Archive for May, 2010

Currently doing a lot of research for my M.A. More blogs to come soon. Hopefully!

In the meantime I’m doing a complete overhaul on previous posts. Some I just didn’t like and want to rewrite. Others lacked clarity and passion. So more will be coming soon, especially on Phenomenological Psychology (hence the title of the blog!).

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Connectionism was explicitly put forward as an alternative to the classical computer based paradigm of the cognitive science approach. Many philosophers see connectionism as a basis for denying structured symbols. Empirical evidence from neuroscience shows that no symbol, proposition, sentence, or algorithm can be found in the brain. There must be an alternative, more basic, mechanism for the representation and processing of knowledge. The goal of the connectionist approach is to construct an abstract model of the neural processes taking place in the brain.

Connectionist models seem particularly well matched to what we know about neurology. Neural networks are also particularly well adapted for problems that require the resolution of many conflicting constraints in parallel. There is ample evidence from research in artificial intelligence that cognitive tasks such as object recognition, planning, and even coordinated motion present problems of this kind.

The main components of connectionism:

Knowledge is distributed: One of the central claims associated with the parallel distributed processing approach is that knowledge is coded in a distributed fashion. Localist representations within this perspective are widely rejected. Bowers (2002) notes that connectionist networks can learn localist representations and many connectionist models depend on localist coding for their functioning. He argues that there are fundamental challenges that have not been addressed by connectionist theories that are readily accommodated within localist approaches. In word and non-word naming tasks, it has been found that distributed representations make it difficult for participants to name monosyllabic items and deal with more complex language phenomena. Neural networks have great difficulty in representing information that specifies who is doing what with whom and with what (eg John hit Paul with the hammer). In contrast, models that learn localist representations support many of the core language functions that connectionist models fail to account for. It is concluded that the common refection of localist coding schemes and complete reliance on distributed representations within many connectionism theories may be premature, and more research needs to be conducted in order to understand it fully.

Knowledge is stored by content: The connectionist processing and learning paradigm has many implications. Due to its associative processing mechanism, it has a content‐addressable memory. Connectionism suggests that this is due to the fact that the incoming pattern of activation that occurs when thinking of something, has matching parts to a previous pattern and this is sufficient to reactivate other parts of the pattern. It is hard to achieve in classical architectures, where items are typically accessed on the basis of knowing where they were stored.

Norman (1981) “information is not stored anywhere in particular. Rather, it is stored everywhere”. An immediate consequence of connectionism is that memories are deeply sensitive to context.

Graceful degradation is another feature that is typical of natural and artificial nervous systems; if small parts of the network are damaged, this has only small effects on its overall performance. Learning is based on a process of self‐organization on a pre-linguistic level.

Information is processed in parallel:  Neural networks often have many hundreds of thousands of small units, each processing different information. Connectionism implies that information is not serially processed, but many computations are performed simultaneously in parallel. Townsend (2004) argues that it is extremely difficult to entirely separate reasonable serial and parallel models on the basis of typical data. The study found strong evidence for pure serial and pure parallel processing, with differences occurring across individuals and inter-stimulus conditions.

Inactive knowledge is nowhere: Knowledge is represented by a pattern of activation in connectionism. When that pattern is not active, the information is not represented in the system. Activation flows directly from inputs to hidden units and then on to the output units. More realistic models of the brain would include many layers of hidden units, and recurrent connections that send signals back from higher to lower levels. Such recurrence is necessary in order to explain such cognitive features as short term memory. Connectionists tend to avoid recurrent connections because little is understood about the general problem of training recurrent nets. However Elman (1991) and others have made some progress with simple recurrent nets, where the recurrence is tightly constrained (Garson, 2007).

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Why ABA?

