Mixing Memory’s post on the undeserved obscurity of Franz Brentano got me thinking. What other great scientists of mind are modern neuroscientists neglecting?
My own vote goes to William James. While his Principles of Psychology are often mandatory reading in Intro to Psych courses – not bad for a 19th century textbook – few neuroscientists grapple with his philosophical writings. That’s a shame, because they are often more relevant than his Principles. Take this quote from his late essay “Psychical Research”:
“This systematic denial on science’s part of personality as a condition of events, this rigorous belief that in its own essential and innermost nature our world is a strictly impersonal world, may, conceivably, as the whirligig of time goes round, prove to be the very defect that our descendants will be most surprised at in our boasted science, the omission that to their eyes will most tend to make it look perspectiveless and short.”
This is typical James: eloquent, pluralist, anti-reductionist. He stands proudly for a science of experience even when everyone else is still entranced by psycho-physics and the measurement of nerve reaction times. Unfortunately, the whirligig of time has only made neuroscience more impersonal, more convinced that experience can be explained away in terms of neural correlates. I don’t know what a Jamesian science of experience would look like – neither did James – but it sure sounds cool. If I were teaching an Intro to Psych course, I’d make my students memorize a list of James’ pithy aphorisms. If nothing else, it would teach them how to turn a pretty metaphor.
My other vote for most neglected psychologist/philosopher is John Dewey. (I’ve got a weak spot for pragmatists.) His “Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology” dismantled behaviorism before it even existed. Also worth noting are his theories of learning (they anticipate the discovery of mirror neurons) and his theory of emotion.
(This post will also allow me to plug one of my favorite websites)
But if you were teaching Intro to Psych, what old-time psychologist would you make your students read?