adults tend to ignore the base
rates when judging whether a cue is useful in estimating a distal variable
(Smedslund, 1963.) It turned out that the nurses investigated focused on the
likelihood that the presence of a symptom was associated with an illness,
without taking into account the likelihood of the illness when the symptom was
absent (the base rate). This finding was later supported by numerous
American studies.

Thinking back on the year in Boulder, I must also mention that my wife took a
course in creative writing at the university, and assisted me in taking
shorthand of my experiments with children. My eldest son, Geir, was born
there on my birthday in 1962. The American West with its high blue sky, dry
air, and fabulous landscapes also made a deep impression. Also, I have good
memories of the social life in Boulder. We acquired many friends, among
them one who remained an almost life-long contact, namely Leon Rappaport
who shared my skepticism toward mainstream experimental psychology. He
later became a Professor at the State University of Kansas in Manhattan and
we met again during my stay in Lawrence ten years later.
Two episodes from Colorado are worth recounting, one of them funny and the
other one dramatic. First, the funny one:

We were walking along a street one Sunday afternoon when suddenly a small
child shouts in a loud voice pointing at me. Ma, look! There is the man who
takes us to the basement and gives us candy! (My experimental studies of
preschool children were conducted in a basement, and as a reward after the
session, each child was given a small token of candy!)

The other episode could have ended tragically. One weekend, I was invited to
participate in a cross-country skiing trip led by Professor Mike Wertheimer
(son of the Gestalt psychologist). We were driven up to an abandoned mining
village and went skiing from there. The high altitude and cold temperature
turned out to be too much for some of the participants, and Wertheimer had
to leave us and escort them downhill. The remainder of the group, 13
persons, among them 3 Norwegians continued, but although we had a map
and a compass, no one was familiar with the local terrain. After some hours, it
started to snow, the temperature went below zero, and darkness fell.
Eventually, we lost our way and everyone was getting tired. We Norwegians,
who were the most experienced cross-country skiers, alternated going first in
the deepening snow. When it had become almost completely dark, we
suddenly saw lights far below us the small community of Eldora! The
mountain side was much too steep and irregular to allow skiing in the dark
and consequently everyone took off their skis. With the skis on our shoulders
we kind of stumbled and skidded downhill, and, mercifully found small ravines
and managed to avoid completely vertical places and overhangs. Completely
exhausted we finally reached Eldora, and I remember lying in the snow and
counting the participants as they arrived. Thinking back on the episode my
conclusion is that it was one of those events that could not be avoided, and
that we tackled it as well as possible. I never met Wertheimer after that, and I
do not know how he took it.

We left Boulder on a beautiful summer day, 1962, in our green Plymouth

station wagon with a baby and much luggage, to drive all the way across the
country to a parking lot outside Newark railway station, where a Norwegian
colleague would take over the car. He was to drive it back to Boulder, where
he also was to stay for a year. On our way, we had stayed overnight in the
home of George Kelly in Columbus, Ohio. I remember admiring the
workshop of Kelly in the basement where he had built an elaborate railway
system with electric trains! I also gave a talk at the university.

This first encounter with American psychology obviously influenced me in

profound and multiple ways. However, looking back, I am struck by how much
the rich experience must have been restricted by my inevitable one-
sidedness and limitations. As all humans I was a very selective processor of

Chapter Six

Harvard and the Birth of the Cognitive Revolution

After our return from America in the summer of 1962, I resumed my work at
the Institute for Social Research, but now with a scholarship from the
university. In the year that followed, I continued to do experiments with pre-
school children on the development of various concepts, such as
conservation of quantity, weight, classification, verticality, etc. (Smedslund,
1961b,c,d,e,f,g, 1962, 1963a,b,c,d). I also received an award for a
monograph (1964a). Gradually, I began to sense the limitations of the
psychological experiment when it comes to understanding total human
situations. I think that was the time I first had the fantasy of being in a pitch
dark room equipped with a needle where the task was to determine what kind
of (stuffed) animal was situated in front of me. Each single thrust with the
needle, keeping all other factors constant and varying direction only, and
recording whether it contacted something or not, was the equivalent of one
experiment. How do you determine the difference between a stuffed bobcat
and a stuffed wolf with the help of only a needle in total darkness? At best, a
great number of experiments would be required. And one should be happy
that the animals would be dead, and, hence, immobile! This illustrated my
feeling of helplessness and exasperation at determining how children reason,
only with help of an endless series of controlled experiments. I am not talking
about factual impossibilities here, but only of my growing sense of frustration.

In that year we moved into our first house in the Jrnstad-field. I also received
an unexpected invitation from Jerome Bruner to spend the year 1963/64 at
his Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard. I enthusiastically wrote back and
accepted. However, then things got a bit complicated. Roughly at the same
time, another letter arrived, inviting me to the Educational Testing Service in
New Jersey. The problem was that they offered a stipend of $13.000,
whereas Bruner had offered only $12.000. At that time we had a heavy
mortgage on our new house, and a modest Norwegian income, so the
difference in what we could expect to save over the coming year was not
unimportant. After much deliberation, I wrote to Bruner, assuring him that I
would come to Harvard anyhow, but that it would involve a financial penalty if
I did. We were so relieved when Bruner immediately answered by raising the
stipend to $13.000! That was the only time in my life when I have been in a
position to, and inclined to, bargain for a higher salary! The Social Democrat
in me felt confused!

We arrived in Cambridge in the fall of 1963 via a congress in Washington

(see picture) and soon found an apartment in a building approaching
condemnation in Sacramento Street, a 5-minutes-walk to the Center, then
situated in an old house in Kirkland Street, adjacent to where William James
Hall was to be built a few years later. George Miller was away that year, and
I had his office, a large room without windows in the middle of the building.

I experienced Harvard as filled with very bright young scholars, most of them
male. It was said that a Harvard man could get very drunk, but would continue
to converse at an orderly highly abstract level, until just before he passed out
- and perhaps even after!

Among the other Fellows and Associates at the Center, I remember, in

addition to Bruner and Miller, Dan Slobin, David McNeill, Janellen
Huttenlocher, and Roger Brown. Every Thursday there was a lecture,
followed by a drink at the Faculty Club and dinner at what Bruner called our
Stammtisch in a separate room. Most of the time we were occupied with our
different research projects and our interactions were entirely determined by
when there appeared to be commonality in specific interest. I continued to do
experiments with pre-school children, but in some of them (Smedslund,
1966cde) I also tried to apply the new information-processing ideas.


From left to right: Jan Smedslund, Seymour Papert, Susan Ervin-Tripp, Roger
Brown, Brbel Inhelder

These attempts at microanalysis ended because of the increasingly

complicated and confusing results. They reminded me of Brunswiks
admonition to be wary of studying mediation processes because one can
become entangled and unable to extricate oneself!

In November 1963 we travelled to New York where I gave a talk at the New
School for Social Research and visited Howard Gruber whom we knew from
Colorado. From New York we went to Princeton where I also gave a talk and
met, among others, Silvan Tomkins and Samuel Messick. I knew some of
the writings of these distinguished colleagues, but I have no memory of the
conversations that took place half a century ago.

The new exciting concept that everyone discussed at Harvard was

information. It seemed to open a magic bridge between computers, the brain,
and the human mind by incorporating the sheer absence (0) of things. An
event not happening also carries information. The concept made a lot intuitive
sense and George Millers7 +/- 2 and chunking were constantly debated.

We did not at that time think that we were in the middle of the birth of a new
era in psychology, but reading Gardners The Minds New Science: A
History of the Cognitive Revolution (Gardner, 1985) many years later, I
recognized that this was indeed the case. I quote part of what he writes about
The Center for Cognitive Studies:

for over ten years, the Harvard Center served as a locale where visiting
scholars were invited for a sabbatical, and where graduate and post-doctorate
students flocked in order to sample the newest thinking in the cognitive areas.
A list of visitors to the Center reads like Whos Who in Cognitive Science:
nearly everyone visited at one time or another and many spent a semester or
a year in residence.

The number of people I briefly met at our Stammtisch, or listened to, was
high; I remember particularly presentations by Solomon Asch, Eric
Lenneberg and Roman Jacobson.

So much has been written about the content of the new era of information
processing that I cannot add anything new. However, I will describe how it
affected me, and how I responded to it. Let me begin by some efforts I made
to communicate some of my European background to my American

I was asked to explain to the others the exact meaning and operational
implications of Piagets concepts of groupement and group as well as the
concepts of reversibility, assimilation, accommodation and centration
de-centration in his developmental theory. The Center members had just
assembled to hear me lecture about this, when we were disrupted by a
student who burst into the room and cried the president (Kennedy) has been
shot. Everyone gathered around a radio, and in the ensuing confusion I was
never asked to resume my lecture.

I also remember one occasion when I asserted my view of the ongoing
research in a joking way. The Center discussed buying a number of mobile
laboratories so we could drive to the various schools and pre-schools and do
our experiments. I suggested to Bruner that we should perhaps also construct
and place on the back of the labs some small cubicles similar to the out-
houses of the past, where the researchers could sit and think about the
meaning of their observations. Bruners fast response was Yes, Jan,
Americans dont think, they reckon!

However, my response to the information processing fashion (that also

influenced me) came out at a deeper level. One night I dreamt I saw a big
information processing-diagram where bluish information was floating through
the various YES/NO nodes. Then the diagram changed into a big eye and the
eye was filled with tears that streamed down and obliterated the entire
diagram! In the morning I woke up feeling relieved and refreshed. There was
no immediate and dramatic change in my daily research, and I did publish
three papers on micro-mediation, already mentioned above and, later, a
textbook in Norwegian (Smedslund, 1967) written partly in the information
processing jargon. However, I still think that my dream was important and
signified a long-term effect.

In March 1964 I travelled by train (!) all the way to Palo Alto where I gave a
talk at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, invited by
Jack Wohlwill. I remember also talking with J.J. Gibson whose thinking
influenced many of us at the time. It was my first visit to the Center to which I
would return as a Fellow some years later.

Among the memories from the year at Harvard, I must mention an episode
that, besides being funny, summarizes something important about
psychology. I was sitting on a bench at a playground on Cambridge
Common. My 2-year-old son Geir was staring at a pigeon that was trying to
catch a worm that was trying to escape into the earth. At that moment B. F.
Skinner came walking by, and stopped for a moment watching Geir, the
pigeon, and the worm. I sat on the bench and, unobtrusively, observed

Skinner. This was a rich and elegant tableau of the many variants and levels
of cognitive processes to be found in psychology!

Many years have passed since I was a Fellow at Harvard. The faces of the
group at the Center for Cognitive Studies have faded away into the
background. But still clearly illuminated, I see Jerome Bruner, with his
enormous glasses, his fast-moving, lively intellect and knowledgeable
comments. I know that he can be seen as an intellectual surf-rider who was
always present where the action was, but then he was an outstanding surf-
rider and an impressive psychologist at that. I still remember his concluding,
and so perceptive, words to me, after a dinner in our home in Cambridge, Oh
Jan, you are so Kantian! I wrote a chapter in a volume celebrating him
(Smedslund, 1980). And I still cherish his book (Bruner, 1990) where it
became eminently clear that, after all, he and I have ended up with quite
similar views far away from information processing and cognitive science.

Let me end this chapter with an episode that probably occurred shortly after
our return to Norway that, in a way, also had to do with child psychology. The
telephone chimed, and a deep voice said with a German intonation. This is
Charlotte Bhler. I am visiting my daughter at a place near you. We then
met briefly, and she gave me one of her books and said shall I autograph it.
None of us had a pen handy, and I said I thank you, that is not important.
Afterwards, I recognized that I had behaved very impolitely, even heartlessly.
I have no excuses. Having no intention of reading the book, I simply didnt
think of the hurt I caused by not acknowledging the old ladys standing as a
celebrated pioneer in child psychology. Later in life I have occasionally had to
forgive my younger colleagues for hurting me in similar ways.

Chapter Seven
Professor in Bergen

In the spring of 1964, while we were still in Cambridge, I received the news
that I had been appointed as the first Professor of Psychology at the
University of Bergen, on the West Coast of Norway. I was just turning 35; I
was healthy, had a wonderful wife, a child, and I felt, in the words of a song
from Oklahoma, that everythings going my way.

We rented a furnished house on the hillside overlooking Bergen, and every

morning I walked down to the new Institute of Psychology that had one floor
in a house in downtown, and a half-time secretary. The remaining four or five
rooms were empty. Being granted the necessary funds, and after open
advertisement, I appointed three young graduates from Oslo to three
positions as Assistant Professor, covering approximately Experimental
Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Physiological Psychology. The
first one was Tore Helstrup, later to become an internationally known
experimenter in cognitive psychology and a life-long friend and colleague. At
the very end of my stay I also appointed Karl Halvor Teigen, who also
became a prominent experimental psychologist and a good colleague in Oslo
in later years.

I also organized a one-year introductory study of psychology and wrote a

general textbook entitled Psykologi (Psychology) that contained an
introductory chapter on Heiders common sense psychology, and an
introduction to information processing, but was mostly an extensive

presentation of Piagets psychology. There was a conspicuous absence of
physiological psychology in the book, but the reader was referred to a
textbook by Hebb (Hebb, 1966).

Since our house and most of our friends were in Oslo, I applied for a vacant
position there, already during the first year in Bergen. I was placed first of the
applicants and, therefore, presumed that I would be appointed to the position.

In the summer of 1965 we packed our belongings and drove to Oslo. On the
way I stopped and telephoned the University of Oslo to make sure that the
appointment was in order. I was rudely surprised by being told that a
colleague who had been placed as number two, had delivered a formal
protest, and that in order to deal with the protest, so much time would pass
that the universities of Bergen and Oslo had agreed to postpone the final
decision, and that my stay in Bergen was to be prolonged for one whole year!
We had to return to Bergen, find another house there, find another family to
rent our house in Oslo, get another temporary position in the Bergen school
system for my wife, and a place in a kindergarten for my son, and so on! The
reader can probably imagine my feelings toward the colleague who had filed
the complaint, especially since it was mainly based on the formality that he
was already an Associate Professor in Oslo, and therefore should be
awarded the Professorship.

Shortly after we had the news that we had to return to Bergen I went to
Stanford for a month to be a teacher at a conference on Learning and
Education that Lee Cronbach had organized there. At that conference,
enjoying the Northern California summer, I met and talked with many
colleagues, one of which was Barbara Tversky who was to marry Amos
Tversky soon after that, and later join the faculty at Stanford. Among the
other participants I remember the German psychologist Heinz Heckhausen
who was to have a bright career in the years to follow.

During the second year in Bergen I continued to have contact with Professor
Fredrik Barth and his collaborators at the Institute of Social Anthropology,
and this contact gave me many impulses. Barth already had a broad

background of field studies in countries outside Europe, and would continue
to expand his field-work in the years to come. Among other stimulating
acquaintances, I can mention the sociologist Stein Rokkan, and the
philosopher Knut Erik Trany, both of whom became very influential in the
Norwegian academic world. One internationally known psychologist who
visited Bergen while I was there was Erich From, whose rather cool and
restrained demeanor contrasted strongly with the content of his writings which
emphasized love and personal contact. Of course, I recognize that this was
my individual impression and based only on one isolated encounter.

The years in Bergen taught me that I had little interest in administration and
system development and in taking initiatives in that area. This became
strikingly illustrated when my successor, Bjorn Christiansen, started and
developed a full scale psychology study in Bergen that eventually resulted in
the establishment of a separate Faculty of Psychology with ten times as many
positions as when I left. My disinterest in administration and planning was
also indirectly revealed when I once left an important meeting about
psychology with the governing board of the University, in order to fetch my
son from Kindergarten. In retrospect, I also think that this lack of engagement
and enthusiasm for developing psychology at the University of Bergen
indirectly reflected my growing doubts about formally establishing a discipline
that was so strongly influenced in its textbooks by natural science
methodology and by American university culture.

We experienced Bergen as a charming city, but at that time too peripheral

and limited both professionally and culturally for our liking, and also as
removed from our roots in Oslo (house, friends, etc.) The second time we left,
in the summer of 1966, there were no unforeseen complications!

Chapter Eight

Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral


Upon our return to Oslo in the fall of 1966, I followed an old-time custom and
called upon my predecessor Professor Harald Schjelderup. He served a
glass of sherry and we conversed about the situation at the university and the
Institute of Psychology. Schjelderup had only a superficial understanding of
my heroes Brunswik and Piaget and of the cognitive revolution. However, he
knew of my association with the clinical group at the Institute of Nic Waal with
whom he did not have a good relation. Also, his protg Arvid s, who had
also applied for the professorship, had only won third place. Hence, it was no
wonder that the conversation was somewhat strained, and we eventually
turned to safe areas such as our common interest in crime novels. Let me
emphasize that I have a great admiration for Schjelderups pioneering work
of introducing both experimental and psychoanalytic psychology to Norway.
He started a tradition of combining theoretical, experimental, and practical
work which until recently was a characteristic of Norwegian psychology, and
that I felt a part of.

Soon after my return to Oslo and to the Institute of Psychology, two events
happened that each contributed to shaping my future life. The first was the
birth of my second son Jrn. The second was an invitation to stay a year as a
Fellow at The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
(CASBS). At that time, this was, and still is, a very attractive appointment, and
I immediately sent a reply accepting the invitation.

In the early fall of 1967 we (my wife and this time all my three children) went
by ship to New York, and then drove in a new Volvo from Newark via places
such as Niagara Falls, the battle field at Little Big Horn, and Yellowstone
National Park, to Palo Alto, where we rented a house in Colorado Avenue.

CASBS is a heaven for researchers, situated on a hill above the Stanford

campus with groups of offices distributed among palm trees, oaks, and
flowers in the mild Californian climate. The lunch for the fifty Fellows was
most of the year at outside tables. Although there were talks and seminars as
well as common arrangements and excursions for the families, most of the
time we were free to engage in our respective research activities. We got to
know many of the others socially, but I only met a few other psychologists
who became friends, and with whom I had common interests. One of them
was Harold Stevenson, a child psychologist who some years later arranged
for me to spend half a year in Minnesota.

During the year at the Center, I wrote altogether four articles. Three of these
were in different ways products of my earlier research in Geneva and at
Harvard. One was a reply in a discussion of the role of reinforcement in
cognitive development (Smedslund, 1968a). I wrote about how children
somehow come to realize the necessity of conservation even when it appears
to contradict their immediate perception. Another article presented the
methodology emerging from studies of cognitive development and was
published in Psychological Bulletin. (Smedslund, 1969) The third summarized
the outcome of my studies of microanalysis of childrens reasoning from
Harvard and Bergen (Smedslund, 1968b). Finally, I wrote a programmatic
paper entitled Meanings, implications and universals: toward a psychology of
man (Smedslund, 1970a). That article represented my decision to distance
myself from traditional experimental psychology and turn toward topics and
thoughts that would many years later culminate in the system of psycho-logic.
The wonderful year at the Center marked the end of my career inside the
mainstream of psychology, and thereby the end of the period of prestigious
invitations and also prizes such as the Monograph Award for 1963 from the
Society for Research in Child Development (Smedslund, 1964), etc. From
then on, I have consistently been critical and have been met with
counterarguments both in writing and when giving guest lectures at
universities or conferences. Frequently, there has been irritation or dismissal.
I have not been discouraged by this, but have seen it as a natural
consequence of my increasingly radical position. I return to this theme
repeatedly throughout the book.

The quiet and luxurious life at the Center, away from the normal duties of a
university teacher, clearly increased my productivity and that of the other
Fellows too, as witnessed by the high number of influential books and articles
authored each year at the Center ever since it was founded in 1953. The list
of alumni includes many of those who shaped international psychology in the
second half of the twentieth century. For me it was a good year, becoming
able to face and think through the theoretical turn that had been brewing in
me for some time. I realized that I could now dare to go openly against the
mainstream because I was a tenured Full Professor with a sufficient acquired
status by having worked both in Geneva, at Harvard, and at the Center.
Under these conditions I could at least expect to be listened to, and be met
with serious counterarguments, instead of being ignored or ridiculed. The
subsequent years would fully confirm this expectancy.

Thinking back on the year at the Center, I cannot resist briefly telling about
three episodes that all serve to illustrate the societal changes and conflicts
going on outside the serene researchers paradise on the hill above Stanford.

The first happened on my birthday in the spring of 1968. Out of intense

curiosity about the new hippie-movement, I visited the Haight-Ashbury district
of San Francisco. I saw and sensed the atmosphere of friendly exotically
garbed people who looked deep into my eyes and invited me to smoke a joint
with them. All humans were brothers and sisters and we should all love each
other. We should be flower children! It was a fascinating movement
attempting to reorder our society. I never participated, and I saw the dark and
unrealistic side from the beginning, but it was the occasion of much reflection!

My children also encountered the different culture in many, partly provocative

and partly funny ways.

My daughter Maj, who was then 13, was exasperated because the Palo Alto
High School at that time did not allow girls to wear jeans, and everyone froze
in the chilly Palo Alto winter mornings.

My eldest son Geir, who was 5, was told in Kindergarten about racial
discrimination for the first time, and was asked to write a story about this. He
then produced the following: There was a boy. He was so sad because he
was black. He wanted to be green.

My youngest son, Jrn, then nearly 2-years old had encountered American
TV, but our family had not prepared him well for religion. During a visit to the
mission church in Carmel he shocked many people (and us) by suddenly
pointing at the altar with a figure of Jesus on the cross, and shouting Ma and
Pa look, there is Tarzan! We hushed him, told him that it was Jesus, and
hurried out, but at the entrance he turned and pronounced in a loud voice
OK, Jesus-Tarzan!

These episodes and many others highlight our encounters with the social
realities in the US. I wondered about the variability of what humans can
become and about the absolute limits to this variability. Children adapt to an
astonishing variety of customs and practices, yet there are also limits beyond
which they cannot do so. I was already developing a conviction that we live in
socially constructed realities, and also that our inherited human qualities set
limits to the variability of these constructions.

I have visited CASBS briefly many times later, but I now wonder whether
psychology as a discipline will profit from this kind of stratospheric
meditation unless it is at least combined with a correspondingly long sojourns
outside academia in the places where ordinary people live. We humans have
an unfortunate tendency to become embedded in abstractions with only
tenuous connections to concrete reality. In the last years, I have noticed that
the Center is actually placing more emphasis on practical relevance than
before, and this is in line with what I think they should do.

Even so, the Center is a close approximation to a paradise on earth for the
researcher by offering possibilities for unlimited contemplation and seclusion
surrounded by flowers and technical assistance.

Chapter Nine

The Student Revolution

Returning from the Center, I was appointed Chair of the Department of

Psychology, and was warned in advance by my colleagues that the student
situation was not good. In fact it was a situation that was quite unheard of in
the stable and solid history of the University of Oslo. The students and some
younger Faculty had adopted new and revolutionary ideas coming from
France and Germany - from the French philosophers, and the German
Frankfurter School. The philosophical background was summarized for us by
Gerard Radnitsky in the book Continental Schools of Metascience
(Radnitsky, 1968). Marx, Hegel, and the ideas of the French Revolution were
in the air.

The concrete situation in Oslo was that the number of psychology students
had swelled far beyond our ability to provide the required teaching. In other
words, we were severely under-staffed and the alternatives were to toughen
the requirements for admission or to get funds for increasing the number of
teachers and the other facilities. The students demanded more power in the
policy and administration of the Institute and they wanted to maintain open
admission and get more teachers. These students were very different from
the meek and docile ones that we were accustomed to meet. They instigated

numerous demonstrations and sit-ins, and presented repeated and tough

I organized the Board of the Institute like a government, with different areas of
responsibility for the different faculty members that had been elected. One
was to be responsible for the finances, one for the teaching, and so on. In the
spirit of the times I also started an encounter group for the Faculty members,
led by a clinical specialist from outside the University. Nothing similar had
ever happened at the university. My purpose was to change the traditional
academic culture into a place where interpersonal relations were more
focused as being appropriate in a place where future psychologists were

The student representatives at the board pushed hard all the time. We
applied for more positions and at the same time tried to get more restrictive
rules for admission. The latter efforts were repeatedly blocked by the elected
student representatives and their supporters among the assistants and the
Assistant Professors. During the following two years there were numerous
episodes when the psychology students arranged sit-ins to block attempts by
the higher authorities at the University to introduce restrictions on admission.
The most dramatic episode was when the psychology students, their
collaborators and the tenured faculty members all joined ranks to push for
additional positions. A joint meeting was arranged with the leadership of the
University and representatives from the respective State Departments, and
covered by the Norwegian State Television. I and the leader of the students
delivered short speeches in which we concluded that continued negotiations
would be pointless and that the teachers at the Institute simply could not cope
any more with the increasing number of students. After that the teachers and
eight hundred students simply marched out in front of the television cameras.
The next day we were informed that we had been given a sizable number of
new academic positions, the necessary funds, localities and laboratory and
teaching facilities! However, even this victory was not sufficient to ensure
satisfactory teaching and research conditions, and the students and their
allies continued to block all efforts to restrict admission. Finally, in October

1970 we had had enough and all the faculty members including myself,
resigned from their positions on the board, informing the University that the
continued stalemate made it impossible to take responsibility for the Institute.
A provisional administration took over, and eventually tough requirements for
admission were introduced.

The author as Chair of the Department of Psychology in Oslo, 1970

The nearly two years of administrative work and the continuous tough
infighting with young and skillful opponents, taught me a lot. I learned not only
about planning and conducting meetings and writing official and
administrative letters but, above all, about the tremendous power inherent in
the construction of new social realities. Concepts such as monopoly-
capitalism, the fight between classes, fight between the sexes, master
and servant, theoretical superstructure and practical substructure,
dialectics, etc. became somehow , yes, reified. These entities became
parts of social reality! We academic teachers who had lived in the ivory
tower felt confused because, as one colleague expressed it, the world looks
different. The most radical students said that if a professor and a janitor were
hurt in an accident and only one could be taken care of immediately, the
ambulance should take the janitor first since he belonged to the working
class, and the professor to the relatively worthless upper class. I thought, and
still think, this reasoning was stupid and immoral. On the other hand, a more
sensitive and intelligent student once said to me you know what is the mark
of a good Professor? He should be able to learn fast! That remark made me

The picture of those times at the Institute of Psychology would not be

complete, unless I also mention that, as a Chair, I received written
confidential information from a few colleagues who were victims of merciless
mobbing and prosecution by the revolutionaries because their teaching and
publications were judged to be old fashioned or reactionary. Revolutions
are never idyllic, and always have a night-side!

In the time following my stint as a chair and politician, I tried to organize and
summarize what I had learned, by writing a book entitled Becoming a
psychologist (Smedslund, 1972). In the preface of that book I also thanked
the radical students for what they had taught me!

Looking back on those years I now see that the confusion and relative
helplessness of us academic psychology teachers in handling the turbulence,
conflicts and feelings that surrounded and engulfed us, strengthened my
growing conviction that the psychology we taught to our students was
somehow incomplete and consisted more of abstract words than of
knowledge applicable in practice. I longed for a conceptual framework that
could make us understand the world better and tell us more directly what we
could do about it.

Soon after my resignation as Chair, a letter of invitation arrived from the
University of Minnesota. Probably on the suggestion of Harold Stevenson,
my friend from CASBS, they invited me to stay as a Visiting Professor at the
Institute of Child Development in the first half of 1972. I accepted, and we
departed by plane for the Twin Cities, just before New Years Eve.

Chapter Ten

Clinical Pre-Education in Minnesota

When I arrived in Minnesota, the experience from Colorado was repeated, but
with another content. In Boulder they had expected a Brunswikian
experimentalist and received a Piagetian developmental psychologist. The
Institute of Child Development in Minneapolis expected an experimental child
psychologist, but received a psychologist eager for more experience with
practical work. The two years of chairmanship during the student revolution
had made me realize the almost total helplessness of the ivory tower
academician when confronted with real human conflicts and societal change.
I increasingly realized that having knowledge without being able to use it was
too feeble.

Hence, I engaged in three projects with very different outcomes. The first was
that I volunteered to be a participant observer at the Student Counseling
Office. As a visitor, I was to start by being present mostly as an observer, and
to participate more as I felt that I understood the local circumstances better.
Unfortunately, I never found a meaningful way to participate and collaborate
with the counselors, and after a few weeks I withdrew from the task.

My second project was to enroll in a course labeled participation in a Bion-

type therapy group. Seven graduate students and I participated, and a
professor of psychiatry functioned as group leader. He always entered the
group exactly on time, sat down, and almost never said a word or responded

non-verbally. The exception was that, a few times, he made a comment on
the group activity that no one understood. When offered peanuts, he did not
acknowledge the offer, when asked a question he never responded, he never
greeted us when he arrived, and he left exactly on time without saying good-
bye. After having tried for a long time to elicit some response, we gradually
started to ignore him, and only referred to him as he. We speculated about
his personality, his sanity, and about the purpose of this kind of behavior. I
certainly learned a lot about what happens when someone ceases to behave
normally and to display ordinary human feelings. The group continued for the
duration of Spring Term, and inspired me to think about the importance of
those aspects of human conduct that appeared to be entirely absent in this
group leader. Among these were care, respect, and understanding. I began to
think that these were necessary to include in any effective psychological
treatment. I also started to become very interested in what went on in small
groups and how to lead them.

My third project turned out to be the most important. I circulated an invitation

to the faculty and the graduate students at the Institute of Child Development
to join an encounter group with the purpose of exploring and resolving
personal problems in social interaction. We sat in a circle on the floor. In the
beginning there was a lot of silence, but sooner or later someone offered a
comment on how it felt when no one said anything, or on some personal
thoughts and problems that they wanted to share. Since I had started the
group, I had the role of group leader, and learned much about the challenges
of this task.

This first group in Minnesota was followed later by numerous student groups
in Oslo, and I also wrote a series of eight mimeographed but unpublished
papers on the theory of small groups. Among the rich theoretical insights, I
particularly remember understanding the interdependence of ones personal
freedom (liberty) and the freedom of others, under the usual conditions of
limitation in available time. To behave and talk freely implies taking away
freedom from others, and vice versa, and, hence, cooperation requires

equality, responsibility and mutual care (solidarity). Conversely, cooperation
also necessarily restricts personal freedom.

From my time at the Institute in Minneapolis I remember many talks with

colleagues. One of them was with Sandra Scarr who once borrowed my copy
of the already mentioned book entitled Continental Schools of Metascience
(Radnitsky, 1968). Another colleague was John Flavell who shared my
interest in Piaget, and who became a good friend with whom I spent time on
numerous occasions, also after he moved to Stanford, and later as a retiree.

In summary, the visit to Minnesota became the starting point of my later

career as a practicing psychologist and the definite end of my experimental
work on child development. I remember it also for the fiercely cold winter
temperatures, the hot summer, and such events as the celebration of
Syttende mai (Norways National Day) in Minnehaha Park by descendants
of Norwegian immigrants. Finally, I also experienced an American version of
student unrest, related to the draft and the Vietnam War. The National Guard
briefly occupied the campus which smelled of tear gas, and some students
came to my encounter group with bloody bandages. I contrasted this with the
Norwegian student unrest, which went on without a single violent episode,
and no arrests.

Chapter Eleven

Psychologist on the Loose

In retrospect I can see clearly that the visit to Minnesota represented my final
departure from being a strictly academic psychologist who only talked and
wrote about psychological processes, towards being a psychologist
committed to doing something about what he observes. The precursors to this
transition had been there for a long time, but I had not reflected much upon
them. However, sometime after we returned from Minnesota I applied to the
University for a three-year leave of absence with full salary to formally qualify
as a clinician.

To my intense joy and surprise the application was granted. The University
recognized the need for more teachers and researchers who were also
practically competent! I first worked as a psychologist in the emergency ward
of a nearby psychiatric clinic, and I was to receive supervision one hour a
week by my colleague at the Institute of Psychology Professor Leif Braaten
who was a former student of Carl Rogers and got his doctorate from the
University of Chicago. The Chief Psychologist at the psychiatric clinic was to
provide the other required weekly hour of supervision. The total requirements
at that time for becoming a specialist in clinical psychology included, in
addition to two hours weekly supervision over two years, participation in
eleven different courses, and altogether 5 years of clinical practice. However,
I had reason to believe that my extensive research on children would be
regarded as equivalent to one year of practice, and that my Professors
competence, my training therapy with Nic Waal, and participation in
numerous psychotherapy conferences, participation in psychotherapy groups,
etc. would be accepted as equivalent to another year. Hence my entire leave
of absence from the university was planned to be three whole years, 1974,
1975, and 1976.

My first encounter with the emergency ward shocked me. The experience of
being alone with a deeply troubled patient, and being expected to be of help
without having time to think, read and write undisturbed, was highly
challenging. What should I do? What would be a professionally adequate and
responsible intervention?

What happened was surprising to me. Using an old metaphor, I was like a
puppy thrown into deep water for the first time. What did I do? I started to
swim! Somehow I had available an interaction repertory that was not much
used in experimenting and academic theorizing. I felt as if another half of me
was suddenly called into action. Let me illustrate this by using an example
from those early days at the emergency ward:

I walked along one of the corridors and suddenly was confronted by a

distraught woman who was crying with a frantic and desperate look in her
eyes. She grabbed both of my hands and asked Doctor, how can you go on
living when you know that nothing really makes any sense and that it will all
end with inevitable death? I found myself saying let us sit down here, and I
will tell how I manage. We sat down on two chairs in the corridor and she
continued to hold my hands and look into my eyes. I then proceeded to say: I
know it is true that we are all going to die and that we dont understand this
whole existence. But one thing that is a consolation to me is that I am not
alone I am together with the other people around me, my friends and loved
ones, in facing and coping with life. I know in retrospect that what I said was
emphasized and illustrated by the fact that I had listened to her and taken her
seriously, and that we were sitting there holding hands while I talked! This
also represented the beginning of a treatment which included accepting her
sincere wish to leave the emergency ward where she had been committed
against her will and allowing her to return to her family. Further, the treatment,
in addition to sessions in my office, included my visiting her home in order to
understand what went on there.

The months working at the emergency ward were followed by half a year
participating in a crisis intervention unit established for the first time in
Norway. We tried to have someone available to respond the same day or the
next day for people who needed someone to talk to, and tried to work as
effectively and fast as possible. I compiled a statistic over my own patients,
showing that I had seen around a hundred people on the average 1-5 hours,
and a few longer than that. The task always included using the first hour to
acquire enough information about the situation to permit a professionally
responsible first decision as to what should be done: Voluntary commitment
to a hospital, securing enough support by family or friends, new appointment
the following day, simple re-assurance, etc. A whole vocabulary of new
concepts, rarely used in experimental research, came to the foreground.
Among them were trust, understanding, care, respect, right and
wrong, autonomy, forgiving, etc. In addition, many of the concepts from
cognitive research such as context, interaction, reflection, conscious,
and unconscious continued to be useful.

The crisis intervention work was very demanding. In periods, I had up to 25

hours of direct clinical work with patients per week, and I thought that this
work load was probably too high to be healthy over longer periods.

I experienced new facets of life. I did not learn anything specific that could be
generalized to many people, but I discovered that I was using and elaborating
an already existing repertory of interaction skills for dealing with people. I
simply continued to swim and master this skill better. I return to this topic
later in the book.

The last part of 1974 I also worked at an ordinary outpatient service for
adults, and noticed that when there was more time and fewer emergencies,
the treatments tended to last somewhat longer and the focus shifted to an
even closer analysis of the patients interactions with surrounding persons.

From the beginning of 1975, my practice was changed to children and
adolescents, and I got an office in the new building of Nic Waals Institute,
named after my former therapist who had died in 1960. The Institute was
responsible for therapeutic services for children, adolescents, and families in
a number of districts in Oslo east of Akerselva (Aker River), mostly inhabited
by less affluent people. I was assigned to a team in charge of a couple of
these districts. One of the most experienced clinical psychologists accepted
to provide the required two hours of weekly supervision. I was to remain at
the Institute for two years.

My supervisor worked with me in a way that I experienced as very

satisfactory. He somehow managed to create a safe and open situation
where I became at the same time creative and careful. I became creative
because I was allowed to use myself, and I became careful because he
allowed me to take responsibility for what I did.

For reasons that were not very clear to me at the time, I almost immediately
started to ask the parents of my prospective child- or adolescent patients the
following simple, but unexpected, question: Would you prefer to come to my
office or would you prefer that we work in your home? Almost everyone
chose to work at home! Hence, it came about that I started a then almost
unheard type of practice that led to many new kinds of experiences. Looking
back, I see this as my second practical project with emphasis on the
importance of the social surroundings, after the Jrnstad-field-project
already mentioned and before the Flettverk-project to be described later.

At my first visit in the homes, I was typically served coffee and waffles with
jam, and was shown where the child or children slept and played, and usually
also the rest of the apartment. I heard about the way the family lived and I
occasionally participated for example in the bathing and evening meals of the
children. Sometimes there were discussions about the duties and weekly
allowances of each child, the daily routines, etc. Initially, the families
sometimes tried to present themselves and their practices in a very favorable
light, but this varied according to the individual family. To a varying degree I
was also invited to see, or just observed, the more shady sides of their life. I
remember once, I was sitting in a kitchen. The mother cooked dinner and the
child played on the floor with some toys. The (very temporary) boyfriend of
the mother who had that day been released from prison, was drinking beer
and volunteered to read to me some poems he had written while
incarcerated. No attempt was made to conceal the sad situation of the family.

The strongest and most general lesson that I learned from this practice
outside the office was the shocking discovery that even here, just a few miles
from my own home in a suburb, I encountered a different world. I found
people living in different (Norwegian) subcultures where the dialect, economic
conditions, practices, concepts, moral evaluations, choice of entertainment,
and so on, were so different from my own life at the sunny side of the street
that, in the beginning, I felt like an explorer or a social anthropologist. It still is
a firm conclusion of mine that talking with the parents in my office and
observing the children in a play therapy room, would not have given me the
same access to, and deeper understanding of, the ongoing social
environments of these child patients that could help explain their problems.

Here, I present just a few particularly poignant and illustrative cases among
many others I worked with.

A four-year-old boy was referred to the Institute and eventually to me, by the
pre-school, because he was notably retarded in his speech development,
although he otherwise behaved fairly normally. The family had no telephone,
but with the help of the pre-school teachers, I secured an appointment with
them at home. They had an apartment in an old house belonging to the
fathers employer a manufacturing company. The father had a simple job of
supervising a particular machine. The mother was a housewife. The boy, let
us call him Roger, had two younger sisters that almost never uttered a word
and just sat staring at me with constantly running noses. The parents were in
their thirties and their respective life stories were remarkably sad. The father
told me that he had never liked school and that he particularly hated
mathematics. He had no secondary education. I once observed him compiling
the required monthly report of the familys finances (his salary was too small
to support the family, and they received considerable assistance from the
State). When I asked him how he managed to compute the required sums
and make the various deductions, he showed me a small calculator that a
mate had taken in a burglary! Using the calculator he managed to
compensate for his lack of basic skills!

His wife told me that she had failed in many subjects in elementary school,
and particularly she never learned to write very well. Her spelling and
grammar had been abominable. I was surprised, since she had written
several messages to me concerning my appointments with Roger. In these,
the spelling and grammar were impeccable! She then showed me two worn
textbooks on Norwegian spelling and grammar that she had picked up at a
flea market and relied on when writing! Both parents had left elementary
school as losers, with a stigma of being hopelessly backward. Their
solutions of practical problems showed something else.

The apartment consisted of one big room with a kitchen corner and a
minuscule bedroom for the parents. The children slept in home-made beds in
a former scullery without windows.

During my weekly evening visits to the family, which went on for almost two
years, Roger was in the beginning almost invisible and was rarely addressed
by his parents except in the form of sharp and brief commands. I saw him
sometimes being slapped. Not surprisingly he was very adept at keeping
himself invisible, and he never uttered any demands or volunteered any

The family gradually accepted me and my weekly evening visits. One episode
was a turning point. I arrived one evening and was met in the door by the
entire family. They showed me a small figure of a monk in a wide robe and
asked me to put my hand on the monks head and push. I did so, and, lo and
behold, a huge penis arouse under the robe! They all looked expectantly at
me and Roger said Daddys cock! I laughed and said now I was surprised!
After that day I felt that I had somehow been accepted and everyone relaxed.

Here, I only mention two particularly illustrative episodes from the long
treatment. The first was an example showing how the parents had failed the
normal task of educating Roger. I proposed that they should teach Roger the
names of the colors, and I asked the father to do this. I provided a set of
crayons and the father showed Roger a red one and asked what color is
this? Roger answered red. Then the father showed a yellow pencil and
asked what is the color of this? Roger answered green. You are
impossible shouted the father, slapped Roger and threw the pencils on the
floor. Roger disappeared behind a chair. I omit an account here of how I,
gently and gradually, and over a long time taught the parents how to teach
Roger the meanings of words, and other things.

The other episode happened when I took Roger to a play room at the
Institute. We were alone and he played with many of the toys. Gradually his
play became wilder and wilder, with more violent themes, and finally he
attacked me physically. I crouched on the floor and he hit me and hit me and
screamed until he was quite exhausted and started to cry. I took him in my
arms and held him until he calmed down.

As I remember it, and according to the pre-school teachers, Roger now

started to acquire new words at an astonishing speed and by the end of the
treatment period he was at the same level as his school mates. At home, the
parents tried to be gentler and more attentive to Roger, and I was particularly
touched when his father gave me a Christmas present in the form of a picture
that he had himself embroidered.

I must end the story by telling that when we said goodbye, Roger started
crying and said that he wanted to come with me and live in my home. I very
gently explained to him that this would make his parents and sisters very sad,
and that now he should soon begin school and that would be fun. In the years
to follow I repeatedly learned that, in order to be of help, a psychologist may
have to engage personally. I too was sad when I said goodbye to Roger.

I could give numerous other examples of the advantages of working in

peoples homes, but I briefly present excerpts of two other cases that are also
particularly illustrative of what could only have taken place outside my office.

One was a case of a four-year-old boy who was referred from his pre-school
because of frequent temper tantrums that could not be contained. I visited the
home a couple of times. The boys mother was divorced and he was her only
child. She worked part-time as receptionist in a company. One day I visited
mother and child when they were both at home. He played quietly for a long
time on the floor, while the mother was knitting. Suddenly, I saw the mother
prick her son with a needle! He screamed and threw a toy at her, and then
proceeded to attack her. After things had calmed down, I asked her Why did
you prick him with the needle? She looked ashamed and said, It was so
quiet! Usually, we constantly fight, and I got restless. I pointed out to her that
she had to try to stop instigating fights with her son, and also stop responding
with counterattacks if he started. I explained to her that this may have led the
boy to think that this was the way to be with others. She gradually realized
this and stopped fighting with her son. After some weeks the pre-school
reported that, mysteriously (!), the boy had started to behave more like the
other children and did no more start fights. This result would have been hard
to achieve by merely talking with the mother in the office and observing the
boy alone in the play-room, or just duplicating the observations of the pre-
school teachers.

Another example was a ten-year-old boy, lets call him Alfred, who was
referred by the school because he had repeatedly been caught stealing from
his class mates. Again, talks with the boy and his parents in the
psychologists office would hardly have unearthed the background for this

I visited the family at home. I remember the first visit when the father, the
mother, Alfred, two eight-year-old twin brothers, and a still younger sister, all
sat with me around their dining table. Everyone was looking accusingly at
Alfred (the thief) and evidently expected me to start talking to him. Instead, I
turned to the mother and said: You must have quite a job administering the
whole family! Gradually, I managed to turn the focus to the family as a whole.
It turned out that the mother was indeed the chief administrator and worker,
and no one else did anything in the home. She confessed to feeling very tired.

It also came out that this family only expressed their warm feelings toward
each other by giving and receiving gifts (mostly birthdays and Christmas). It
occurred to me that perhaps Alfred was stealing things because he felt that
he then received something (attention, love?).

After a while, I suggested that perhaps the other family members should help
mother a little so that she would become less tired, and I think I even said that
that would be a nice gift to give her in return for everything she did for them!
Helped by some tentative suggestions from me, they eventually decided that
the four children should clean and keep order in their own rooms, and the
father should vacuum the whole apartment, while mother should continue to
buy and prepare the daily meals, etc. We also had discussions about the
distribution of the family income. They had the routine that the father, who
was the only breadwinner, gave his weekly salary to the mother except for a
minor sum for tobacco and necessary personal expenses. Mother
administered the total budget and the children were given fixed sums but now
as return for their assigned duties. I emphasized that this arrangement of
rights and duties was a sign that they all were loved and useful members of
their family. I also had private talks with the parents about their views about
the expression of love, and I very tentatively suggested that perhaps it need
not always be a gift, it could perhaps also be a hug or a kiss or statements
of concern. The parents were not averse to this. I even pointed out that Alfred
may have wanted a little more love and attention from them, since he was
taking things from others! After some time and some ups and downs, the
school reported that the stealing had ceased, and the family told me that
things were better and that Alfred appeared to be happier.

The preceding highly abbreviated examples are not intended to be

representative of the manifold cases I worked with, but, at least, they indicate
the possible advantages of working in the homes of patients. There were also
failures or part-failures, mostly due to the difficulty of finding sufficiently
powerful interventions that could change the ongoing social interactions. After
all, the encounter with the psychologist always is just a small part of what
influences the patient. Most clearly in the case of children, I could see that

success was largely a matter of being able to effect changes in the daily
social interactions influencing them.

At the end of my two years at Nic Waals Institute, I submitted a report of my

total practice years, supervision, courses, other credentials, etc. to the
Norwegian Psychological Association, and after my return to the University, I
received a letter stating that I was now accredited with the rights and duties of
a Specialist in Clinical Psychology. There had been some discussion in the
committee because my practice had not, as required, been paid by the
external institutions where I had worked, but by the university. The final vote
had been 3-2! I was happy that the three years had not been in vain!

In 1978 I opened a small private evening practice in the basement of my

home, where I had a consultation room, a waiting room, and a restroom. This
continued for more than thirty years.

In 1978 I also applied for and received a part-time appointment as

psychologist in a treatment home for young drug addicts that lasted until
1984. My reflections about this experience were published in five articles in
Norwegian (Smedslund, 1986abcd and 1987a). The first one takes up the
constant and in a sense paradoxical conflict between screening the client
from their addiction, and treating the addiction. In screening the client is
treated as a helpless addict, and in treatment he or she is supposed to learn
to withstand the addiction. The second article discusses the two prevalent
maneuvers of the clients, namely to cover lack of ability by pretending lack of
interest, and to cover lack of interest (fear) by pretending lack of ability. The
third paper covers the typical difficulties arising in the interaction between the
therapists and the clients especially in connection with relapses. When a
relapse causes the staff to change their diagnosis of a client or increase the
amount of screening, this is anti-therapeutic in the sense that the client is now
treated as more like an addict, whereas the goal is to make him or her interact
with people less as an addict. The goal must be that the staff should try not to
be influenced by occasional relapses, and try to maintain a stable view of the
client. In the fourth article, I discuss the typical client behaviors in coping with
feelings of guilt after a relapse, and the futility of a confrontational, moralizing
strategy. Finally, in the fifth article, the possible roles of the psychologist in
this kind of work are discussed, and arguments are presented against the
psychologists participation in group therapy, as well as conducting individual
therapy, and in favor of supervision by the psychologist of all aspects of the
work with the clients. I especially warn against trying to interfere on the basis
of academic theories with the way an institution works. During my six years as
a psychologist in this institution, I witnessed how one psychiatrist and one
pedagogue were fired because they were experienced as disturbing the
routines of the institution in non-constructive academic ways.

I remember a thought that also occurred to me during and after this work. It
was that the role of the professional psychologist must be extended, not only
beyond the psychoanalytic couch and the office, but also beyond home visits
and the use of tests and manuals, to become dependent only on one simple
distinction, namely between the attitudes of being on job, and not being on
job. The psychologist ought to be able to be on the job in any conceivable
situation where he or she relates professionally to a client in the context of a
contract. Students should be trained to be prepared for this.

