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Sci & Educ DOI 10.

1007/s11191-011-9418-4

Psycho-neural Identity as the Basis for Empirical Research and Theorization in Psychology: An Interview with Mario A. Bunge
Javier Virues-Ortega Camilo Hurtado-Parrado Toby L. Martin Flavia Julio

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Abstract Mario Bunge is one of the most prolic philosophers of our time. Over the past sixty years he has written extensively about semantics, ontology, epistemology, philosophy of science and ethics. Bunge has been interested in the philosophical and methodological implications of modern psychology and more specically in the philosophies of the relation between the neural and psychological realms. According to Bunge, functionalism, the philosophical stand of current psychology, has limited explanatory power in that neural processes are not explicitly acknowledged as components or factors of psychological phenomena. In Matter and Mind (2010), Bunge has elaborated in great detail the philosophies of the mind-brain dilemma and the basis of the psychoneural identity hypothesis, which suggests that all psychological processes can be analysed in terms of neural and physical phenomena. This article is the result of a long interview with Dr. Bunge on psychoneural identity and brain-behaviour relations.

Mario Agusto Bunge was born in 1919 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied physics at the National University of La Plata nishing his PhD in 1952. He has been a scholar at McGill University (Montreal) since 1966, where he is currently Frothingham Professor Emeritus of Logics and Metaphysics. He has received highly distinguished awards including the Prince of Asturias Award of social sciences. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Royal Society of Canada. Bunges authorship of over 500 papers and 50 books makes him one of the most prolic philosophers and social thinkers of our time. Among his major contributions is the development of a new system of philosophy, which he included in the eight-volume Treatise on Basic Philosophy (Bunge 19741989) that covers semantics, ontology, epistemology,

J. Virues-Ortega (&) C. Hurtado-Parrado F. Julio Psychology Department, University of Manitoba, P518 Duff Roblin Bldg., 190 Dysart Road, Winnipeg MB R3T, Canada e-mail: javier_virues@umanitoba.ca J. Virues-Ortega T. L. Martin St. Amant Research Centre, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

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philosophy of science and ethics. He has been also the author of a realistic interpretation of quantum mechanics (see for instance Foundations of Physics, Bunge 1967). Bunge has written extensively about the philosophical and methodological principles implicit in current psychology including causality, determinism, and the mindbody problem (Hurtado-Parrado et al. 2011). Bunge suggests that functionalism and idealism, the underlying philosophies of the most prominent classical approaches to human and animal behaviour, have limited explanatory power because they neglect the material basis of human behaviour. Bunge is a strong proponent of the so-called psychoneural identity hypothesis, which states that all cognitive and behavioural processes are neural processes (Bunge 1980, 2010; Bunge and Ardila 2002). Antecedents of this approach can be traced back to Alcmaeon of Croton who assumed that the brain is the seat of understanding in the 6th century BC (Huffman 2008). The idea was later advanced by Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen, and, more recently, by La Mettrie and Joseph Priestley (Bunge 2010). However, psychoneural identity is not yet a framework accepted explicitly by philosophers and neuroscientists. Even in areas such as cognitive and behavioural neuroscience variations of dualism and mentalism remain prevalent (Bennett and Hacker 2003). The present manuscript summarizes the stand of Dr. Bunge on the philosophical basis of neuroscience and is the result of a long interview with him at his home in Montreal during the Fall of 2010 where the authors had the opportunity to discuss extensively psychoneural identity and its implications to psychological theory and neuroscientic research. The audio recording of this conversation is available upon request. Interviewers questions are typed in italics. Dr. Bunge edited the manuscript before its publication.

1 The Role of Philosophy in Behavioural Sciences Authors: How do you think philosophy can contribute to empirical sciences today? Mario Bunge (MB): Well, rst of all, philosophers can act as watch dogs, if you wish, denouncing precisely pseudoscience, but they can also do a bit more, they can inspire good science. In particular, its philosophers, or philosophy, that has done something to orient psychology over the past few decades, promoting the psychoneural identity hypothesis, which is a philosophical, in particular a metaphysical or ontological hypothesis. And they can tell psychologists the very simple truth that there is no function without an organ. You can talk about mental functions or processes like memory, attention, calculation and so on without making explicit reference to organs, but its like talking about running without paying attention to legs. A car driver doesnt need to know mechanics, doesnt need to explain everything that goes on in a car, he just has to master the art of driving. But the mechanic cannot ignore the physical processes. And particularly the engineer who designs cars or tries to improve their efciencyhe has to know physics and chemistry. Likewise psychology can be supercial or it can be deep. Deep psychology is not psychoanalysis; deep psychology is psychobiology. It tells you what part of the brain or rather what part of the body is primarily involved in a particular function. For instance, theres an article in the current issue of Science concerning the biological basis of introspection (Fleming et al. 2010). Apparently there are two kinds of people: people who introspect, and people who pay no attention to their own mental processes and never examine their own actions, though they are always sure about what they do. There are very denite biological differences between them. Apparently, the grey matter is denser in the frontal part of the prefrontal cortex among individuals with high introspective ability. And of course, we know something about the maturation of the prefrontal cortex. We know that

