Saluting the Founder of Cognitive Psychology


 
In mysticism, we recognize the mind as the avenue of awareness, the medium by which consciousness is expressed into objectified forms that are assembled and interpreted by our brains and nervous system as perception, in addition to mind’s function as the divine feminine principle in creation.  

Science is unsure of what to make of the mind, although science theorizes that mind is the resulting process(es) of the activities and functions of the material brain and the nervous system. Along the lines of this theory, science further suggests that it is mind which enables consciousness as a function of the human organism.  In other words, consciousness is a product of the mind.

Paradoxically, although mysticism and science may appear contradictory with respect to their starting premises, there is a similarity in how they conceive of the mind as a mid-point interpreter or some sort of intermediary between consciousness, on the one end, and the material perception and experience of forms, on the other end. They really speak of the same stick — the continuum of awareness as a phenomenon — simply viewed from different ends of the stick.

It has taken the human species ages to develop a scientific study of the mind.  We have not arrived at a scientifically comprehensive knowledge of it.  We only see the tip of the iceberg, and it may remain that way for a long time more without the benefit of the mystical experience which illumines human consciousness and the mind. Notwithstanding, we have been making significant strides in the past two centuries.

Up to the middle of the last century, psychology had become stuck with its prevailing Photograph of Professor George A. Miller, Founder of Cognitive Psychologymethodology of study, behaviorism, which basically posited that human beings act in accordance with rewards and punishments — the stuff that arose out of Pavlovian conditioning.  Enter psychologist George A. Miller pictured at the right.

George A. Miller changed all that in the 1950s when he brought psychology into the modern age with his introduction of cognitive psychology as an alternative school of psychology. With that, Miller revolutionized psychology.  Professor Miller made his transition from this earthly plane of existence recently, and I would like to honor his significant contribution to psychology through the following media information about him and his accomplishments.

From The New York Times

    Psychological research was in a kind of rut in 1955 when George A. Miller, a professor at Harvard, delivered a paper titled “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two,” which helped set off an explosion of new thinking about thinking and opened a new field of research known as cognitive psychology.

    The dominant form of psychological study at the time, behaviorism, had rejected Freud’s theories of “the mind” as too intangible, untestable and vaguely mystical. Its researchers instead studied behavior in laboratories, observing and recording test subjects’ responses to carefully administered stimuli. Mainly, they studied rats.

    Dr. Miller, who died on July 22 at his home in Plainsboro, N.J., at the age of 92, revolutionized the world of psychology by showing in his paper that the human mind, though invisible, could also be observed and tested in the lab.

    George Miller, more than anyone else, deserves credit for the existence of the modern science of mind,” the Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker said in an interview. “He was certainly among the most influential experimental psychologists of the 20th century.”

    Dr. Miller borrowed a testing model from the emerging science of computer programming in the early 1950s to show that humans’ short-term memory, when encountering the unfamiliar, could absorb roughly seven new things at a time.

    When asked to repeat a random list of letters, words or numbers, he wrote, people got stuck “somewhere in the neighborhood of seven.”

    Some people could recall nine items on the list, some fewer than seven. But regardless of the things being recalled — color-words, food-words, numbers with decimals, numbers without decimals, consonants, vowels — seven was the statistical average for short-term storage. (Long-term memory, which followed another cognitive formula, was virtually unlimited.)

    Dr. Miller could not say why it was seven. He speculated that survival might have favored early humans who could retain “a little information about a lot of things” rather than “a lot of information about a small segment of the environment.”

    But that, he concluded, was beside the point. He had articulated an idea that was to become a touchstone of cognitive science: that whatever else the brain might be, it was an information processor, with systems that obeyed mathematical rules, that could be studied.

    Dr. Miller, who was trained in behaviorism, was among the first of many researchers and theorists to challenge its scientific principles in the 1950s. He and a colleague, Jerome S. Bruner, gave a name to the new research field when they established a psychology lab of their own, the Center for Cognitive Studies, at Harvard in 1960. Just by employing the word “cognitive,” considered taboo among behaviorists, they signaled a break with the old school.

    “Using ‘cognitive’ was an act of defiance,” Dr. Miller wrote in 2006. “For someone raised to respect reductionist science, ‘cognitive psychology’ made a definite statement. It meant that I was interested in the mind.”

    That new approach to psychological research came to be known as the cognitive revolution.

