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Chapter 2

PSYC85H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Ontogeny, Lightdark, Binary Number


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSYC85H3
Professor
Michelle Hilscher
Chapter
2

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Chapter 2: The Origins of Psychological Thought
Pythagoras (570 – 495 BCE)
Is said to have huge influence on the course of Western thought (we’re not too sure
about his life so we’re dealing with a lot of myth and hearsay)
1. Said to have founded semi-secret society in Italy  Members were said to be able
to tune in to the harmony of the universe
a. Harmony is a central concept in Pythagorean theory
2. Structure of mathematics  structure of reality
a. Discovered this through correlation of lights hammers = light sounds.
Heavy hammers = deep sounds
Pythagorean Cosmology: the universe is initially a unity that becomes differentiated into
pairs of opposites. The opposites are then reunited (harmonized) to generate various
forms of life.
Two most important parts of Pythagorean worldview: a) nature of opposites and
b) importance of number in regulating phenomena
In contemporary psychology, the process of ontogeny (individual development) is
sometimes viewed the same way
There are some important pairs of opposites:
Limit (produced by the integration of opposites) vs. unlimited: everything we
experience is limited. We do not experience the unlimited
oThe combination produces the world we experience
Others: light/dark; odd/even; unity/disunity; square/oblong
oFirst member is positive, second member is negative
oNot necessarily good vs. evil (unlimited, for example, is just lacking
balance)
So there should be a balance of the two
oWhen the mixture is just right, the result is harmony  union of opposites
The psyche (soul) seeks this harmony when properly tuned, the opposing forces within
the individual are properly blended, then the soul can resonate to other harmonious
structures so the soul can resonate to the mythic ‘music of the spheres’ – we usually
don’t hear this because we are so busy with our lives

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When we become accustomed to things, we are less likely to realize the
importance/significance of things
Johann Kepler (1571 – 1630)
If we examine any of our experiences, we will see that they will all involve
something unlimited but also has something that has a precise mathematical
structure (limit)
Pythagorean Mathematics:
Gnomon: addition or subtraction of one figure from the figure of another shape
The Pythagorean opposites were intended to refer to specific occurrences
oThey denote mathematically precise relationships, illustrating the
Pythagorean belief that everything that happens can be described in a
mathematically exact way
Pythagoreans viewed numbers as underlying all phenomena.
They’re responsible for uniting the opposites in a harmonious manner
Most clearly viewed in the proportions that parts of geometrical constructions
bear to one another
oPythagorean theorem of triangles
Plato (427 – 347 BCE)
Pythagoras, Plato, and the Problem of the Irrational
The Pythagoras decided that the irrational was an unavoidable part of reality.
Problem of the irrational was an issue for Greek Mathematicians
Many attempts to solve the problem
Golden section: can be obtained by dividing a line into two segments such that
the smaller is the larger as the larger is to the whole line. It is an irrational
proportion but it can be approximated by using the Fibonacci numbers (will
always be slightly off)
oFamous proportion in the history of Western thought. Been claimed to be
a more beautiful proportion than any other
The Greeks often found the relationship between the Golden section and the
Fibonacci numbers to be very meaningful
oAs it alternately exceeds and falls short of the ideal value, it can be used
to represent the idea that each particular thing we experience is a more or
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less imperfect representation of something ideal. No matter how closely
we may come to our ideals, we always seem to fall short
The Forms
Plato advanced the notion that there are perfect forms on the one hand and imperfect
appearances on the other.
The perfect forms are more real than the imperfect appearances
Belief in an ideal world of perfect forms can arise as a result of confronting problems
such as the nature of the irrational
Problems can force us to give up seeking answers in the things we experience
through our senses, because our senses give us imperfect information.
Our everyday world is flawed and incapable of satisfying us; there may be
another world that has what we are actually looking for
Much of Platonic thought was an extension of Pythagorean thought
It is possible to gain knowledge of perfect forms but we are usually not aware of
them.
Plato advanced his theories by means of dialogues in which the protagonist was
Socrates (469 – 399 BCE), an important figure of ancient Greece
It is hard to distinguish Plato’s ideas from those originating with Socrates
The Meno – Is virtue something that can be taught? Or does it come by practice? (…)
but natural aptitude or something else?
Socrates  very difficult to define concepts such as virtue and where they come
from
oToo much or too little, too narrow or too broad
This is an issue with many psych concepts (especially intelligence)
Maybe it’s because we don’t actually understand actually what they are
Example of the awakening of innate knowledge – we already have all of our
knowledge, we just need to find it
oSimilar to Gestalt
According to Gestalt (and Max Werthmeier, a German psychologist), the difficulties we
experience in everyday life stem from an inability to perceive essential relationships.
According to Platonic viewpoint, the ability to perceive the relationships is given innately
 difficulties are due to our inability to remember the basic ideas that allow us to
organize our experiences in a meaningful way.
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