Interventions developed by the discipline of ABA have allowed individuals even with the most severe behavioural problems to make progress. ABA interventions for problem behaviours focus on establishing and reinforcing new skills, provide access to preferred activities and items, provide choice-making opportunities, increase appropriate communication, making complex situations more predictable and reducing maladaptive behaviours. Effective ABA techniques range from focused interventions for increasing specific functional skills and/or reducing specific problem behaviours to comprehensive programming.

 The goal of ABA is to determine the function that problem behaviour serves for an individual in a specific situation so that more socially appropriate replacement behaviours serving the same function can be facilitated. Most school-based behavioural interventions for problem behaviours are based on ABA techniques (Smith, 2001). The literature examining the effectiveness of ABA techniques with individuals with autism is substantial, and has contributed significantly to the development of a range of educational techniques.

Components of effective ABA in educational settings

In educational settings, a number of important components have been recognised toward making consistent progress through the ABA technique. These include:

  • Early intervention
  •  Parent involvement
  •  Mainstreaming children with typically developing children
  •  Intensive one-to-one teaching – Research has shown that 30-40 hours per week of one-to-one intervention for at least 2 years may be required to produce maximum effect
  •  Comprehensiveness of program
  •  Individualised programming


The Autism Society of America (1998) claim that properly designed and implemented ABA programs contain most if not all of the components of treatment approached found to be most successful in supporting individuals with autism. These include individualised instruction, structured learning experiences, low student-teacher ratio, early intervention and family involvement.

The beginning of ABA in educational settings

Lovaas and his colleagues have published several reviews of the UCLA early intervention program in educational settings for children with autism. Follow up data from a treatment group of 19 showed that 47% achieved normal intellectual and educational functioning with normal-range IQ scores and successful performance in public schools. Another 40% displayed mild intellectual disability and were assigned to special classes and 10% showed profound intellectual disability and were assigned to classes for children with severe disabilities. In contrast, only 2% of the control group children achieved normal intellectual functioning; 45% showed mild intellectual disability and were placed in appropriate classes and 53% displayed severe intellectual disability and were placed in other special classes (Lovaas, 1987).

Replication studies and ABA techniques

Green (1996) concluded that early intervention based on ABA can produce large, comprehensive, lasting and meaningful improvements in many important domains for a large portion of children with autism. She found early intervention to be more effective and the best results from children who began the program at 2 or 3 years of age in educational settings.

Weiss (1999) supports Lovaas’ claim of using early, intensive, behavioural intervention for children with autism. She found that children whose learning rates are slower may be helped by earlier alterations in approached and strategies to education. Such changes or additions to educational intervention may augment the degree to which these children benefit from treatment.

 Matson et al (1996) concluded that ABA has made significant contributions in demonstrating practical techniques to address the problems associated with autism. Eikseth et al (2002) provide evidence that some 4 – 7 year old children with autism may make substantial gains from ABA techniques and interventions in educational settings.

 Dillenburger et al (2004) show convincing evidence that ABA techniques offer a highly effective form of intervention for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Harris and Delmolino (2002) suggest that early intensive treatment using methods of ABA enables a significant number of children to enter the educational mainstream and achieve normal intellectual functioning. The study utilised school based models and Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Smith (2001) explored DTT as an important component of ABA treatment but concluded that it should not be the only component. This suggests that for ABA to be more effective, a multitude of techniques must be utilised.

 PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) might have helped children to develop functional receptive language and meaningful communication skills (Bondy, 1988). The benefits of this ABA technique used in an educational setting might also have been helpful to provide children with more functional programming, focusing on the development of daily living skills and self-help skills. An earlier shift in the focus of instruction might be more beneficial.

 Pivotal Response Training (PRT) has been effectively used for peer interaction in school settings with children with autism (Pierce and Schreibman, 1995). Children with autism were seen to maintain prolonged interactions with peers, initiated play and conversations, and increased engagement in language and joint attention behaviours. In addition, teachers reported positive changes in social behaviour, with the largest increases in peer-preferred social behaviour. Further, these effects showed generality and maintenance.

