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Why Psychology Will Never Be a Science

Uploaded 12/30/2020, approx. 34 minute read

Dear students, this is assignment number three in the psychology track in SIAS and supplementary in Rostov-on-Don in Southern Federal University. So don't confuse the two.

Today we are going to discuss why psychology is not a science and can never, ever, as a matter of principle, be a science.

Whatever psychology tries to do, whatever psychologists try to practice, the use of mathematics, statistics, experiments, laboratories, white coats, this is theatre because the essence of psychology is that it is an art form, it's an extension of literature, it's more structured and it uses methods and language borrowed from the exact sciences.

But if you borrow someone's language, you don't become that someone.

Psychology can never be a science as a matter of principle and I will try to explain in this university lecture why.


We start with another Jew, Kurt Gödel, the great logician and philosopher.

Gödel has something called the incompleteness theorem, actually a series of theories. And the incompleteness theorem, if I have to simplify it, because it's very complex, but if I have to simplify it, it says simply, if you have a system that describes everything, if you have a mathematical system, a philosophical system, a logical system that includes statements about every possible thing within the system, there are bound to be inconsistencies. Some of the statements will negate other statements, there will not be internal consistency.

If on the other hand, you want the system to be consistent, logical, rational, yield invariable results, if you want the system to be cohesive and coherent and not to be internally contradictory, it has to be incomplete. It has to live out certain things.

Now, we won't go into his reasoning and analysis, it's a brilliant sentence and it's in use today in computer theory, mathematics, in logic and in other fields, but it applies to psychology.

Psychology describes a system which is an open system, it's known as a human being. Human beings are open to the environment, they're open to the world, they're open to the world physically because for example, they breathe, they eat and they're open to the world in a variety of other ways. For example, they're infected with memes and ideas, there's a contagion effect of ideas and concepts. Their emotions are labile and are regulated by external input. Feedback from other people, situations, circumstances affect their moods and their emotions. So, they're an open system and as an open system, they're constantly in flux, they constantly change and when I say constantly, I'm talking like thousands of times a day. It's a problem to quantify, amply describe, write a set of statements which were perfectly described in open system, runs contrary to Gödel's incompleteness theorem and the alternative is of course, to accept that we cannot describe a human psychology in its entirety and then we have an incomplete set of statements which may have left out many, many important things.

Either psychology is incomplete or it's inconsistent. It cannot be anything else in effect. That's certain but there are much more serious objections to why psychology can never be a science.

To be a scientific theory, to acquire the status of scientific theory, the theory needs to yield predictions. Every scientific theory yields predictions and then we test these predictions in order to actually falsify the theory. That's the principle of falsifiability.

We can verify a theory a hundred times and a thousand times, a million times. We can even refute a theory but it's important to falsify it. We can have a million swans and then a million white swans and then a single black swan and that single black swan will falsify the theory that all swans are white.

So we need to yield predictions that can be tested and falsified. This is a science.

In psychology, it's very difficult to accomplish.

There is a problem to design experiments that could test the statements within a psychological theory, establish the truth value of these statements and then convert them to theorems or hypotheses.

And there are four reasons why psychology cannot yield testable, falsifiable predictions for very, very important reasons.


Let's start with a practical operational reason, ethical.

Experiments would have to be conducted on people. To achieve the necessary results, the subjects would have to be ignorant of the reasons for the experiments and the aims of the experiments. Sometimes even the very performance of an experiment will have to remain a secret. We call these double-blind experiments.

Some experiments may involve unpleasant or even traumatic events. This is ethically unacceptable, at least after the 1960s when several experiments had been conducted that caused people serious trauma and mental health damage and lasting effects.

Number two, the psychological uncertainty principle.

When we test a human subject, when we experiment on a human subject, when we even interrogate a human subject, interact, talk to a human subject, when we administer structured interviews and psychological tests to a human subject, we can establish the initial boundary state of that subject. We can map the subject. We can get a total picture of the person who is being interviewed or tested, and this could be fully established.

But the very test, the very process of testing, the very process of experimentation, they influence the person. They influence the subject.

So all the knowledge that we have had about the person, about the subject, before the test, before the experiment, is rendered irrelevant because the person had changed.

The very processes of measurement, observation, testing, interrogation, experimentation, they influence the human subject and they transform the human subject.

