Is Psychology a Science ?
The Sciences are, by their very nature, essentially concerned with phenomena existent in the physical universe. Scientific experiments, results and observations deal with parts, wholes or ‘whole-parts’ (subatomic particles, atoms, elements, compounds etc…) that are in some way observable and measurable by the human nervous system, and/ or through instruments that enhance the capabilities of the nervous system. The concept that the sciences deal strictly with physical phenomena and experimental data that is representative of empirical evidence assigns them a particular role in human endeavours.
Psychology does not work directly with physically measurable phenomena. It does however, work with the activity of the human brain/ mind which, in turn causes an effect that is physically observable and measurable, through the behaviour of people. A key problem with the attempt to study human behaviour with a purely scientific approach lies in the complexity of factors affecting that behaviour. For example; in water electrolysis we can clearly observe that when electrodes are applied to water, the Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules separate. In comparison; when observing the behaviour of an individual in response to external, socio-psychological stimuli, the number of factors that may be affecting this behaviour are many, and often largely unknown. Any combination of life experiences, genetic predispositions, unconscious forces and other external environmental conditions can effect the way a person reacts to a given situation, thus causing the resulting experimental data to be largely based on reasoned argument or belief and not clearly definable scientific evidence.
The history of psychology has seen many attempts to devise methods that might be viewed as being more scientifically legitimate. It has been argued that Behaviourism, with its strict adherence to stimulus-response conditioning and disregard for thoughts, feelings and unconscious processes operating within an individual, is the closest to a purely scientific procedure, but one which is discredited by critics as operating in denial of the majority of internal processes underlying human behaviour. Psychoanalysis on the other hand focusses almost entirely on these internal processes, using methods of rational enquiry to understand unconscious drives, with a great deal of success, but one which is often viewed as being unworthy of scientific status due to it being fundamentally unfalsifiable.
This leads us to the conclusion that from a strictly empirical standpoint, psychology cannot be considered a science as there are too many unaccountable factors involved in the study processes. So, if psychology cannot be defined as a science, to progress we may conclude that it would be advantageous to define exactly what this area of study is, and if we lack the terminology to do this, perhaps a revision of that terminology would be a logical way forward.
Science and sanity – Alfred Korzybski
Sex, ecology and spirituality – Ken Wilbur
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