 Smith, Groen and Wynn (2000) examined effects of ABA treatment for children with autism. Children received a mean of 24.5 h per week over 2 years of one-to-one ABA treatment. ABA groups in educational settings scored significantly greater than parent training groups. 27% of ABA group succeeded in regular educational classrooms.

 Eikeseth et al (2002) found ABA treatment to be produce greater outcomes that the eclectic approach. ABA treatment group scored significantly higher as compared to the eclectic treatment group on intelligence, language, adaptive functioning, and maladaptive functioning and on two of the subscales on the socio-emotional assessment (social and aggression).

 Cohen et al (2006) Compared effects of ABA treatment with special education provided at local public schools for children with autism. Six of the 21 ABA treated children were fully included into regular education without assistance, and 11 others were included with support; in contrast, only 1 comparison child was placed primarily in regular education.

 Birnbrauer and Leach (1993) showed significant improvement in autistic children using 1:1 ABA tutoring in educational settings using a pretest-posttest design. It was pertinent that parents developed ABA skills for improvement of child’s behaviour to cross over into all aspects of child’s life. 

Significant results show that ABA techniques improve child’s IQ, developmental language functioning, and developmental adaptive functioning and social skills.


There are no adequate explanations why some children show dramatic improvements while others do not. Consequently, generalisations from the current research should be made with caution in many cases (Green, 1996). Also, comparisons with other competing treatments need further investigation.

 Dempsey and Foreman (2001) importantly note that while ABA has been found to be effective for some children, it is unlikely that it is effective for all children. In the future we would hope that diagnosis of autism will be sufficiently sophisticated to include specific recommendations for treatment. Some children may be prescribed sensory integration, while others are diagnosed as needing auditory integration. This can be overcome with individualised programming and low student-teacher ratios: Teachers are aware of the child’s abilities and individual program can be developed to actualise the child’s capabilities.

Some of the older procedures used by ABA tutors had let to ethical issues: e.g. hand slapping. This has been overcome through the development of ethics and would hardly be seen as an effective procedure to use as punishment.


It is important that we recognise that the research in ABA has not concluded that it is the cure for ASD’s. We can however see that it is a useful technique to approaching the maladaptive behaviours associated with the disorders.

From the evidence, there is a lack of research in comparison studies for ABA and other techniques. However ABA shows promise. Intervention practices have developed over time through the adherence to ABA principles and techniques continue to flourish. Effective communication instruction has drawn heavily from ABA (Ogeltree and Oren, 2001). The evidence suggests that for greatest efficacy, ABA should be implemented in all aspects of the child’s life. Evidence of ABA implementation in schools settings supports this.

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Eye-tracking equipment has been used for a multitude of studies including Internet Consumer gazing behaviours, eye-movements during word-reasoning tasks and a study I conducted for my undergrad psychology degree– gazing behaviour of social and unsocial individuals.  My hypothesis was that highly social individuals would make increased eye-contact with the images of faces. Further hypothesised was that highly social individuals would show higher rates of gazing behaviour for images previously rated as social (in a pretest – it was a rather lengthy process to perfect the experiment!).

Some shameless self promotion, the paper I have written will be published in the coming months, I thought I would write a piece on what eye-tracking equipment can and cannot do.

The following image shows a scan path that the equipment recorded for my experiment. Larger circles show increased time (ms) on that area and you will notice that circles are numbered 1, 2, 3 etc… This shows the gazing path, 1 being the first area that the equipment recorded the eye hitting. 2, 3 etc are the where the eye had moved.

The following image shows the attention map for the gazing behaviour for another participant. The attention map shows the areas of the image that the eyes of the participant looked at. While the participant perceived the whole image for sure, the areas shown display the parts of the image that the participant had increased gaze.

The eye tracking equipment was a desk mounted monitor and the images shown were displayed in a slideshow format – each image was shown for 7 seconds (7000 milliseconds) and there were 10 images.

