Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Last Psychologist

Yesterday, in a news flash, The Onion reported that the field of psychology is over and done, kaput.

Here is the story:

The field of psychology was brought to an immediate halt this week as disillusioned and weary practitioners of the discipline reportedly concluded that the mind could never possibly hope to study itself.

Abandoning more than a century of clinical research, theoretical developments, and observational studies, psychologists worldwide announced that their entire professional lives had been utterly worthless, as the human brain could never comprehend its own workings, let alone understand its own understanding.

“We’ve spent years trying to discern how the mind functions, but today I am forced to admit that this so-called research was nothing more than a fool’s errand—and that we people of learning were the greatest fools of all,” said American Psychological Association president Nadine Kaslow at a press conference Thursday, flanked by leading figures from all major psychology subfields. “Can the eye watch itself? Can a book read its own pages? No. It’s now clear to us that despite all the painstakingly conducted studies and all the data we have meticulously gathered since the late 19th century, we have, in essence, been nothing more than the snake that devours its own tail.”

“All that we thought we understood was merely a mirage crafted by the very unfathomable minds we once so stubbornly insisted we could know,” added Kaslow, before declaring the APA, with its 134,000 members and 54 academic divisions, forever disbanded.

In the wake of the development, sources confirmed that thousands of researchers at top academic institutions had resigned from their posts effective immediately and had been seen packing decades’ worth of academic journals—as well as seminal works such as Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams, Jean Piaget’s The Psychology Of Intelligence, and Alfred Adler’s Understanding Human Nature—into boxes that will be placed in storage indefinitely or disposed of at nearby landfills.


Reached for comment, many from the now-dissolved psychology community told reporters that they hoped to redirect their efforts toward other sciences such as physics, chemistry, and geology, fields they hoped would be untainted by the “inescapable enigma” of consciousness.

“If I can no longer study myself, then so be it: I will pursue that which is concrete and measurable,” said Harvard University experimental psychologist Steven Pinker, holding up a quartz crystal before his eyes. “Look at it: Irrefutable. Solid. So unlike the elusive mind.”

“Only this I can truly know,” Pinker added. “That is, if I can know anything at all.”

The funny part is, while the brain is certainly concrete and measurable, the mind certainly is not. Satire would not work if there wasn't some truth to it.

1 comment:

Ares Olympus said...

Yes, its good for the Onion to explore the paradoxes of subjective knowledge and science.

E. F. Schumacher divided knowledge into four fields, and says the scientific method can only objectively study field 4 (observing the world), while we also have direct access to field 1 (our own subjective inner experience), as the Onion suggests, what self-awareness provides to us can't be tested. But Schumacher provides two other fields of knowledge we can only know indirectly, but we can understand ourselves better through knowing how others see us objectively, and we can understand another's inner state better by improving our awareness of our own inner experiences.

If psychology fails to be a science, it may because objective knowledge just won't get us far enough. Jung sidestepped Freud's predicaments by not worrying about science, and accepted everything inner can only be known through myth and metaphor, hence religion, at least if you settle on a fixed theology.
Schumacher identifies four fields of knowledge for the individual:
1. I → inner
2. I → other persons (inner)
3. other persons → I
4. I → the world

These four fields arise from combining two pairs: Myself and the World; and Outer Appearance and Inner Experience. He notes that humans only have direct access to fields one and four.

Field one is being aware of your feelings and thoughts and most closely correlates to self awareness. He argues this is fundamentally the study of attention. He differentiates between when your attention is captured by the item it focuses upon, which is when a human being functions much like a machine; and when a person consciously directs their attention according to their choosing. This for him is the difference between being lived and living.

Field two is being aware of what other people are thinking and feeling. .

Despite these problems we do experience a 'meeting of minds' with other individuals at certain times. People are even able to ignore the words actually said, and say something like "I don't agree with what you are saying; but I do agree with what you mean." Schumacher argues that one of the reasons we can understand other people is through bodily experience, because so many bodily expressions, gestures and postures are part of our common human heritage.

Schumacher observes that the traditional answer to the study of field two has been "You can understand others to the extent you understand yourself." Schumacher points out that this a logical development of the principle of adequateness, how can you understand someone's pain unless you too have experienced pain?

Field three is understanding yourself as an objective phenomenon. Knowledge in field three requires you to be aware what other people think of you. Schumacher suggests that the most fruitful advice in this field can be gained by studying the Fourth Way concept of external considering.

Schumacher observes that relying on just field one knowledge makes you feel that you are the centre of the universe; while focusing on field three knowledge makes you feel that you are far more insignificant. Seeking self-knowledge via both fields provides more balanced and accurate self-knowledge.

Field four is the behaviourist study of the outside world. Science is highly active in this area of knowledge and many people believe it is the only field in which true knowledge can be gained. For Schumacher, applying the scientific approach is highly appropriate in this field.

Only when all four fields of knowledge are cultivated can you have true unity of knowledge. Instruments and methodologies of study should be only applied to the appropriate field they are designed for.