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A Brief History of Explanation

By: , Posted on: August 21, 2014

Tryon Hummingbirds
Dr. Warren Tryon feeds hummingbirds at his cabin in New York earlier this month! Check out the rest of Dr. Tryon’s blog posts to see his other summer activities.

I describe the human need for explanation on page 27 of my book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory as follows:

The need to understand and explain is as old as myth, legend, and philosophy. Human beings have always had a need to explain the physical and social events that they experience. For example, creation stories have emerged in every culture to explain the origin of the natural world and its inhabitants. Gods and goddesses were imbued with motives that explained, made understandable, events on earth.

These creation stories place earth at the center of the universe and for the sole benefit and pleasure of people. The scientific explanation by Copernicus that the sun did not revolve around the earth was resisted because it displaced mankind from residing at the center of the universe. The scientific explanation of the origin of the species by Darwin that people developed on the basis of variation and selection was, and continues to be, resisted because it conflicts with the Christian story of creation. This opposition to evolution is not limited to Christianity as creation myths are found in religions worldwide.

The Greeks and Romans explained a wide variety of natural phenomena as the result of decisions made by the gods who possessed super but human qualities including particularly human motives of dominance, anger, and being compensated for granting requests. Gods of the wind and gods of the sea determined if sailing was smooth or rough. Gods of the weather determined if it rained or not. Fertility gods determined events surrounding conception and birth. Dreams were taken as real encounters with the gods or spirits. The main point here is that neither the Greeks nor the Romans had any conception of natural physical causes. The tides were controlled by Neptune rather than the moon. The ancients thought about the physical world in mental and spiritual terms.

Cognitive Neuroscience and PsychotherapyThe special role that people assign themselves extends to the matter of mind. I comment on this issue on page 89 of my book as follows:

The mind–body problem is actually a mistake based in ignorance. Had Rene Descartes (1596–1650) lived and received a doctorate in neuroscience in this twenty-first century versus having no such degree in the sixteenth century it is extremely unlikely that he would have ever proposed that mind is in any way independent of brain. LeDoux’s book entitled Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are reflects contemporary neuroscience. The bottom-line of this book is ‘You are your synapses’ (p. ix, emphasis added). My notion of personality is pretty simple: it’s that your `self,’ the essence of who you are, reflects patterns of interconnectivity between neurons in your brain (p. 2). The totality of the interconnections among all neurons in a brain is called a connectome. The Human Connectome Projectis currently underway. It aims to map all of the major neural network connections in the human brain.

The main point I am driving at here is that science has been finding physical explanations for the mental explanations of gods and man for the past 300 years. Neuroscience has now developed to the point where it is not only possible but the reasonable next step to think about psychology and behavior in physical rather than mental terms. This is the thrust of the paradigm shift that I recommend in my next blog.

About the Author

Warren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy. In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.

His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is


Tryon, W. W. (2014). Cognitive neuroscience and psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory. New York: Academic Press.

This blog and all others by Dr. Warren Tryon can be found on his Fordham faculty webpage located at  

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