Life circumstances and vicissitudes do the same.

If I invite you this morning to be tested, if I experiment on you this evening, tomorrow morning you're a different person. Something has happened in the meantime. You had a fight with your spouse. You lost a lot of money. Someone you love had died. Or you simply watched a movie that touched your heart. You have changed.

If I test you at six o'clock in the afternoon, tomorrow, the next day, at six o'clock in the morning, you're a different person. I'm not testing the same person anymore.

So I call it the psychological uncertainty principle, borrowing from physics, from quantum mechanics.

Then there is the issue of uniqueness.

Psychological experiments are bound to be unique, about a unique subject, at a unique moment in time. They are unrepeatable. You cannot repeat a psychological experiment, never mind how many psychologists would tell you that this is not true. It's nonsense.

Psychological experiment by definition are non-repeatable because the subject matter is unrepeatable. The sun is the same yesterday as it would be in the next 10,000 years. Atoms are the same. Even the biological cell is the same. Viruses are the same. Humans are not.

You cannot repeat experiments because the subject matter is protean and shape-shifting. You cannot replicate these experiments elsewhere and in other times. Even when you use the same subjects, because they're not the same, people change and people change thousands of times a day, even if they are not aware of it.

If you cannot repeat an experiment, if you cannot replicate an experiment, you have no science. Obviously, you cannot repeat the same experiment in different environments, one experiment in Brooklyn and another experiment in Bombay. The environment, the context are so radically different.

There are cultural influences, societal influences, environmental, historical, the news cycle, everything affects the subject matter.

This is because in psychology, the human subjects, the raw material, it's never the same.

This psychological uncertainty principle, repeating the experiments with other people, other subjects, of course is even worse. It adversely affects the scientific value of the results.

And finally, psychology has a problem called the under-generation of testable hypotheses. Psychology does not generate a sufficient number of hypotheses, which can be subjected to scientific testing.

This has to do with the storytelling nature of psychology. Psychology is fabulous, believe me, I love it. It's fabulous in the sense that it tells fables. It's literature. It's a form of art.

The greatest psychologist to have ever lived. His name was Dostoevsky, not Freud. And Freud himself was a literary giant. He should have won the Nobel Prize for literature.

The storytelling nature of psychology, the narrative nature of psychology, in a way psychology has affinity with art or some private languages. It is a form of art. It is sufficient and self-contained.

If structural internal constraints are met, a statement is deemed true, even if it does not satisfy external scientific requirements.


Okay, let's regress a bit. Let's talk about scientific theories.

All theories, scientific or not scientific, they start with a problem. There's a problem. Theories aim to solve the problem by proving that what appears to be problematic is actually not a problem.

Theories restate the conundrum. They introduce new data, new variables, new classification, or new organizing and explanatory hermeneutic principles.

Theories incorporate a problem in a larger body of knowledge or in a conjecture solution. Theories explain why we thought we had an issue on our hands and how it can be avoided or vitiated or resolved.

So scientific theories invite constant criticism and revision. They are asymptotic. They aim at the truth. They aim at reality, but they never ever get there.

Scientific theories yield new problems. That's the main function of scientific theories, to create new problems, new questions.

All theories are falsified. Ultimately, they are proven erroneous, and they are replaced by new models, which offer better explanations and a more profound sense of understanding, often by solving these new problems.

From time to time, the successor theories, the later theories, they constitute a break with everything known and done until then, and these seismic convulsions are known as paradigm shifts.

But here's the thing.

Contrary to myths and widespread opinion, even among scientists, science is not only about facts. It is not merely about quantifying or measuring or describing or classifying or organizing things, entities. Science is not even concerned with finding out the truth. I told you it's asymptotic to the truth. It never gets there. Science is about providing us with concepts, explanations, predictions, and concepts plus explanations is what we call theories.

And so science endows us with a sense of understanding of the world that is precarious, temporary, transient.

Where today gone tomorrow, science is the most ephemeral of human activities.

Compare science to manufacturing. Manufacturing in the 17th century, the 18th century, the 19th century definitely, with the Industrial Revolution, is indistinguishable from manufacturing today.

But science of the 17th century is much closer to magic and witchcraft than it is to science today.

Newton was an alchemist, astrologer, and a religious person.

