Physics and Psychology in the Hierarchical World: Towards Physical Psychology
Pavel B. Ivanov
Troitsk Institute for Innovation and Fusion Research (TRINITI)
Written: 12 December 1995
IPPE preprint: June 1996
Some aspects of the applicability of physical concepts and formal
methods in psychological research are discussed on the basis of ideas
present in the scientific and philosophical literature of the former
Soviet Union. The possibility of combining physics and psychology into
a new interdisciplinary science is inferred from a general hierarchical
approach. This combination is not unique, and the difference is
discussed between the traditional psychophysics and the new science
suggested by the author, physical psychology. This science
investigates the possible applications of physical models in psychology
reinterpreting the formal schemes of physical theories in psychological
terms. As an example, an original mechanical model of human activity
and motivation is described, and the directions of its development and
generalization are indicated.
Recent controversy on the adequacy of quantum and classical
mechanics [Psyche 1995] for explaining consciousness
has shown that the interrelations between physics and psychology still
attract attention of scientists and philosophers, and there are questions
requiring more consideration. The problem of consciousness naturally
arises in any science concerning human (or human-like) behavior, such
as psychology, linguistics, or artificial intelligence. Still, any one
of these sciences has much of its own to investigate, without special
reference to conscious action. One might expect that the same holds
for physics as well.
Most generally, there are three groups of questions:
- What can psychology give to physics?
- What can physics give to psychology?
- Is there any way to combine these sciences?
For brevity, I mean all the variety of sciences related to human
behavior and consciousness under "psychology", from
neurophysiology to philosophical treatment. Similarly, all the
variety of physical sciences together with metaphysical generalizations
is assumed under "physics". Of course, the same questions
may be asked about any particular branch in psychology or physics; this
requires a specific projection of the general discussion.
In the literature, the first of the three groups of questions is
represented exclusively by the problem of introducing observer into
quantum mechanics. I discuss this problem in Section 2.
Still there are other aspects of applicability of psychological
concepts in physics, and I present some considerations on that in
Section 3, which is mainly devoted to the role physics
may play in psychological research. Section 4 describes
a new interdisciplinary area of science, which I name physical
psychology; the subject of this science is specified, and some
of its methods are discussed. As an example, a mechanical model of
temperament is outlined in Section 6, which is preceded
with a brief summary of Newtonian mechanics required to understand the
model (Section 5). Concluding remarks
indicate possible applications and the ways of generalization of the
mechanical model, including the description of consciousness in
There are different schools in both psychology and physics, and
I cannot equally speak about all of them. In the early 1980s, there
was a wide discussion of similar questions in the scientific circles
of the former Soviet Union [Tsekhmistro 1981;
Kravchuk 1983; Sudakov 1983].
These ideas are less known to the English-reading audience and may
therefore provide new possibilities for extending the range of
related topics. That is why, in this article, I have chosen to
base my argument on the Russian scientific tradition. It is assumed
that the reader is acquainted with American and European literature
on the subject and may compare my approach with it. Accordingly,
most references in this article are to the works of Russian-speaking
researchers, though I tried to find the English translations where
In a few words, my position might be stated like this:
Nature is a hierarchy of objects, and each level of this hierarchy
should be studied with methods appropriate at this level, so that the
hierarchy of sciences reflects the natural hierarchy of the world.
Thus, physics studies physical objects that are different from
psychological objects; still, the both kinds of objects exist
in Nature independently of whether somebody is studying them or not.
The development of any science is the process of simultaneous formation
of its subject and its methods.
The hierarchy of Nature is not rigid, it manifests itself as different
hierarchical structures, so that the levels distinguished in one
structure may be fused together in another, and vice versa. Every two
levels of the hierarchy imply an intermediate level, combining the
features of the both. In science, it means that for every two sciences
one may construct another science, lying "between" these two.
In particular, one may seek for some combination of physics and
psychology, which, evidently, is not unique since there can exist
sciences intermediate for this combination and the "pure"
physics or psychology.
The levels of hierarchy are qualitatively different, and no one
of them can be reduced to another, or deduced from the other levels.
In particular, psychological phenomena cannot be reduced to physiology,
chemistry or physics, or deduced from them. Human psychology is
drastically dependent on social factors, and consciousness should be
considered as a collective effect arising from thousands acts of
communication between many people, rather than from some neural or
physical processes in one's brain. However, consciousness would be
impossible without appropriate premises, one of which is the admirable
versatility of the human brain.