I conclude this chapter by stating that, after the three practice years away
from the university, I finally felt I could fully represent the tradition in
Norwegian psychology from Harald Schjelderup of combining theory,
research, and practice. However, there were more turns in the road lying

Chapter Twelve

Tornado Boulevard

In the spring of 1977, the whole family travelled with me to Lawrence,

Kansas, where we were to spend half a year. I was to conduct a cognitive
development course with John Wright and renew my acquaintance with Fritz
Heider, while continuing my theoretical studies. My wife continued her work
on Native American literature, and visited Haskell Indian Junior College, and
the boys went to school.

Fritz was at that time in his eighties, retired, and living in an old house close
to the campus with his wife (and colleague) Grace Heider. Fritz and I agreed
to meet on Wednesdays and to alternate selecting topics for discussion. I
kept pursuing and expanding the idea that common sense contained analytic
connections, while he brought up various topics in connection with his
ongoing arrangement of his notes, later to be published by Marijana Benesh-
Weiner (Benesh-Weiner, 1987). The basic ideas about a psycho-logic no
doubt were formed in my mind in connection with those discussions, although
Fritz never became enthusiastic about my ideas of an axiomatic system
embedded in common sense psychology. His English was slow, with a heavy
German accent, and I was never certain how much he sympathized with my
rather blunt attacks on mainstream psychology. He was a peaceful person
who simply pursued his intellectual analyses of common sense, and did not
seem to bother keeping up with what went on around him in psychology. I
remember being disappointed when he did not share my enthusiasm in
applying common sense psychology to Banduras theory of self-efficacy.
Even so, I do not doubt the importance of his analyses of common sense for
my thinking, and his place as the most central predecessor of psycho-logic.


One day in March 1977 I happened to look through the latest issue of
Psychological Review in the library, and there I discovered Albert Banduras
article about self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977). It immediately occurred to me that
the entire theory consisted of analytic sentences of the kind postulated by
Heider. In one hectic week I finished an article that was first rejected by
Psychological Review, and later accepted by Scandinavian Journal of
Psychology (Smedslund, 1978). It was entitled Banduras theory of self-
efficacy: A set of common sense theorems. I gave pre-publication copies to
several colleagues at the department in Lawrence, but the reception was
mixed. One example was Jack Brehm who had given me a pre-publication
draft of a paper entitled Control and Motivation. I wrote and tried to show
that his paper too contained a model equally pseudo-empirical as that of
Bandura. Brehms answer was typical of many I have received. He wrote:

I have read your paper on Banduras theory and have a certain degree of
agreement with your argument about the irrelevance of empirical
demonstrations. But I cannot agree completely with that position. There is an
infinite number of logical systems possible, but only some proportion of them
can be matched to the empirical world. The point of empirical testing is to see
whether or not the particular logical system that one has chosen does or does
not fit (Personal communication).

Banduras own reply to my article was:

Logical analysis alone cannot establish the truth value of the basic premises
on which a theory is based. (Bandura, 1978)

Brehms answer contains a term logical system that is totally unclear to me,
and Banduras answer seems to presuppose the empirical testability of basic
premises, which is an ultimately untenable position. In the same way as any
vocabulary must have undefinable basic terms, so must any theoretical
system have untestable pre-suppositions.

In retrospect I can understand why they responded like this. Their answers,
and many similar ones, reveal that most psychologists at that time (and still)
accept the simple logical empiricist distinction between logic that tells nothing
about the world, but only about the relations between propositions, and
testable empirical statements that tell us about the world. My article not only
introduced a way of thinking that was very unfamiliar, but it also indirectly
challenged the very enterprise of empirical psychology. This was the
recognition of the a priori-contingent (Kukla, 2001), namely that there are
propositions about the experiential world that are necessarily given for
humans. For example, we take it for granted that human beings are goal-
directed, and they also are goal-directed. There exist primitive concepts that
we cannot avoid, and there exist presuppositions that we cannot deny,
because to deny them does not make sense.

Our stay in Kansas lasted from March through June when I taught summer
school. In addition to the collaboration with Heider and my discovery of
Bandura, I remember the dramatic weather which included several sessions
in our basement with tornado warnings, and one occasion when a sudden
cloudburst threatened to sweep away our car, and when the whole nearby
area was inundated with knee-deep water in a matter of minutes, and dark
clouds changed day into night! The violence of the weather in Kansas was
equally impressive to a Scandinavian as had been the intense cold of

The visit to Kansas was the last one financed by American universities, and
my last formal teaching assignment in the US based on my background in
cognitive development that had started twenty years earlier in Geneva. My
later thinking has not fitted into the kind of courses offered by psychology
departments. On our way home, we experienced the famous blackout in New
York, but the details belong to a personal biography.

In the next two years, my private practice was established, and the work at
the university continued. A notable event occurred in the summer 1978, when
I attended an international conference in Humanistic Psychology in Geneva. I
had sympathized with, and participated in that movement for some years. A
key note speaker was Ronald Laing who also arranged a workshop where
the admission fee was 20 Swiss francs. He arrived accompanied by a group
of young ladies (assistants) in jump suits in all the colors of the rainbow. We
were to enact the birth-trauma. In each smaller group, one of the
participants was to play the unborn baby, and the others should stand around
holding hands and preventing the baby from escaping. I was part of one
uterus-wall and the baby was an elderly frail-looking man with eye-glasses.
He tried in vain to escape. As time went on he became more and more
desperate. He started to shout I am ill, I need to get out!. We looked at Laing
who ordered us to ignore the man and his pleas. He now started to look very
ill indeed, lost his glasses, and started to scream. Still Laing told us to prevent
him from escaping. People started to become worried and finally we decided
to let him out, ignoring Laing. The workshop ended with no further program.

In my view, this kind of treatment of completely unknown persons who had

also paid to learn something was deeply unethical. I was quite upset by this
behavior of a colleague who had also written brilliant books. I had especially
enjoyed Knots which depicts the intricate patterns of interaction that can be
observed in couples. Later in the same conference, I asked Laing in a
plenary meeting to comment on the imminent centennial celebration of the
science of psychology. In the presence of hundreds of people he simply
characterized the whole project as bullshit and as unworthy of further
comment. I remember writing an immediate letter to the arrangers of the
conference and resigning my membership in the association. Although
Laings behavior became the turning point, I had already for some years
deplored the gradual change I saw from a scientific organization to some kind
of artistic, drug-using, hippie movement. In retrospect I can see that my
judgment of the movement may have been oversimplified and exaggerated,
but this is what happened, as I remember it.

I also witnessed other episodes, on the borderline between serious research

and irresponsible exploration, reminiscent of the hippie-culture of two
decades earlier. One of these occurred at a psychotherapy conference where
a therapist had just described his rather unorthodox methods. One in the
audience, an elderly conservatively dressed gentleman rouse and asked: Sir
do you sleep with your patients? The therapist looked at him, smiled and
answered Only very occasionally. There was a moment of silence, and then
about half the audience got up and left the room. As far as I know, there were
no further public aftermaths of this episode, although it was lively debated
among the participants.

After our visit to Kansas, there followed a period of more than eight years
when we stayed in Europe.

Chapter Thirteen

London, Oxford, and Search for Allies

The years of full time clinical practice had given me a picture of psychology
that was difficult to integrate with the one that had emerged from my decades
of experimental research. One strong contrast came up when as a clinical
psychologist I revisited some of the preschools in Oslo where I had previously
done experiments on cognitive development. My own spontaneous reaction
was its not the same war! The difference between the careful arrangement
of experimental conditions and questioning about very specific topics
contrasted totally with the clinical much more totalizing and personal
approach the child had been merely a specimen from an age group in a
very special set of conditions, and now became an individual person in a
unique life situation. I struggled to combine these two images into a unified
view of the total of psychology, and while in that state, and because my wife
needed to work on older literature only available in the British Library, we
stayed twice in London and finally in Oxford where she finished her Doctors
Thesis about Native American Literature.

Our first stay was in 1980 when we rented a nice apartment with a garden in
Earls Court and I had an office at the University College, Department of
Education. My host was Professor Hazel Francis who received me because
of my Piagetian research background. I suppose she must have been
disappointed because we never engaged in much talk about child
experiments. I do not remember developing any other contacts in the
department. I merely worked in my office and maintained cordial but
superficial conversation with whoever was around.

At that stay, the British Psychological Society somehow got to know about my
presence in the country and, astonishing to me, arranged a tour to
Universities that had expressed an interest in having me visit them. Hence, I
debarked on a journey that resulted in some new and life-long contacts with
other researchers sympathetic to my views. My first stop was Lancaster and
Andy Lock who shared some of my ideas about common sense and the role
of logical relations (Heelas & Lock, 1981). He later immigrated to New
Zealand and has developed some original thoughts about development. In
Lancaster I also met Charles Antaki who later was to write extensively about
common sense and social development and communication (Antaki, ed,
1988). Lock drove me to Nottingham where I met his former teacher John
Shotter with whom I have remained in touch ever since. Shotter was then,
and still is, an intensely searching, expansive and colorful colleague, who was
already looking far beyond the narrow borders of mainstream experimental
psychology. I remember that he made me familiar with the writings of Vico
and the physicist David Bohm who had written about wholeness and the
implicative order (Bohm, 1980).

In Nottingham I also met Leslie Smith who later moved to Lancaster.

Although our meetings were brief, we had a lively correspondence for a while
that was very stimulating for me, and his later career as an interpreter and
champion of Piaget is impressive. His book on Necessary Knowledge
(Smith, 1993) in many ways touches on the same problems I have been
struggling with. My grand tour also included Edinburgh (Margaret
Donaldson) and Sterling where I briefly met Ivana Markova who represented
psycholinguistics and the Eastern European tradition. On my return to
London, the Psychological Society had arranged for me to give a talk in a
very large lecture hall, but only 30-40 attended. My opponent was Peter
Bryant. My strongest memory of that lecture was that it was filmed and, and

for the first time, I was given an opportunity to observe myself lecturing! I liked
the fellow!

During the stay in London I became acquainted with Peter Wason known for
his many clever studies of cognition. Interestingly, what I remember best from
our meetings was that he gave me practical advice about how to cure a
momentary writing inhibition very rare to me. I was trying to write about a
topic, but somehow progress was exasperatingly slow. Wason suggested that
I simply start to write, with two rules only, namely that I was not allowed to
change anything and not to look back at what I had written. I followed his
suggestion and only stopped after having written nearly twenty A4 pages! To
my surprise, I had changed the topic after a few lines, and had proceeded to
write about something different from my original intention! The apparent
explanation was that the writing block originated in an unconscious
preference for different topic, another example of the importance of ongoing
unconscious processes.

I also met Adrian Furnham who was a very prolific student of folk
psychology, but whose research was conducted with standard methods. At
the time I met him, he did not seem to agree with me (and Heider) about the
analytic connections in folk psychology, but on the contrary emphasized their
empirical and sometimes faulty quality.

From England we travelled to the International Congress in Leipzig, East

Germany, where I gave a talk on the question are all psychological theories
empirical?, and in November 1980 I gave similar lectures in Helsinki and
Stockholm. As always, the response varied from curious to hostile.

In 1981 I continued to expand my contacts with future allies. We travelled to

Heidelberg, Germany where I met Carl Graumann and also, most
importantly, Ken and Mary Gergen who were visiting from the US. I was
immensely stimulated by conversing with Ken with whom I have remained in
touch ever since. I discovered that my own views were very close to his, both
when it comes to seeing psychology as history, and as social construction. In

a caring and thoughtful manner he also helped me to publish a dialogical
book (Smedslund, 2004) and the present one.

In the simplest possible way, my agreement with social constructionism can

be described as follows: Since Kant, one must agree that we cannot know
das Ding an sich. Therefore, a person must rely on interpretation of the
world (construction). However, since persons depend on each other for
survival and procreation, their interpretations (constructions) must converge
(constructions must be shared). Therefore, social constructionism in a broad
sense is necessarily true.

In 1983 I invited Peter Ossorio to Oslo for a three day visit. His contributions
(Ossorio, 2006) resemble my own in many ways. Among other things he
formulated a number of maxims that had the same a priori status as what I
later came to label axioms. We had probably briefly met already in Boulder
in 1962, but we had not at that time developed our later theoretical positions.

He told us an amazing and funny story about his arrival in UK. He had, except
for a time in the military, never been abroad. At Heathrow he rented a car and
started to drive, what he thought was toward London. After a while he started
to feel more and more uneasy when first his left outer mirror and then his right
were swept away. The names on the freeway became increasingly unfamiliar
and from some of the signs he understood that he was driving north, away
from the city. He also wondered why it was that although he slowed down and
always kept to the right, other cars kept bypassing him at great speed, and,
strangely, it seemed as if the slower traffic was to the left. He desperately
looked for an exit (to the right) but there were none. Finally he saw a car
make an exit to the left, and although he thought this was highly irregular he
managed to do the same at the next exit. Only after coming to a stop on a
side street, it dawned on him that he had somewhere read that Britain had
left-traffic! He started to shake, and was happy to have escaped alive with
only slight damage to the rental car. He left the car at the nearest gas station
and took a taxi to his hotel.

Ossorio gave a talk at the Institute of Psychology about his view of
psychology, and I observed that he was met with the same mixture of
curiosity and hostility, that I was accustomed to.

In the spring of 1983 I received a stipend to visit Oxford for a couple of

months. My host was Balliol College, where I was allowed to borrow the office
of an absent government minister. We were given an apartment on the
second floor in the house of the Master of Balliol. I had my daily luncheon with
the Fellows of the college, and a couple of times we were invited to High
Table dinners. There was only one other psychologist associated with Balliol,
and since his field of research (the proportion of time spent on different
activities by various species) was quite distant from my own my contacts were
exclusively in the Department of Experimental Psychology. Even there, the
interests of most of the faculty differed from mine and the contact mainly
consisted in listening to the weekly guest lectures and participating in the
subsequent pub-visits and dinners. I remember especially Solomon Asch,
the later Latvian president Vaira Freiberg, and above all, the philosopher
Rom Harr, with whom I had interesting conversations. He told me about a
small group that he called Friends of a Good Psychology that used to meet
irregularly, and he also sympathized with my beginning thoughts about a
psycho-logic. I also met Horst Gundlach, a German who told me about the
Institute for the study of the history of modern psychology in Passau that I
was to visit twice in the time to come.

One of the members of Friends of a Good psychology was Gn Semin who

seemed to me so interesting that I travelled to the University of Sussex to
meet him. He struck me as an unusually clever researcher who has continued
to do impressive work. He later moved from Sussex to Amsterdam. I was
particularly struck by his demonstration that the results of studies of
extraversion-introversion were completely anticipated in ordinary folk
psychology, and therefore need not have been carried out at all. (Semin,
1990) This was an analogue to my analysis of Banduras theory whose
results, likewise, need not have been experimentally demonstrated. The

extent of convergence between my thinking and that of Semin can be seen in
the following quote from one of his letters, dated February 1.1984.

I am just now in the process of attempting to replicate circumplex models

of personality with N=0, i.e. basically a lexicographic study which is based on
the meaning relationships that obtain in a dictionarythe replication of a
circumplex model or a factorial model of personality through simple use of a
dictionary does throw a relatively grim light on the empirical foundations of
personality and person perception work, and yet it does clarify the status of
this knowledge to a large extent.

The stay in Oxford, confirmed my expectations of encountering an extremely

elitist academic society. Judged by conventional standards, the experimental
psychology was top level, but clinical, and more generally, practical
psychology seemed mostly absent. In addition to Harr, I also remember
discussing with Mansur Lalljee who also appeared to be an independent
thinker with a considerable philosophical and psychological background.

Looking back, I remember the picturesque medieval buildings, the abundant

flowers and greenery, the punting on the canals, and the very special upper
class culture that can be illustrated by a small episode from the daily
luncheon at Balliol. One day, I overheard the following cryptic conversation:
One Fellow said to another How many did we get in? The other one
answered, Twenty-seven or twenty-eight, I think. Somewhat puzzled, I
asked them what they meant and was told that they had been talking about
the number of Balliol graduates who had been elected to the Parliament!

Over the door in the psychology department was engraved Department of

Experimental Psychology which, to me, felt consistent with the somewhat
rigid and somewhat conservative atmosphere.

Finally, I should mention a rumor that I picked up talking to several of my

British colleagues. They had met my former sponsor Jerome Bruner, who
had moved to Oxford from Harvard after the student unrest, but left again
after some years. Some of them complained that Bruner had stolen their
ideas, whereas a more polite version was that he had learned much from
his British hosts! The latter interpretation is more in line with my view of
Bruner as a gifted intellectual surf-rider.

A direct result of my meeting with Horst Gundlach in Oxford was

participation in a conference on the history of modern psychology in Passau
in May-June 1985. There, I met another critic of mainstream psychology,
Lewis Wolfgang Brandt, originally German, but stationed in Regina, Canada
(Brandt, 1982). The conference in Passau was about the work of Hermann
Ebbinghaus, and inspired me to write the article entitled Ebbinghaus the
illusionist: How psychology came to look like an experimental science
(Smedslund, 1987b). I still consider this as central in my production. There, I
tried to show how Ebbinghaus from the very beginning encountered all the
obstacles that still haunt the experimental psychologist, among them the
indefinitely high number of factors influencing, in this case, memory. He
should have recognized the dim prospects of formulating simple and universal
psychological laws. Instead he and his followers ignored the indications of
this, and experimental psychology bloomed. A related point was made two
decades later by Roediger (Roediger, 2008) who pointed out the relativity of
experimental results. Recognition of this high degree of relativity means that
the project of developing simple and completely general theories of memory
must be given up.

Looking back on the years after I became a clinician and before the system of
psycho-logic was finally elaborated, I can see that my stubborn persuasion of
a way of thinking foreign to most of my colleagues could not have lasted had
it not been for the discovery of people who sympathized with my efforts or at
least partially agreed with me. In these years from 1980 to 1984, I met
Gergen, Laucken and Mees, Brandt, Lock, Shotter, Harr, and Ossorio,
and had lively and very stimulating correspondences with Jaan Valsiner and
Kieran Egan. Even earlier there had been the Norwegian psychologist
Waldemar Rognes, who always supported me wholeheartedly and also
developed psycho-logic in numerous independent ways in many articles in
Norwegian and in his impressive Dr.s Thesis (Rognes, 2006) also in
Norwegian, where he formulates and proves hundreds of theorems.

Although most of our correspondence came later, I must here also mention
Michael and Lise Wallach (Wallach & Wallach, 1994, 1998a, 1998b) who
took a position very close to my own. Our positions diverged only on one
important point, in that I characterized many experimental hypotheses as
logically necessary (pseudo-empirical), whereas the Wallachs used the term
near-tautological (had empirical content, yet could not be tested). Looking
back on these discussions, I now think that the Wallachs were right when
they, as I understand them, proposed that we all have a shared deep
empirical theory. On the other hand, none of us at that time clearly recognized
the category of a priori and contingent, i.e. propositions that are necessarily
true but that also correspond to psychological reality (have empirical content).
These propositions describe our correct and unavoidable inborn views of the
basic characteristics of other humans. I return to this theme in later chapters.
The reader is reminded that in the heydays of logical empiricism, scientific
propositions where regarded as either empirical or necessary, but never both.

At the end of this chapter I should mention a second social intervention (after
the Jornstad-field project twenty years earlier). This came about because in
my work I had become acutely aware of the importance of the social
surroundings for the personal functioning of humans, and the devastating
consequences of isolation. Hence, I started a project where a group of 15-20
persons (couples and singles) had access to an open house every fortnight
from 7 to 11 p.m. The project was labeled Flettverk (Hard to translate, but
the word means a structure resulting from weaving, intertwining, or braiding).
For each semester one decides on a calendar of open houses. The hosts
serve coffee or tea and soft drinks (no alcohol), sandwiches, and fruit. There
is only one hard rule, namely that there should be no advance agenda for the
meetings. People should come and talk about whatever occupies them, and
the conversations are entirely spontaneous.

The project started in 1982 and was an instant success. It has continued
unchanged until today, with only one long interruption. Very few have left the
group, and only a few new members have been admitted. The relative
similarity of the participants (nearly all with some academic background), the

relatively simple self-service of food and drink, the absence of alcohol and,
above all, the absence of a pre-arranged agenda seem to contribute to this
exceptional stability. There have been very few, and never serious, conflicts,
and an increasingly high level of mutual trust.

In retrospect, it occurs to me that all the successful psychologically inspired

interventions I have instigated have involved primarily rearrangement of the
social context. They include the housing project (the Jornstad-project),
Flettverk, and the change of location of psychotherapy sessions from the
office to the homes of people (described in Chapter 11). Behind all of these
lies a belief that psychological processes change with their social context, and
that this may often be the best and sometimes the only way to improve
peoples quality of living.

Chapter Fourteen

The Birth of Psycho-Logic

At the end of August 1985 sebrit and I crossed the Atlantic on the QE2 and
then took the train to Spokane, Washington. From there we drove along the
coast to Stanford. My wife had a Fulbright post doc scholarship to spend a
year at Stanfords Center for Research on Women (CROW), and I was to be
a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Psychology.

In the first weeks and months I renewed acquaintances and continued

discussions with many colleagues that were important to me, among those
Len Horowitz, John Flavell, Albert Bandura, Amos Tversky, and Irvin
Yalom, who was at the Medical School. There were others, but these were
among the ones with whom I had the, to me, most important exchanges.

Len and I shared a background of having changed from being experimenters,

to becoming clinicians. His elegant descriptions of interpersonal processes
reinforced my belief that one can conceptualize and describe the essentials of
these processes without relying on empirical theories. John represented a
bridge between Piagetian thinking and the American scene that was
stimulating for me, and Als simplification of the structure of behavior was a
permanent inspiration, but also enabled me to determine very clearly where
we disagreed. We had few direct conversations. Later, his writings also came
to reinforce my belief in the importance of the fortuitous in psychology.

I disagreed with Amoss approach, and I have always sympathized with Irvs
views of psychotherapy, but to me they both represent eternal dialogic
partners in my thinking that I profoundly respect.

My interchanges with Amos Tversky centered on the distinction between

fallacy and misunderstanding, and eventually resulted in an article
(Smedslund, 1990). Amos maintained that one can and should make the
distinction, because the fallacy represents a mental insufficiency or
malfunctioning (bias), whereas a misunderstanding is an error resulting from
correct logical reasoning from premises other than those held by the
researcher. From my point of view the distinction does not really reflect
different psychological processes, but only reflects practical considerations in
ordinary life. We talk about a fallacy when we want to emphasize that
something is factually wrong as we see it, whereas we talk about
misunderstanding when we want to emphasize a difference between the
actors premises and our own, or those ordinarily adopted. My point was also
that the very same act can be interpreted as fallacy or misunderstanding,
simply according to the point of view adopted. Both terms can be applied, but
the psychological process referred to may be the same. Amos seemed to
accept the existence of irrational processes, whereas I think that one cannot
explain and talk coherently about something irrational in a psychological
language. I realize in retrospect that one can believe in the irrational if one
switches to a causal language, but this is not ontologically consistent. In
clinical practice, the psychologist always tries to understand the client, that is,
get to know the premises the client is acting on. When this is impossible,
there remains a psychological mystery even though camouflaged by talk
about (largely unknown) pathological brain processes. I think this controversy
is one of the most fundamental in the discipline of psychology. As I see it, one
cannot be said to understand the irrational, because the concept of

understanding presupposes rationality. In quite another way my talks and
correspondence with Irvin Yalom, and reading his books, were very
important to me. They represented the strongest support I had until then
received for my approach to clinical work. Also they reinforced my growing
belief in the importance of the attitude of not-knowing in practical work. Let
me quote from one of his letters, dated November 19, 1985.

Dear Jan, Ive read over your two articles with great interest. First, let me say
that I like them for many reasons; one of the most important reasons is that
your thesis feels true for me it coincides precisely with the way that I do
therapy. I may have mentioned to you when we talked that I was considering
writing a short piece on the advantages of the therapists not having a theory.
Your article is enormously clarifying for me because it delineates the basic
rules beyond the apparent absence of theory.

Another reason why I particularly like your article is that it is one of the very
first examples of logic being put to use in a constructive way for
psychotherapy. Rather than to take away what is really human in the
therapeutic encounter as so many attempts to employ logic have done, your
article clarifies and augments the humanistic approach.

In my notebook I wrote the following on November 8, 1985. Seven work-

weeks are ended. I have played my cards to the left and to the right. Perhaps
I see the outline of a small elegant book!!! Three weeks later I wrote: Have
started to write a theoretical book.

On Friday December 13, I had lunch with Rick Shweder (then at CASBS)
and Dave Rosenhan (Professor at Stanford) and we decided to meet over
dinner every Tuesday at the Stanford Faculty Club. Rick was a well-known
social anthropologist who had also worked with developmental psychology,
and Dave was an equally well-known psychologist, most famous for his study
of what happened when a number of persons entered asylums with the
diagnosis schizophrenia based on one single faked symptom, namely
hearing voices. I proposed that we should have no agenda to our meetings
except what occupied us most at the given time, but that we should begin by

telling each other our intellectual biographies. These dinners at the Faculty
Club took place 21 times and, hence, provided a uniquely broad and
continuous exchange that no doubt influenced all of us. So many years later, I
have very little recall of the detailed contents of these conversations. A
fragmentary memory is that Rick told us that he somehow changed into a
believer in reincarnation when he did his field studies in India. I also
remember that Dave suggested half in earnest that we could post students at
the doors of the toilets in the Department to interview those exiting about
whether they had used the right or left hand in cleaning themselves (the
theoretical question being the universality of the idea that the left hand is
unclean, which we doubted). I also remember discussing the various parts
of my book as they were finished. Over dinners of Pacific snapper and
strawberries (without sugar!) and coffee for dessert, we talked endlessly
about foundational questions in human science. I am deeply grateful to my
two companions for sharing this experience. (Dave is now deceased, and
Rick continues to work as Professor at the University of Chicago.)

Rick Shweder David Rosenhan The Author

In the Stanford environment, I finally decided to organize and write down my
thoughts about common sense psychology as precisely as possible in an
axiomatic system. I suppose my earlier fascination with Hulls theory, and
Arne Naesss thinking about interpretation and preciseness, played a role in
this project that developed in total contrast to the surrounding psychology.
These early influences fused with Heiders view of the analytic connections
in everyday-life- psychology, and my interest in the science of antiquity (van
der Waerden, 1988). The Babylonians treated geometrical regularities as
empirical findings and catalogued their findings on cuneiform tables (like
modern psychological journals). It took 1500 years before the Greek
geometers discovered that these findings could be logically proved from a set
of self-evident axioms. I quote from the preface of my book:

The book is dedicated to the ancient Greek geometers. They attempted to

explicate the implicit structure of our spatial world. Without their
achievements, the advance of the physical sciences, as we know them, could
not have taken place. The present work is an effort to explicate the implicit
structure of our psychological world. Without such an explication there can be
no adequate scientific description and analysis of what persons experience
and do.

The final manuscript turned out to be 112 pages, strictly organized in

numbered axioms, corollaries, theorems, definitions, and notes. These made
up the entire text. As such it represents at least a starting point for further
theoretical developments and critiques. It aimed at being a complete
description of the basic structure of everyday psychological functioning. It was
published by Springer-Verlag (Smedslund, 1989), but it did not create much
interest among the empirically oriented mainstream experimental
psychologists, nor did it become popular among the post-modernistic
clinicians, inspired by the later Wittgenstein (1953). In retrospect and in
summary, it can be said that it did not fit into the Zeitgeist (and still does
not). However, the book and many of my succeeding publications did elicit
some criticism and debate, to be mentioned in the succeeding chapters.

An indication of the relative lack of popularity of my point of view occurred at a
conference on education in San Francisco. The conference had many parallel
sessions and I remember that a mainstream key note speaker (Gardner)
drew an audience of around 1.000, while my lecture had around 60, and a
Norwegian colleague had about 10. I remember reflecting about the meaning
of these large differences, but decided that I simply had to follow my own
way, irrespective of degree of momentary popularity.

My stay at Stanford in 1985/86 also lead to acquaintance with computers.

These were technical applications of the information concept that had been
so central in the cognitive revolution twenty years earlier. I arrived at Stanford
bringing my old typewriter and soon realized that I was the only one in the
department still using one! David Rosenhan urged me to try the new
technology, and allowed me to use his terminal whenever it was available. So
the chapters of the new book were written on a computer and saved on floppy
discs. I was at first not enthusiastic about the change, but learned fast

After returning to Oslo in July 1986, I resumed my work with group

psychotherapy and my private practice, as well as my university duties. It
appears from my notes that I was continuously preoccupied with the
conceptual clarification of the process of therapy, and also with the further
development of psycho-logic. Looking back, 1985/86 was a peak year,
professionally, both for me and my wife.

Chapter Fifteen

International Exchanges

The years after Psycho-Logic and before The Structure of Psychological

Common Sense was published (Smedslund, 1997) were filled with varied
professional experiences and exchanges both in Europe and the US, in
addition to my professional life at the University of Oslo, and the encounters
with the numerous visitors we continuously received from abroad. With the
support of my notes, I can try to give glimpses of some of these events in
chronological order and reflect about them. They all contributed to an ongoing
development and consolidation of my increasingly clarified position in

In June 1987 I participated in a Fechner symposium at the History Institute in

Passau in Germany. This was a continuation of my contact with the group of
historians that had already resulted in the paper on Ebbinghaus (Smedslund,
1987b), mentioned in an earlier chapter. I felt that the study of the pioneer
phases of modern psychology illuminated what happened subsequently, and
clarified my view of the historical process and its cultural conditions.

From Passau we travelled directly to Ulm and a congress of clinicians. I gave

a paper entitled How do clients come to trust a therapist? At the conference
I met a number of people, among them Lorna Benjamin, Hans Strupp,
Lester Luborsky, Horst Kachele, Uwe Grawe, and my friend from Stanford,
Len Horowitz. I remember the challenging and stimulating contrast between
meeting the historians in Passau and the clinicians in Ulm. After all, they were
supposed to work in the same science! This duplicated a contrast I had
experienced some years earlier at a conference in Humanistic Psychology at
the University of Wrzburg. We had a group therapy session with Laura
Perls that took place in one of the rooms of the old experimental laboratory.
We sat on the floor in a circle and on the walls were pictures of the old
experimental psychologists, Ach, Seltz, and others. They were formally
attired elderly or middle-aged gentlemen with serious expressions and would
no doubt have been very surprised to hear the direct informal exchanges
taking place on the floor, for instance when one very casually attired young
man said to an equally casually attired female colleague you sure have
nice boobs, I would like to touch them. I was struck at that time about the
distance psychology had travelled from the stop-watch-clocked reaction time
studies of the Wrzburger School to the personal processes in an encounter

In January 1988 we spent a month in Lugano. Switzerland, and during that

time I had a visitor from Bern, Dr. Jrg Siegfried, who wanted to talk with me
in connection with a book on Common Sense that he was planning to edit.
The book appeared some years later (Siegfried, 1994) and represented an
important survey of the field at that time.

From the next year, I can mention that I revisited the University of Geneva
and noticed that the traces of Piaget and the Centre International
Dpistmologie Gntique had almost disappeared in the years following
Piagets death. I was struck by witnessing how a lively tradition of which I had
been a part, was now almost extinguished. It was a vivid illustration of how
psychological theories are constructed and deconstructed as their bearer
ages and disappears.

In April, 1989 I participated in the 3d Conference of the International Society

for Theoretical Psychology in Arnhem, Belgium. Again I met with Ken and
Mary Gergen. Among the other participants I was particularly impressed by
Kurt Danziger whose historical studies of the foundation and growth of
psychology have continued to inspire me. To me and many others, he
represented a partial correction and further elaboration of the version of the
history of our science originally given by Edwin G. Boring (Boring, 1950)
that was communicated to all students through American textbooks. In
particular Danziger illuminated the detailed process leading to the
contemporary science of the generalized human mind that operates
exclusively with averages, significant differences, and correlations
(Danziger, 1990).

That spring I had a part-time appointment as a consultant for a home of

young drug addicts. No doubt they offered me the job because of my earlier 6
years as part-time psychologist at a comparable institution. However, this
appointment was not successful and was not renewed. It taught me that even
a reasonably competent person can be completely incapacitated if the
purpose and work conditions are not clearly specified. One example: I was
supposed to participate in (and lead?) a meeting of the whole institution, the
inmates and personnel assembled along the walls of a very large room with a
big empty space. No further expectations were communicated to me. Some
already established routines of the institution were unfolded such as a public
cockfight (a heated discussion and shouting contest) between two persons
about how to conduct some daily chore. I was unfamiliar with this particular
chore, the combatants, and the context, and could see no possibility to
contribute usefully. Afterwards, I was only asked if I had been scared by the
shouting! I mention this episode because it illustrates the encompassing role
of the contract in all psychological practice. At a minimum, you should know
something about the goal you are expected to achieve!

In June, 1989 we travelled first to New Mexico and then drove via Las Vegas
and L.A. to Stanford where I worked 5 weeks and again met all the old
friends, among them notably Len Horowitz, Dave Rosenhan, Jack Hilgard,
Eleanor Maccoby, John Flavell, and Alberta Siegel. I also discussed with
the Norwegian philosopher Dagfinn Fllesdal, who for many years was a

professor both at Stanford and Oslo. At the instigation of the philosopher
Patrick Suppes, I also gave a talk at the Philosophy Department about
psycho-logic with a fair attendance (23). I revisited CASBS and met again
with the departing director Gardner Lindsey. Finally, my notes mention a
two-hour discussion with Phil Zimbardo, and a lunch with Barbara Tversky.
We drove back to New Mexico, took the train to Chicago and flew home.
These articles can be found in the appendix.

The international professional contacts continued towards the end of the year
when I travelled to Oldenburg, Germany to lecture and visit two sympathizers
of psycho-logic, Ulrich Mees and Uwe Laucken whose work had been
important to me (Laucken, 1973). From Oldenburg it was just a short journey
to Groningen, The Netherlands, where I attended a conference called Non-
classical psychology. I gave a talk and noted that my old friend John
Shotters lecture was again particularly challenging.

In the year 1990, I visited Amsterdam, gave a talk and had a long dinner
discussion with Nico Frieda whos Laws of Emotion (Frieda, 1988) I had
criticized (Smedslund, 1992). Our conclusion was that we still disagreed on
the epistemic status of the laws. He thought they were empirical and I
maintained that they could be derived from the axioms of psycho-logic. On
the same trip I also gave a lecture at the University of Utrecht, where I stayed
with John Shotter.

In June that year there was a conference on family therapy in Melbu, in

Northern Norway, where, among others, I met Harry Goolishian and
Harlene Anderson. I particularly remember their emphasis on the not-
knowing attitude of the therapist that I too relied on in my practice. Later,
working on the bricoleur-model (see Chapter Sixteen) I have come to realize
the central importance of this principle of not-knowing. It is the exact opposite
of the attempts to generalize and predict that are prevalent in mainstream
psychology. It is an attitude that strives toward complete openness and tries
to avoid advance application of ones own conceptual framework and
theoretical ideas. It is the logical consequence of recognizing the
uniqueness, and hence, unpredictability of new persons and their life
situations. I am not disputing that one can make some weak statistical
generalizations, but I want to emphasize that one cannot practice efficiently
without taking into account those aspects of persons and situations that are
unique. I will return to a discussion of the practical and theoretical implications
of this idea.

In August, I participated in a conference on Ecological Understanding by the

American Society for Cybernetics, in Sundvolden near Oslo. I met Maturana,
von Foerster, Glasersfeld and numerous others. The topics discussed
were predecessors of contemporary informatics and AI. My understanding of
the technical details remained imperfect, but I was impressed with the
elegance and generality of the clashing and converging theoretical ideas.

In 1991 I participated in a conference on Theoretical Psychology in

Worcester, Mass. Most vividly, I remember my last meeting with Sigmund
Koch who appeared ill and tired. In the summer I worked one month at the
University of New Mexico. On that occasion, I also became acquainted with
Henry Ellis who made me aware of the contents of the journal Cognition and
Emotion that he had edited for a while.

In 1992 there were brief visits to Oslo by many internationally known scholars,
and in April I had long conversations with Serge Moscovici and Jacques
Mehler in Paris I remember them as very different from each other, and
also that both of them had taken positions remote from mine. Moscovici had
a broad sociological-cultural approach to mass phenomena, and Mehler was
a stringent experimentalist trying to answer limited cognitive-developmental
questions. Both appeared to enjoy the privileged lives of the French academic

These visits illustrate my continuing search for a unified picture of psychology

as a whole. My, talks with Frieda and with Laucken, already mentioned, were
also with two very different theorists. Looking back and forth over the years it
is clear that these highly varied excursions served to create a background for
my ongoing work on psycho-logic on the theoretical side, and what was to
become the bricoleur-model on the practical side. And all the time, I worked

with patients in my private practice, hence trying to keep both feet on the
ground, and fighting my strong inclination to abstract theoretical flights.

In April 1992 there was a psychotherapy conference in Oslo with David

Shapiro and Leslie Greenberg, and a philosophical symposium with talks of
many heavies, among them Hubert Dreyfus, Jon Elster, Jaakko
Hintikka, and Willard Quine. Listening to these, I acquired many reasons for
thinking that much of psychology is pseudo-empirical, and that genuinely
empirically based inference (induction) does not work very well with
irreversible psychological processes influenced by fortuitous events. The
philosophy-symposium was followed by a one-week conference on
personality in Groningen, The Netherlands.

In the autumn of 1992 I embarked on a tour of Europe, entirely on my own

initiative. Looking back, I suppose it represented an effort to spread the
gospel and reflected my impatience and dissatisfaction with the general
response to psycho-logic. I travelled exclusively by train, starting with
Oldenburg (Laucken and Mees). My lecture there was attended by around 10
persons. The next stop was Trier and Jochen Brandtstadter who had edited
a book entitled Struktur und Erfahrung in der psychologischen Forschung
(Structure and experience in psychological research) (Brandstadter, 1987)
the attendance was around 20 persons. After that, I visited Geneva and had
lunch with Professor Montangero, but gave no talk. Next stop was Bologna,
Italy, where my host was Marco Battacchi. My lecture, with simultaneous
translation into Italian (!) had a lively audience of 14. Battachi and I talked
about the distinction between guilt and shame that was seemingly absent
in a local dialect, and it became even clearer to me that psycho-logic must
become a technical language, different from the impreciseness of the
vernacular. After Bologna came Konstanz, Germany, and Professor Wilhelm
Kempf (1987). My talk was attended by 16. I also talked for an hour with
Thomas Luckmann, whose book with Berger The Social Construction of
Reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1966) had influenced a whole generation of
researchers. He had also resurrected Alfred Schutz (Schutz & Luckmann,
1974) from oblivion. The last stop on the tour was Freie Universitt, Berlin,

where my host was Professor Hans Westmaier. In Berlin the audience was
around 60 (from two universities), I had lunch with, among others, the very
radical Professor Klaus Holzkampf and a Danish colleague Ole Dreier
whom I was to meet again several times and whose dialectic approach
emphasizing the practical, has inspired me.

The whole tour took two weeks and was financed by the fees I received. In
addition to providing a varied outlook on what was going on at various
European universities, I think it sensitized me to the enormous difficulties of
convincing mainstream psychologists that they are on the wrong track. As
already pointed out, it also made me realize ever more clearly that psycho-
logic must become a technical language, distinct from, but compatible with,
the vernacular. From my notes that year I quote the following: The vernacular
guides us in making distinctions that it does not itself make consistently.

From January 1993 I worked 2 months at Stanford where I gave a lecture to

the department entitled The difficulty of psychology. In addition to meeting
with many old friends (Rosenhan, Horowitz, Flavell) I had conversations
with Bob Zaionc, Hazel Marcus, and Bertram Malle (who apparently was

From Stanford we went to Albuquerque, where I worked another two months

at the University of New Mexico. I again had weekly meetings with Peder
Johnson, Timothy Goldsmith, and Bill Miller. The first two provided lively
exchanges on meta-theory, and Bill had an approach to clinical matters that I
sympathized with (Miller & Rollnick, 1991). I also gave two talks at the
psychology department. The first had the title What must students learn in
order to become competent psychologists?, and the second was entitled
Inspecting the bare bottom of scientific psychology. One remark from my
skeptical audience was This certainly does not accord with the Boulder-

Toward the end of the year, there was a one-day seminar with the
philosopher Willard Quine that gave me additional glimpses of the topics and
trends in American philosophy at an advanced level.

In 1994 my first international contact was in Leuven, Belgium, where I gave
an invited lecture on The psycho-logic of trust at the University, and where
my host was Professor Paul de Boek, a personality psychologist. This was
one of my first presentations of a logical proof that there are five necessary
conditions of personal trust, and that these, taken together, are sufficient. The
conditions are care, understanding, own-control (autonomy), self-control, and
relevant know-how. You trust a person if, and only if, all five conditions are
seen as present in the other one.

The year was as usual filled with professional activities in Oslo, private
practice, group psychotherapy, and courses in consultation and first-line
practice for psychology students, and also a theoretical seminar, including
psycho-logic, together with my colleague Professor Tore Helstrup. This
seminar was to go on for ten years, and provided the students with a forum
for discussion of theoretical problems that was sorely missing at the Institute
at that time.

Much of my research time in 1995 was used talking with informants from
different cultures about some parts of psycho-logic (trust). The informants in
this project were native speakers of six relatively unrelated languages (Arabic,
Ewe (from Ghana), Norwegian, Tamil, Turkish, and Vietnamese). The study
reflected my newly aroused interest in the semantic primitives of Anna
Wierzbicka (Wierzbicka, 1996) (Goddard & Wierzbicka, 1994) and the
relation between her semantics and psycho-logic. The outcome was
published as a chapter in a book (Smedslund, 1997b). Since Wierzbickas
around 60 semantic primitives are supposed to be the building stones of all
human languages, I thought that they could function as starting points for the
future technical language of psycho-logic, also aspiring to be trans-cultural.

In April 1995, I joined a conference in Duisburg, Germany, where I met and

talked with Wierzbicka and some of her collaborators. She made a great
impression as a deeply original and important researcher. Meeting her also
led to extensive changes in the terminology of psycho-logic.

Anna Wierzbicka

This chapter has given glimpses of a rich and productive period in my

professional life that I could not easily have reproduced without my
notebooks. These years resulted in the revision of Psycho-Logic to be treated
in the following chapter.

Chapter Sixteen

The Structure of Psychological Common Sense

My notes in the fall of 1995 indicate that I then started to write a second
version of psycho-logic that was published two years later (Smedslund,
1997a). It is here referred to as SP in distinction from the first version labeled
PL. In the introduction to this book, I point out the essential stability of the
content of psycho-logic from the first to the second version. Of the 109 basic
propositions in PL (axioms + definitions), 96 are retained in some form in SP
(axioms + primitives + definitions). None of the discarded 13 PL definitions
are contradicted in SP (Smedslund, 1997a). The Introduction also
summarizes the four main changes from the first book, namely the
introduction of explicitly undefined terms (semantic primitives), a revised view
of the function of definitions, a movement from definitions to axioms, and an
elimination of the explicit reference to context and time (in C at t) . Since
these changes were important for a long period, and since they are not easily
explained in a few words, they are presented here in the form of a quote from
p. x to p. xii in the Introduction. The quote is verbatim, except that EL is
replaced by SP.
Introduction of Undefined Terms. To explicate (make explicit) means using
a language, and using a language means that the meaning of some terms
must be taken for granted. We can explicate the meaning of terms by means
of other terms, and the meaning of these other terms by means of still other
terms, but the process is open-ended and must come to a stop. Hence, the
explication of implicit psychology must, ultimately, rely on a set of terms
whose meaning is taken for granted. It is also obvious that these terms must
come from ordinary language. My selection of undefined concepts has been
largely a matter of intuitive judgment, but I have also been inspired by
Wierzbickas work on a natural semantic meta-language (Goddard &
Wierzbicka, 1994), and most of the selected terms are in that language. The
undefined terms function as basic elements. They must be evaluated by their
potential for being combined into useful definitions and axioms. A list of the
22 undefined terms so far selected can be found in Appendix A of SP.

Revised view of the Function of Definitions. I now think that definitions of

ordinary language terms are relatively useless. To define a term such as
sad, for example, is to stipulate what is to be the entire meaning of the term.
The contrast between an attempted strict definition of a term and the
richness, vagueness, and variability of its meaning in ordinary language leads
to repeated and unending debates. See, for example, my proposal of a
definition of sadness (Smedslund, 1991), and the commentaries of
Cushman (1991), Ossorio (1991, Rosenhan (1991), Shweder (1991), and
Williams (1991). There are numerous similar debates about other terms I
have tried to define. People already know what the word sad means in given
contexts, and they argue that no definition can catch this subtle knowledge in
a totally satisfactory way. If this is accepted and generalized to other ordinary
language terms, the only proper use of definitions in psychological theory
appears to lie in the introduction of technical/scientific terms. These do not
belong to ordinary language and hence, need to be explicitly introduced and
explained to the reader. They can be construed in precise context-
independent and, hence, definable ways. The definitions that remain in SP
are all of this type. They are listed in Appendix B of that work.

(Rereading the critiques of my 1991-paper, I can see why one may question
the usefulness of a technically stringent axiomatic system in psychological
practice. At the same time, it would be hard to completely deny the
usefulness of conceptual analysis. The way ahead is indeed very dimly lit.)

From definitions to axioms. The difficulty of formulating satisfactory

definitions of ordinary language terms does not mean that the domain is
entirely chaotic. Proposed definitions do catch something important, even
though they cannot cover the full meaning of the terms. In my view axioms
can take over the role of definitions in providing a foundation for a deductive
system. Briefly, the argument goes as follows: A definition stipulates exactly
what a term shall mean and hence, exhausts and fixates its semantic content
(X shall mean exactly the same as Y). On the other hand, an axiom
stipulates that the term shall have a fixed relation to one or a few other terms,
but except for this, leaves its meaning open (X if, and only if, Y) Hence
moving from definition to axiom means moving from freezing the total
meaning of a term to freezing its relation to one other term only. As already
mentioned, this has taken place to a considerable extent in the development
of psycho-logic from PL to SP.

The preceding means that axioms are becoming the most important basic
premises for SP as a formal deductive system.

Elimination of Reference to Context and Time. The clause in C at t used

in PL is eliminated from all formulae in SP. The clause was originally
introduced in order to safeguard the propositions. Statements referring to the
same moment in time and the same context were intended to ensure
conservation of the constituent elements and, hence, the applicability of logic.
If one premise refers to one time and/or another context, the validity of the
logical inference becomes uncertain and depends on nothing relevant having
changed or nothing relevant being different. For example, if A>B and B>C,
the validity of the logical conclusion A>C depends on the assumption of
conservation over time of A, B, and C. If one of the quantities has increased
or decreased between the recording of A>B, B>C, and the final comparison of
A and C, then the standard conclusion A>C may be wrong.
The argument for eliminating in C at t is that it is, after all, unnecessary.
Although instantiations of logic always refer to a given time and a given
context, logical structure itself is valid irrespective of time and place. A logical
structure implicitly presupposes that premises are unchanged and therefore,
does not need to be explicitly safeguarded by the clause in C at t. The
elimination of the clause also abbreviates the formulae and hence, increases
their elegance.

What is not commented on in the above summary is the increase in the

number of formal axioms from 26 in PL to 56. Later it was again reduced to
22 (Smedslund, 2004) and then to 9 (Smedslund, 2012). The deeper reason
for these fluctuations appears to be that axioms were initially seen simply as
propositions that could neither be proved from more basic ones, nor
empirically tested. However, as it became clearer that there are propositions
that are both necessary and testable (a priori and contingent) (Kukla, 2001)
and also that there are primitive concepts forming a system of semantic
relations (Wierzbicka, 1996), axioms became basic propositions formed by
primitive concepts and impossible to deny because their negations do not
make sense and they are also ecologically valid. Very schematically this can
be stated as humans already know what other humans are like and must talk
in certain ways. Axioms are aimed at being the simplest way of characterizing

The publication of The Structure of Psychological Common Sense (SP) can

be seen as an outcome of a decade of lively exchanges, partly referred to in
the previous chapters. Although not explicitly stated, it was part of a continued
movement of psycho-logic in the direction of a technical system, more precise
and less context-sensitive than the vernacular. This is most clearly seen in
the reduction in the number of definitions, and the introduction of undefined
primitive terms. One may of course still wonder whether this concern with
formalization is helpful in the practical application of psychology.

