Theories and Models


Rodney Chang, 1978


A theory is a mental abstraction that helps us explain things, ourselves, and events. It helps us predict occurrences, but more important, it gives our existence order and meaning.

Theories come and go. That's one reason most people in nonfiction fields approach dated books or materials with some degree of skepticism. The theories that stay with us are those that either made great social and cultural impact and change and/or that have yet to be disproved by science. Theories affect the men who know them. The Western man can never completely understand the Asian man because each has a unique theoretical interpretation of the events of the world. Theories give direction to the modern frontiers of pedantic knowledge. And, in reverse, society affects its theories; changing attitudes and values can render a theory obsolete, nonfunctional, and a historical artifact. But the former can also lead to theory modification, providing the necessary adjustment of claims to keep it in vogue as a way of explaining reality. The central concept is unchanging, but its positions are secondary issues to sway with the forces of changing contemporary perspectives.

A virgin theory start out through somebody's intuitive inquiry into something that holds his curiosity. Usually the person has been in a particular field for a while, and the theoretical insight is a consequence of involvement and deliberate investigation into the nature of that something. This is where the different formalized creativity theories offer help in describing theoretical models of theory evolvement. Somewhere along the way of the hatching of a brand-new theory is the injection of individual creativity.

After the initial idea reveals itself to its creator, the inventor consciously constructs a formalized statement or "hypothesis" concerning his idea. This not only makes it "scientific," but also gives it a gestalt form or psychological schemata. The parent idea then leads to "If that is so, then that means-" thinking, or chains of secondary hypotheses or propositions. The accumulated group of propositions are then fitted together (jigsawed) to form an overall theory. This development then leads the participant to make a decision: either accept it as personal fantasy or foolishness, or make a stand by believing in it. In the scientific world, two ways to make a commitment to the theory are to 1) initiate research to test and thereby support the theory, or 2) publish your point of view or belief system.

Through research, the assumptions made by the theory are checked for validity (does it predict events?) and reliability (does it consistently predict events?). Repetitive and tedious experimentation must be done to judge ultimate theory acceptance or rejection. If continuous supportive research results continue to prevail, the theory is verified by the intellectuals and eventually put to practice in the general social arena. After this point, you and I not only learn these theories as accepted facts of reality, but use them to shape our lives and identities and to serve as a living bible that structures our world and colors our perceptual reality.

The newly accepted theory also challenges any previously established theories that occupy common grounds. Competing camps of thought, through their respective disciples of each theory, lash out at each other in hotly contested professional circles. Eventually one or a few gain supremacy and the other once-prominent theories become the residual sediment of theoretical history.

The theory continues to unfold. Through the diversity of pursued interests of researchers in the theoretical applications of the idea, the theory is extended to include explanations of fields of interest initially foreign to the creator's concern during the conception of the theory. And research input helps delineate boundaries giving the theory further shape; it refines the theory's stand and thus calibrates it for improved predictive power. As the theory further matures or prevails, more young blood is added to the pot, and through graduate programs, two things happen. More supportive evidence is added to the theory's supremacy through the diligent work resulting in degree theses, and junior officers graduate from their ivory towers already acculturated and ready to spread and perpetrate the theory's gospel.

The theory, through such social chain reactions, eventually permeates all of society by becoming part of the prevailing culture. On a more formal and intellectual level, the theory is said to make interdisciplinary gains; it helps give meaning within different categorized fields of study. Such secondary ramifications of the central idea eventually become burdensome because of the need for a systematized organization of the accumulating collection of materials (supportive research) in the applied fields. The collective information becomes so formalized that a label is given to the new applied data and a hybrid "field of knowledge" is socially recognized (for example, " educational psychology"). The new field then fosters third-generation hypotheses that are the grandchildren of the original theoretical ancestry. And if this new field theory succeeds in receiving social acceptance in making impact on its mother culture, it evolves eventually to the rank of general theory (for example, educational psychology applied to industry; or simply, industrial educational psychology). And so the cycle of theory evolvement continues, until it proliferates into every small niche of human awareness as a means to interpret and explain reality from a certain theoretical point of view.

Therefore one can see why many times after the cessation of scientific support, we continue to cling to old beliefs, for they may have been around so long that have permanently influenced our understanding of reality and have decreased our ability to adapt to mental as well as environmental change.