These brief formulations are, to some extent, unfolded in the
following discourse, though I do not try to argue for them
specifically, since this would lead me far from the subject of this
2. The Observer in Physics.
The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by the
appearance of two famous physical theories which seem to picture the
Universe quite differently compared to the earlier conceptions. Both
relativity and quantum mechanics are strange enough to excite popular
admiration. Still, while people have gradually grown accustomed to
the contracting measures and curved space-time, they cannot generally
comprehend the transition from quantum waves to the solid
definiteness of the perceptible world. Such transition is then
attributed to some conscious intervention, and the observer is
claimed to be an indispensable part of quantum science.
But are quantum and classical theories so different as it seems?
Actually, there are many formulations of the both, sometimes
presenting rather smooth mutual transitions between them
[Mensky 1983]. And is there any real need in
From the practical side, the task of a physicist is to predict
the results of certain manipulations with material bodies using some
pre-defined procedures called physical methods. The registration
of some result follows a formal scheme which is called measurement.
When an experimenter reports his results to the physical community,
the main efforts are spent to make the experimental procedure as close
to a common standard as possible, and to reduce the influence of any side
factors, including experimenter's mind and personality. Thus the
very idea of measurement assumes the extinction of the observer, and
this holds equally for classical and quantum measurements. Physical
theory refines the schemes of measurement abstracting from the last
traces of individuality; the whole of physics becomes then fully
The same idea can be put another way. Physical science deals
with some formal model of observer, rather than with a real human
being, and it is this model that is reflected in the form of the
physical theory. Such formal observer is just a representation of
some standard procedure, and the observer's activity is reduced to
the implementation of a sequence of operations, which could be much
better performed by some automatic device. In this sense, the
observer is present in any part of physics, and not only in quantum
mechanics. It is only the rules of observation that change from
one physical science to another depending on their specific methods.
How the observer is represented in classical mechanics? There
are many formulations of classical mechanics, and each formulation
has its own way of postulating the formal behavior of the observer;
still, one may say that all these observers are physically equivalent
since they lead to the same dynamics. For example, the traditional
Newtonian mechanics models the observer introducing the conception of
reference frame. To observe the classical behavior of a physical
system, the observer should be present in any point of the
three-dimensional space in the same moment of time, to become aware
of any event immediately. Such observer is effectively infinite and
coincides with the whole of the Universe. This may be possible if
the movements considered are much slower then the movements involved
in the process of measurement (adiabatic limit).
The relativistic generalization of classical mechanics is
obtained when the movements described are as fast as, or even more
fast than the processes implied by the measurement scheme. To
maintain the conception of the reference frame, physicists have to
associate it with the own movement of the observer, thus mixing space
and time in the four-dimensional space-time. In other words, the
reference frame is not a static prerequisite, but rather the process
of establishing the connection between different spatial points.
Relativistic observer is essentially local and cannot be aware of any
events occurring in very far spatial points.
Quantum mechanics generalizes the classical conceptions in the
opposite direction, so to say. While relativism speaks of a very
small observer, the observer of quantum theory is extremely big, even
much bigger than the classical (infinite) observer. Each point of
its space (reference frame) becomes a whole three-dimensional space,
and each point of this internal space is supposed to be somehow
structured too, when it comes to accounting for spin and other
group features. For example, the infinity of atomic physics is
practically about several microns, or even fractions of a micron,
which can be considered a point in many macroscopic movements.
Theory idealizes this scale difference, taking the practical
infinity for the true infinity; this is the source of formal
contradictions arising when one tries to comprehend the transition
from quantum processes to macroscopic measurements, from one level of
hierarchy to another.
Usually, physicists clearly understand the limited applicability
of theoretical abstractions and easily switch from one theory to
another depending on the circumstances. Thus, the region between
atomic and macroscopic lengths is better described by quasi-classical
approach, and the same nucleus may be considered either as a solid
body, or as a Fermi gas, or as a quantum liquid. Only the most deep
theoreticians can forget the reality and raise a controversy about
nothing. Unfortunately, many popular relations of physical theories
lack indications to the limits of their applicability, so that
the readers might be deluded by some peremptory claims.
In a quite analogous way, the abstraction of observer might be
defined for any other branch of physics: thermodynamics,
electromagnetism, hydrodynamics, and so on. Similarly, there must
be natural transitions between physical sciences. For example,
adiabatic processes in thermodynamics manifest quite classical
behavior, so that phenomenological parameters like temperature,
volume, or pressure, may be used as generalized coordinates.