The development of useful technical concepts sometimes proceeds by a

process of close reflection that can probably be only partly described by
existing language. One example of such a process can take its departure in
Definition 6.4.1 in SP. P has self-control regarding act A = df P does or
does not do A according to Ps reflective wants and beliefs, and
independently of Ps unreflective wants and beliefs. Reflection about
different cases called self-control leads me to dissatisfaction with this
definition because it depends on the criterion of reflectivity, or knowing that.
Take the example of a case of a person tempted to commit adultery. The
person reflectively knows that he or she wants to commit the adultery and
also reflectively knows that it is wrong to do so, and that he or she wants to
be faithful to his or her spouse. Given Definition 6.4.1, the choice of action
cannot be said to show or not show self-control since no unreflective wants
and beliefs are involved. The definition focuses on the reflective level only,
and does not catch what we ordinarily mean by self-control. A more
satisfactory definition goes like this: P has self-control regarding act A = P
does or does not do A according to whether or not P thinks that doing A is
right or wrong, and independently of Ps other wants. This definition focuses
on Ps ability to act according to what he or she believes is right,
independently of temptations.

The above is an example of the kind of change that can be made in psycho-
logic. Ultimately one can only hope for a further simplification and stabilization
of the system of technical concepts.

In retrospect, my continued preoccupation with axiomatization in psycho-logic

is, as I see it, an attempt to describe in the simplest possible way what we all
know a priori about human beings. This is the only part of psychology where it
seems legitimate to formulate abstract general propositions, since it concerns
unchanging qualities of all humans. It contrasts with the parts where one can
accumulate only temporally limited empirical knowledge (regularities in culture
and language), and also with the parts where one cannot have any general
knowledge (unique individuals and situations, and fortuitous events). This last
mentioned area requires an entirely different strategy, namely a not-knowing
attitude and improvisation relating to the unique features of the person and
the situation (the bricoleur-model). The term bricoleur is borrowed from
Levi-Strauss (1966). It has no precise equivalent in English. It is a person

who undertakes odd jobs and is a Jack of all trades. A bricoleur is a resource
person who is recruited when conventional procedures in daily life fail to work.
For example, when the depressed cannot be consoled, the anxious cannot be
reassured, the addict or obsessive cannot be stopped. The psychologist cum
bricoleur must then proceed by unconventional means uniquely adapted to
each unique situation.

Chapter Seventeen

Mandatory but only Apparent Retirement

From the year 1996 I can mention listening to Hilary Putnam who gave a talk
on Functionalism and the philosophy of mind.

My clinical practice and teaching continued as before. The same goes for the
following year. 1997 started with six months at the University of New Mexico,
where I discussed with my friends and colleagues there. In March I sent a
finished manuscript to Lawrence Erlbaum who agreed to publish The
Structure of Psychological Common Sense (Smedslund, 1997) (Described in
Chapter 16). After returning to Europe, we spent some time in Geneva, where
I had an interesting meeting with Willem Doise who also told me that an
earlier paper of mine, entitled Les origines sociales de la decentration (The
social origins of decentration) (Smedslund, 1966a) had for a while been much
discussed in the post-Piagetian milieu in Geneva.

In August, I participated in a conference in Oslo, where I listened to Stein

Braaten who presented some studies of the social skills of very young
infants. These early findings have later been followed by a number of
experiments, which illustrate that human babies may be born with knowledge
of the basic characteristics of other members of their species. Later, I have
taken this into account in my arguments for the role of a priori knowledge in

psychological practice. We seem to know much about our fellow beings in
advance of actual experience with them. I return to this theme later.

In September 1997, I lectured at the University of Trondheim about Talking

and writing about psychology versus acting as a psychologist and later in the
same month in Helsinki, Finland, about What is psychological common
sense? My sense of the feedback from the audience was the same as it had
been for many years: Angry or curious colleagues, puzzled students, and a
few enthusiastic supporters. My own interpretation is that, given the smoothly
functioning project of mainstream psychology as background, my
presentations always led critics to ask whether psycho-logic really can offer
anything better in the way of methods and results. I return to this.

In the summer of 1999 I had to formally retire (70 was the age of mandatory
retirement in Norway), and I became Professor Emeritus. Little changed in
my daily life, except that I discontinued mandatory teaching and was relieved
of administrative duties. In that year I visited John Shotter in New Hampshire
and, after a month in New Mexico, we spent the rest of the year at Stanford,
in continuous contact with the already mentioned colleagues at the
Psychology Department. That year Len Horowitz was again the person I
talked most with. We met weekly for lunch in the cafeteria of the Stanford
Business School our conversations were mostly about understanding the
interpersonal processes in clinical practice.

Looking back on the first years of my retirement what strikes me is that,

despite full work-weeks at my office, private practice two evenings a week,
jogging and long weekend hikes, and a full social and private life, my
numerous professional contacts did not influence me as much as in younger
years. My point of view had stabilized and matured to the point that I usually
felt mostly reinforced and confirmed by my interactions with colleagues, even
when they disagreed. In debates, I usually felt that I had the better
arguments, but not always. There were exceptions, and with respect to many
details I continued to profit from my colleagues.

In the year 2000 I investigated the psycho-logic of Urdu-speaking subjects
(Smedslund, 2002). In this study I had three very special experiences. First of
all, I encountered a suspicious attitude to my project that I had never met in
my other studies. When I first contacted the group of Urdu-speaking students
at the University of Oslo, they became suspicious, probably based on their
earlier experiences as an immigrant group. I was subjected to a half-hour
interview by a woman in hijab, who particularly wanted to understand my
ethical and political convictions, and whether the outcome of the study could
in any way harm the group! Having convinced them that this was not the
case, I was then given the address of a student who promised to help me, by
engaging his near and far friends and relatives as informants. These friends
or relatives apparently felt obligated to participate, since my original contact
had promised to help me. However, the suspiciousness was still so strong
that one of them apparently decided on a compromise. He answered all my
written questions, and thus fulfilled the obligation. However, he also decided
to randomize his answers, so that no useful information remained! This rather
dramatic outcome highlights the general situation of psychological research.
Results always reflect the total context of a study! The third part of the
experience that I remember was that several informants told me that Urdu
was a more poetic language than Norwegian, and that this somehow
influenced the possibility of making exact translations of the psycho-logic
axioms. Only the quantitative aspects of this study have been published
(Smedslund, 2002).

In 2000 I participated in the International Congress of Psychology in

Stockholm and gave two lectures: Axioms of psycho-logic and How shall
one describe an observation in a memory experiment? In a conference in
Bergen I gave a talk entitled The validity of psycho-logic.

The month of November I worked in an office in City University, London,

where my host was Professor David Marks who was a health psychologist.
There were no psychologists at that department with interests closely related
to mine, but I did give a talk on Trust as seen from the viewpoint of psycho-
logic and received the usual mixture of wondering and skepticism.

Early in 2001 we moved to Tucson, Arizona, where we spent the next three
months. I worked in the Department of Psychology at the University of
Arizona, and got to know Lee Sechrest and Hal Arkowitz. Professor
Sechrest was a very sophisticated methodologist with a broad general
orientation. In his professional profile he sometimes reminded me of Lee
Cronbach. We had numerous and informative discussions. Professor
Arkowitz is an engaged clinician sympathizing with humanistic and
integrative positions. We talked about how to conduct psychotherapy, and
while he was enthusiastic and personal, I felt he continuously maintained a
balanced critical attitude. He once asked me: Why should I use psycho-
logic? How exactly will it help me working with people? I think my answer
must have been rather vague and unconvincing. Today I will say that since
psycho-logic describes what we all take for granted about people, it does not
in itself improve practice, but only gives an overview of what is necessarily
involved in every practice.

In Arizona I also met Jeff Greenberg and read about his Terror Management

In June I participated in a conference on emotion in Amsterdam, the

Netherlands, and met many old friends and acquaintances, among them Rick
Shweder and Bob Zaionc. From that visit, I especially remember an evening
with the Norwegian philosopher Jon Elster. We talked about rationality, and
discovered that while I had ceased to regard human beings as sometimes
irrational, he retained that concept. More specifically, we determined that
while I regarded an act as rational if it follows logically from the individuals
premises, whatever they are, Elster regarded an act as irrational even if it
followed from the premises, if these premises themselves were not rational
(?) I suppose this discussion could have led us in many interesting directions,
if we there had been sufficient time. My own position is still that we must
understand people as always acting logically, albeit only at any given
moment. If a persons acting does not follow logically from any premises, it
remains a mystery and cannot be understood. The concept of understanding
presupposes logicality.

At the Stockholm congress in 2000 I mentioned to Ken and Mary Gergen
that I had started to think about a book in the form of a dialogue between
fictional characters about theoretical psychology. Over the next two years I
gradually and with great uncertainty embarked on this new enterprise. I return
to it in the next chapter.

9/11 2001 in a sense marked the end of the twentieth century as it led to
widespread and irreversible changes. The changes became visible only
gradually and only peripherally in my own thinking, but more directly in the
increasingly strict controls when we were flying. (We are frequent flyers, and
my earlier phobia disappeared completely more than 20 years ago).

Chapter Eighteen

Continued Activity and

Dialogues about a New Psychology

In the subsequent years my professional life continued with travels abroad,

publications, and also private practice and teaching. A pattern originating in
my childhood continued. It had begun with the familys incessant traveling
(back and forth between Norway-Finland-England-Sweden-Italy), combined
with being part of a vegetarian sect whose guru championed almost
everything that has later become common knowledge (danger of smoking, too
much salt, danger of red meat, importance of exercise, danger of over-weight,
etc.). Our divergent food and life style combined with the frequent changes of
environment and language, gave me a feeling of always being in opposition to
the surroundings. This made it natural for me to take a critical and
independent attitude also to the textbooks and articles in psychology. The
yearly visits to the US or UK in my mature and later years contributed to this,
and I have come to accept an identity as a Critical Visitor, although I am
also quite social, and adjust fairly easily to living in different environments.

The winter of 2002 was spent in Albuquerque, where I again worked at the
Psychology Department of the University of New Mexico. In addition to
colleagues already mentioned such as Peder Johnson, Timothy Goldsmith,
Bill Miller, and others, I now became acquainted with the developmental
psychologist David Witherington. The small department was well known to
me from so many earlier visits.

The remainder of the year we were mostly in Norway and at the university my
time was spent writing but I also did some teaching. In addition I continued
my private practice in the basement office at home, two evenings a week. I
had an article published in Review of General Psychology (Smedslund, 2002)
with the title From Hypothesis-Testing Psychology to Procedure-Testing
Psycho-logic, but I have seen no responses to it at all.

In 2003 we left as usual in January this time again with destination Tucson,
Arizona. In Chicago, I talked with Rick Shweder, and also met Shinobu
Kitayama, known to me from his cooperation with Hazel Markus, whom I
knew from Stanford. At the University of Arizona, my host was again
Professor Lee Sechrest. We had many stimulating discussions. I also talked
again with Hal Arkowitz whose views of psychotherapy were in so many
ways close to my own.

The winter 2004 I worked again at Stanford. Rick Shweder was back at
CASBS for a second time and together we visited David Rosenhan who had
suffered a stroke and did not function as before. It was a touching reunion,
and I think we all thought of our glorious 21 dinners at the Faculty Club, and
felt the sad irreversibility of life. I continued to have weekly meetings with Len
Horowitz, and also talked with John Flavell, Lee Ross, and many others.

After my return to Norway there was a conference in Bergen on Cultural and

Critical Psychology where I lectured on The bricoleur model of psychological

In that year my book Dialogues about a New Psychology was published by

Taos Institute Publications sponsored by Ken Gergen (Smedslund, 2004)
The book contains a series of dialogues between three fictional persons, a
clinician, an experimenter, and a theoretician. They represent the three
different parts of me as a professional. It was an attempt to communicate
arguments and counterarguments in a new way that I hoped could be more
efficient than the conventional linear one-person presentation. The cover has
endorsements by Harr, Shotter, and Shweder, but it is so contrary to the
mainstream that the sale has been disappointingly small. A contributing
reason may be that the advertising and marketing was limited and mostly
reached only social constructionists and proponents of the narrative tradition
who were uninterested in the formalization of theory and in the experimental
tradition that had been my starting points.

In the winter of 2005 we again stayed at Stanford. I once more worked in

David Rosenhans old office and discussed weekly both with Len Horowitz
and with Lee Ross. I also remember some meetings with Patricia
Greenfield, then at CASBS, whose studies of a village in Chiapas, Mexico,
with a weaving culture, impressed me greatly (Greenfield, 2004).

After my return to Oslo, I gave a talk at the Institute of Psychology about

Some psychologists I have known. That spring I also started to participate
as examiner in a mandatory course for PhD candidates on Theory of
Science. This has been repeated twice a year up to the present. It has been
fascinating to witness the struggles of PhD candidates with the foundational
problems of their research. This has also contributed to clarifying my own
view of what kind of science psychology can be. I return to this at the end of
the book.

The year 2006 came, and after a mid-winter stay in Nice, I moved into an
office in Cambridge University, England where my host was Professor Gerard
Duveen from the Department of Social and Cultural Psychology. Our only
connection point had been that he had commented on a paper I had written
about Serge Moscovicis theory (Smedslund 1998). For some reason or
other, I did not see him much during my stay, except when I gave a talk at the
Department. The encounter with the old buildings in Cambridge and the
particular British academic tradition naturally reminded of my stay in Oxford
more than 20 years earlier. The difference was that, while in Oxford I had
interacted with several colleagues my stay in Cambridge was spent writing in
nearly complete isolation. There were almost no social psychologists, and no
clinicians around and for some reason I never visited the larger department of
experimental psychology. We returned to Norway in April.

From January 2007 we again spent 3 months in Albuquerque and I had an

office at UNM. Also this time I had regular discussions with Peder Johnson,
Tim Goldsmith, and David Witherington.

Back in Norway, the ordinary university life continued, and there was
increasing talk about criteria of evidence-based practice. In November there
was a symposium in Bergen on the topic. The requirement of fixed diagnostic
categories and therapeutic manuals does not go well with psycho-logic and
the bricoleur-model. I wrote a paper in Norwegian, the English translation
being: Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes/No. Do we need to have
evidence-based practice? Yes/No Among my notes from that year I also find
the following quote from some unknown Polish author:

Nothing can ever happen twice. In consequence, the sorry fact is that we
arrive here improvised, and leave without the chance to practice.

Although this clearly is a very general statement, it fits the situation in

psychology very well. Due to the irreversibility of processes and events, the
possibility of accumulating knowledge is limited to those islands of
temporary stability that can be found in language and in societal structures
(customs, practices). For the most part we have to proceed without solid

The winter 2008 it was again Stanford with weekly conversations with Len
Horowitz, and meeting others in the department, among them Lee Ross.
The regular transitions between Norway and the US continued to be
stimulating, although the effect on me was probably gradually diminishing
because of long-time adaptation to the two academic cultures. All the time, I
continued to spend most of my time writing.

In August that year we held a first Norwegian mini-conference in psycho-logic
with 4 participants. The discussions were lively, and we did not talk about the
obvious fact that we were a tiny minority. One of the participants was my
friend and colleague Waldemar Rognes who had been by my side since the
1970s, who has written a large number of articles about psycho-logic in
Norwegian and whos Doctoral Thesis Selvflelsens Psykologikk(The
Psycho-logic of Self-esteem) contains proofs of hundreds of theorems.
Unfortunately, he has now ceased publishing.

In 2009 we varied the pattern by first spending six weeks in Tucson (in
contact with Sechrest and Arkowitz) and then six weeks in Albuquerque
(talking with Johnson, Goldsmith, Witherington and Miller). It should be
emphasized that these discussions were not repetitive, inconsequential
exchanges, but, to me, they represented occasions to try out and deepen my
thinking around fundamental problems concerning psycho-logic, and to listen
to how my colleagues responded.

The search for new venues led me in 2010 to select the State University of
Arizona in Tempe. My host was Professor Paul Karoly, who had an
interesting theory of motivation (goalistics), but my professional contacts
were mostly with Peter Killeen, a behaviorist, at that time working on the
neuro-correlates of ADHD. He was also interested in wider theoretical and
philosophical questions and invited me to participate in a Metaphysical
Group of scholars from biology, physics, medicine, and psychology. Among
the members, I became especially interested in Bill Uttal, and in one of his
many books entitled Immeasurable Mind (Uttal, 2008).

In April we returned to Norway, but left again, at the end of May, for a
behaviorist conference in San Antonio, Texas, where I gave a lecture entitled
The pseudo-empirical in psychology which was received in a friendlier
fashion than I was accustomed to. At this conference, I was impressed by the
development from the narrow Skinnerian group that I had met at Harvard, to a
very broad assembly of researchers, mostly interested in practical application.
I was also impressed by encountering a fair amount of general resistance to
statistics, and a focus on one-person designs.
Once more, we selected Stanford for the winter 2011. However, in addition to
meeting all the friends and colleagues I knew from before, this visit became
slightly different. Lee Ross and I started to meet and discuss increasingly
seriously once a week. The topic was our differences in viewing the practical
value of experimental research in psychology. After my departure from
Stanford, we continued to exchange e-mails several times a week and this
process finally culminated in a joint dialogical article (Smedslund & Ross,

My weekly meetings with Len Horowitz were also different from before, by
including a Swiss visitor, Dr. Fabian Ramseier, who was conducting a study
of the correlation between synchronized movements and the experience of
communion in clinical encounters.

The Department at Stanford had changed noticeably because psychology

had more fully entered the era of the brain. A considerable area was
occupied by new MRI-labs, one of the corridors was decorated with a huge
diagram of the brain, and many lectures had the prefix neuro-added to the
title. It was fully consistent with this development that my part-time room-
mate, Dr. Stewart Edelstein, one day surprised me by informing me that he
was not a psychologist by training, but a biophysicist! Even so, we had
interesting exchanges, among other things, about Buddhist psychology and
meditation (Epstein, 2007).

I end this chapter by mentioning that I managed to publish no less than five
international articles in three years from 2009. (Smedslund, 2009, 2012a,
2012b, 2012c, 2012d.) Together with the present book, and the article with
Lee Ross (Smedslund & Ross, 2013), these works represent a sort of
provisional closure. My attitude then can only be see what tomorrow brings!

In the next chapter, I try to summarize what I have so far learned from this
long journey and elaborate a view of the prospects of psychology.

Chapter 19

Concluding Remarks

The articles referred to at the end of the previous chapter, report my most
recent positions. These articles and some important earlier ones are
assembled in the Appendix. Formulating an even more general conclusion
and going beyond that by pointing towards the future, is a formidable task.
Nevertheless, I will make an attempt with the optimistic belief that, after all,
something valuable can be extracted from the wealth of encounters and
experiences described in this book.

The history of modern psychology is depicted by successive generations of

textbooks as a steady progress in accumulating knowledge by means of ever
more sophisticated methods. The discipline has found a way that works, in
the sense that it generates a steady and unending flow of new research,
stable criteria for the evaluation of publications, and continuous training of
new students. Metaphorically speaking, it resembles a kind of ongoing
perpetuum mobile consisting of an endless succession of theoretical efforts
and new data. Today we are living in the Era of the Brain, and psychology
departments are gradually filling with researchers who often apply the prefix
neuro- to whatever they are doing. Over the last half of a century I have
seen many minor and major fashions come and go. The current neuro-
fashion in psychology is so full of conceptual impossibilities (Bennett &
Hacker, 2003) that it may be confidently predicted to pass, like the others.
Neuroscience is one thing and psychology is something different. The
aspiration to achieve anything approaching a useful integration of the two
appears, to me, unrealistic. The language describing brain processes and the
language describing what goes on between people represent two different
levels of organizing the world. To mix them is to commit the mereological
fallacy of talking about wholes (persons) in terms that are meaningful only in
describing what goes on in parts (e.g. brains) or vice versa talking about brain
processes (parts) in terms of what only goes on in persons (wholes).
Examples are to state that the brain thinks or feels something, or that the
person is choosing between two chemical processes in his or her brain).
The psychological level and everyday language are more useful for
describing interaction between members of Homo sapiens, whereas chemical
and physical terms are more useful for describing neural processes in

I understand the fascination of exploring correlations between changes in the

brain associated with the person being happy or depressed, but no amount of
neuroscience can usefully describe why a person is happy and why another
person is depressed. Everyday psychological concepts can describe the
personal significance (meaning) of social events such as a political speech or
a quarrel, but neuroscience cannot. Here, I am merely trying to remind the
reader that psychology is a separate conceptual level, and that it would
continue to exist even if we had no knowledge of what goes on inside our
heads. Most psychologically relevant knowledge can be arrived at
independently of neuroscience. I realize that these thoughts are controversial,
as most of my other opinions, but they can at least be taken as first steps in a
dialogue. Eventually I may be wholly or partly mistaken, just as the fellow who
published a paper proving that flying was impossible, at the same time as the
brothers Wright flew for the first time.

From early on, I may have had a suppressed feeling of unease with the very
attempt to apply a natural science-like approach to psychology. However, as

a teenager and as a beginning student, I was nevertheless enthusiastic about
that view, and my heroes were the pioneers of natural science. In retrospect, I
can speculate that this may have originated as an attempt to find a calm and
rational niche that contrasted with what I experienced as an unreasonable
and threatening emotional turbulence surrounding my mother. However,
later, my research increasingly began to suggest to me that the natural
science model was not necessarily a good approach to psychology after all. I
empathize with the remark of the pioneer Ebbinghaus when he talked about
the difficulties of experimenting on the shaky ground of psychology
(Ebbinghaus, 1980). He and his latter day successors managed to calm their
unease with statistics. However, the crux of the matter is whether one can
really practice psychology guided by what has been found on the average
with persons of certain categories under highly limited controlled conditions or
on theories built on these findings. In my view, one usually cannot do this.
Therefore, the best defense that can be given for the mainstream approach in
psychological research is not to refer to the, in my view, rather limited results,
but to ask: What is the alternative? This is an important and difficult question,
and today there are no widely accepted answers. It is, of course, still possible
to maintain that psychological phenomena simply do not allow any better
approximations to a science, than those that have emerged. One may then
also ask, is this good enough?

In this book and in my other publications, I have repeatedly criticized current

methodology. In my view, the irreversibility and complexity of psychological
processes literally force the practicing psychologist to take a not-knowing
initial position in each case, and to rely continuously on intuition and
improvisation in his or her interventions. This may be the best possible way to
encounter and deal with literally unique persons in their literally unique life-
situations. As a psychologist one should become accustomed to take in and
react to the concrete, in the sense of what exists in-context here-and-now,
and to combat the temptation to be abstract, that is, to rely on constructions
existing more or less independently of context. Writing-about and talking-
about, is already abstracting (placing things into categories), and the
education and training of psychologists in class rooms, laboratories and
through reading, reinforce an abstracting attitude. Among other things, it
encourages diagnosing people and resorting to techniques and, hence,
attempts to bypass the uniqueness. Stated in still other terms, it amounts to
making psychologists into scribes (in the sense of the Bible) that is, into
relying on and acting on what is written instead of on what is there. This kind
of practitioner goes by the book.

I have so far avoided facing the most serious counterargument to my critique,

namely the question of what psychology would look like if the current
accumulation of group data under controlled conditions, and the focus on
statistical differences and correlations, were to be abandoned. This would
mean to abandon the project of an empirical psychological science, and the
belief that we can rely on predictions from earlier observations. What would
remain would then seem to be only formulation of our inborn knowledge of
human beings (psycho-logic), our acquired knowledge of the language and
cultural surroundings of any given individual, and our acquired familiarity with
particular persons in their particular life-situations, plus our creativity (as
suggested by the bricoleur-model) (Smedslund, 2012b.) My frequently
stated analogues are the surveyors or navigators who dont even pretend to
bother with predicting and theorizing about features of the landscape, but
simply take it as it comes. I think this is really the core of the problem. We
should let go of the idea of generalized prediction, we should stop trying to
construct models, theories, and laws, and realize that the most important
problems of psychology are questions about how to deal with people. I also
think that these questions are primarily non-empirical. In every situation
where we know enough, the proper actions can be deduced logically. If we
know how each actor and his or her co-actors see the situation, it follows
necessarily from the motivational profiles and cognitive maps of the
participants how they will act and react. Hence, the difficulty of dealing with
psychological situations stems mainly from our invariable lack of sufficient
knowledge of the here-and-now. As I see it, this initial not-knowing state
cannot be replaced by general predictions based on empirical research. As I
have said many times, psychologists are not predicting static systems, nor
are they like chess players, but they are like players who have to play
endlessly varied games, with endlessly varied opponents, only helped by
knowing that the other one is a human being, and that often he or she has the
same language and belongs to the same culture as oneself.

I see a need to elaborate the preceding arguments. They appear to yield no

opening for advances in knowledge. I see at least two answers to this. Firstly,
I see a possible compromise with my mainstream colleagues. Although we
can acquire only limited and uncertain empirical psychological knowledge,
defendants of the mainstream may rightly point to the many temporarily stable
islands floating in the stream of time and that one can try to disregard the
black holes of random events. Persons are such islands, maintaining
themselves from one day to another and one year to another. Families,
societies and cultures are larger entities maintaining themselves from one
decade or one century to the next. So are languages. This means that
although encountering new persons and cultures always require an initial not-
knowing attitude, this can often be succeeded by periods of predictiveness
when we can rely on the relative stability of respectively individuals,
institutions, language, and culture. Empirical research can be directed at
these islands of predictability that sometimes can be covered by middle-

Even so, I think the ability to predict from one observation to the next, may be
generally more limited than expressed in textbooks. The findings reported in
psychological journals should not be regarded as accumulated knowledge in
a timeless and situationless sense. They are more like reports of limited
regularities on floating ice-flakes or on river sandbanks. One temporarily
disregards that ice-flakes may melt or grow, and that sandbanks are ever-
changing. Obviously, these analogues should not be interpreted too literally.

In experimental psychology, reported findings refer to average tendencies

within rigid situational and procedural boundaries, and one finds consolation
in statistics. However, the psychological laboratory with its pre-arranged
stable conditions and narrow questions is very different from the situation of
the practitioner who encounters already existing complex and changing
settings. What enables the psychologist to perform at all are the mentioned
sources of given knowledge (that do not stem from data assembled with RCT-
techniques), and also the spontaneous human ability to get to know individual
others in dialogue and to improvise.

The type of evidence gathered by modern psychology is, as I have pointed

out, more limited and problematic than is usually admitted. Also it is
characterized by a nave belief that data in-themselves tell us something.
Here it should be remembered, as stated by Brehmer (1980), that truth is
not manifest, data are silent and always have to be interpreted. You cannot
see that something is the case. A debate about the usefulness of research
data in practice can be found in my already mentioned article with Lee Ross
(Smedslund & Ross, 2013). A different kind of possibility for advance lies in
conceptual development and analysis. This is a kind of work similar to what is
done mostly by philosophers. More specifically, it involves exploring and
clarifying what we already know about the ways we interact with each other.
People vary in what way, how fast, and how well they perform, how they get
to know other persons, and how well they deal with them. What goes on in
these processes? We can search for nuances and distinctions and new
concepts to describe this. Also, how can we go into a state of not-knowing,
and how do we improvise? What are the best ways of analyzing interaction
and dialogue without losing touch with the actual phenomena? This is a
matter of analysis and construction of better ways. It is by not believing that
data can tell us anything definite, but by believing that data must be
continuously interpreted and reinterpreted in the light of the changing context.
In summary, we must ask how the psychological practitioner must perform
correctly, just as we can ask how the surveyor or navigator must perform
correctly. In asking this, we are turning away from trying to generalize about
persons and situations and focusing on the strategy of dealing with them.

It may be objected that one can hardly redirect the masses of students and
doctoral candidates in the current system toward this alternative, nor would it
appeal to them. Even so, I think we should encourage psychology students
to reflect about what we all know, and to practice taking an initial not-knowing
attitude to new persons and situations. They should also be encouraged to

regard the persons they encounter not as static closed systems, but as
entities maintaining themselves in constant interaction with the surroundings.
A person cannot be understood in isolation, but only by how he or she
interacts with others in given circumstances. You can experience how she or
he interacts with you in this situation (and with others, and in other situations)
To be sure there may sometimes be approximately stable interactive
dispositions (repertories), but they cannot be anticipated and are always in
principle changeable. The preceding is consistent with the admonition ask
not what goes on inside a person, but ask what a person goes on inside of.

My three major attempts at intervention by modifying the social surroundings,

described in earlier chapters, can illustrate the preceding. The Jrnstad-field
project (Chapter Four), based on general knowledge of human beings and on
the local Norwegian culture at that time, partly succeeded because it created
a small-village setting that was generally positively evaluated (many personal
communications), and partly failed because no central service unit was ever
built. This failure can in retrospect be understood as due to the planners
insufficient advance-knowledge of the motivations and private circumstances
of the participants. A majority of them came to regard the central unit,
consisting of pre-school and house-assistant apartments, as too expensive.

The Flettverk-project (Chapter Thirteen) was a success as witnessed by its

longevity (now approaching thirty years) and the unanimous support of the
participants. The success can be understood in retrospect as due to almost
self-evident factors such as human nature (psycho-logic), common language,
common local culture, common educational level, and common age, all
necessarily facilitating interaction. The absence of agenda for the meetings
permitted the formation of a group that simply grew out of the combined
personal interests and repertories of all the participants.

The practice-in-the-homes-of-clients-project (Chapter Eleven) also appeared

to be successful. In retrospect, this judgment is based on my own evaluation
of the two years of practice, and on the almost unanimous positive reception
by the clients. All of them initially preferred the home-sessions to office-

sessions, and no one ever suggested return to the office. I have already
described the advantages of this location for the treatment-process.

What is common to these three interventions is that they consisted of

rearrangements of social contexts. I initiated them without considering
empirical research reports, although I cannot exclude that my sense of what
would be beneficial was also influenced by the general opinions current at
that time. Anyhow, the relative success of these projects helped support my
feeling of self-efficacy as a practicing psychologist. They were also consistent
with my growing conviction that a talking cure is only efficient if it is
combined with, or leads to, actual change in an individuals everyday patterns
of social interaction.

The remaining disagreement in the article with Ross (Smedslund & Ross,
2013) was simply about whether one can usefully apply conventional
published research results and middle-range theories to practice. To some
extent this disagreement is almost undecidable because it reflects different
interpretations of very complex circumstances. One may focus on attempting
to diagnose the persons in a case and follow a given technique, while
ignoring the indefinitely manifold unique features involved, or one may try to
avoid diagnosis and fixed techniques and attempt to respond to the unique
person and apply correspondingly unique interventions. Ultimately, the
advantage and disadvantage of these two approaches depend on whether
they really help treatment or whether they obstruct it. I can only report that I
have never succeeded in applying a research-finding, because the
uniqueness of the persons and situations has prevented me from doing so.
This is not a matter of simple curve-fitting, but occurs because conditions
(variables) not included in a theory intervene and take precedence. I have
also noticed that persons dislike being placed in diagnostic categories and
being treated schematically, without regard for their uniqueness. Reflecting
upon my clinical experience, I almost never felt that knowledge of research
results had a discernible influence on what I did. On the contrary, the
concrete persons and life-situations have always over-shadowed and
obscured abstract principles and categories. What to think and do always

depends on a whole field of decision, where there seem to exist few easily
separable components.

If I am right, and psychology as an empirical science in the current perpetuum

mobile version is problematic in a very fundamental way, then one must look
for better workable alternatives. However, most alternatives to the empirical
RCT-research can be met by potent counter-arguments. One of them is that
we must continue to rely on empirical research because we are obsessive
learners, and constantly and automatically apply what we have experienced
before to new people and new situations. This can clearly be advantageous in
many domains of life, but only if, and to the extent that, the relevant
phenomena are static or reversible. The problem is that human beings and
their life-situations are to a large extent changing in an irreversible way and
are subject to fortuitous events. Hence, the applicability of previous
knowledge is often difficult and severely limited. We have a tremendous
capacity for getting acquainted with new persons and new situations, but this
process can be disturbed and distorted when we try to rely on research that
always involves abstraction and simplification. The same goes for our active
interventions: If they are based solely on the interaction with the concrete
persons-in-their-life-situations, they can work, but if they are imported from
formal research findings and learning in other situations, they are likely to be
more or less distortive and insufficient.

A possible compromise position is to accept the bricoleur-model, with its initial

not-knowing attitude, but also try to use bits of insight and observations from
mainstream empirical research, when these appear applicable as ingredients
in a thoroughly context-sensitive intervention. This would mean to try to
include knowledge of theories and research findings in ones concrete
intuitive understanding and intervention, whenever this appears reasonable.
However, I can only repeat that I have for the most part not understood my
practice in this way.

Another important counter-objection to the bricoleur model goes as follows: If

it is true that theoretical training and knowledge of research findings have
possibly disruptive and distorting effects, what shall we then offer psychology
students? How can one learn to take a not-knowing position, and how can
one learn to release ones spontaneous creativity? We do not know exactly
how to do this. It may be that we can encourage students to (at least
momentarily) abandon their theoretical concepts and their textbook-based
knowledge, and also encourage them to take leave of any entrenched
procedures and methods. We can try just to be with the other person with as
little prejudice as possible. As I have written elsewhere, this reminds one of
the insights of the early clinicians and also of the state of meditating Buddhist
monks. It is searching for a state of emptiness, openness, and letting go. Can
we find something directly useful for practice in the literature on meditation?

How can I take this position after having written more than 150 very
scientific articles and eight books? I can only answer that it probably has to
do with my countless hours of trying to be of help to suffering patients. While
retaining a skeptical and ever-questioning attitude, I can only say that the
closest I can come to describing what I think is common in the cases where I
have had some success is this: I have maintained a professional attitude
(which essentially means to place the interests of the client squarely before
my own), I have cared for my patients, I have by means of a not-knowing
attitude arrived at some degree of understanding of their uniqueness and their
likewise unique life-situations. I have tried to treat them with genuine respect,
I have tried to maintain my own-control and self-control, and together with the
client I have intervened by gradually and tentatively effecting some change in
the clients interactions with others or in the social surroundings. The choice
of intervention has usually been spontaneous and intuitive. The treatment has
usually not been an isolated talking cure, but also an active intervention of
some kind, effecting a change in the patients daily social interactions.

This leads me to what appears to have been a recurring theme throughout my

professional life. I think of it as a search for how to integrate into one
balanced whole the two aspects of human functioning now so much
discussed, namely discursive reasoning, and intuitive functioning (Evans,
2010) (Kahneman, 2012). These two modes of functioning, namely talking
about, vs. feeling and doing, are always present in everyone. Unfortunately,

each one of these has mostly been considered in isolation. When one of them
dominates, what my mentor Egon Brunswik described as the catastrophes
of the intellect (Brunswik, 1952) can occur and, conversely, numerous
researchers have described the distortions involved in purely intuitive
judgments (Meehl, 1954) (Dawes, 1994). The interaction of the two levels is
less studied.

I have always been drawn to theory, philosophy, and abstract thinking, and I
was shocked when I entered the domain of practice (see Chapter 11) and
recognized the feebleness of abstractions when it comes to application. Now,
I always try to follow my intuition, but I still think it is useful (or at least
satisfying) also to talk and think about what is going on, albeit at a sufficiently
high level of abstraction, so as to avoid interfering too much with the ongoing
interaction. Example: I think it is useful and clarifying to think about trust in
general and its logical conditions (Smedslund, 1997, pp. 68-73) as they are
manifested in a concrete case, but only as after-thoughts. In clinical folklore
one talks about internalized knowledge when what one talks about also
reflects something one automatically acts in accordance with. What one has
earlier only reflected about (e.g. how to behave as a psychologist), gradually
becomes automatic.

This text started with rote learning of nonsense syllables as symbolic of one
view of psychological research and I now end by presenting a short case
story from my practice which I selected to illustrate the second part of the title
of this book, namely holding hands.

The depressed baker. She was a 65 year old woman who had been
committed to the emergency ward by her son because she just sat in a chair
all day long and did nothing. She talked willingly, and told me that she was a
recent widow, that she had in the course of the last year lost her three (and
only) best friends, and also her job in a bakery that she had loved. Her
children lived in another city. She had a small apartment, but saw no other
people. She had never had any particular interests, except her work, and
caring for her husband and children. She had tried some of the obvious
possibilities, such as finding a new job, travelling, etc., to no avail. After some
sessions, our conversations came to a stop. My final response was to state
that, since there appeared to be nothing more to say, and since I understood
that she had a good reason to feel depressed, we could just be silent
together. After a while, she asked if she could hold my hand. Then we just sat
there for some time. The next day I heard that she had volunteered to bake a
birthday cake for a fellow patient, and then she gradually expanded her
volunteer work in the hospital kitchen. After some weeks she left the hospital
apparently restituted to her normal functioning.

Even without a more detailed description, this case hints at the overwhelming
complexity of what goes on between and in people and the challenge facing
the psychological practitioner. The reader may speculate.


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SMEDSLUND, J. Circular relation between understanding and logic. Scand. J.

Psychol., 1970, I r , z17--21g.- Procedures for determining logicality presup-
pose understanding, and procedures for determining understanding pre-
suppose logic. One can escape from this circle only by presupposing logi-
cality, in agreement with common-sense thinking. Understanding can then
be studied as an empirical variable. Traditional research has been based on
the opposite solution: Logicality is treated as an empirical variable, under-
standing is implicitly presupposed; hence results are obtained which do not
make sense. One cannot understand the illogical.

In research areas labelled deductive thought, reasoning, cognitive development, etc., per-
formance is typically evaluated in relation to logical criteria of correctness (syllogisms,
transitivity, etc.). It may be argued, however, that the notion of logicality as a psychological
variable is untenable, since logic and understanding are circularly related. One can escape
from the circle only by assuming that logicality is a constant and understanding is a vari-
able, rather than vice versa.
Consider the way in which it is decided how a person has understood a given statement.
There seem to be only four major procedures for determining such understanding: Observ-
ing agreement or disagreement as to ( I ) what statements are equivalent with the given one,
(2) what is implied by the given statement, ( 3 ) what is contradicted by the given statement,
and (4) what is irrelevant to the given statement. (Cf. Smedslund, 1969a, b.)
These procedures are useful only if we assume that the person is logical-in a general
sense of the term. If he is not assumed to be logical, the observations of agreement or dis-
agreement can carry no information with respect to how he has understood the original
statement. In other words, if the person is liable to make faulty judgments of the relations
of equivalence, implication, contradiction, and irrelevance, as such, the four methods can-
not help us to find out how he understands the given statement.
How, then, can it be determined whether or not a person is in fact logical in a given situa-
tion? The answer appears to be that we can decide whether or not a given judgment or in-
ference is logically correct, only if we can assume that the person has understood correctly
the premises involved. If we cannot assume correct understanding-or more generally, if
we do not know what the persons premises are-we cannot evaluate his judgments and
inferences as far as logicality is concerned.
In conclusion, decisions about understanding must take logic for granted, and decisions
about logicality must take understanding for granted. This circle can be transcended only
if one of the factors is defined a priori as a constant.
Her-as in other matters psychological-we should take clue from every-day life. It
seems quite clear that common-sense thinking (cf. Heider, 1958; Schutz, 1967) always and
automatically takes logic in a wide sense for granted and regards understanding as the vari-
able which must be determined. In conversations we always assume that the other person
is logical, i.e. that he will accept statements which are equivalent to or follow from his ear-

14- 701946 Scand. ], Psychol., Vol. 11, 1970 217


lier statements, and that he will refuse to accept statements which contradict his earlier
statements or which, to him, are entirely irrelevant. When our expectations are not fulfilled,
we normally attribute it to a lack of understanding on our part, or sometimes to a change
in the other person but not to genuine illogicality on his part.Apparent illogicalitywhich
resists reduction to any specific lack of understanding, is experienced as making no sense.
Exactly similar considerations apply in the case of non-verbal interactions. Understanding
must be a variable, since it is a function of the relation between the meaning experienced
by different individuals with different background. On the other hand, logic must be presup-
posed, since it is a characteristic of the activity of any integrated system and is a part of the
very notion of a person.
The preceding-philosophically rather trivial-remarks are intended as a critique of the
research traditions labelled deductive thought, reasoning and Piagetean psychology.
Within the research traditions of cognitive psychology, hundreds of experiments have been
-and are being-conducted, in which logicality is treated as a variable which can be diag-
nosed. This is clearly the case in studies of e.g. syllogisms, conservations, transitivity, class
inclusion, etc. Instead of concluding from a failure that we dont understand each other,
the experimenter regards the subjects performance as simply illogical. These traditions
have disregarded not only the circular relation between understanding and logic, but also
the fact that the treatment of understanding as given and logicality as a variable is incompat-
ible with the more inclusive framework of common-sense thinking. Some recent writers,
however, such as Henle (1962) and Clark (1969), have been aware of these problems.
When data are interpreted as reflecting illogicality, they do not make any sense intui-
tively and therefore have to be dealt with by means of some kind of artificial, usually com-
puterized, model. However, thinking in terms of computer models reintroduces logic, since
every program, in order to work, must be equivalent with a set of norms in deontic (Wright,
1968) or some other type of logic. Thus, computer models actually deal with apparent il-
logicality as a problem of faulty understanding, because they attempt to find alternative
sets of premises on the basis of which the performance may be simulated. This is a highly
indirect procedure when one could just as well acknowledge that the task is to diagnose
directly how the subject understands the task (what it means to him). Such dealings clearly
reflect the extent to which the experimental psychologist is alienated from his subjects
(Bakan, 1967).
Another relevant aspect of this alienation is the tendency of textbooks to belittle and criti-
cize common-sense thinking, usually on the ground that scientific progress has consisted
in the refutation of common-sense ideas. With such a perspective, findings e.g. of apparent
illogicality-which do not make sense-are regarded as signs of scientific progress, rather
than as indications of insufficient conceptual analysis.
Conclusion. The fundamental ambiguity of all data involving failure to solve an intellec-
tual task should be recognized. Such failure may be seen as reflecting illogicalityor lack of
proper understanding. I n accordance with common-sense thinking, i.e. in order to avoid
absurd consequences, logicality must be presupposed and understanding can then be empiri-
cally studied.
This article is a revised version of a paper read at the XIXth International Congress of
Psychology, London, July 1969.

Scrmd. 1.Psycbol., Vol. 11, 1970



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S c a d . 1.Psycbol., Vol. XI, 1970

Scand. J . Psychol. 19, 1-14, 1978

Banduras theory of self-efficacy:

A set of common sense theorems

JAN SMEDSLUND University of Oslo, Norway

Smedslund, J. Banduras theory of self-efficacy: A set of common sense theorems. S a n d J .

