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Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 2001, 36, 5-14

An epistemologically arrogant community of contending scholars:
A pre-Socratic perspective on the past, present, and future
of the Pavlovian society*

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont., Canada
(email: )

*This paper is based on the Gantt Memorial Lecture given at the October, 2000 meeting of the Pavlovian Society. I am indebted to Christine Furedy for comments both on the oral and written presentations, and to Bill Pare for providing photographs of Pavlov, Gantt, and their respective laboratory colleagues for use in the oral presentation. The paper itself is dedicated to the memory of the realist Australian philosophy professor John Anderson (see Appendix A) whose own intellectual hero was the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 BCE).


The paper begins with a statement of the Society's purpose and its pre-Socratic roots. The Society differs from other contemporary scientific and scientific-professional societies in that it is thoroughly apolitical, unusually open to discussion and debate, and has had a restricted scholarly written impact. I then suggest and interpret six phases in the Society's history: (1) the pre-Socratic roots; (2) Pavlov and the young Gantt; (3) the Society's Gantt score of years; (4) the Joe McGuigan decade; (5) the Stewart Wolf era; (6) reforming the Society. I conclude with the hope that even if the content of the Society's interests changes, it will preserve the pre-Socratic approach against the various forms of intellectual barbarism that and continue to arise. Keywords: Pre-Socratics, disinterested discussion, conflict of ideas, contending scholars, Pavlovian procedures


As I have argued in an earlier presidential address (Furedy, 1990), I maintain that the Pavlovian Society approach to scholarship and discussion parallels the perspective of the pre-Socratic philosophers who sought intellectual clarity by allowing different views to contend, with the purpose of achieving a sharpening of understanding. It was the pre-Socratics who were the first group to systematically practice a form of disinterested inquiry that focused on examining problems for their own sake, rather than worrying about the relation that those problems bore to individuals or to groups of individuals in terms of what we today would call "comfort".

The view that controversial issues need to be examined on logical, rather than ??comfort??, criteria is a form of epistemological arrogance. The essence of our Society is captured by the concept of a "community of contending scholars". (I use the term "scholars" rather than the more restrictive term "researchers", to indicate that wisdom can come from those who are not presently engaged in empirical research as well as from those who are).

Some unique aspects of the Pavlovian Society.

There are at least three important and intriguing ways in which the Society differs to some extent from other contemporary scientific societies like the American Psychological Society and the Society for Psychophysiological Research, or from scientific/professional organizations like the American Psychological Association and the Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback Society of America.

The first is that the Pavlovian Society is totally apolitical . We have not engaged in activities that relate to politics rather than to science. Consider, in contrast, the activities in the mid seventies of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) in relation to the ERA (the US Equal Rights Amendment). At the time that ERA was a major political issue, I recall being on the board of directors of SPR and arguing that, since SPR was purely research-oriented, and international (I noted that most non-North American members did not even know at that time what "ERA" stood for), SPR had no business in taking a position,as an organization, on ERA. My arguments were totally unsuccessful: SPR actually cancelled, with less than a year's notice, the next annual conference in Miami on the grounds that the state of Florida had failed to pass the ERA. At the time, I was

accused by several of my scientific colleagues on the board of being insensitive, sexist, and anti-ERA. I maintained, and still do, that I was merely insisting on the apolitical nature of an organization that should be devoted (see also Furedy, 1990) solely to the epistemological function of research.

The second aspect of the society is its relative openness to genuine debate and discussion. This is particularly apparent at our conferences (see also Furedy, 1990).. Genuine debate used to be a feature of annual meetings of SPR in the sixties and early seventies, but active audience participation in discussion has declined significantly since then. Our commentary on this decline was published in SPR??s official journal, but appears to have had no practical impact (Furedy & Scher, 1985; see also Furedy, 1990, where I argue that the relatively small increase in audience size is not responsible for this decline in active participation).

Another interesting case is the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meetings, where the poster sessions are quite interactive, but where the so-called symposia often allow no time for questions from the audience. Moreover, even when some time is allotted, no exploration of complex or fundamental issues is possible, if only because there is a proscription against reformulating or re-asking questions which are not clearly answered in the first place.

Finally, if I may mention a touchy subject, I suggest that the scholarly impact of our journal is far less than official journals of other societies like SPR and SFN. This low-impact problem, discussed in more detail later, has been a continuing feature of the society's journal since its inception. In contrast, SPR's journal, *Psychophysiology*, started off as a relatively uninfluential journal in the mid-sixties, but, beginning with the editorship of Bill Prokasy in the mid-seventies, it has become one of the highest impact journals in psychology. And this has not simply been a function of an increase of membership, which has been stable around the 900 mark since the mid-seventies.