3. Physical Methods in Psychology.
Since physics provides a variety of abstractions to describe
some idealized actions of a human observer, it may be asked whether
such formal descriptions might be useful to study human behavior in
general, rather than only physical experimenting. For instance,
quantum or classical mechanics might reflect some features common to
a wide range of human activities, or even some universal traits.
After all, science begins where unique events may be generalized and
thus made the abstract schemes applicable to many particular cases.
Psychology, if it wants to be a science, has to develop its own
abstractions, and one cannot demand that it give a comprehensive
explanation of any detail of an isolated human act. Rather,
psychological analysis should classify individual acts, bring then
under some pre-defined categories, which are familiar enough to
enable people's control over their behavior, just like people control
I should stress that physics in no way can explain the origin
of psychological phenomena and consciousness—this is the task
of psychology proper. likewise, psychology cannot be derived from
any chemical or biological laws, from the physiology of the brain or
some computational considerations. All one may ask is how these
biological, chemical or physical processes are involved in a
conscious action, as soon as one knows that they are actually
involved in it.
There are different ways of approaching psychology from the
physical side. One way is to treat a human being as a physical
object, albeit very unusual one. Then we can physically act on that
object and observe its physical reactions, trying to catch the
apparent regularities in some formulas. For instance, exposing a
person to some flashing lights, various sounds, electric shocks,
sequences of words or even congruous texts, music or movies, may
result in person's reactions, like pressing a button, saying
something, going to a nearby supermarket and buying a new hat, and so
on. Physical measurement does not worry about the specific personal
sense of these reactions; all that is relevant is distinguishing a
number of physically different outcomes which can be somehow
labeled with a numerical parameter. Such procedures can be highly
formalized, and they differ from physical experiments proper only in
their object. This is a psychological study in the least degree,
and it may be also considered a kind of physical research, namely
psychological physics, or psychophysics. The most popular
psychophysical methods include various timing procedures, the
measurements of transmission characteristics (for example, the
dependence of evaluated sound pitch on the sound frequency), and
numerous threshold measurements (quite analogous, say, to ionization
potential measurements in atomic physics) [Zabrodin and
Here, the key point is the usage of physical criteria for
distinguishing different reactions. Thus, if one is interested in
physiological consequences of some manipulations with a human being,
this should be called psychophysiological rather than psychophysical
investigation. likewise, one might consider the influence of stress
onto speech production; this is a psycholinguistic—study.
Psychological research would center on specifically psychological
phenomena, such as the change in the motivation structure, or the
level of self-respect. It does not matter how formal the means of
this study are, as long as the focus on the psychological side of the
problem is preserved. In fact, psychological concepts are not a bit
less abstract than the most abstruse constructions in theoretical
physics. The term "the will" may seem somewhat more
clear than "autoionization", but this is mostly
due to the more evident manifestation of will in our everyday life,
while autoionization is not so easily observed, though it is much
more common in Nature.
There is an important distinction between the higher and lower
levels of hierarchy. Any psychological event can always be
considered from the physical side as a sequence of physical events,
while there may be physical events that do not assume any
psychological content, and some physical events may accompany many
psychological events. However, since human knowledge about the
physical world is governed by people's practical needs, science only
deals with events related to some human activity, and it would be
quite admissible to reveal some relation to psychology in any
known physical event.
Now, it is evident that psychophysics is not the only way to
combine physics and psychology. Since any movement in the mind is
realized as a sequence of physical events, mental phenomena must not
violate physical laws, and one may predict some gross features of
thinking for a number of hypothetical creatures living in the worlds
with different values of some fundamental physical constants. Thus,
another application of physics to psychology is to consider the
influence of a definite structure of the physical world to mental
processes [Dyson 1979].
One more possibility is to build a "compound" theory, where
the influence of mind on physical movements is introduced explicitly
as some phenomenological constraint, and in turn, physical laws
are regarded as the constraints for the possible changes of mind
[Korenev 1977, 1981]. Unfortunately, this approach
did not attract many scientists, because the construction of such
theory requires a tremendous technical work.
Now, let us imagine that one carries out a purely psychological
research, and the results strongly resemble the behavior of some
physical system. The researcher might trace this analogy as far
as it is possible, and apply a well developed physical theory to the
regularities observed at the psychological level. This seems even
more admissible since physics itself has been extensively practicing
such formal borrowing of theories since pre-historic times. I have
already mentioned the mechanical treatment of adiabatic thermodynamic
processes. Virtually, one can find no physical theory that has not
ever been influenced by some other science, either physical or not.
