A Pepperian perspective
Whoever has heard of anyone seeking help, either for themselves or for others, because they write with the wrong hand? And equally importantly whoever has heard anyone of seeking help because they have the wrong perspective, mind-set, explanatory-schema or world-view. But as Stephen Pepper pointed out, world-views are themselves tools each, with their own range of application. As such this makes each either adequate or inadequate for a particular task.
Pepper's world-view thinking, together with Karl Popper's position on the impossibility of interpretation-free observations, offers a better frame for handling seemingly intractable difficulties. They provide an overarching framework for identifying and managing personal, educational, occupational difficulties and general with well-being.
Our world-view holds, unlike Descartes, that the body (hand) and mind (brain) act as one, such that either we are in harmony within ourselves and with the rest of the world, or we are not. It is this single entity which handles what the world, literally and metaphorically speaking, throws at us. It is relatively easy then, through participant observation, to establish how individuals' brains organize themselves by evaluating how well each hand handles familiar and unfamiliar, single and two handed tasks: including, of course, paper and pencil. This page outlines Pepper's value under the following headings:
- Pepper's world-views: a cosmology
- A playful riddle on Pepper and Popper
- Pieces of Popper
- The playful mode: textualism
- Re-configuring the common-place
- Pepper and politics
- Pepper and pedagogy
Pepper: cognitive attitude and world-view root metaphors
Stephen Pepper's 1942 book was entitled World-Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence. In systematizing the range of individuals' explanatory schemas -that is, how they account for their worlds and their place in it - they are also offering an account of their place in the universe. Although labelled 'worldviews' Pepper is in fact offering an overarching cosmology.
Pepper prefaces his account of six over-arching world-views by stating:
- people can't be convinced against their own better judgment,
- contrary to popular opinion, radical cognitive destruction is more difficult than construction. In short, it's not easy to shake ourselves or others down to rock solid foundations. Yet unless we do so, we're building on ever shifting sands,
- amongst all the objects in the world there are the views, ideas or hypotheses we hold about how the world itself works. These 'objects' can be grouped according to their root images.
- cognitive attitudes can be sifted into three categories: dogmatism, utter scepticism and reasonable scepticism.
One implication of Pepper's work is that dogmatists' minds cannot be changed by direct confrontation. Later under the label 'Cognitive Dissonance' Festinger tackled the same phenomenon. This does not mean that the dogmatist's mind cannot be changed. It can be achieved but only indirectly and by directly challenging their appeal to self-evident principles, immutable truths and infallible authority. Pepper points out that utter sceptics, in so far as they claim not to believe in anything, are indeed dogmatists by another name. They are because of the fervour with which they hold to their utter scepticism. He regards reasonable scepticism as the optimal cognitive atttude: it is the hallmark of doubters waiting to be convinced by the quality of their self-validated evidence.
Pepper's unique insight was to note that the potentially infinite number of hypotheses individuals held about the world collapse, under close scrutiny to just six: animism, mysticism, formism, mechanism, organicism and contextualism. The critical features of each, are tabulated as follows:
|World-view||Descriptive Root Metaphor||Explanatory Value||Tools||Questions||Leads to|
|Animism||common-sense man||grossly inadequate||emotions||What is the spirit of X?||infallible authority|
|Mysticism||the common emotion of love||How can we appease the gods?||indubitability|
|Formism||shoe last - template
acorn-oak - essence
|adequate||nouns||What is the essence of X, Y or Z?||mechanism|
|Mechanism||machine: lever-fulcrum||How does X affect Y?||contextualism|
|Organicism||plant / animal||What are the links amongst A, B & C?||creative imagination|
|Contextualism||doing, enduring, enjoying||verbs||Plus ça change, plus la même chose?||operationalism|
A playful riddle on Pepper and Popper
I have often been asked, on introducing Pepper to workshops, whether I meant Popper instead. This question reveals the greater familiarity of Popper and ignorance of Pepper. It is an intriguiing question as to why each has left entirely different legacies. Is Pepper more complex? Popper is well known for his views on the provisional nature of objective facts:
- there is no such thing as an interpretation-free observation,
- evidence is only evidence with respect to a particular conjecture, theory or judgment,
- academic disciplines have arisen for historical reasons and been maintained for administrative convenience,
- we should focus on helping individuals with their concrete miseries rather than abstract utopian ideals,
- refutation / falsification: if we wish to prove the truth of X (for example Adam cannot read and write with ease) we should try to refute it (by seeing if someone can help Adam work through his difficulties). If Adam eventually reads and writes with ease the truth of X has been refuted. If no one can help Adam read and write with ease then we have to accept X as true until proven otherwise.
