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MECHANOMORPHISM: A NEW TERM FOR AN

OLD MODE OF THOUGHT


BY R. H. WATERS
University of Arkansas

In psychology the term 'anthropo- tion of human behavior in terms of con-


morphism' has come to mean the inter- cepts and processes characteristic of
pretation of animal behavior in terms of machines. This paper suggests the
concepts and processes characteristic of term mechanotnorphisnt to carry this
human minds, or, more simply, the meaning. I am not sure that this term
ascription of human characteristics to is in the dictionary (though 'mechano-
the animal. I do not know when this morphic' is), but it should be. It lends
term with this meaning came into psy- itself readily to the meaning intended
chology but it became popular at least and permits all the variations that an-
after the early extravagant use of the thropomorphism does, e.g., mechano-
anecdotal method by Romanes. At the morphic and mechanomorphist.
same time a contrary movement in psy- One or two examples of the mode of
chological theorizing took on an ac- thought described by the term mechano-
celerated tempo, that which culminated morphism will assist in defining its char-
in the rise of behavioristic psychologies acteristics and limitations. In the con-
and in the construction of mechanical clusion of his paper on 'Mind, Mecha-
analogies of trial and error learning, nism and Adaptive Behavior,' Hull asks
conditioning, rats and sowbugs. En- this question: "What of consciousness,
thusiastic over their success, some of the of awareness, or experience—those phe-
builders and mechanics of these gadgets nomena of which the philosophers and
have embraced only physico-chemical theologians have made so much and
principles of explanations for both hu- upon the priority of which they are so
man and animal behavior. They have insistent? An inspection of the postu-
somewhat cavalierly relegated all other lates of the miniature system of adap-
explanations to the ash pile of out- tive behavior presented above certainly
moded, anthropomorphic and mental- shows no trace of any such phenomena"
istic hypotheses of an antiquated medie- (3, p. 30).
valism. In the resulting controversy Two types of reply may be made to
there has frequently occurred the this query. First, it might be suggested
thought that some element was lacking that Hull has not presented all the
and that this element was some sort of postulates he actually employed in the
name, label or cognomen for the anti- construction of his system. This is not
anthropomorphists. The name should an unusual procedure. Rarely does the
serve to identify the group and its mem- writer of a text state all his postulates.
bers, to conceptualize their mode of He will state some, but for the complete
thought, to perform, in short, the same list the reader will have to study the
sort of service (or disservice!) that the presentation and add to the explicit
name anthropomorphism has performed postulates those that the system im-
for the anthropomorphists. The label plies. Thus in considering Hull's sys-
should be one which means the ascrip- tem it seems necessary to make a pos-
tion of mechanical characteristics to the tulate to the effect that there exists a
human individual, and the interpreta- mechanism, call it mind, consciousness
139
140 R. H. WATERS

