Sunday, July 03, 2011

a search on "entheogens" yields zip, zilch, nada...,

ISHE | Like rivers histories of scientific disciplines have many tributaries. The human ethology tributary I know best begins in a paper given by Eibl-Eibesfeldt at a 1965 conference in Minnesota. Eibl was invited by the originators of the conference - Eckhard Hess, a one-time-student of Lorenz, and several child psychologists interested in strengthening interdisciplinary connections. In his paper Eibl (1967) argued that the concepts of fixed action pattern, IRM, releasing stimuli, spontaneity, and play that ethologists found useful were also of great importance for every student of human behavior (p. 141). As far as I can determine, this melding of ethology with human research interests was a first in the area of child behavior and development. A year earlier, Detlev Ploog (1964) made an analogous move aimed at establishing connections between psychiatry and ethology. In a very scholarly paper, written in German and hence virtually unknown to English-speaking readers, Ploog laid the foundations for a comparative/behavioral approach to psychiatric phenomena: his suggestions covered topics ranging from 'brain mechanisms and instinctual behavioral stereotypies to social behavior and structures.

As Eibl started moving his program forward, Dan Freedman, working in Chicago, was establishing novel links between evolutionary theory and human infant behavior, as well as pioneering an evolutionary approach to research on the life cycle. At the same time, others such as Ambrose, Bowlby, Blurton Jones, van Cranach, Crook, Esser, Ekman, Hutt & Hutt were also in the process of establishing connections between ethology and psychology. In short, by the end of the sixties, a variety of tributaries were feeding into the slowly widening river channel of human ethology.

By 1972, as a result of informal contacts among Chicago, Eibl's group in Seewiesen and Minnesota, a small group of somewhat innocent, self-labeled human ethologists held the first international meeting at the University of Minnesota. Attendance consisted mostly of German. Canadian, and American studcnts. It was a modest beginning to say the least, but it did lead later to two much larger, more sophisticated meetings. The first was held in Percha/Starnberg (Eibl's first research station); the second immediately followed in London under the sponsorship of Nick Blurton Jones. Both meetings were very well-attended and, despite much healthy disagreement on about nearly everything, it became apparent that substantive scientific enterprise was a in the making.

But more than meetings were taking place in 1972. That year Blurton Jones' Ethological Studies of Child Behavior appeared in print. This collection of very promising papers launched a serious commitment to do two things most human ethologists liked to do back then - develop objective methods for observing, categorizing, and organizing behavior, and talking about their subject matter in terms of evolutionary theory. In the foreword top the volume, Tinbergen gave the newly emerging discipline a boost by stressing the need for psychology ("not yet really a science") to build its foundations on "the observation and description of .... natural phenomena" (p. vii), undertaking, in the process, the work of building ethograms, a labor-intensive program of research so productively engaged in by him and Lorenz.

During this same year, Bill McGrew's (1972) volume, An Ethological Study of Children, also appeared; it was a methodological tour de force demonstrating ways to meet the challenge posed by the task of observing and categorizing preschoolers' behavior. Also, at the time, John Bowlby's work on attachment was awakening child psychologists and psychiatrists to the value of taking evolutionary theory seriously. In summary, things were on the move but much of the activity critics claimed, was at the level of "ethologizing". Human ethologists reputedly were over-speculating on the evolutionary origins and functions of human behavior, and wildly extrapolating from animals to humans when they should have begun building human ethograms and discovering novel phenomena.

As a personal note, when I met Eibl, I had grown tired of testing children for Piagetian cognitive structures. I had come to Piaget via general developmental psychology. About a decade earlier, I had been introduced to comparative/experimental psychology by Bob (W.R.) Thompson and ended up working in his rat laboratory at Wesleyan University (Connecticut). Other professors, at that time, did not share Bob's biological leanings, so using the term "instinct" in some classes was a misdemeanor quickly to be corrected by appropriate extinction methods. I realize the weaknesses (operational and conceptual) of the term, but they did not seem to me any more pronounced than the weaknesses of the term "learning". In addition to comparative animal research, Thompson was also well into behavior genetics with John Fuller even though genetics was unpopular in psychology at the time.