This application of physical theories and mathematics in psychology
may be rather superfluous, when physics is taken only as a source
of useful metaphors [Nalimov 1981]. There may also
exist less metaphorical theories, trying to predict the processes in
some simple situations solving the equations of dynamics
Modern physics is rather broad-flung, and it includes many models
far from the traditional description of dynamics. Fractals
and neural networks became very popular nowadays in the physics of
condensed media and surfaces; also, there are theories examining
computational or informational properties of physical systems
[Bernstein and Levine 1975; Caianiello
1992]. Sometime, these theories may lead to a new revolution
in physics, and they can also be applied to psychological problems
to obtain an explanation of existing mental structures. One such
model, combining quantum-mechanical and informational conceptions
with a general hierarchical approach has been reported recently
[Avdeev and Ivanov 1993; Ivanov 1994].
An explanation of the discrete nature of musical pitch perception has
been given, so that the properties of all existing musical scales
could be described with a few a priori computable values.
Similar scaling was discovered in visual perception as well
When the formal constructions of physics are applied to a
psychological problem, they do not change the psychological
orientation of research in general. Since it is psychological
phenomena that are to be described, the parameters and variables of
the theory must be psychologically interpreted, and they lose any
relation to their physical counterparts. Accordingly, the results
formally obtained in this model are psychological, rather than
physical. That is why one can speak of such theory as a branch in
psychology, which could be called physical psychology.
4. Foundations of Physical Psychology.
Physical psychology investigates possibilities for psychological
interpretation of physical theories, building new models on their
basis to more exactly describe psychological phenomena.
This formal transfer could only be possible if there were an actual
similarity of methods of the both areas of science. Luckily,
such similarity does exist. In the most general form, it ascends to
the universal logic of scientific research, which reflects the unity
of the Universe. Naturally, specific methodological parallels
may be found too. One of them is the general scheme of scientific
experiment, assuming the registration of some object's response
to a standard external influence [Vygotsky 1983].
The object is thus considered to be a system, that is, it
transforms some input into some output trough a sequence of internal
states. Most clearly, this approach manifests itself in the matrix
formalism of quantum scattering theory, and in the stimulus-reaction
scheme of classical behaviorism. The alternative class of scientific
methods may be called structural approach, and the main goal of a
structural study is the explication of the internal integrity of
the object, connecting its distinct parts into the whole, opposed to
its environment. One may take the atomic paradigm in physics or
gestalt psychology for the examples. Recent research often combines
structural and systematic methods, which leads to the consideration
of the object's development, and the stages of this development become
represented in it as different levels of its inherent hierarchy
[Leontiev 1978; Vekker 1981;
Eliseyev 1983; Ivanov 1994, 1995].
Physical psychology does not aim to obtaining any new psychological
data, leaving this to psychology proper. The models of physical
psychology should conform to existing psychological data and give
reasonable results where it is possible to measure some of their
parameters. However, physical psychology could help to understand
the meaning of the existing experimental procedures in psychology,
and even suggest new quantities that psychologists might measure.
Still, the methods of physical psychology should not replace the
specifically psychological methods, especially where there are no
physical models available.
Also, physical psychology is not a branch of physics, since its
subject differs from the subjects of physical sciences. Physical
psychology borrows ready models from physics, but it applies them to
the systems of quite another type, in which the processes do not
directly correspond to physical processes in a system of material
bodies. One might say that physical psychology is the physics of the
ideal, in contrast to the ordinary, "material" physics.
But, since the ideal and the material are just the two sides of one
reality, one should expect that some features of physical models in
psychology would somehow manifest themselves in physical research
proper, and there would be a way back, from psychology to physics.
For physical psychology, a person is not only a material body
having a definite movement in the physical space-time. The main
interest concentrates on internal, subjective processes that cannot
be characterized with reaction delays, sensory organ attenuation
curves, spatial distribution of excitation in the brain and
interactions of its parts, the mechanics of muscles etc. That is why
the subject of physical psychology does not coincide with the subject
of psychophysics, which describes just these external manifestations
of psychic processes. In a way, this difference is similar to the
difference of the physiology of higher neural processes and
neurophysiology: the former studies the physiological mechanisms
underlying psychological phenomena, while the latter describes these
phenomena in terms of neurodynamics [Luria 1973].