Psychol. 19, 1-14, 1978.
Banduras (1977) theory of self-efficacy is translated into non-technical language and is
shown to consist of logically necessary rather than empirically testable statements. As an
alternative to the dominant empiricist view, it is argued that valid theories in psychology
are explications of conceptual relationships imbedded in ordinary language (common
sense). This conceptual network is anterior to both observation and theorizing. The
analogy between the tasks of pre-Euclidean geometry and contemporary psychology is
explored. The tasks are seen as involving explication of our implicit concepts of respec-
tively space and people. One consequence of the stated view is that much psychological
research is pointless since it attempts to verify logically necessary statements by empirical
J . Smedslund, Insrirute of Psychology, Box 1094, Blindern. Oslo 3 , Norway

In this article I will present the case for an Translation of abstract of Banduras
alternative view of psychology to the prevalent article into ordinary non-technical English
empiricist one. By empiricist is here meant the For the benefit of the reader not familiar with
position that theoretical statements should have Banduras theory and as a preparation for what is to
empirically testable consequences and that they follow, Banduras own abstract is presented below,
should be validated by means of empirical studies. I together with a sentence for sentence translation
will proceed by means of a logical analysis of the into colloquial and non-technical English. In every
contents of Banduras recent theory of self-efficacy translation some nuances are lost, but in this case
(1977). Banduras theoretical statements will be the reader may judge for himself whether the losses
translated into non-technical language and shown to involve the main content of the theory.
be logically necessary rather than empirically testa- The present article presents an integrative
ble. As will become apparent, Banduras theory was theoretical framework to explain and to predict
not selected because of negative qualities. On the psychological changes achieved by different modes
contrary, it was chosen because it seemed to con- of treatment .
tain many incontestably valid statements and be- Translation: The present article presents one way
cause it was seen as an outstanding and important of explaining and predicting how people change as a
example of a recent theory clearly within the result of being treated in different ways.
empiricist tradition. This theory states that psychological proce-
In the last part of this article a brief presentation dures, whatever their form, alter the level and
will be given of the alternative viewpoint that strength of self-efficacy.
prompted the reinterpretation of Banduras theory. Translation: It is proposed that the way in which
This viewpoint is that valid theoretical statements people are treated changes their beliefs in what they
in psychology are explications of conceptual rela- can do and how strongly they believe it.
tionships imbedded in ordinary language (common It is hypothesized that expectations of personal
sense). This conceptual network is anterior to and efficacy determine whether coping behavior will be
organizes both our observations and our theorizing. initiated, how much effort will be expanded, and

1-781942 Scand. J . Psychol. I9

2 J . Srnedslund

how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles enactive, vicarious, and emotive .modes of treat-
and aversive experiences. ment that support the hypothesized relationship be-
Translation: It is thought that your beliefs in what tween perceived self-efficacy and behavioral
you can do determine whether you will try to d o it, changes .
how hard you will try, and how long you will keep Translation: Findings that support the presented
trying, even though encountering obstacles and un- view are reported from detailed studies of what
pleasant experiences. happens when people are treated by having to do
Persistence in activities that are subjectively things themselves, by watching others do things,
threatening but in fact relatively safe produces, and by various ways of having their feelings in the
through experiences of mastery, further enhance- situation changed.
ment of self-efficacy and corresponding reductions Possible directions for further research are dis-
in defensive behavior. cussed .
Translation: If you keep on doing something that Translation: Not necessary.
is felt to be dangerous, but turns out to be relatively The preceeding summarizes the main contents of
safe, you get an experience of mastery, and you the theory and shows, in a preliminary way, how
came to believe you can do more than you thought these may be expressed in terms of ordinary non-
before, and also you tend not to avoid that activity technical language. It should be noted that the
as strongly as before. translations contain many of the concepts proposed
In the proposed model, expectations of personal by Heider (1958) as basic in common sense psy-
efficacy are derived from four principal sources of chology. This includes subjective environment (be-
information: Performance accomplishments, vi- lieves, thinks), perceiving (watching), suffering,
carious experience, verbal persuasion, and phys- experiencing, or being affected by (experiencing,
iological states. being treated), causing (influencing, accomplish-
Translation: It is argued that your belief in what ing), can, and trying. Later in this article wanting
you can do stems from what you have yourself and ought (required) will also occur. It is also clear
accomplished before, from watching others do the that Banduras theory corresponds most closely to
same task, from what others tell you that you can that part of common sense psychology that Heider
do, and from your bodily feelings at the time. has labelled The naive analysis of action (1958,
The more dependable the experiential sources, pp. 79-124).
the greater are the changes in perceived self-
efficacy. Analysis of Banduras theoretical
Translation: The more you think you can rely on statements
your experiences, the more these experiences de- The coverage of Banduras text is not exhaustive,
termine what you think you can do in the future. but an effort has been made to include those pas-
A number of factors are identified as influencing sages that are most clearly expressive of the theory.
the cognitive processing of efficacy information Excluded from consideration have been passages
arising from enactive, vicarious, exhortative, and that mainly involve survey of research trends,
emotive sources. methodological discussion, criticism of other
Translation: A number of circumstances are theories and of empirical studies of others, descrip-
identified that influence your beliefs in what you tions of own studies, discussion of possibilities of
can do, as they arise from what you have accomp- further research, etc. Many passages of mixed or
lished before, from watching others, from being told very complex content have also been left out.
what you can do bqothers, and from your feelings. The main purpose has been to demonstrate that
The differential power of diverse therapeutic a substantial number of Banduras theoretical
procedures is analyzed in terms of the postulated formulations involve logically necessary common
cognitive mechanism of operation. sense propositions, rather than being empirically
Translation: The ways in which different treat- testable and empirically based. In what follows, no
ments influence you are understood from the ways consistent distinction has been made between post-
in which they influence your beliefs in what you can ulates, theorems, corollaries, simple tautologies,
do. etc. This will ,become necessary when a more
Findings are reported from microanalyses of systematic formalization of common sense theory is

Scond. J . Psychol. 19
Banduras theory as common sense 3

attempted. Meanwhile the term theorem has been Proof: The alternative to P trying to do T in S is P not
used t o designate all the common sense proposi- trying to do T in S. But P not trying to do T in S is not
acceptably explained by Ps want to do T in S and by Ps
tions formulated. This term has been found ade-
certainty that he can do T in S. Hence, some additional
quate because it expresses their logically necessary circumstances must be invoked to make the explanation
character. By common sense theorem is here acceptable. However, this is impossible, since no other
meant a proposition expressed in terms of ordi- circumstances intervene. Therefore, P cannot under the
nary language concepts and being logically neces- given circumstances be assumed not to try to do T in S, so
he must be assumed to try to do T in S. The theorem
sary in the sense of being derivable from ( a ) the represents an acceptable explanation of why P will try to
meaning of the terms involved, as defined by a do T in S. Hence Theorem 1 is proved.
dictionary and by the context in which they occur, Theorem 2. If P wants to do T i n S and i f P believes with
( b ) from other propositions already proved, or ( c ) complete certaint.y that he cannot do T i n S,and no other
circumstances intervene, then P will not try to d o T i n S .
from propositions regarded as basic or self-
Proof The alternative to P not trying to do T in S is P
evident. trying to do T in S. But p trying to do T in S is not
In the common sense theorems, Pis the reference acceptably explained by Ps want to do T in S and Ps
person, T is an act or activity, S is a context or certainty that he cannot do T in S. Hence some additional
situation, and Q is another person, Other symbols circumstances must be invoked to make the explanation
acceptable. However, this is impossible, since no other
are explained as they are introduced. circumstances intervene. Therefore, P cannot under the
In some of the proofs t o follow the term accepta- given circumstances be assumed to try to do T in S, so he
ble explanation is used. This term simply refers t o must be assumed not to try to do T in S. The theorem
what all users of a language regard as acceptable represents an acceptable explanation of why P will not try
and not acceptable explanations. P tries to d o T in to do T in S. Hence Theorem 2 is proved.
The next theorem deals with likelihood of occurrence
S because P wants t o do T in S is in itself an and hence presupposes some random intervention of other
acceptable explanation. On the other hand, P does circumstances. Therefore, the expression no other
not try t o d o T in S because P wants t o d o T in S is circumstances intervene systematically is used.
not in itself an acceptable explanation, and can be- Theorem 3. If P wants to d o T in S and if no other
circumstances intervene systematically, then, the
come so only when additional circumstances are stronger P s belieJthat he can d o T i n S , the more likely it
introduced. When t h e term acceptable explanation is that he will try to do T i n S , and the stronger P s belief
is used in a proof it is not only necessary to point that he cannot do T i n S, the more likely it is that he will
out that the alternatives to the theorem d o not in- not try to do Tin S.Proof The alternatives to the assumed
volve acceptable explanations and that the condi- direct relationship between strength of belief and likeli-
hood of trying and of not trying, would be an inverse
tions laid down by the theorem preclude changing relationship, no definite relationship at all, or some com-
them into acceptable explanations, but also that the plex relationship. But assuming an inverse relationship,
theorem as stated involves an acceptable explana- i.e., the stronger the belief, the less the likelihood of trying
tion. This is necessary in order to exclude the pos- or of not trying, would be inconsistent with theorems 1
and 2, since it implies that belief with positive certainty
sibility that the premises of the theorem are irrelev- corresponds to not trying, and that belief with negative
a n t for the conclusion and that neither the theorem certainty corresponds to trying. An assumption of no defi-
itself nor its alternatives involve acceptable expla- nite relationship would also be inconsistent with
nations. Theorems 1 and 2, which both assume a definite relation-
ship. An assumption of a complex relationship would in-
In order t o facilitate comparison with Banduras
volve assumptions about changes in likelihood of trying
text, his headings have been retained. not explainable by corresponding changes in strength of
Efficacy expectations as a mechanism of opera- belief. These changes would, therefore, have to be ex-
tion. In this section Bandura describes a number of plained by some additional systematically intervening
consequences of efficacy expectations. circumstances. But this is impossible, since no other
circumstances intervene systematically. Therefore, only a
The strength of peoples convictions in their own ef- direct relationship is consistent with the given assump-
fectiveness is likely to affect whether they will even try to tions and hence Theorem 3 is proved.
cope with given situations (p. 193). People fear and tend to avoid threatening situations
Three common sense theorems correspond to this they believe exceed their coping skills, whereas they get
formulation. They are more explicit than Banduras involved in activities and behave assuredly when they
formulation and go beyond it in their scope. judge themselves capable of handling situations that
Theorem 1. If P wants to d o T i n S and i f P believes with would otherwise be intimidating @. 194).
complete certainty that he can do T in S, and no other Certain parts of the above quotation seem to follow
circumstances intervene, then P will try to d o T in S . directly from the ordinary meaning of the terms involved.

Scand. J . Psychol. 19
4 J . Smedslund

This is particularly true of the statements People fear . . . and, therefore, must be explained by some additional
threatening situations and People . . . behave assuredly circumstances. But this is impossible, since no other
when they judge themselves capable of handling situations circumstances intervene. Therefore, P cannot under the
. . .. Hence, the following two common sense theorems given circumstances be assumed not to try to avoid S, but
are suggested: must be assumed to try to avoid S, and, hence the theorem
Theorem 4 . If S is a threatening situation to P , then P is proved.
fears S , and i f P fears S , then S is a threatening situation Theorem 8. If P believes that doing T is required in S ,
to P . Proof This follows directly from the meaning of the and if P believes that he can d o T in S, and if no other
terms involved. That a situation is threatening means that circumstances intervene, then P will not try to avoid S .
it evokes fear, and that one fears a situation means that it Proof: The alternative to not trying to avoid S is to try to
is experienced as threatening. Hence Theorem 4 is avoid S. However, if P tries to avoid S, he removes
proved. himself from doing T i n S and hence from success. But this
Theorem 5 . If P believes he is capable of handling S and is not consistent with his want to succeed in what he is
if no other circumstances intervene, then P will behave trying to do (theorem 6), and, therefore, must be explained
assuredly in S, and, vice versa, i f P behaves assuredly in by some other circumstances. But this is impossible, since
S, and no other circumstances intervene, then P believes no other circumstances intervene. Therefore, P cannot
he is capable of handling S . Proof This follows directly under the given circumstances be assumed to try to avoid
from the meaning of the terms involved. To behave as- S, but must be assumed not to try to avoid S, and, hence
suredly means to behave believing one is capable of the theorem is proved.
handling the situation and vice versa. Hence Theorem 5 Eficacy expectations determine how much effort peo-
is proved. Note that apparent exceptions to this theorem, ple will expend and how long they will persist in the face
such as when one behaves assuredly without believing one of obstacles and aversive experiences (p. 194). This may
is capable of handling the situation, always involve other be expressed by the following common sense theorem:
wants, such as the want to deceive an observer, etc., i.e., Theorem 9. The stronger P s belief that he can d o T in
other circumstances, which are, however, excluded by the S, the longer will he continue to try to d o T i n S in the face
theorem. of unpleasant experiences, if no other circumstances in-
To the preceding theorems, I will add another that is tervene. Proof It follows from Theorem 2 that P will stop
closely relevant for Banduras discussion here and other trying when he comes to believe with full certainty that he
places, and which refers to the fact that not only do people cannot do T in S. A relatively stronger belief is more
fear the results of their failures to cope, but they also want resistant to extinction than a relatively weaker belief. This
to avoid the failure itself. follows directly from the meaning of the terms strong
Theorem 6. If P tries to do T in S , then P wants to and weak. (Websters presentation of the synonyms of
succeed in doing T i n S and wants not to fail in doing T i n strong begins as follows (italics mine): Strong is the
S . Proof This theorem follows directly from the meaning broadest in scope of these terms, implying power that can
of the terms involved. Try means to make an effort or be exerted actively as well as power that resists destruc-
attempt to reach a goal. A goal means something one tion.) It follows that, other things equal, a strong belief
wants to achieve. To succeed means to achieve ones will take longer to extinguish than a weak belief, and,
goal. If P tries to do T in S, then, according to the therefore, P will stop trying later with a strong than with a
definition of try, doing T in S is a goal for P. But if doing weak belief. Hence, the theorem is proved. It should be
T in S is a goal for P, then, according to the definition of noted that Bandura expresses the same argument in
goal, P wants to achieve doing T in S. But, according to another passage, without reference to empirical studies
the definition of succeed, to achieve doing T in S and apparently with the intent of defining strength opera-
means to succeed in doing T in S. Hence, P wants to tionally: Weak expectations are easily extinguishable by
succeed in doing T in S (and wants not to fail in doing T in disconfiiing experiences, whereas individuals who pos-
S) and thereby Theorem 6 is proved. sess strong expectations of mastery will persevere in their
Contradictions of Theorem 6 are always apparent only, coping efforts despite disconfirming experiences (p. 194).
and are resolved by considering what the person is really Those who persist in subjectively threatening ac-
trying to do and what is success and failure relative to this. tivities that are in fact relatively safe will gain corrective
If a person has a will to fail, this means that he is trying experiences that reinforce their sense of efficacy, thereby
to achieve what is socially defined as failure, and that he eventually eliminating their defensive behavior. Those
wants to succeed in this and wants not to fail in this. who cease their coping efforts prematurely will retain their
The remainder of Banduras sentence quoted above, self-debilitatingexpectations and fears for a long time (p.
dealing with avoidance and non-avoidance, may be trans- 194).
lated into the following two commonsense theorems: Part of the preceding quotation refers to the effect of
Theorem 7. If P believes that doing T is required in S, success and of no success on the persons belief that he
and i f P believes that he cannot do T i n S , and if no other can do something, and is covered by the following
circumstances intervene, then P will try to avoid S . Proof: theorem:
The alternative to trying to avoid S is not trying to avoid Theorem 10. P s belief that he can d o T in S is
S. However, if P does not try to avoid S, then he must strengthened by his trying and succeeding in doing T i n S
expect to be required to try to do T, and, therefore, he and is weakened by his trying and failing to do T i n S, i f P
exposes himself to failure. But this is not consistent with regards S as unchanged and if no other circumstances
his want not to fail in what he is trying to do (Theorem 6 ) , intervene. Proof The alternative to the assumption that

Scand. J . Psychol. 19
Banduras theory as common sense 5

there is a direct relationship between success/failure and that doing Tin S leads to E will remain unchanged. Proof
strengtheninglweakening is that there is an inverse rela- Since P has not done T, and since S is firmly believed to
tionship or no relationship at all. But to state that Ps belief be unchanging, and since no other circumstances in-
that he can do T in S was strengthened because he failed tervene, nothing has occurred that could explain a change
to do T in S, or was weakened because he succeeded in in Ps belief. Therefore, the belief must be assumed to be
doing T in S, are not in themselves acceptable explana- unchanged and the theorem provides an acceptable expla-
tions. They can only be made acceptable by introducing nation for this. Hence Theorem 12 is proved.
some additional circumstances. But this is impossible, Theorem 13. If P believes that doing T i n S leads to a
since no other circumstances intervene. Hence, an inverse threatening event E, and if no other circumstances in-
relationship cannot be assumed. Similarly, stating that P s tervene, then doing Tin S will evoke fear in P . Proof The
belief that he can do T in S is strengthened or weakened in alternative to T in S evoking fear in P is that T in S does
a manner entirely uninfluenced by his successes and fail- not evoke fear in P. However, it is not an acceptable
ures is not an acceptable explanation. It can only be made explanation to state that doing T in S does not evoke fear
acceptable by introducing some additional circumstances in P because P believes that doing T in S leads to E and
to explain why the successes and failures had no effect on because P fears E. Some additional circumstances must be
the belief. But this is impossible since no other circums- invoked to explain Ps lack of fear. But this is impossible,
tances intervene, and, hence, one cannot assume an since no other circumstances intervene. Hence, P must be
absence of relationship. Since the alternatives have been assumed to fear doing T in S, and the theorem, being an
shown to be impossible and since the theorem itself ex- acceptable explanation of P s fear, is proved.
presses an acceptable explanation of strengthening and The preceding analysis of how perceived self-efficacy
weakening of beliefs, Theorem 10 is proved. influences performance is not meant to imply that expec-
Note that the following alternative proof is available: tation is the sole determinant of behavior. Expectation
Strengthening is defined as adding to the amount of alone will not produce desired performance if the compo-
evidence supporting a belief and weakening is defined nent capabilities are lacking (p. 194).
as adding to the amount of evidence that contradicts a In connection with this quotation, two common sense
belief. Success in doing T in S means occurrence of that theorems may be formulated, one very basic and another
which was believed and hence is consistent with the belief closely corresponding to the last sentence of the quota-
and adds to the amount of evidence that supports the tion.
belief. But this is what is meant by strengthening. Theorem 14.P does Tin S only i f P can do Tin S and P
Therefore, success strengthens a belief. Similarly, failure tries to do Tin S . Proof Part of the theorem simply states
in doing T in S means occurrence of an event that con- that P does T only if it is possible for P to do T, since
tradicts the belief and hence adds to the amount of evi- can refers to what is possible. This is self-evident. The
dence that contradicts the belief. But this is what is meant other part of the theorem states that P does T only if he
by weakening. Therefore, failure weakens a belief. By tries to do T. If acts are defined as intentional, then doing
this the theorem is proved. T must involve an effort or attempt, i.e., trying. If a
The part of the preceding quotation from Bandura that movement of the body does not involve intention and,
refers to defensive behavior and, hence, to outcome ex- hence, trying, it is not an act. By this the theorem is
pectations, corresponds to the following three common proved. This is a very basic proposition which may well
sense theorems: be given the status of postulate in future formalizations.
Theorem 11. If P believes that doing T in S leads to a The following is a common sense theorem that cor-
threatening event E , and if P believes with full certainty responds closely to Banduras formulation above.
that S is unchanging, and i f no other circumstances in- Theorem 15. If P tries to do Tin S , and i f P believes he
tervene, and P does Tin S and E does not occur, then P s can do Tin S , and if P cannot do Tin S, then P will not do
belief that doing T in S leads to E will be extinguished. Tin S.Proof It follows directly from Theorem 14 that if P
Proof The alternative to Ps belief being extinguished is cannot do T, he will not do T. Hence the theorem is
that P s belief is not extinguished, i.e., that P still believes proved.
it is possible that E will occur. However, this is inconsis- Moreover, there are many things that people can do
tent with Ps knowledge that E did, in fact, not occur and with certainty of success that they do not perform because
with his firm belief that S is unchanged, which implies that they have no incentives to do so (p. 194). This formula-
the same act should lead to the same result. Since the tion corresponds closely to the following common sense
alternative is impossible and since the theorem in itself is theorem:
an acceptable explanation of the extinction of Ps belief, it Theorem 16. If P believes with full certainty that he can
is hereby proved. Note: When a belief is not extinguished, do Tin S, and i f P can do Tin S , and ifthere is nothing to
but merely weakened by one negative outcome, this is cause P to try to do Tin S, then P will not do Tin S . Proof
explained by persisting uncertainty about whether S has Since there is nothing to cause P to try to do T in S, then P
remained unchanged or not, and/or by persisting uncer- will not try to do T in S. Furthermore, it follows from
tainty about whether other circumstances have in- theorem 14 that if P does not try to do T in S, then P will
tervened. not do T in S. By this the theorem is proved.
Theorem 12. If P believes that doing T i n S leads to a
Dimensions of efficacy expectations. Bandura
threatening event E, and i f P believes with full certainty
that S is unchanging, and if no other circumstances in- points out that efficacy expectations vary in three
tervene, and P tries but fails to do T i n s, then Ps belief dimensions, namely magnitude, generality, and

Scand. J . Psychol. 19
6 J . Smedslund

strength (p. 194). The concept of strength has starts out with a very weak belief that he can do T in S,
already been discussed in connection with theorems then his belief earlier in the sequence will tend to be
weaker than his belief later in the sequence, since the
9 and 10 above. The concept of generality simply earlier belief is based on less evidence (fewer successes).
refers to the degree of spread of changes in self- But according to Theorem 9, a person with a weaker belief
efficacy expectations beyond the specific treatment will give up trying sooner than a person with a stronger
situation. The concept of magnitude introduces a belief. Hence, it follows that failures early in the sequence
are more likely to lead P to give up trying, than failures
wider frame of reference than the behavior of one late in the sequence, and by this the theorem is proved.
individual in one situation, and gives occasion to However, the generalization effects occur most pre-
introduce the two common sense concepts of diffi- dictably to the activities that are most similar to those in
culty of a task and ability of a person. which self-efficacy was restored by treatment (p. 1%).
Tasks may be arranged in order of difficulty such The status of theories of transfer as being based on a
common sense theorem has been pointed out by Smeds-
that A is more difficult than B (to P or to any given lund (1972, pp. 194-1%). The particular example
population of people), if succeeding on A requires furnished by Bandura here can be expressed as follows:
more time and/or more effort than succeeding on B Theorem 18. P s belief, acquired in S , that he can do T,
and/or if the likelihood of succeeding on A is smal- is more likely to be generalized to situations experienced
by P as relatively more similar to S than to situations
ler than the likelihood of succeeding on B. Ability experienced by P as relatively less similar to S . Proof The
can either refer to comparison of Ps performance maximum degree of similarity is perceived identity where
on a given group of tasks with his performance on no discrimination can occur. When two situations are seen
another group of tasks (I am better in French than as highly similar, but really are distinct, the number of
in German), or comparison of Ps performance on errors of discrimination between them is relatively high,
which means that they tend to evoke the same beliefs.
the same group of tasks at two different times (I When two situations are seen as highly dissimilar, and are
am a better swimmer this year than last year), or really distinct, the number of errors of discrimination be-
comparison of the performance of two or more in- tween them is relatively low which means that they do not
dividuals on a task or a group of tasks (P is better tend to evoke the same beliefs. Hence, degree of experi-
enced similarity corresponds to the degree to which the
than Q on task T in situation S, P is better in
same beliefs are activated. It follows that Ps belief, ac-
mathematics than Q, Boys are better than girls in quired in S, that he can or cannot do T, will be more
cooking). The magnitude of Ps self-efficacy ex- readily activated in a situation experienced by P as rela-
pectations may be specified relative t o a set of tasks tively similar to S than in a situation experienced by P as
ordered according to difficulty, and indicates how relatively dissimilar to S. By this, the theorem is proved.
Having a serviceable coping skill at ones disposal
difficult tasks he expects t o be able to cope with. undoubtedly contributes to ones sense of personal efica-
This section of Banduras article contains mostly cy (p. 196). If serviceable is interpreted as tending to
conceptual and methodological discussions and no be successful, then this sentence simply corresponds to
theoretical statements proper. Theorem 10, extended to encompass a group or area of
tasks rather than a single task.
Sources of efficacy expectations. Bandura lists
four main sources, performance accomplishments, Most of the treatment procedures developed in recent
years to eliminate fearful and defensive behavior have
vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emo- been implemented either through performance or by
tional arousal. symbolic procedures. Regardless of the methods in-
Performance accomplishments. Successes raise volved, results of comparative studies attest to the
mastery expectations; repeated failures lower them, superiority of performance-based treatments (p. 196). It
is evident that Bandura regards this statement as empiri-
particularly if the mishaps occur early in the course cally based. However, it may also be seen as closely
of events. The main part of this quotation cor- corresponding to the following common sense theorem:
responds to Theorem 10. The part about the im- Theorem 19. Other things equal. Ps belief that he can
portance of the early experiences may be expressed do Tin S is more strengthened by his successfully doing T
in S, then by his imagining that he is successfully doing T
as follows: in S . Proof: An imagined situation is experienced as a
Theorem 17. If P takes into account the entire sequence representation and hence as distinct from the correspond-
of successes and failures on a task, and if no other ing real situation. What is imagined must have an
circumstances intervene, then a failure or group of fail- equivocal relationship to reality. This is true because one
ures relatively early in the sequence is more likely to lead may imagine doing things that one cannot do in real situa-
P to give up trying than a failure or group of failures tions. Therefore, as long as a person distinguishes be-
relatively late in the sequence. Proof According to tween imagination and reality, he must ascribe an
Theorem 10, P s belief that he can do T in S is equivocal predictive value to imagined experiences, i.e.,
strengthened by success and weakened by failure. If P the likelihood that they correspond to reality must be less

Scand. J . Psychol. 19
Bunduras theory us common sense 7

than perfect. But this means that, other things equal, P s tervene, and since the given assumptions do not furnish an
belief that he can do T in S must be less strengthened by a acceptable explanation of a strengthening or weakening of
success in an imagined situation than by a real success. P s belief that he can do T in S, but only of an unchanged
Hence the theorem is proved. belief, the theorem must be regarded as proved. As a
Prolonged encounters that ensure behavioral im- further comment it may be added that the common sense
provements are more effective than distributed brief en- concepts of difficulty and ability discussed on p. 6
counters that are likely to end before successful imply that, given the same task, greater effort implies
performance of the activity is achieved (p. 196). This lower ability and less effort implies higher ability. It fol-
follows directly from Theorem 10. lows that the nervous subjects of Bandura who regard the
task as very difficult and expect to expend great effort,
Vicarious experience. Bandura points to a number will interpret the performance of facile models as indicat-
ing higher ability than they have themselves. Hence, it
of factors that influence the efficiency of modeling
follows from Theorem 21 that they will not profit from the
as a method of producing increments in expecta- observations. Note: In many modeling situations, the dif-
tions of personal efficacy. ficulty of the task itself may be negligible, and, therefore,
Phobics benefit more from seeing models over- ability may not be viewed as relevant at all.
come their difficulties by determined effort than Modeled behavior with clear outcomes conveys more
efficacy information than if the effects of the modeled
from observing facile performance by adept mod- actions remain ambiguous (p. 197). Bandura refers to
els. Showing the gains achieved by effortful coping empirical evidence supporting this, and, therefore, ap-
behavior not only minimizes for observers the nega- pears to regard this statement as empirically testable.
tive impact of temporary distress, but demonstrates Actually, the contents of the given quotation appear to
correspond to the following common sense theorem:
that the most anxious can eventually succeed
Theorem 22. Other things equal, and if no other
through perseverance. Similarity to the model in circumstances intervene, and if P believes he is equal or
other characteristics, which increases the personal superior in ability to Q with respect to doing T i n S , then
relevance of vicariously derived information, can P s belief that he can do T in S is more strengthened by
likewise enhance the effectiveness of symbolic watching Q trying to do T i n S with success than watching
Q trying to d o T in S with unknown or ambiguous out-
modeling (p. 197). Banduras statement about the come. Proof If Q succeeds and if P believes he is equal or
role of perceived similarity to the model omits men- superior in ability to Q , then it follows from Theorem 20
tion of such cases where the least similar model that P s belief that he can do T in S will be strengthened.
may well be the most efficient. In particular, this If, on the other hand, the outcome of Q s trying is un-
could be the case with young children as models. If known or ambiguous, it can have no definite effect on Ps
belief that he can do T in S. Since no other circumstances
the children are seen as definitely inferior in ability intervene, one must, therefore, assume that in this case
to the observer, and no other circumstances in- P s belief remains unchanged. It follows that Ps belief is
tervene, their modeling should have considerable more strengthened by watching Q try and succeed than by
effect. The following two theorems seem to cover watching Q try with unknown or ambiguous outcome.
Hence the theorem is proved. Note that nothing is said
the main contents of the above quotation, with the about the relative effect of watching performance with
addition of the case where the model is seen as success and performance with unknown or ambiguous
having a clearly inferior ability. outcome in the case of models seen as superior in ability to
the observer.
Theorem 20. If P watches Q try to do T in S , and if Q Diversified modeling, in which the activities observers
succeeds, and i f P believes Q is equal or inferior to himself regard as hazardous are repeatedly shown to be safe by a
in ability to do T in S, and no other circumstances in- variety of models, is superior to exposure to the same
tervene, then P s belief that he can do T in S is performance by a single model . . . If people of widely
strengthened. Proof Since P regards his own ability to do differing characteristics can succeed, then observers have
T in S as equal or superior to Q s ability to do T in S, and a reasonable basis for increasing their own sense of self-
since Q succeeds, it follows directly that Ps belief that he efficacy (p. 197). The contents of this quotation may also
can do T in S must be strengthened. The given assump- be expressed by the following common sense theorem:
tions do not furnish an acceptable explanation for a Theorem 23. Other things equal, P s belief that he can
weakened or unchanged belief, but only for a strengthened d o T i n S is more strengthened by watching Q. X , Y , 2,...
belief. Hence the theorem is proved. trying and succeeding in doing T i n S. than by watching Q
Theorem 21. If P watches Q try to do T in S , and if Q alone trying and succeeding in doing T in S . Proof: Ac-
succeeds, and if P believes Q is superior to himself in cording to Theorems 20 and 21, the positive effect of
ability to do T i n S, and no other circumstances intervene, watching others perform on Ps belief that he can do T in
then P s belief that he can d o T i n S is not strengthened. S, comes from Ps assumed equality or superiority to each
Proof: If P regards Q s ability to do T in S as superior to performer in ability to do T in S. But ability has to be in-
his own, and if Q succeeds, then it does not follow that P ferred from the observable characteristics of the perform-
can or cannot succeed. Since no other circumstances in- ers. Ps remaining doubt about his ability to do T in S

Scand. J . Psycho1 19
8 J . Smedslund

after having watched Q succeed, is linked with those disregard entirely what they are told, then it will
perceived characteristics of Q that P does not think he has have some effect on them. Bandura simply asserts
himself. The doubt means that if at least one of the that people usually dont disregard entirely what
characteristics of Q not shared by P is necessary for suc-
cess, then P will not succeed. Repeated performances by they are told under the circumstances typical of
Q can do little to dispel this doubt, if Q s perceived psychological experiments.
characteristics are stable. However, if P then watches X, Emotional arousal. Because high arousal usu-
Y, Z, . . ., who are all different from Q and from each ally debilitates performance, individuals are more
other, the chances are that many of those characteristics
that Q has but not P, will also be absent in at least one of
likely to expect success when they are not beset by
the other performers, even though they all succeed. This aversive arousal than if they are tense and viscer-
means that the number of characteristics which all the ally agitated (p. 198). This quotation corresponds
others are seen by P to share, but which P thinks he does to a common sense tautology.
not have, is likely to become smaller than the number of
characteristics that Q is seen to have but P does not think Theorem 25. I f P believes that being upset decreases his
he has. But since these non-shared characteristics are the chance of performing well, then Ps belief that he can do T
basis for P s doubt about his ability to do T in S, it follows in S is weakened if he becomes upset when encountering
that P s doubts will tend to diminish with increasing S . Proof This is immediately apparent. Note: The state-
number of models and his belief in his ability will tend to ment that high arousal usually debilitates performance
be correspondingly strengthened. Hence the theorem is also has a certain compelling quality and may contain
proved. some necessary conceptual linkages that should be exp-
Verbal persuasion. People are led, through sug- lored.
gestion, into believing they can cope successfully Avoidance of stressful activities impedes develop-
ment of coping skills, and the resulting lack of competency
with what has overwhelmed them in the past. Effi- provides a realistic basis for fear (p. 199). The first part
cacy expectations induced in this manner are also of this quotation corresponds to the following common
likely to be weaker than those arising from ones sense theorem:
own accomplishments because they do not provide Theorem 26. If P avoids trying to do T in S , and $no
other circumstances intervene, then P cannot improve his
an authentic experiental base for them (p. 198).
performance on Tin S. Proof That P avoids trying to do T
The following common sense theorem is suggested: in S is not an acceptable explanation of an improvement of
Theorem 24. Other things equal and ifno other circum- Ps performance on T in S. Since no other circumstances
stances intervene, P s belief that he can do T i n S is more intervene, such improvement cannot be assumed to occur.
strengthened by doing T i n S than by being told by Q that On the other hand, the assumed circumstances provide an
he can do T i n S. Proof Being told by another person that acceptable explanation of why P does not improve his
one can perform a task one has never performed before is performance on T in S and hence the theorem is proved.
uncertain evidence, since one can be told things that are Potentially stressful situations that can be controlled
not true. Hence, as long as P makes the distinction be- are construed as less threatening and such cognitive
tween having been told something and having himself appraisals further reduce anticipatory emotional arousal
experienced something, there must remain a difference in (p. 199).
favor of direct experience in the effect on P s belief. Theorem 27. If P wants to do T i n S but is afraid to try
Hence the theorem is proved. See also the somewhat because of the harm that might come to him as a conse-
related proof of Theorem 19. quence, then he will be less afraid ifhe can stop threaten-
ing events instantly than ifhe cannot do so.
It should be noted that Bandura formulates a simi- Proof Stopping threatening events means eliminating
lar proof himself Simply informing participants the momentary reason for being afraid and hence means
becoming less afraid (cf. Theorem 4). Furthermore, if P
that they will or will not benefit from treatment does
can stop threatening events, he knows he can do so with
not mean that they necessarily believe what they any future events too, and hence his fear in the situation as
are told, especially when it contradicts their other a whole will diminish. Finally, since he wants to try to do
personal experiences (p. 198). T in S, he knows that while trying he need not encounter
Nevertheless, Bandura maintains that persuasion events which are too threatening for him to cope with. The
preceding is an acceptable explanation of a reduction in
is likely to have some effect. Ps fear and is not an acceptable explanation of no change
That is, people who are socially persuaded that or an increment in Ps fear. Since it must be assumed that
they possess the capabilities to master difficult situ- P s fear will decrease, the theorem is proved.
ations and are provided with provisional aids for
effective action are likely to mobilize greater efforts Cognitive processing of efficacy information.
than those who receive only the performance aids Here Bandura makes the important everyday life
(p. 198). From a common sense point of view, a distinction between information contained in en-
tautology is involved, namely that i f people dont vironmental events and information as processed

Scnnd. J . Psvrhol. 19
Banduras theory as common sense 9

and transformed by the individual (p. 200). He also Success with minimal effort fosters ability ascriptions
mentions the selfevident principle that the impact that reinforce a strong sense of self-efficacy. By contrast,
analogous successes achieved through high expenditure of
of information on efficacy expectations will depend
effort connote a lesser ability and are thus likely to have a
on how it is cognitively appraised (p. 200). Then a weaker effect on perceived self-efficacy (p. 201). Here
number of theoretical statements follow that are as in many other places, Bandura is almost explicitly de-
easily translated into common sense theorems. scribing parts of the common sense conception of action.
Achieving reductions in fear t o threats pre- See Heider (1958, p. 111). The following theorem cor-
responds to this quotation:
sented symbolically is unlikely to enhance per- Theorem 31. P s belief that he can d o T in S is more
ceived self-efficacy t o any great extent in people strengthened if he performs effortlessly than if he
who believe that success in imagery does not performs with great effort. Proof The more difficult a task
portend accomplishments in reality (p. 201). is for P the greater effort P must expend to perform it (cf.
the definition of difficulty on p. 6 above). The more
Theorem 28. If P believes that imagining doing T i n S difficult a task is for P, the less certain can he be of
has no bearing on doing T in S in reality, then P s im- succeeding on it (cf. again the definition of difficulty on p.
agined experience does not influence P s belief that he can 6). Therefore, the more effort a task requires of P, the
do T in S in reality. Proof If has no bearing on is less certain can P be of succeeding on it in the future. By
interpreted to mean does not influence belief that this is this the theorem is proved.
a tautology. See also Theorem 19. To succeed at easy tasks provides no new information
Information conveyed by facilely modeled per- for altering ones sense of self-efficacy, whereas mastery
formances might likewise be minimized by anxious ob- of challenging tasks conveys salient evidence of enhanced
servers on the grounds that the models possess special competence (p. 201). This may be reformulated in the
expertise enabling them to prevent injurious consequ- following theorem:
ences that might otherwise befall the unskilled (p. 201). Theorem 32. Other things equal, i f P tries to do T i n S
This is covered by theorem 21. and succeeds, then his belief that he can to T i n S is more
Successes are more likely to enhance self-efficacy if strengthened if he initially regarded T in S as a very
performances are perceived as resulting from skill than difficult task, than if he initially regarded T i n S as a very
from fortuituous or special external aids (p. 201). easy task. Proof A very easy task means a very high
Theorem 29. If P does T in S and if P believes he subjective likelihood of success. One actual success,
succeeded only because he was lucky or aided, then his therefore, only confirms a strong belief and the subjective
belief that he can do T i n S in the future will, other things likelihood of future success cannot be raised very much
equal, be less strengthened than ifhe believes he was not due to the constraint of the upper limit. On the other hand,
at all lucky or aided. Proof If being lucky means to P a very difficult task means a very low subjective likelihood
that achievement was brought about by a combination of success. One actual success, therefore, contradicts a
of random factors, then there is for P no predictability strong belief in failure and the subjective likelihood of
for future performance. Hence, the outcome cannot success can rise without a constraining upper limit.
strengthen P s belief that he can do T in S. Being aided Hence, the theorem is proved.
without contributing to the result implies no predictability The rate and pattern of attainments furnish additional
for future performance in situations with no aid. Hence, information for judging personal efficacy. Thus, people
the outcome cannot strengthen Ps belief that he can do T who experience setbacks but detect relative progress will
in S. On the other hand, if P does T in S without attribut- raise their perceived efficacy more than those who suc-
ing his success to such circumstances as luck or aid, then ceed but see their performance leveling off compared to
according to Theorem 10, his belief that he can do T in S their prior rate of improvement (p. 201). This quotation
will be strengthened. By this, Theorem 29 is proved. corresponds to the following theorem.
Conversely, failures would be expected to produce Theorem 33. If P notices a trend or pattern in his
greater reductions in self-efficacy when attributed to abili- previous performances (such as increment, decrement,
ty rather than to unusual situational circumstances (p. leveling ofJ etc.) and i f P relies on this trend or pattern to
201). predict his future performance, and if no other circum-
Theorem 30. If P tries to d o T in S and fails, and if he stances intervene, then P will extrapolate from this pat-
believes he failed only because of low ability, then his tern in predicting his future performance. Proof To ex-
belief that he can do T in S will, other things equal, be trapolate here means to expect a trend or pattern to
more weakened than if he believes it was unusual situa- continue. Since P relies on the trend or pattern in his
tional circumstances only that led to his failure. Proof If prediction, and since no other circumstances intervene,
P tries to do T in S and fails and does not attribute this to extrapolation is the only alternative that can be acceptably
unusual situational circumstances, then, according to explained by the assumptions. Other predictions must be
theorem 10, his belief that he can do T in S will be explained by invoking other circumstances, but this is
weakened. If he attributes his failure to unusual situational impossible since other circumstances do not intervene.
circumstances only, then the outcome can have no bearing Hence the theorem is proved.
on performance in usual situational circumstances. There- Cognitive misappraisals that attenuate the impact of
fore, P s belief that he can do T in S cannot be weakened disconfirming experiences can be minimized without sac-
for such circumstances. Hence the theorem is proved. rificing the substantial benefits of powerful induction pro-

Scand. J . P.vvchol. 19
10 J . Smedslund

cedures. This is achieved by providing opportunities for The other factors mentioned by Bandura also have a
self-directed accomplishments after the desired behavior necessary impact. Trustworthiness refers to P s belief that
has been established. Any lingering doubts people might Q is telling the truth, i.e., is not lying. It is self-evident that
have, either about their capabilities or about probable whether P believes Q is lying or not makes a difference for
response consequences under unprotected conditions are the impact of what Q says on Ps beliefs. On the other
dispelled easily in this manner (p. 201). The last part of hand, prestige, expertise, and assuredness make an im-
this quotation corresponds to the following theorem. pact only to the extent that they are seen as genuine and as
Theorem 34. ZfP does Tin S1(e.g., protected condition) relevant by P. This is not an empirically testable state-
and i f P is in doubt whether he can also do Tin S, (e.g., ment. If Q s expertise makes an impact on P, then P must
unprotected condition), then trying and succeeding in do- necessarily regard the prestige both as genuine and rele-
ing Tin S, will reduce his doubt, ifno other circumstances vant. If Q s expertise does not make an impact on P, it
intervene. Proof: This theorem follows directly from means that P regards it as phony and/or irrelevant.
Theorem 10.
The more varied the circumstances in which threats On pages 202-204, Bandura mentions and accepts
are mastered independently, the more likely are success
experiences to authenticate personal efficacy, and to im- some basic assumptions frequently neglected by
pede formation of discriminations that insulate self- earlier behaviorists, such as the importance of
perceptions from disconfirming evidence (pp. 201- meaning and the importance of context. Further-
202). The contents of this quotation may be reformulated more, he stresses the particularistic nature of social
as follows:
learning constructs and the futility of attempting to
Theorem 35. Other things equal, Ps belief that he can
do T in any context of type S is strengthened more by establish global and general indices, dispositions,
doing Tin a more varied set of contexts of type S than in a etc. He also discusses some other theories. In the
less varied set of contexts of type S. Proof: The more last parts of the paper are reported some ex-
circumstances that are varied, the more varied challenges periments in which efficacy expectations were
are met and overcome, and the more suspected pos-
systematically registered and shown to be predic-
sibilities of camouflaged aid or support or of limitation in
capacity are eliminated. Therefore, P s belief that he can tive in various ways and in conformity with Bandu-
do T in any context of type S is more strengthened by ras model.
successes in more varied contexts than by successes in Although more of Banduras theoretical formula-
less varied contexts, and this proves the theorem. Com- tions could have been analyzed and converted into
pare also with Theorem 23.
Independent performance can enhance efficacy expec- common sense theorems, the preceding examples
tations in several ways: ( a ) It creates additional exposure will have to suffice as illustrations. It remains to
to former threats, which provides participants with further show how these translations point the way to a new
evidence that they are no longer aversively aroused by conception of psychology.
what they previously feared. Reduced emotional arousal
confirms increased coping capabilities. ( 6 ) Self-directed A new conception of psychology
mastery provides opportunities to perfect coping skills,
which lessen personal vulnerability to stress. (c) Indepen- I have tried to show that Banduras theoretical
dent performance, if well executed, produces success ex- statements can be translated into logically neces-
periences, which further reinforce expectations of self- sary ordinary language formulations. To the extent
competency (p. 202).
The last sentence in ( a ) may not be generally true as an that these analyses are valid, they support the con-
empirical statement, since one may also find decreased clusion that Banduras theory cannot be empirically
emotional arousal in individuals who have given up and falsified, and consists of explications of the con-
become apathetic; ( b ) describes the possibilities involved ceptual network imbedded in ordinary language.
in self-directed mastery; and ( c ) follows directly from Elsewhere, I have argued that this applies to all
Theorem 10.
The impact of verbal persuasion on self-efficacy may generally valid theoretical statements in psychology
vary substantially, depending on the perceived credibility (Smedslund, 1972). The main content of this posi-
of the persuaders, their prestige, trustworthiness, ex- tion may be summarized as follows, beginning with
pertise, and assuredness (p. 202). This quotation in- a definition of common sense psychology: By
volves a number of tantologies of which the most general
one involves the concept of credibility.
common sense psychology is here meant the
Theorem 36. The more credible Q is to P , the more P network of concepts pertaining to psychological
will be influenced in his beliefs about what he can do, by phenomena, imbedded in ordinary language.
what Q tells him. Proof: Q s credibility to P means the These concepts were acquired during our socializa-
degree to which P tends to believe what Q says. Since the
tion as persons, and, hence, are anterior to our
degree to which P believes Q determines the degree to
which P is influenced by what Q tells him, the theorem observations and our theorizing. Becoming a
follows. person means becoming a member of a society, and

Scand. J . Psychol. 19
Banduras theory as common sense 11

this again means functioning with an enormous be empirically tested. However, no modern psy-
amount of constraint, shared with the other chologists have attempted to use the method of
members. There are severe limitations on what are logical proof to establish common sense theorems.
acceptable ways of perceiving, acting, speaking, Several hundred years before Heider, this was at-
thinking, and valuing. Furthermore, these shared tempted by Spinoza (1955) in his Ethics, and also by
constraints form a highly organized system, such other seventeenth century writers. See Ong (1976,
that, given one set of percepts, acts, sentences, especially pp. 213-236). These early efforts derived
thoughts or values, others follow necessarily or are from a conviction that the deductive method of
necessarily excluded. Becoming socialized as a hu- Euclidean geometry was appropriate for all the sci-
man being, therefore, involves acquiring an implicit ences, a view that has been totally discredited in
psychology, which one cannot, as an individual, modem psychology. Inspite of this, I think the time
transcend. Psychologists are also persons, and, has come to re-explore the analogy between Eucli-
consequently, their observations, descriptions, and dean geometry and psychological theory, not be-
explanations must also conform with the common cause of any speculations about scientific method,
sense conceptual network. The case of Bandura has but because there seems to be an important similar-
been used to illustrate this. ity between the actual tasks of ancient geometry
Heider (1958) was the first one in contemporary and contemporary psychology.
psychology to attempt to describe the common As seen in retrospect, the task of Euclid, as well
sense conceptual system as such; more recently as of his predecessors and followers, was to expli-
Laucken (1974) made another contribution. The cate the structure of our ordinary conception of
reason why the systematic study of common sense space, i.e., the way we must conceive of spatial
psychology started so late and still is not widely relationships. Our task as psychologists today, simi-
accepted, may partly be sought in the following larly, may be to explicate the structure of our ordi-
three important features of common sense: It is nary conception of people, i.e., the way we must
normally unreflected or unconscious, it is shared by conceive of psychological phenomena.
all ordinary persons, and, when made explicit, it is Having been socialized as members of a society
self-evident in a compelling way (Smedslund, with a common language, we have all acquired the
1972, p. 78). Furthermore, common sense mostly basic concepts of space as well as of people,
has only a potential existence as a system of impli- although most of the acquisitions are only implicit
cations. This is brought out clearly in the following (cf. the discussion of common sense above). Before
quotation: If there is some artificiality in saying Euclid wrote his Elements, Plato, in the dialogue
that common sense has beliefs, there is none in Meno (DeLacy, 1963, pp. 50-51), argued that even
speaking of its rejection of an opinion; the a small slave boy with no mathematical shooling
reason-it might be suggested-is that common could be made to understand the necessity of the
sense does not declare itself in advance of attack Pythagorean Theorem, provided the proof was pre-
upon it. The man of plain, ordinary common sense sented in easy and understandable steps. From the
cannot readily be said, for instance, to believe that present point of view, this amounts to an attempt to
the things around him continue to exist in his demonstrate that geometry is not an independent
absence-the idea of their not doing so does not and foreign construction, but only makes explicit
cross his mind. But when he encounters the con- the implications of what are our basic spatial con-
trary opinion, his common sense asserts itself cepts, i.e., our spatial common sense. In my trans-
(Graves, 1967). Finally, when common sense actu- lations of Banduras statements into ordinary non-
ally asserts itself, its compellingly self-evident technical English, I have similarly attempted to
character does not make it very attractive as a show how apparently advanced and technical psyc-
topic of investigation to empiricist scientists, who hological theory actually formulates truths that
always look for the contingent, i.e., for relation- everyone will regard as familiar and compelling,
ships that could have been otherwise. once they are phrased in understandable terms.
Heider has pointed out that many of the state- The analogy to geometry has at least four in-
ments in common sense psychology may be analy- teresting major consequences that will be described
tic (p. 297) and Laucken, on different grounds, con- in what follows. After the consequences have been
cluded that the system of naive psychology cannot analyzed and their heuristic value explored, the

Scand. J . Psvchol. 19
12 3. Smedslund

analogy should be dropped, so as not to obscure the (a) In Thorndikes wellknown line drawing exper-
differences between psychology and geometry. iments (1931), it was found that no learning oc-
The first consequence of the analogy is that valid curred when the subjects were blindfolded and got
theoretical statements in psychology really are logi- no feedback. Thorndike seemed to think that the
cally necessary common sense formulations, function of the experiments was to provide empiri-
camouflaged as empirically testable statements in cal support for the law of effect. Actually, since it is
accordance with the prevailing self-understanding logically impossible to learn without feedback, the
of psychologists as being empirical scientists. The data could neither confirm nor disconfirm the law of
difference between empirical and logically neces- effect, which is a necessary common sense theorem
sary statements is a fundamental one: (Smedslund, 1972, pp. 191-194). The data could
An empirical hypothesis of the form if A then B only show whether the sought-for conditions were
is a statement about reality that may, at least in actually established. If a blindfolded subject im-
principle, be shown to be true or false. In such a proved his performance this meant that he did get
statement with empirical content, there is no logical some feedback (the blindfold was not tight, he
relationship between A and B, i.e., all four combi- heard something, there was ESP, etc.). If the sub-
nations A and B,not-A and B,A and not-B, ject did not improve, than all feedback was elimi-
and not-A and not-B are logically possible. The nated or at least was not utilized.
empirical research is done to determine which com- ( b )A clear example of pseudo-empirical research
binations do, in fact, occur. The hypothesis if A would be an attempt to verify the Pythagorean
then B says that the world is such that A and Theorem by means of empirical measurements.
not-B never occurs. If A and not-B is observed, Again, the outcome would be irrelevant to the truth
then the hypothesis as such may be rejected as of the Theorem. An approximate empirical confir-
false. If, on the other hand, if A then B is a mation would merely mean that the conditions for
logically necessary formulation, this means that A measurement had been successfully established,
and not-B is logically impossible because of the i.e., that the lines were approximately straight, one
meanings of or conceptual relation between the angle almost exactly 90 degrees, etc. Conversely,
terms. Only the remaining three combinations are empirical disconfirmation would merely mean that
possible. A logically necessary statement says no- the premises for the Theorem had not been success-
thing about the world, but only concerns the rela- fully established.
tionships between the concepts used to describe the (c) A final example would be to try to verify
world. In this case, nothing that is observed can 2+2=4 empirically. Again, the outcome would have
lead to the rejection of if A then B. If A is given, no relevance for the truth of the formula itself, but
then B follows, and if not-B is given, then not-A would merely indicate whether the conditions for its
follows. Furthermore, if if A then B is logically application had been successfully established or
necessary, then A and not-B is not an acceptable not.
description, and not-B because of A is not an It is unfortunate for contemporary psychology
acceptable explanation. The analogy to geometry, that it usually appears legitimate and possible to
therefore, means that psychological theory is given proceed empirically, and that logical proof has fal-
an entirely new interpretation, differing sharply len into such disrepute. This is strictly parallel to
from the prevalent one. Psychological propositions the case, actually reported to me, of an elderly
are to be evaluatedlogically, ratherthanempirically. woman in a factory, who bluntly refused to estimate
A second consequence of the assumed analogy is the number of boxes in a stack by multiplying the
that theory-oriented research in psychology must numbers in the length, width, and height of the
be characterized as pseudo-empirical . By stack, and, instead, proceeded to count each box.
pseudo-empirical is here meant research that Since the number of boxes was high, this
attempts to test logically necessary propositions by pseudoempirical undertaking was very time con-
means of empirical data. The research referred to suming indeed.
in Banduras article clearly belongs to this category. A third consequence derived from the analogy
One actual and two hypothetical examples will be with geometry is that logically necessary proposi-
used to clarify further what is involved in pseudo- tions, even though empirically empty, may have
empirical research: . considerable practical importance, as witnessed by
Scand. J . Psychol. 19
Banduras theory as common sense 13

the multiplicatory formula for estimating numbers of being a reminder of all the complexities that may,
of boxes in a stack given above, and also very and in fact do, occur in peoples actual behavior. (b)
clearly by Banduras theory. Geometry and Empirical work is also needed to study the useful-
trigonometry are important for the construction of ness of practical procedures, as revealed by their
buildings and bridges, for topographical work, outcomes. If a common sense theorem states that A
navigation, etc. Even if geometry may have started implies B, and if we are interested in producing B,
with simple practical problems in everyday life, it then we may want to try to devise procedures for
has brought us far beyond what we could earlier establishing A. If it turns out empirically that B is
cope with as far as complex spatial relationships are produced, then our goal has been reached. If it
concerned. Similarly, psychological theory as a turns out empirically that B is not produced, then
conceptual network may become a valuable help in we know we have failed in establishing A and must
practical work. An explicit analysis of our common try again. (c) Empirical research is necessary for
sense psychological concepts may facilitate the testing local generalizations about behavior, i.e.,
search for improved forms of practice (Smedslund, generalizations within given situational, cultural,
in preparation). Progress in theoretical analysis has and temporal limits. Example: American children
been slowed down by the faulty self-understanding watch TV x hours a day. The only restriction advo-
of psychologists. One has continuously focused on cated here is the obvious one that pseudo-empirical
empirically testable aspects and ignored the logi- research should be avoided.
cally necessary relationships between our basic A final note of clarification: Not all formulations
concepts. Indeed, the presence of empirically test- proposed in psychology can be shown to have a
able hypotheses and of data have been widely used logically necessary form, even though this turned
as criteria for accepting theses, for acceptance of out to be the case with most of Banduras theory. In
articles to journals, etc. In this way the prevalent a preliminary analysis of 3 1 tentative rules for group
tradition has maintained itself. psychotherapy I found 13 to be logically necessary
A fourth and final consequence of the analogy to and the remaining 18 to be contingent. This shows
geometry is to emphasize the self-transcendence how logical analysis may lead to discrimination be-
involved in theoretical development. Geometry tween necessarily true formulations and formula-
seems to have developed as a result of the experi- tions that may conceivably be false. The latter may
ences and requirements that grew out of land meas- be regarded as local generalizations and may be
urement, astrology, navigation, construction of subjected to empirical research. However, since
buildings, etc., in Egypt, combined with the Greek such generalizations concern historical and, there-
tradition of pure mathematics. However, as it grew, fore, from a systematic point of view, arbitrary
it not only led to developments far transcending events, they can never attain general validity. See
mans original geometric intuitions and to many Smedslund (1972, pp. 119-120) for a description of
new subdisciplines, but it alsolaid the ground for the dilemma of the necessary vs. the arbitrary in
self-transcendence in the form of the various non- psychology.
Euclidean geometries that developed by negation of
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Herausgegeben von Werner Traxel

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vom 30,Mai bis 2.Juni 1985

Eckart Scheerer
Willern van Hoorn und Thorn Verhave
Hans van Rappard
Marilyn Marshall und Barbara Rodway
Edgar Heineken
Johannes Abresch
Lothar Sprung und Helga Sprung
Siegfried Sporer
Gunther Baumler
'vtarion White McPherson
frithJof Rodi
Horst -Peter Brauns
Lewis Wolfgang Brandt
Jih Hoskovec
Josef Brozek
John A. Popplestone
Kurt Danziger
Jan Smedslund
Antonio Caparrl)S
Christfried Togel
Peter J. Behrens

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Meumann . E, (190X) : Oekonomie und Technik des Gediichlnisses. Leipzig (Klinckhardl) , EXPERIMENTAL SCIENCE

Meumann. E. (1914 ): Abrif3 der experimentellen Piidagogik . Leipzig (Engelmann).