Some issues I had with the eye tracking equipment:

  • It froze a number of times. I was working off of a safe computer with no internet connection that didn’t allow USB sticks (in case of infection – the equipment is over 10000 euro). In spite of this it was glitch and I had to disregard 2 participants’ data as it didn’t record efficiently. I think that if the computer was a mac, things may have been a little easier, but maybe not.
  • The amount of data that is recorded is staggering. It took me 3 months of sifting through and adding up data, a lot of which I didn’t use. In the end I did some of the totals by hand out of convenience. I wouldn’t advise it on anybody unless they have more than 6 months to do the study.

Hopefully useful advice:

  1. Filter out what things you DON’T want the equipment to record BEFORE you start collecting the data. It will save so much time
  2. Keep an eye on the control monitor that the participants heads are in the right position
  3. Leave yourself plenty of time to go through the data, I found it easier to do by hand. If i were to do another study with a lot of data on excel files, I would create intermittent excel files and do the calculations on that

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For Feuerbach, religion is the dream of the human spirit. He maintains that all religious belief is essentially based on and derived from human error and misunderstanding, maintaining that all religious belief is a product of anthropomorphic projectionism. The concept of God is an anthropomorphic projection of the human mind, and as such embodies man’s conception of his own nature.  This was originally conceived of by Xenophanes and Lucretius, and by Spinoza. However, this does not take from his achievement: he clearly articulates the philosophical relevance of man projection God.

The danger, as Feuerbach sees it, is that we are denying our own nature and thus alienating ourselves from what is truly human, by believing that our values are derived from a moral order which is divine in nature. The superhuman deities of religion are in fact involuntary projections of the essential attributes of human nature, and this projection, in turn, is explained by a theory of human consciousness heavily indebted to Hegel.

Hegel’s influence is great: for Feuerbach, what marks man off from the ‘brutes’ is precisely our awareness of ourselves as species-teings, which is not simply an additional fact of which we are aware: it is rather recognition which qualitatively changes the very nature of human consciousness itself. As Hegel states: consciousness is intentional, hence to be conscious at all is of necessity to be conscious of something. For Feuerbach: God is man’s awareness of himself as a species being. His whole though arises from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

Each attribute of God expresses an aspect of the hope humans have to be free from their limitations. For example: God’s holiness is a projection of human desire to be free of sin; God’s creativity is a projection of human sense of finitude and vulnerability; God’s presence is a projection of human sense of loneliness and mutual separation; God’s Trinitarian nature is a projection of the human need to be whole through being an ‘I’ participating in, though distinct from a ‘Thou’; The same method is applied to each of the doctrines of Christian Theology: incarnation, trinity, sacraments, prayer, the Holy Spirit, resurrection etc…

For Feuerbach, the process of ‘mystifying’ human nature begins with theology, with the projection of human species-attributes onto an abstract, but personal, bewing called ‘God’, and is continues by philosophy, which switches the projection from ‘God’ to ‘Nature’, and finally to that ultimate metaphysical abstraction, ‘Being’.  His aim is to change: “the friends of God into friends of men, believers into thinkers Christians… from half-animal and half angel, into men…”

We treat the existence of God as if it were distinct from the question of the nature of God, when in fact the two are part of one and the same thing. We make this mistake because human existence seems to be a necessary precondition for the possibility of possessing human attributes. We see Hegel’s influence: distinction between subject and predicate is a logical or conceptual rather than an ontological or metaphysical one. One could not exist if it didn’t have any attribute at all. Thus, the existence of any entity and its possession of attributes are necessarily connected. We are misled into thinking that we can accept that the predicates which we ascribe to God are anthropomorphisms, while denying that God himself, the subject, is an anthropomorphism, because we mistake the conceptual distinction for an ontological one.

