by Yaroslav SIBIRTSEV, Cand. Sc. (Hist.)
Speaking in simple, down-to-earth terms, psychology is an insight into the human soul, into our relations with the surrounding world through emotions and motivations. People in all walks of life and age groups avail themselves of its categories, both consciously and subconsciously. Since time immemorial psychology has been in the focus of attention of the great thinkers and scientists like Hippocrates, Aristotle and Plato. The scientific study of the behavior of man, and also animals, retains its importance to this day as proved by a recent book by Prof. Vladimir Artamonov
Psychology in Personal Perspective. 14 Discussions with Russian Scientists (M., Academia, 2003. 408 pp., illustr.).
According to my personal opinion the main "asset" of the book consists in the attempt of its author-staff member of the "Psychological Journal"-to try and make his interlocutors stop thinking and talking in terms of the trite traditional scientific concepts and jargon and converse instead in the language of the common "man of the street". This makes the book, including interviews with prominent men of science some of whom are no longer with us, especially attractive.
After this introduction, let us take a closer look at the views and opinions of experts in this branch of research and their forecasts concerning the solutions of some really vital problems as well as their recommendations to those who are in pursuit of some such lofty objectives.
Of the greatest interest within this context is Prof. V. Artamonov's interview with Academician Boris Raushenbakh, Lenin Prize winner and Active Member of the International Astronautics Academy, a leading expert on space probes guidance and orientation, who provided a significant contribution to the progress of the science of psychology.
And it all started with his work on piloting of some of the early spaceships. This involved several psychological problems. For example, a pilot usually controls three coordinates-turning his aircraft from left to right, up and down and making it list and roll. The appropriate actions do nothing but change the flight trajectory. In a space flight it is necessary to control six coordinates at one and the same time. That includes making turns and shifting the center of masses progressively, like a crane in workshop. And then, the academician recalled, we faced the problem of whether or not a human being can cope with all of these tasks. And they sought the answer both on a theoretical and experimental levels. Experiments were started at the Department of Psychology of the Moscow State University. They were conducted in the following way: there were two operators at the control panel, each being "in charge" of three coordinates. And the two managed all of the six functions quite well, although in the course of further experiments it became clear
that, with reference to a space craft, only one operator could cope with the whole workload because the processes of approach and docking of spacecraft proceed at a slow pace. And that means that the operator had time enough to "consider the situation" and made the necessary movements in control of the six coordinates.
In his interview Acad. Raushenbakh also spoke of the solution of yet another psychological problem associated with space flights. That concerned the piloting of the Soyuz spaceship. The thing is that because of its design peculiarities it has no front "windshield", like that in the pilot cabin of an aircraft. And that means that the cosmonaut does not see the space in front of him directly, but only through periscopes or TV-cameras-on a flat screen. But can a man "reconstruct" in his imagination a 3-dimensional natural panorama in such circumstances? And it turned out that he cannot-this was like trying to park your car in a garage by looking at a TV screen. He will most probably fail because he has no volumetric vision. That is why designers of the periscopic and TV screens at the Soyuz control panels provided for different kinds of "targets" and adjustment "marks" which had to be aligned-additional "clues" which made it possible for the pilot to steer the craft by using a flat image.
And it were these considerations which led Acad. Raushenbakh to detailed studies of the process of picture painting. And without passing judgment on the artistic assets or drawbacks of particular artists, he assessed their creations in terms of geometrical logic alone. To make this more clear, here is his own quotation: "Optical processes connected with the performance of the eye, produce on the retina a clearly distorted picture of the environment-closely located objects look large, and the distant ones small, even if they are absolutely the same in the objective environment. Distortions of this kind can be put up with for 'remote' space, but for 'near' regions, which are of primary biological importance, distortions of all kinds are absolutely undesirable because they can lead to errors of behavior. That is why one of the tasks of the system of visual perception is a reprocessing at the second stage of perception of the geometrical ratios of the reticular image, and this reprocessing is the stronger the closer we are to the visible region of the surrounding. These processes of'correction' of the geometry of the reticular image have now been studied well enough and are known as constancy mechanisms in terms of psychology of visual perception."
With reference to the work of an artist, the conclusions of Acad. Raushenbakh mean that in order to produce a flat image of actually perceived space with as little distortions as possible, the artist must proceed from the objective laws of perception and geometrical rules. And, naturally enough, a painter does not have to blindly copy nature because his are much broader tasks. On the other hand, understanding of how space should be depicted according to the laws of perception and geometry makes it possible for an art critic to assess more accurately and clearly the methods and techniques of this or that artist, to carry out a most accurate analysis of his creativity and produce profound characteristics of the fine arts of whole epochs.
Such are just some of the aspects of the manifold psychological quests of Acad. Raushenbakh which provided important contributions to science in general and to people in particular.
But, as a whole, there are still many "blank spots" in psychology as proved by other interviews with experts published in the book. This is noted, for example, by Prof. Konstantin Gurevich (RAS Institute of Psychology). In his view no one has yet carried out comprehensive studies of the problem of the correlation of the biological and social factors in human psyche which always combines them both. He obviously has in mind the measure of variability of the biological aspects under the effect of the conditions of an individual-in other words about responses generated by certain genes and their combinations. The scholar illustrates his position in general terms by the following example.