Scientific theories are allegorical. They are metaphoric. They revolve around symbols. They revel in theoretical constructs, concepts, and substantive assumptions, axioms, hypotheses, most of which can never even in principle be computed or observed or captured or quantified or measured or correlated with the world out there, whatever that means.

By appealing to our imagination, scientific theories reveal what David Deutsch calls the fabric of reality.

And like any other system of knowledge, science has its fanatics, its heretics, its deviants. It's very close to a religion. It's a secular religion. Instrumentalists, for instance, they insist that scientific theories should be concerned exclusively with predicting the outcomes of appropriately designed experiments.

The explanatory power of these experiments and even the explanatory power of theories is of no consequence.

So quantum mechanics has enormous unprecedented predictive powers. It predicts reality to perfection, and yet it makes no sense, definitely not common sense.

We don't understand what quantum mechanics has to say about the world, possibly because it has nothing to say about the world and everything to say about the outcomes of experiments designed to test quantum mechanics.

It's a bit of a circular logic. It's a bit of a joke.

Positivists ascribe meaning only to statements that deal with observables and with observations. Instrumentalists and positivists ignore the fact that predictions are derived from models, narratives, organizing principles.

In short, it is the theory's explanatory dimensions that determine which experiments are relevant and which are not.

Not all experiments are born equal. They are selected for by the theory.

There's a process of theoretical selection, equal equivalent of natural selection in nature.

And perhaps nature itself can be described as a form of divine science, where God selects experiments according to the theories he had constructed of creation.

And we are kind of the result of one of these experiments.

Not a very good result, mind you.


And so experiments are selected. They are discriminatory. They're not promiscuous. You can't just conduct any experiment. You're dictated to by the theory, forecasts, predictions, experiments.

They're not embedded in an understanding of the world in an explanation. They are sometimes embedded in the theory itself.

So the theory is a kind of a closed universe. The theory applies to itself in effect. The theory explains itself and the experiments support this self-referential recursive explanation.

I, for example, do not regard this as science. I believe that anything that is not embedded in an understanding of the world, anything that does not provide an explanation, does not constitute the science.

Granted, predictions and experiments are crucial to the growth of scientific knowledge and to the winnowing out of erroneous or inadequate theories, but they are not the only mechanisms of natural selection.

There are other criteria that help us to decide whether or not to adopt and place confidence in a scientific theory.

For example, is the theory aesthetic? Does it make use of a minimal set of assumptions and entities?

In other words, is it parsimonious?

Einstein, who knew something about science, I've heard. Einstein said that if a theory is not aesthetic, it's not beautiful. If it's not minimal, minimalist, then it's probably untrue. Parsimony, Occam's razor, is critical. Minimum assumptions, minimum entities.

Is the theory logical? Does it provide a reasonable explanation? Does it further our understanding of the world? Is it instrumental to survival?

David Deutsch, in the Fabric of Reality, page 11, had written this. It is hard to give a precise definition of explanation or understanding.

Roughly speaking, explanation and understanding are about why rather than what. About the inner workings of things. About how things really are. Not just how they appear to be. About what must be so. Rather than what merely happens to be so. About laws of nature rather than rules of thumb. They are also about coherence, elegance and simplicity as opposed to arbitrariness and complexity.

You're beginning to notice how psychology doesn't fit any of this. How it fails all these criteria, one after the other.

Scientists and emergentists, they ignore the existence of a hierarchy of scientific theories and meta-languages. They believe, and it is an article of faith, not of science, mind you, they believe that complex phenomena, such as for example the human mind, can be reduced to simple phenomena such as physics or chemistry of the brain.

Furthermore, to this kind of scientist or one of these scientists, the act of reduction is in itself an explanation and a form of pertinent understanding.

Indeed, they would tell you science is about reducing things. Reduction is science. Human thought, human fantasy, imagination, human emotions, they are nothing but electric currents and spurts of chemicals in the brain.

These people would say. And of course they are in dire disagreement with another camp in science called holistic, the holistic camp. Holists, on the other hand, they refuse to consider the possibility that some higher level phenomena can indeed be fully reduced to base components and primitive interactions.

People who believe in holism, they ignore the fact that reductionism sometimes does provide explanations and understanding, the properties of water for instance. They do spring forth from the chemical and physical composition of water and from the interactions between the constituent atoms and subatomic particles.

