Soft-boiled Psychology with Toast Please

This morning (very early this morning, and totally not good for this kind of conversation), I was discussing my thesis with a psych major from another school. It’s a whole lot different from theirs by the way. For starters they have six members in a group whilst we only have two (three supposedly, but that’s still a lot less!) Well, currently we’re on the results and discussion phase of our thesis. They’re already done with theirs (another annoying fact), or at least, they’ve already presented the whole thing. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting now.

On to my point. As psychology majors, we’re tasked to do these studies to basically find the norms, what usually turns up, what usually causes certain things or behavior, or what certain attributes appear on certain people; those kinds of things. And we do it through studies like our theses. Just a disclaimer that I feel needs to be out there: we don’t do voodoo-hoodoos like mind-reading or analyzing a person the moment you meet them. True, we, psych majors sometimes tend to put theories on people unintentionally. But true psychological studies require strict processes that are supposed to eliminate biases and external influences. What I told my companion this morning was something like, “Why the heck do we bother to study these things out of context anyway, when in the real world, there is always context?” Proof of this comes from the fact that different studies (that have almost the same factors all throughout) can produce different results.

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. –Friedrich Nietzsche

For philo enthusiasts, the question also stands, “Why bother looking for a single ethical code when it is almost impossible to do so because of context?” Yes, I am a situational ethicist now. I’ve given up on Kant. My point is, context always exists. Everyone is different. Different events happen in their lives and they experience it all differently. If you would go mathematical, I would say that everyone is an integer in an infinity. And in between those integers is an infinity of decimals. This is by the way, the asymptotic density or natural density theory of math. No, I am not a math nerd. I learned that in my metaphysics (philosophy) class. I’ll give an example to make it clearer. Between 0 and 1 is 0.001, 0.00001, 0.000000001 and it would go on forever. In short, it is infinite. I think people are like that. Each person (integer) has its own infinite set of possibilities (decimals) in terms of traits, personalities, way of thinking, behavior, and whatnot. True, we integers are all interconnected through these decimals and in this one big infinity of numbers, but inside each of us is also an infinity that is not shared with the other integers. In my opinion, each person is a world on its own.

A simpler and much more easily understood example I could give is when you ask for advice. Picture this: you have a friend whom you know has experienced the same kind of trouble you are having right now. You ask that friend for advice and you take it. But lo and behold! You failed miserably to solve your problem. This is because you’re different from your friend even though you both share the same problem. Even twins are very much different from each other!

Now that that’s all there, I once again ask, what’s the point of studying the whole number set? We can come up with answers for the numbers, but we can never really get to the infinity of decimals in between. We can study norms (conflicting as they may be), but we can’t really peg this as truth for all beings, which means there are always exceptions and we can never be sure which ones would be the exception. I just thought of a simpler way of saying everything I’ve just typed so far. It’s a soft science. It’s not like physics or chemistry where there’s always a single absolute answer for things (or at least I think so). Sometimes, it’s way too soft.

Why did I come towards this opinion of mine? Well, right now, as we’re writing our results and discussion for our three participants, I find it hard finding much commonality between all of them. Considering our thesis is a narrative analysis and is partly about bringing out the individual from their stereotypical images, this is supposed to be good. But I then find myself asking, “what’s the point then?” What if we succeed in bringing out their individuality? All we would’ve done then is prove that people are all different.

My companion said, and I find truth in what she says also, (this isn’t verbatim as she said it in Tagalog) “they may not be concrete or all-encompassing, but there are theories that have come out from studies like these, and those theories have helped a lot of people.” Her thesis is quantitative by the way, unlike ours, which could be why she was coming from that angle. She has a very viable point. After all, psychology does not claim that everyone follows the norm theories that it has set. It’s simply a guide, something that would probably apply to everyone in the same certain situation. We study integers because we do get answers out of them, even if we’re not sure if it applies given the decimals in between (I hope I got that metaphor right. I’m gonna stop pretending I know math now.)

Hard science majors would go with the question I ask though. I have heard that question many times. My own father, my own flesh and blood, dislikes psychology because of its “softness”. He said (and this is very bad considering I am a psych major) something like, “we can never read people’s minds.” It’s very shallow and a far cry from what psychology really is, but it got me thinking… Is psychology really for us to study? Some philosophers from before have criticized metaphysics as “un-study-able” because we are a part of it. We are a part of reality. The same question could be posted for psychology. Human beings are studying human beings, could it be “un-study-able” for us as well? Could it be a God-study? Something that only a non-human, one who is not part of this community, could truly understand? And if so, would it be possible let’s say, for a human separated from any kind of society, not raised or influenced by any living being at all, and not affected by any natural (genetic and whatnot) influences if that is even possible, be able to study humans in societies? To put it simply, could an alien from another planet study human beings properly and holistically? There is also the issue of experimenter bias, where the experimenter, once he is into the experiment, could be influenced by the subjects of the experiment, and then create bias. That alien could start of unbiased, but end up gaining bias because of the experiment. Ironic how that theory is a psychological theory as well.

We didn’t come to any sort of conclusion by the way, but it did prove to be a very interesting breakfast conversation. I would like to apologize to my fellow psychologists for blaspheming psychology in this post, but it’s just a thought that occurred to me. Again, disclaimer, I do not like the idea behind some of the things I think about, I am simply putting them out there for critical thinking. And after all, isn’t this also psychology’s goal, to fully understand humans and the human mind? In this note, I do invite more insights on this issue right here. After all, two psych majors do not make for good critics of psychology at all. But thanks for reading all that blabber anyway. Munch on!

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