In some circumstances it may be necessary to draw a comparison between two individuals. According to an intuitive opinion one of them has quicker responses than the other. But in some given circumstances one of them almost never attains even the medium level of his personal possibilities. And it turns out that one person makes full use of the "norm of reaction" of his genotype, although he is less responsive, while the other, even more "gifted" one, never reaches this level because he simply has no need for that.
From this example one can draw the following conclusion: even if the psychologist is in possession of diagnostic methods which would reveal the peculiarities of a genotype, i.e. the "biological base" of an individual, he would still be unable to prognosticate the most likely achievements of each of us: in different social conditions the "biological basis" manifests itself in different ways. Obviously, it would be necessary to find out why one does his best in terms of responses ability and the other does not. And there unavoidably arises the question of motivations which are quite different in the above example. But why is this so? What are the social requirements which both these individuals have to heed? Perhaps, being in different social conditions, they were obeying different requirements? All of these matters have to be clarified.
Of course, says Prof. Gurevich in conclusion, many things have been simplified in the above example. In particular one also has to bear in mind that genes and their combinations cannot be regarded as some neutral and indifferent elements of human nature. This is manifested not only in the conditions of existence, but is expressed as something like one's persistence, an urge for self-realization. In many circumstances in life an individual finds himself in a situation which stimulates a change of his usual position. And the person not only discovers in himself something of which he had not been aware before, but is unable to resist the urge to comply with the requirements
of his nature-his genotype. And in its turn this socially determined motivation does not remain indifferent to what could have happened. This accounts for the origin of both the achievements and conflicts between the individual and society.
Several interviews published in the collection explain interrelations between an individual and the collective, motivations of inter-personal links and problems of ethics. As Acad. Arthur Petrovsky points out, all of these problems concern the "cleansing" of the ethical climate in the country. Vices and major crimes begin with some minor "dirty tricks", committed in private, away from the public eye. Will others notice and condemn them and say directly what they think about such acts? And only when the guilty party sees that the people around are ready to "put up" with him, that until he is really caught, he is quite acceptable to them, and even if and when he is caught, he will still remain a "good guy". The scientists say we must not forget that he who is criminal today was simply a "shady character" yesterday. And let us have no illusions about each such "character" ending up as a real criminal.
Acad. Petrovsky makes no bones about it by saying that shamefully softhearted, spineless attitude serves to encourage the dishonorable individuals. So, can one have a heart-to-heart talk with an immoral individual, granting him in this way a credit of confidence for which society will have to pay up in the future? Of course not.
One of the most frequently recurrent questions considered by almost all of the researchers interviewed by the author of the book was: "What is the present status of our psychological science and what are its prospects for the future?"
Prof. Natan Leites, a leading expert in the field of "mental endowments" of children, speaks of apparent changes for the better in this field. Studies are being conducted in Russia now in some hitherto "untrodden" areas of social psychology and/or in connection with computer learning. We are gradually overcoming the isolation of our domestic science from the world science. This is manifested, for example, in its growing humanitarian component, new forms of therapeutic practices and in resorting to many foreign methods of studies of human personality and gifts. Some scholars even lack a critical approach in choosing and adopting foreign experience. But on the whole, strengthening and broadening finks with researchers on a world scale does help enrich our national science, helping it to get rid of the former ideological "blinkers".
Acad. Alexei Matyushkin (Russian Academy of Education, Institute of Psychology), speaking about changes for the better in current psychological research, points to what he calls normal relations between the humanitarian versions of psychological practice and Orthodoxy. Militant atheism replaced the concept of the "soul" as a subject of psychology with the notion of "psychical reflection" and its supreme form- consciousness. Today psychology includes again into the system of basic and truly scientific notions "man's inner world" and believes that the secret of its "Ego" is of no lesser importance than the external manifestations of parties concerned.
Discussing the nearest prospects of our psychological science, the researcher points out that much will depend first and foremost on the ethical climate in the "psychological community itself'. Taking into consideration the abundant experience of the struggle of psychologists-Marxists with one another and with dissidents for monopolizing certain concepts, one can expect them trying to cultivate the same views on "the formation of man". At the same time the Russian society, which is being built now, is greatly interested in having true and constructive knowledge about human psychology in various field of activity-education, professional sphere, culture, management and business.
These life-asserting ideas have been developed by Prof. N. Leites as mentioned before. He stressed that psychology is ready to do all it can for promoting social renovation. Almost all of its "sections" have "practical applications", including studies of human inclinations to concrete actions. And it is no secret that many of us today are "not wearing their own pair of shoes". And the disparity between one's personal inclinations and occupation is a drama not only for the individual himself, but also for people around him; when such "misfits" are many, this can be of great harm to society. Psychologists studying this problem have much to say to the public. Their recommendations will be even more tangible if what we call differential psychology joins forces with ontogenesis, or ontogeny *
And one would like to end these reflections on the new book with the words of Dr. Yekaterina Shorokhova (RAS Institute of Psychology) on the general attitude of psychologists to their science and to life in general. In her opinion their "lot" is one of the hardest, and the basic rule is like that in the medical profession-do no harm to your patient. One must therefore keep learning how to understand people better, help them cope with difficult problems by taking advantage of their best personal qualities. And it is very important in our difficult day and age not to yield to the temptation of speculating on psychology, which is in "fashion", so as not to turn its wealth of experience into a means of promoting mercenary objectives. Without breaking away from the good traditions accrued by our predecessors, one should remain in constant pursuit of the truth.
And it appears that all true representatives of this branch of science will subscribe to these encouraging words.
* Ontogeny-development, or course of development of an individual organism. - Ed.