Reflex Arc Theoryconcept

French philosopher Rene Descartes (15961690), who also conducted physiological studies, was among the first writers to give a statement of the reflex theory of action: animals (and humans) are considered to be mere machines and explained in mechanistic terms, where much of the organism's motor behavior is reflexive and not dependent on "mind." However, it was the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859-1952) who formally adapted the physiologist's model of the reflex arc to the study of psychological action (cf., reflex act hypothesis - states that psychological acts follow the same general pattern as neurological reflexes, beginning with an external or internal source of stimulation, proceeding to a central regulatory system, and discharging through efferent channels; and spinal conditioning hypothesis - the unsubstantiated notion that conditioned reflexes may be established via circuitry in the spinal cord that lack interconnections to central nervous system structures above the spinal cord). The reflex arc was the hypothesized neural unit that represented the functioning of a reflex where the abstract arc is schematically indicated by a sensory (afferent) neuron stimulated by physical energy, and a motor (efferent) neuron to which the impulse is transmitted via an intermediary neuron. The reflex arc is called, also, the reflex circuit. In his theoretical approach, Dewey attacked the psychological molecularism, elementism, and reductionism of the reflex arc concept with its distinction between stimulus and response. Dewey argued that the behavior involved in a reflex response may not be reduced meaningfully to its basic sensory-motor elements anymore than consciousness can be analyzed meaningfully into its elementary components. He maintained that behavior should be treated not as an artificial scientific construct, but rather in terms of its functional significance to the organism in adapting to the environment. This theoretical position by J. Dewey, J. R. Angell, and W. James is called functionalism theory and views behavior in terms of active adaptation to the environment, emphasizing the causes and consequences of human behavior, the union of the physiological with the psychological, the objective testing of theories, and the solution of practical problems (cf., structuralism/structuralist theory; also, the theory of utilitarianism - a social/economic postulate that suggests that the practical usefulness of any plan, object, or event is the proper criterion against which to judge its ultimate value). Dewey was concerned, also, about the contemporaneous cleavage/duality of the organism into a body and a mind. In his paper on the reflex arc, Dewey struggled to rid psychology of the ancient mind-body dualism and suggested that behavior should be viewed as being so integrated that it is impossible to split it up into disparate parts. Dewey's reflex arc theory was an attempt to show how behavior and psychological events need to be viewed as whole entities, and his approach was a significant protest against the artificial fragmentation of behavior imbedded in the reflex arc paradigm of his day. See also HOLISTIC THEORY; MECHANISTIC THEORY; MIND-BODY THEORIES; NEURON/NEURAL/NERVE THEORY; REFLEXOLOGY THEORY; STRUCTURALISM/STRUCTURALIST THEORY.

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