Still, I would say that there is a general agreement that scientific theories must be abstract, they must be independent of specific time and specific place, they must be intersubjectively explicit, they must contain detailed descriptions of the subject matter in unambiguous terms. They must be logically rigorous, make use of logical systems shared and accepted by the practitioners in the field. They must be empirically relevant, correspond to results of empirical research such as laboratory experiments and they must be useful in describing or explaining the world. And finally they must provide typologies, classification, taxonomies and predictions.

And scientific theory should result to primitive, should resort, I'm sorry, to primitive atomic terminology. And all these complex derived terms and concepts should be defined in these indivisible terms.

In other words, every scientific theory should have an atom of language or atoms of language and when they are combined, they create complexity and so on.

So the base terminology is critical. The good theory should offer a map, unequivocally and consistently connecting operational definitions to theoretical concepts.

Operational definitions that connect to the same theoretical concept should not contradict each other. In other words, they should not be negatively correlated. They should yield agreement on measurement conducted independently by trained experimenters.

But investigation of the theory of its implication can proceed even without quantification.

So you see, it's not easy.

The abstract nature, the atomic, the atomization, the atom of language, the base language, the inner consistency, etc., etc. These are requirements that very often fail in psychology.

Theoretical concepts need not necessarily be measurable, need not necessarily be quantifiable or observable. But a scientific theory should afford at least four levels of quantification of its operational and theoretical definitions of concepts.

And nominal level, I would call it labeling, and ordinal level, ranking, hierarchy, and interval level, what's the distance between each conceptand a ratio level. At least these four.

In the absence of these four, it's not a theory.

As we said, scientific theories are not confined to quantified definitions or to a classificatory apparatus.

To qualify a scientific theory must contain statements about relationships, mostly causal relationship, causal effect between concepts, empirically supported laws and or propositions, statements derived from axioms.

Philosophers like Carl Hempel, Hempel, AGM, Hempel, and Earth-Nagel, they regard a theory as scientific if it is hypothetical deductive.

To them, scientific theories are sets of interrelated laws. We know that they are interrelated because a minimum number of axioms and hypotheses yield in an inexorable deductive sequence, anything else known in the field the theory pertains to.

Explanation is about retrodiction, using the laws to show how things had happened. Prediction, as opposed to retrodiction, is using the laws to show how things will happen. Understanding is explanation and prediction combined. Understanding is explanation. Explanation is retrodiction plus prediction.

William Wibdon, he augmented this somewhat simplistic point of view with his principle of conciliance of inductions.

Often, he observed, inductive explanations of disparate phenomena are unexpectedly traced to one underlying cause. This is what scientific theorizing is about, finding the common source of the apparently separate.

This omnipotent view of the scientific endeavor competes with a more modest semantic school of philosophy of science.

As you are beginning to see, there is a disagreement about what is science, let alone that psychology is a problem.

Many theories, especially ones with breadth, width, and profundity, for example, Darwin's theory of evolution or Einstein's theories in plural of relativity, many theories are not deductively integrated and are very difficult to test, to falsify conclusively.

It took decades to test Einstein's hypothesis. The predictions are either scant or ambiguous or difficult to test.

Scientific theories, goes the semantic view, are amalgams of models of reality. These are empirically meaningful, only as much as they are empirically applicable to a limited area.

In other words, the applicability must be direct and must be semantically applicable, but to a limited area.

A typical scientific theory is not constructed with explanatory and predictive aims in mind, these people say.

Quite the opposite. The choice of models incorporated in a scientific theory dictates, actually, its ultimate success in explaining the universe and in predicting the outcomes of experiments.

So these people focus on language. They believe that science is a form of language, and the theories are different languages.

As languages apply to a specific region, in a specific nation, in a specific period, scientific theories also must limit themselves. They must be modest. They must reduce themselves, but not reduce themselves from meta-concept to primitive concepts. Reduce themselves in terms of applicability and in terms of realising the limitations of the language they use.

There are four types of scientific theories.

Number one, theories which refer to nature directly so that manipulating their concepts and statements yields knowledge about reality and about the world.

Number two, theories which map nature, create a map of nature, so that their concepts and statements merely represent reality and the world. These are representational theories.

So you have an object in nature, a process in nature, and you have a corresponding entity within the theory. And that's like a map, you know?

Then there's a third type of theory.