Thorndike. E. L (1914): Educational Psychology. Vols, 2 and 3. New York (Columbia Univer
sily Press) . In view of the overwhelming prestige accorded to the natural sciences,
Wolfe. K. H. (1886) : U nlersuchungen tiber das Tongcdachtnis . Philosophische Studien J, it is no wonder that the pioneers of psychology did their best to imitate
Wun9t. W. (18 83): Logik 2. Band. Methodenlehre. Stuttgart (Enke).
them, Indeed, the achievement of such an imitation was seen as the very
Wundt. W. (1 887): Grundztige der physiologischen Psychologie. 2, Band, 3, Aun . Leipzig criterion of success . Ebbinghaus was no exception . Indeed, it appears that
(Engelmann). his interest in establishing a science was so strong that it may sometimes
Wundl. W. (1907) : Ueber Ausfrageexperimente und iiber die Methoden zur Psychologie des have overshadowed his interest in the psychological phenomena as such.
Denken s. Psychologischc Studien 3.301 - 360. This is reOected in the, recently discovered, first version of his work on
memory, which begins, not with a passage about the psychological content
involved. but as follows: The possiblility of finding quantitative relations
ill any field of phenomena depends, in the end, on whether or not these
phenomena have at least two aspects which can be measured and between
which the relation exists. (Ebbinghaus. 1983, p. I; my translation)
Ebbinghaus took it for granted that the establishment of quantitative
laws through experimental methods was what a scientifc psychology was
all about. And with extraordinary ingenuity, he undertook to establish
such a discipline in the particular realm of memory. With the publication,
in 1885, of Ueber das Gedachtnis (Ebbinghaus 1964), he instantly be
came, and has remained , one of the great heroes in the history of psy
rn this paper, r want to raise the question of whether or not Ebbinghaus
actually succeeded in laying the foundation for a psychology modelled on
natural science. Did he really open the way for experimental methods and
quantitative laws in psychology, or does it merely look that way? The
answer, it would seem, hinges on whether his work only had such shortco
mings as characterize every innovation and which may be corrected by
later workers, or whether it had fundamental weaknesses which cannot
possibly be eliminated.
My question is clearly heretic, and goes far beyond the case of Ebbing
haus. because it raises an issue that has been regarded by psychologists as
settled for almost a century. The major thesis of the research - that the
experimental method can be successfully applied to the investigation of
learning and memory - has so long been taken for granted that it has
received the highest recognition possible by being absorbed into the main independent variable was the time interval between the first mastery of a
stream of psychology. (Postman, 1968, p. 151) list to the criterion of two consecutive errorless repeti tions, and the moment
There is a tight logical connection between the goal of finding causal of starting to relearn the list to the same criterion. The time intervals were,
laws, and the use of the experimental method. This method basically about one third of an hour, one hour, nine hours, one day, two days, six
consists in varying one variable at a time, while keeping all other constant, days, and thirtyone days. The dependent variable was the quotient of the
and observing the variation in a possible dependent variable. Although time required to relearn over the time originally required to learn the same
the degree ofquantification may be limited to dichotomies, such as present/ list. The material consisted of altogether 163 lists, each of which was first
absent or high/low, the idea is still to search for invariant laws linking learned and, then, relearned after a time interval. Both the measures of
the independent and the dependent variable. Ebbinghaus regarded the learning time and time intervals, and the criterion of two consecutive
experimental method with quantification as universally applicable for errorless repetitions, can be assumed to have been fairly reliable. Hence,
intrinsic logical reasons. The method of obtaining exact measurements in this respect, the study clearly appears to conform with the requirements
i. e., numerically exact ones - of the inner structure of causal relations is, of a scientific experiment. The outcome was the curve, first reported in
by virtue of its nature, of general validity. This method, indeed, has been I, p. 58 , that so inspired the early psychologists.
so exclusively used and so fully worked out by the natural sciences that, What was Described as Held Constant. The difficulties involved are
as a rule, it is defined as something peculiar to them, as the method of clearly acknowledged by Ebbinghaus from the very beginning: The main
natural science. To repeat, however, its logical nature makes it generally difficulty of these and all studies on the shifting grounds of psychology is
applicable to all spheres of existence and phenomena . (Ebbinghaus, 1964, to establish as equal conditions as possible. (I, p. 14; my translation) He
p. 7) applied himself very seriously to this task and, apparently, managed to
Given this position, Ebbinghaus saw mainly technical problems in ap equalize conditions to a considerable degree, as witnessed by the stability
plying the experimental method to psychology. In particular, he mentions of his findings.
the problem of how to keep conditions constant and of how to measure The learning material. Ebbinghaus wrote down all the (around 2300)
mental phenomena . His procedures are clever attempts to solve these possible syllables beginning and ending with a consonant-sound and with
problems. a vowel-sound in the middle. These were mixed and randomly assembled
!n what follows, ! will try to show that, contrary to Ebbinghaus's belief, into lists of 13 syllables each, the only restriction being to avoid a too close
the experimental method intended to reveal generally valid laws may recurrence of equal-sounding elements. One purpose of this material was
neither be very suitable for the study of memory in particular, nor for the to equalize learnability as far as possible. Two lists are equally learnable
study of psychology as a whole. The reason is that, in my view, psychologi if and only if, all other things equal, they take the same time to learn.
cal phenomena have characteristics which are incompatible with the pro Altough Ebbinghaus did not think that he had equalized all other condi
ject of conducting experiments and finding causal laws . tions more than approximately, he, nevertheless, felt justified in concluding
(I,p.17) that the material had not turned out to be as homogeneous in
learnability as might have been expected. In II (p.23) he amplifies this
Ebbinghaus's First Experiment conclusion as follows: These series exhibit very important and almost
incomprehensible variations as to the ease or difficulty with which they
In Ebbinghaus's first manuscript (Ebbinghaus, 1983), from here on are learned. However, since the syllables were randomly assigned to
called 1, only one alleged experiment is reported, namely the variation the experimental conditions, Ebbinghaus assumed, with reason, that the
in amount of saving in relearning, as a function of the time elapsed since differences in learnability would tend to cancel out, when many lists were
the first acq uisi tion of a list. This will be used as a suita ble demonstration used in each experimental condition .
case, both because it produced the famous curve of forgetting which The procedure. In II (pp. 24-26) the constant features of the procedure
inspired the new experimentalists, and because it involves all the problems are described in seven points. These features may be summarized as
of alleged psychological experiments in general. The same study is reported follows:
in Chapter VII in Ueber das Gedachtnis (Ebbinghaus, 1964), from here I. A series was always read through completely from beginning to end .
on called 11. First , I will summarize the main features of the study as it When Ebbinghaus tried to reproduce the series by heart and stopped or
was described by Ebbinghaus. hesitated, he always read through the ~est of th.e series before beginning
What was Described as Varied. In an experiment, one measurable (inde it again.
pendent) variable is varied and variations in another measurable (depen 2. The reading and recitation of a series took place at a constant rate of
dent) variable are recorded. In Ebbinghaus's forgetting-curve study, the 150 strokes per minute.

"l')f, 227
3. Since it was impossible to speak continuously without variation In variables applicable to Ihe entire domain in question (temperature, pres
accent. the 1st, 4th, 7th, '" syllables were pronounced with a slight accent sure, concentration of carbon-monoxide, and so on) . These variables are
(see I, p. 19).
candidates for variation in other experiments. The rationale of the experi
4. There was a pause of 15 seconds before starting to learn a new list.
ments is the prospect of unraveling the laws relating the variables.
5. An attempt was made to keep the attention concentrated on the tire
Ebbinghaus envisaged such a natural science type program for his work,
some task and its purpose. (II, p. 25) Outer disturbances were minimi centering on the following problem: What conditions influence the likelihood
zed and the work was, as far as possible, carried out in constant sur that something is remembered or /orgo((en? In other words, what are the
roundings. laws govering memory? One factor at a time was to be varied and what was
6. There was no attempt to connect the nonsense syllables by the invention held constant in the experiments were the remaining variables involved .
of special associations of the mnemotechnik type; learning was carried A program of this sort involves a search for a theory which, in its most
on solely by the influence of the mere repetitions upon the natural general fonn , can be given as
memory. (II, p. 25)
7. An attempt was made to conduct, under as similar conditions of life as M = f(x. y, z. ... . n)
possible. those tests the results of which were to be directly compared. where M is the memory-variable . x. y. z. .. . n is the fairly small, or at least
(II, p. 25) In particular, it was assumed that like experimental conditions finite. set of identifiable and measurable detennining factors, and f is a
were obtainable only at like times of the day, and that activities immedi complex, bUI explicable. logical-malhematical function.
ately preceding the tests should be as constant as possible . Finally, A fundamental critique of the rationale of Ebbinghaus's program of
When too great changes in the outer and inner life occurred, the tests experimentation, then , must involve a demonstration that no finite set of
were discontinued for a length of time. Their resumption was preceded identifiable and measurable variables influencing memory can be found,
by Some days of renewed training varying according to the length of the and/or that no generally valid function linking such variables to memory
interruption . (II , p. 26) can be found. I will try to do this on the basis of simple logic and common
Without entering further into the details of Ebbinghaus's accounts of knowledge about psychological phenomena . I will also try to show, by
his procedure, it may be concluded, once more, that reasonable require implication, that the success of Ebbinghaus' program over the last century
ments for a scientific experiment appear to have been met. There is, indeed, may only be apparent. After all , Ebbinghaus may not have been the only
a detailed description of what is held constant, and, also, discussions of one acting in bad faith, that is. acting on a view that one, in practice, and,
possible remaining sources of error. One seems compelled to agree with perhaps, in the back of one's mind , knows is untenable.
the scientific psychological community that this was indeed a genuine What Ebbinghaus Held Constant. but did not Analyze Further. I will
experiment. Only criticisms of details seem possible. pursue the question of what Ebbinghaus held constant in his first experi
In order to proceed to another view of the matter, one must turn away ment, as far as possible. As I see it. the answer to that question has far
from what Ebbinghaus wrote about, and consider closely a number of reaching implications for the evaluation of his work and also, indirectly,
aspects of the study which he did not write about. As when analyzing the for experimental psychology in general.
perfonnance of a professional illusionist, one must tum one's attention A description in positive terms of a set of constant conditions is often
away from the salient features and towards the unobtrusive ones. In this not sufficient to indicate the sort of variability that is suppressed . Also,
case, the unobtrusive features are embedded in what Ebbinghaus held some aspects of the conditions may be fonnulated only by implication, yet
constant and did not elaborate or did not mention at all. they too involve suppressed variablility. In order to detennine exactly what
is held constant, one must inquire into the ways in which the expicitly or
implicitly given conditions can be varied . This analysis can be carried out
Ebbinghaus's Implicit Research Program relying only on logic and knowledge of ordinary language.
Ebbinghaus' first study attempted to establish that the time elapsed
As I have already pointed out, there is a logical connection between influences the likelihood of remembering, and to detennine the sort of
doing experiments and the goal of finding generally valid laws relating the functional relationship involved . The rationale of the design was that many
independent and the dependent variables. Experiments are carried out in other conditions may also be influential, and that these must be kept
order to find laws. If there is no prospect of finding such laws, the reason constant in order to evaluate the effect of time as such. In the tradition of
for experimenting disappears. natural science, the conditions held constagt should, ideally, be exhausti
In the natural sciences, what is held constant in an experiment is usuaUy vely characterized in terms of a limited number of identifiable and measu
conceptualized in tenns of a limited number of measurable fundamental rable general variables.
228 229
Let us now examine the constant conditions described by Ebbinghaus. dislurhing to the attention. The mechanism of escapement of most watches
first the seven points concerning his procedure (see above and II. pp. swings 300 times per minute.
25-26). The rate of reading is an obvious variable. It could be forcibly adjusted
Ebbinghaus's constant condition nr. I is described as follows: The to different rates and it could also have been left entirely free. A second
separate series were always read through completely from beginning to variable involved, suggested by Ebbinghaus himself, is the difference be
end; they were not learned in separate parts which were then joined toge tween listening to a clockwork metronome and a watch. Numerous sorts
ther; neither were especially difficult parts detached and repeated more of sounds and instruments could have been used. A third sort of variation
frequently. There was a perfectly free interchange between the reading and held constant is the reading which was done in a low voice (I, p. 18). It
the occasionally necessary tests of the capacity to reproduce by heart. For could also have been done silently, in a normal voice or shouting. A fourth
the latter there was an important rule to the effect that upon hesitation possible variable is the strength of the sound of the pacemaker, which could
the rest of the series was to be read through to the end before beginning be varied through distance or mechanical adjustments. Again, condition 2
it again. involves several sorts of variables, many of them not easily quantified, but
The preceding rule is quite complex and may be broken down into at all potential determinants of learning and memory scores .
least four parts. each indicating a different sort of possible but suppressed 3. ln Ebbinghaus' first experiment , the 1st. 4th, 7th, and so on syllables
variation . a) The lists could have been learned in smaller parts which were were pronounced with a slight accent. Stressing the voice was otherwise,
then joined. The size of these smaller parts, and the criteria for when to as far as possible, avoided.
interrupt memorization of them could be varied in many ways. Example: The accentuation of every third syllable does not represent a particular
groups of3. 4. or 5 syllables could be memorized, one perfect reproduction value of a one-dimensional variable, but rather one alternative out of a set
vs. two vs. three could be the criterion for proceeding to the next group, of logical possibilities. The possible sorts of accentuation patterns
and so forth. b) Difficult parts of the lists , according to some criterion of (rhythms) are indefinitely numerous. Even within the range of 13 units
number of failures to reproduce (one, two, three, ... ), could be selected for one can envisage a very great number of possible patterns, and these are
intense practice. until a criterion of one, two or more consecutive perfect multiplied if strength of accentuation is also allowed to vary. In Ebbing
reproductions, before proceeding with the list as a whole . c) The free haus' study the strength was held constant at slight. The variety of
interchange between reading and tests for capacity to reproduce by heart possible rhythms may be exemplified by the following examples: X-, XX-,
could be substituted by various rules such as fo rced attempts to reproduce X-XX, and -X -X. For more complicated rhythms of reading, specialtrai
after every 3d, 4th, 5th , ... reading of the list. d)The tests for capacity to ning may be necessary, except , perhaps for drummers and certain other
reproduce by heart could involve an unlimited set of alternative rules for musicians. The effect of rhythm on memory of this sort is a complex
what to do when there was failure or hesitation. Instead of proceeding to question, and rhythm including varying strengths of accentuation is not a
the end of the series one might repeat the syllable forgotten, one, twice, single dimension, but a complex manifold .
three times, and so on, and, then, proceed to the end of the list, or one 4. After the learning of each seperate series a pause of IS seconds was
might begin from the beginning again, and so forth . An unlimited number made, and used for tabulation of results. Then the following series of the
of possible influential embellishments could be added to the rule, such as same test was immediately taken up. Two sources of variation are held
saying after each error stupid me, walking around the chair, standing constant here. namely the time interval and the contents of that interval.
on one's head, and so on. The time interval is a quantitative dimension, but the content could be
All of the preceding possible variations, and many others not mentioned, varied in indefinitely many ways, impossible to classify exhaustively in
might make a possible difference in the learning and memory scores of a advance.
person. Hence, condition I suppresses a considerable range of possible S. During the process of learning, the purpose of reaching the desired
variations . Some of these are, perhaps, quantifiable dimensions, but some goal as soon as possible was kept in mind as much as was feasible. Thus,
are simply logical alternatives, such as starting immediately from the to the limited degree to which conscious resolve is of influence here, the
beginning of the list vs. first continuing to the end. Finally, many of the attempt was made to keep the attention concentrated on the tiresome task
possible variations are hard to order in advance, and their number may and its purpose. It goes without saying that care was taken to keep away
be strictly infinite. all outer disturbances in order to make possible the attainment of the
2. The reading and the recitation of the series took place at a constant aim. The smaller distractions caused by carrying on the test in various
rate, that of 150 strokes per minute. A clockwork metronome placed at surroundings were also avoided as far as !-hat could be done.
some distance was at first used to regulate the rate; but very soon the At least three main sources of variation are mentioned in this condition.
ticking of a watch was substituted, that being much simpler and less Once is the purpose of the activity (its direction), another is the strength

230 231
of the engagement, and the third is the minimization of disturbances. All day. However. there are also hints of a training and/or warming up etTect
of these have to some extent been explored by subsequent researchers. necessary to bring performance to a stable level. The existence of such an
Purpose may be varied indefinitely and purposes cannot be exhaustively effect is also mentioned in the case of Ebbinghaus's only other subject, a
ordered. Strength of motivation has been conceptualized and measured as 14-year-old boy who participated for two months in memorizing numbers.
one dimension . Amount of disturbance in the form of noise may be Ebbinghaus reports that the boy's performance continued to improve for
measured in many ways. Other aspects of disturbance. such as its relation 6 weeks before a plateau was reached (I, P. 69).
to the ongoing activity may be indefinitely varied. Hence. the reported findings on speed of learning presuppose a very
6. There was no attempt to connect the nonsense syllables by the inven considerable amount of pretraining. Later it has become apparent that
tion of special associations of the mnemotechnik type: learning was carried Ebbinghaus's data on forgetting also reflect his own very special back
on solely by the influence of the mere repetitions upon the natural memory. ground in memorizing nonsense syllables. Ebbinghaus remembered only
As I do not posses the least practical knowledge of the mnemotechnical 34% ofa material after 24 hours, whereas a naive American college subject
devices, the fulfillment of this condition offers no difficulty to me. (II, p. in the 1960's could be expected to retain about 80% (Postman, 1968,
25) p. 155). The preceding means that relevant previous experience is an impor
It seems difficult or impossible to dimensionalize the possible strategies tant factor, held constant at a very special level. Persons differing from
of memorization. These may range from prayers or magic rituals between Ebbinghaus in this respect cannot be expected to replicate his results.
the lists. to the prescriptions of folk psychology. One general feature of Previous experience in general is an infinitely variable domain and aspects
these latter may be summarized as follows : In order to remember an of it may influence learning and memory even in the unique and highly
arbitrary connection, for instance the name (A) of something or someone artificial sort of situation studied by Ebbinghaus .
(B). you should find a third word or image (C) such that B easily suggests Finally, condition 7 includes statements to the etTect that Ebbinghaus
C and C easily suggests A. Example : the name of a small Greek village I tried to keep his daily life as constant as possible and interrupted the work
have visited is Kardamena. In order to remember the name, I thought of when outer and inner conditions changed too much . Nothing specific is
a very well known Norwegian fictional village called Kardemomme. Any said about this. but one may infer that he is, at least. referring to any
time I need that name, I think about the village called Kardemomme, and changes that would make it harder t.o concentrate on the task at hand .
this. again, suggests Kardamena . When this folk knowledge was fillaily So far we have considered what was held constant in those conditions
studied by psychologists, it turned out that lists of up to five hundred pairs that Ebbinghaus explicitly describes. Before proceeding to draw any con
were remembered about 99 per cent correctly after one repetition (Miller, clusions, let us consider briefly two conditions which Ebbinghaus did not
1962, p. 169). The conclusion with respect to condition 6. must be that discuss explicitly, and, then, finally, what is held constant in the sort of
Ebbinghaus held constant one very special alternative out of a complex material used .
and indefinite manifold of possible strategies . 8. Ebbinghaus himself was a literate person . This means that he had
7. )) Finally and chiefly, care was taken that the objective conditions of life undergone very extensive earlier learning processes and had mastered an
during the period of the tests were so controlled as to eliminate too great exceedingly complex rule system. The sort of data that he reported could
changes or irregularities. Of course, since the tests extended over many not possibly have emerged with an illiterate person , nor with a literate
months. this was possible only to a limited extent. But, even so, the attempt person with a very different writing system, for instance a Chinese. Neither
was made to conduct. under as similar conditions of life as possible, those of these could have read the syllables. Ebbinghaus could memorize the
tests the results of which were to be directly compared. In particular the syllables only because he knew how to pronounce them. Hence. his memo
activity immediately preceding the test was kept as constant in character rization was totally dependent on the outcome of a very specific sort of
as was possible. Since the mental as well as the physical condition of man earlier memorization. Being literate is a logically necessary precondition
is subject to an evident periodicity of 24 hours, it was taken for granted for memorizing nonsense syllables. This is also an example of how earlier
that like experimental conditions are obtainable only at like times of day. experience profoundly influences what can,later, be learned and remembe
However, in order to carry out more than one test in a given day, different red. Literacy involves a complex set of components, defying any attempt
experiments were occasionally carried on together at different times of at simple dimensionalization.
day. When too great changes in the outer and inner life occurred, the tests 9. Ebbinghaus was a native speaker of German and read and wrote
were discontinued for a length of time. Their resumption was preceded by Gennan fluently. This. again, means that he had undergone complicated
some day of renewed training varying according to the length of the and extensive learning processes of a particular kind . It can be taken for
interruption . (I I, pp. 25-26) granted that the learnability of the individual syllables and lists was strong
Only one clearly definable variable is mentioned here, namely time of ly influenced by this German background and that the results cannot

be exactly replicated by persons with a different linguistic and cultural influences are irreversible, in the sense that they cannot be completely
background . It is quite evident that both language and culture are potential oblitera ted . An acq uired differen tia tion cannot be undifferentiated, one
determinants of learning and memory. These complex factors were impli cannot unlearn something, only learn something else.
citly held constant by the fact that only one person, Ebbinghaus himself, It is, indeed, deeply ironic and paradoxical that Ebbinghaus chose as
participated in the study. his experimental domain precisely a function which directly expresses the
10. Finally, there remains the material. The actual sort of material memo irreversibility of persons as systems, namely memory. Since an experimen
rized was held fairly constant, but the number of ways in which a material tal intervention is remembered at some level and in some way by a person,
can vary is indefinite. Length of lists was one factor studied by Ebbinghaus it cannot be repeated with that person in the strict sense that, for example,
in another study. One may also, instead of three-sound syllables use two-, a test for acidity of a liquid can be repeated . In so far as a system has a
four-, five- sound syllables, and so on. All sorts of combination of conso memory, it does not strictly repeat itself and, hence, cannot display any
nants and vowels are possible . One may also memorize meaningful mate first order invariances (laws). When human beings seem to repeat themsel
rial of different sorts - single words, sentences, contents of prose in general, ves, this normally does not reflect strictly invariant laws, but merely that
poetry (as did Ebbinghaus), and so forth. Then, there is motor and sensory there is, for the time being, a constant outcome of a given act. Human
memory. social memory. The variablility in content of what can be retained stability is contingent upon outcome stability, and, hence, strictly tempo
by a human being is practically unlimited, and impossible to classify rary. When outcomes change, acts change.
exhaustively. The irreversibility and openness to chance events means that persons
In conclusion. Ebbinghaus held the kind of content constant, but the are the outcome of life histories and are continuously changing. They live
variability suppressed here is unlimited and cannot be subsumed under and act within forever accumulating personal historical contexts, and the
any finite set of variables. total of these COntexts literally constitutes the person. What a given person
I have now considered in some detail what was held constant by Ebbing at a given time and in a given situation remembers of an earlier experience,
haus in his first study of forgetting. The immediate yield was around depends on the relationship between the earlier experiential content in its
twenty more or less quantifiable variables, many logical manifolds, and a historical context and the later experiental content in its historical context.
number of broad domains of variability, impossible to classify and order The unlimited richness of possible human experience precludes any defi
exhaustively. All of these are of known , or at least probable, relevanc~ for nite, finite and invariant dimensionalization of the phenomena of memory.
memory. and , hence, are candidates for inclusion in the sought-for formula The unceasing accumulation of contexts within contexts makes a simple
M = f(x,y,z , ... n). However, the indefinite complexity of these determi experimental program of the sort initiated by Ebbinghaus look quite
nants does not sustain the hope of ever finding a finite number of measura unrealistic.
ble dimensions. invariantly related to memory. If this is true, the rationale Ebbinghaus himself, and his followers after him, succeeded in masking
of Ebbinghaus's program of experimentation disappears. There is no need this lack of realism. How this is done is reminiscent of the performance of
to conduct time-consuming and painstaking experiments if no finite set of master illusionists, while the internal mechanism resembles what Sartre
quantitative laws can be found . has called bad/aith (Stern, (953).
The preceding leads directly to the question of why this is so. Is there a
fundamental difference between the domains of psychology and natural
science ') Evidence of bad faith in Ebbinghaus's work
In order to perform effiCiently, an illusionist must know the reality
The Irreversibility of Psychological Processes involved. I n the area of entertainment , both performer and audience know
that everything is make-believe. However, in order to mask reality both to
Experimentation ideally presupposes a closed and re~'ersible system. A oneself and to others in a serious way, a kind of split must occur, and this
reversible system has invariants, and a replication of findings is possible. presumably must be the result of a fervent wish . The outcome must be
One may always, at least in principle, return to an earlier state, and no that all verbal beha vior and all reflective consciousness is perfectly consi
external (chance) factors disturb the processes. Natural science experi stent with the illusion engendered, whereas certain aspects of one's actual
ments are often attempted approximations to this. behavior must be based on an accurate but unreflective knowledge of the
A human being is, as one has always known, in many ways an open and reality involved . ' .
irreversible system . This means that a person is continuously influenced Obviously, it cannot be proved in any conclusive way that Ebbinghaus
and changed by the external world, including chance events, and these and his followers were acting in bad faith. However, I will try to show that

2~4 2~5
much of the available evidence is consistent with that interpretation, that as varied as life itself. Hence, they threaten the meaningfulness of any
is. all three criteria of bad faith appear to be present. experimental program (see above) . Another difference, is that the distur
First. it iscommon knowledge that Ebbinghaus had an unusually fervent bing effect of events is itself variable and changes with the person's expe
wish to establish psychology as a quantitative natural science (Postman, riences. The way a person categorizes events is a function of her/his
1968; Shakow. 1930). prehistory and determines how strongly they will disturb an experiment.
Second, Ebbinghaus' writings are consistent in depicting the subject Furthermore, the likelihood of an event, which is also a function of prehi
mailer of psychology as accessible to natural science type experimental story, and changes as history goes on, detennines its disturbance value.
programs. This was also his position in the controversy with Dilthey Unexpected and unlikely events tend to be more disturbing than expected
(Ebbinghaus, 1895). and likely events .
The third criterion of bad faith is the most difficult and potentially In conclusion, holding conditions constant means very different things
controversial one . It involves the presence of behavioral signs indicating in natural science and in psychology and Ebbinghaus must have known
that Ebbinghaus tacitly knew that the subject matter of psychology has that tacitly.
characteristics incompatible with his overtly professed views. More specifi Mnemotechniques . Ebbinghaus's rejecton of mnemotechniques and
cally, such signs must be looked for in his methodological devices. denial that he knows them (II, p. 25) strains the credibility. It is hard to
Construction oflearning materials. Ebbinghaus knew that human beings believe that he was unfamiliar with the folk psychology of memory
have immensely complex previous learning histories and that all normally (pp. 14-15 above), the knot on the handkerchief, diagrams for ordering
occurring materials have numerous learned connotations and linkages. written material, rhymes, pictorial images, etc. His lack of interest in this
The nonsense syllables were supposed to eliminate such previous learning. also supports the impression that he was not concerned with the pheno
However, Ebbinghaus tacitly knew, in the sense that if asked he would mena of memory as such, but only in so far as they could be measured
have acknowledged , that much previous learning had not been eliminated, and yield quantitative relations. Instead of studying the ways people me
notably having learned to speak a language and having learned to read . morize in real life, which they have acquired through complex learning
Without such tremendously complicated previous learning, the nonsense processes, he introduced a very laborious, artifical procedure which he
syllables could not have been memorized. Hence, Ebbinghaus knew tacitly labelled natural memory. This evokes an image of memory as a regular
that what he was studying was not a natural process with no historical passive process whereby completely new material is stored in previously
context. bUlthe outcome of a particular sort of socializa tion into a cult ure . unused storage space.
Use of many lists . Ebbinghaus knew that, once he had learned a list, he In professing complete ignorance of mnemotechniques, Ebbinghaus
could not completely unlearn it, and that, indeed, there is no procedure must have been in bad faith, since it is hard to imagine that he could have
for unlearning. Hence , the same list could not be used again and again to grown up and gone through school and university relying merely on what
esta blish a relia ble measure . This is a taci t acknowledgement of irreversibi he himself called natural memory.
lity. In order to mask this he designed supposedly equivalent lists, in order Exactness of obtained values. An important part of natural science ide
to get repeated measures. His followers soon discovered the even more ology is to obtain quantitative relations based on exact measurement. In
convenient procedure of giving the same lists to many, supposedly equiva lengthy passages. for instance in I, pp. 57-69, Ebbinghaus discusses the
lent. persons. Common to both procedures and to combinations of them exact mathematical form of the forgetting curve and the determination of
is that variability associated with previous learning histories is treated as the constants involved. In this connection, he also compares the exactitude
noise, and that averages are treated as approximations to true values of of his own findings with Joule's study of the mechanical equivalent of heat
the natural process. Again, this contributes so sustain the illusion that (1,64 and II,36) and shows that he himself has a lower error variability
previous learning has been eliminated, even though Ebbinghaus must have than Joule . The message is clearly that since Joule's work was recognized
known tacitly that this was not the case. . as fundamental in the high prestige science of physics, experimental psy
Elimination o/disturbances. Ebbinghaus tacitly acknowledged the open chology too must be accorded the status of a bona fide natural science.
ness of a person as a system, when he a ttempted to create a si tua tion Here Ebbinghaus focusses exclusively on a purely formal aspect of the
without external disturbances. Overtly, he treated it as simply holding all data and ignores all the differences that have been described in this article
other factors constant in a natural science experiment. This glosses over between natural science and psychology, and which he must have known at
two fundamental differences . One is that a natural science experiment least tacitly. Consequently, this may be another indication that Ebbinghaus
keeps a relatively small n urn ber of factors constant, whereas a psychologi was in bad faith .
cal experiment must keep everything constant. Furthermore, there is no
finite and definite way of classifying psychological disturbances. They are
Conclusion Summary
Ebbinghaus took for granted that the expenmental method was applicable to all content
I have tried to show that what Ebbinghaus tried to hold constant was areas. including psychology. Hence. he made his studies look exactly like natural science
the possible variability in human life. Even a superficial and preliminary experiments. However. a closer inspect ion of what he held constant. reveals indefinitely
examination reveals that the number of possible dimensions of this variabi complex logical possibilities and historical contexts. Therefore. despite the similarity to
lity is indefinitely high, that much of it occurs in the form of com binatorial genuine experiments. there is no prospect of ever arriving at a view of memory as a lawful
possibilities, or simply cannot be exhaustively analyzed, and that the function of a small. or even a finite. number of measurable variables . It is paradoxical lhat
Ebbinghaus chose to study memory. which directly renects the irreversible character of
historical context is all-important. This means that the relevant dimensions mental processes. while a sucussful experimental program must presuppose reversibility at
of memory vary with the momentary cultural context and that new dimen some level.
sions are continuously created. A good example is Ebbinghaus's own
contribution. He created an entirely new sort of experiential entities, the
nonsense syllables, and founded a curious practice of memorizing these References
under rather peculiar conditions. As a result of his extensive practice,
Ebbinghaus changed in some ways (his ability to retain material became Ebbinghaus. H. (1895): Ober erklarende und beschreibende Psychologie. Zeitschrift mr
Psychologie 9. 161 - 205.
lower than that of naive subjects . Postman, 1968, p. 155) Ebbinghaus. H. (1964) : Memory. A contribution to experimental psychology. New York
Human beings become what they are because of their memory. Strictly (Dover)
speaking, a person is constituted by her memories, in the sense that she is Ebbinghaus. H. (1983): Urmanuskript Ueber das Gediichtni(l 1880. Passau (Passavia
the accumulated outcome of her experiential prehistory. Human life is Un i versita tsverlag).
Postman. L. (1968) : Hermann Ebbinghaus . American Psychologist 23. 149-157.

series of experiences, the preceding ones forming the context of the later Shakow. D. (1930): Hermann Ebbinghaus . American Journal of Psychology62. 505-518 .

ones. Since the experiences also involve chance events, the process is strictly Smed slund . J . (1986): The explication of psychological common sense: implications for the

irreversible . In view of this, the role of so-called psychological experiments science of psychology. In R. Barcan Marcus. G J. W. Dorn, & P. Weingartner (Eds.), UlgiC
must be reinterpreted . When one holds everything constant in a psycholo Methodology and Philosophy of Sc ience VII. Elsevier Science Publishers B. V.
gical study. and investigates the covariation of two variables, this cannot Smedslund. J . (1984): What is necessa ri ly true In psychology? In J. R. Royce & L. P. Mos
(Eds .). Annals o f Theon:tical Psychology : Vo l. 2, 241-272 .
be very informative with respect to universal and eternal laws since what Stem. A. (195 3): Sartre . His philosophy and existential psychoanalysis. New York (Dell).
is held constant is indefinitely complex. At most, the findings may be
helpful within a restricted, relatively constant local domain, such as the
traditional rote learning laboratory.
Ebbinghaus's study was not a real experiment because it did not even
superficially analyze and describe that which was held constant. It masqu
eraded as the beginning of a dimensionalized research program, but the
nature of the subject matter precluded any possiblility of success . Whether
or not a given person will remember a given content, depends on the given
historical context. and such contexts are indefinitely variable as life itself.
I believe that Ebbinghaus must have known this, tacitly.
The conclusions need not be totally negative towards Ebbinghaus. He
initiated a process of producing psychological data concerning memory
and of contemplating them . Through a very slow process, much impeded
by unrealistic meta theory, nonsense syllables and rote learning have never
theless faded away, and we are beginning to see the psychological terrain
as we all know it implicitly (Smedslund, 1984, 1986). But Ebbinghaus took
the first step. even if in a wrong direction, and started the process which
has since gone on.



The Mismatch between Current

Research Methods and the Nature
of Psychological Phenomena
What Researchers Must Learn from Practitioners

Jan Smedslund

An ~ rR.\ n . Psycho logical re,e;lJ'ch and practicl! bOlh start from wllal we all
know about be ing hum :ln bcc,luse we ;In: human, what we kn ow abou tl!a ch
other bc ca w;e we parti c ipall' in shared mean ing syslcm s (langua ge and
cu Ilure), and whut we know about uniquc indi viduals. Pr<Jctilioners rely on
these Ihrel: sources of knowledge , but researcher:; try to eSlablish a fourth
kind by lookin g fo r a lilllilCd number of ge ncral and empirically based
re g ularil jc~ . However. this project run s aground because o f four chamcleristic
o f pc rsuna I processcs: th.: y arc influcn ced by an ind d inilcl y hi gh number or
factors; Ihcy arc sensiuve to outcomes and , hence, alwa ys changea ble; the
regularities Ihat can be fo und stem from pcll1i cipation in ~h<trcd meaning 1>ystems
al ready impli e ill y familiar: and thL'Y are unique. T hese: chaJJctcristi cs are
circulllwnt.:d in the popul'ar randomi u d cOIJlrolled trial resea rch design, bUl
fi t the expen ~ e ul' pn:Jclical rckva nce of the findings.
K FY W OHDS: a priori psychology, common Sl'nsc. intenlionality, irrever ~ lbil
iry, ranJomi zcd conlrollcd tri als des ign , shared meaning, uniqueness

This article contains a comparison betw.:en what goes on in psychologica l

rcscarch and in psychological practicc. Thcse two kinds ofJctivities both start
from a threefolcl common but unstated base, namely what we all know <.lbout
being human because we are hUlll ans, what we know about each other becJuse
we pnrticipate in shared l11eaning ~ y$ tems (language and culture,) , Llnd what we
know about individuals in their individual life situations. From Ihis common
starting point , the two activities have developed differently. In order to help
people in real life, practitioners have pursued n search for ejTeclil'E'ness ,
whereas rescarchers, ill order to produce knowledge, havc pursued a scareb for

TlllflR' & P SH IIUI<.l(" \I",. 19 (6) : 771l. 794

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, .

\1 FOSLUNIJ : RI:SEAI{l ll MFTIIODS AND P Syt~lI u L uC. I C A I r I I C~O M 5'1 779

il1\'{/riallce (exact or probabilistic regularities). Traditionally, practitioncrs arc

surrooied to leam from the results of rc ~ eareh. In doing rcsean:h vne asscmble!'
cvidcnce for and against hypotheses linking measured val-iables. The results
very often take the f0l111 of small average dincrence.~ and low correlations.
The~ (' ~al1Je variables arc also taken to bL ' involved in practical rsychologieal
work anJ , therefore, practitioners should be able to profit from reading the
rC)L'arch reports . However. it is dirticult to apply thc scientific n::~ults , given
the highl'!' complex stream ot"pcrsons, circumstances, and events thatmakc up
the pl.letiea! cxperienee. Therefore, it is frequent Iy hard to see when and how
practitioners can learn anything useful from the researchers.
Hen::, I argue that it is mostly the other way around and that rcsearehers
must listen to and learn from what goes on in practice. Praetitioner~ are
forced by thcir commitment to pcople in real life to takc into account all our
advancc k.nowledge of psychological phenomena , whcreas n:'5e;Jrehers, dS I
will argue, freCiuently have ignored, excluded, or circumvented much of this
knowlcdge i'n order to produce invariant empirie,llly bascd findings. There
arc three broad kinds of knowledgc that arc clearly taken for granted and
relied on in practical v.ork, but are rarely mentioned in contemporary
research. The three kinds of advance knowledge arc: what we all know about
the basic fc:atures of being human because Wl' arc human (primordial knowl
edge); what we all know about ea.:h other because we participate in sh,lred
meaning s y ~tell1s (language and culture); and what we know about individ
ual persons in their indiviJual lifc ~ituations (concrete knowledge). These
three types or knowledg.e taken togc:ther are sufficient to explain what gu\:!s
on i[1 human intcractions in ordinary life and, I think , also in professional
psyehohJgi':31 practicc .
Mainstream researchers attempt to asscmble a fourth type of knowledge,
n3mL'ly empirically based laws or regularitics. However, owing to eharaeter
isti.:s of psychological rrocesses to be de.,;eribed , cxrerimental and statistical
methods aI'\:! unlikely to produce more than local and unstable fragment s of
knowledge. The main rc:ason for Ihi!; is that the three sources of knowledge
relied un in practice do not originate in and are not open to empirical research.
Our shared knowledge of what is human is given a priori, the ~hared meaning
sy~tems arc. by definition, alread y bmiliar to the pmiieipants, and the regulari
ties characterizing individual persons-in-their-surroundings originate to some
extent in fortuitous events (Bandura, 198 2), and cannot, by definition, involve
any ge ner:1li zed knowledge. Therefore, thL' regular trends sometimes reported
in the res.:areh literature in reality consist only of what follows from what we
all know about being human, from our shmed linguisti c/cultura l meaning
systems, or reneet entirely local eircumst:1nces. Th e nature or psychological
processe<; severely restrains a build-up of the fourth type of knowledge ,
namely empirically based principles. Such prineipks c:an only be found in
biolo!,!ieal, genetically grounded constraints that lie outside the domain of
intentiunal processes.
780 T II F()RY & PSYCIiULuGY 19(6)

In Illy eonclusill:1. I discLlss the implications of the preceding. Whereas

practit ioners havc Iittk to learn from the rcsul.ts of contemporary typc rescarch,
the re~earehers must realize that their current methods and ways 01" thinking
arc often ill suited for the domain of psychology.

What is, and Must be, Taken for Granted in Professional Practice

To repeat, there arc three types of knowledge required for participating in

ordinary social life and also for doing protl:s:>ional work. These have to do
with what it is to be human, what linguistic cultural meaning systems are
involved, and who the persons are. Arg1lably, these three types of knowledge
are not only necessary, but abo jointly suflicient in order to understand most
of what goes on in psyehologic((1 practice.

iV/lUI il is 10 h,' Hllman

First, I recapitulate pans oCwhat we all know about an individual simply from
knowing that he or she is a person. These are fundamenta l suppositions that
we automatically take for granted in everyday life and also in profcss ional
practice. We ean regard them as trivial because they are so utterly familiar,
bLlt they determine how we practice psychology. They should be disting uished
from people's pronouncements on more spc:ei fic is'lIcs, where there may
oncn bc disagreement.
The most central feal11re of psychological phenomena, according to our com
mon knowlcdge, is what has been called illleniiollalit)'. \Vc view ourselvcs and
olhers as motivated or goal-directed beings. and wc cannot think ilnd talk oth
en,vise. We act in order 10 achieve something or avoid something; we look, lis
ten , and think ill order 10 determine what is there, how to proceed, and so on.
We arc also sensitive to the outcome of our activity. To he goal-directed means
thilt it makes a difference whether the outcome of our act appears to lead
towards the ,=,oal or not. To be tot311y inscnsitive to the outcome~ of what we do
mcans that we are outsidc the domai n ofthc intentional. For example, the hands
ofa person with Parkinson's di sease shake and this may lead to spilling eonec.
but intcntionality is not involved since the sllaking cannot be stopped,
The intentionality of persons entail ~. ul110ng other things, a nUl11ber of general
characteristics or psychological phenomena:

Persolls an ;' I1.\'ili\e. Our sensitivity to thc sUlToundings and to out

comes (awarene~-;) pcrtilins to how thin gs appear to us and how we
interprct what is therc, ((nd not to what is really or objectively there.
PsychOlo gical phenomena arc what " exisls jar" the persoll .
P e,',WIlS r (!lIIelllbfr. Sensitivity to outcomes means that they lead not
only to immcdiate rcaetion~ , but also 10 later adjustl11ents. You tend to
repcat what hild a favorable outcomc and avoid what had an unfavorable
S~ l LDS L I:M) : 1{r,J,G\Rl ll ~I LrIl ODS At--D r SYlI IULOG1C/\L PII CNUMENA 78 1

one. Memory means that psycho logical processes arc i,.rel'e r~'ible.
People change as a result of their experiences. and these changes can
be eompelbated for, but not undone completely.
Persolls perceil'C!. )-luman beings continuously monitor their sur
roundings relativc to their goals. In other words, their opennc~s
includes what in the broadest sense interests them. What is t,lken to
have no conceivable relcvam:c for present or future goal achievement
is not noticed. On the other hand, for example, the gross fearures orthe
physical surroundings are nearly alwa ys noted b..:cause of their possi
ble rekvanec for required locomotion (avoidance of painful falls and
coll isions, access to goals , escape, etc.)
P c!rsOIlS ,we UCliv(? Thc:y continuously notice, think , and do things.
The thinking and doing is always directed at achieving positive guals
and avoiding ne gative unes.
Persons IUI\ 'e feelings . They experience st,ltes and sinlations as good
and bad. The ac hie ve ment or L~'\pected achievement of a goal is rei: to
be good. and the non-achievement or expected non-achievemellt or a
go al is felt to be haJ.
PersulI.I' C,.11l refleel. They not only perceive. think .. feci, and do and
ay. but they can also think ;lnd talk abolll wl1;]t they perceive. think,
feeL do, ;]nd say . While we recognize the existence of re flective
proeesses;]s a second-order level. and by impli,cation th;]t there exists
a first-order level that we rctlect about.. we have also eOllle to realize
by means of indirect evidence that there are first-order processes not
accessed. and even inaccc~sible. by reileetion. We can perceive, think ,
feel. ~lIld do thing~. without knowing {/wl we perceive, think, feel, and
do thcse things. l'nreneetive, automatic proce,scs make up a large
part of the psychological domain. They afe also intentional, that is,
ehangeahle as <l funct ion of' outcomes.