Stephen Pepper's 1942 World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence remains largely unknown to educationists and the judiciary. And yet Popper's and Pepper's views are key to grasping the link between mind-sets and diferent forms of action. How one solves the Popper-Pepper riddle provides a measure of how well one has grasped the message of each.
which piece of Stephen Pepper would Karl Popper have picked?
Pieces of Popper
Apart from the play on names, there are number of overlaps between Pepper and Popper. It is, therefore, useful to offer up some pieces of Popper. To convey the cogency of Popper's stance it is worth quoting at some lenght from his 1963 Conjectures and Refutations (London Routledge & Kegan Paul) on three topics: observation - theory, disciplines - problems, and concrete miseries - abstract utopian ideals.What comes first, observation or theory?
The belief that science proceeds from observation to theory is still so widely and so firmly held that my denial of it is often met with incredulity. I have even been suspected of being insincere-of denying what nobody in his senses can doubt.A discipline-based or problem-driven approach?
But in fact the belief that we can start with pure observations alone, without anything in the nature of a theory, is absurd; as may be illustrated by the story of the man who dedicated his life to natural science, wrote down everything he could observe, and bequeathed his priceless collection of observations to the Royal Society to be used as inductive evidence. This story should show us that though beetles may profitably be collected, observations may not.
Twenty-five years ago I tried to bring home the same point to a group of physics students in Vienna by beginning a lecture with the following instructions: 'Take pencil and paper; carefully observe, and write down what you have observed ' They asked, of course, what I wanted them to observe. Clearly the instruction, 'Observe(' is absurd. (It is not even idiomatic, unless the object of the transitive verb can be taken as understood.) Observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem. And its description presupposes a descriptive language, with property words; it presupposes similarity and classification, which in its turn presupposes interests, points of view, and problems. 'A hungry animal', writes Katz (divides the environment into edible and inedible things. An animal in flight sees roads to escape and hiding places .... Generally speaking, objects change ... according to the needs of the animal. We may add that objects can be classified, and can become similar or dissimilar, only in this way - by being related to needs and interests. This rule applies not only to animals but also to scientists. For the animal a point of view is provided by its needs, the task of the moment, and its expectations; for the scientist by his theoretical interests, the special problem under investigation, his conjectures and anticipations, and the theories which he accepts as a kind of background: his frame of reference, his 'horizon of expectations'.
The problem 'Which comes first, the hypothesis (H) or the observation (0),' is soluble; as is the problem, 'Which comes first, the hen (h) or the egg (0)'. The reply to the latter is, 'An earlier kind of egg'; to the former, 'An earlier kind of hypothesis'. It is quite true that any particular hypothesis we choose will have been preceded by observations - the observations, for example, which it is designed to explain. But these observations, in their turn, presupposed the adoption of a frame of reference: a frame of expectations: a frame of theories. If they were significant, if they created a need for explanation and thus gave rise to the invention of a hypothesis, it was because they could not be explained within the old theoretical framework, the old horizon of expectations. There is no danger here of an infinite regress. Going back to more and more primitive theories and myths we shall in the end find unconscious, inborn expectations.
The theory of inborn ideas is absurd, I think; but every organism has inborn reactions or responses; and among them, responses adapted to impending events. These responses we may describe as 'expectations' without implying that these 'expectations' are conscious. The new-born baby 'expects', in this sense, to be fed (and, one could even argue, to be protected and loved). In view of the close relation between expectation and knowledge we may even speak in quite a reasonable sense of 'inborn knowledge'. This 'knowledge' is not, however, valid a priori; an inborn expectation, no matter how strong and specific, may be mistaken. (The newborn child may be abandoned, and starve.)