Since theoretical physics widely exploits mathematics of any kind,
it might be expected that the same mathematics would be applicable
to ideal, psychological processes. This application, however, is
different from that of mathematical psychology. The latter studies
the possibility of correlating psychological entities with
mathematical objects as such, the ways of mathematization.
Naturally, one or another mathematical representation is a necessary
stage in the development of a physical model, but mathematics is only
a background for physical theory, the principal concepts of which lie
beyond any mathematics. In physical psychology mathematics is only
introduced through a physical model, and does not require direct
mathematical analysis of psychological data. For example,
there are situations in physics, when the same model is described
with different mathematics (like the Heisenberg and Shrödinger
representations in non-relativistic quantum mechanics); when this
model is transferred to psychology, all its mathematical forms are
transferred with it, and may be used without any special reservations
as soon as the analogs of the corresponding quantities are
discovered. On the other side, the mathematical methods of
psychology cannot always be related to any physical model.
Thus, physical psychology has a definite subject different from
the subjects of psychophysics and mathematical psychology; it
combines the elements of physics, mathematics and psychology never
coinciding with either of them.
5. The Scheme of Newtonian Mechanics.
Classical mechanics plays a particular role in physics. Hundreds
of years brought physicist a tremendous experience of constructing
mechanical models for thousands of special cases. There are many
quite different formulations of classical mechanics, establishing
its links with other physical sciences. This is why new physical
theories are often first applied to classical models, which is
the best way to demonstrate the essence of a new approach.
Speaking of physical psychology as a new science, it would be
natural to apply to classical mechanics to get a general conception
of how physical models might work in psychology. The simplest
mechanical theory is the commonly known Newtonian mechanics which
is the first step in everybody's studying physics. In the following
section, I present a psychological model built on the basis of
Newtonian mechanics. Omitting the computational details, I focus on
the conceptual shift from physics to psychology, and on the ways of
interpreting formal mechanical results.
To fix the terms, I should briefly describe the formalism of
classical mechanics in the Newtonian formulation. The basic objects
of this theory are called the material points. Each material
point is characterized by its mass, which is usually denoted
with the letter m. For each material point, one can specify
its position in some configuration space, which can be
either the ordinary three-dimensional space or some abstract space
of one or more dimensions. One can fix a reference frame in
the configuration space, and the position of some material point is
then defined with a set of numbers, which are called its coordinates
in this frame. Usually, these coordinates are considered as the
components of a vector, that is, the mathematical object characterized
by both its absolute value (or length) and its orientation in the
configuration space. I will denote the position of a material point
with the letter x, where the boldface indicates that this is
a vector, and the length of this vector will be denoted with the same
letter x in normal face. The movement of a material point is
just changing its position in the configuration space with time t;
this movement is characterized with a definite velocity,
described with a vector v, the first derivative of x in
time: v = dx/dt. The first derivative of v is called
acceleration and denoted with the letter a. One more
important quantity is material point's momentum p defined
as the product of its mass and its velocity: p = mv.
The principal law of Newtonian dynamics is then formulated as follows:
the first derivative of p in time is a vector function F
of time, material point's position, and its velocity:
dp/dt = F(t,x,v) .
The function F depends on the nature of the physical system concerned
and is called force. The solution of this equation of motion
gives the position of the material point at any moment of time, and
all the other characteristics can be calculated knowing x(t).
A mechanical system may consist of many material points. In
this case, the force acting on any one of them depends also on the
positions and velocities of other material points, and the law of
system's dynamics (commonly known as the second law of Newton)
becomes a system of equations, one for each material point in the
system. However, such system can be treated as containing only one
material point moving in the space of higher dimension. For example,
two points in the ordinary space are characterized by six
coordinates, which can be interpreted as a point in a six-dimensional
Usually, in Newtonian mechanics, masses do not depend on time,
and Newton's second law can be rewritten as follows:
dp/dt = d(mv)/dt =
m dv/dt = ma = F,
that is, the force acting on a material point equals its acceleration
multiplied by its mass.
In some cases, F does not depend on t explicitly, and there
exists such function U(x) such that
E = mv2/2 + U(x)
does not depend on time. The value E is called the total
energy of the system, and it is the sum of kinetic energy
mv2/2 and potential energy U(x).
Since potential energy depends only on the position in the
configuration space, it can be considered as some potential field
existing in this space as an independent entity. The equation
E=const is called either the conservativeness of the
system, or the law of energy conservation. For conservative systems,
x(t) can also be retrieved from this equation.