We cannot avoid regarding others and ourselves as intentional and therefore

as sensitive. remembering, perceiving, actin g, fecling, and reflecting beings.
To deny this does not make sen.)\;;', and therefore this knowledge must be
regarded as a priori and non-empi rica !.
Attempts to describe the system formed by what we all t;]ke for granted,
also called CPlllmonsense psycholo gy (Sie g fried. J 99-1), h;we been going
on ever since Fritz Heider's work (195 8) and has also led to the formula
tion or an axiomatic system called psy cho-logic (Smedslund, J 988. 1997;
iee <llso Ossorio, 2006). Although the axiom s were first conceived as sep
arate a nd independent propositions, Or as a bundle or package of propo<;i
tion~, tlley reall.y express parr ;] Spccts of the same whole . n;]mely a
co mplete ;lrehetypal conception of a human being. In pr;]etieal work. we
constantly take this whole picture for gr;]nted and do not conceive l1;' it in
terms or isolated rropositions.
7S2 T1I EUKY & I'SH ' IIUI.ti<..Y 19( 6)

In order to brietly descrihe sume main features of the archetypal image of

a person, I present some or the axioms of psycho-logic, intended to serve as
de scri ptive devices III a maximally co mpact fonn.
The axioms attempt to state p~lrt s of what wc all know about human bcings
because we arc human. [n order to facilitate their formulation in all human
languages they are, in the btest version (Srnedslund. 2004). stated in terms of
the semantic primitive ... introJuced by Anna Wierzbieka and her collaborators
(Goddard & Wierzbicka, J 9 q 4; Wierzb ieka, 19%).
In wl13t follo ws P and 0 arc persons:

Axiol1l I. Mentality: P can know. think, want, feci, see, hear, do, and
say things. *
"Obviously, there arc r;]re ca ses that lack, or have reduced versions of,
one or more of the features mentioned. The axioms only describe the
arc hetypal image.
Axiol1l 2. Intentionality: What P knows, thinks, feel s. sees, hears.
does.and S;]ys is directed by whal P wants.
Axioll1 J. Refleelivity: P can sometimes know tliat P knows, thinks,
wants. kels, sees, hears, docs, and says something.
Axiolll 4. Verbality: P can say something about what P knows lilal
P knows, thinks. wants, h; -:I~, s cc~. hears, doc". and says, and oilly
about that.
AxioJII 5. Feeling: What P feels follows from the relation between
what P wants and thinks.
AxioJII 6. Hedonism : P wants to feel good and wallts not to feel bad".
*The behavior of masochist s and saints docs not contradict this, but
merely emphasizes the need for multilayered analyses . For example,
suffering as aronemcnt for one's sins, strengthcning one's sense of
exislencl', purificalion in preparation for entering paradise, and so on.
Axiolll 7. Lcarning: What P thinks will happen after now follows from
what P thinks happened before now.
Axiolll 8. Vulnerability: P rhinks that 0 can do something good and
something bad to P.
Axiolll 9. Rcspon~ibility : P is held responsible for \vhat P says and
docs by everyone involved .
Axiolll 10. Ethicality : P wanls 10 do what P thinks is right and wants
not to do what P Ihink s is wrong. "
*P may nOI do what P thinks is right. if P has other stronger wants. or
if there arc obstacles that P CQnnOI overcome.
Axiolll 11. Consensus seeking: P wants evelyone to think Ihat what P
thin.ks is right is right, and 10 Ihillk that what P thinks is wrong is wrong.

What wc all know about the basic features of \Vilal it is to be iI person,

because we arc person~, cannot be false, because a denial makes n0 sense. This
SM[[lSLL'Nn : RE$ [ AR("II MI-:TII ()OS Ai' l) r>s v c r 11) 1.1)(;1(',\ I r lll~()M r ... 783

self-evident knowledge detel111incs how wc III list think and talk about ollrselve~
amJ each other. Ultimately, the only criterion we can have of the validity of
descriptiom; of this is consenslis. Many studies have in fact shown close to per
ICLt agr\:cment about implications of thc axioms of psycho-logic among speak
ers of di rferent languages (fur a sUlTlmary, sec Smcdslund, 2002).
Thc axioms attempt to characterize important aspects of what we all know
about the nature of human beings, but. as stated in their general fOl"m, they are
empty. Only when one knows their specific content in given situations do
the: yield prediclions. Two other sources of knowledge must Jlso be added
to the prcceding.

ParliCl/JUlion ill She/red f'o.leallillg Snlt '/l/I (llid Kllol1'h:Jg e oj

Illdil 'iillla/ PerSU/1S

I-Iuman bJbies become persons by being soeiJlized into a society, acquiring a

common IJnguagc and culture (shJred meJning system), which enabks people
to live together and enabl es socicty tQ go on . If you encounter a totally unknown
language and culture, YOll cannot understand, predict, Jnd control what goes on.
All general (transpcrsonal) I"egul3rity thar can be found originates in the sh'lred
meaning sys tcrns of IJnguagc and eulturc. In addition, pcople par1icipatc in
smaller 10eJI meaning system s funned by villages, workplaces, fami Iies, and so
on. These, too, arc, to vJrying degrcL::;, slJblc" but in Plineiple changcabk.
Each pcrson is alsu ulli,/lIe , not only genetically, but a., a resuit of cneoun
tering ~lIld remembL:ringJ)J'flliroLis events (confluence of independent causal
chains). Thl:sC two kature.' of eommol1Jlity and uniquenL:'s arc characteristic
vC and must be allributeci to, evcry person.
However, even if YOll know that someone is a pcrson, and a speaker of a
givcn language, and member of a given culture, there is much about the person
that you don '! know. Additional knowledgc must be gained by bL:coming
Jcquaintcd with the person, including his or her eharaelaisties. unique life
hi,story, and current situation.
In everyday life as well as in professional practice it is clear that allthe three
sourccs of knowkdge mentioned In.: constantly relied on . Failures to under
stand and predict arc expl3ined by a failure to take fully into account these
possibh.: sources of infon11ation. Since pcopk generally have the ~ame imagc of
what are the defining features of a humar. being. and of what they share with
participants in the same linguistie/eulrw',li meaning system, there is reason to
believe that failure to uncier"tand, predict, Jnd eonrrolusually stems from insul~
ficient knowledge about the ullique persons and their unique eireuillstances.
I have dcs~ribed thrL:c sources ofknO\dedgc that guide interaction in daily
life as well as in proressional psychological practice. The next stcp is to show
that the joint pietlll'e of human beings gained frOIll thL:::'c already existent
sources nfknowlcdge cntails serious difficulties for the eurrcnt lype ofseicn
titi~ enterprise in psychology.
~ 1 1WOIW & I'SYlIiOI OGY I Q( 6)

Four Obstacles Facing the Search for Empirical Principles

In daily life and in practical psychological work, openn ess and irreversibility
(aspects of intcntlonality). shared meanin g, and uniqueness arc automatically
attributed to persons. They are aspcets uf an image of goal -seeking beings,
continuollsly monitoring their surroundings, stabilized by panicipating in
shared meaning systems, yet irrcversibly changeable and unique. These char
acteristics repn:sent scriolls oiibstacks for the :,cientific project of discovering
empirical regulariti c').
Stated in gcneral tefms. scientific research attempts to find invarianee
underlyin g the shinin g surface phenomena, thaI is, relations of the type (A
then always (oJ' \I'ith a certaill pro/;a/;ili(l') B . The basic fonnu la has bccn
frequently ex pressed in psychology as B = j (X. Y. Z, ... ), where behavior is
seen as a function of a (limited) number of detenninants, and hence predictable.
The experiment serves as a method of determining the effectivc detcrmi
nants by valying one at a time, keeping everything else constant, and observ
ing thl' variation in B.
In psychology, this project cncounters at ka .~t four kinds of obstacles,
given what we already know.

The Illde/illit ell' High NUlllber u(Pussibh' Relevallt Fa c tol's

The ,JpeIlI1I!SS of the person means that, in principle, cvcry single behavioral
measure. Jnd henec cvery compositc mcasure , is open to an indcfinite number
or po,>"iblc innuences. depending on how the situation is varied and how the
(;lsk is understood . Let me illustrate this with two examples, one showin g the
possibilitics or varying a simple set of experimental conditions. and the uther
showing the possibilities or varying the person's motivation.
In a si"udy of Hermann Ebbinghaus' s first experiment on memory
(Ebbinghaus, 1983) I wrote:
I have now considered in ~ o rne dewil wh;:lt wa~ held constant by Ebbin ghau.
in hi s first study or forgetting. The immediate yield was (lrnunu twent y more
or k ss quantifiable variables. Illany logical manifolds, and a number of
broad domains of variabilil Y. imposs ible to class ify and order ex.hausti ve ly.
All of these are of known, vr at least probable, rek va nee for memory.
Howe ver. the indefinite complexity of these dete/1l1inants docs not sustain
the hope or eyCT finding a finite number of measurable dimensions. in vari
antly related to memory. (Smedslund. 19!i7, p. 23 4)

Hence, although the instruetioJ1<; and physical conditions in an experiment

were held l:llllst an t, eaeh of them could have been varied in many ways that
would have influenced the outcome. The example from Ebbinghalls reminds
us that the number of such possibilities 01" varying an cxperimental condition
is indefinitely high .
SM rDSlUI\D : RlShA Rli l MFTIJ()DS AI\'l) PS Vt'l IO LlX, K'AL PI 110," 0," 1FI\A 7~5

In a $tudy using a questionnaire (Smedslund, 2002), onc participant

attempted to rJndomilc his response~. He was a member of a minority group
who suspected th:lllhe study would be u'ed to hann the position of the group,
yet W,lS eOlllmilled to participate s ince he was a nephew of a contact person
who had promiscd to procure rarticipants, and could not dishonor his t~lmily
by refusing. The attempted randomization was a solution that tried to exclude
any intonnution about the minority group, yet maintain the family honor. Any
attempt to formulate a eomprehcn~ivc interpretation of rcsponses to the ques
tionnaire would have had to include an explanation of this kind of response
too, hence introducing extensivc complications to any fonTIula of the type
B =/ (A , B, C . .. ). On(; could easily provide innumerabk additional compli
cations lkrnonstrating the difficulty of exrlaining behavior even in a very "im
pic situation by a formula with a limited number of variables. Thcre is simply
no limit to what a person may want in any givcn situation, or how he or she
ma y conceive of it , derending on the eircumstanc(;s.
In summary, the openness of thc person mak cs it virtually impossible to
conceive of :ll1y given behavioral measure as being an invariant function of
on Iy a Iimired number of determinants. Recognition of'this is becoming widely
acknowledged and discussed also in contemporary rl'scarch literature: sec, for
,amrle, the broad surveys of Paul (2 007) and Roediger (2008) on, respec
tively, psychothempy and memory. Tiley both conclude that what is held con
stant in a Jl\yehological experiment is indcfinitely Illani fold and that the
answer to questions about psychological regularities is always "it depends."

lrre l'<i bilily

The fact that persons usually remember their experiences means that psy
chological rroccsscs arc incI 'cl'Sihle. Perso ns arc incessantly trying to
achi(;\e positive and avoid ncgative goals whilc remembering Ihe outcomes .
The irrevers ibility of psychological rroccsscs means that rersons learn all
the time , and do not eomrletely unlearn or completely forget. They change
when outcomes ehilnge and , in other words, are hi storical bein gs , Whatc\cr
~Iability Ihey display in what they do must refleet constant perceived out
com es, and can alwa ys be changed by altering these outcomes. Therefore, (lll
observed psychological regul arity is, in principle, chan geable. This applies to
both reflective and unrefl ec tive (automatic) proec s se ~ . I f one obser've~ a reg
ul;]rity th at is not sensitive to perceivcd outcome, we are outsiJe the domain
of inten tion(ll processes (eC the example given above of the effcet of
Park inson 's dis c;lse).
In summary, tm le irreversibility of psychological processes entails that
observed regularities arc eonditionaluron stable outcomes, and this rreeludcs
the cx istence of (lb~olurc or genernl principles relating any given measures. A
valid gencral principle would mean a limit to intentionnlity, since it could not
be modified by cha nging outcomes.
786 Tll WRY & PS, '('1I 0 l.OGY 19(6)

Sharer/\1l'ullillg S),.')I(>IIIS

Pr;]ctitioners recognize how surrounding local systems such as family,

friends , or workplace maintain (stabili,x) persons by providing patterns of
unchanging feedback . If I say or do this, they will say or do thaI. The same
goes for linguistic rules and cultural praeticcs. The me anings of words and
~entemX's. the rulcs of games, the rules oftraftie, and so on, arc potent stabilizers
and make persons highly predictahle.
The regularity that eaIl be ohs(,l"ved appears to stem from the relative stability
of shared meaning systcms. I .veryone "('cps to the right when driving, only
mal cs go into restrooms marked "Gentlemen," schoolchildren arrive in class
rooms at a~signed times. and so on. There is considerablc support for the
eonelu~ion that robust research findings re!leet conceptual neee ss iric~. that is.
follow from shared lin guistic/cultural meaning sy"tems (Smccislund. 1991.
2002; Wallach & Wallach, I (9)-(). The corrcsponding research ha.~ been
laheled "pseudo-empirical" since: tlhc main hypoth eses can be derived from
the shared concepts and t~lken-for-granted assllmptions. Anempting to test the
hYf1uthl'sis that surprised people have experienced something unexpected
woulJ bc un example of pseuuo-ernpirieal research. However, the role of
more local ~hared meaning systems, between pat1ners, within families. within
org,miz;ltions, ;llld so on, shoukl also be acknowledged. COll1mon to thcm all
arc the circular feedback systems that maintain and therefore explain stable
personal behavior.
Tn summary, givcn thc nature of human beings as participants in shared
meaning systems. it foll()ws that regularities revealed by research merely
illustrate what we already know. explicitly or implicitly. Since only behavior
that is rewarded is maintained, there is no reason to expect stable findings that
do nol follow from thc shared mC3ning systems. "Surprised persons have
ex perienced somethi ng unexpected" follows from the shared mean ing system
und therefore must hold truc generally, whereas " people who like candy like
to sail" cloes not follow, and therefore docs not hold truc generally.

P('/'solllli Uniqul'lIl'ss

The rolc of chance events in human life is well known (Bandura, 19~(~) and
imposes severe limits on predictability. FOl1uitous events make for unique life
histories und uniqu,~ ~ ih: :;ituations and necessitate pe[o;onal acquaintance with
per:.ons in order to understand and be of help to them. Practitioners know that
the unique aspects of persons and situatio ns must bc taken into account and that
any general c.lassilieations and tech.niques arc bound to be insufTicicnt in deal
ing with the individual case. However, this does not Illean that no regularity can
be fo und at the individual level. On the contrary, there is much idiosyncratic
order to be unraveled and relied on in the process n1' geM ,ing acquainted with a
person, and this order is maintained by unique 1;lll1ily systems , workplace
_.MCI1S LUl\ O: RFS r ....\ RrH MrT HODS AI'fP I'S YCII OLUGIC A L i'I II::J-. O~lIN" 787

systems, and so on. Getting to know this is nec essary in order to work sueee .~s
fully with individual clients. It should also be noted that g.etting acquainted with
the unique is only po~ s ible by relyin g on a wider ,hared meaning system such
Ll~ a language. Jnd acquiring a complex shared meaning systeIll is only possi
ble for beings with dle characteristics making Lip t.he human archetype . Hence,
I have I'c;lll) described separate levels of the same whole. namely human
bein ~, in their linguistic/cultural ;lIld indiv idual sUIToundings.
In ~lInunary, uniquencss as a result of fortuitous events is an absolute barrier
to any attempt to discover general empirical principles. although it does not
L''.ci ude finding tempor3IY and local regularities characterizing individuals,
families. or small comIllunities. This allows practitioners to work, but docs
not sllstain rc~c:areh aiming at general laws.
I ha\e dcsnibed how the eharaetcristic~ of psychological phenomena form
obstacles to research aimed at findi,ng general empirical principles . Let us
now look at the way mainstream re search has dealt with this.

How Psychological Research Avoids What Must be Taken for

Granted in Practice

Mainstr~a m research consistently manages to evade dealing with the psyeho

1('gi(31 f'eJture s that must be taken in to aeeoLInt in practice, and this amounts
:)nth to an overt denial and to a covert acknowledgement of what is charac
teristic or psychological phenomena.
Let me begin by dc,,;ribing my first experience with psycholog ic al
research as a student at the Universi ty of Oslo at the end of the 19405. What
went on then clearl y revea ls the essenti a ls of what continues today .
There wa s a room called the " la bora tory" that had been dcsigned some
time before World War 11. It was a room with walls and ceiling paint ed in
black, and where the ventilating shaft s were closed to exclude any noise
from the outside. The room was empty ex cept for some tables and chairs,
and some old instruments, notably a " Ransehburg mnemometer" for tbe
presentation of nonsense syllables. My te acher encouraged me to try to repli
cate SOIT1e earlier findings indicatin g the superiority of "distribut ed" over
"l1la s~e d " practice (practice with pauses versus continuolls practice) . [ as ked
a few of'my fellow students to serve as participants and found th at, although
most di spla yed the predicted e ffec t, on most trials, some did not. I told my
teacher that 1 did not <:!t:t any clear findings, and got the answer that I hac!
too few part icipants. I then continued to add participants and, 10 and
hchold, the average effects gradually stabilized with a "statistically ~ignifi
cant" dil'!'crenee in favor of distributed practice. At the expen'L' of'some dis
comrort beeau<;e of the insuilieicnt air supply in the lab, and boredom b~callse
or the bbek walls and the monotonous clicks or the mnemometcr, I was
learning to do psychologIcal research.

This example shows how one tricd to minimize bOlh visual and aud.itory dis
tractions (black walls. closed shafts ) and rl'lc\anl carl ier expelience (nonsense syl
lables). in order to stabi lize the results and be able to make statements of the
form "all olher things equal." This shows implicit recognition of the opennes~
of persons to the sUlTOlmdings and the indefinitel y numerous variables that
needed Lo be controlled. The IransiLion to groups of participants instead of
individuals showed implicit recognition not only of individual dilrcrel ~c es, but
above all that one person can not serve as his or her own control because hc or
she will change by lirst participating in one of thc experimental conditions.
Ilence. the procedure was adapted to circumvent the irreversibility of r"ycho
jogica l processes (memory). A typewrittcn instruction written in l\nrwegian
was an implicit acknowledgement thalthese participants were literate. understvod
Norweg ian, and therefore could and would follow thc instructions. In othcr
\\ ords, their pal1icipation in the shared cultural/ linguistic mcaning syslem wa~
taken for granted without menlion. Finally, recognition of siLcable individual
difference:> and irrcducibly complex indi vidual variabilit y also made it neee~sary
to rely on group average s. This also entailcd an implicit recvgnition of the
uniqueness of individuals. (For an account of how early rL'search encountered
and tried to cope with these well-known obstacles. sec O;lJlzigcr. 1990.)
The preceding is elll example of how mainstrcam research ha~ anempted 10
circumven t our antecedent knowledge in order to maintain the image of
searching for gcncrallaws. These eff0!1s have eu.lminated in the gold standard
of modern experimental research, the randomized eontrollrial design (ReT) .

The ReT iJ e.lig l1

The ReT represe nts a sueccs.sfl.ll way of fulfilling the fonnal requirements of
an experilllent, nall1ely to study the efTeets of variation in one faelor on the
variation of anotJler factor, while eliminating all other systematic variation.
The actual procedure (instructions. materials , selling::;) is kcptliterally constant ,
whcre'h person-variability is controlled statistically by drawing random <;amples
from Ihe same population and then avera ging Ihe OlllputS. The design
bypasses the obstacles 10 psych o logical resea rch mentioned above and ,
hence. allows for a eon sist cntly optimistic vicw of th e usefulness of cx peri
mentation as a way orincreasing our k.nowledge. This can be sUI1l.ll1arized in
the fallowing l'our points:

I. The ReT dcsign is applicable irrespectIve of the composition of pos

sibl y relevant variation in the selected population. It does not require
informalion about Ihe \'ariables Ihat arc held statistically conslant by
the randomilation and, thereforL', makes it poss ible to ignore the ques
tion of the numbcr and identity or eircllmstances that Illake a diffe r
ence far an elTect or phenomenun . The procedure would be the same
with a populatIon of persuns differing in one hundred relevant ways
S~ II: DSLlIN D: Iu :sr \ \l CIl ;\I ET IIUOS A~ D I'SYC lI lJLOG It:A I Pi li M)~ I FN A 9

and in onc relev(lllt way. Similarly, the design is applicable regardless

of how many relevant factors arc held constant in the procedure
(instl1.letions, materials. apparal', etc.; cf. my quote from a study or
Ebbinghaus abovc) .
2. The ReT design is applicable ilTcspeetive or the reversi,bility or irre
versibility of the imposed vari;Jtion. It yields no intorrnatioll about
whether or not a return to the point of origin is possible. Hcnee , it is unin
fonnative with r~'srcd to the quc .~tion of the intrinsic stability vs. insta
bility of the observations and the possibility of fomlulating laws. The
proccdure would be the sa me with persons in unchanging
cnvi.ronments and with continuously and irreversibly changing persons in
cOlltinuously and ilTeversibly changing environments.
3. The RCT design is applicable irrespec tive of the cpistemie status of what
is srudied. It yields no information about whether or not a finding stems
rrom rcli.ltionships in our shared meaning sys telll~, or li-OIn
some causa l connection. Henec, it docs not rcycal if something is or is not
already implicitly or explicitl y known, that is, ifLhe researdl is empirical
or not. It applies equall y to a study of whether persons who have experi
cnccd something unexpected becOllle 1110rc surprised than tho!;~' who have
not cxperienced anything uncxpected , and to a study or whether people
who like c(lndy are better s(lilors than those who do not like candy.
4. The ReT desi gn is applieablc irrespective of~ ~le role ofuniqllene ><s. It
docs not in any way bear on the role orthe unique in personallifc:, and
the t:1Ct that uniqueness must be taken into account in al i proi'l:ssional
pr(leticc. In a scnse, the ReT deSign downlP lays the role ofuniquencs
in that it pre s upp()~CS that srudying the statistical linking of one mcasurcd
variable with anothcr is valuable, whereas the practitioner nonnally
kno\\ ~ th at relying on such, nearly always small, probabilitic~ would
bc a grave mi~t;Jke in view of the many unique features and circum
stances that always dominate the pieture_

In sUlllmary. thc RCT dcsi gn ignores t.he mentioned obstaclcs to empirical psy
chological research . It a llows one to go on doing rannally perl~et studies without
wonying about the following possibilities : thc le:]1 number of dclemlinants held
constant may be indefinitely high: the findinr~ may be unsWble and thc result of
ilTcvl:rsible procC'~~es; rhe findings could have been anticipated because they fol
low fi-om the concepts and aSl>ulllptions of thc relevant shared Illeaning system;
and th e effect size.; aIe !or the most part so small that they arc useless in practice.


The position outlined here is by no Illeans isolated in contempor3lY psychol

ogy. It belongs to a broad movement 0[" hermeneutic psychology with roots
790 I 1-1 WRY & r SYCIi OI OG Y 19(6)

in the writings of. among others, Dillhcy (189-1 / 192711 977 ), Heidegger
(192711 962), and Gadamer (]9 6011 989) and, in contemporary psychology,
labeled as social constmctionist (Gergen, 1985) or cultural psychology
(Bruner, 1990). Many reprcsentative articlcs can be found in Gergen and
Da vis (1985), Semin and Gergen ( 1990), and Smith, ]-Iall'c, and Van
Langenhove (1995a , 1995b). The present article attempts to formulate, at a
very general level and as preeisely as poss ible, the characteristics of psycho
logical phenomena that form obstructions to the traditional mainstream
approach . Although somewh at similar arguments can be found in the litera
ture, and no doubt undcrlie the thinking of many social constructionist and
cui rural psychologists, it has remained a task to speeify and isolate thc four
conditions that cannOt be fUI1her reduced. [t has also been important to point
out how practical psychology must implicitly take the..;e fach into account
and therefore has developed in ways that differ 11-0111 the academic research
From a common starting point ofunrctlcetively taking for granted the general
featur(' ., of being human , the shared gencral and local meaning ;,ystems, ~IJ1d
the uniqueness of individuals, psychologieal researchers and practitillflers
have divcrged. Academic researchers hah' pursued the goal of diseu\ering
bws or I\:gulariti-:;,;, whereas practitioncrs h:1Ve tried to Illaximize cJ'i'eetive
nt S~. The uutcome has been two different approaches.
Rese,ireilers produce repol1s eontaining statistical relationships between
mc:\sured variables , under the assumption 1I);]t all otller things arc equal. What
is not reported is the uncertaint y about the large number of unknown variables
hidden in the eon stant conditions (instructions. materials, cte .) and in the con
stant population from which the experimental and eontrol samples arc drawn .
By hidden unknown variables I mean aH. the poss ible variations in instructions,
materials, and populations that would makc a di fference in the rcsults. In hrief
there is a lack ofknowlcdge about exaetly what is held constant. AI .~\.), it is often
not explicitly recognized that general'izing the findings presupposes stability
of the shared meaning systcms and the expcrimental conditions involved .
and that if meanings and consequences change . expcrimental rcsults arc al so
bound to change. In SUmITlaIY, the findings are typically presented as intlinsi
cally stable whereas ill reality they n:llcct phases in ongo ing histoI-ieal proce ss c~ .
Looking back at the beginning" or scientific psychology, it appear:-. that there
must have been a con ,ll ict between the intuitive and taken-for-12ranted knowl
edge (the archetypal image ufwhat is human, the linguistic and cultural knowl
edge, and the knowledge about indi viduals) and the idea or an experimental
sci ence. Gradu ally, it became clear that a safe way to do defensible psyeh olog
ica,] experiments is by means oj' what is referred to as the RCT design. This
3110\\ s one to ignore the challenge of the four mcntioncd obst;leles.
Irthe rend erin g or tile naturc or psychological phenomena ~i\('n above is
tme. thl' n the consequences of'eontinuing to usc the RCT design would appear
to be as follows: nothing similar to psychological laws wIll turn up, and the

findi ngs will continue to be in the form of, for the 1110st part.'1l1all differences
and smal l correlations. The difTerences and correlations \\'tli be derivable
from, and therefore explained by, the shared meaning systems that arc already
known, at least implicitly. Hence, no genuinely new knowledge will emerge.
Also , the observed dit'ferenees and eorrclations will have lillie practical use .
rom the perspective of the practitioner the eOITela tions and differences arc
generally t00;;l11all to be ofmueh hclp compared to all the substantial infor
mation onc hJ .~ about a Glse. The traditional argument that the experimental
results ca n have theoretical impol1anee is also llluch weakened when we wke
into considcration the four characteristie~ of psycho'iogi eal processes . Taken
together they mcan thaI th ere can be no comprchensive and stable predictive
theoric~. We must regard the fIndings as oute om e~ of an indefinitely high num
ber of interacting factors, rcCerring to irreversibk potentially unstable
pro e esse .~, and, to the extent that there is regularity, derivable from the shared
meaning systems, Psychology is, thereforc, a domain that is quite inhospitable
to the traditional type of empirical research and associated thcorizin!,!. This
docs not mean that one cannot find local and tempora l statistical regu'laritics
that can be useful for practical. for example socio-political, purposes. For
ex ampl e, one might investigalc whether establishing soccer teams in high
chools in a givcn country at a givcn time leads to a decline in drug use.
However. such research is not aimed at advancing the science of psychology,
but s hould be financed for its expected immediate practical ut ility.
Psychological practice, on the other hand, involves a maximal reliance on
what we all know about being human, and on the shared meaning sy~t e ms
(language and culturc), as wcll as on intensive study of the individual pcrsons
in thcir surrounding eirculllstances. In spite of' Ihe "scicntif':e"-looking features
in sOllle practitioners' work, such as the use of i'lventories, tests, and manual
directed tcchniquc:;. I think there is alwa ys a special attitude th(lt ebaractcrize
the competent practitioner. It derives from the personal encounter with the
other person , taking in the individual other, and his or her surroundings, The
encounter involves cthieal commitlTlcnt, and necessitates an crrort 10 lay aside
stereotypes. prejudices, theorie~, ready-made categories, and prcdictions.
This comparative openness and attempt 11 0 / to jump to conclusions is , by
defInition, nccessary, in order to eneountcr and assimilate thc uniqucness or
the otilcr individual and the accompan yi ng eirclllllstanees. Therefo re. what
L:haraclcri / es the competent practitioner is 1/,,/ the possessi on of vast amounts
of' general knowledge applicable to eaeh new case. It is, on the contrary, an
ability to discard and push into the background previous experiences and to
listen to what duc~ 110/ fit into one's pre-existin g categories.
The altitudc of the psychol ogical practitioner has so me similarities to the alli
rude llf surveyurs, in that they also ealUlot rely on prcvious experience and do
not tly tll catcgorize and predict thc geographical terrain. Instead, they take into
~leeOlln( the unique geographical formations cneOlUltered and rely only 1)Il geom
etry (trigonometry) in mapping thclll and orienting thcmseh cs. The surveyor
792 ', II IOUR\ ' & PS YCl Il/ LQliY 19( 6)

docs not tly to ass~mble data to build predictive theories about ten-ains, and is unin
terested in the "average" terrain_ Simil3r1y, the psychological practitioner
should not believe that he or she can know from empirically based theory what
something means to a person or what a person will do next, and should not be
intercsted in the average persoll in the average situatioll_ The only realistic
approach is to get to knO\v as closely as possible the given unique persons in
their actual unique cireul1lstam;es. This attitude takes for granted the multitude
of intluem:c ..; on the persoll. Al so_the irreversibility of proL'ess is continuously
recugnized: ifshe tells him thl~, ~hl' will have told him this, and it can never be
untold. The e,'lllinuous reliance on the sharcd mGJrling systel11 (language and
culture) is so self-evident that it is mostly invisible. Words and sentencL'S mean
what tlley mean and traffic rules are what they are. Without participation in
these shared meaning systems, a psychologi st becollles helpless and disoricnled
and no profcs~ional work is poss ible. Finally, uniqueness is taken for granted
and acknowledged each time one gds to know a new person.
The preceding considerations can be SUl11ll1arized as follows, Profess ional
psychol og ical practice ao; it ha.'l unfolded 0\ cr the bst cenhlry has bcen formed
with an ethical commitment to th.: clienh and a constant clllpha~is on e ffective
ness. Thcrefore, t.he resulting tOl1n of practice, empha~i!ing the concrete and
uniquc, and avoiding rigid plinciples, techniques, and prediction~, should be
heeded and taken seriously. 1\ special kind of knowledgc has emerged frolll the
rr;lctical work , namely a generali zed knowledge of Sfl'l1ff'gy rather than of COII
fellf. Thi,s is a fundalllentally di fferent 3ttirudc fi'OIll that of the rc!>carcher.
People ' " psychological rroccsscs arc indefinitely variable and ever changing
and cannot be understood and predicted by asscmbling group -level dat~1. On the
o!ller hand, practitioners have learned much about ho\l' to deal with persons
in order to be of help, and we can hope to rel~ne and. dc\elop this knowledge.
Part orit is universal and. derivable from our primordial knowledgc of Humo sapi
ells. ran uf it is derivable from the given linguistic/cultural meaning system, and
the remainder is adjusted to indivi dual circumstances (sec also Bergner, 2006).
As 3n illustration, let mc brien y describe one aspect of the strategic knowl
edge rcl i,ed on by practitioners. We know that persons feel vulnerable (Axiom
8: Vulncrabilit y- P thinks (hat 0 can do something good and something bad
to P) . As a profess ional psychologist, you wam a client to trust you, (hat is,
to think that you will do good things and no! do bad things to him or her. In
order to achieve this yOll must, among other things, treat the person with
I'especf, c al'e. and l(17c!el'sfalldillg. To treM a person with respect is to treat that
person rightl y, that is, in thc way the person is entitled to he treated in hi" or
her society. To tre3t a person c<1ringl y is to want good things for the person
and to act accordingly. To treat a perSO ll with underst and ing Illcans to get to
know what thc persoll wants, think s, feel s, and docs and why, and to treat the
person accordingly, In order to create trust, which again is a condition for
cooperation and change, one tries to behave in accordance with thc~.: three
anirudes, and some others (sec Sllledslund, 1997, pp. 59-73 for a more detailed

' ~lmSI UNO : rll R('I I \I FTII OI)S \ 1\ ('1 PSVCIIUI L)(.iICA I r IJr N, lMLNA 793

treatmcnt). This is knowledge of strategy rather than of laws guverning the

p~:ehologieal content. Its most general features follow from our archetypal
knowledge 01" what it is to be human, and the im(1lcmentation follows I"rom
knowledge of the n;;cvant shared meaning system (language and culture)
and knowledge of indi viduals and indi\ iJual circumstances.
In this article, I ha ve argued that psychological researchers must listen to
what praetIlioners have learned about the lbcfull1l:ss of tbe three kinds of
knowled ge already available to u~, and the corresponding limited usefulne %
o f empiri cal re ~ careh reports The domain of psychology is not hospitable to
empirical l"CseMch of the ReT type, and one century of experimentation has
not led to the desired results in thc {"o nn of general principles (Roediger, 2008 :
Tei gen. 2002). This should encourage researchers to consider what we alread y
know about persons and the implications of thi s for how to proceed .
A psychologi cal practitioner cannot rely on the misdirected attempt s to bu iId
an empirically based psychology. On the other hand , the practitioner eJn
\Vl.rk ba ~ cd On knowing what it is to be human, participating in the relevant
si1,treci meaning sys tem s, and knowin g unique persons Jnd environments. The
practitioner'S general knowled ge is not abo ut content but about strategy, and
improvements in practical sbll, can eomc I"rom explication o f what we already
know ill1plieitl~. rather than fr0111 experimentation. To exrlicate is to put into
words or f(, rlllulat e what We already know and/or do tlmet-leetively, but have
not yet been abl e to think, talk about, and do relleetively. Th e conc eptual
fr,lI11ework and the terrninology of psychology nt-cd to be cleve lo ped in much
Jl1Q re nuanced and rreeise ways. The proj ec t is, aAc r all , (0 get a better working
kn o wledge o f oursd ves, tlwt is, knowJcJ gc that work s.


Bandura, A. (t l )82). T he psyc ho logy o r chanc e encounters :lI1d life pat hs. AlJlencrlll
Psy c //()/ugisl. 3 7, 74 7- 755.
Bergner. R. (:2006 ). Th(; many 5(;c ure knowl ed ge bases o f psych othe rapy. AlJIl'riculi
J fJIIIII[.d oj Psrclw l/II:I<.IPY, 60, 2 15- 23 1.
Bruner. J. S. ( 1990 ) . ...I CIS ({F lli c/llling . Cambridge , MA: l-18rva rd Univers ity Pre
D;] Ilz.ig c r. K. ( I () 90). C Oll s/l"//e/illg liJ e! .I'lIbjecl : H is ro rical o rig i ns (4/J ,")'C//() lug icu/
RI!.lf!o r ciJ. N e w York: C ambri dg e U ni vers il y Press.
Dihhe y, W. ( 1977 ). D <,scn i, /iI 'c p.I)'c!lIIlog}' a ll d lu'sl uricalllllder.llo lidillg ( R .M. Za neI'
& KL Hei ges, Tran ~. ) . The lla gue, T hc Ne th erlands : Martinus NiJhofT. (Ori ginal
work pu blished 1l< 94 and 1927 )
Ebbing.h:tus. H . ( 19))3 ). Unnanuskript "Uebe r dCls Cj c d ;ic hrn i s~ . ' Pus.){J1/C'r Schl"ijll!lI
::/11" P J l'c hologiegeschiciJlt', I. Passa u, Gennn ny: P ~ $s:w i a Un ivcrsittit sveriag.
Gad:mlcr. H.G. (1 9 89). Trlllh alld /II efllU d (2nd rev. cd.; J. Wcinshcimcr & D.G. M~lrs h a ll ,
Tr:II1 S. ). N n v Yo rk: Continuum . (Original work publi shed 1960)
ergcn, K.J. ( I C)8S). Thl' social constructi onist movcmcnt in mod ern psy,ho logJ .
I f lII eriLl/ Il P.\~,.c h o log is /, -10, 2 66- 2 75.
Gergen , K.J ., & Davi s . K., E. ( Ells .). ( I nS). Til e su ciul cOlls/mc /ion oj" ril e perso ll.
New YorJ...: Sprin glT-Verlag.


G,_)du:Jrd . C ., & Wicrzbicka. A. (Eds .). (1994) . Sell/antics alld l erical 1I1Ii\ erstds.
Amsterdam : John BcnJull1in ~.
Hcidcggcr. M. (1962 ). Beillg alld tillle (J . Macquarric & E, Robinson, Trans. ). New
York: Harper & Row (Original work published 1927)
Hcider, F. (19 58 ). The p s)'chologl' of illtl!rp er slillal r elatiolls . New York: Wiley.
Ossori o, P.G. (2006). The Iw ilal'iar 0/ persons: Th e collected \I'arks of Peter C.
o.uorio (Vol. 5) . Ann Arbor, MI : Descriptive Psycho logy Press.
Paul. G.L. (2007). Psyc hotherapy outcome can be ::.tudi cd scientifically. In S.O. LilienfCld
& E.T. O'Donahue ( Eds.). Tht! great ide{l.\ u( clillical .lCiCllct! (pp. 119-147). Ncw
York : Routledge.
Roedi ger, H.L. (200S). Ret.Jtivity of remembering: Why the law ~ ofmelHory vanished .
A 1111 11/ 1 Rel'iell ' oF P,IT chol og),. 59, 22 5- 254 .
'Jemin. G .R .. & Ge rgL'n, K ,J. (Eds.). (1990) . I 'crydul' IIl1der.ston,IIII,!!.: Sud al al/(I
sci elltUk ill/p licotitJIIS London : Sage .
Sieg jiicd. J. (Ed.), (199-1) . Th e st(ilUS 0/ ('()1I/1I1011 \e//.l t' ill pll ,1wlngl '. Norwood, NJ :
Sm edslund. J. (1 987 ), Eb bin ghaus. the illus ionisl How psychology eame to look like
an cxperimental sl:iencc. P ass(1!wl' Schr(f1f.'11 ::lIr Ps),chulug iegeschichte. 5. 225-239.
Pa~::. a u. Germany: Pa::.z,avia Uiliversitatsveriag.
Sl1leds lund. J. (191'(1< ). P.lycho-Iogic. Heidelberg. Germany: Sprin gcr- Verlag.
Smedslund. J. ( 199 1). -n le pseudo-empili c<.11 in psychology and the e;))e for psycho
log ic . P,n'dlOloglC:allllljuin ', 2. 325- 338 .
Smed::.lund, J. (1997). 771(' stI'I/C/I(rf! ()('huh)~I ('u l COIIIIIIOIl Sf!IL)'C'. Mahwah. Nl :
Erlbawn .
Smcds lund. J. (2002) , From hypothesis-testing p~ y cholog y 10 procedurc-testing
psycho-l ogic. R ( 'I'iI! 1I Ii! C C'IIf!1'II1 P,I,l d lVlug l', 6. SI-72 ,
Smcd!>lund, J. (2004) . Dialuglles abullt a lIell ' pS,l'ciwlvgy. Chagrin Fall s, OH : Lin,
Institutc Publications .
Smilh . J.A ., Harr~, R., & Vun L.3n gcnho ve. L. (Eds .). (1995a). Rl!thillkillf!. p,l,l'cI/Ul
(Jg:l'. London : S,lge ,
Smit h. .I..<l. ., Han'c. R.o & Van lilllgcnho\ c, L. (Ed ~. ) . (llJ':I5b). Rl!thillkillg lI/('th UI!.\, ill
pS'I'chul ug)', Londun : Sage .
T.: igcn. K.H, (2002) . One hundred year:- of law!> in psychology. A lIIl!riWII JOllmal of
P,I\'c hol ogy, 11 5, 103- 11 8.
Wal l:Jeh. !VI .A. , & Wallach . L. (1 998). When ex periment ~ serve lillie pllrp ()~ c :
Misguided rC :'C' ~lrch in main stream psychology, Tli eor l' & p.\'\'c/w /ug..1'. 8, 183 - 194,
Wier7bicku , A. (1996) , Sell/ulltics: Prillles /lnt! IlIlil'C'},I'IJ /.I'. Ne w York : Oxfo rd
niversity P rc s~.

J;\I\ S ~ ll nS ll 'l'[) is Pro fc::.!>or Emcritus of Ps y ~llOl o gy 3t the Univcrsiry of

Os lo. No rway, He has done rC' ~ c;]rch on cogniti ve dcvcklpmcnt. common
scn se psyc hology, and the found31ion s of psychology. He is al so a c linical
psyeh ulogist "nd is currcntl y doing rcscarc h on psychotherapy. Among his
books <J rc PSI'cli o-log ic (Spri nger- Verlag. 198X), The Structure of
Ps),ch,)logical C Ci /llIll V II Sellse (Erlbaum , 1997), :J ntl D ia logut's abo lit a Nell'
Ps)'chlllog l (Taos InstinJle Publications. 2004 ), Al>f)RI S~ : Institute of
P~yc holo gy , Un ivcr., iry o r Os lo. 1094 BI indern, 031 7 Olo lo, Nu rwBY remail:
j an.smcds III nd (~ p sy ko log i. u io. no]


The o ')' & Psychology

The bricoleur model of 22(5) 643-657
Tbc Author(,) 2012
psychological practice Rep r ints; and permission:
sJgepub CO .u'riJlouf'"nalsPermissions .na",
001 : 10.1177/0959354312441277

Jan Smedslund
Univers ity of Oslo

A brico/eur is a resource person enlisted when conventional procedures in daily life fail to work,
and who utilizes whatever is at hand in the given situation to effect a solution . The psychologist
cum-brico/eur relies on three sources of knowledge: what we all know about being human because
we are human. what we know about some others because we participate in particular shared
meaning systems (language and culture), and what we know about unique persons. Psychological
treatment is seen as composed of three interacting part projects, namely building trust between
psychologist and client, modifying the client's behavior, and modifying the client's surroundings.
Actual interventions are formed by the concrete treatment situations. Finally, the differences
between the brico/eur model and the standard scientist-practitioner model are examined.

a priori contingent psychology, brico/eur, evidence-based practice, psycho-logic, trust

This article is the second paJi of a trilogy. The first part describes the difficulties of
generalizing empirical psychological findings , owing to tbe nature of psychologicaJ
phenomena (Smedslund, 2009). The third part attempts to describe what we all know a
priori about human beings (Smedslund, 2012) .
Here, I present a view of psychological practice as based on a priori knowledge of the
general characteristics of persons, on familiarity with the relevant language and culture,
and on acquainta.nce with unique individuals in their unique life-situations, and as
conducted in interaction with persons in concrete situations . It is presented as an
altemative to the currently dominant scientist-practitioner position, well described, for
exampl e, by Baker, McFall, and Shoham (::;009), which emphasizes that practice should
be as much as possible based on outcomes of empirical research. The present article is
also presented in support of those clinicians who profess to be unable to profit from thc
ordinary type of group-bascd and statistically analyzed scientific findings. The brico/ellr

Corresponding author:

Jan Smedslund . Department of Psychology. Univers ity of Oslo. 1094 Blindern, 0317 Oslo . Norway .


... <.

644 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

model invol ves a practicc that may not deviate very much frOI11 what some clinicians
actually do, but is intended to clarify why they are juslified working in this way.
The teml brieo/ellr is borrowed from Levi-Strau ss (1962/1966, pp.16- 36), who used
it to describe a way of thinking that he also called "a science of the concrete. " The
activity of a brieo/ellr is called bl'lco/age. A brieo/eur is a resource person who is enlisted
when ordinary e!:itablished procedures in daily life fail to work, and who utilizcs whatever
is at hand in ihe given situations to effect a solution. As a brieo/eur, the psychologist is
one who works in innovative ways with pcople in their life-situations, relying on
knowledge oj human nature, language and culture, and specific individuals. The analogy
to Levi-Strauss's thinking is only p311ial. Although a psychologist-brieo/eur relies on his
or her concrete knowledge, he or she may also share the attitude of what Levi-Strauss
called the "ergineer" or "scientist," in attempting to fomllliate a systematic conceptual
framework for describing and understanding what goes on in actual treatments . For
reasons to be presented , empirica lly based theories and generalizations from controlled
studies carulOt contribute much to this fonn of practice .
In what follows, J first describe the meta-theoretical status of the view to be presented.
After that, I brietly describe the suggested form of practice, and, finally, compare it to the
standard scientist-practitioner model.

Some meta-theoretical considerations

In a previous article (Smcdslund, 2009), J have argued that the search for a limited
number of general and empirically based regularities (laws) in psychology cannot
succeed because of four characteristics of persons: (a) they are influenced by an
indefinitely high number of factors; (b) they remember outcomes (what happened after
an act or a perception) and, hence, are always changeable ; (c) the regularities that can,
nevcrtheless , be found, stem from participation in shared particular meaning systems
(language and culture), already implicitly familiar to the observer and, hence, not
requiring empirical research; and (d) persons are also unique, partly because so much of
what the y ha\oe experienced and leamed from has involved fortuitous events. In view of
the difficulties of building a psychology based only on generalization from empirical
research, let us explore the possibility of finding non-empirical bases of psychology.
Can we have knowledge of some general characteristics of persons that is not based
on experience? Do there exist psychological propositions which, "by virtue of thc fact
that they need not be tTue in other possible worlds, are contingent; and which, by virtue
of the fact that we can arguc for their truth without ever stin'ing from our armchairs .
can be known 10 be a priori')" (Bradley & Swartz, 1979, p. 159).
In contemporary psychological literature, researchers usually take the position that
scientific knowledge is empirical and contingenl, as in the natural sciences. In the area of
clinical psychology, only a very few writers, among Ulcm 0' Donohue (19R9) and Bergner
(2006), diverge from this dominant lradition and argue for the existence and value of a
priori, contingent, clinically relevant k.nowledge. Such knowledge involves some general
presuppositions about persons that we IIIUSI make, because denying them makes no sense,
given what we othelvvise take for granted. They reflect that we are predisposed to conceive
of human beings just as Shepard (19~4) has shown that we are predisposed to conceive of
I ,

Smedslund 645

the physical environment. We may something about general features of other
persons a pliori: that is, independently of experience. One line of argument for the
existence of contingent a priori psychological knowledge has been pursued by Kukla
(200 I), who writes : " How much can psychology hope to establish by this analytical route?
.. . [1]t is prima facie possible Ihat a fairly detailed picture of our mental (and social) life
can be deduced from the very existence of the scientific enterprise" Cp. 233). What human
characteristics nlusl be assumed in order to be able to understand the behavior of scientists?
If thi s is a legitimate question, one may extend it by asking: How much of psychology can
be derived from the existencc of some features of professional psychological practice,
and, even more generally, what can be inferred about psychology from the very existence
of many features of our ordinary daily life?
Let me usc the following proposition to exemplify an a priori assumption: PerSOIl P
CllcOul1lers a person 0 Jor Ihc(irsllillle, and is elllirely unfamiliar wilh 0 language and
culture. P knows a priori Ihal whal 0 suys alld does is purposive (in the sense of being
directed at a goal or involving a preference). Situations like Ihis have been encountered
and described by many early explorers in difTerent p3l1s of the world. General
charactcristics of members of the human species seem to be taken for granted.
Knowledge is a priori if it is not based on experience, and it is conti ngent if it engenders
predictions. We arpear to have valid knowledge about certain very general characteristics
of other humans, one of which is "purposiveness," simply by virtue of being human . In
an evolutionary perspective this makes sense. To deny that this knowledge is a priori
leads to great difTiculties, because an alternative exrlanation in terms of leaming from
experience must always presuppose some organization of this experience inlO categories.
One cannot learn that "green" is always followed by "red," if one docs not have the
categories "red" and "green." The hunter in the wildcmcss cannot follow a track unless
he distinguishes between signs in the forest that arc "unordered" and signs that arc
"ordered." He must discriminate between distributions of broken twigs in a line
(indicating someone going in a direction towards a goal) and unordered distributions of
broken twi gs just lying around. In terms lIsed by Piagel (J 950), we cannot accommodate
to what we have not assimilated. In still other words, one cannot experience and leam all
empirical relation between two phenomena unless they can be distinguished and
recognized : that is, unless they are already incorporated in two categuries . The assumption
of "purposivene~s" is a categorization that is a priori. One cannot learn that a person is
t'rying to reach a p3l1icular goal unless onc already has a categolY of purposiveness
available . If any specific predictions derived from this general presupposition are
falsified, they are attTibuted to failure of one or 1110re auxiliary hypotheses embedded in
the methods of obtaining and interpreting the data. One cannot interpret an observation
as indicating that what a person does is not related to anything that he or she wants (and
to how he or she understands the sinlation). We must explain a failure to predict a
particular behavior by assuming that the person must have wanted something else and/o r
must have thought differently about the situation. We seem almost always to presuppose
that rersons want something: that is, that they are purposive. Our observations are
organized according to this concept.
Regardless of whether this assumption of purposiveness is taken to be a priori or not,
one must celiainly be able to ask how one determines 1'>'hal is wanted in concrete
..... ~

646 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

instanccs. One obvious distinction here is between when someone just wants something
wilholll knowing Ihal he or she wants it (and therefore cannot talk about the want), and
when someone wants something and knows it (and therefore is able to talk about it).
Since what goes on in humans is somctimes not known to them, it follows that what
someone wants is sometimes unconscious (unreflective) and can be detern1ined only
indirectly from complex and numerous observations of what the person docs.
I! is possible that, at least, parts of what can be said about psychological phenomena
involve contingent and valid a priori knowledge. This seems to be the case with the
category of wanting, which appears to be universa lly present in humans . Everyone
always wallts something. Hence, it should be possible to develop a general psychology,
by wa y of explicating what we already know a priori also with respect to ot.her basic
concepts th an wan!. This is attempted in the last part of this h-ilogy (Smedslund, 2012).
The existenc '~ of shared a priori assumptions can only be decided by consensus. If
everyone agrees that human behavior is nearly always purposive, so be it, until something
convinces us of the contrary. (For a summary of a number of studies of consensus about
some of our contingent a priori psychological knowledge, see Smedslund, 2002 . The
results generally show close approximations to complete consensus.)
Another problem that should be mentioned has to do with the meaning of the term
know. On the one hand, philosophers tend to regard this as a complex and difticult
concept. On the other hand, the tradition from Wierzbieka (1996) treats the tenn kl10HI as
a semalltic primitive, and, hence, only circularly definable. The detailed problems
involved cannot be pursued here. However, the reader is reminded that know is used at
t\.vo levels in : his article. On the one hand, it is used as a semantic primitive, as in "I know
that she has two children." This refers to a cOI1l'ic!ion that something really is the ca.,o,e,
and therefore can be taken for granted. However, it does not stTietly imply that what one
knows rea ll y is the case. On the other hand, the term to know is used at the meta-level,
for example in "a priori knowledge." Here the tenn not only indicates that someone has
such knowledge, but also that this knowledge is valid.
MainSITeam psychologists typically assume or hope that the results from their
elnpirical studies can be generalized and applied to practice, disregarding th e already
mentioned features of psychological processes, notably that they are context-sensitive
and irreversible. " Co ntext-sensitive" means that a psychological process is influenced by
the indelinitely complex surroundings, and "irreversible" means that one can never
return to an earlier state. What is learned cannot be completely undone . Therefore,
processes pOSh-dated by psychologists are different from proee~scs postulaled by natural
scientists . A physical regularity is such that A is always followed by 8, given a context
consisting of a small number of variables, whereas a psychological regul arity exists only
as long as an indefinitely complex context is unchanged, and as long as what hap pens
after an act is the same. Therefore, in psychology, even exactly the same momentary
conditions may lead to two ditTerent acts because of a dilTerence in what hm, happened
before. This, again , means that the prospects of generalization in psychology are, in
principle, uncertain (Smcdslund, 2009).
The preceding considerations lead to an apparent dilemma. If there arc no fixed laws
that detenninc how a person behaves under given conditions, how can one state anything
with any degree of certainty in psychological practice? The answer is that this can happen
- ..