Theories which deny the ability to either refer to nature directly or to map it, and therefore preclude any knowledge about the world.

Yes, there are also scientific theories.

And number four, theories which refer to their own statements and concepts, so that they yield falsifiable predictions, but without any correspondence or even correlation or applicability to reality or to the world.

And this is what I call self-referential theories.

So back to psychology. Are psychological theories scientific theories? By any definition. Prescriptive, descriptive, anyway.

I'm sorry, the answer is not.


First, we must distinguish between psychological theories and the way some so-called psychological theories are applied.

For example, psychotherapy or creating narratives and plots.

Psychological plots are the narratives co-authored, for example, by a therapist and his patients during psychotherapy. These narratives are the outcomes of applying psychological theories and models to the patient's specific circumstances.

And when we look at psychological plots, and all psychology is plots, all of it is literature. So when we look at psychological plots, it's storytelling.

But they are still, these plots are still instances of psychological theories used. The instances of theoretical concepts in concrete situations form part of every theory. This instantiation.

Actually, the only way to test psychological theories with their dearth of measurable entities and concepts is by examining instances how the theory is instantiated, how it becomes an instance in reality.

And this is what we call case studies.

Freud was famous for his case studies. Jung was famous and all, you know, Jung was famous for his case studies.

Case studies are with us to this very day. Open any textbook in psychology and so on. It's anecdotal. We use anecdotes.

Psychology is an anecdotal non-science because it's literature. It talks about characters in a plot.

Storytelling has been with us since the days of campfire and besieging wild enemies.

Storytelling serves a number of important functions and not underestimating it.

It ameliorates fears, it reduces anxiety, it communicates vital information regarding survival tactics and the characteristics of tigers, for example. It satisfies our need, the sense of order, our need to inject order, structure, predictability and justice into this meaningless arbitrary universe and the development of an ability to hypothesize, predict and introduce new or additional stories.

So storytelling is important, crucial.

We are all endowed with a sense of wonder, curiosity. The world around us is inexplicable, baffling in its diversity in myriad forms.

We experience an urge to organize, to explain the wonder away because wonder, when we don't understand something, when it's wondrous, it's also menacing, frightening, frightening.

We need to order the world so that we know what to expect next, predict.

These are the essentials of survival.

But while we have been successful at imposing our mind on the outside world, we have been much less successful when we try to explain and comprehend our internal universe and its behavior.

Psychology is not an exact science. It's not a science at all. It can never, ever be a science.

This is because it's raw material.

Humans, human behavior, individual behavior, which changes dramatically within a mob or a mass or a crowd, none of it is exact.

You can't have an exact science with inexact raw material. You can't have precision with imprecise, ambiguous, fuzzy subject matter. You can't.

Psychology will never yield natural laws, will never yield universal constants like in physics.

Experimentation in psychology is constrained by legal and ethical rules and by the mutability of the subject matter.

We are rivers. You can't step into the same river twice.

That's not me. That's Aracilos, who is much older than me and much wiser than me and much more dead than me.

Human tend to be opinionated. They develop resistance and they become self-conscious when they are observed, for example.

The relationship between the structure and functioning of our ephemeral mind, the structure and modes of operation of our physical brain and the structure and conduct of the outside world, these have been a matter of heated debate for millennia.

Why?

Because the problem is undecidable.

We have in logic and in computer science and mathematics and in physics, we have something called undecidable statements, questions to which we will never find the answers.

In principle, no answer is possible. Nevermind how hard you try, how inventive you are, how creative and amazing and imaginative, you can never find the answer.

Is there God?

It's an undecidable.

Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought.

One can, one school, identify the substrate, the brain, with the product of a brain, the mind.

We think it's a product of a brain.

We are beginning to have adults, but let's say, so they say the product is the outcome of the substrate, of the hardware, the wetware.

Some of these scholars postulate the existence of a lattice of preconceived born categorical knowledge about the universe. Kant would have been happy.

The vessels into which we pour our experience and which mold it.

Others within this group regard the mind as a black box, while it is possible in principle to know the input and the output, it is impossible.

Again, impossible in principle to understand the internal workings and functioning and management of information inside the black box. That's why it's called black. You can't see inside.

To describe this input-output mechanism, Pavlov coined the word conditioning.

Watson adopted this word and invented behaviorism.

Skinner came up with reinforcement.