One of the most popular mechanical systems is harmonic
oscillator. In the simplest case, it is defined by the equation of
ma = -w2(x-x0),
that is, the force is proportional to the displacement from some
equilibrium point x0, and directed always back
to this point. This equation describes a wide range of oscillations
around the point x0. The one-dimensional solution is
x = x0 + Acos(wt
that is, the material point repeatedly (w/2p
times per the unit of time) moves away from the equilibrium point, and then returns
to it, moving on in the opposite direction. The constant A is called
the amplitude, and the constant phi is called the phase of the
oscillation. Potential energy in this system is given by the
which has the same form as the expression for kinetic energy, with
the only replacement v ®
The minimum of the potential energy corresponds to the equilibrium point.
Also, there are more complex solutions, when each component of
vector x oscillates with its own amplitude and phase. For example,
the two-dimensional oscillations include the movement along an
ellipse, and the circular movement around the equilibrium point. In
this latter case, the velocity and acceleration of the material point
are constant in the absolute value, and it is only their orientation
that changes. This means that not only the total energy is
conserved, but both the kinetic energy and the potential energy are
6. Motivation and temperament.
According to the general theory of A. N. Leontiev [Leontiev
1978; Ivanov 1995], human activity is governed with
some motive and is realized in a sequence of actions directed to their
specific goals. People are unaware of their motives, and it is their
goals that are conscious. In the course of action, the motivation may
change, so that one activity flows into another. Sometimes, the former
goals become motives, and a motive may become just an intermediate
Let us imagine, that, in some situations, a motive can be
represented by a point in some motivation space. The goals belong
to the same space, to enable the free transformation of goals into
motives, and motives into goals. Now, human activity is represented
by a trajectory x(t) in the motivation space, that is,
by a sequence of points representing the current goals. The motive
of this activity is naturally represented by some attracting center
in the motivation space, so that the activity can be thought of as a
solution of the equation of motion, just like Newton’s second law in
Within this analogy, the mass m of the material point may
correspond to the internal inertia of mind, which is an important
personal characteristic. The greater is the mass, the less readily
the person yields to external influences (which can be represented
by some forces in the mechanical model). The velocity v naturally
describes the rapidity and the direction of an action; this is the
example of characteristic, that has no direct psychological analog,
though it is quite compatible with the psychological conceptions.
As for momentum p = mv, the corresponding psychological
characteristic might be called the persistence of the activity,
that is, its ability to preserve the same course in spite of any
deflecting forces. Quite naturally, persons with high inertness
are more persistent in their activity, and the higher is the rate
of activity, the less noticeable is the effect of other activities
In Newtonian mechanics, the special place belongs to acceleration.
Any change in the state of motion assumes a non-zero acceleration,
and it is acceleration that is felt by a classical observer as a
mechanical event. When the observer is moving without acceleration,
the movement of any material point is described with the same
equations of motion, as for the motionless observer. This means
that all the reference frames moving without acceleration are
mechanically equivalent; they are called inertial frames. It is
natural to put forward the hypothesis that the analog of acceleration
in the psychology of activity is the subjective feeling of all the
forces acting on the person; this feeling may be associated with the
Now, the general picture of human activity looks as follows:
a person's interaction with the world (including the person's body,
and the brain) results in some distribution of forces in the
motivation space of the person; this forces excite definite
emotions in the person, which change the state of motion, that
is, the rapidity of changing actions and goals, and the direction
of this change.
The immediate inference of the model is that the same force will
excite less emotions in a person with high inertia, since
acceleration equals force divided by mass. This is the well known
low emotionality of the people with phlegmatic temperament. Following
this line, one could ask whether the other classical temperaments
(sanguine, choleric, and melancholic) might have a mechanical
explanation too. It is well known, that the conception of the four
temperaments takes its origin in the Ancient Greek philosophy, and
it has been physiologically interpreted in Pavlov's theory of
reflexes. The temperaments are distinguished according to the values
of three parameters: strength, mobility, and balance. Thus, the
anguine temperament assumes strong, mobile, and well-balanced nervous
processes, while the choleric temperament is poorly balanced and the
phlegmatic temperament lacks mobility; all the weak temperaments
are called melancholic. The mechanical interpretation of these
parameters of temperament can be given on the basis of the principal
law of dynamics: force equals mass times acceleration,
F=ma. One can notice that the strength of
temperament characterizes the degree of a person's sensitivity
to external circumstances. In the mechanical language one may say
that the environment acts with less force on a person with the
greater strength of temperament, that is, the absolute value of
the force is inversely related to the temperament strength. The
relation of mass to inertia (the inverse of mobility) has already
been indicated. Quite naturally, balance is characterized by the
value of acceleration: the completely balanced state of the system
assumes zero acceleration.
