The Seven Philosophical Sins of Psychology
Encouraging psychology to stand on its own two feet.
In his book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology, Chris Chambers criticizes shoddy research practices, like data hoarding and confirmation bias, that have become the norm in the field. He’s correct, but shoddy research is only the result of more fundamental sins.
I posit here the Seven Philosophical Sins of psychology, which are the cause of the Seven Deadly Sins.
1. Political hegemony
Chambers correctly condemns the bias for positive correlation in psychological research—but the bias runs deeper, not to something researchers carry with them but something they swim in. Departments are 96 percent liberal, a hegemony that perpetuates itself. To rise through the ranks necessitates rubbing elbows, and elbows rub best when one doesn’t think the other is an idiot. It’s why New York law firms resemble the KGB. East-coast Boomers are the partners so everyone else unconsciously falls in line.
My former advisor had a “Faux News” coffee cup displayed proudly on his desk. Imagine the echo chamber you must be in to feature such a piece of sophomoric flair without remonstrate.
The implicit association test educes this hegemony well. No one can specify what these tests measure but in a room full of microaggression apologizers, it inevitably becomes implicit racism. It’s a psychological torture device to make everyone conform to the narrative.
2. “Everyone is different”
Psychology has no principles. It’s physics without F = ma. There is no science without principles, so psychology is not yet a science. Of course its research will be bogus.
Johannes Kepler used the data obtained from Tycho Brahe to develop the theory of planetary motion. Now we can understand the principles of orbit and so use these laws to infer the orbits of other astronomical bodies. By developing a theory about how Mars revolves around the Sun, Kepler gave us the foundations by which we can learn astronomy. Instead of driven by experiments, astronomy became a science by which we can apply principles to novel situations and then test the results. It’s this, the complementary process of induction and deduction (care of Aristotle), that needs to be the MO of psychology. But if psychologists took over astronomy they would demand millions in funding to test whether looking at images of Pluto makes our eyes cold.
Chambers reports on one psychologist who fudged numbers on a study that questioned whether people become better abstract thinkers by looking at a giant “H” made up of tiny “F’s”. Chambers criticizes the system that incentivizes the researcher to fabricate date, but it’s more alarming that this researcher received funding to conduct a silly study like this in the first place.
Now here comes my preening: I’ve induced the principles of psychology on which a future science will emerge. The only criticism I’ve received from professors is that no, one theory can sum up psychology because “everyone is different.” It’s true, everyone is different just like every planet is different, but instead of criticizing conceptualization, let’s make like Kepler and get good at it. Otherwise, the field will forever be overrun by dilettante studies.
3. Collectivism reigns
Perhaps because of the first two philosophical sins, psychology views people as groups rather than individuals. This means our identity isn’t formed by who we are but rather our group and environment. Our groups and environment can affect us to some extent, especially when we’re children—but to place primary blame on society commits the fallacy of begging the question: If we cannot make the choice to change ourselves, then how can we make the choice to change society?
A field of study based on a logical fallacy will inevitably be overrun by that which feeds on doubt and flimsy thought: religion. Today, the main religion of the Left—see “political hegemony”—is Marxism and its two outcrops, multiculturalism and feminism. Psychology without individualism is like chemistry without atoms. The individual is the scope of the discipline, and without it the research becomes a headless leviathan.
4. Poor constructs
A construct is what research purports to measure. It’s difficult if not impossible to define constructs in psychology because consciousness is, effectively, infinite. Let’s consider the aforementioned implicit association test to demonstrate what I mean.
The face of a black man comes up on the screen along with the word “kindness.” The time it takes us to associate the black face with “kindness” is supposedly the extent to which we’re biased against the black face. Otherwise, why would it take us a long time to associated it with such a benevolent concept?
Except what do we see when we see a black face? Maybe it reminds us of a friend, or some guy we met at the bar last week, or the movie Friday. Maybe we just read an article on how people from desert regions have larger noses because there’s less moisture in the air. Maybe “kindness” isn’t a word with positive connotation for us because we just read Beyond Good and Evil. Maybe, because we’re white, we cannot permit ourselves to have an associated thought with a black face without first making sure it’s an appropriate thought. Maybe all we see when we see a black face is our original sin of slavery, which dramatically contradicts “kindness” so it’s difficult for us to even see the word let alone process it with an image.
I could go on. The point is we have no idea what’s happening in the brain of someone who’s taking the IAT. I’ve taken it several times and have come up with different results each time. On the contrary, I score about the same on an IQ test whether I’ve taken Ambien or Adderall.
The construct problem began in the mid-20th Century when psychology decided to be a hard science. The field was losing credibility and so modeled itself off of more credible disciplines like chemistry. Hence the rise of BF Skinner.
Except psychology is a soft science and so needs to model itself off of philosophy. Until we recognize psychology as a philosophy of the mind, or until we develop technology that’s incomprehensibly advanced—devices in the vein of nanobots—the only way we can determine what most psychological studies measure is by consulting our bias.
5. Brain drain
The average IQ of a graduate student in psychology is about 15 points lower than the average IQ of a graduate student in math or physics. Smart people scoff at psychology—because of the previous four sins—and go on to study more legitimate fields. Guys who flunk math and science but aren’t sociable enough for business study psychology. The more the field becomes flooded with English majors who have nothing better to do, the less legitimate it becomes.
6. Emotions lack conceptulization
The degree to which a man is neurotic is the degree to which he is out of touch with, and so doesn’t process, his emotions. The same is true with psychology.
Psychology was developed by Freud in the, what we now call, psychodynamic tradition. This theory of psychology views the emotional faculty of man as inherently irrational. To compensate, Albert Ellis introduced cognitive psychology in the 1940s, but this swung the pendulum too far in the other direction by ignoring emotions. The result from this schism is psychology implicitly treats cognitions and emotions separately and so we’re unable to see how they’re related.
With the advent of dialectical behavioral therapy came the explicit emphasis of emotional affect, but there’s still a lack of understanding of emotions. Instead of asking ourselves what an emotion is true of, we are content with experiencing it in the context of a therapist. It’s a step in the right direction, but there are seven steps to becoming emotional literate. See my previous preen for the six additional steps.
7. Psychology has become a helping profession
Perhaps because of sin five, the occupation most psychologists would choose if they couldn’t be psychologists is baker. The field, in other words, has become overrun by helpers—not doers or thinkers. Helpers are essential for psychology because they teach the rest of us the power of emotional attunement. But they’ve taken over so when put in charge of research they inevitably do whatever they can to please their colleagues because that’s their aggreeable nature.
You may be thinking “too many helpers” is code for “too many women,” but it’s not. Some of the most feminine people I’ve met were the guys in the field—it’s not about encouraging a sex balance but a sexual polarity balance.
Since there are no principles of psychology, there are no principles in its application. The field will inevitably enact research that runs askew as a nation that has no constitution will inevitably enact law that runs askew.