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Robots, Men and Minds: Psychology in the Modern World

Marjorie C. Meehan, MD
JAMA. 1968;203(11):993-994. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140110085038.
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Don't let the subtitle discourage you from reading this book. It was not written by a psychologist but by a Viennese scientist, now professor of theoretical biology at the University of Alberta. Von Bertalanffy is probably best known in this country for his work in General Systems Theory. All this might lead you to expect a ponderous tome of theory expressed in stilted language. Instead, you will find interesting ideas expressed with brevity, clarity, and wit.

Most psychologists, von Bertalanffy points out, have viewed human beings as robots, reacting to external influences but incapable of spontaneous action. The classic stimulus-response pattern, Freudian emphasis on early childhood experience, Pavlovian conditioning, and almost all other psychological theories represent human behavior as determined by instinct or external influences. Application of these theories in advertising, education, and politics leads to a dehumanizing of men. Instead of assuming that men are nothing but animals or


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