hard science and constructivism

Josh Soffer (joshsoffer@webtv.net)
Fri, 4 Dec 1998 04:40:00 -0600 (CST)

There certainly would seem to be a variety of levels of discourse we
could make use of to illuminate a phenomenon like schizophrenia. Form
within the grabbag of intentional approaches, we could choose a language
of hermeneutic constructivism, social constructionism, Freudian
analytic. Or we could use a 'harder' scientific orientation such as the
neuronal, the biochemical, the molecular. Are all these approaches
simply separate and equal? Or are there specific metatheoretical
implications that we intrinsically buy into in selecting any of these
alternatives? If the latter is the case, which I believe to be so, then
they are not equal and different, any more than Freudian, behavioral and
constuctivist methods are equal in their differences.

Discourses which speak of biochemical imbalances and broken neural
pathways imply simplistic causal metamodels. It misses the point ot say
that we can construe such positions alongside contructivist intentional
ones. It does not help to claim that medical models are Kellian
constructs like any other, because, as is the case with Freudian and
behavioral frameworks, the pcp which I employ is a worldview which
subsumes these orientations, not simply co-exists with them. To construe
a Freudian or behavioral outlook form a Kellian perspective is to
recognize them as inadequate. It would no longer be a question of
reducing conscious psychological construing and its modes
(intersubjective intentionality) to a level of 'harder' science if that
science is defined in traditional mechanistic ways , but of framing the
latter within the former.

This is not to say that pcp has some special privilege over genetic,
neural or biochemical models in general. It depends entirely on the
specific theoretical overview implied by those models. What philosophy
of pathology is implied by the seemingly neutral obseration that
schizophrenia is correlated with certain MRI patterns or with
ventricular enlargement, or that its behavioral symptoms are altered by
drugs? We could group people as gay or as suffering ADD based on
genetic, physiological or metabolic justification for our
classifications, but beyond confirming that certain people fall nto
general gorupings, they don't reveal very much about what the groupings

There are numerous competing ways to treat psychological phenomena at
these levels. Gerald Edelman, Francisco Varela, Steven Rose and Jean
Piaget are some examples of theorists who offer mdoels of neural
functioning which avoid reductionist oversimplification and manage to
allow functioning at the genetic and neural levels to be seen as
compatible with the radical implications of constuctivist metatheory.
Epigenetic systems approaches, geentic assimilation, self-organizing
systems theory represent a re-framing of biological processes such that
they can be seen as consonant with the implications of pcp.

Reframed in this way, schizophrenia could be understod as functioning as
a backround condition , like dream awareness, drug intoxication, or the
backround role of biological gender on behavior. Backround thematics
don't dictate contents of thought, but the style of processing. No
disorder can prevent the self-directed nature of thinking, but only the
efficacy of its movement. What does that mean? Since within pcp,
rationality is only the process of construing, which obeys no criterion
of the ratinal other than that of internal coherence, the meaning of a
background 'disorder' would be connected with these variables of
organization not as a limit on content of thought or its 'correctness'
in relation to an outside culture, but on the ease of moving through
cycles of construing, the momentum of thought.

As such , we do not have to speak of irrationality, improper affect,
random thoughts, as thought the direction of the client's thinking were
somehow tainted. A background condition such as schizophrenia is
carried forward in experience as it's specific meaning for the person
who carries it forward is transformed by the dymaics of construing. If
the schizophreni is prone to a vagueness of formulation, an
impoverishment of the tighening phase of contruing evidenced in
schizoid, fragmented train of thought, the person nevertheless
formulates plans, feels a full range of affectivity, moves though a
richy textured world of contrued experience.

The meaning of the schizophrenia for the person who 'suffers' it is
shaped and reshaped by events she construes, jsut as the meaning of
one's maleness or sightlessness or autism. There is an ongoing coherence
to her formulations, else there would be no possibility for her behavior
or mood to change. Even when we formulate a client's behavior as due to
a schizophrenic deficit, we can still accept that there is a
schizophrenic culture as legitimate and self-directionally rational as
our own, which is quite diffferent that saying that she suffers from a
breakdown in realistic thinking. If our dreams are 'deviant' with
respect to our waking life, can we not appreciate the value of
reconciling the two realms of experienceing rather than discounting the
former as random neural firing?

Josh Soffer