or what you will, that is capable of con- identifying discouragement and its pre-
structing a system of behavior. This sumed neural synonym. Therefore, if
conclusion rests upon the argument one is satisfied with this type of trans-
from design (2, pp. 81-90) which as- lation, one need not look for mind, con-
serts that the existence of any system, sciousness, or experience in Hull's sys-
mechanical or otherwise, leads inevi- tem. (Of course one could argue that
tably to the assumption of some mind Hull is anthropomorphizing the nervous
that created it. A theoretical system of system.)
any sort is the result of something out- But why is it that Hull asked his
side itself. A theoretical system is not original question? The guess is that he
self-generative or self-creative. To find was thinking about a machine, a robot,
the cause of a machine we investigate and not about the conscious human
the machine for the purpose of getting being. As a matter of fact, at the meet-
clues as to the nature of the creating ing at which the paper referred to was
agent. We would not look into the delivered, he demonstrated a mechanical
heliocentric conception of the universe rat or mouse as illustrative of his sys-
to discover its creator. We hunt around tem. In a word, he was mechano-
for a Galileo, a Kepler, and a Coper- morphizing.
nicus. So the first answer to Hull's A more recent illustration, and one
question is that consciousness, mind, that served to arouse the present com-
and/or experience stand outside his sys- ments, is given in a paper by Boring
tem, not in it. They were the creators (1) on 'Mind and Mechanism.' In that
of the system. paper he presents a list or inventory of
The second type of answer may be the psychological functions that would
put in the words of a student who re- be necessary to make a robot a man, or
marked (not in connection with Hull's a potato a conscious human being. He
paper) that "these writers seem to do admittedly does not have complete suc-
something like this,—they take a pair cess in showing how a robot could be
of words, which in proper English obvi- made to do the things he thinks neces-
ously have different meanings, and then, sary but the implication is that, given
without fair warning, assign to these time and patience, the thing could be
words almost identical contextual mean- accomplished.
ings. Thereafter they use these words Boring was stimulated to attempt an
as synonyms. The result is that what enumeration of these functions by a
they write seems arbitrary and dog- mathematician who defied him to "de-
matic." This comment was made in scribe a capacity of the human brain
connection with an author's attempt to which he could not duplicate with elec-
reduce the term 'idea' to muscular or tronic devices" (1, p. 178). In re-
neural activity. Is this not what Hull sponse to this challenge, Boring says,
does in his system? Does he not as- "I could not at once name him any, and
sert a synonymous relation, an identity I confess that I myself thought it would
of meaning, between what appears on be salutory to show that all human
the one hand to be a psychological or mental functions can have their elec-
mentalistic term and a purely neural tric analogues. I lacked, however, an
term on the other? Thus, "Discourage- inventory of the functions and thus
ment is the diminution in the power of could not be sure that there was not
one excitatory tendency to evoke its some psychological function left over,
normal reaction . . ." (3, p. 16). The one which a nervous system could per-
student would experience difficulty in form and an electronic system could
MECHANOMOEPHISM 141
not" (1, p. 178). In making an in- his own. Let the robot arouse in me a
ventory of these functions Boring set thrill,—not the scientific thrill.—compa-
himself the following guiding principles: rable to that aroused in me by the return-
"The properties are to be expressed ob- ing squeeze of the hand of a fellow scien-
jectively in terms of stimulus-response tist.
relationships, and the way to keep our- Some of the functions suggested
selves clear and to avoid vagueness is above involve the concept of creative
to think of the organism as a machine activity. Has this not been omitted
or a robot. . . . With what properties from Boring's inventory? Boring may
must a robot be endowed by its maker argue that such a concept requires
in order that it may make discrimina- analysis to reveal the basic and funda-
tions, may react, may learn, may use mental processes involved in the activity
symbolic processes, may have insight, called creative. He may argue further
may describe the nature of its own that every process exhibited in creative
functions and processes?" (1, p. 177) activity can be reduced without re-
In connection with his completed in- mainder to one or more of the functions
ventory Boring says that the evidence in his list. The necessity of such an
of its completeness "must lie in the in- analysis is readily admitted. One such
ability of others to confront me with analysis has been made by Spearman
new functions" (1, p. 190). Psychol- (4). Are his principles of Experience,
ogy must be in a sorry condition if no of Relations, and of Correlates included
capacity of the human brain which can- in Boring's inventory? It cannot be
not be duplicated by electronic devices readily seen that they are. Neither is
springs readily to mind or at least to it clear that all of the quantitative prin-
verbal expression. The following might ciples proposed by Spearman have been
be suggested: incorporated by Boring.
1. Let one robot construct another, ie, We are not given the basis for Bor-
let it first draw up the necessary blueprints ing's omitting these functions from his
of his proposed structure and then com- inventory. Did he think of them,
plete its manufacture. (The process of re- evaluate them, and then reject them, or
production on a biological level is not here did he fail even to think of them? It
intended, not so much because a robot can- can probably be safely assumed that he
not reproduce but because such a process is thought of them but rejected them on
not ordinarily considered a brain capacity.) some ground. What was the basis of
2. Let the robot write a poem, paint a his rejection"'1 What was the criterion
picture, or carve a hit of statuary. We of inclusion or exclusion? The assump-
have machines that will do all of these tion would be that he rejected them
things on a duplicating or reproducing basis
as the printed page bears witness, but only because he was thinking of his robot,
after the poet and the artist have done not of the human being. He was think-
their share of the task ing of those activities, and only those,
3. Construct a robot that will experience which might conceivably be duplicated
the satisfaction of work well done, of some- by the robot. In this respect Mr. Bor-
thing accomplished, such as is experienced ing illustrates the mechanomorphic type
by any human worker. of thought shown by Hull's earlier
4. Let the robot reflect on its own nature paper.
and properties as the psychologist in Boring
seems capable of doing. No one would deny that such a set of
5. Mr. Boring says he receives a scien- activities as Boring proposes would, if
tific thrill when he feels the returning built into a machine, result in an inter-
squeeze of the robot's hand in response to esting gadget, but it is just as certainly
142 R. H. WATERS

true that such a gadget would never be bright meant. You may learn some-
mistaken for a conscious human being. thing about a thought or a motive in
If one starts with a machine, one ends another organism by observing what
with a machine. Whatever be the theo- that organism does, but you cannot
retical difficulties in specifying the dif- learn everything, perhaps not even the
ferences between a machine and a hu- important thing about it, on that basis.
man being they are there. To think of The attributes of conscious experience,
the organism as a machine is to adopt a creative activity, and meaning have not
premise and a method that leads the in- been and cannot be duplicated in a
vestigator into a blind alley—a blind machine.
alley that precludes the observation of Mechanomorphism is thus a strictly
certain types of evidence clearly indi- limited mode of thought. Anthropo-
cating the presence of activities or ca- morphism had its dangers. But whereas
pacities which are included in our con- anthropomorphism did not exclude these
cept of a conscious human being. Con- higher mental processes, mechanomor-
sider this statement from Boring: "You phism does. If we follow the mechano-
know about a perception, a thought or morphists we will have to confine our
a motive in another organism by what efforts as psychologists to the relatively
that organism does, by the way its barren study of reflex action and leave
muscles move and the conditions under the more important problems to others.
which they move, or the way its glands
secrete, or the way its nerves generate REFERENCES
differences of electrical potential" (1,
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Truman resign. Did that mean that 2. BROAD, C. D The mind and its place in
Mr. Fulbright actually wanted Mr. Tru- nature. New York: Harcourt, Brace,
man to resign or did it mean something 192S.
altogether different? If what the or- 3. Huix, C. L. Mind, mechanism, and adap-
tive behavior. PSYCHOL. REV., 1937,
ganism does carries its meaning then 44, 1-32.
there should have been no debate, as 4. SPEARMAN, C. Creative mind. New York:
there certainly was, over what Ful- Appleton-Century, 1931.