Statement of Purpose
My application essay for graduate school.
Below is my application essay—ie statement of purpose—for graduate school. I’ve received some questions about it, so I figure I’d post it for everyone to see. Also, while rereading it, it’s clear it was never intended to be my purpose for school, though I didn’t know it at the time. Rather, it’s the purpose for Animus. The integration of psychology that I speak of is Man's Guide to Psychology, and my articles, podcasts, and magazines are a demonstration of what the integration of psychology is.
I started lifting weights when I was 16-years-old. It soon became a passion of mine, not because of how it challenged my body, but because of how it challenged my mind. The number of repetitions I performed wasn’t determined solely by a physical strength—it was also determined by an internal strength. The fatalism of the weight room taught me that my mind was powerful.
Though this was my first, conscious experience with psychology, the subject wasn’t breached again in my life for another several years. As a guy who loved working out, I became interested in biology. After a few molecular genetics lectures, I realized biology isn’t a science unto itself. Rather, it’s based on chemistry. Then organic chemistry taught me chemistry isn’t a science unto itself, either. So physics, it seemed, as the foundation of chemistry and so biology, was the heart of knowledge.
The more abstract my thought, the more the pieces were fitting together.
Then came philosophy. I dabbled in the subject in high school when I read Nietzsche, as is the predilection of a brooding young man. But it wasn’t until college, when I took a course on Plato (which I felt viscerally attracted to), did I come to understand philosophy as the broadest of all subjects. Though not a natural science like biology, chemistry, or physics, it literally goes beyond physics with metaphysics. “This is it,” I thought. “The end all and be all of knowledge.” The gravity of this realization made my dedication to philosophy an effortless decision.
And so it was. Over the next few years, philosophy became my life. I only thought an idea mattered if it could be taken in a philosophical direction. I referenced Aristotle in my columns at the college newspaper. And I started a philosophy club, the camaraderie of which fully questioned my ideas and transformed me into a purposeful thinker.
Through my immersion in philosophy, I felt my intellectual development flourish, but it left me feeling unbalanced. Something was missing.
My obsession diminished all other aspects of my life. Friends, school, and sleep took a back seat to it. Rigidity buried itself deep within my psyche. For the first time since my high-school efforts in the gym, I got in touch with the abyss that is psychology. Once again I was in a situation that totally and fully constrained me. This time not by the physicality of a bench press, but by the psychology of my thinking.
I worked my way out of this wasteland through work and travel, but that period of my life still amazes me to this day. How did I become completely seized up? And why? I had embodied all the life lessons from high school sports about working hard and having a good attitude, but those had reached their limit. I thought I was prepared for life, but there was something going on in between my ears that I didn’t understand. I had somehow convinced myself that I was unable to make choices—or even if I could make choices, they wouldn’t matter.
Philosophy explains ideas, but it doesn’t explain what to do with ideas, how they affect us, and how we use ideas to relate to others. These issues constitute psychology. It’s the deepest and broadest of all subjects because it encapsulates our philosophy, and so physics, chemistry, and our biology. It’s an area I didn’t understand, so it made me its prisoner.
Psychology, perhaps because of its breadth and depth, is not yet a science. It is in the stage of observing and gathering material from which a future science will emerge. The current period of psychology is comparable to the pre-Socratic period of philosophy. As such, psychology has not yet found its Plato to organize its material and integrate its fundamental principles. Until it does, we will all be its prisoner.
To quote Victor Hugo in Les Miserables: “There is a spectacle greater than the sea, and it is the sky; there is a spectacle greater than the sky, and it is the interior of the soul. To write a poem of the human consciousness would be to swallow up all epics in a superior and definite epic.”
I believe the source of this integration of psychology, this poem of the human consciousness, will be the integration of psychological studies, and their application in the clinic. Laboratory studies—the pre-Socratics of psychology—are indispensable to the advancement of psychology, but they are not a big-picture solution. They are not the concept of what psychology is. They are unable to see the trees as a forest.
An integration of psychology is not something that can be graphed, measured, or weighed. The integration must be testable and falsifiable, of course, but I believe the answer necessitates a feat of integration that could only come from the mind of man, from a man’s psychology.
The psychology program offered at Columbia University, with its emphasis on both research and the application of research in the clinic, is the environment in which a unification of psychology will be cultivated. I want to contribute to this environment. In return, I offer the enthusiasm to push the field of psychology into new territories, and the intelligence to ensure that these new territories remain grounded in reality.