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girls brains mature about 2 years earlier than boys brains. This is why they do better in school at that young age. And also cognitive control of actions matures more slowly in boys than in girls, so that you nd that most delinquents are male. It doesnt nish maturing until around age 22. So you have to treat young delinquents as children, not as adults. It is monstrous to condemn them for crimes, because they dont know what they are doing! Girls are more self-controlled. The general prejudice that women are more irrationalno, its the other way around.

2 Psychoneural Identity and Empirical Research in Psychology Authors: You have advocated the psycho-neural identity hypothesis. This approach foresees a more comprehensive explanation of psychological phenomena, in that it incorporates both external causes of psychological events but also the states of the organism and its internal structure. Furthermore, the term identity suggests an expansion of the nature of dependent variables in psychology (i.e., any psychological event would have two parallel dependent processes: neural, and mental or behavioural), particularly since the development of functional neuroimaging. It could be argued, however, that we do not have a technology to allow that precision for neural independent variables in humans. When it comes to experimental research, psycho-neural identity is simply a scheme dening two sets of dependent variables: the behaviour and the neural activity while independent variables are not necessarily expanded. MB: Im not sure I understand you because cognitive neuroscience is materializing the philosophical principle that everything mental is a neural process. One of the rst to state this hypothesis was the father of medicine, Hippocrates. He saw individuals who have sustained head injuries. Some of those patients had lost the ability to speak, others became blind, etc. Therefore, he adopted from Alcmaeon of Croton (Huffman 2008), about whom not much is known, the hypotheses that everything mental happens in the brain. I believe that this hypothesis has been carried out by cognitive neuroscience. It was born perhaps with Broca (1861) and Wernicke (1874/1970) and was later devised by Hebb (1949), and is now ourishing under the name of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience. (Particularly, since the development of functional neuroimaging.) You can still study mental processes in a non-neuroscientic way. First of all, interpretively and second, just by using folk psychology. But data have to be explained as a result of neural processes, or in some cases, not just neural, but psycho-neuro-immunological processes. Especially when stimuli from the social environment are very strong. Authors: Do you see any future for legitimate scientic psychology outside neuroscience? MB: No, I think that psychology independent of neuroscience has already been exhausted long ago. It hasnt produced anything new. I think that the future of psychology is in its fusion with neuroscience and physiology. I think that psychology is essentially an interscience, a multidisciplinary eld. It is not a natural science because of the strong impact of social factors. Humans are not like, lets say, ants. Ants use pheromones to interact or recognize other members of the same species. They are essentially genetic machines. They are genetically programmed. We are not, we can to a certain extend transcend these limitations. Authors: You have emphasized that the proper referent of psychology is the individual behaving animal, particularly within relatively complex classes such as birds and mammals, yet you are also a vigorous proponent of emergentism. Is there any way that psychology can be usefully informed (e.g., in generating theories about neural activity) by the

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study of, for example, emergent behaviour in groups of social insects that resembles selectionist learning in the individual? MB: As far as I know, the behaviour of social insects is very rigid. Their behaviour certainly came with them. There is an interesting experiment by a German animal psychologist who studied learning in bees. He studied the foraging behaviour of bees that were familiar with the terrain. These bees went straight to the owers. Then, he brought a new colony of bees that were unfamiliar with the terrain. They ew in a zigzag pattern until, by chance, they found the owers. Subsequently, he transplanted the mushroom bodies of the wise bees into the ignorant bees and behold, the bees that had been subjected to this surgical procedure went straight to the owers (Martin et al. 1978). Thus learning can be surgically transplanted because it is incorporated into neural adaptations of a particular part of the bees nervous system. You can control the behaviour in a very invasive way just by modifying the brain circuitry. You might not be able to do that with other animals but you can do that with bees. You might be able to do that with crows. The crows of New Caledonia are capable of shaping metal wires into hooks with their peak and feet. The intelligence of birds was underrated until some 2030 years ago, thanks precisely to this study of the corvids and, particularly, those from New Caledonia (Hunt and Gray 2004). Apes can use little sticks and branches to feel out ants from rotten logs. Crows go beyond that. Before metal wires were introduced in New Caledonia, the birds did not have that ability, of course. It emerged in the course of last century or so. So going back to the earlier question I think that the future of psychology lies in adopting psycho-neural identity hypothesis and this is where the novelty will be coming from. Still, psychology is currently so backwards. My favourite example is this: you can read William James Principles of Psychology (James 1880) written 130 years ago and learn something. Incidentally, William James didnt despise physiological psychology. On the contrary, he even made experiments concerning religious experience (James 1882). If you inhale nitrogen oxide, you will have a religious experience. James did that himself. He was a genius. Unfortunately, he was distracted by philosophy. As a philosopher, he was a disaster. Or take for example Anne Treisman, who used to work at University of British Columbia. With just a stopwatch, she was able to make a number of psychological discoveries on perception (Treisman and Gelade 1980). But eventually all this would have to be translated into neural terms.

