[FOM] foundational thinking outside of mathematics

Richard Singer richard-acs at worldnet.att.net
Tue Jan 20 19:17:25 EST 2004

Harvey Friedman asked about foundational thinking outside of mathematics. I
think that the work of Peter Ossorio in what he called descriptive
Psychology would qualify. Below is a sketch of what I would say about his

Over a period of many years, Peter Ossorio developed a conceptual net called
psychology. This conceptual net has been adopted by a number of other
persons and so I will refer to it as PNDP (the Public Net for Descriptive
Psychology). In spite of its name, the concepts developed in PNDP go far
beyond those usually associated with psychology, as indicated in something
Ossorio said about PNDP.

"As a pre-empirical conceptual system, Descriptive Psychology provides us
with the resources to bring together science and art, religion and the
behavioral sciences, history and law, fairy tales and everyday living. It
does so in a way that preserves the uniqueness of every domain and
individual yet does not leave them isolated from one another. Because it is
reflexive and recursive, it is unlimited in its scope and precision.
Because it is content-free, it is not culture-bound in the usual sense, and
is non-committal with respect to anything empirical: to repeat, it does not
preempt the answers to any questions that could be settled empirically.
It is a resource designed to increase our behavior potential, not a way to
limit it by imposing a set of theories or a sequence of behaviors, like
answers at the back of the book."

Ossorio's perspective is so radical that it seems to be difficult for most
people to realize what he has accomplished. I want to stress that PNDP does
not constitute a psychological theory or a theory of any type. As he
indicated, it is theory neutral. In this it resembles the only other
extensive theory neutral conceptual net, namely contemporary mathematics.
Since an understanding of the perspective underlying contemporary
mathematics is not widespread outside of the community of mathematicians,
the value of purely conceptual nets is not widely appreciated, even in the
academic world. However it is recognized that contemporary mathematics
provides a conceptual net that can be used by any theory in
physics. Likewise PNDP could provide a conceptual net that can be used by
any theory in the behavioral sciences. Altho this may seem like an
extravagant conjecture, I suspect that Ossorio could be to behavioral
science what Galileo was to Physics. By this, I mean that PNDP has the
potential to revolutionize the behavioral sciences to the same extent that
mathematics was used to revolutionize the physical sciences.

Altho convinced of the potential of PNDP to revolutionize the behavioral
sciences, this is not what I consider its greatest potential. The use of
mathematics is much broader than its use in the sciences, and PNDP could be
used even as widely. It could be used by anyone to think about anything they
do. I believe that the use of this net as the core of a person's
ordinary conceptual net can be extremely empowering. However the potential
of PNDP has not been widely recognized. The interest in PNDP seems to be
confined primarily to the group of people belonging to The Society for
Descriptive Psychology. An article on their website www.sdp.org by Joel
Jeffrey provides an excellent introduction to the spirit and
purpose of Descriptive Psychology. For more about the scope and significance
of Ossorio's work, I recommend the preface to the collected works of Peter
Ossorio by Anthony Putman. This can be found on their website. However the
site does not contain an introduction to the main concepts of Descriptive

Altho my own website introduces some of these concepts, it focuses only on
those I have used in my own work. The main resource that I would recommend
for a detailed introduction to Descriptive Psychology is Mary Shideler's
book Persons, Behavior and the World. Their website indicates how to obtain
this book and other materials about Descriptive Psychology.

Richard Singer

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