About twenty years ago I, um, lost my faith. A lot of what I had believed up till then simply evaporated.
It didn’t even leave a residue.
I have been, ever since, an unbeliever. I don’t believe psychiatry is science.
Psychology is most likely not a science either. That could depend on how we define it; I might come back to that before this post is over.
It was a text from John Macmurray that pulled the rug out from under my convictions. I was reading Persons In Relation, his Gifford lectures from 1954. Sharply distinguishing the two realms of personal and scientific knowledge, he wrote — with razor-sharp sarcasm — that “…our objective or scientific knowledge of man is such knowledge of one another as we can obtain without entering into personal relation.”
Poof. The bubble popped.
In that single moment, an entire closetful of intellectual reservations that had been accumulating over the years blew open and disgorged itself all over my mind. (That scene in Return of the King where Aragorn, having extracted an oath from the dead, is almost buried in skulls… .)
Experimental conclusions only expressible as probabilities? Check. Theoretical entities only dubiously related to anything observable? Check. Prohibitions against individual narratives as “anecdotal”? Check. Inability to arrive at stable theoretical foundations for even the most basic of observations? Check. Prohibition against knowledge by introspection? Check.
The list goes on and on and on and on and on.
I thought about everything I had absorbed of human nature since I was born, and the sources from which I had learned it: from my own reflections on my family, friends, enemies, favorite stories and novels and comics, movies, and just plain daily news; and above all from my own adventures in exploring my own humanity.
By the definition of scientific objectivity, none of this could count towards knowledge of human nature. And that’s just silly.
I’ve been asking myself, ever since, how could we ever, here in Western intellectual history, have arrived at such a stupid conviction.
- What are we studying when we study psychology?
- How deeply may one person know another?
- What can we know about humankind in general that is different — intrinsically — from knowing individual persons?
I’ll be coming back to these topics in upcoming posts. More than once.