Generalization from Single Instances

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


Generalization from single cases to generic processes that make these cases possible has a time-honored tradition in science. Astrophysical generalizations are based on unique cases of self-organizing systems: galaxies, planetary systems, and single planets or comets. General biological principles—such as those of immunology (where one needs to explain the emergence of immunity toward ever-new viruses)—have to be applicable to each and every, known or not-yet-known, case. Explaining the role of Ivan Pavlov’s findings in physiology to lay audiences of his time (1920s), Lev Vygotsky emphasized that Pavlov’s experimental work with (few) dogs was not about dogs as a species, nor about their salivation, nor about a particular dog. Chronicle and fiction writers and portrait and landscape painters who all have left surviving records all provide us with culturally encoded evidence that can be usable in psychological investigation. The evidence from these literary sources needs to be considered as equal to direct recording of evidence from living research participants. All our generic notions—Self, patriotism, love, justice, etc.—are hyper-generalized signs of field-like kind. While ontologically these are nonexisting objects, functionally they are signs that regulate our ongoing lives in dramatic ways that sometimes lead to their end.


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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and PsychologyAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark

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