Smedslund 647

only within concrete situations where a psychologist can rely on extensive knowledge of
the current state of specific individuals and situations, in addition to the general
knowledge about human nature and the given language and culture. The knowledge
about human nature is not about details of how people behave, but about the kind of
beings they are. One cannot know a priori what a person will want, think, feel, and do in
a given sit1lation, but only that he or she always will want, think, feel, and do something.
Predietability is limited also because, not only do people change because of what they
experience, but what they experience is composed partly of events that, being fortuitous
(8~lIldura , 1982), arc simply unpredictable.
Psychological practice must be infonllcd by this kJlowledge. When encountering a
new client, the psychologist knows that it is, in principle, impossible to know anything
detailed about the person in advance, except for what follows from being human , and
except for his or her presumed mastery ofa certain language and a certain culture. When
encountering people from an unkJlown culture and with an unknown language, only the
general knowledge about human beings can be taken for granted. Mastery of culture and
language is also a necessalY condition for interacting and communicating with a client.
Tn order to learn about the client 's problems and situation, the psychologist, consequently,
mu st enter interaction with the client without too many preconceptions about what might
be discovered. Tn summary, the psychologist always has to work with new people and
environments, and there are no prospects of accumulating useful knowledge, except in a
limited and transitory sense, relating to language, culture, local eonditions, and specific
individuals and their surroundings as they are at a given time.
Before proceeding, it is finally necessary to comment briefly on a question concerning
the relation oflanguage to reality that pertains to the present approaeh. Many psychologists
may regard psychological terms as polysemous and incapable of generally acceptable
definition. The tradition from Wicrzbicka (1996) denies this and states that all ordinary
words are ultimately composed of semantic primitives and are definable in ternlS of
these . T have discussed this problem elsewhere (Smedslund, 20 II). Let me just repeat
here that , on the one hand, it is hard to understand the utility of words unlcss they carry
a fixed meaning-component. On the other hand, it is easy to accept that word meaning is
also immensely variable, according to context. From a theoretical point of view, this age
old problem can be resolved if we accept that ordinary words do have a fixed,
but that this meaning canllot be stated in words. We kJlOw when a word applies, but we
do not always know why. From a practical point of view, one can either simply accept
that words cannot be defined (what does it mean to use the same word "beauty" about a
woman and a flower?), or one can escape from ordinary language into a technical
psychological one, where words are explicitly defined (Parrott & Harre, 1991 ). The latter
alternative is chosen here and, generally, in psycho-logic (Smedslund, 2012).
T have now described a meta-theoretical view that T take to be necessary for
understanding psychological practice. It di1Ters from the trad itiona I view in psychological
textbooks in that it emphasizes the existence of some a priori and contingent general
k.nowledge about persons, and also that psychological processes arc context- sensitive
and irreversible, purposive, and influenced by chance events. Even given the general
knowledge of humans, and the knowledge of the relevant language and culture, effective
prediction and control at the individual level are only possible with concrete, unique
'. -.

648 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

persons in their concrete, unique life-situations. [n this sense, psychology may indeed be
what Levi-Stra uss (1962 / ) 966) called "a science of the concrete."
What we all know about being human is described in some detail in the third pClli of
this trilogy (Smedslund , 20) 2), in the form of an axiomatic system (psrch(l-Iogic). This
is a system U,at can be briefly characterized as a proposal (hence, nonnative) to rely on
a set ofaxioms, and a technical psychological language, ultimately based on allegedly
primitive semantic universals. The specific content of the [lsychologist's knowledge of a
(natural) language, a culture, and specific individuals naturally cannot be captmed in a
general summary. Therefore, it only remains here to state what ca.n, neverthelc%, be said
in general terms about the practice entailed by the bricoleur model. It differs from
varieties of already ongoing practice mainly by what is presupposed and acknowledged,
and is intended to remove the stigma of being "unscientific" from those who do not
embrace the CllrTently dominant scientist-practitioner model (Baker et aI., 2009).

Characterization of psychological treatment

Above, I have described the a priori contingent epistemological status of what we know
about pcrson~ in general, and also mentioned the other two sources of knowledge that the
practitioner can draw on, namely knowledge of a specific language and culture, and of
individual cases . I have also described the limits to predictability that arise because
people are context-sensitive, because they constantly learn, and because of the fortuitolls
nature of what they learn about.
I now tum to a brief overview of the profe~sional work of the psychologist-bricoleur,
with some emphasis on what distinguishes it from many other rraetices . Arter that, I
describe the three main projects that can be seen as embedded in all psychological
practice. In what follows, I have, with some hesitation, chosen to usc thc more general
term "client" rather than the term "patient," since this article is intended to cover also
those parts of psychological practice that are not directly concerned with individuals, but
with, for example, organizational problems, negotiations, and policy making. It will be
noted that there is much overlap between what a bricoleur docs and what many
practitioners are already doing, because they, without being clearly aware of it, have also
recognized the limitations of prcdictability a lready deseribcd. However, the bricoleur
modelmak~ s explicit why one must work in celtain ways .
People seek assistance from psychologists when confronted with problems of
that they have been unable to overcome. In general, this means tbat conventional
eon"eetive methods have not worked. Reassurance has not eliminated anxiety, consolation
has not cured depress ion, admonition has not restored self-control , and instruction has
not led to learning. Hence, the psychologist-bricoleur must resort to more elaborate and
sometimes unconventional procedures .
Although the unconventional, prima facie, cannot be reduced to any definite rules, it
is, neverthel ess, poss ible to discern some general features also in the work ofa bricoleur.
A person ",'ants to be accepted as a member of a social group. People who seek
r~:vchological help almost always have persistent problems in their social life, and,
therefore, experience uncertainty and concern about their membership and position in
their group . This also includes a threatened self-esteem. In order to case the problems of
- I'

Smedslund 649

the client, the psychologist must usually pursue three tightly interrelated projects, namely
building a tlUsting relation with the client, helping to lllodify the client's ways , and
helping to modify the client's surroundings.
How s hould t.he practitioner proceed when encountering a new client'7 In daily life,
when we encounter new persons and new situations, we normally attempt to capitalize
on previous experience . This means assigning the person and the situation to types and
categories and tTying to apply well-known procedures and strategies . This lllay dbtort
the procc" of getting to know thc individual person and tJle unique circumstances in
sufficient detail for the professional purpose. [n mainstream clinical psychology, the
everyday approach is merely furiher developed by relying on tests and treatment manuals.
These may also distort the picture of the individual client by simplifying it and by
ignoring the det.ailed special circumstances. These features of mainstTeam practice result
from our engrained predilection to generalize from earlier experience, but this collides
with the stubborn fact that the unique simply cannot be anticipated. The prominent role
of the unique in psychology stems from the fact that people learn from experiences filled
with fortuitous events (and also that they are constituted by a fortuitous mixture of
g.enetic dispositions). Hence, the practitioner I1IIISI rely on a stratef,'Y of taking as litile as
possible for granted, and retain a maximal operUless and sensitivity to what is encountered
in talking with the client and with important surrounding pcrsons. Patience is also
required in order to let the new impressions organize. into a coherent picture. As is known
from everyday life, humans are endowed both with an ability to get to know unique
individuals and circumstances, and with an ability, and a predilectio!1, to try to transcend
the single case, and look for relatively context-free or abstract knowledge. BOOl abilities
are probably valuable from an evolutionary perspective. However, in the case of
psycbologieal practice, one works with behavior that often does nor fit into one's general
catego ries, and where there is 110 generally valid method of solution.
T he stratcgy of the psychologist-bricoleur is an adaptation to this special work
situation. The only way to get to know a unique client is to entcr interaction with him or
her with an open , maximally unprejudiced at1itude. Relevant knowledge cannot be
achieved without personal interaction, because a person is also a socially interacting
entity. A person is parily constituted by the way he or she interacts with others. This
means that passive observation and registration (testing) carulot yield sufficient
understanding, and that the psychologist must be active in order to get to understand the
client. At the same time the psychologist must establish him- or herself as a person who
can be trusted by the client: that is, as caring, respectful, understanding, as well as being
independent, having se lf-control, and having relevant know-how. These appear to be the
necessary, and jointly sufficient, conditions of personal trust (Smedslund, 19(7).
Achieving t.his creates a safe interpersonal situation where the client can proceed to
explore alternative ways and means. All the time.. the psychologist must maintain a
professional attitude, which simply means hying to help the client, and not letting other
considerations or personal interests interfere.
How to get the client to experience the psychologist as reliable and profess ional
cannot be generally formulated. Neither can t.he actual interaction be subsumed under
simple categories. All levels of information are taken in-what is said, how it is said,
what is not said, what is non-verbally expressed, what is not non-verball y expressed,
650 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

how the psychologist really feels, what kind of personal relation is beginning to grow,
what the meaning of the exchange~ is , and so on. Uniqueness is important s ince it
detelmines how one can get to know and treat a person. The special characteristics and
circumstances that make a difference in the client's life-sinI3tion and problems need to
be noticed and taken into account.
A number of general aspccts of the treatment process could also have been discllssed
herc- for example, the ccntral role of wondering, the reluctance to give advice, and
many others- but this would transcend thc available space. Finally it shou ld be mentioned
that, irrespective of how the dialogue unfolds, the psychologist can occasionally become
the target of anger, ridicule, and rejection. How this is handled, again, inOuenccs the
deVelopment of the relation and the building oftmst.
In the complex and often confusing treatment process one can, nevertheless, always
discern thcse three projects: tmst-building, modification of the client's behavior, and
modification of the client 's sUIToundings. These are not exclusive to the brico!eur model,
but the ways in which they are executed arc inlluenced by the model.

Worl<ing to build trust

According to analyses of the conditions of lTust already mentioned here, and reported in
detail elsewhere (Smedslund, 1997), thc psychologist should be caril/g, 1Il1derSIQ/1ding,
respecifll!, and have OIl'II-COlllro! (independence), sc/fcOlllro!, and relevant kllow-holl'.
All these can be s hown to be !ogically necessary for the achievement of trust, given a
definition oftn.lst as up lrusts 0. if, and only if P Ihillks Ihal 0 wil! a void doillg allylfling
bad to P," givcn definitions of all the other terms involved, and givcn the axiom "P
IlIillks that 0 can do sOlflelhillg bad 10 P."
Psychologists must also be able to trust their clients, and this raises related questions.
The psychologist must not be too personally uncertain. He or she needs to remain open
and confiden: and to tolerate rejcction. These, and more detailed, analyses oftmst can
be derived from psycho-logic, which is an attempt to summarize our knowledge of
humans in general, and hence is an integral part of the brico!ellr model (Smedslund,
Mo~t clients can be expected to behave in socially acceptable ways and treat their
therapist with some care. understanding, and respect. However, since the nature of the
task (determining and sulving the problem) requires the psychologist to interact with the
client, he or she must be prep3red to be disliked and verbally attacked, and even become
a victim ofmmors. or sued for malpractice. [n subtle ways, a client may also show that
ht: she is not impressed with and touched by the therapist's efforts. The client may also
be moved by the treatment situation to pretend this. In both cases it may provoke a
potentia lIy disturbing fear in the psychologist of being rejected as a professional and as
a persoll. This is a possibility in all therapies, even though, superficially, psychologists
may appear to be protected by hig.h professional status and by being exempted from
insight into their private lives .
The preceding illuminates that the building of mutual tmst callflot be understood as a
matter of applying impersona l technical mles. The brico!ellr model entails interaction
witl] c.lients and, therefore, the predilections and limitations of therapists inevitably
.... !-

Smedslund 651

become important. Psychological practice is personal, and it follows that the education
of psychologists cannot be a matter of reading and technical training alone.
The status of the project of establishing trust can be stated as follows: Est.ablishing a
tlusting relationship between psychologist and client appears to be a necessary, but not a
sufficient, condition for successful treatment. Tt is necessary because, if the client docs
not tnlst the psychologist, the client will be preoccupied with attempting to avoid being
harnled by the psychologist, notably by avoiding difficult matters and by not daring to
tTy out new thoughts and behaviors . However, not to learn anything new also means no
change. Therefore, the client must ITUst the psychologist in order to learn. Conversely, if
the psychologist does not trust the client, the psychologist may become preoccupied with
attempting to avoid being hamlcd by the client, for example by hiding behind his or her
profe~sional status, and thereby not being able io pursue the treahncnt with engagement
and eoncentTation. The establishment of mutual trust, often called "therapeutic alliance,"
is a subtle and multifaceted , but necessary proce~s .
The different specific reasons for mistrust on both sides all have a widespread effect.
This is the case because keeping track of when, and if the other person is really caring,
understanding, and so on, is nearly impossible, since it presupposes that one can keep
track of the other person's state at evel)' moment. This is probably never the case.
Therefore, trust in this context must always be a relatively generalized and stable state.
Mutual trust, although necessary, is not a sufficient condition for successful treatment
because it does not ensure (a) that ways of modifying the client's behavior can be found
and implemented and (b) that a changed behavior in the treatment situation can be
transferred to, and maintained in, the outside world.

Modification of the client's way of functioning

The second general project embedded in the treatment process is the modification of the
client's behavior. In parallel to building tTust, the psychologist attempts to instigate
change. A lthough the work may proceed in indefinitely many ways, the starting point is
nearly always this: The client is situated in a difficult subjective life-situation with no
visible exit and the psychologist must attempt to understand the exact content of Lhis, in
order to fully grasp the client's dilemma in all its ramifications. The psychologi st listens
carefully, and, by gentle and tentative wondering, invites the client to formulate and
think about the possibilities that successivcly emerge from the ongoing dialogue. The
wondering should be non-directive in the sense that it should reflect openness to how the
elient perceives and evaluates the altematives, and a recognition that only the client is
able to fully sense what is at the moment possible and impossible. The status of this
stTatef,'Y can be formulated as follows: Non-directive wondering ahollt lIleanings and
outcom c. \ is likely to be a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for successful
treatment. Tf the psychologist does 170t contribute by wondering about meanings and
outcomes, he or she does not provide the client wit.h new opportunities for discovering
ways oui of a stalemated position, and therefore the tTeatment is less likely to be
successful. If the psychologist is directive-that is, prescribes or advocates solutions
the client may be left with ways of perceiving and acting ultimately based on the
psychologist's rather than t.he client's own view of the situation. This type of intervention
652 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

cannot provide an adequate foundation for how to proceed, because it is almost impossible
to tailor a suggested change to fit the client's total and complex subjective situation. It is
also velY hard to manage new, finely tuned social interactions by followlng another
person's instructions. Finally, cl ients often have low sel f-esteem , and this may become
even lower in directive therapy, both because the psychologist 's advice and directions
imply that the psychologist knows better, and that the client is incompetent, and because ,
as already sugges ted, the client is quite likely to fail and be hurt.
The psychologist's non-directive wondering about altematives invites exploration
and discussion and may encourage new possibilities. It acknowledges that the therapist
carmot know the client well enough to sec all possible roads ahead and every posible
obstacle. It continuou s ly affiml s that the client is the best expert on him- or herself. Only
in very simpl ~ non-social conditions, such as treatment of sna ke or spider phobias, is it
po~sible to be directive and a uthoritative without likely detrimental s ide-effects 011 the
client's self-esteem.
By a persistent gentle, honest, and respectful wondering one may engage the client in
thinking about his or her situation i.n possible new ways. There seem to be few alternatives
to this approach because authoritative or confronting strategies can and do place clients
in unacceptable or ultimately unmanageable situations, and can be disastrous to their
self-esteem. Such shlltegies may also represent hubris on part of the rsyehologist.
The wondering includes a good p0l1ion of creativity on the part of the psychologist,
insrired by the unique situation, and unbounded by diagnostic tests and tTeahnent
manuals. This corresponds to Levi-Strauss's original b,.icoleur his eyes rove
around the bam and discovering a possible object suitable for the technical problem at
hand. The difference is that, in psychological treatment, the creativity is equally on the
side of the client, and the psychologi st's ideas are of value only when they tTigger or
nourish the client 's imagination . The process can only be understood as one of
collaboration and mutual in~piration rather than a one-way simple influence on a passive

Modification of the client's surroundings

We now turn to a third project potentially present in nearly every treahllent, namely
modification of the surrounding system of which the cl ient is a part . Persons are socialized
into linguistic and cultural groups and function in interaction with other persons in these
groups. When people consult a psychologist, it is very frequently becau se they have not
been able to cope with li ving in their current social surroundings. This means that the
problems of 1he client often mirror features of the particular circum stances they have
been subjected to, and live in . The status of this part-project in the tTeatment process ca n
be s tated as follows : Ensuring thaI the client s surrollndings CQII suslaill a diel7l :~
impro\'( 'd personal/ul1C1ioning is a necessary, bllt not a sllfficient, condition/or success/ul
Irealment. If the client's surroundings turn out not to sustain the client's improved
personal functionin g in the treatment situation, the tTeatment has not been successful.
Hence, this is a necessary condition . Examples of this kind of intervention are abundant
in child psychology, when family therapy, or tTansfer to a new school . or a foster home,
can have discernible effects . However, also in adults, changes in situation can be useful.

Smedslund 653

An cxample is the case of a young man who developed paranoid delusions from living in
almost total isolation because he had rotting tceth and a dentist phobia. He was provided
with new teeth, which endcd the isolation, and also the delusions.
Howcvcr, optimal social conditions outside a trcatment situation are not a sufficient
condition for SLlCCCSS. This is shown when the psychologist fails to find ways to modify
the clienl's behavior. Then no change OCCLlrs, even though the sUlToundings outside the
treatment situation are potentially favorable to improved functioning. There may also be
ca"es where the client has come to function better in the treatment situation, but docs not
manage to transfer this to ordinary situations in the outside world.
The lack of suitable post-trearment environments is a generally recognized problem
in the tTeatment of children, refugees, and addicts, but it is also a relevant concern in
other treatments. Establishmcnt of trust bctvveen a child and the psychologist is to little
avail if the fClmily situation is detrimental to any trusting rclations. Evcn in adults,
individuClI treatmcnt may have limited or no success if the marital or other personal
relations are too unfavorable. l! follows that a successful treatment can come about only
if a client manages to change his or hcr social lifc in de sired directions.
Modification of the client's surroundings is one example of the freedom offered by
the bricoleur model. The psychologist may discover a way of achieving the goal of the
treatment without the conventional isolated focus on the client. This is illustrated by the
ca~c mentioned above of the young man with delusions and rotting teeth. This was an
example of where the bricolel/r approach differs from many other models of treatment.

The bricoleu,. model is an attempt to describe how psychologis ts must practice, given
that they, all the time, are confronted with new unique persons in unique life contexts.
The complexity and unpredictability of human beings and their circumstances, in my
view, discourages attempts to apply diagnostic systems and standard techniques.
The reader will recognizc that I have described general fea tures of how many
psychol og ists today actually practice, while not taking into account research findings
arrived at by statistical methods, diagnostic tests, and therapeutic manuals. My main
purpose hCls been to show why th ese practitioners should continue to do what Uley do,
and why they need not feel guilty of being "unscientific."
Thc thinking presented hcre differs in the following five points from the currently
dominant scientist-practitioner view of clinical psychology well described by Baker
et al. (2009):

I. Researchers relying on ReT (randomized control tes ts) present themselves as

representing Cl scientific approach, and their opponents as less scientific. They
take an exclusively empiricist position and do not recogni ze that the domain of
psychological phenomena may be quite inhospitable to empirical generalization,
and that natural science methods mClY not be very suitable (Smedslund, 200Q).
2. The general non-empirical (a prioli, contingent) knowledge, as well as the
concrete knowledge about persons and circumstances, that we rely on in working
with people is rarely mentioned in mainstream literature, including the literature
654 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

pertaining specifically to clinical psychology. Among the few exceptions in the

lattcr area are O'Donohue (J 989) and Bergner (2006). Most authors write as if
what we all know implicitly about human behavior is of no scientific interest and
value. Only if it is empirically tested in controlled studies docs it, in their vicw,
achieve the status of scientific knowledge. But an empirical test of, for example,
the assumption that all pe rsons who trust someone think that this other person
understands them cannot strengthen or weaken this assumption, since it is
neces~,ari Iy tTUC, and outcomes can merely show that the methods used are, or are
not, reliable (Smedslund, 1997, p. 70). If the predictions were not verified, and it
were found that people mostly tend to trust persons they think dOll 'f understand
them, we would not accept the findings, and would look for weaknesses in the
procedure. This and numerous other connections are not empirical, but conceptua I.
3. The specific characteristics of psychological phenomena that make them
relati\>ely inhospitable to empirical generalization (Smedslund, 2009) are also
rarely mentioned. Persons are open, irreversible systems, and hence do not
function according to general laws. They repeat a performance only as long as it
lead s to the same outcome and as long as they want that outcome, which means
as lo ng as the relevant context is unchanged. The idea of a cumulative empirical
science is implicitly based on taking for granted that relevant contexts are stable.
Hence, many average results may, for example, hold up only as long as the data
continue to be produced by American undergraduate college students confronted
with the usual type of standardized materials and procedures, or come from
similar environments and populations in other countries. However, such results
do not renect a tl1lly accumulating knowledge basis, but only the relative stability
of human shared meaning systems. Already the first experimental work by
b binghaus (J 88511983) revealed the indefinitely high number of factors
potentially capable of innuencing the results, and the unsolvable problem of
keeping everything constant (Smedslund, 1987). The impression of a cumu lative
science is maintained only by keeping the populations and conditions within
certain limits. Even within these limits, there has been some recognition that
generaliz.ations fail because of the number of influential factors (Roediger, 2008).
4. It is seldom recogniz.ed that the modest statistical regularities that can be found
1l10stl~i stern from people's participation in shared meaning systems (language
and culture). These regldarities that follow from the meanings of the terms
involved, and from necc~sary general assumptions, are already implicitly known
to all participants in a given meaning system and, hence, research on them is
pseudo-t'lIIjlil'ical (Smedslund, 1991). This means tbat although the researchers
think ~hey are doing empirical work, their main hypotheses are actually derived
from the shared meaning system and cannot be false. The researchers select
hypotheses because t.hey think t.hey are true. The large majority of verified
hypotheses in published studies also accord with this, and falsifications are rarely
published because they are explained by the failure of some local auxiliary
hypotheses (about procedure and/or context). General psychological theories
also tend to be pseudo-empirical and can be shown to follow logically from the
shared meanings of words and self-evident general premises. Bandura's theory
Smedslund 655

(Smcdslund, 1978) is a typical cxamplc of this. (Reviews of t.hc litcrature

indicating an occurrence of pseudo-empirical studies can be found in Smedsluod,
199 I, 2002.)
5. Statistics are not only scen as supporting theories and hypothescs, but are also
thought to be va luablc in guiding practical intervcntions . One appears to rely
heavily on an ana logy to mcdicinc, since medicines are rccommcndcd when
treatments show statistically better results than control groups, and one docs not
mention that the number and changeability of relevant factors are much larger in
psychology than in medicine. In medicine, one can orten prescribe a particular
medication <lfter considering only a moderate number of clearly defined and
possibly relevant fae.tors. In psychology, one must establish a working alliance
with a person in a life-situation consisting of an indefinite number ofuniquc and
complexly stl1lctured circumstances. The difference in complexity of the
foundations for an intervention in the two disciplines is not merely a matter of
degTee, but, in my view, ncccssit<ltcs a diffe rence in strategy. Consider the three
part projects of psychological treatment: establishing an alliancc (trust),
discovcring cffcctive ways to modify the individual's functioning, and discovcring
effective \\lays to modify the surroundings. In medici ne, achieving a working
alliance may be important as a context, but in psychology it is frequently an
integral and even ccntral part of the treatment itself. In medicinc, discovering
effective ways ofl-reatment is often a mattcr ofse1ection from a relatively limited
number of wcll.-defined and empirically supported options. In psychology, the
indefinite variability of persons and situations requires indefinitely variable
interventions, since the interventions must be tailored to the individual case, to a
much larger extent than in medicine. Finally, the modification orlhe surroundings,
although relevant in both areas, is much more complicated in psychology.

In this article, I have expressed and argued for my beliefthat in psychological practice
we are partly relying on some knowledge that is not empirically based and yet valid. We
know much about other human beings by virtue of being human, and attempts to deny or
c\'C.n question Ihis knowledge make little sense. It must be taken to be self-evident.
Taking into account the general functions of human beings and their linguistic and
cultural context, the psychologist must work with thc uniquc and fortuitous, and this
challenge can only be met with a rnaximally open and maximally creative attitude.
Formulations of what is obviously true can be assembled into an explicit system, in
order to be of predictive use and to allow us to discover less obvious connections. Among
the first psychologists to undcltake the project of explaining thc obvious (common sense)
was Fritz Heider (1958), and his work is continued in psycho-logic (Smedslund, I qSx,
1997). However, most of the practical work dealing with unique individuals in unique
situations cannot be generally characterized, and must be the subject orcreative bricolage.
The call for "evidence-based practice" (Baker et aI., 2006) has brought to light deep
problems that have been too long ignored. We can now recognize, and must investigatc,
the chasm between an RCT-centered academic psychology and practitioners who must
be psychologist-bricoleurs because of the nature of the task , and who arc searching for a
different kind of scientific understanding.
656 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

This research rcccivcd no spccific grant from any funding agcncy in thc public, commcrcial , or
not-for-profit sectors.

Baker, T. B., McFall, R. M ., & Sboham, V. (200Q). Current status and future prospects of clinical
psychology: Toward a scientifically principled approach to mental and behavioral health care.
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memory"). Passau, Gcrmany: Passavia University Press. (Original work publisbcu 1885)
Heider, F. (1958). Th l! p.\)'chology o/interpersonal relations. New York, NY: Wiley.
Kukl a, A. (2001). Methods o/th eoretical psychology . Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.
Levi-Strauss, c. ( 1966). The sal'age mind. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Prcss. (Original
work published 1962 )
O ' Donohue, W . (1989). The clinical psychologist as mctaphysician-scientist-practitioner.
American Psychologist. 44, 1460-1468.
Parrott. G. , & Harre, R. (1 99 1). Smedslundian suburbs in the city of language: Thc C<I',C of
em barrassment. Psycholog icalfllquily. 2(4), 358~ 361.
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Rel'lelv of Psycholog)'. 9.225- 254 .
Shcprud. R. N. ( 19 84). Ecological constTaints on internal representations: Rcsonant kincmatics of
perceiving. imag inin g , thinking and dreamin g. Psychological Re view. 91.417-447.
Smcds lund, J. (197 8). Ba ndu.ra 's theory of self-efficacy: A sct of common sensc thcorems .
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expcrimental science. Passauer SclrriJten =ur Psychologiegesclliclrlc. 5, 225-239.
Smedslund , J. ( 19 88). Psycho-Logic. Heidelberg. Germany: Springer- V cdag.
Smed slund, J. ( 1991). The pseudo-empirical in psychology and the case for psycho-logic.
P.\w:holog icaIInqlliry . 2.325- 338 .
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Rel'iew of General Psychology. 6, 51-72.
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psyc hol og ical phe nomcnll. Th eol:v & PJych 0 logy, 19, 778- 794 .
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o/ Th eoretical alld Philosop/llcal Psychology. J 1(2), 126-135. doi: 10.1 037/a0023 417
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PS.l;chology Auvance on line publ ication . doi: 10.1 177/0959354312441512
Wie r7bicka , A. (1 996). Semalltics: Primes and ull iversals. New York, NY : Oxford University
Smedsfund 657

Jan Smedslund is a Professor Emerirus at the Univcrsity of Oslo, Norway, and a licensed clinical
psychologist. He has donc experimental rcscarch on cognitive development, theoretical work on
the foundations of psycholo gy, and has cxtensive psychological practice. His latest book is
Dialogues abolll a New Psychology (Taos Institute Publications, 2004). Address: Department of
Psyc ho logy, University o f O s lo, 1094 Blindcrn, 0317 Oslo, No rway. Email: jan.smcdslund@
psykologi .uio .no

Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2012, 53, 295-302 DOl: lO.11111j.l467-9450.2012.00951.x

Cognition and Neurosciences

Psycho-logic: Some thoughts and after-thoughts
University of Oslo. Norway

Smedslund, J. (2012). Psycho-logic: Some thoughts and after-thoughts. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 53,295-302.
The main features of the system of psycho-logic and its historical origins, especially in the writings of Heider and Piaget, are briefly reviewed. An updated
version of the axioms of psycho-logic, and a list of the semantic primitives of Wienbicka are presented. Some foundational questions are discussed, includ
ing the genetically determined limitations of human knowledge, the constructive, moral, and political nature of the approach, the role of fortuitous events,
the ultimate limitations of psychological knowledge (the "baBoon" to be inflated from the inside), the role of the subjective unconscious, and the implica
tions of the approach for practice.
Key words: Psycho-logic, science of psychology, genetic limitations of knowledge.
Jan Smedslund, University of Oslo, Roahagan 9, 0754 Oslo, Norway. Tel: 22504912; e-mail:

INTRODUCTION Historically, psycho-logic has, at least, two main roots, namely

in the works of Fritz Heider and Jean Piaget.
Here, I try to update and reformulate the most basic assumptions In his classical book, Heider noted that:
underlying the project of psycho-logic (Smedslund, 1988, 1997,
2002, 2004,2009, 2011, 2012a, 20l2b) and add some further We assume implications between parts of the environment whether
comments. Readers unfamiliar with the many earlier debates in regard to the structure of space, the logic of illumination, or the
about psycho-logic may also consult Smedslund (1991) and Helst perceived psychological phenomena in other persons .... As exam
rup, Rognes, and Vollmer (1999). I suppose that many psycholo ple of these formal connections underlying our naIve thinking we
gists will sense both the relevance and the uncertainty of these can refer to the relations between can, try, and success. The state
debates, and the need to find solutions For the benefit of readers, ment that somebody who can do something and tries to do it will
both familiar with and unfamiliar with psycho-logic, I begin with succeed in doing it is analytic and does not have to be proven by
an up-to-date summary. experiment. The relation between desire and enjoyment ... is also
of this character. It is likely that the interdependence of belonging
and sentiment ... is based on analytic statements. (Heider, 1958:
Psycho-logic is an approach to psychology, starting from ordinary
language and common sense psychology, and attempting to for A contribution by Heider was to point out that common sense
mulate, organize, and further develop the conceptual system pre psychology contains only a few basic concepts, related in ways
sumably implicit in these. Human beings are seen as intentional that are not empirical, but necessarily true.
subjective beings acting on whatever follows from the situational Piaget represented a view of psychology in which logic holds a
and personal premises as they see them. The concept of meaning prominent place. Almost alone among his predominantly Ameri
is central here. Since the meaning of something for someone is can and British contemporaries, he emphasized the role of impli
what follows from that something, for that person, that is, how the cations (entailments) in normal psychological processes, as
person interprets his or her experiences, "psycho-logic" could distinguished from more or less behavioristic concepts of "associ
almost equally well have been labeled "psycho-semantics" ation" and "connection". The emphasis on logic reflects a clearly
(Fodor, 1987). subjectivist paradigm, focusing on how the world exists for peo
The project was originally seen as simply aiming at making ple. Piaget's model of assimilation and accommodation, also
explicit the implicit conceptual system embedded in ordinary entails the paradox that we can only accommodate to what is
language and common sense thinking. However, it gradually already assimilated. Children can only learn about the world, as
became clear from the Wittgensteinian view, including the they see it within their momentary conceptual framework.
"intrinsic contestability" of word meanings (Shotter, 1994), that In numerous works Piaget pursued the idea that children's
ordinary language is resistant to the quest for precision and order. development, leading to the adult level of functioning, is not a
In line with a suggestion of Parrott & Harre (1991), I have come straightforward empirical learning process, but consists of the
to regard psycho-logic as a constructed technical system, that, unfolding of a conceptual framework into which the world is
while taking its explicit departure in the semantic primitives of assimilated, that is, in terms of which experiences are interpreted
ordinary language, aims at making more precise, and systemati and learning can take place. Many relations between the various
zing, a conceptual framework for psychology. concepts in this framework are logical, and children's inferences

2012 The Author.

Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 2012 The Scandinavian Psychological Associations. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. ISSN 0036-5564.
296 J. Smedslund

from these concepts gradually come to take precedence over their

Scand J Psychol 53 (2012) "

were recognized, in the sense of making a difference in the

direct experiences (perceptions). From this perspective, develop person's activities, even though the person does not know this
ment consists partly of a gradual unfolding of the implications of reflectively, and consequently cannot talk about it. A person's life
a conceptual framework. An observation I made in a Piaget-type would be incomprehensible if one did not allow for unreflective
study, illustrates the preceding very well: A preschool girl had that is, unconscious - processes, that can only be indirectly
been shown that two balls of dough weighed the same on a bal studied.
ance scale. I then formed one of the balls into a snake, and asked Another feature of thinking stems from the already mentioned
"Does this one weigh more or this one or do they weigh the paradox implicit in Piaget's assimilation-accommodation model,
same?" The girl held her hands before her eyes, and said: "that namely that one cannot accommodate to (learn about) what is not
one (the ball) looks heavier, but I know they weigh the same, assimilated. The learning of empirical frequencies can only take
because we did not add anything or take anything away". In a place inside a given conceptual framework. There may also be
related study, I surreptitiously took away from, or added, a piece absolute genetically determined limits to what we can learn about
to one of the pieces of dough and, after asking the same question, people. This is well expressed in Israel's general metaphor stating
demonstrating on the scales that one piece now actually weighed that our task is like having to inflate a balloon from the inside
more. Several preschool children refused to accept the empirical (Israel, 1979). Being human restricts us to the kind of empirical
evidence and said: "We must have lost something on the floor", knowledge that can be achieved within our human conceptual
or "the scales have to be repaired" or even "you cheated!" frarneworks. Psycho-logic can be seen as an attempt to describe
(Smedslund, 1961). Hence, even in fairly young children reason the inside wall of the metaphoric balloon, that is, what we must
ing can take precedence over direct perception, and as they grow presuppose. A seemingly important exception to this limitation,
older this becomes much more common. Recent studies of very and thereby also to the balloon metaphor lies in our ability to
early inferences and presuppositions about the minds of other per negate any proposition, and ask, what if it were not the case? A
sons (He, Bolz & Baillargeon, 2011; Low & Wang, 2011; Samson well-known historical example of this is found in the development
& Apperly, 2010, and others), may also be interpreted as support of the non-Euclidean geometries, that were developed on the basis
ing the idea that there are genetical predispositions for understand of the negation of an axiom in classical geometry. However, it
ing some general characteristics of other people. should be added that this process of tentative negations ends any
In his epistemological main contribution, Piaget (1950) argued how, at least in psychology, when negations turn out to be com
that the theme of psychology should be the study of "implications pletely senseless or absurd.
au sense large". In his view, psychological development consists There may be many other possibly contributing factors to the
of a growing recognition of what follows and does not follow development of psycho-logic. One lies in the work of the Norwe
from given observations, and of the logical possibilities and gian philosopher Arne Naess (1953) on the concepts of "inter
impossibilities involved. In other words, development consists of pretation" and "preciseness", particularly his emphasis on
assimilating the world into progressively more complex meaning cooperational preciseness, that is, the level of terminological
or inference structures. Accommodation to the world (learning) exactness necessary for efficient communication and cooperation.
takes place only in relation to what is already assimilated. In other This requirement also facilitates, or even necessitates, axiomatiza
words, we can learn about the regularities of the world only in the tion of the conceptual system.
way we interpret or understand it at the given time. A central and much debated feature of psycho-logic is precisely
A good illustration of this was a study (Smedslund, 1961) that it is organized as an axiomatic system (Blanche, 1965;
where a person failed to learn a multiple correlation of +0.93 Smedslund, 2011). A search for such a system occurs almost
between some visually available features and a criterion, even necessarily, when one deals with an unorganized multitude of
after as many as 4,800 trials with immediate feedback. This was a sentences, and especially if one cherishes the idea that these sen
dramatic demonstration of how human beings can only learn tences should form a system as exact (cooperationally precise),
(accommodate to) those aspects of the world that they can assimi neat, and simple as possible. Then, questions about whether or
late, that is, that can be incorporated into their categories. not given sentences do or do not follow from other sentences,
Hence, a core concept of both Heider and Piaget seems to have easily come to the fore. If a sentence implies numerous and
been "follows from " or "if-then"), which is also one of the prim important other sentences, yet cannot itself be derived from any
itive concepts that are assumed to be lexically represented in all more basic sentences, and, in addition, is experienced as neces
human languages (Wierzbicka, 1996). Psycho-logic can be seen sary, one has arrived at what is called an axiom. Together, the axi
as the study of what "follows from" what,for persons. This is a oms make up a maximally simple description of how humans
concept different from the natural science concept of "cause". A construe, or organize their view of, other humans, given an innate
set of premises does not cause, but implies, a conclusion, or an conceptual framework. More specific sentences (theorems) can be
action. Psycho-logic is about subjective relations (implications derived (logically proved) from the axioms. Hence, the axioms of
exist only for persons, whereas a cause is an objective relation that psycho-logic aim to describe how we, as humans, must conceive
exists independently of persons). It should be pointed out here that of other humans (the inner wall of Israel's metaphoric balloon).
the subjective, as understood in psycho-logic, encompasses not Since the axioms cannot be tested logically or empirically, they
only what can be talked about (the reflective), but also processes can only be tested by consensus. If everyone agrees with the for
that are inaccessible to verbal analysis (the unreflective). The sub mulation and necessity of an axiom, it can be retained and taken
jective includes everything that makes a difference to a person. If for granted. Versions of the system of psycho-logic have so far
a person shows priming effects we know that the original stimuli almost uniformly yielded very high consensus among English and

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Norwegian speaking persons (Smedslund, 2002) and there have contrary indications. The question of how early young children
also been promising results in a pilot study with six unrelated make those attributions to others, can be raised, but the answer
languages (Ewe, Turkish, Arabic, Vietnamese, Tamil and Norwe depends largely on the ingenuity of the researcher in devising pro
gian; Smedslund, 1997a), as well as with Urdu (Smedslund, cedures suitable for diagnosing pre-verbal children. Ultimately,
2(02). However, much more work is needed both on developing the question of exactly when, may be unanswerable. The same
an adequate methodology, and on analyzing many more goes for theoretical explanations of the origin of these attributions.
languages. The assumption that they are "inborn" covers numerous possible
Psycho-logic is an attempt to make explicit what is already and highly complex interactions between early experience and
implicit in language and common sense, and as such its usefulness genetically directed "unfolding" tendencies. As patt of psychol
depends on whether or not it is consensually accepted. In other ogy, the axiom simply covers attributions normally made by every
words, the axioms are constructions applying to all human social member of Homo sapiens to every other member.
realities, and should be shared by everyone. Further technical dis
cussion of the consensus-concept as a criterion of social reality Axiom 2 Intentionality: P takes it for granted that what 0 knows,
lies outside the scope of this atticle. However, in a science of the thinks, feels, perceives, says, and does, is pattly* directed by what
subjective, cross-individual and cross-cultural consensus is the o wants. *The other main factor is assessment of the situation
only possible test of the veridicality of general propositions. This (cognition).
indicates the extent to which our basic conceptual framework
regarding people is common to all individuals and cultures, and, This axiom means that everyone automatically attributes inten
hence, also consistent with the assumption that it ultimately tionality ("aboutness ") to everything another person says and
depends on genetically constituted characteristics of Homo does. This entails that every outcome, or occurrence of an event,
sapiens. is taken to involve some degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction
It should be added to the above that, given my present view of about the experienced situation, and that everything the other one
psycho-logic as a technical language to be constructed by the does is directed at increasing satisfaction and decreasing dissatis
scientist, the requirement of strict consensus among the general faction. Again, the question of how early one may detect this pre
public may no longer be absolutely compelling. This is so because supposition in children, depends largely on the ingenuity of the
some distinctions and restrictions may be introduced for profes researcher. This axiom, like the preceding one, and the succeeding
sional purposes, and would no longer be patt of the vernacular. ones, describes attributions we cannot avoid making. Regarding
In this case, consensus about utility among professionals would Axiom 2, there can be no observations interpreted to mean that
be the only test. In psycho-logic, the technical question of validity the other one is doing something devoid of preference. Total
is closely linked with the even more complex question of indifference would entail total absence of activity, and would
utility. The all-important question is simply if, and when, the mean that the person was absent (psychologically dead).
propositions and distinctions of psycho-logic are judged to be use
ful by psychologists. Axiom 3 Reflectivity: P takes it for granted that 0 occasionally
knows and occasionally does not know THAT 0 knows, thinks,
wants, feels, perceives, says, and does something.
A recent version of the axiom system is presented below, together A more common term for "knowing that" is "conscious of'.
with some brief comments. The axioms are intended to summarize We assume that the other one is, or can be, conscious of own
some main patts of what we can take for granted about persons, experiences and activity. A contribution of modem psychology is
without depending on empirical research. It should be noted that to bring into focus the fact that we are not conscious of everything
they refer to how we automatically conceive of persons, rather that goes on in us, that is, that we can know, think, want, feel, per
than to what persons are. In a subjectivist language, a person is ceive, say, or do something, without knowing that we do it. This
nothing "in itself', but always as seen by someone, including the was of course sporadically realized also in earlier times, but not
person him/herself. This is close to what Gergen refers to as generally and systematically reflected on.
"relational being" (Gergen, 2011). This axiom means that we always assume that the other person
The axioms cover only a few very general features of our sometimes is, and sometimes is not, conscious of what he or she
built-in model of human beings. We probably know much more, experiences or does.
a priori, than what is expressed by them. This must be a task for
future and expanded analysis. Axiom 4 Verbality: P takes it for granted that 0 can always say
In what follows, P and 0 are persons. something about what 0 knows THAT 0 knows, thinks, wants,
feels, perceives, says, and does, and ONLY about that.
Axiom 1 Mentality: P takes it for granted that 0 can know, think,
want, feel, perceive*, say and do, UNLESS, there are indications We all make this automatic assymmetric connection between
to the contrary. * "Perceive" is a composite word for "see, hear, the other one's talking and consciousness. Consciousness means
taste, smell, and sense tactually and kinaesthetically. to know THAT you know, think, feel, etc. We can talk about what
we are conscious of, and we cannot talk about what we are uncon
This axiom implies that one may attribute all these functions to scious of. However, we also think that the other person can
everyone, and assume that everyone does this, unless there are be conscious of something, yet not talk about it. It is a classic

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, ,

298 1. Smedslund Scand J Psychol 53 (2012)

implicative relation, there are four possibilities, but one combina morally, since this is a consequence of the socialization process
tion is missing. If someone talks about something, we infer that (i.e. having learned the rules of one's social group), and since it is
he or she knows about it. We take it for granted that we cannot always inconvenient or painful to transgress the established rules,
talk about what we do not know that we know, think, feel, etc. and risk punishment and exclusion from one's group. A totally
amoral person is a fictional limiting case.
Axiom 5 Learning: P takes it for granted that what 0 thinks will
happen after now, follows from what 0 thinks happened before Axiom 8 Feeling: P takes it for granted that what 0 feels, follows
now. from the relation between what 0 wants and what 0 thinks.