Thus we are born with expectations; with 'knowledge' which, although not valid a priori, is psychologically or genetically a priori, i.e. prior to all observational experience. One of the most important of these expectations is the expectation of finding a regularity. It is connected with an inborn propensity to look out for regularities, or with a need to find regularities, as we may see from the pleasure of the child who satisfies this need.
This 'instinctive' expectation of finding regularities, which is psychologically a priori, corresponds very closely to the 'law of causality' which Kant believed to be part of our mental outfit and to be a priori valid. One might thus be inclined to say that Kant failed to distinguish between psychologically a priori ways of thinking or responding and a priori valid beliefs. But I do. (pp 46-47)
The belief that there is such a thing as physics, or biology, or archaeology, and that these studies or disciplines are distinguishable by the subject matter which they investigate, appears to me to be a residue from the time when one believed that a theory had to proceed from a definition of its own subject matter [essentialism]. But subject matter, or kinds of things, do not, I hold, constitute a basis for distinguishing disciplines. Disciplines are distinguished partly for historical reasons and reasons of administrative convenience (such as the organisation of teaching and of appointments), and partly because the theories which we construct to solve our problems have a tendency to grow into unified systems. But all this classification and distinction is a comparatively unimportant and trivial affair. We are not students of some subject matter but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter or discipline. (p. 67)Eliminating concrete miseries vs fulfilling abstract utopian ideals?
.....Again, the only way to avoid such changes of our aims seems to be to use violence, which includes propaganda, the suppression of criticism, and the annihilation of all opposition. ...
Wherein, then, lies the difference between those benevolent Utopian plans to which I object because they lead to violence, and those other important and far-reaching political reforms which I am inclined to recommend? If I were to give a simple formula or recipe for distinguishing between what I consider to be admissible plans for social reform and inadmissible Utopian blueprints, I might say:
Work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the realization of abstract goods. Do not aim at establishing happiness by political means. Rather aim at the elimination of concrete miseries. Or, in more practical terms: fight for the elimination of poverty by direct means-for example, by making sure that everybody has a minimum income. Or fight against epidemics and disease by erecting hospitals and schools of medicine. Fight illiteracy as you fight criminality. But do all this by direct means. Choose what you consider the most urgent evil of the society in which you live, and try patiently to convince people that we can get rid of it.
But do not try to realize these aims indirectly by designing and working for a distant ideal of a society which is wholly good. However deeply you may feel indebted to its inspiring vision, do not think that you are obliged to work for its realization, or that it is your mission to open the eyes of others to its beauty. Do not allow your dreams of a beautiful world to lure you away from the claims of men who suffer here and now. Our fellow men have a claim to our help; no generation must be sacrificed for the sake of future generations, for the sake of an ideal of happiness that may never be realized. In brief, it is my thesis that human misery is the most urgent problem of a rational public policy and that happiness is not such a problem. The attainment of happiness should be left to our private endeavours.
It is a fact, and not a very strange fact, that it is not so very difficult to reach agreement by discussion on what are the most intolerable evils of our society, and on what are the most urgent social reforms. Such an agreement can be reached much more easily than an agreement concerning some ideal form of social life. For the evils are with us here and now. They can be experienced, and are being experienced every day, by many people who have been and are being made miserable by poverty, unemployment, national oppression, war and disease. Those of us who do not suffer from these miseries meet every day others who can describe them to us. This is what makes the evils concrete. This is why we can get somewhere in arguing about them; why we can profit here from the attitude of reasonableness . We can learn by listening to concrete claims, by patiently trying to assess them as impartially as we can, and by considering ways of meeting them without creating worse evils. (p.360)
I discovered in 2010, through correspondence with Bill Harrell and Art Efron, Pepper had invented a seventh world view which he labelled 'Selectivism'. It seems to me to be an unnecessary addition. I believe the problem that caused him to construct selectivism could be solved by deleting the 'con' prefix from his contextualist world-view. His other five world views providing the context . Is the label change, from 'contextualism' to 'textualism', little more than word-substitution? I believe the change reflects a fundamental change since descriptive words embody different micro-worlds: and they have both esoteric and exoteric reference. When the descriptive label is treated as the phenomenon, it is often regarded as an explanation. This description masquerading as exlanation occurs in many occupations, disciplines and professions.
