Of Minds and Men
So many psychological theories have come and gone; does anything remain worth clinging to?
Father Freud: He’s still famous in intellectual history; his terms like ego and Oedipus Complex are still with us. But Sigmund Freud has been, and remains, controversial (10/15/09). His hometown of Austria is not sure what to do with him 75 years after his death. Medical Xpress reported a new museum devoted to him and his work, but calls him a “prophet without honor” in his own country: “his ideas about sex, dreams and cocaine divided opinion in the Austrian capital.”
Today’s stars, tomorrow’s rejects? “New Study Lists Top Psychologists of Modern Era” announces a headline on Medical Xpress, but most on the list lack the name recognition of “Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Ivan Pavlov, [or] Charles Darwin – all eminent scientists who made major contributions to the understanding of human and animal behavior” (if the reporter’s judgment is to be trusted). Readers might have heard of Noam Chomsky (a communist linguist, not a psychologist), but how about Richard Lazarus, Albert Bandura, or “happiness researcher Ed Diener”? How would the “Top Ten” match up against leading Bible teachers or theologians? Will their reputations vanish before they even gain popular fame? They were measured by “the impact of research citations, the number of textbook citations, and major scientific awards”—things that might matter to fellow academics, but perhaps not to real people.
Frankenstein lab: New Scientist posted a list of five “shocking” psychology experiments from the 1960s that would be banned today. Some experimental setups that put extreme emotional stress on participants; others treated them with drugs and electric shocks. The cartoony website “Stuff You Should Know” has a video about the ill-fated Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 that turned participants, cast into roles as prison guards, into heartless monsters and their victims into weeping psychotics in just two days. The clip is listed with others in the category “Psychology Is Nuts.”
Update 10/01/14: New Scientist posted another look back at “arguably one of psychology’s most unethical” experiments from 1919: John Watson’s “Baby Albert” experiment at Johns Hopkins, in which a baby was treated like Pavlov’s dog to fear rats.
Publication bias: The non-reporting of null results in the social sciences is still a worrisome problem, Science Magazine says. Even studies that received government funding sometimes got left in file cabinet drawers. Perhaps someone should psychoanalyze the reasoning of a social scientist who tried something, got a null result, and decided it wasn’t worth publishing.
Correlation or causation? Scientists are not immune from confusing correlation with causation, a fallacy described on PhysOrg. For instance, Medical Xpress announced that “at least two regions of the brain decide what we perceive.” But when neuroscientists observe brain regions light up in macaques during perception, are they justified in stating, “With the help of the tests on the monkeys, it is possible to establish how consciousness arises“?
Proof or goof? In an article on PhysOrg, astrophysicist Geraint Lewis says, “People looking for proof to come from any research in science will be sadly disappointed.” If that is true in mathematical physics, how much more so in psychology? Lewis ends with a quote he likes from Nobel laureate Richard Feynman: “I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything.”
Will free will flee? On New Scientist, Dan Jones cleverly titled his piece “Free will persists (even if your brain made you do it),” but it’s not clear if he chose to write that himself. He describes an experiment that showed people cling to the concept of free will even when shown evidence that contradicts it. Researcher Eddy Nahmias of Georgia State concluded from participant responses that despite what neuroscience shows, people feel from their own conscious experience that their choices are their own. As philosopher of mind David Chalmers shows in a short video clip, people’s own conscious experiences are the closest things they have to their own undeniable rational knowledge.
One of the best insurance policies you can develop against deception is a philosophy of science that understands its limitations. There are limits not only to what science knows now, but to what it can know. Picture, for instance, a loved one in your mind’s eye. A neuroscientist can watch your neurons all day and never see that picture that you experience in the vividness of your consciousness. Now picture the person’s name in text. The neuroscientist will never see a representation of that name in any language, English or otherwise. Now lift your arm. If you lifted it, or chose not to, or lowered it, or lifted the other arm, you just did a little miracle: mind over matter. Nothing in physics or chemistry caused that to happen: you did.
Without including mental causes and rational mind in their fundamental assumptions, secular psychologists and neuroscientists have blinded themselves to reality. Next month, William Dembski’s new book, Being as Communion, will make the case that “information” is a fundamental property of the universe (A. E. Wilder-Smith also emphasized the point). From this, Dembski will augment the case for intelligent design that he began in his previous books. But information from whom, by whom, and for whom? We’d like to go beyond his well-meaning attempt to reach the rational mind, and state categorically that without the God of the Bible, nothing will make sense, and nothing will heal the problems of man’s mind.
The Apostle John said it best in the first chapter of his gospel, in terms of light and darkness. It’s very fitting after reading about some of the blind leaders of the blind in psychology, who lead themselves and others into the ditch. John begins with “information” (logos) but makes it personal and historical:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
So walk in the light, as John advised in his first Epistle. It’s the best psychology in the universe:
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Got joy? If not, follow these directions: turn right at the Light.