Epiphenomenologists, proponents of theories of emergent phenomena, they regard the mind as a byproduct of the complexity of the brain's hardware and wiring.

But all of them ignore the psychophysical question.

What is the mind?

And if there is a mind, how is it linked to the hardware, to the brain?

We know when we install software or when we install an app, we know the relationship. We understand it, even though we don't understand the exact engineering principles or even science. We know what to do and how it's done.

But how does the mind arise from the hardware? Is it software? Is it an emergent phenomenon like hydrogen and oxygen? When you put them together you get water. But hydrogen and oxygen don't have any water properties by themselves.

It's the togetherness that creates something new.

Is it the same in the brain?

Is therefore the mind or maybe the mind is just an outcome of what we call our introspection, the fact that we are able to look inside at ourselves to introspect and then we call it consciousness or mind.

But then who is doing the introspecting? Is it not our mind?

It's infinite regression.

It's a mess.

There's another camp that assumes the heirs of scientific and positivist thinking.

This so-called scientist or experimentalist psychologist, they speculated the mind, whether it is a physical entity, an epiphenomenal, non-physical principle of organization, result of introspection, whatever it is.

This one of these scientists, they speculate the mind is a structure, structure in a limited set of functions.

They argue that a mind owner's manual could be composed replete with engineering and maintenance instructions and it provides the dynamics of the psyche.

Of course, the source of the word psychodynamics, dynamics.

Freud was the father of all this because he was not a psychologist, he was a neurologist, neurologist, he was a brain specialist.

So he thought you could analyze psychology. He invented psychoanalysis. Analysis at the time was another name for physics.

He wanted to create a dynamics of the mind, a mechanics of the mind, a physics of the mind. He even divided the mind to structures which interact with each other and so on.

The most prominent of these psychodynamics was, of course, Freud.

So, Freud's disciples, Adler, Horne, object relations, they diverged from his initial theories, but they all shared his belief in the need to scientific and objectify psychology.

But scientism is not science, it's pseudoscience.

And yes, I'm sorry to say, I'm a professor of psychology, but psychology is pseudoscience.

Freud, a medical doctor by profession, a neurologist, I mentioned, he was preceded by another medical doctor, Joseph Breuer, B-R-E-U-R, Breuer.

Joseph Breuer, he propounded a theory, suggested a theory regarding the structure of the mind and its mechanics.

He said that there are suppressed energies in reactive forces. He was very famous for his flow charts, he made flow charts, and he provided a method of analysis, a mathematical physics of the mind, he called it.

Many regard all psychodynamic theories to be nonsense, a mirage.

An essential part is missing.

The critics of psychodynamic theories say that an essential part is missing, the ability to test the hypotheses, to falsify the theory.

What kind of theory it is if it doesn't yield predictions?

Though very convincing and surprisingly possessed of great explanatory powers, because it's non-falsifiable, not even verifiable, psychodynamic models of the mind cannot be deemed to possess the redeeming features of scientific theories.

Deciding between these various camps was and is a crucial matter.

Consider the clash, however repressed, between psychiatry and psychology. Psychiatry regards mental disorders as euphemisms. It acknowledges only the reality of brain dysfunctions, biochemical dysfunctions, electrical imbalances.

Psychiatrists appealto the sick. They're the ones who administer shock therapy, and they're the ones who are now into genetics, psychogenetics.

I'm studying genetics as what genes make you less risk-averse, what genes make you a psychopath, and how the blood flows in your brain, correlate with your psychopathy, whatever.

So psychology as opposed to psychiatry implicitly assumes that something exists, the mind, the psyche, the soul, the spirit, whatever you want to do, something which cannot be reduced, never mind how hard we try, cannot be reduced to hardware or to wiring diagrams.

Talk therapy is aimed at that something and supposedly interacts with this something.

The great mistake of psychiatry is an issue of causation and correlation. It's a maxim in science. Correlation is not causation.

That a psychopath has brain abnormalities is well established.

But where the brain abnormalities caused by his psychopathy or was his psychopathy caused by the brain abnormalities, we don't know.

Are you born with psychopathy? We don't know.

And to claim that we do is not only hubris, it's false.

It's to lie.