Of course, scholarly impact, although it is objectively measurable, may not reflect true scientific worth, or even perceived interestingness. As someone whose main area of specialization is psychophysiology, I am quite convinced that SPR's journal has become duller over the last two decades. For the reader, the main symptom is a plethora of papers that offer statistically and technically sound data that are interpreted only as being consistent with various abstract (not to say metaphorical) models of information processing. Few papers relate to the testing of actual theories about real psychological functions. Consistent with this symptom is the reluctance of the SPR journals?? editors, in the interests of methodological rigor, to allow the sort of ??speculative?? discussion that goes along with a concern for evaluating the truth of theories, rather than the fruitfulness of models. All this, however, does not gainsay that fact that Psychophysiology has increased its impact; it is seen as a highly attractive place for authors to publish their best empirical work.

Phases in the Society's history

Having doubtless offended some of you by these comments, let me now risk more of your wrath by offering six interpretative phases of how I think the Society has got here, and what may happen in the future.

The Society's Pavlovian motto, "observation and observation", is based on the pre-Socratics, who were a group of philosophers living in Ionia in the sixth and fifth centuries, BC. Pre-socratics like Thales and Heraclitus were the first group to practice what a historian of philosophy has called "the Greek way of thinking about the world" (Burnet, 1930). The unique feature of this was the disinterested attitude: the willingness to consider problems for their own sake, rather than in terms of societal or individual needs. So the pre-Socratics, so labeled because they preceded Socrates whose passion was inquiry, were prepared to consider the problem of what is common to all things.

They were a community of contending scholars. For example, Thales asserted that it was water that was common to all things, whereas Heraclitus argued for the ever-changing fire as the basic element. An essential feature of this sort of conflict of ideas was a common ground of agreement among the contending scholars--that disputes needed to be resolved in terms of logic and observable evidence. This is the concept of an extended dialogue which is governed by curiosity, rather than by conformity to societal values. The paradigm for such disinterested discussion may be the life and death of Socrates, but it is the pre-Socratic philosophers of Ionia who showed us the way. I think that the intellectual basis of the Pavlovian society is essentially inherited from them.

Jumping forward about 25 centuries, the other intellectual basis of the Pavlovian society is Pavlov's laboratory, which the young American physician Horsley Gantt visited. As I have argued in a relatively recent biographical note on Pavlov (Furedy, 1992), Pavlov was an intellectual who managed to thrive in a place and period that is now recognized to be a paradigm case of Orwellian totalitarianism and the very antithesis of the pre-Socratic tradition. The epistemological arrogance manifested by Socrates in the Crito when he said that "although the many can kill us, that is no reason for preferring their opinions over the knowledge of the wise, was put into action by Pavlov's behavior. The incident that best illustrates this sort of epistemological arrogance was recounted by Gantt: in 1926 the minister of education and head of the department that supported Pavlov's laboratory came on a site visit. In contrast to the reception given to most site visitors by contemporary Americans in "the land of the free,??Pavlov was cool, to say the least. He refused to meet with the minister, let alone show him his laboratory on the grounds that he thought poorly of the minister's recent book, "The ABC of Communism". In Socratic terms, the minister??s book constituted, for Pavlov, the "opinions of the many", rather than the "knowledge of the wise". But rather than merely thinking such thoughts,

Pavlov acted on them in a way that few researchers in much more free environments would dare to do.

Still, while confident in his opinions, the head of the laboratory in which the young Gantt found himself was not nearly as doctrinaire about what were permissible explanatory constructs for the science of behavior as American behaviorists like J.B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. The behaviorism that Pavlov espoused was methodological rather than metaphysical. His insistence was not on all explanations being cast in stimulus-response terms, but rather that the criteria for deciding among competing and conflicting accounts of behavior should be observational rather than introspective. It is in this sense that the motto of our society, observation and observation, is a methodological rather than a metaphysical behaviorist position.

So Pavlov with his students, Gantt with his, and our Society especially at its annual meetings, all function as a community of contending scholars whose only common ground of agreement is that the rules according to which the disputes are to be conducted be epistemic rather than political: the rules of discussion, that is, must be based on "observation and observation."

This motto, too, has its pre-Socratic roots, because those Ionian contenders did agree that whatever alternative account was offered, it had to be shown that it "saved the appearances". In other words, the account had to be shown to be consistent not with the prevailing ideology, but with what was being observed.