Words are often poly-valent and thus slippery tools. This makes them powerful playthings, as best exemplified by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass. It is therefore futile to try to solve intractable personal or interpersonal difficulties by legislating for labels to be unambiguously mono-valent. It is better to accept that intractable problems persist because we fail to accept that meaning lies not in words themselves but in interaction. Abraham Maslow captured the spirit of this fact when he said:
We can collapse the curiosity-driven set 'who, what, when, where, how and why' into Popper's two principal functional categories: operational and essence. Operational questions, such as 'What happens if we do X instead of Y?' are of greater scientific and pedagogic value than essence 'legalistic' questions, such as 'Is this person dyslexic?', 'What is dyslexia?' or 'Am I dyslexic?' The latter are answered only by appealing to some 'higher' external authority or ultimate rescuer.
Asking operational questions makes us take a 'let's try doing something different and see the result' course of action. Trying another way, answers an operational question in a self-validating manner and leads to new knowledge. Essence questions, on the other hand, lead only to endless debate about authority and dispute over academic or professional territory concerning the precise meanings of labels such as 'dyslexia', 'autistic', 'ADHD' or 'disabled' and their treatment.
The simplest 'test' for the value of the words we utter, read or write, is whether they achieve their purpose. It follows then that when communication fails, it is not because of the words we use but because we don't experience the same common ground. This is why endless repetition but with increasing intensity or vigour fails to induce successful communication.Some existentialist tools
(Latin - taste of, understand, have sense) signifying wisdom is, to quote Howard Brown, a conceit. The conceit stems from the fact that we view ourselves, in the mirror, as a face masking a highly developed brain which is capable of speech, introspection, abstract reasoning, puzzling and problem solving. Yet it is this same brain that often finds itself unable to handle what the world, both literally and metaphorically, throws at it.
This conceited view, it is argued, combined with an erect body posture in the evolution of mankind, freed the forelimbs to manipulate objects, which supposedly allowed humans to make tools to make yet other tools to a greater extent than any other type of animal.
The non-conceited view is that brain and hand evolved simultaneously, each constitutive of the other.
And yet the structural dichotomy between mind (brain) and body (hand), propounded by Descartes still persists. It is evident in judgments such as "She's good with her head but useless with her hands", "He's brilliant with his hands but is no good with his head!", "She knows her stuff but can't put it down on paper." None can be true since it is the same brain that 'controls' thinking that 'controls' the hands.
It is, therefore, the tools we use and how we handle them, and the toys we play with and the enthusiasm with which we do so that gives the measure of the mind. The label homo faber better captures this aspect of human capability. The labels homo sapiens or homo loquens (talker) entirely fail to capture the tool handling ability of homo faber or the toy handling ability of homo ludens. Homo faber encompasses our ability to write (homo scriptor) and to draw (homo tractus).
We use the tag 'faber' to define three types of fabrication: exploratory tools, picture and word tools and finally Pepper's world-view root metaphor tools. The over-arching tool-making tool, which defines human beings as uniquely different from all other animals, is, however, writing itself.Writing itself is a doing, enduring and enjoying mind-body tool.
The Anglo-Saxon word 'wright' captures the essence of the Latin homo faber. Its variant compounds - e.g. arkwright, playwright and wainwright - make clear that 'wright' entails apprenticeship to a craft. This fact is neglected in look-listen-learn instructional settings, but even more so in handwriting instruction. Writing is clearly a mind-body tool uniting speech and action.
Privileging speech over wrightmanship leads to the practice of changing old words or labels for new ones when confronted by apparently intractable problems. Amongst the many examples are, in the context of the world-wide financial crisis 'quantitative easing' instead of 'printing money', 'toxic assets' instead of 'bad debts'; ' delivering' instead of 'achieving' ; in the context of schooling 'delivering the curriculum' instead of 'teaching'; and in psychology, the Latin derived 'cognition' instead of the Germanic derived 'thinking'.
Privileging speech over action also promotes the idea that proper learning is label learning, where knowing how to label the parts is considered essential. Those having difficulty with label learning are, therefore, said to have various cognitive (visual, auditory or memory processing) deficits. The homo faber view, by contrast, roots our problems in difficulties handling what the world throws at us, literally and metaphorically. It also accepts that meaning is gained through action, not by learning words then seeking their meaning.