But perhaps a distinction, after all, is artificial. Perhaps a mind is simply the way that we experience our brains. Endowed with a gift or with a curse of introspection, we experience a duality. Cartesian duality is split, constantly being both observer and observed. We observe ourselves. It's an endless loop.

Talk therapy involves talking. What is talking? It's a transfer of energy from one brain to another brain through the air. When I say something, I move the air, sound waves. They enter your ear and they reach your brain. I am manipulating your brain. I'm reaching into your brain. I'm shrinking it. I'm a shrink.

This talk therapy is a directive, specifically formed energy intended to trigger certain circuits in the recipient brain. It should come as no surprise. If it were to be discovered, the talk therapy has clear physiological effects upon the brain of the patient. Changes blood volume, blood flows, electrical activity, discharge and absorption of hormones, etc.

It's very surprising that no one had conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging on a patient during the therapy session. All this would be doubly true if the mind were indeed only an emergent phenomenon of the complex brain, two sides of the same coin.

So psychological theories of the mind are metaphors of the mind. They are fables, they are myths, they are narratives, stories, hypotheses, conjunctures.

Psychological so-called theories play exceedingly important roles in the psychotherapeutic setting but not in the laboratory. Their form is artistic, not rigorous, not testable. It's less constructed than theories in the natural sciences.

I should know, I'm a physicist.

The language used is polyvalent, ambiguous, rich, effusive, evocative and fuzzy. In short, metaphorical.

Theories in psychology are suffused with value judgments. Culture-bound, they're culture-bound. There's preferences, fears, post facto and ad hoc constructions. None of this has methodological, systematic, analytic and predictive merits. None of it is allowed in physics.

And still, the theories in psychology, the so-called theories in psychology are powerful instruments. Admirable constructs.

I'm a huge fan of Zimós Freud. And they satisfy important needs to explain and understand ourselves, our interactions with others and with our environment.

In other words, they provide us with language. They give us a voice.

The attainment of peace of mind is a need which was neglected by Maslow in his famous hierarchy.

People sometimes sacrifice. Material wealth, welfare, resist temptations, forgo opportunities, risk their lives in order to secure inner peace, calm, reduce anxiety.

There is, in other words, a preference for inner equilibrium over homeostasis. It is a fulfillment of this overwhelming need to be at peace, to feel safe, the safe base that mother provides.

This need, this is what psychological theories provide.

They provide you a feeling of self-base, of order, structure, promise, predictability.

In this, psychological theories are not different to other collective narratives like myths.

And still, psychology is desperately trying to maintain contact with reality and to be thought of as a scientific discipline.

Psychology employs observation, measurement, organizes the results, experiments on people, presents the results in the language of mathematics.

In some quarters, these practices lend psychology an air of credibility and rigorousness.

I'm sorry, I belong to the camp that slightly regards all this as an elaborate camouflage in the sham.

Psychology is a pseudoscience. It has the trappings of science, the hallmarks of science, but not the substance of science.

Astrology also uses mathematics.

Worse still, while historical narratives are rigid and immutable, the application of psychological theories in the form of psychotherapy is tailored, is customized to the circumstances of each and every patient or client.

The user or consumer is incorporated in the resulting narrative as the main hero, protagonist, anti-hero.

This flexible production line seems to be the result of an age of increasing individualism.

And so, there's a problem with the language units.

It's true that the language units, large chunks of denotates and connotates, the semantic units used in psychology and psychotherapy are one and the same, regardless of the identity of the patient and his therapist.

In psychoanalysis, the analyst is likely to always employ the tripartite structure, e.g. superior.

But these are merely the language elements. And they need not be confused with the idiosyncratic plots that are weaved in every encounter.

Each client, each person, has his own unique, irreplicable plot.

We need to invent and use psychological theory every time we meet, we come across, and we work with a new client.

Thank you for listening.

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In Defense of Psychoanalysis (Psychiatry Talks, April 2019, San Antonio)

Psychoanalysis, initially developed by Sigmund Freud, has been influential in the field of psychology but is now considered more of a literary exercise than a scientific practice. Critics argue that it lacks empirical support and is ambiguous in its explanations of human behavior. However, psychoanalysis can be seen as a valuable organizing principle and narrative for understanding human psychological development, even if it doesn't meet the strict criteria of a scientific theory. Ultimately, whether psychoanalysis should be treated as a science or an art form depends on one's perspective and expectations.


