Perennial Problems of (Educational) Psychology

  • Wolff-Michael Roth
Part of the Cultural Psychology of Education book series (CPED, volume 9)


Ninety years ago, psychology had been characterized in terms of a history of critiques: scientific psychology, established by Wilhelm Wundt and his followers, and its empirical methods focusing on biological processes (e.g. reaction time experiments) was opposed to mythological or interpretive psychology aimed at the (meta-physical) meanings (Politzer 1929; Vygotsky 1997). One of the essential schisms associated with the two forms of psychology continues to the present day: the dichotomy of body and mind. It exists because scientific psychology is concerned with biological processes whereas interpretive psychology is concerned with the ideal meanings. The schism is a direct consequence of the “tacit presupposition of the mind with its private ideas which are in fact qualities without intelligible connection with the entities represented” (Whitehead 1929/1978, 76). Even though the problem was framed such a long time ago, psychologists and cognitive scientists have been wondering much more recently about how the (mental, immaterial) world of (abstract) ideas is connected to the physical world of the body, a problem that has come to be known as the symbol grounding problem (Harnad 1990). That psychophysiological schism manifests itself in the traditionally separate psychological treatments of intellect and affect (Vygotsky 1987). This separate treatment has continued to the present day, where mental-cognitive processes are thought to be influenced by affective states only from the outside, generally in terms of decreasing mental performance. The “affective domain (system)” is theorized separately from the “psychomotor domain (system),” which is in turn separate from the “cognitive domain (system)” (e.g. Sternberg and Williams 2010). We thereby get something like a system composed of subsystems, each of which exists in its own right (Fig. 1.1). The ways in which the independent subsystems come to interact does not tend to be further specified. This leaves open the question how an affective system, which quite obviously has bodily-physical qualities (e.g. blushing, increased heart rates) can ever influence a non-bodily system (ideal meanings). Thus, for example, how would affects, which are manifestations of physiological events, come to bear on something that is not material physiological, such as thinking and ideas? In other words and using a computer analogy, we have to ask, “How does the hardware affect the software?” In computing, of course, the former does not affect the latter – or the results of a computation would (might) be different depending on the chip used because of material differences.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolff-Michael Roth
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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