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Publication Date: 
March, 1991
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Let me continue with the theme I was discussing last issue - namely, what is good science, and what is the role of a journal like our beloved PPPJ in fostering good science. Another starting point is to go back, as the philosopher, Edmund Husserl, taught, "to the things themselves." That is, we should always try to reflect upon our own personal experiences of knowledge and reality. We should study the relationship between what we claim to know (our opinions, views, attitudes, values, memories, ego tenets, etc.) and what we experience in perception. The relationship between our knowledge and our perceptions of the world is a very complex one. Our knowledge influences our perceptions and our perceptions influence our knowledge. Our knowledge can place limitations on what we can see and what we cannot. If we think a thing to be true, then sometimes we will avoid experiences that might disconfirm our view.

I remember once interviewing a woman while I was doing fieldwork among an East African pastoral people. I was asking her all sorts of boring questions about household budgets and other economic matters. Then I noticed she had picked up an old black and red typewriter ribbon I had thrown into the trash and had begun plaiting it into a rope. I was fascinated by this and only vaguely heard her answers to my routine questions. The woman eventually finished the rope and tied it around her ankle as an ornament. This led me to reflect upon how conditioned point of view can limit creativity. I never would have thought of making an ornament out of a used typewriter ribbon, would you?

The dialogue between what we think we know and how we experience the world is not only a mystery in our private lives, but it is also mysterious in the scientific enterprise. Oh, we scientists did not always realize the mystery of it all. In the heyday of "logical positivism" many scientists thought the relationship between knowledge and experience was no problem at all. The business of science was conceived to be the collection of facts and the evaluation of the truth of theories in relation to facts. And facts were almost palpable things. You could stack them up like poker ships and weigh them against claims made about the nature of the world. But that was before some upstarts like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend got into the act and showed that our theories have a determinant influence upon facts. How we think about the world has a lot to do with how we experience the world; where we look, what we see, what instruments we use to augment our seeing, how we interpret what we see, etc.

Still, no one in science-indeed, none of us in our lives - would advocate holding with our views and to hell with experience. That would be the scientific version of psychosis. We would all want to say that there is some relationship between what we think about the world and the way the world actually is. We know from our daily experience that we learn from our direct experiences of the world. Moreover, we know we can be persuaded by new experiences to change our minds about things, even about views previously held to be personally important. But what is the relationship between the views and the contravening experiences? This is the fundamental epistemological question that keeps philosophers of science arguing late into the night.

Admitting that this relationship is a great mystery leaves me very cautious about claims to knowledge. My twenty years of experience in science has made me especially suspicious of both formulaic solutions to this fundamental mystery, and knowledge over-jealously touted as truth. Also, this caution biases me in favor of: (1) a thorough grounding of knowledge in direct experience of the world, and (2) taking into consideration the widest possible field of research and data. PPPJ has been wedded to this breadth of perspective all along. case in point: consider the methods represented by the selections in this issue of PPPJ that range from empirically grounded theoretical speculation, through symbolic interpretation, statistical analysis of cultural change, longitudinal biochemical and behavioral analysis in animal research, to clinical observation.

With the first article we begin a new policy for the journal. Following a suggestion made by David Chamberlain, PPPJ will begin to occasionally reprint some of the Golden Oldies of pre- and perinatal psychology. These will be classical articles that have been significantly influential in our field, but that were originally published in sources outside the normal literature of most of our subscribers. The present offering is one by Dr. A.W. Liley of the University of Auckland which was published in 1972 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, and in which Prof. Liley speculates about the personality of the human fetus. That is followed by an article in which Dr. Ludwig Janus of Germany provides an interpretation of womb and birth symbolism found in shamanism, fairy tales and the like. Then, Dr. Beverly Chalmers of South Africa discusses changes in childbirth customs among the Pedi society who live in her country. And Dr. Carol Kellogg presents evidence from experimental research among rats for the longterm effects of diazepam (Valium) ingested in utero. Finally, Drs. Frank Hatch and Lenny Maietta discuss clinical evidence for the importance of kinesthesia for mother-infant bonding.

Charles Laughlin


Carleton University

Ottawa, Canada