The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology

SCIENTIFIC DOGMA: (Let's not forget Psychology 308)

Michelle Butler

Psychology is still trying to justify itself as a science. The definition of mind is still debated. Within psychology, we have an array of schools, each questioning the other schools, as well as their own disciples. Within psychology, we incorporate physiology, environment, behavior, development, thought and conscious awareness, emotions, and anything else that can be connected somehow to a concept of mind.

The one thing that all the schools have in common is their effort to create a respectable science out of what we call psychology. Some might think that their method or subject matter is scientifically superior to the others. Others feel their concept of psychology brings us closer to an understanding of mind. The debates and criticism that appear and reappear are all good for the still emerging science of psychology. Before the answer comes the question. Doubt it if it can be doubted, as Descartes might say. Scientific character is very important to our young science. We don't have all the answers yet. The first characteristic of a good scientist is curiosity, not authoritative knowledge. We receive degrees in a field dedicated to an understanding of the mind. We are expected to have answers to questions about the mind. We need to remember that we do not know all the answers. If we did, psychology would no longer be a science.

To make up for our lack of real understanding, we have created a whole new language. We have labels for everything from sleeping too much, to eating too little. To use a label we all might recognize, as scientists we need to venture beyond our "cognitive dissonance." It may feel right to believe we are experts on the subject. Being experts may help us justify our professional existence, but, for the sake of psychology, let's be experts in scientific methodology, rather than experts on the mind.

We do psychology a disservice when we cling to one school of thought. Behaviorists have taught us much about behavior, but they have no answers for what makes something "reinforcing," the nature of intelligence, or thought processes. Like behaviorists, social psychologists study the influence of our environment, and the impact others have on us. But, their contributions lack the explanations for mental processes that physiology might explain. Physiological psychologists may feel secure in their world of tangible matter, but they must remember that physiology alone does not define the mind. Physiologists cannot explain the phenomena of thought. One school picks up where another school leaves off, but none of them have succeeded in providing a complete explanation or definition of the mind that can be universally accepted.

Science was a reaction against religious dogma. Psychology straddles the two, wanting to call itself a science, but is accused of being entrenched in mysticism. Mysticism is the belief in unfounded speculation. We can't afford to be dogmatic about our speculations in psychology. Psychology is too young to produce "know-it-alls." So, next time some expert in psychology tells you that conscious awareness, thought, determinism, free will, social impact, or infant intellect.... is a ridiculous notion, ask them if they can back their claim scientifically. Their attempt could only add to our knowledge. Their dogmatic arguments add nothing.

Sometimes knowing that we don't know may be the best science we can claim. To the question, "Do you believe that aliens from another planet are among us?", the best scientific answer is, "I don't know." You may be called a mystic, but in fact, those who respond with "no" are at as much, a loss when asked to provide evidence for their answer, as the one who answers "yes." If psychologists are afraid of saying, "I don't know.", to the question, "Do you believe in the soul?", they are not only in jeopardy of becoming the mystic that they might be attempting to avoid, but they may also be asked next, "So, you are a scientist who does not believe in the existence of your subject matter?" "Soul" has not been adequately extracted from the notion of mind, for us to play expert on the matter. Soul is the notion of mind without the body attached. Do we know that this is not possible? Can we prove it scientifically? We don't know what causes neurons to fire spontaneously, or why other living cells to thrive. We have not solved the mind body problem yet. Will we ever?


Prepared bymroffe@calstatela.edu

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