All this is not to suggest that the laboratory that the young Gantt observed was emotionally open to criticism. By all accounts Pavlov ran his lab in a way that would almost certainly not pass the test of current standards of "sensitivity". Those who raised criticisms could not count on Pavlov welcoming their opinions with the warm and fuzzy feelings that appear to be required for modern political (and even perhaps campus) leadership success. Although, as far as I know, neither Pavlov nor Gantt ever completed an authoritarianism scale, there is little doubt as to where they would score on such a scale. Still, while Pavlov's personal style may have been authoritarian, the method of inquiry that he practised and that the young Gantt observed was issue- rather than person-directed. And it was this issue-oriented style that Gantt, as I shall suggest in the next section, set for our Society during the next couple of decades that he dominated it.

Horsley Gantt founded the Society in the fifties and was at least as dominant in the first twenty years in the society as Pavlov was in his laboratory. Intellectually, Gannt's approach and hence the Society's, can be described as methodological behaviorism, although he probably would

not have used that particular term. That is, the arguments occurred on the basis of observed data, but the fields of speciality ranged from single-cell physiology through to psychoanalysis, and hence the nature of the data presented varied widely. Moreover, consistent with Gantt's own multiple expertise as a practicing physician, experimenter, and theoretician, both basic-research and applied interests were evident at the conferences. So too were a range of explanatory concepts from the radical behaviorism of Skinner and his followers to those of dynamic, motivational psychology.

In this period, I suggest, less diplomatically, that there was considerable tolerance for anecdotally-based observations, rather than those based on inferential statistics. Especially in psychophysiology, this was the era of the so-called "representative recordings" which, on later examination, turned out to be not representative at all! While in this tactless mode, I must note that the same charge can be laid against Pavlov himself when it comes to the phenomena of Pavlovian conditioning. I suggest that it is no accident that there has been not a single modern dog salivary conditioning laboratory in the statistically more rigorous era where conditioning phenomena need have sufficient robustness as to yield conventional levels of statistical significance.

Pavlov's authoritarian style was also reflected during these Gannt years in the society, or so it seems to me. Although there was a new president every year (the list of whom contains a number of very prominent individuals like Skinner), both the Society and its journal were very much a ??one-man show.?? Gantt essentially chose each new president, and was the editor of the society's journal, *The Conditional Reflex*. Still, while Gantt was no role model for tact, diplomacy, or sensitivity, I think that the society would never have got off the ground without this medical scientist whose breadth of interests made him a renaissance man.

Of course, any organization that is dominated for a long time by one person will manifest prejudices. One of Gantt's was that he did not want "too many (experimental) psychologists" in the society. I had direct experience of one outcome. It took Herb Kimmel several years in the early seventies to persuade Gantt to admit me into the society. Herb himself, of course, is an experimental psychologist, and his relations with Horsley were not always cordial. Like many prejudices, this one of Gantt's had a grain of truth, especially during those times when most experimental psychologists tended be quite insular in their theorizing. Recall that at this time Skinner and his followers actually advised psychologists not only to eschew organismic psychological explanations, but also any reference to physiological functions. And even in the Hull-Tolman groups, physiological psychologists like Neal Miller were quite rare.

On the other hand, I think part of Gantt's dislike of experimental psychologists was that these psychologists insisted on strict methodological standards for data assessment. Representative records and anecdotal evidence were not good enough. For the data to be "archival," criteria for inferential statistics had to be satisfied. Neither the society meetings (from what I hear) nor the journal (from what I read) consistently met these stringent experimental-psychological methodological standards. It was because of this that even though the journal's name "Conditional Reflex" was a semantically accurate description of Pavlovian conditioning (note especially the term conditional rather than conditioned--for this distinction, those in doubt see me after class), if one wanted to read about, or, more importantly, publish archival data, journals like the Journal of Experimental Psychology with its numerous human eyelid conditioning studies were a better source than the Pavlovian society's official journal.

I formed these impressions of Gantt's society when I joined it in the early seventies. Despite Gantt's general coolness to experimental psychologists, my own interactions with him were always very cordial, and I recall that, late in his life, he took part in a symposium I organized that examined Pavlov's style of intellectual functioning. And, despite the shortcomings of the group that I have mentioned, the discussion-orientation of the annual conferences was very attractive for anyone who was looking for what Bronowski has called the "democracy of the intellect". Despite the tyrannical political lines along which the Society of the time was run, the research sessions wre more focused on scientific discussion and less on scientific politics than any of the other conferences, such as the annual Psychonomic Society meetings, at least in my judgment.