    Dr. Miller’s first and most enduring interest as a scientist was language. His first book, “Language and Communication” (1951), is widely considered a foundational work in psycholinguistics, the study of how people learn, use and invent language. He collaborated with the linguist Noam Chomsky in groundbreaking papers on the mathematics of language and the computational problems involved in interpreting syntax.

    He conducted some of the first experiments on how people understand words and sentences, the basis of computer speech-recognition technology. “Plans and the Structure of Behavior” (1960), written with Eugene Galanter and Karl H. Pribram, was an effort to synthesize artificial-intelligence research with psychological research on how humans initiate action — basically, a book about how to build a better robot. Beginning in 1986, he oversaw the development of WordNet, an electronic reference databank intended to help computers understand human language.

    Colleagues said he had a role in framing many of his era’s most audacious thoughts about human and artificial thinking; typically, he then moved on to other projects.

    “Like most great scientists, he became interested in some phenomenon or other and then simply jumped in to try to illuminate the problem,” said Michael S. Gazzaniga, a leading researcher in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Miller helped create the field of cognitive neuroscience in the late 1980s, he said. “He was exceptionally generous.”

    . . . He taught at Harvard beginning in 1955, heading its psychology department from 1964 until 1967, and later taught at Rockefeller University in New York and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty of Princeton in 1979, founded the Cognitive Science Laboratory there and became a professor emeritus in 1990.  (Emphasis supplied.)
     

From The Washington Post

    George A. Miller, an iconoclastic scholar who helped topple the behaviorist school of psychology and replace it with cognitive science, a shift that amounted to no less than a revolution in the study of the human mind, died July 22 at his home in Plainsboro, N.J. . . .

    Dr. Miller came to prominence in the mid-1950s at Harvard University, where he and colleague Jerome Bruner founded an intellectual hothouse known as the Center for Cognitive Studies. There, Dr. Miller established his reputation as one of the leading psychologists of the late 20th century. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush awarded Dr. Miller the National Medal of Science.

    Before Dr. Miller, Bruner and Noam Chomsky came on the scene, the field of psychology was dominated by behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner. Behaviorist theories — long regarded as dogma — basically posited that people act in accordance with rewards and punishments. Cognitive processes such as thought and memory could not be directly observed, Skinner argued, and therefore did not merit scientific inquiry.

    Reflecting on the transformation of psychology that he helped bring about, Dr. Miller told the New York Times that the field was like a “dog turning around three times before it lies down.”

    Bruner said that Dr. Miller helped “put the emphasis back on the human being as a mental being” who observes the world, processes information, commits it to memory and makes decisions.

    “If any person deserves credit for creating the field of cognitive psychology as it has developed in the past roughly 60 years,” the linguist and philosopher Chomsky said in an interview, Dr. Miller is “the one.”

    Many of Dr. Miller’s publications are today considered classics, none more than his paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two,” published in the journal Psychological Review in 1956. In that essay, Dr. Miller observed that for most people, short-term memory is limited to about seven “chunks” of information.

    More than five decades later, the essay remains one of the most widely cited papers in psychology. It has been trotted out to explain the human capacity to remember phone numbers. In 1981, The Washington Post editorial board pointed to Dr. Miller’s theory to argue against the U.S. Postal Service’s proposal for a nine-digit ZIP code system.

    “The Magical Number Seven” was not pop science. To write it, Dr. Miller started with the premise that the brain was not a simple machine akin to the early computers then in development.

    By using “intelligence intelligently,” as Bruner described the ability, human beings can use their minds to organize bits of information into what Dr. Miller called “chunks.” Nine letters — C, I, A, F, B, I, I, B and M, for example — can be transformed into three easily remembered “chunks” of information: CIA, FBI and IBM.

    “Why did this apparently simple point have a decidedly major impact?” wrote Howard E. Gardner in the book “The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution.” “Psychologists had been trying for approximately a century to discover the basic laws of the human mental system. . . . Miller was holding out hope of marriage between the quantities of data collected by psychologists over the years and the rigorous new approaches of the engineering-oriented scientists. The result might be a genuine science of psychology with its own set of immutable laws.”

    Unlike many other psychologists and scientists of his era, Dr. Miller embraced disciplines outside his own, including mathematics and the fledgling science of information technology. Chomsky credited Dr. Miller with helping develop the field of psycholinguistics, which joined the study of the mind and the study of language. He was noted for his study of the relationship between expectation and comprehension.

    George Armitage Miller was born Feb. 3, 1920, in Charleston, W.Va. He received a bachelor’s degree in history and speech in 1940 and a master’s degree in speech in 1941, both from the University of Alabama. . . .

