In this Chapter, physicist Max Plank and psychologist Jean Piaget explain that the only objective reality accessible to us is a conceptual space created by the power of our intelligence.
Max Planck proposed to use investigating “the most primitive world picture, the naive world picture of the child” as “the best start toward a correct understanding of the scientific world picture.” His description of the way the child creates his world picture is so accurate that I won’t even try to rephrase him. I’ll just point your attention to the similarity between Plank’s description and Pavlov’s notion about the scientific (or animal-like as per Thorndike) method of learning. The child learns by classifying and connecting external stimuli with each other. The scientist learns in the same way. So did Thorndike’s cats.
“As soon as the child begins to think, he begins to form his world picture. For this purpose, he directs his attention toward the impressions which he receives through his sense organs. He tries to classify them, and in this endeavor he makes all kinds of discoveries, such as, for instance, that there is a certain orderly interrelation between the inherently different impressions conveyed by the senses of sight, touch and hearing. If you give the child a toy, let us say, a rattle, he will find that the tactile sensation is always accompanied by a corresponding visual sensation, and as he moves the rattle back and forth, he also perceives a certain regular auditory sensation.”
Planck clearly depicted the way how the structure of the child’s world picture changes in the process of learning.
Sensations used to be the only components of the original sense world of the child but eventually, the concept of an object emerges. The object becomes the dominant element of the new picture, and the tactile, visual, and auditory sensations become its attributes.
Yet the sensations associated with objects are private and vary from one individual to another. The transition from the sense world to the objective world becomes complete only after “the concept of an objectively valid regularity” is introduced. Objectively valid regularities make the world of objects truly objective — the same for all humans.
The concept of an object plays a key role also in the theory of Jean Piaget on the development of understanding in children. Piaget, a Swiss psychologist who is thought by many to have been the major figure in 20th-century developmental psychology, proposed that the emergence of understanding in the child begins with the stage of sensory-motor intelligence that operates in the sense world as per the explanation of Plank.
“A world without objects is a universe without systematic differentiation between subjective and external realities,” he wrote resonating with Plank’s ideas. A world picture embracing concepts of an object and space, according to him, makes possible the advancement of the child’s thought to the level of conceptual or operational intelligence.
Furthermore, the objective world picture of the child expands spatially to reach out into spaces that were never seen before or even can’t be seen at all. The objective world is getting populated not only with “real entities” of sensory-motor intelligence but also with imaginary ones. Imaginary objects become objective because they obey the regularities governing the objective world, but not because their reality is given to us in sensations.
“Certainly, sensori-motor intelligence lies at the source of thought, and continues to affect it throughout life through perceptions and practical sets,” wrote Piaget.
He proposed to distinguish practical and deliberate types of intelligence. “In the first the question appears in the form of a simple need, the hypothesis as a sensory-motor random trial, and the testing process as a mere series of failures or successes. In the second, the need is reflected in the question, trial-and-error is internalised as a search for hypotheses and the testing process anticipates the sanction of experience by means of an “awareness of relations”, which is sufficient to discard false hypotheses and to retain true ones.”
As Thorndike before, he failed to see that the practical type of intelligence works in the organic cohesion with the deliberate one as it was described by Einstein in the previous Chapter. The father of modern Anthropology Claude Levi-Strauss also made the same mistake by distinguishing “the science of the concrete” of primitive people and modern science as two entirely separate ways of attacking the same problems. I guess it was a kind of anthropocentric blindness that prevented them from seeing the intrinsic value of the animal-like learning method to all other methods of learning and creativity.
Yet Piaget managed to establish the equivalence between his concept of “assimilatory schemata” and the concept of cognitive maps, proposed by Edward Tolman. “This double property of general validity and meaning belonging to the structures considered by Tolman is a fairly good indication that he is concerned with what we call assimilatory schemata,” he wrote, paving us the way for the further exploration of the conceptual space of the art of understanding.
Humans create and navigate objective reality as a space of concepts that either stand for objects given to us in sensations or to objects created by our imagination. If a concept obeys the laws of nature known to us it belongs to the real world no matter if it’s sensual or imaginary. Scientists and children apply sensorimotor intelligence to the raw sensory data while discovering (creating, inventing) laws of nature.
- Max Plank (1942) The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science
- Ivan Pavlov (1933) Psychology as a Science. Unpublished and Little-known Materials of I.P. Pavlov (1975)
- Jean Piaget (1960) The Psychology of Intelligence
- Edward Thorndike (1898) Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. Monograph Supplement №8
- Claude Levi-Strauss (1962) The Savage Mind
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