A Short Side Thought: Psychology as A Science, and Science

A couple of years back I would have been very infuriated (or rather “intellectually frustrated”) with the hater-level critics of psychology, especially the likes of Paul Lutus, who was unusually passionate about keeping others from taking psychology seriously (its only fortunate that his influence wasn’t big enough to be damaging). But after a year of dabbling in the foundations, research methods, and attempting to understand certain topics I am passionate about, I am no longer doubtful of this path which I have decided to venture on. Sometimes I look back. 

I will begin with this premise:

Psychology shouldn’t be concerned about being a science, but about what it does best: observing patterns in human behavior, describe them, and give the most plausible explanations for them.”

The very essence of studying and understanding psychology is simply to be objective about the subjective. Unlike the natural hard sciences which have very clear and distinct definitions, taxonomy, and origins, psychology doesn’t have the same fortune. Every aspect of psychology is rooted in different disciplines.

Biological psychology in neuroscience, cognitive psychology in cognitive science, behaviorism is a product of a scientific movement in the social sciences, abnormal psychology (psychopathology) and psychiatry’s origins go all the way back to various philosophical and superstitious origins, developmental psychology from studying the life-span development of humans, social psychology from observing the interactions between humans. Human factors psychology even crosses the domain of designing, information technology, and engineering. This can go on and on.

In short, psychology is very disorganized compared to the natural sciences. It isn’t pseudoscience, but it can feel like one because psychologists of different research orientations can come to different conclusions, and interestingly enough they can all have their own merits if academic rigor was taken. What the critics of psychology is right about is that there is a lack of unifying theory for the entire field of psychology (their minds being too concrete too comprehend novel complicated and abstract concepts, I might snidely add)But that doesn’t change the fact that psychology is still a legitimate field of scientific study:

-patterns in human behavior are very real, observable, and can be explained

-psychological phenomena can be quantified and properly defined given brilliant methods (Mark Changizi wrote that the most ingenious, well-controlled experiments are often psychology ones)

-a lot of psychology findings have noticeable practical implications  

-in comparison, even fields like chemistry, particle physics, and medicine do not always have good definitions and prove cause-effect relationships, which psychology is often accused of

-like other sciences, psychology seeks to be testable and falsifiable 

-I will bet on this: destroy every single trace of psychology findings from the face of this world as an attempt to exterminate psychology as a whole, as long as human beings live and remain intellectually curious, psychology will be brought back again and reconstructed. Quite unlike religion, to those who accuse psychology of being a religion.  

That comes to my next point, the entire field of psychology cannot be strictly categorized as a natural science or a social science, or non-science, or nonsense. One of psychology’s ultimate goal is to be fully integrated with neuroscience, to the point where every single psychological phenomenon, be it thought, behavior, or feeling, can be observed and tested under highly advanced neurobiological devices and methods, which pretty much makes it a life science. It is also concerned about human society, behavior, and interactions which makes it a social science too. Then, there are psychological research that deals with anecdotes, testimonies, and other subjective experiences, which serve to give “meaningful accounts” instead of directly contributing in a scientific manner. Finally, there are a fair share of pseudoscience which is often considered psychology (due to its problematic definition). Neurolinguistic programming being one of them. Most psychologists dismiss it as not worthy to be a psychological field or topic, but I myself would love to see further study examining NLP under a psychological scope.

Once again, never get too disturbed by the same standards which other scientific disciplines prescribe to their researchers. Psychologists (or for the sake of infuriating others, psychological scientists!) and psychology students should focus on our own playing field, which is to constantly ask questions about human thought and behavior, and attempt to answer them, not fall into the politicized fight of so-called “intellectual turfs”. Eventually all skepticisms and hate will be silenced when we direct our efforts into designing better methodology and coming up with better theories about what we think matters most.

That matters the most.

External Reading:

A Biologist And A Psychologist Square Off Over The Definition Of Science   

The Psychology of the “Psychology Isn’t a Science” Argument: Psychology is a science even though some psychologists aren’t scientists.


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