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Academic Studies of Human Consciousness

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The Psychologists - Introduction

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Skinner confuses science with terminology. He apparently believes that if he replaces commonplace "mentalistic" expressions with terminology drawn from the laboratory study of behavior, but deprived of its precise content, then he has achieved a scientific analysis of behavior. It would be hard to think of a more striking failure to comprehend even the rudiments of scientific thinking.

Noam Chomsky, Language and Freedom (essay first published in 1970)

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The study of human consciousness should probably have always been the major area of interest for academic psychologists.  Indeed, in the late Victorian Era, when modern psychology was founded, consciousness was the primary topic of study.   The founding fathers of psychology, Wilhelm Wundt and William James, both made consciousness a major focus of their laboratory work.  Unfortunately, in the 20th Century, the next few generations of psychologists abandoned such studies as they believed that the characteristics of human consciousness were so subjective in nature that they could not be analyzed by  rigorous experimental methods.

From about 1920-1960, psychological thinking was dominated by the behaviorists such as John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990).  However, starting in the late 1950's, serious objections to the behaviorist approach began to be heard - most notably from the linguist Noam Chomsky (born 1928), cognitive psychologist George A. Miller (born 1920), and others.  By the 1970's behaviorism had been rightfully relegated to the dustbin of history.

Since the 1980's, stimulated by advances in medical science and artificial intelligence (AI), psychologists have again seriously taken up consciousness studies.

The earliest person reviewed in this category is Siddhartha Gautama -- better known as the Buddha.  Although most people consider the Buddha to be a religious thinker, I strongly disagree.  The Buddha was primarily concerned with understanding the nature of consciousness and the human mind; he was not interested in any of the deities that were worshipped in his time.  Indeed, he seems to have denied the existence of any personal god or gods.  Although the Buddha could be classified as a philosopher, I believe that he was primarily a psychologist.  His central issue of concern was the human mind and, of course, that is now the central concern of modern Western psychology.

The three other psychologists selected for review at this web site represent, in my opinion, some of the best modern thinkers in the field:  Jaynes, Pinker and Wegner.

My short essays concerning some of the ideas of these individuals may be accessed by clicking on the hyperlink buttons shown below.

Home Daniel Wegner Julian Jaynes Stephen Pinker The Buddha

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