3 Psychoneural Identity and Theorization in Psychology Authors: How should psychologists with no explicit interest in the biological basis of behaviour transduce their processes of interest? In spite of the fact that these processes might be composed of observable behaviours or hypothetical constructs. MB: This is a very interesting methodological question, namely the introduction of indicators. Theres a story about a guy who claims that his dog is a mathematician. He asks the dog, Do you remember the Banach-Tarski theorem? And the dog looks very attentive. Do you see? He is a mathematician. But he doesnt say a word! Well, I didnt claim that he talks! I only claimed that he is a mathematician. Do you believe in God?

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Yes, I do. What indication does he give you that he exists? Oh, thats different! God is God and your dog is just a dog. Well, I believe that my dog is a mathematician and you believe in God, what is the difference? I dont have indicators, nor do you. This is a very important problem that philosophers have completely neglected. None of the important philosophers of science that I know of has ever heard about indicators. If you dont have indicators, objective indicators in the case of mental functionsbehavioural or physiological indicatorsthen you cannot ensure that your hypotheses are correct. The rst thing that an experimental physicist or chemist does is to try to invent indicators. For instance, in the case of weight, if you use a spring scale the indication is the arrow that indicates precisely how far the spring has stretched. You are using a physical law for that, Hookes Law, one of the oldest physical laws. An indicator has to be lawful and justied. You cannot just make up indicators. Now, fortunately, in psychology you have neuroimaging methods for rendering objective the mental processes. In the old times you had only behavioural indicators, but now you have physiological indicators as well. Authors: Stimuli, responses, and contingencies are also rather unusual types of units of analysis, as they are generally dened a posteriori (e.g., Sidman 1978). Biopsychological explanations may provide a new approach to the units of analysis of psychological events by providing a materialistic anchor to discrete psychological activity. Is that the case? MB: You have to go back to processes. Units or point events are idealizations and they are very short processes. How short? In the case of humans the time unit is the millisecond, but in the case of chemical events the unit is 10-16 s or even less in physical processes. It used to be said that thought was instantaneous. Hermann von Helmholtz refuted this claim in the 19th century. He was able to measure the speed of nervous transmission (Helmholtz 1853). Humans are very slowe.g., compare the speed of nervous transmission with the speed of light. The reason is that there are 1011 neurons in the human brain and complex interactions between sometime distant neuronal assemblies take time. While many mental processes are fairly well localized, still they do not happen only in a particular centre. They happen mainly, but not exclusively, in a particular centre. Authors: The lack of localization of brain activity may impose a burden in the development of biopsychological explanations because its hard to determine how the brain is working in parallel. MB: The brain regions associated to a given function are fairly well localized, but what does this mean? Just a few billions or trillions of synapses? Still they are part of a larger unit. Take for instance one of the latest developments in social cognitive neuroscience. What happens in the individual brain when it is subjected to social stimuli? Or what happens when a person engages in social actions? In order to explain those processes you need not only a neural system, you also need the endocrine and the immune systems. For instance, the Whitehall study monitored over a number of years the health status and aspects of the working environment of British civil servants and employees of the British administration condensed in a hierarchical organization in Whitehall, London (Kuper and Marmot 2003; Marmot et al. 1978). They recorded work-related factors, such as rank in the decision hierarchy of the organization and level of demands from superiors, and healthrelated outcomes, like coronary risk factors and coronary heart disease. All study participants had permanent jobs, so they experienced no anxiety about being dismissed. All of them enjoyed the same National Health Service, and all of them had assured pensions. Nonetheless, the bosses lived signicantly longer and better than their subordinatesabout

