The Trees In Our Forest
Modern behaviorism is heavily weighted toward neuroscience. In neuroscience, a researcher becomes particularly excited when they detect a single neuron firing in response to a given stimuli. They then trace the route of the impulse as it travels through the brain in the hopes of parsing the circuitry down to the finest grain of resolution. This is the microscopic reductionist approach. Each neuron is treated as an electromagnetic dynamo, generating an action potential that triggers a cascade of subsequent action potentials that selectively connect affiliated neurons in a burst of energy. Researchers put aside the notion of intention and simply trace this movement of force. They follow the flow of energy. The microscopic reductionist approach has revealed much about the internal structure and its functions. However, in its application by behaviorism, the brain is seen as the forest revealed by its trees.
Every scientific discipline seems to have a microscopic view in conjunction with a macroscopic view. Particle physics is complemented by Astrophysics, Microeconomics is partnered with Macroeconomics, Newton mechanics counterbalanced by Quantum Mechanics, psychology with sociology; so is there a macroscopic extrapolative approach to the animal mind as counterpart to the microscopic reductive approach of modern brain research?
Yes. By considering the entire brain as but one tree as opposed to it being the entire forest. In a macroscopic extrapolative approach, just as each neuron is treated as an electromagnetic dynamo that generates a pulse of activity that is not invested with intention, but as a traveling action potential that induces subsequent action potentials in those it interacts with; we likewise put aside the question of intention. On the most basic level, the brain is seen as a dynamo that generates an action potential, that is then expressed as a behavior as a traveling action potential which induces action potentials in those it interacts with. The resulting chain of interactions is an external cascade of neurochemical events.
When an organism becomes energized, i.e. when enough neurons in the brain fire so that the individual acts, to a neurologist this is almost a non-event because it’s the sub-structures and isolated neurons they want to unveil and parse apart in order to reveal the brain’s internal architecture. This is how they hope to see the forest. But in a macroscopic approach, on the most basic level, the brain is viewed as a single neuron, as a dynamo that generates activity, an action potential that destabilizes those it comes in contact with, just as is a single neuron firing in an MRI scan going on to destabilize its neighbors. As the impulse of activity in the form of a behavior radiates through the environment, we resist the temptation to invest the actions and counteractions with intention, just as neuroscientists do not read intention into the neurochemical chain of cascades that radiate through the brain.
In the microscopic approach, does anyone actually believe that when science breaks the brain down and trace the pathways to every last neuron, gene, hormone and neurochemical, that we will have arrived at the irreducible essence, the unique spark, the individual pixel of consciousness that kindles the mind into the subjective, purposive and meaning-seeking experiencer of reality? Particle physicists for example don’t believe that when they isolate the Higgs or “God” particle that unites gravity with electromagnetism, that they will have arrived at God. They’re merely one step closer to a deeper understanding and hopefully the development of a more coherent model. They haven’t confused the tree with the forest. So while a microscopic reductionist approach to the doings of the mind is indeed vital research, a macroscopic approach is a necessary adjunct when reductionism fails to yield the fruit it seeks.
Modern behaviorism should situate itself on top of a foundation comprised of both a microscopic and macroscopic view of behavior before it addresses the phenomenon of intention. In Natural Dog Training, we put intention aside in order to first trace the activity of the individual animal that radiates into the network as the movement of energy, the recapitulation of an action potential. This reveals the forest and now the trees make sense.