As an occasional champion of unpopular causes, I was motivated to extend the biological approach to the study of children when I went to Cornell. When I arrived, I quickly discovered that environmentalism was in strong command. Interestingly, though, animal work was always recognized as a possible source of hypotheses about human behavior, especially if it had anything to do with critical periods for learning. Harlow's work on the effects of social deprivation on rhesus monkeys quickly captured everyone's attention (and devout allegiance) in child development. I found this curious because other animal analogues usually got short shrift if they suggested that instincts were lurking somewhere within them. What was also curious was that Lorenz was condemned by a sizable segment of the faculty as a reactionary nativist. The same faculty, though, enthusiastically acknowledged his imprinting studies, which, it was obvious (to me at least), were classical examples of a gene/environment interaction rather than unmitigated genetic determinism.

Also at the time, it became apparent to me that caging and depriving monkeys was not scientifically superior to studying them in their natural habitats. After two years of experimenting with pregnant rats at Wesleyan, it was refreshing later to hear Eibl describe his warm and humorous relationship with his polecat. It struck me that a significant difference between ethologists and comparative psychologists at the time was that the former viewed their research subjects as friends to understand while the latter viewed them as research objects to manipulate. Recognizing individuals for what they are (as well as what their peculiar environments require of them) seems to me a much more interesting and humane way to study and deal with humans (and animals) than conceptualizing them solely as objects to be used to test hypotheses.

Of course, psychologists have been studying individual differences since the 19th century, but their data have been mostly test scores (reaction time, intelligence. personality, etc.) and hardly ever observational data connecting such differences with differences in success and failure in everyday adaptation. Studying individuals adapting to their environments is very different from testing them; it is also a lot more difficult.

As I got to understand ethology better, a number of its features struck me as very interesting. The major one was that, for a human ethologist perhaps more than for any other behavioral scientist, daily experience and scientific scholarship can never be totally separate. The former feeds the latter with a steady stream of fresh ideas and potential data; the latter controls the former and keeps it from becoming a subjective, unproductive morass. But what really makes this happy symbiosis distinctively ethological is evolutionary theory: it is always lurking in the background suggesting that what happens today on a daily basis may be a very old story with a predictable, long term outcome, or, maybe, a new story with a significant but unknown end. How can one lose?

Another feature of ethology I find attractive was best expressed by the mother of Barbara Pym (modern British author) when she presumably was giving Barbara tips on studying people as potential characters in her books: Mother said, "See what you can find out without asking." Those of us who work with infants or young children understand such advice so well. Asking children questions can be frustrating and perplexing, as well as hilarious (especially when asking gifted children). Asking adults questions, especially questions having to do with resources and inclusive fitness matters, can frequently be an unproductive enterprise.

Establishing human ethology as a branch of ethology, as we all know, has not been free of impediments. Accepting a biological (and especially an evolutionary) approach to studying human behavior has frequently released a whole range of accusations - genetic predeterminism, reductionism, over-simplificationism, sexism, racism, the especially pernicious aim of telling too many adaptationist stories, etc. Much of this criticism is understandable when it comes from those unfamiliar with how science operates and the difficulties ethologists face when doing research on subject matter that is both complex and virtually always out of control. It is less understandable when it comes from other ethologists. Robert Hinde (l979), for example, has noted that "carving up science along phyletic lines smacks of a regression to nineteenth century science" (p. 645) and that "human ethology comes near to being a contradiction in terms" (p. 646). Hinde's main worry seemed to be that human ethologists would not only lose the comparative approach that proved so useful to ethology in general, but also be very tempted to attribute more causal status to evolution in accounting for human behavior than warranted.


Uglyblackjohn said...

Too soon SeeNew...
Shoulda' let BD spin some more yarns and then allowed him to state that doing so showed a higher IQ  and was endemic to and invented by Europeans. 

CNu said...


propositional "religion" and magical-thinking appear to be endemic to those higher-IQ minions of the church of Rome - that is,  of course - after they were convinced that the holders of the traditional entheogenic knowledge were witches in league with the devil - and they hunted them all down, tortured and murdered them with much inquisitorial fanfare...,