Saturday, July 13, 2013

Is human behavior analysable and understandable in principle? - "Would you pluck out the heart of my mystery?"

5:30 - 7:00

Uploaded on Jan 18, 2010 
Act III, scene 2. The players perform "The Murder of Gonzago." Hamlet brags to Horatio that he has exposed Claudius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to tell him that his mother is looking for him. Part 2. 

"GUILDENSTERN O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too
HAMLET I do not well understand that. Will you play upon
this pipe?
GUILDENSTERN My lord, I cannot.
HAMLET I pray you.
GUILDENSTERN Believe me, I cannot.
HAMLET I do beseech you.
GUILDENSTERN I know no touch of it, my lord.
HAMLET 'Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with
your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your
mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.
Look you, these are the stops.
GUILDENSTERN But these cannot I command to any utterance of
harmony; I have not the skill.

HAMLET  Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me."

"I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."
- Sir Isaac Newton

Is human behavior analysable in principle?

Is human behavior understandable in principle?

Yes, but to a certain degree, and ultimately - not.

The various attempts at understanding it depend on a multitude of factors: from purposes and contexts of these attempts at understanding to various characteristics of subject and object: of what is attempted to be understood and who attempts it. The more complex they are, the more complex is the outcome of these attempts.

What is behavior and what is analysis?

Definitions of "behavior"

From Wikipedia (and similar definitions from other  sources which are more or less the same):

Behavior in general is defined as "the range of actions and mannerisms made by organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the physical environment. It is the response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary."

Human behavior is defined as "the range of behaviors exhibited by humans and which are influenced by culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion, coercion and/or genetics.
The behavior of people (and other organisms or even mechanisms) falls within a range with some behavior being common, some unusual, some acceptable, and some outside acceptable limits. In sociology, behavior in general is considered as having no meaning, being not directed at other people, and thus is the most basic human action. Behavior in this general sense should not be mistaken with social behavior, which is a more advanced action, as social behavior is behavior specifically directed at other people. The acceptability of behavior is evaluated relative to social norms and regulated by various means of social control.
The behavior of humans is studied by the academic disciplines of psychiatry, psychology, social work, sociology, economics, and anthropology."

From Encyclopædia Britannica:
"the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental, and social activity during the phases of human life."

Can we accept these definitions as satisfactory? Hardly.

It seems to me that the cardinal feature of definition of behavior should be its overt, expressed character: actions and "mannerisms" which are evident to others (and usually, to some degree, to the subject also) and are directly observable, as opposed to various inner mental activities which are not directly observable, although might be hypothetically postulated based on observations. More precise term should be "overt behavior": by definitions (whatever unsatisfactory they are), it is always overt. When it is "covert", it is not behavior, it is "mental life", or "mental processes".
"It has sometimes been said that 'behave is what organisms do'." (Behaviorism - SEP)
We can rephrase it a bit: human behavior is what humans do. This leaves out of the equation all the rest: determinants, motivations, etc., which should be the subjects of separate considerations and studies. In a way "behavior" is a "black box":
"In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings. Its implementation is "opaque" (black). Almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, or the human mind."

From a very superficial and preliminary review of sources, I got the impression that philosophers prefer to use the notion of "human nature" rather than "human behavior", and the notion of "human nature" appears to be much deeper, richer and ontologically oriented. Apparently, they are less interested in how humans behave and more in what they (really) are. This is a very interesting difference in approach to this subject. Probably overt behavior is viewed by philosophers as something that is too fluid, too passing, too secondary in comparison with its underlying primary "nature" and "essence".

Behavior is very changeable (at least and most of the time on a surface, sometimes - deeply, when someone appears to be a different person at various stages in his/her life), its nature and essence remain largely the same.

Now we have to turn to the "analysis of analysis": to what it is and how it impacts the subject of our discussion.

Links and References

Is human behavior analysable in principle? - GS

Is human behavior understandable in principle? - GS

Understanding human behaviour: taking a more complex approach - The Guardian
Large-scale surveys are useful but if we are serious about changing behaviours, we must use every tool to understand human complexity. This is the first in a 5-part series of posts based on Steven Johnson's upcoming book, 'Considered Creative'.

behavior - GS

Behavior - W

human behavior - GS

Human behavior - W

human behaviour - Encyclopædia Britannica

Results for "human behavior" Search - SEP

human behavior definition - GS

Behaviorism - W

Principle of least effort - W

Black box theory - W

Human nature - W

philosophy of human nature - GS

philosophy of behavior - GS

philosophy of human behavior - GS

philosophy of human person - GS

philosophers of human behavior - GS

philosophers on human beings - GS

ontology - GS

Natural law - W

behavior and mind - GS

behavior and soul - GS

behavioral styles - GS

behavior styles sigmund freud - GS

behavior and law - GS

human behavior and law - GS

attachment behaviors - GS

detachment behaviors - GS

analysis - GS

analysability - GS

synthesis - GS

understanding - GS

analysis of human behavior - GS

analysability of human behavior - GS

Intelligence analysis - W

Applied behavior analysis - GS

Applied behavior analysis - W

Crime analysis - W

applied behavior analysis and fbi - GS

behavior modification - GS

Operant conditioning - W

behavior modification and fbi - GS

Does fbi practice behavior modification? - GS


Behavioral Analysis Unit - W

Behavioral Science Unit - W

sociotherapy - GS

self-analysis - GS

Self-assessment - W

Political psychology - W


First Published on 7.13.13     Last Update on 7.14.13