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10 years longer. The people that are subjected to stress are the ones that are below. They have no freedom to organize their own work schedules, they are constantly being bombarded by orders given from above. As a consequence of stress they produce corticoids that literally destroy the neural tissue. The most subordinate you are, the most stress you experience, the worse you live, and the shorter you live. This is one of the reasons that a good psychologist is also a psycho-neuro-endocrine-immunologist. He has to take into account the interactions between these four systems. Although the mental processes are localized they are not isolated. We ought to bear in mind both localization in the central nervous system and coordination with the other body subsystems. Authors: You have advocated psycho-neural identity within the context of materialistic emergentism. However, it is unclear how both realms t together. From a purely emergentist standpoint, neural and psychological events may have different operating features. Therefore it may seem unclear how a better understanding of neural events may lead to a better understanding of psychological events and vice versa. MB: Well, that is what cognitive neuroscience is doing but you need a theoretical matrix to connect both realms. Unfortunately, most cognitive neuroscientists are very difdent of theory and they dont have the right tools for building theories, namely mathematical tools. But eventually, I hope, some genius will arise and would give it the push and will start proposing mathematical theories in cognitive neuroscience that would be more realistic than the ones that one reads in the Journal of Mathematical Psychology. But you also need a philosophical matrix, because we are dealing with a problem that is at least three thousand years old: what is the mind? Philosophers and theologians have mistreated this problem. That is a very heavy load that is impeding and hindering the progress of psychology. Philosophers, on the other hand, are not being helpful. Just take a look at the book Philosophy of Mind by Jaegwon Kim, a very famous philosopher of mind (Kim 1996). He quoted some 200 references, but not one of them is a scientic paper. They are all papers authored by philosophers. He doesnt believe that the science of the mind can orient the philosopher of the mind. There has to be a closer relation between the two. The physicists were lucky because modern physics started with Galileo. And Galileo was, at the same time, a great theorist, a great experimentalist and a great philosopher himself. And also, like William James, he was a great writer. He is considered a classic in Italian literature. There is a need of a new generation of psychologists capable of writing and thinking clearly like William James, but having at their disposal all the results and all the problems of cognitive neuroscience and social cognitive neuroscience. Authors: You think that one of the problems that governs psychology is that a number of empirical facts have been accumulated but there is no theory to overarch all the evidence? MB: Yeah, theory is very backwards and there is a philosophical component. Namely, that most psychology students believe that data drive science so they accumulate data, never mind if they dont understand the data. They are difdent of theories. This is precisely the empiricists prejudice against theory. Remember what Skinner said in that article Are theories of learning necessary? (Skinner 1950). He was 100% an empiricist. Once we met at a conference. I had just come from Mexico and told him: You know in Mexico, students and faculty swear by the name of Skinner. He smiled and he was very pleased. But unfortunately, I said, as a consequence, they pay no attention whatsoever to neuroscience. Oh, Im sorry to hear that, he said. He seemed to be sincerely concerned, presumably because he knew that eventually neuroscience would play some role in psychology.

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Authors: Psychobiology is based upon an identity theory of mind. What is your impression of the current status and viability of identity theories in general, among leading contemporary philosophers? Relative to say, functionalist theories? MB: Most of them ignore the identity theory. Most philosophers who are interested in the philosophy of mind are computationalists, they believe in computation, they dont believe in the brain. They are not conversant; they dont even quote literature in cognitive neuroscience. They simply ignore it. They are very dogmatic; they know beforehand that thats not the way. They know that we are computers. So, I am very pessimistic about it. The most famous of them, the best known philosophers of mind are Daniel Dennett, John Searle and Jaegwon Kim, none of them is really interested in neuroscience. Authors: You have commented on three major approaches in psychology: mentalism, behaviourism, and psychobiology with the latter holding the promise of a more overarching explanation of psychological events. There has been research both from cognitivism and behaviourism neighbouring psychobiology. For instance, there has been extensive research on the neural basis of reinforcement and various forms of learning, and of course countless studies on the neural basis of cognitive constructs. From a standpoint of scientic epistemology, which psychological tradition may serve as a more smooth transition toward such psychobiological theory? MB: I think we have to accept all the real ndings of the various traditions. So little is known that we cant afford to ignore any real contribution. As I said before I think that the future lies in cognitive neuroscience and the reason is very simple. Take other branches of science. For instance, if you want to know something about sports and improve performance, its not enough to time events and look at them. You have to see how the body moves and so on in order to be able to improve. This is what sports medicine has been doing for a number of years. They have been able to improve performance in a number of sports, not just by injecting drugs but also by teaching people, for instance, which muscles intervene and how the legs should be moving. Likewise if you want to improve your understanding of digestion, you have to study the gut. If you want to improve the understanding of mind, you have to study the brain. There is no function without organ. This is something that Aristotle told us. Plato was a functionalist; he did not really believe in matter. So he talked about motion without bodies moving. Aristotle corrected him; there is not such a thing. Motion is something that bodies do. Well, thinking is something the brain does. If you ignore the organ, then you may describe certain functions but thats all. The description would be supercial and there wouldnt be any real explanation. In particular, there would be no causal explanation of the functions.

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