Privileging writing in wrightmanship promotes a dynamic interaction between the contra-lateral cortical hemisphere and the writing hand, monitored by the watchful eye. Common-sense would dictate that such graphing be done with the adept hand. However, there are a number of family and societal reasons why many natural left-handers have been induced or coerced to write with the right hand. Less commonly encountered are those who write with their non-adept left hand! In either case the consequences of writing with the non-adept hand are often pervasive and profoundly negative.
|deviant conduct||bad spirits||retribution||genetic||bad wiring||bad environment||poor schooling|
Unfortunately for the left handed the key features of many cultures are expressed in the equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon software on human rights and not the more wright-oriented and concrete vocabulary of the French 'Liberté, Fraternité et Equalité'..
Anglo-Saxon (written) English is a self-evidently left-to-right processing, mechanistic, mercantilist and increasingly genderless tool. This presents the tip of a problem- iceberg for natural left-handers who have to handle the world with 'right-ware' instead of 'left-ware', or even 'adept-ware'. In less esoteric terms, they have to live in a right (handed) mind-set world thereby comply with 'right-handedness' either by accident or design.
Pepper's world-view metaphors allow us to see why some individuals in their search for certainty find solace in ritual and resist attempts to modernise or change. Other individuals find their certainties in constant change. Neither position can be adequately described in terms of skill-sets: rather are they explained in terms of differing core world-views.
Given the rhetoric on the relation between a nation's economic status and its educational ranking it is illuminating to view Duncan Arne's (the USA Secretary of State for Education) reception of the OECD, PISA report - see the Education for Innovation: A Digital Town Hall website Education. But how can teachers prompt their pupils / students to innovate when they themselves are judged by how well they comply with professional regulatory requirements. The simple answer is that they cannot. A more pedagogically oriented policy formulation would be "Innovate to Educate".
Pepper and pedagogy versus teaching and psychology
Pepper himself drew a fundamental distinction between grossly inadequate (animism and mysticism) and adequate (formism, mechanicism, organicism and contextualism) world views. However, from a pedagogic perspective all six can more usefully be re-grouped into three categories, as illustrated above in Table 1 under the Tools column, namely:
- grossly inadequate: animism, mysticism
- object-driven: formism, mechanicism, organicism
- verb-driven: textualism - doing, enduring and enjoying
Another feature which separates the non-human from the human animal is that non-human animals are not obliged to send their young away from them, to dwell for a large part of each day in institutions called schools,where the young are often separated by gender and age to 'learn' how to contribute later to the adult community. We might ask why only human animals resort to this non-intuitive practice. The answer probably resides with rise of the hegemony of the book: the need for a scribal caste to record what belonged to whom and the rituals of a culture for posterity.
We can now use the two criteria of scientific veracity, reliability and validity to expose the incommensurability between two disciplines associated with effective teaching: pedagogy and psychology. Pedagogy is predicated on zero test - re-test reliability, since the aim is to get pupils / students who cannot do something to be able to do it. The validity of the enterprise is demonstrated when student and teacher, to quote, Bruner, 'go beyond the information given'.
|pedagogy||zero||face: going beyond information given|
By contrast, professional psychology, in its various adjectivally qualified manifestations, is predicated on high test - re-test reliability (for this confirms the constancy of the diagnosed condition). Validity is claimed when the diagnosed condition is consistent with hypothetical inherent entities (such as - dyslexia) and / or DSM-IV or ICD-10 categories. Psychologists' pre-occupation with inherent mechanisms has fuelled the de-professionalisation of teachers.
Teaching as currently practised in the UK (that is, operationally defined) consists of delivering the curriculum, accessing quality education or meeting targets. This vocabulary evidences a mind-set designed to constrain teachers to 'deliver lessons' rather than educate pupils / students.
Pedagogy by contrast is consistent with Pepper's doing, enduring and enjoying textualist world-view. It is this practical philosophy which probably explains the success of many of those countries ranked highly in the PISA tables.
Pepper provides the framework for a fundamentally radical pedagogy. Not only does his textualist world-view provide an overarching tool for viewing the others, but his other world views provides a template for identifying the root-metaphors (i.e. 'essences') for different curriculum activities.