This equation of man and god, this identification of god with human nature, is absolutely fundamental to Feuerbach’s thesis: religious individuals are not aware of the fact that in asserting the existence of God he is apotheosising human qualities.

Religion and Philosophy as anthropology

Feuerbach maintains that philosophy and religion are highly-evolved forms of anthropology. In this, he emphasises the progression of thought through the ages of religious and philosophical texts. The both vary in culture as culture is central to understanding of human nature. Religion is a rudimentary form of man’s awareness of himself as a species being, and is therefore by virtue of that a primitive anthropology, no less than philosophy.

One of his greatest strengths is that he points out that religion applies only to human subjects. The environment is never quite the same from one culture to another, and for this reason man’s conception of God, and, what for Feuerbach amounts to the same thing, his conception of himself varies greatly. We morally evaluate attributes in their own right before we ascribe them to God. Our moral norms determine our conception of God, our very religion, not the other way around: religious person fails to see this.

Feuerbach’s belief in God

Feuerbach was not an atheist: “He alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being – for example, love, wisdom, justice – are nothing; not he to whom merely the subject of these predicates is nothing.“ He argues that god (or any other logical subject) is simply the sum total of his properties – if the latter are anthropomorphisms then God himself is an anthropomorphism.

A society’s conception of god is a function of the moral value system of the society’s concerned, a fact that which indicates that morality is logically prior to, and independent of, religion. The genuine theorist is, therefore, the individual who values the good whether it has been obtained by God or not. A quality is not divine because God has it; that God has it because it is itself divine: because God without it would be a defective being.

“We have reduced the otherworldly, supernatural and superhuman essence of god to its particular foundations in the essence of man. Thus we have in the end arrived back at our starting point. Man is the beginning of religion, Man is the centre of religion, Man is the end of religion.”

His uncritical acceptance of the assumptions that religious discourse is factual in nature, which may be assessed in purely theoretical terms, blinds him to the nature of the web of logical interconnections which obtains between such terms in religious discourse, and to critical differences which exists between it and that which obtains between these in terms of their factual discourse.

Also, his argument is not strong enough to convince a believer. He is possibly being too analytic and objective. It doesn’t solve anything, but raises more questions.

I admire Feuerbach’s shift from Man created by God to God created by Man. I find it a bit of a cop out to sum up the traits associated with God to suggest that God lies in these traits – but that’s just my perspective! Overall, Feuerbach is a fascinating read: some of his quotes remain my favourite: “…Man is the end of religion.”


Thornton, S. (1996). Facing up to Feuerbach. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion , 103-120.

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(First of all, if you would like to take a look at an excerpt of The Brothers Karamazov, please take a look at the PDF at the end of the blog! I refer to the passage a few times. Thanks)

In the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky describes the problem of evil in great detail. We can also get a clear view of his atheism. The protagonist of this novel is Ivan and will be discussed in this piece.

Ivan accepts God, but rejects God’s world, and it is in this sense that he is an atheist. He speaks of the human mind operating within the parameters of the Euclidian mind and how it understands space and time. He refuses to alter the facts of heinous acts committed against children; he states that he does not wish to see them in transcendental or ‘godly ways (i.e. attribute them to god’s plan). The specific evils are, as he determines, hard facts

Turning specifically to The Brothers Karamazov, he describes 6 evil acts committed against children. The evil acts are:

  • The atrocities of the Turks in Bulgaria
  • Richard’s story in Geneva
  • The peasant flogging his horse around the eyes
  • The father whipping his daughter as a source of sensual pleasure
  • The parents abusing their 5 year old daughter, locking her in the privy for the night (the detail of the mother putting excrement in the daughter’s mouth is particularly horrifying, as he describes the daughter whimpering in pain for the night as the mother slept soundly)
  • The serf boy torn to pieces by his landlord’s hounds

Religious people try to justify or understand these crimes and states that it is immoral to use god as justification – we are bound by the parameters of a Euclidian mind. He is approaching it in an emotional way before an intellectual way, this he sees as a ‘human’ way. Intellectualising evil acts evades the problem completely.