    After World War II, when he worked in a military voice communications laboratory, he received a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University in 1946.

    The Center for Cognitive Studies, started in 1960, received early support from the Rockefeller Foundation and Harvard dean McGeorge Bundy, the future national security adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

    “Were we surprised at the swiftness of the acceptance?” Bruner said. “I think we didn’t recognize that people all over the place were just as bored with the narrow behaviorist approach as we had been.”

    Dr. Miller was a past president of the American Psychological Association and had taught over the years at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rockefeller University and Princeton, which he joined in 1979.

    Dr. Miller coauthored or wrote books including “Plans and the Structure of Behavior” (1960), “Psychology: The Science of Mental Life” (1962), “Mathematics and Psychology (1964) and “Language and Perception” (1976).

    One of his later projects was the creation of WordNet, a database of the English language that Philip N. Johnson-Laird, a Princeton colleague, described as a computerized version of “Roget’s Thesaurus.”

    Dr. Miller’s first wife, Katherine James, died in 1996 after 57 years of marriage. Survivors include his wife of four years, Margaret Ferguson Skutch Page Miller of Princeton; two children from his first marriage, Nancy Saunders of Durham, Ark., and Donnally Miller of Morris Plains, N.J.; two stepsons, David Skutch and Christopher Skutch, both of Montclair, N.J.; and three grandsons.

    Dr. Miller was raised in the Christian Scientist faith, which relies on prayer rather than medical science for healing.

    I was brought up believing that if you thought right — if you had the right thoughts — you could somehow be happy and healthy and successful,” he was quoted as saying in the book “Applied Social Psychology” by V.K. Kool and Rita Agrawal. “I was also taught . . . psychology was a sin. . . . So it took me a long time to look at psychology, but when I did, I came to it with a view that perhaps the mind really does have power to influence things.”  (Emphasis supplied.)
     

Do you think it was sheer coincidence that Professor Miller happened to be a Christian Scientist?  I think not.  In this universe which emanated from a Creative Intelligence, there are no coincidences.  No doubt Miller’s Christian Science background became the impetus and the springboard for his cognitive revolution in psychology.

From the cognitive school of psychology eventually developed what is now known as cognitive therapy in psychiatry and counseling.  I have looked into the therapeutic approach and clinical process of cognitive therapy.  While admittedly effective in cognitive and behavioral modification at a mental level, I discovered that with a slight modification of the process, the patient, as well as a Truth student, spiritual seeker or a mystical aspirant, can discover or uncover the core human beliefs — the metaphysical error — on which a problem condition or situation is predicated. These “core beliefs” are always expressions of the erroneous sense of separation from God and an underlying belief in some form or measure of duality.

The “identified error” that is entertained in mind and human consciousness inevitably points back to a facet(s) or aspect(s) of Truth (or a principle of the Truth teaching) which calls for inner realization.  A lasting, permanent transformational “spiritual or divine therapy” can then follow, and the rest becomes a matter of spiritual treatment and healing and contemplative meditation as taught in The Infinite Way.

Let me tell you: it is potent therapy!
 

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About Marc of Contemplative Pathways

Marc teaches contemplative meditation in the context of contemporary mysticism. His understanding of the mystical life is rooted in study, practice, unfoldment, realization and experience, in the course of which he has received the gifts of spiritual discernment and transmission. His teaching work meaningfully shifts consciousness in a Truth student through the process and alchemy of mystical transformation. Marc facilitates the mystical teachings under the style of Contemplative Pathways, enabling others to embark on the spiritual journey by learning the Truth teaching and living the mystical life. He has been conducting classes and contemplation meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area usually in a classroom, lecture, workshop or group meeting setting, for over fifteen years. His methodology of instruction is divinely inspired and firmly rooted in pure, authentic mysticism. His approach to the mystical life is essentially nondenominational, nonsectarian, culturally interfaith, spiritually transreligious, and definitively unitive and nondualistic. His other contributions to worldwide spiritual awakening and the global contemplative movement include spiritual mentoring and spiritual healing practice. Within the context of the great shift in consciousness now occurring all over the planet, Marc’s work presently focuses on individual and collective spiritual transformation and healing through the practice of contemplation or meditation, as the vehicle for transcendence and ascension to the higher dimensions of the Spirit. He remains firmly committed to the vision of a global spiritual awakening and the divine promise of humanity’s mystical illumination.
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