20 WRONG Ideas About Therapy, Psychology

Psychology is a vast field that goes beyond therapy and mental health, encompassing various aspects of human behavior, cognition, and emotion. It is not a science, but rather a discipline with a rich body of literature and insights. Psychologists work in various settings, not just clinical ones, and can help people gain insights into their lives and behaviors. While some myths about psychology may hold a grain of truth, it is important to recognize the complexity and value of the field.


Sorry State of Psychology: NOTHING AGREED! (38th Global Psychiatry & Mental Health Conference)

Professor Sam Vaknin argues that psychology is not a true science due to its lack of agreement on fundamental concepts, ethical limitations in experimentation, the psychological uncertainty principle, and the uniqueness of psychological experiments. He believes that psychological theories are more akin to art or literature than science, and that using mathematical language does not make a discipline scientific.


Economics=Psychology+Counterfactual Models

Economics is not a science but rather a branch of psychology, as it deals with human behavior. Traditional economic theories and models fail to accurately predict and account for human irrationality, long-term investment horizons, and the role of innovation in growth and development. The field of behavioral economics is gaining traction as it combines psychology and economics, focusing on human cognition, emotions, and decision-making. To improve the field of economics, it should be treated as a branch of psychology, focusing on the complex and unpredictable nature of human beings.


Evolutionary Psychology: Redpill, Manosphere Nonsense

Evolutionary psychology is criticized for being a pseudoscience, with its main claim being that psychological adaptations are reactive to the environment. The field is discredited for its problematic claims, lack of replication, and inability to account for individual behaviors. The professor argues that evolutionary psychology is unscientific, overly deterministic, and fails to consider alternative explanations for human behavior. He also criticizes evo-devo psychology for misrepresenting biological phenomena as psychological adaptations. Overall, the professor dismisses evolutionary psychology as pseudoscientific and lacking in credibility.


Dostoyevsky’s Beef With Psychology Path Towards Its Renaissance ( Congress Presentation)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses Fyodor Dostoyevsky's quarrel with psychology and how it contrasts with modern psychology. Dostoyevsky's work delves into the human soul and the individual's reaction to society, contrasting with the statistical and pseudo-scientific approach of modern psychology. Dostoyevsky's characters struggle with morality, suffering, and the conflict between the pursuit of truth and the rejection of life. His use of symbolism and exploration of the self reflect his own inner conflicts and his commitment to truth. His characters' inner fixity and rejection of life lead to a spiritual death, and his work serves as a critique of narcissism and the pursuit of perfection.


Questions My (Late) Goldfish Asked Me about Meaning of Life

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the concept of meaning in life, arguing that it is subjective, arbitrary, and consensus-driven. He explores the relationship between essence, existence, and meaning, and questions whether meaning can exist without a designer. Vaknin also examines the role of context in determining meaning and encourages listeners to find their own answers to the complex and multifaceted concept of meaning.


Do WE Have Inner World? Are WE Mere Machines? (Behaviorism)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the debate in psychology about whether humans can be reduced to their physical and biochemical components. He argues that human essence cannot be captured by specifying anatomy and physiology alone. He reviews the Chicago School of psychology, behaviorism, and its various schools, and emphasizes the limitations of studying human behavior and consciousness. He concludes that while humans are machines, their self-reporting makes them unique, but also unreliable. He asserts that psychology can never be a science.


Are YOU a simulation? (with Benny Hendel)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses philosopher David Chalmers' view that simulations are as real as reality and that reality may be a simulation. Vaknin disagrees with Chalmers on two main points: 1) Vaknin believes that there will always be a conscious act of will required to switch between reality and simulations, and 2) even if our reality is a simulation, it is still our privileged frame of reference and cannot be escaped. Vaknin argues that Chalmers' view requires an impossible vantage point outside of both reality and simulations to compare them.


Do We Create Reality, Is It a Hive Mind? (with Benny Hendel)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the idea that reality is observer-dependent, and that the mind creates reality via the process of intentionality. He suggests that the observer is not naive and does not collapse the wave function, but rather, the observer is not capable of seeing anything else but the collapsed state. Vaknin proposes that the universe has a DNA of order and structure, and that the role of human beings is to observe the universe and via the act of observation, to collapse it, creating order and structure. He suggests that with every act of collective observation, we are cementing the past of the universe, not just the present.

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