Last offered: Fall 1999
Relationships that span the boundaries of disciplines or sub-disciplines are most often recognized when they are brought to bear upon a common empirical domain. When these are seen as complementary, for example, as addressing the same or interrelated problems of social concern, attempts are devoted to coordinating the different approaches in cooperative research or interventions. When the relationships are seen as antagonistic, as in conceptually competing accounts of important phenomena, turf wars typically result, with struggles over funding or academic positions, and with little attempt by proponents of one position to understand the assumptions, methods, or merits of the other.
More interesting, and the focus of this course, will be the relationships that arise through conceptual commonalities between domains that are commonly seen as unrelated. The initial example will be drawn from the book Chaos by Gleik, who tells an engaging story whose sub-theme is the difficulties encountered by people who found themselves doing work that did not fit the boundaries of their home disciplines.
Second will be selected examples that relate my own specialty, behavior analysis, to several disparate intellectual traditions. Selection as a causal mode will be a thread illustrating links to biology and anthropology (Dawkins, Sober, and Harris). The concept of self will illustrate a link between behavior analysis and eastern mysticism (Bently, Capra, and Watts). We will find that the contemporary deconstructionist movement in social psychology and in the feminist tradition was anticipated by Skinner's widely misunderstood critique of mainstream psychological theory (Andresen, Gergen, and Ruiz). The ecological approach to perception (J. J. Gibson, Michaels and Carello) will provide a link between interpretations of phenomena traditionally viewed as perceptual (distinct from behavioral) and those traditionally accept as behavioral (distinct from experiential).
The topics in the third section of the course will be very much influenced by particular interests and competencies of the participating students, who will be encouraged to identify their own "surprising alliances" and develop readings and related discussion questions for consideration by the group.
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