In the previous post—part I of a three part series—I took the perspective of a skeptic and argued that a unified theory of psychology is essentially impossible. An important distinction was made in Part I about the meaning of the expression “unified theory” , namely whether the expression is meant to coin a complete, mathematically specifiable description of human and animal behavior akin to the way physicists explain the behavior of particles, or whether it referred more to a workable, conceptual system that frames the subject matter in a coherent way. The skeptical position was that neither a natural science/mathematical framework, nor a consensually agreed upon conceptual system was possible.
Here I want to use the distinction between the conceptual and the mathematical science argument to make the point that there are two versions of the unified theory, one strong and one weak. The weak version is the version that I offered and defended in A New Unified Theory of Psychology. This is the argument that emphasizes the need for semantic and conceptual clarity in psychology, set against the backdrop that there is enormous conceptual chaos about foundational issues in the field. The weak version is the claim that the unified theory solves many of these issues, giving psychology a much more coherent general framework from which to understand animal and human dimensions of existence that is currently taught in the field. Of course, the unified theory achieves this perhaps most notably via the ToK System, and its novel ontological claim that the universe can be conceptualized as the flow of Energy-Information (i.e., behavior), and that because of the evolutionary emergence of three information processing systems (genetic, neuronal, symbolic), we can identify four separable dimensions of informational complexity (Matter, Life, Mind, and Culture). This macro-level view ultimately allows us to crisply define psychology as the science of mental behavior, and show that it has three great branches: 1) basic psychology, which is a natrual science concerned with the general laws of animal behavior; 2) human psychology, which is a social science concerned with the human mind and human behavior at the level of the individual; and 3) professional psychology, which is the application of psychological knowledge toward the greater good. Behavioral Investment Theory, the Influence Matrix, and the Justification Hypothesis fill in the space and provide the conceptual structure to hold the multitude of psychological paradigms together in a coherent way. In this regard, what is meant by “unified theory of psychology” is what Staats meant when he used the term, and refers a coherent conceptual framework that defines the field and unites the competing factions.
So if the weak version is that the unified theory provides a semantically and conceptually sound framework for psychology that can integrate various perspectives into a coherent whole, what is the strong version? The strong version is that it points the way toward the Truth (and the Good and Beautiful). The ‘critic’ in Part I mentioned that such a strong version would eventually run adrift because it must be grounded in physics and physics itself is not unified. The strong version of the unified theory posits that the ToK System actually does much to solve the fundamental problems inherent in quantum mechanics and gravity. Specifically, it argues that these problems are in part philosophical, and that to solve them one needs simultaneously a theory of the observer and the observed. The macro-level view provided by the ToK System provides the necessary perspective. In part III of this post, I will share how it does this and articulate a radical mathematical humanistic equation that, for me, represents the pathway to the strong version!