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?


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