He says ‘he will not be healed’. He uses the arguments derived from cruelty of children to give his position strength and power. He accepts God, but refuses to accept God’s world. He bases this on the manner in which suffering is inflicted in children. He makes the reader question their own views – Alyosha’s reaction to the serf boy. The cases were derived from contemporary news reports – factual instances not fictional.

Dostoevsky’s purpose was to link God with any attempts of justifying the atrocities. Doing so alters the facts. It alters the facts as it changes the nature of the situation and what actually happened.  The Euclidian mind cannot speculate or conceive of God, it is unanswerable and meaningless. Religious arguments to the children’s suffering are dismissed as he says they might as well come from ‘another world’. It is incomprehensible to the human hear (based on the Euclidian mind) emphasising emotion over intellect.

The function of is atheism

  • Moral responsibility/ethical response to justify by God emotional responses. The justification of the future happening is purely for the harmony of our minds: not-yet-known changing the facts of what has happened (diminishing the evil acts) bound by parameters of a Euclidian mind.
  • Rebellion. He ‘returns the ticket’ to the world created by God, yet he accepts god. The two follow from Euclidian mind and moral outrage from the acts of evil done to children. His atheism stems from moral outrage
  • No alternative. He accepts god yet he is not religious. He denies the validity of life of worship or religious belief. There are no other possibilities and he cannot accept God’s world. He rebels against god that allows the suffering of innocent children, as he sees it is ‘senseless suffering’.

“Evil is the price of freedom”

The story I wish to focus on is the serf boy torn to pieces by his landlord’s hounds, in particular, Alyosha’s response. The serf boy threw a stone which hit the landlord’s favourite hound – the landlord reacted brutally ending in the boy being torn apart in front of his mother. Ivan asked Alyosha if the landlord deserved to be shot to which he replied yes. It is clear from here that he is pleading for an emotional response. Such a response from Alyosha supports Ivan’s enquiry. It is clear that he is looking for support for the Euclidian mind and this response confirms it.

He states that he doesn’t understand and that he gave up on trying to understand. Trying to understand leads to intellectualising the acts, which ends up distorting the facts, and he is ‘determined to stick to the facts.’

Ivan cannot use the case of adults. Adults have: ‘eaten the apple and know good and evil.’  The children haven’t eaten anything. Children are so far innocent.  “For anyone to love a man, he must be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.”

Stating that children are born with sin is completely insufficient. For if children were born with the sins of their fathers’ crimes, ‘such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension.’ He states that it is not worth the tears of one tortured child. “What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured?”

Stating that the children would grow up to perhaps commit heinous crimes is insufficient also and distorting the facts, for they did not grow up. To see such acts as a whole is altering the facts – it cannot be seen as a whole it detracts from the fact that these were acts of senseless suffering

Alyosha states that he is living in rebellion by not accepting God’s world, but accepting God, ‘respectfully returning the ticket’. He does not see it as rebellion – ‘one could hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live’. If the torture and death of one tiny creature is the cost of human freedom, how could god consent to be the ‘architect of those conditions’. Alyosha claims that he would not consent on those conditions. There has to be moral repugnance at the very idea. Yet we see in an orthodox view of religion, human freedom has been purchased in the actual world at the cost of countless millions of such tortures. Such a view would contribute to a non-anthropomorphic account of god

We can also see a Nietzschian (“what is man capable of”) and indeed, there has been quite a lot of work done looking into this perspective on Dostoevsky’s work.  We see the moral rule: ‘Everyone is responsible for everyone else’.  That evil is a cost of human freedom is rejected by the Euclidian mind.

Hope you enjoyed my critical look at Dostoevsky’s atheism. Feel free to comment, make suggestions etc…

Excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov: Fyodor Dostoevsky on the Problem of Evil

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