With these assumptions, the sanguine temperament must be characterized
with small F, which, at medium m, results in low
accelerations a. Since the phlegmatic temperament is characterized
with a significantly higher mass, even much greater forces cause rather
low accelerations, and a phlegmatic person keeps balance in a wider
range of situations. The opposite is valid for the choleric temperament,
which assumes rather low inertia: even a small force can break the
balance in a choleric person. As for the melancholic temperament, it is
mostly characterized with a rather great sensitivity to the processes
in the environment, that is, with high values of F. The effect
of that on the person's activity may be different, depending on the
person's inertia. Actually, there are three kinds of melancholic
temperament corresponding to the three other temperaments. Very inert
persons remain balanced in spite of all their strong interactions with
the world. Medium inertia, like that of a sanguine person, results in
much higher emotional reactions. The most weak type of melancholic is
characterized with low inertia; this is an extremely vulnerable
person, feeling the flood of emotions at any turn of the situation.
The mechanical treatment of temperament differs from the traditional
approach in that the two of the parameters of temperament, strength
and balance, are usually assumed to be individual constants, while
force and acceleration in the mechanical model are true dynamic
variables, which may change very much in the course of activity.
One solution of this problem could be that temperament reflects
the averaged features of activity, and its parameters should be
related to the time-averaged values of force and acceleration.
For many periodic and quasi-periodic movements, these variables
vary in a small range in the absolute value, assuming any possible
orientation. The simplest case is the circular motion described
in the previous section. The absolute values of force and
acceleration are exactly constant for this movement, and they can
be directly interpreted as the parameters of temperament.
The mechanical model of activity can be developed in detail,
finding more analogies between physics and psychology. My purpose is
only to demonstrate how physical theories can be reinterpreted to
become the theories of some psychological phenomena. As an example
of a more complex result, I would like to mention the possible
application of this model to the description of neuroses. Normally,
no place in the motivation space is inaccessible for human activity:
for any given point there should always exist some trajectory
containing this point. Still, the person's interaction with the world
may sometimes result in a singular potential, breaking the simple
topology of the motivation space. The well known physical example is
Coulomb potential of a charged point, assuming the infinite value
at the position of the charge. In such cases, activity may come very
close to the point of singularity, but it will just move around,
never achieving this point. The existence of such forbidden area in
the motivation space corresponds to the clinical picture of neurosis.
The mechanical model permits the description of different kinds of
neuroses, depending on the singularity type. As one can see,
neurosis cannot be overcome by the own activity of a person, and the
treatment of neuroses requires the change in the person's environment
removing the singularity from the motivation space.
I have demonstrated how relatively simple mechanical conceptions
might be introduced into psychology of activity. Naturally, there
are many other applications of the same model. Thus, one can
reinterpret mechanical equations of motion so that they would
describe the development of communication between a number of people,
the interaction of social roles in a small group, and so forth.
Also, one can borrow some other theory from physics, and apply
it to the same problem. For instance, quantum mechanics would be
useful to expand the description of an individual action, which in
the above model is represented by the momentary goal and persistence
of activity. In the quantum model, the point in the classical
configuration space will be replaced with some internal space, as it
was described in Section 2. Then, the action may be
considered as a process in this internal space, resulting in a
probabilistic outcome at the level of activity.
Surely, the most interesting problem of physical psychology is
the description of consciousness. However, the origin of
consciousness cannot be discussed within physical psychology.
One can only speak about representing consciousness in any
physical-psychological model using the concepts and laws appropriate
for this model. Thus, in the theory of activity described above,
consciousness is referred to the level of action, and the person
is not aware of the motive of activity. This can be easily
understood if one regards the goal (the point in the motivation
space) as a focus of awareness; the activity is then interpreted
as the gradual shift of this focus from one goal to another.
Since the points of minimum potential energy (representing the
possible motives) do not, in general, lie on the trajectory of
activity, the motives remain unconscious. This is the most
obvious in the case of circular motion, with the motive in the
center of the circle, and the goals always equally distanced
from the motive. Actually, there may be some processes of
motivation, which make the discovery of the motive of activity a
special goal. Some activities will include motivational actions, and
some will not, depending on whether the motive point lies on the
trajectory of activity or not.