This is a statement in terms of semantic primitives only, of the What the person feels is always characterized by whether, and
attribution of an ability and inclination to learn. The entire linguis to what extent, his or her perceived situation, relative to his or her
tic structure, among other things the primitive concepts of wants, is good or bad. It may well be that this axiom is ultimately
"now", "before" and "after", entails an ability to remember and derivable from axioms 1 and 2. People always evaluate their situa
to expect based on this. We take it that everyone has a remem tions by comparing what they want with what they take to be the
bered past and an expected future. Such principles as "the Law of present situation. No particular classification of what people can
Effect" follow from the axioms of Intentionality and Leaming. In feel is suggested. It is known that this varies with cultures and
a deeper sense, the ubiquity of learning also reflects the irrevers time periods.
ibility of psychological processes. Everything we experience Since 1997, the number of axioms has been steadily reduced,
changes us, and cannot be completely undone. To be human is to and this reflects the analytic and constructive work going on
live in time. (Smedslund, 1997,2002,2004, 2012b). The present list is proba
The existence of constant readiness to learn as a universal bly only a phase in the development of psycho-logic. It merely
human trait, means that evolution has taken place in an environ represents one attempt to summarize some of the presumably
ment that ha~ contained a significant degree of stability. This is innately given human presuppositions about their fellow beings,
exemplified and maximized in the rules of every human society. in an axiomatic form (Smedslund, 2011). None of the theorems
that may be derived from these axioms are included here.
Axiom 6 Responsibility: P takes it for granted that 0 is responsi
ble for what 0 says and does.
For P, it is 0 and no one else that should be rewarded or pun Looking at psycho-logic today, I want to make a number of addi
ished for what 0 has done. In human social life this is quite triv tional comments. Reflecting on theory, as well as on my own
ial. Every person is responded to according to what he or she is practice as a clinician, has gradually led me to realize some things
taken to have done. It also follows from Axioms 5 and 6 that a that are neither to be found in the works of Heider and Piaget, nor
person is expected to take into account the anticipated reactions to in my own earliest writings on the subject.
own activity. We do not expect a person to regard the wind or a I begin with looking once more at an early critical paper (Shot
stone as responsible for their effects, because we do not expect ter, 1994). In a scholarly, and well-argued way, it pointed out that
the person to think that the outcome makes a difference for them. the project of psycho-logic, despite its impressive-looking geneal
But we automatically expect everyone to hold a person responsi ogy in the older sciences, overlooks that the closure it recom
ble for what he or she has done, and, therefore, growing up and mends, with fixed precise concepts and explicit deductive
living in a society makes most people behave responsibly most of networks. "is not the only closure and ordering available". The
the time. article ends as follows: "So the choice of closure to institute is
not merely a theoretical matter, but is in fact a practical. moral.
Axiom 7 Morality: P takes it for granted that 0 wants to do what and political choice [italics mine], for it determines the opportuni
o thinks is right, and wants not to do what 0
thinks is wrong. ties for action available to use corporatively and communally."
While I appreciate the arguments in this article, and also
According to Wierzbicka (2006) "right" and "wrong" are not Shotter's emphasis on the essentially contestable definitions of
semantic primitives, but are specific to Anglo culture and lan terms in natural language, I now think there is a matter that has
guage. However, it is hard to believe that a concept or expression come to my knowledge later, that points in favor of the
signifying conformity with, or transgression of, the rules of a soci psycho-logic selected. This is the discovery of semantic primi
ety, should not somehow be built into every human language. The tives (Wierzbicka, 1996). To the extent that her findings hold
closest established primitive concepts are "good" and "bad", up, the number of possible alternative conceptualizations of
and a proposition that these are always present, is a corollary that common-sense psychology is sharply reduced. In Shotter's ter
follows directly from Axiom 2 (Intentionality). The present axiom minology, there may ultimately be few alternative closures avail
adds to this something reflecting the inherent sociality of human able, because all humans appear to share one particular set of
beings. It states that humans always are sensitive not only to what common primitive concepts.
they themselves want, but also to what the social surroundings Given the semantically primitive concepts and their implicit
want. The axiom is not intended to mean that everyone always logical relations, the project of psycho-logic as it stands, may still
behaves morally, since people sometimes have other stronger be defended, even while its "constructive and moral/political
wants. However, it means that everyone has some want to behave nature" is acknowledged. The conceptual framework suggested

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by Wierzbicka encompasses all possible descriptions of religious, automatically treated as if this were the case. If there is a differ
political and cultural oppositions. It is a very powerful and bold ence in activity linked with a visually available environmental
position, and an enormous amount of linguistic field work and variation of some kind, we infer that the person can see this varia
advanced logical analysis remain. One consequence of this new tion, even though he or she does not know it and cannot talk
development is that the axioms of psycho-logic ought to be for about it. Concretely, you may move an object and observe if a
mulated exclusively in terms of, or in terms easily reducible to, person's eyes follow the movement. If this occurs, we infer that
the semantic primitives. I have tried to do this above, which the person has seen the movement, even if he or she denies it.
explains the sometimes quaint way of writing ordinary English. This, of course, is ambiguous, since it may mean either that the
The axioms as stated also contain a few terms, such as "right" person does not want to talk about what he or she has seen, or
and "wrong", that are not yet established as semantic primitives, does not know that he or she has seen it.
but that presumably can be defined in terms of the established A fourth after-thought is this: I have gradually come to realize
ones. that the axioms should have two qualities that were not explicitly
A second after-thought that makes psycho-logic more commen recognized in the early presentations of psycho-logic.
surable with the Wittgensteinian objections, is my own (2002), In order to qualify as an axiom, a proposition should, as also
and also Bandura's (1982), emphasis on the role of fortuitous mentioned above, be stated in terms of semantic primitives only,
events. The effects of such events preclude any shict order at the since it should, in principle, be translatable to any human lan
concrete level of direct psychological observations, but do not guage. Psychology should aim at transcending its exclusively
preclude order at the more abstract level of psycho-logic. Anglo-SaxonlWestern origin. Anna Wierzbicka and collaborators
Example: While there are no limits to exactly what a person may have supplied us with English-language representatives of more
happen to think, want and, hence, feel, at a given moment, there than 60 primitive concepts that appear to be lexically represented
may still be more abstract rules, stating for example, that a person in all human languages (Wierzbicka, 1996). These concepts can
always thinks, always wants, and always feels, something. This not be defined in terms of other concepts (except circularly). As a
does not preclude intermediate level statistical generalizations note of caution, I should add that confidence in each one of Wie
from experiments about the likelihood of certain kinds of rzbicka's semantic primitives must ultimately rest on the quality
thoughts, wants and feelings, in certain kinds of contexts. An of the relevant field work conducted by the linguistic researchers
example of a relatively abstract principle is the theorem that around the world.
persons always want to find, and look for, someone trustworthy, The semantic primitives are reproduced here:
and that there are five conditions for personal trust (perceived
care, understanding, own-control, self-control and relevant com "substantives" I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING, PEOPLE
petence), that apply everywhere, even though one cannot predict
the specific content of these variables in a given case at a given "determiners" THIS, THE SAME, OTHER, SOME
time (Smedslund, 1997b, 2002, 2004). The possibility of valid
abstract principles even in areas replete with fortuitous events, "quantifiers" ONE, TWO, MANY (MUCH), ALL
makes psycho-logic compatible with a view of natural language
as consisting of highly context-influenced words, albeit also con "mental predicates" THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE,
taining fixed general-meaning components (Smedslund, 2011). HEAR
The semantic primitives and the system they form is always
resorted to when humans describe what they experience to each "non-mental predi cates" MOVE, THERE IS, (BE) ALIVE
A third after-thought, although already partly included in psy "speech" SAY
cho-logic in terms of a distinction between the reflective and the
unreflective (Smedslund, 1997b, 2002, 2004), has gradually "acions and events" DO, HAPPEN
become clearer to me. It is that while psycho-logic is exclusi vely
concerned with the subjective, this is not limited to what a person "evaluators" GOOD, BAD
can talk about. Many psychological processes are not consciously
available, yet they are still subjective, in the sense that they exist "descriptors" BIG, SMALL
only for the person. It is not possible to have a plausible psychol
ogy without the concept of a subjective unconscious. Subjective "time"WHEN, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG TIME, A SHORT
processes exist only for an individual. They can be diagnosed TIME,NOW
from what the person says, but also, if unconscious, from what
makes a difference to the person. You have noticed an odor if its "space" WHERE, UNDER, ABOVE, FAR, NEAR, SIDE
presence or absence makes for a difference in your activity, even INSIDE, HERE
though you do not know about it. Unconscious processes can be
studied by determining what, unknown to her or him, makes a "partonomy and taxonomy" PART (OF), KIND (OF)
difference for some activity of a person. The axioms of psycho
logic apply also to the unconscious processes in persons. For "imagination and possibility" IF ......WOULD, MAYBE
example, the axiom of Mentality (see above) includes the presup
position that a person can see, and implies that a person is "words" WORD

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"metapredicates" NOT, CAN, VERY researcher may object that the determination of exactly what
persons learn (for the purpose of getting to know some general
"interclausallinkers" IF, BECAUSE, LIKE principles), and when they forget, is more important than the mere
general presumption of intentionality and ability to learn. A count
(Wierzbicka, 1996) erargument to this is that while the determination of exactly what
is leamed, and remembered in a particular situation can certainly
There remains an unresolved tension between the recommended be important for some immediate practical purposes, the efforts to
reliance on semantic primitives and the requirement of precise find very general principles by means of empirical research are
ness. This comes about because many of the English terms unlikely to succeed, given the nature of psychological phenomena
selected by Wierzbicka as representatives of the semantic primi (Smedslund, 2009). Every empirically established law of learning
tive concepts, are sometimes used in ordinary language in differ can probably be falsified by arranging suitable alternative condi
ent ways according to context. A solution proposed by tions (Roediger, 20(8). If, and to the extent that, they are univer
Wierzbicka is to insert the words in "canonical contexts" (also sally experienced as necessary, the psycho-logic axioms may be
composed of representatives of the semantic primitives).This may the most generally valid kind of principles that can be stated in
result in improved precision and easier translatability. These psychology. What is most frequently wanted and learned in a
canonical sentences "can be translated - without loss and/or addi given culture, or by a given individual, can be determined empiri
tion of meaning - into any language whatsoever" (Wierzbicka, cally, at a given time, or in a given limited period, but beyond
1996: 30). Some of the examples offered by Wierzbicka are: this, psychological life is rather resistant to generalizations.
"You did something bad", "I know when it happened", "I want A final after-thought is that psycho-logic illuminates the ulti
to see this". mate limitations of being human. Being human restricts the kind
Another requirement is important, but may sound somewhat of knowledge and the kind of concepts we can possibly have, and
problematic. An axiom should not only be subjectively necessar what is felt to be self-evident or necessary. To be true, we can rec
ily true, but it should also describe how people really are. Stated ognize that propositions that were once taken to be self-evident,
in a philosophical terminology, a psycho-logical axiom should be are now regarded as false (for example "The earth is flat" or
both a priori and contingently true (Kukla, 2001). It should "women are intellectually inferior to men"). This transition
describe persons in a way that we must subscribe to, because we became possible because we can usually negate any given formu
are persons, but the descriptions should also be veridical. In other lation and empirically study, and theoretically analyze, the impli
words, the axioms should describe predispositions to conceive of cations of the negation. However, the unlimited optimism of
humans correctly. researchers, as regards our ability to falsify seemingly self-evident
These are constraints that do not originate in experiences of truths, should be tempered by a recognition of our ultimate mental
other persons, but determine how these other persons are experi limitations as a species. We cannot negate the axioms stating that
enced. Psycho-logic is a project attempting to describe the basic we perceive, that we are intentional, etc., because this is impossi
features of how we must perceive persons, which also is how we ble to live with (is experienced as absurd and self-contradictory).
agree about what persons really are. This is analogous to Hence, we must continue to live within the constraints tentatively
Shepard's work on the perception of the material world (1984). described by the axioms of psycho-logic and build our technical
Psycho-logic does not originate in experiences of peoples' behav concepts on the semantic primitives of Wierzbicka, because denial
ior, but describes how we must experience people. Every attempt of these constraints makes no sense. It appears that we cannot live
to test it empirically, already presupposes what is to be tested. our daily lives, including conducting research, without attributing
Take, for example, the axiom of Intentionality (see above). When intentionality, learning ability, consciousness, etc., to persons.
a person acts in way A in a situation which also affords other Since psycho-logic is intended to apply to all persons, and since
alternative actions, a denial of intentionality would mean that one there are thousands of languages, terminology becomes important.
would deny that the person, in behaving in way A prefers to do A Psycho-logic can, and probably should, rely on the linguistic
to whatever alternatives that exist for him or her (not-A), that is, research of Anna Wierzbicka and her collaborators (1996) for a
the person wants A more than the alternatives, etc. supply of plausible basic terms. This would also facilitate transla
In rea1life, we appear always to perceive persons in ways that tion between languages. However, one should remember that,
are a result of a combination of our inborn predispositions to view even so, psycho-logic will remain a technical suburb of natural
others, our knowledge of language and culture, and our acquain and culture language (Parrott & Harre, 1991 ), because it is
tance with the single individuals and circumstances. The charac adapted to suit professional requirements.
teristics described in the psycho-logic-axioms represent only a At the core of the debate between psycho-logic and empirical
few very general such predispositions. One of the axioms (see researchers, lies the following problematic situation. Mainstream
above) is that we cannot avoid attributing to others an ability to psychologists are doing empirical research, that is, trying to learn
learn. Persons are seen as able to remember what they experience. from experience about their own species, while the individuals
The assumption that we have this ability cannot in itself be a mat they study are themselves continuously learning from their own
ter for empirical research, since it is already taken for granted in experiences. In other words, we are trying to predict the behavior
the very act of doing such research, which presupposes that we of persons, who themselves are trying to predict what will happen,
wi11learn from making observations, that is, remember them. We including what we will do. This is the general type of situation
avoid using a person as his or her own control in experiments, investigated in game-theory, but, in reality, it is even more com
because we presuppose his or her ability to learn. The mainstream plicated by the frequent interference of complex fortuitous events.

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To the extent that the investigated phenomena nevertheless con in this practice are the axioms of psycho-logic which describe all
tain some limited stability, they invite empirical research, whereas humans, and furthermore, the persons' language and culture, and
to the extent that they predominantly contain irreversibly chang knowledge of the particular person and his or her particular life
ing, interactive, and fortuitous events, they invite only a priori situation. The psychologist's efforts to help clients cannot be gen
conceptual analysis, and abstract strategies. erally characterized since they are the outcome of how a unique
professional person works with unique persons in unique life-situ
ations. In so far as treatments can be generally characterized at all,
CONCLUSION they involve features that can be derived from psycho-logic. This
A consequence of the arguments presented here is that the tradi is particularly clear when the practice is partly characterized as
tional project of psychology as an empirical science is seen as the building of mutual trust, and cooperation to find solutions
crumbling. It originated in an ideal inherited from natural science, (Smedslund,2012b).
and in the human tendency to look for invariances on which to base Psychology cannot be an empirical science in the traditional
predictions. A century of psychology has resulted in the develop sense of the natural sciences. Even though persons are biological
ment of two very different domains of activity, a statistical aca organisms, and even though the study of brain processes may
demic domain, relying on tests and experiments, and a practice appear to be close to psychology, the prospect of useful system
domain, increasingly relying on tests and manuals. As argued here, atic interaction between the two fields is quite problematic (Ben
the nature of psychological processes has proved to be an obstacle nett & Hacker, 2008). The reason is that psychology is a
to both part-projects. The academic project has deteriorated by discipline that builds on the conceptual framework implicit in
attempting to ignore the fortuitous, indefinitely complex interactive human language. Its roots lie in a communication system devel
variability of persons and situations, by creating a simplified statis oped by humans over immense periods of time to serve their
tical facade. Specifically, this involves accepting every statistically social life in communities. This communication system has devel
significant deviation from pure chance as a "finding", even though oped without modem physical science and without knowledge of
the usually very small differences or correlations rarely are of much brain processes and is, therefore, quite incommensurable with the
help in practical decisions which always depend on a very high concepts that describe neurological processes. We are dealing here
number of factors. Similarly, psychological practice has deterio with two incompatible ways of describing the world. There are no
rated into a multitude of diagnoses, tests, and manuals, all engulfed practical bridges between, for instance, irony of a remark or the
in statistical analysis and ignoring the complexities of personal content of a quarrel, and biochemical synaptic processes. Hence,
interaction, and the often minuscule size of the reported differences it may be a mistake to think that biochemical analysis can contrib
and correlations. The gap between research reports and actual ute in a large scale to psychology or vice versa. The concepts and
practice is well known (Cohen, Sargent & Sechrest, 1986; practical contexts appear incommensurable. We need biochemical
Morrow-Bradley & Elliott, 1986). knowledge about the way the brain functions, and we need psy
What remains as a possibility is an image of the psychologist chology to understand the way people function in interaction with
having had to abandon the former dream of arriving at both each other in socially constructed realities.
detailed and universally valid empirically based predictions, and
realizing that what is universally valid about human beings is only
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unique persons and institutions. therapy research by professional psychologists. American Psycholo
Psycho-logic may be seen as trivial since it adds little new to gist, 41, 198-206.
the understanding of human life. It is merely the outcome of Fodor, J. A. (1987). Psychosemantics: The problem of meaning in the
philosophy of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
organizing and axiomatizing parts of what is usually referred to as Gergen, K. J. (2011). Relational being. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
psychological "common sense". We have common-sense He, z., Bolz, M. & Baillargeon, R. (2011). False-belief understanding in
explanations for almost everything that happens. Scientific psy 2, 5-year-olds: Evidence from violation-of-expectation, change-of
chologists are supposed to improve our understanding beyond location, and unexpected-contents tasks. Developmental Science, 14,
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Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York:
Since the practically relevant outcome of this is debatable, I have Wiley.
instead formulated the bricoleur-model of practice (Smedslund, Helstrup, T., Rognes, W. & Vollmer, F. (Eds.). Psycho-logic and the
2012a). The model pictures the psychologist as encountering ever study of memory. Scandinavion Journal of Psychology, 40 (4). Sup
new unique clients without relying on any fixed principles, except plementum.
the axioms of psycho-logic, but creatively devising new interven Israel, J. (1979). The language of dialectics and the dialectics of lan
guage. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
tions, and drawing on all kinds of relevant earlier experiences, Kukla, A. (2001). Methods of theoretical psychology. Cambridge, MA:
either from practice, research, or personal life. Attempts at classifi MIT Press.
cation are, per definition, more or less distortive of the image of Low, J. & Wang, B. (2011). On the long road to mentalism in
the client, since the unique cannot be classified. The only supports children's spontaneous false-belief understanding: Are we there

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yet? Review of Philosophy alld Psychology, doi: 10.10071 p13164 material in problem-situations without external reinforcement. Scandi
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188-197. for psycho-logic. Psychological Inquiry, 2, 325-338.
Naess, A. (1953). Interpretation and preciseness. Oslo: The Norwegian Smedslund, J. (1997b). The structure of psychological common sense.
Academy of Science and Letters. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Parrott, W. G. & Harre, R. (1991). Smedslundian suburbs in the city of lan Smedslund, J. (2002). From hypothesis-testing psychology to procedure
guage: The case of embarrassment. Psychological Inquiry, 2, 358-36\. testing psycho-logic. Review of General Psychology, 6, 51-72.
Piaget, J. (1950). Introduction a L'Epistemologie Genitigue. Paris: Smedslund, J. (2004). Dialogues about a new psychology. Chagrin Falls,
Presses Universitaires de France. OH: Taos Institute Publications.
Roediger, H. L. (2008). Relativity of remembering: Why the laws of Smedslund, J. (2009). The mismatch between current research methods
memory vanished. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 225-254. and the nature of psychological phenomena. Theory & Psychology,
Samson, D. & Apperly, I. A. (2010). There is more to mind reading than 19, 778-794.
having theory of mind concepts: New directions in theory of mind Smedslund, J. (2011). Meaning of words and the use of axiomatics in
research. Infant and Child Development, 19, 443-454. psychological theory. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy
Shepard, R. N. (1984). Ecological constraints on internal representations: chology, 31, 126-135.
Resonant kinematics of perceiving, imagining, thinking, and dream Smedslund, J. (2012a). The bricoleur-model of psychological practice.
ing. Psychological Review, 91, 417-447. Theory & Psychology (in press).
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limits of Jan Smedslund's "geometric" psychologic. In J. Siegfried human beings. Theory & Psychology, 22 (in press).
(ed.), The status ofcommon sense in psychology. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Wierzbicka, A. (1996). Semantics: Primes and universals. New York:
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2012 The Author.

Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 2012 The Scandinavian Psychological Associations.

What follows from what we all know about human beings

Jan Smedslund

Theory Psychology 2012 22: 658 originally published online 6 June 2012

001: 10.1177/0959354312441512

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Theory & Psychology

What follows from what we 22(5) 658--<>68
~ The Author-(,) 2012
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all know about human beings sagcpub,co.ukl)ournOllsPerm issions ,na v
001: 10. 1 177/0959354312441512

Jan Smedslund
University of Oslo

This is the third part of a trilogy. The first article is a critique of current empirical research and
the second presents the brico/eur model of practice. Here, I try to describe parts of what follows
from what we all know about being human because we are human. This knowledge may be partly
inherited: that is, we may have an inborn disposition to understand other members of our species
in certain ways. An axiomatic system consisting of nine axioms is presented and discussed. They
are labelled as follows: Mentality, Intentionality, Renectivity, Verbality, Learning, Responsibility,
Morality, Feeling, and Vulnerability. The axioms are formulated partly in terms of Wierzbicka's
semantic primitives, assumed to be found in all human languages. The usefulness of the axioms is
taken to be testable only by general consensus.

a priori knowledge, axiomatic system, consensus, psycho-logic

This paper is the last part of a tTilogy of articles. The first one (Smedslund, 2009) points
out that the cunent empiricist research tradition runs aground because of four
characteristics of psychological processes: they are influenced by an indefinitely high
number of factors; they arc sensitive to outcomes and, hence, always changeable ; the
regularities that can nevertheless be found stem from participation in shared meaning
systems already implicitly familiar (and, hence, gathering data on them is studying what
we already know); and individuals are partly unique and unpredictable because they are
inOueneed by random events.
The second article (Smedslund, 2012) describes the SOlt of practice that is required
under the conditions described in the first article. A bricolellr is a resource person who is
enlisted when ordinary established procedures in daily life fail to work. The
psychologist-cum-bricoleur relies mainly on three sources of knowledge: what we all
know about being human because we are human, what we know about each other because

Corresponding author:

Jan Smedslund, Deportment of Psychology, University of Oslo, 1094 Blindern , OJ 17 Oslo , Norwoy .

Email :

/lOwrUo.ldiKI fmrT1 UlPuoeDUtl c;r.m., UrU~~III'1 I ~o on OCIDber le.101 2

Smeds/und 659

we par1icipate in shared meaning systems (language and culture) , and what we know
about each unique person and si("uation. The bricoleur thcn uses these three sources in
innovativc ways determined by the indefinitely variable eoneretc situations . It should be
addcd hcre that cducation or training is not included here bccausc it merely consists of a
combination of fomlUlations about thc alrcady-mcntioned sources of knowlcdge, and of
references to empirical research and empirical theories which, in my view, arc of limitcd
yalue, for the reasons outlined in the first ar1icle.
Whereas the first article dealt with research methods and the second with practical
work, this paper poses the theoretical qucstion of what we all know becausc wc are
human. This is the only area where we can expect gcnerally valid knowlcdge. Most of
the knowledge that we can get from studying people's behavior in givcn cultures and
from studying individuals is neccssarily limitcd and changeable. However, taking an
evolutionary perspective, it would not be surprising to find that we are also born with
predispositions to have k.nowledge about some general characteristics of our fellow
beings. Considering the impor1ance of social life for survival , this is quite plausible. How
can onc formulatc this knowlcdge? It could bc that many details must be painstakingly
dctcrmined empirically, in thc same way as Shepard (1984) has determined aspects of
our way of perceiving the inanimate physical environment. However, it may also be that
some aspects of what we know about human bcings can also be determined by analyzing
what everyone in every culture regards as self-evident: that is, as impossible to deny. One
may at least try to formulatc such aspccts, relying on one's own judgment and on thc
judgments 0 f other members of the scientific community, and finally on ordi nary people
in dilTerent communities. Much of what is consensually regarded as necessary across all
communities may, at least to some extent, be genetically dctemlincd. J\ complication is
that what we all know about being human is always intemvined with wllat we know
because we share a language and culture, and with what wc havc Icarned about oursclve,
and other single individual s . The two latter kinds of knowledge are, and must be, Icamed,
and cannot be expected to contain anything completely general, for the reasons described
in the first article . One , admittedly roundabout and precanous, way of distinguishing
what is innate from what is acquired is opened up by the contributions of the linguist
Anna Wierzbicka and her collaborators (Wierzbicka, 1996), who have found a number of
primitive concepts that appear to be shared by people speaking many different human
languages. These primitive concepts may reflect species-specific dispositions to organizc
the world, since they secm ("0 be present eycrywhere. However, some propositions cannot
be derived from combinations of thcse primitive concepts, but are psychological. They
can also be stated by means of these same concepts as axioms of thc system called
pjy cho-Iogic (Smedslund, 1988, 1997,2002) or follow from thc axioms and are theorems.
The only other attempt that I know of at something like an axiomatic system in modem
psychology, in addition to the well-known one created by Hull (1952), was made by
Peter Ossorio (2006). who used the term "maxims" for what I call axioms: that is,
principlcs that we must for granted. J have argued for the use ofaxiornatics cl~ewhere
(Smedslund , 20 II).
It needs to be stated at the outset that psycho-logic should be conceived of as a
proposal to organize and describe human activity in a cer1ain way. Hence, it is nomlalive,
and involves a suggestion to talk in a certain way and to take for granted cer1ain things

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660 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

about the world. It is not about the relations between words, but about what we should
take for grallted in our under~tanding of the world . Psycho-logic is staku in a technical
language, clearly separate from, although related to, ordinary words and expressions .
The rctreat of psycho-logic from ordinary to a technical language was already
anticipated in an article by Parrott and Harre (1991). The main reason is that any attempt
to define a word in ordinary language, or to fOlmulate a generally valid psychological
proposition in that language, is inevitably met by criticism, in the form of suggested
The axiomatic system of psycho-logic can also be characterized as an attempt to
create a calculus from our common knowledge, instead of leaving it a~ an unanalyzed
collection or fra gments. A calculus is a system allowing one to derive a large number of
rredictions from a small number of assumption s. It is a venture that mayor may not tum
out to be usefu I, since one cannot know in advance if, and to what extent, the assumptions
we presum ably all make about persons can be reduced to a limited number of axioms,
and derivations from them (theorems). Some comments on axiomatics are also presented
in my 20 II article.
The present paper is an attempt to prcsent and discuss an ax iom system that I originally
prescnted in 1988 (pp . 109-11 :!) and later in 1997 (pp. 105-107), 2002 (pp . 61-(3), and
200-1 (pp. 176- 177). Tbe fluctuation s that havc occun'cd, besides minor changes in
wording, are mostly shifts in the status of propositio ns between being regarded as axioms,
theorems, or definitions . An axiom is a proposition that we take for granted and that
cannot be derived from other propositions. The suggested psychological axioms are hard
to deny because the consequences of their negations seem absurd. A theorem is a
proposition ogically derived from the axioms. A deflllition is a statement of the complete
meaning of a term by means of other telms .
The I :nglish terms fo r the primitive concepts suggested by linguist Anna Wierzbicka are
used as a starting point for development of a techn ica l language. For the benefit or readers
who arc unfamiliar with Wierzbicka, I present a li st of some of the English telms selected
to represent the semantic primitive concepts: I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETlIING,
MAYBE, CA N (Wierzbicka, 1996). I cannot discuss here the extensive linguistic fieldwork
and the considerable methodological and theoretical diAiculties involved in establishing
such primitives. The entire project is clearly controversial, since it a~~umes that words are
not ambiguous, but that their meanings can be reduced to definite combinations of
primitives. I have nevertheless selected this approach since it promises to keep close to the
simplest irreducible parts of descriptive language.
The contlict between Wierzbicka and collaborators, who take it that ordinary word
meanings can be reduced to combinations of primitives, and researchers inspired by
WiUgenstein, who regard ordinary words as undefinable, can be resolved by assuming
that ordinary words , although undefinable, have fixed meaning-components that cannot
be formulated. Otherwise, the usefulness of words in a language would be unex plainable.

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Smedslund 661

The semantic pnmltlves appear to be very useful in communication with clients.

However, for scientific and professional use, onc may necd to develop morc refined
technical concepts. To t<Jke one eX<Jl11ple, the quite fuzzy usage of thc primitivc term
"know" necds to be sharpened to refer only to "what is taken for grantcd" (excluding
such uses as "knowledge is always uncertain"). Also, questions such as the exact
distinction between "know" and "think," and many others, transcend the scope of the
present article and must be treated elsewhere.
In psycho-logic, one is not concerned with semantic regularities, such as "surprised
persons always have experienced something unexpected." In earlier treatments, the
difference between logical relations built into language and basic psychological
a"umptions that go beyond language was not sufficiently recognized. The latter are not
semantic since they do not follow from the lexical meaning of the words involved. For
example, we assume that a person can see, and that a person can learn from experience.
These terms refer to how persons function, and we always take these functions for granted.
Presuppositions of this kind make up the content of the axioms of psycho-logic.
Here, I will not be concerned with the pre-history of the axiom list. This would take
up too much of the available space. The historically interested reader is referred to the list
of references mentioned above. However, it should be mentioned that the axioms stated
here do not describe what persons are, but what persons takL' {or granted about every
person. Psycho-logic is about how persons view persons: that is, about subjective
In what follows, P and 0 arc two persons interacting with each other:

A,-.:.iOll1 I (Mentality). P lakes il Ihal 0 can IhiJlk, wanl.!;'!!i. perc eive, say. and do.

In this axiom, the term "perceive" is used as a common denominator for the terms "sec,"
"hear," " smell," "taste," and "sense" (in the skin and in the body). These all specify the
organs that mediate perception. The axiom refers to mental proce sses that are taken for
granted to go on in all persons. Attributing them to someone amounts to a recognition of
the other individual as a human being. In the absence of contrary information, everyone
automatically attributes all these proee~ses to persons. The survival value of this package
of automatic attributions probably stems from its high validity. It nearly always pays off
to automatically assume these processes in others. Only very exceptionally docs one
encounter individuals who are blind. decif, mUle, or imlllobile, and so on. Interacting with
such individuals, still taken to be persons, always requires considerable readjustment and

Axiom 2 (Intentionality). P laR t's illilal Ivhal 0 kno,,'s . Iii inks. f eels, perceives . sa)'s, and doe.
is delerlllin ed by whal 0 1\'OIl!S.

The automatic attribution of mental processes to a person is, in this axiom, supplemented
by the assumption of an over-arching intentionality or goal-direetedness. This feature is
included in practically all existing approaches to psychology, including "psycho
analysis," "reinforcemellt theon'," Cl'Olutiol101Y ps),cilologl', and cybernetics. (Sec also
the survey of the topic by Malle, Moses, & Baldwin, 200 I). Inte ntionality, or directedness,

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662 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

is a central part of what we automatically attribute to persons. Philosophers frequently

wrile about intentionality but discussion of their alternative conceptualizations is beyond
the scope of the prcsent ariiele.
The attribution of intentionality to the di1Terent mental proecSsc!i tak~s somewhat
different forl11s. The 1110st direct applicati on is to say ing and doing. These activities are
clearly chal1J1eled by what is intended. Perceptual proecs:>l's all focus on what is taken to
be re/Cl'{I11{ for the achievement of actual or potential goals. The central procc~scs referred
to as kno\\'. Ihink , and jed arc likewise intentional , but in somewhat ditTerent ways.
Knowing is activated only when it is relevant for goal-directed activity. This also goes for
thinkillg, which also involves monitoring of p ossibililies for acting, relative to both
present and potential . FinaJly,Jeeling is t.he assessment of the situation relative to
the current goals of the person.

Axiom 3 j Reflectivity). P take, it that 0 call kilo II ' that 0 kIlO II'S, thinks, fi 'ds, peruiw.l. lilyS,
alld cloes.

This axiom refers to a very important characteristic of how hUmaJ1S an: seen. The ability
involved is to know thaI sometbing is the case. Axiom ] states that it is taken to be
possible for 0 to "know tbat" some mental process is going on. It should be added that
one probably cannot fOIlJlUlate anything very general and precise about when and how 0
becomes "ccnscious 0(' something in his or her own mental processes. It can be surmised
that this occurs only if the situation is problematic, and when umeflective automa tic
processes fail to engender a solution. The present axiom merely asselts that there is
always atlribution of a potential capacity to retlect in ev ery person.
That the ~I xiom slates only a p ossibility implies recognition that we do nol always lake
it that someone knows Ihat he or she knows, wants , thinks, perceives, says, and docs
something. In modem empirical psychology this is sometimes regarded as discovery of
"the unconscious," but this is not really a discovery and has always been known , although
not accentuated to the degree done, for example, in psycho-analysis. Statements such as
"I have always taken it for granted that ... , but I didn 't know Ihal I did this, until nov,;"
are not uncommon.

Axiom 4 ( Ve rba lizalion). P takes it that 0 can say s omething {}"Olll what 0 kno \\'s that 0
kl1 0 II'S , thinks. feels, p erce il'es. says, alld does. and o l'/~Y abollt that.

This axiom states that we cannot taLk about what we do not know that we know, think ,
feel , and so on.
Even though the axioms on Reflectivity and Verbalization closely related, they are
not identical. We all take it that others can know Ihal they know something, and yet not
talk about it. What the Verbalization axiom expresses here is the fact that we take it that
one cannot talk about what one does not know Ihal one knows.
Since we can only taLk about something that we know Ihal we know, think, feel, and
so on, talking is a good indicator of what we know retlectively. In fact , it is the only
direct indicator. We usually get to know if 0 knows something reflectively by asking him
or her about it. \I,/hat 0 knows umefleclively can only be inferred from O's behavior.

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Smedslund 663

Example: A woman always smiled when a social situation got difficult. When others
commented on this, she said,

Yes, yo u aTe right. [ alw~y s ~mile. bUll didn 'I kil oI" I/JUI I did, II I'll il 1"/011" [think I mllst have
learned very.:arly Ihat smiling faces mea n that everyt hing is OK, and I want that to bappen .
Angry faces a nd voices scare me.

We all take it that the other person can know that something is the case, and yet not say
it. This axiom expresses the fact that we take it that one cannot talk about what one does
nOI know that one knows, and so on.

Axiom 5 (Learning). P lakes il Ihal whal 0 Ihinks will happen after nOlv jo l/oll's /rom lI'hal 0
Ihillks happened b ejore /lOH'.

The axiom is here, somewhat inelegantly, stated exclusively in terms of semantic

primiti\ c~ . The ability to learn is central in our image of what a person is. We take it that
a person can learn and remember. Indeed it would be incompatible with the image of a
person as goal-directed ifhe or she were completely unable to learn and remember. This
axiom adds an important feature to our image of mental processes, namely their
irreve rsibility. v..'e know that a person can never return to exactly the same state, because
what happened in the meantime is remembered . Experimenters realized early that
subjects could not be used as their own controls, because they remembered, and were
changed by, what happened in the preceding experimental condition. To avoid this, and
also the fact that individuals always differ, group averages were resorted to, and the
randOinized controlled tTial design was gradually intTodueed.

Axiom 6 (Rc~ponsibility). P lakes il liIal 0 is respollsibll' {or whal O.)[in ,md does.

People attribute to a person primary responsibility for that person's statements and acls.
It is always important who is taken to have said or done something. Who said or did
something determines who is punished or rewarded, and also who can be expected to
repeat (or not to repeat) the act, and so on. Complications of this are frequcntly discussed,
but basie responsibility is never discarded . Even when a perso n is taken not to be
ultimately responsible, responsibility in the basic sense (it was 0 who did it) is retained .
Lack of responsibility is explained by a~sumptions that either deny complete normal
personhood (the individual is regarded as "crazy," or "retarded"), or imply tbat the
individual is a victim of deceit or misunderstanding.

Axiom 7 (Morality). P lakes illhal 0 has a wan I 10 do whal 0 Ihinks is righl and a wanl 110110

do whal 0 Ihinks is wrong.

The axiom asserts that people think that a desire to do what the person thinks is right
always exists, but it does not assert anything about the momentary relative strength of
that desire, which means that it does not exclude that a person may behave in a way that
he or she thinks is wrong. \Vhen this is the case, we assume that the person wants
something else more strongly than doing what is right.

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664 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

This axiom exprcs~es something more than what can be deduced frolll the axioms of
Intentionality, Responsibility, and Learning. II adds somcthing to what P lakes for granted
about 0, namely something nOnllative. A person is taken to be social, and this assumption
probably has a very high usefulness and survival value. In everyday lifc, we simply take
it for granted that we are dealing with social individuals. Even when it is said that a
person does not know the difference between right and wrong, this is usually an over
simplification. Very rarely, if ever, does a person lack a distinction between what is
regarded as right and wrong in the society to which he or she belongs. We usually
attribute knowledge of such a distinction to persons along with a desire to comply with
it. However, we can take into account that what is right and wrong for a person may be
relative to a particular group or society.

Axiom 8 (Feeling). P lakes illhal hoI\' U f eelsfolloll'sji"olII Ihe relalion helweell ... hal 0 wallIS
alld II"hat 0 Ihillks.

This proposition rcflcets that we take it that a person is a whole system and that this sys
tem continuously monitors thc relation between what is wantcd and what is thought
about the situation. II involves evaluation of many probabilities of altcmative outcomes,
resulting in feeling good or bad (as well as in responding both in action and in thinking
and talking). Good and bad feelings are consistent with the notion that people are intcn
tional. However, how one feels can be scparated fJOm how one pcrceives thc situation
and from what one wants. Hence, the proposition about fecling is treated as a separate

Axiom 9 (Vulnerability). P /aACS illhal 0 Ihillks everyolle call do sOll/ellulI!! had IU 0.

Vulnerability is taken as a valid psychological description of every person. The axiom

plays 311 important role in the proof of severallheorems about persunal trust (Smcdslund,
1997, pp. 68-73). II is hard to think of an intcrpcrsonal situation in ordinary life where the
paI1icipants do not fcel at Icast potentially vulnerable. (This does not mcan that they
necessarily know Ihal they feel vuLnerablc.) From an evolutionary pcrspcetive, one may
expect that p.::ople havc developed concepts about, and mechanisms to deal with, this
vuLnerability. Thc axiom is about attTibution of a recognition of a possibility of being
harmed, not a recognition of a probabiliry of being hanned. It is likely that the universality
of religions is linked to the universal expericnce of vulnerability that people share. The
univcrsality and impOltance of the concept of Il"IIsl appears to be a manifestation of tJlis.

The preccding critical analysis yields nine axioms. This number is preliminary. It is open
to changes depending on whe tller propositions are givcn thc status of axiom, theorem, or
definition, and whether other psychological topics arc introduced. The tentativeness also
illustrates that thcre is a margin of freedom in and organizing such general
propositions . Further results will depend on much more elaborate analytic work than can
be done witJlin the scope of the prcsent introductory article . It shou ld be mentioned here
that the inevitable incl illation to be critical of the axioms and thi.nk of exceptions should
be modcrated by considcring that the words are not intended to bc used as loosely as in

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Smedslund 665

ordinary langl18ge, but in a technical sense. Example: a reviewer wrote "Can't I feel
indifferent when J do not achieve a goal?" What docs it mean to feel indifTerenfl Quite
literally it would seem to mean that something (in this case achieving the goal) makes no
difference. But, again, having a goal means wanting: to achieve something. How can one
be indifferent when not achieving one's goal? To have a goal at least means that achieving
it is preferred to not achieving it: that is, this makes a ditTerenee. So, in psycho-logic, one
cannot be indifferent when not achieving one's own goal.
The best method one can use to evaluate the necessity of these propositions is the
negalioll tcst. This means to consider whether the proposition could possibly be wrong:
that is, whether the negation of the proposition makes any sense or not. In the case of
axioms, a negation should not make any sense at all. However, the negation test cannot
remain subjective. Only if everyone in the scientific community agrees that something
must neeessatily be assumed should one, provisionally, accept it. The ultimate test should
be a complete and general agreement among people about the meaningfulness of a
negation of the specific axiom. A number of studies of the assumptions of psycho-logic
have been conducted (see Smedslund, 2002) and generally suppoI1 it. Using well
controlled methods, the consensus figures for samples of native speakers of English and
Norwegian are around 97-98 'Yo. Hence, the "objectivity" of at least some of the axioms
is provisionally supp0l1ed.
The mentioned nine axioms and their implications seem to account for at least part of
the psychological knowledge shared by all people. It is up to future researchers to decide
whether the axioms so far stated are optimally formulated, and especially to what extent
they can be seen to describe human characteristics that are given a priori.
Especially Axioms 3 and 4, about Reflectivity and Verbality, express something that is
specific to humans as distinguished from other primates. The processes described by
these axioms enable one to deal with the hypothetical, to deny something, and analyze
and evaluate possibilities and probabilities in advance of real decisions. This ability to
reflect all, and talk aboul, what goes on, including one's own mental processcs, adds
tremendously to the adaptability of human beings. Any human group can do this.

The tv.'o preceding parts of this trilogy (Smedslund, 2009, 2012) have presented the
reasons why it is difficult for psychologists to achieve generalized empirical knowledge,
and the strategy for practicing that corresponds to this. The present al1icle outlincs
fragments of the a priori contingent k.nowledge we have. Can the negativc view of the
applicability of traditional sciencc to psychology be upheld?
An alternative to outnght rejection of the methods of traditional academic psycholob'Y
could be to continue to use them and simply accept that the data have a limited generalizability.
This would require a much increased sensitivity to the limitations of our alleged accumulated
knowledge and still would not bc velY helpful since it cannot take ioto aCCOW1( the
tremendous variability and foI11litous nal1lre of practical situations and individual perso ns.
Another approach would be to leave open the ultimate explanation of the regularities
described in the nine axioms and simply rely on them. One could disregard the question

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666 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

of whether t.hese describe inherited characteristics of all members of the species HOlllo
sapiens, or merely refer to what all members of this species must learn very early because
of commonalities in the life conditions of all humans. However, irn:srective of how
these regularities arc interpreted, derivations from the axioms may have very limited lise
in practice, where onc always must, in addition, take into account innumerable and
fortuitous details of concrete sinlations .
Consider, for example, that t.he at1Tibution of a caring attitude is necessary condition
for a lrtlSling personal relation to exist. This can be logically proven, given definitions of
words like care and trust in terms of primitive concepts (P cares for 0 = df P wants 0 to
feel good and not to feci bad ; P mists 0 = df P thinks that 0 will not do anything bad to P),
and the axiom about VlIlllerobilitv. T his predicts something in a very abstract way about
a psychological reality. The exact cues indicating that someone cares for you can vary
almost indefinitely and may even be impossible to describe, but they may, even so, be
well understood by a person in a given situation at a given time. In general tellns, we
only know that ifP personally trusts 0, then P must think that 0 cares for P. This can be
proved lugil:ally, given the definitions of care and trust and the axiom of Vulllerabilitv
(SmedsluIld 1997, p. 70) .
What kind of "law" is this? It appears to be quite removed from any detailed
observational anchoring. The proposed relation is between two complex concepts (trust
and care) none of which can be linked in a fixed way to directly observable criteria. The
"law" is about a relation between killds of experiences . It seems as if the search for
something i:1Variant in psychology can only succeed by focusing on entities similarly
removed from the directly observable and recordable physical realm. We seem to be led
to a level of analysis different from that of direct observations, and consisting of reports
by persons about experiences.
The "science" suggested here rests on basic characteristics of the species HOlllo
sapiens and on primitive concepts that are not likely to change very fast. It remains to
detemline 1110re extensively what can be deduced from the proposed axioms. However,
it is already clear that there is one great limitation to what we can predict in psychology,
namely the role of thejor/llilollS in the lives of intentional and ever-learning individuals
with tTemendously variable (and also fortuitous) genetic constitutions. We can, for
example, predict behavior by applying the psycho-logic-axioms to individuals, and by
assuming that there arc no relevant unforeseeable events.
Some confusion can be traced to the difference between the natural-science
ob~crvational level and the report and talk level. The science of psychology concems
events that can be talked about, even if t.hey cannot be literally observed in the same way
as in biolob~; or chemistry. There can be no bridge between the two levcls because of the
enormous complexity of the neuralmcdiation processes. Care and trust cannot today be
usefully measured with physical instruments.
What ki[i,d of science can this be? Consider some examples: The person who hates
you usually is a person who tries to hann you. The indifferent person docs not do anything
to benefit you and does not do anything to avoid harming you. So you prefer that a person
cares for you and, therefore, tries to benefit you and to avoid hanning you. If you think
he or she docs care for you (and understands you, etc.), you will tend to behave tl11stingly

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Smedslund 667

since you expect not to be harmed. There is no fixed bridge between analysis at this level
and particular obs~rvations and measurements capable of physical specification.
Persons behave logically, but with subjective premises. To trust a person who you think
cares for you and understands you (and also has own-control, selJ-col1rrol, and the reqllisire
competence) is logical. r have analyzed this elsewhere (Smedslund, 1997, p. 70) .
Psycho-logic is a system that predicts behavior by means of logic. Therefore, it is a
suggestion about how one should talk and analyze what goes on. You can predict what a
person will do now, or in the immcdiate future, by means of logic , assuming that you
know the person's momentary premises and momentary subjective situation. How do
you know what someone is going to do here and now? Well, you know it only when you
know what thc person momentarily takes for granted and wants to achieve. This is partly
determined by fortuitous factors and the context and must be ascertained lor each case of
here-and-now. We need to dcscribe the features that momentarily characterize the person
and the situation. Given these premise ." behavior is derivable from the psycho-logic
axioms . Some sets of premises can be quite complicated, and deduction of their
consequences can be difficult, especially if some of them are not verbalized . They may
even be unknown to thcir owners . Only when we find them can we predict behavior. If
we do not know the premi ses, the behavior of a person remains unpredictable.
Psycho-logic builds on the assumption that people arc subjectively logical because
they are intentional and continuously monitor their situation (know, think, see, hear, etc.).
Human premises are always composed of thoughts and wants. This follows from the
Intentionality axiom (2). To act intentionally is to want something and to be guided by
the situation.
All psychologies have assumed something similar to this. However, they have not
consistently assumed logic, because they have not bcen consistently focused only on the
subject's point of vicw. Often they have been parily focusing on the objective side of a
result, and that has led to pseudo-problems occasioned by thc idea that people are panly
irrational (illogical). If a child makes an objective enor, it is often assumed that this is
due to an "irTational" ("illogical" ) psychological process, rather than assuming that the
child is acting logically on momentary premises of his or her own .
For social purposes it is often impor1ant that the child learns that something is a wrong
answer, and why it is so, but this does not warrant the conclusion that the child is illogical!
From the point of view of psycho-logic, pcrsons are never illogical, but they always act
upon what follows logically from a set of explicit or implicit momentary premises. I
repeat, an act can only be u.nderstood when we what premisl's it follows from. The
preceding can also be stated in the following way. Intentionality presupposes subjective
logicality since one cannot pursue a goal in a subjcctively self-contradictory manner.
Olle must be logically cons istent within a time period in order to be said to behave
intentionally in that period .
People are rarely explicitly logical, although their behavior can be described as logical
consequences of a set of premises (most of which are never explicitly stated). Your
manner of confidently stepping into a dark room is , among other things, a consequence
of taking it for granted that there is a noor. This presupposition does not occupy you at
all, yet it is there as a part of what Alfrcd Schutz and Thomas Luckmann (1973) called
the "relevance structures of the Ii fe world."

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668 Theory & Psychology 22(5)

The axioms of psycho-logic describe some very general presuppositions that appear
to be shared by all people. One can speculate that they are selected evolutionarily by the
strong survival value of lulOwing in advance the general nature of the bein gs of the same
species that you live with.
The queslion remains of how much of what w e all. know is covered by these axioms.
Arc there areas not covered by the axioms that everyone also kno\\'~? And is it possibl e
that some persons do not rely on all the axioms in some situations? Also, are people's
ullJ"Cflectivc (automatic) processes always channeled in ways describable by something
equivalent to these axioms? These are questions for future resccU"ch .

This rc,caleh rcu;ived no ,pccific grant from any funding agcncy in thc public, commercial, or
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Jan Smedslund is a Professor Emcritus at the University of Oslo, Norway. and a licensed clinicitl
psychologist. He has dom: experimental re search on cognitive development, theoretical work on the
foundations of psycbology, and has extcnsiV(' psycbological practice. His latest book is Dialogues
ahoul u Nelli Psychology (Taos Inst itule Publications, 2004 ). Address: Depa.rullent of Psychology,
niversity of Oslo, 1094 BLindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway. Email: jan.smedslwld@psyko logi

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