Other physical models may give a more detailed description of
consciousness. Thus, physics has discovered many cases of
collective motion, when the different parts of the system move in
accord for a comprehensible time. Collective phenomena, such as
solitons in liquids and solids, plasma pinches, autoionization
states in atoms, and many others, appear due to some kind of
non-linearity, that is, the interaction of a physical system with
itself mediated by its environment. As G. R. Mulhauser [Mulhauser
1995] has indicated, each body in the cosmos is in many ways bound
to its environments, and consideration of an isolated system
can be possible only in abstraction. The more so for the human
brain, which is eventually just the device to perform universal
reflection, virtually interacting with the whole world. There is
experimental evidence that consciousness is essentially a
collective effect arising from the variety of interpersonal
communications [Vygotsky 1986; Leontiev
1978]. This collective nature is reflected in the organization
of the human brain and the interplay of the neural processes accompanying
human activity [Luria 1973]. That is why the physical
theories of non-linear phenomena may add more light to the problem of
Avdeev, L.V. and Ivanov, P.B. (1993).
"A mathematical model of scale perception."
Journal of Moscow Physical Society, 3, 331-353.
Bernstein, R.B. and Levine, R.D. (1975). "Role of energy in
reactive molecular scattering: An information-theoretic approach."
Advances in Atomic and Molecular Physics, 11, 215-297.
Caianiello, E.R. (1992). "Quantum and other physics as systems
theory." La Rivista della Nuovo Cimento, 15, no.4.
Dyson, F.J. (1979). "Time without end: Physics and biology in an
open universe." Reviews of Modern Physics, 51,
Eliseyev, E.N. (1983). Structure of development in complex
systems. Leningrad: Nauka. (In Russian)
Ivanov, P.B. (1994). "A hierarchical theory of aesthetic
perception: Musical scales." Leonardo, 27, no. 5, 417-421.
Ivanov, P.B. (1995). "A hierarchical theory of aesthetic
perception: Scales in the visual arts." Leonardo Music Journal,
Ivliyev, Yu.A. (1988). "New mathematical methods in psychology,
their development and application (a problem study)."
Psikhologicheskiy Zhurnal (Psychological Journal), 9,
Korenev, G.V. (1977). Introduction to the mechanics of man.
Moscow: Nauka. (In Russian)
Korenev, G.V. (1981). "A mathematical model of a psychomotoric
act." Psikhologicheskiy Zhurnal (Psychological Journal), 2,
124-139. (In Russian)
Kravchuk, N.V. (1983). Methodological notes on the possibility of
the application of quantum theory to the modeling of some aspects of
psychics. Preprint ITF-83-69R. Kiev: Institute of Theoretical
Physics. (In Russian)
Leontiev, A.N. (1978). Activity, consciousness and personality.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc. (Originally published
Luria, A.R. (1973). Foundations of neuropsychology. Moscow:
Moscow State University. (In Russian)
Mensky, M.B. (1983). The path group: Measurements, fields, and
particles. Moscow: Nauka. (In Russian)
Mulhauser, G.R. (1995). "On the end of quantum mechanical romance."
Nalimov, V.V. (1981). "On the possibility of metaphorical use of
mathematical conceptions in psychology." Psikhologicheskiy
Zhurnal (Psychological Journal), 2, 39-47. (In Russian)
Psyche, (1995). (Vol.2). Symposium on Roger Penrose's Shadows
of the Mind. [On-line]. Available:
Psyche, (1995). (Vol.2). Symposium on Quantum Theory and
Consciousness. [On-line]. Available:
Sudakov, K.V. (1983). "Systemic quantization of the behavior."
Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk (Advances in Physical Sciences), 14,
3-26. (In Russian)
Tsekhmistro, I.Z. (1981). Search for a quantum conception of the
physical origin of consciousness. Kharkov: Kharkov State
Vekker, L.M. (1981). Psychic processes. (Vol.3). Leningrad:
Leningrad State University. (In Russian)
Vygotsky, L. (1983). "History of the development of the higher
psychic functions." In: Collected works in 6 volumes (Vol. 3,
pp.5-328). Moscow: Pedagogika. (Written in 1931; partially
published in 1960) (In Russian)
Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Alex Kozulin, ed.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work published in 1934)
Zabrodin, Yu.M. and Lebedev, A.N. (1977). Psychophysiology and
psychophysics. Moscow: Nauka. (In Russian)